22 November 2014

Pushing Boundaries

Quite a while ago I wrote a post about how I wished the "trashy" erotica out there would go away, because it gave erotica in general a bad name. I hated the idea of people who might very well enjoy reading erotica being turned off or scared away from giving it a try because all they knew of were "those" stories. And by "those" stories, at the time I referenced mainly things like pseudo-incest stories, because that was what had set me off on my rant of sorts at the time. It wasn't exclusively the subject matter, but also the fact that they're (the ones I wish would go away, at least) poorly written, unimaginative, and repetitive. I didn't express that very elegantly then, and was rightly taken to task for my views by some. That's fine. I'm someone who has always said that when my experiences and knowledge shift, I'm more than happy changing my opinions on a topic if warranted. And so I wanted to revisit this topic a bit. My thoughts have changed somewhat, and I want to explain those, as well as try to better explain the aspects that haven't changed.

First, there's the question of what constitutes erotica versus porn. I know plenty of writers who happily say "I write porn!" Or smut. I occasionally use that term. Is it the same as porn? I have no idea. Is this a hopeless game of labels and self-identifying labels versus industry labels? Perhaps. But for lack of better terminology or ideas on my part, I tend to see a difference between erotica and porn. If you think of movies, it seems much clearer that there's a line between a film that's erotic and one that's porn. Most of us (I think) watch porn for the sex. That's what we want, and porn fulfills that want. We watch other movies to be entertained in other ways, even if there is sex and arousal as part of the film. There's writing that falls along these same lines.

There are sexually explicit stories meant to arouse and titillate that also have emotionally satisfying plot arcs and interesting characters that keep us turning pages at least as much as our desire to read the next hot sex scene. That, to me, is erotica. There are also sexually explicit stories meant to arouse and titillate that are pretty much the written equivalent of a porn compilation: sex scene after sex scene geared around a particular sexual predilection (whether it's just plain vanilla sex or extreme fetishes) with very little holding them together. If some attempt at a plot exists, it's probably extraneous or silly or both, and it probably has little to no impact on one's enjoyment of the sexual situations. It might be there in the barest sense, and only to state the existence of the particular fetish or kink (like to set up the fact that it's teacher and a student, for example) and after that it really doesn't even matter if the characters have names. To me, that's porn.

Let me be as absolutely clear as I can be right now: I'm not trashing porn. I have nothing against porn at all. Porn is great. Got it? Good.

Going back to porn in movie format, we all know where to get porn, right? It's not in the same place where you go to watch romantic comedies or the like. But when you go online to find erotica, and what you want is that entertaining, emotionally satisfying story that is about or contains some hot, explicit sex, you'll also be flooded with all of those stories I mentioned that I would file under the category of porn. And it's frustrating! It really is. Both as a reader, having to sift through everything going nope, that's not what I want, nope, nope, nope, sometimes reading enough samples that I might as well have read half a book already, and also as an author writing erotica and trying to reach readers who (hopefully) want what I've written and are trying to wade through everything else to get to it.

And you know what? I don't have an answer or a solution. I don't necessarily want written porn to be relegated behind a shameful black curtain to keep all of the literature (say that in your best posh accent) pure and untainted. And categories only work so well, especially when we innovative and quick to react self-published authors will try out even only marginally related categories if we think they'll get us more visibility. (*cough* I'm looking at you, non-New Adult stories filling up Amazon's NA lists. *cough*) But that's a different post altogether. Maybe I'm just being overdramatic and throwing an adult hissy fit. You're certainly allowed to think so. But it doesn't change the fact that it frustrates me that it can be so much dang work just to find good erotica when I want it.

I fear my point about the quality of writing is becoming an afterthought yet again, and I don't mean for it to be. I just get so long-winded about other stuff and then I figure the one person left reading this wants me to get on with it already... but I'll touch on it again. I have no patience for poorly written erotica or porn. Unimaginative language, repetitive scenes, far-fetched plot points that don't allow me to suspend disbelief even for a moment, recycled tropes, blah, blah, blah-freaking-blah. There's plenty of poorly-written erotica. But I dare say that... well, 95% of the written porn I stumble across and toss aside as I'm searching for erotica is quite poorly written. And that's really the worst part. I don't want to police anyone's fantasies or sexual turn-ons, and I've definitely broadened my thinking on this since the last time I wrote about it, so I'm not going to tell anyone to stop writing on these topics. But please, for the love of smut, do it better! I can only read mind-numbingly boring sentences like "He shoved his cock into her pussy" so many times before I want to beat you with a dictionary. (But who knows, maybe you'd like that.) I mean, really? Thank you for describing the gist of all heterosexual sex everywhere in one sentence... again, and again... and yet again... because I didn't understand the mechanics of it the first time. Not any sexier the fifth time than it was the first time.

Of course, what do plenty of writers do when they're frustrated with the quality of writing available? Lots of them throw up their hands, say "I can write better than this!" and then go do it. I realized that bringing the sexy forbidden down to a level that's more palatable for more people (while still maintaining some of that naughty edge) is something I've always been fascinated by. Even in a non-sexy, or non-forbidden context, I've often loved taking an idea someone might not agree with and reshaping it and asking "Well what about now? What about now? How about this way?" until I can get them to agree with me, even a little bit. It's like Hah! I have bent you to my will! Mwa-ha-ha... Okay, maybe it's not exactly like that. But it feels like it sometimes.

Getting back to the smexy stuff, there's a hint of that very thing in Steven and Charlotte's relationship in Sorry's Not Enough. It didn't really click for me until someone called it "acceptably taboo." So I started thinking about some of the slightly taboo things that make me roll my eyes at best, and make me want to retch at worst, when they're poorly executed and poorly written, but that have the potential for much more. Once I removed the aspect of how much I hated how other people had written similar themes and focused on what the appealing aspects of those themes were, the ideas flooded in. I am (notoriously) a slow writer, so I'm still working on the first one, but I have plans for a series. If you'd told me even a year ago I'd be excited to write a series about slightly forbidden relationships, I would've rolled my eyes at you. But like I said, I'm not afraid to change my way of thinking when life and learning have shown me that I'm wrong. My writing life is certainly no exception.

So look for The Taboo Series to start sometime next year....

06 November 2014

Live Free or Die

Live free or die is the state motto of New Hampshire. My husband and I (and our dog, of course) moved here at the end of July, and I'm still discovering new and quirky things about the area that differentiate it from other places I've lived. We're enjoying it here so far and are cautiously waiting for our first New England winter. There are lots of things that I find awesome, weird, funny, or otherwise interesting about my new home, and I thought I'd share some of those with you.

Welcome to New Hampshire...


... where grocery stores close at 9pm during the week and 7pm on Sunday. What? I'm used to at least one 24-hour grocer nearby!

... where autumn is freaking gorgeous. There are trees everywhere, and they burst into the most glorious colors.

... where Dunkin' Donuts is king. This is true of New England in general, apparently. I grew up with Dunkin' on a much less intense level, so it's not that they were completely new to me. But it's practically a religion here. Cream and sugar in your coffee is "regular" here, whereas if you ask for it that way somewhere else, like in New York, as my husband recently discovered, they might look at you like you're nuts.

... where drivers don't know how to merge or yield. Yes, this is a sweeping generalization, but it has held up in my experiences so far. Many merge points around here are also much shorter than I'm used to. But they're twice as wide, meaning you can practically drive right next to the car you need to merge behind for a good 200 feet before you really need to merge. So it evens out, right? Granted, I've only been driving for three and a half years, and all of that in Pennsylvania, so perhaps my experience is different than most. I've also been told this experience is unique to my particular area, but I've seen it in some of my cross-state drives as well. 

... where the accent makes me giggle. I lived in Pittsburgh (PA, I've learned to stipulate, as there is also a Pittsburgh, NH!) for three years and that accent made me smile. I got used to it, though. Pittsburghese is sort of a midwestern and southern mash-up of accents, and the vernacular can be interesting, too. Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I'm accustomed to a bit of twang, so maybe that's why Pittsburgh's dialect didn't feel quite as foreign. But the New England accent is something that I'm not sure will ever not make me laugh inside. Not because I'm making fun of it, but just because it's such a peculiarity to my ear. I suppose to a lot of people here, I'm the one with the accent.

"Hampton Beach, New Hampshire 2004"
... where the beaches sparkle, the water is freezing, and seaweed is unavoidable. We arrived in late July and within two weeks we made sure to hit the beach. Technically we went to Maine and Massachusetts and didn't get a chance to visit the NH coastline before it got too cold. But I'm fairly certain this observation will hold up when we get to test it next summer. The sand sparkles like I've never seen before. I'm guessing it's because of the quartz and other mineral content, but I have no idea. I just know it's freaking awesome. The water is colder than I'm used to, but still refreshing. It's clear to a greater depth than I ever encountered in my mid-Atlantic beach-going experience, and it doesn't taste quite as salty. No, I'm not drinking it, but it's difficult not to taste it while swimming in the ocean. New England beaches have climbed to the top of my favorites list, despite the need to fish out bits of seaweed from unmentionable places afterward...

... where you can buy beer at Wal-Mart! This may not seem so strange to some, unless you've lived in Pennsylvania or another place with bizarre liquor laws. After needing to practically jump through hoops in PA to be able to buy a six-pack of beer, it was a shock to the system to see it all over the place in stores here.

... where the speed limit is just a suggestion. I'll admit to having a bit of a lead foot, so I love to see the 65 mph speed limit on stretches of highway near me. Usually that means I'm doing 70. And yet people still speed past me quite often. And when it drops down to 55 mph after that exit? Nah, the flow of traffic is still going 70. When we first moved, we had movers to bring boxes off the truck and into our apartment. They were super nice guys and talked to us about the area and asked about my husband's job (which is the reason we moved) and gave us a word of caution about police being sticklers for the speed limit in his experience. Sadly, I think his experience may have been more a symptom of driving while brown, as I've seen many police cars monitoring traffic who don't seem to bat an eye at everyone traveling at least 5 mph above the posted limit. They do pull people over, but I wonder just how fast you have to be going or how erratically you have to be driving for them to actually stop you. I don't think I'll try to find out, though.

... where everyone is SO. FREAKING. NICE. There are nice people everywhere, of course, but I've never
encountered so much genuine friendliness in other places. Perhaps it has to do with it being a smaller city? I don't know. I live in the largest city in the state, but when you look at population density, it's the smallest place I've ever lived with the exception of perhaps my hometown. When we explored downtown, we stopped in the tiny little visitor's center to grab some brochures and the woman there talked to us at length about the area and welcomed us several times before we went on our way. Even in the grocery store, if I mentioned I was new to the area, people went out of their way to welcome me and ask about where I was from and how I liked the area. Today I had a physical with a new primary care physician and went for blood work immediately after and even there they were all smiling, friendly, welcoming, and enthusiastic. Having worked in retail for many years, I think I've learned the difference between genuine personality and a customer service facade (which isn't necessarily a bad thing to have perfected, of course). Everyone has been wonderfully genuine and authentic, and I've never felt like anyone was putting on a good show for the sake of their job.

"Old Man of the Mountain 4-26-03"
So thanks, New Hampshire, for being so dang cool. As an introvert, the abundance of friendliness can make me feel a little awkward and uncomfortable at times (I'm like OMG somebody is TALKING to me!) but at the same time it can be a blessing in disguise because it takes the pressure off me to be the one to initiate conversation in new social environments, like the choir I joined as soon as I got here. I don't know how long we'll be here, but I will certainly enjoy every moment of it! Now, bring on the snow! I mean... er... be gentle with me, Old Man Winter!

Tell me something quirky about where you live!

09 August 2014

I Emailed Hachette on Amazon's Behalf... Sort of

**Edited to add: It didn't take long (literally, just moments) after I sent the email for me to regret wasting the time of those I copied on the message for the sole purpose of saying "See, annoying, innit?" Please forgive my dumbassery on that point.**
I'm sure by now many of you have heard about the tasteless email Amazon sent out to KDP authors late Friday/early Saturday. I answered their call and emailed Hachette about the ongoing dispute, and I made sure to copy "Readers United" and a small handful of other people, too. Here's what I said:

Dear Mr. Pietsch:

I'm writing to you (and some others) today as a direct result of receiving Amazon's email propaganda in the early hours of the morning. I am appalled and annoyed at being dragged into an argument against my will, especially when the party doing the dragging is quite aware, and even acknowledges, that I'd rather be left out of it. But Amazon asked me to email you with my thoughts--actually, they wanted me to email you with their thoughts, and I decided I liked mine better--and so here we are. Let me make a few things clear before getting to my main points:

1. I am not published by Hachette or by any publisher.
2. I am self-published and my work is available on Amazon, among other places. Amazon is not my publisher. They are one of my retail partners, though "partner" probably isn't really the best word for it.
3. Hachette is a business. Amazon is a business. I am my own business. The first priority of any business is making money, or else they will no longer be in business.

That Amazon would ask me to plead their case to a publisher with which I have no relationship is laughable. As Heidi Cullinan puts it, there are Not Enough Memes in the World For My NO. That they would do it with such poorly written propaganda--and propaganda is truly the only word for it, as Matt Wallace explains--is laughable. Further, that they would do it under the guise of  doing what's best for "reading culture" is downright ludicrous. Because I have no stakes in the specific dispute between Hachette and Amazon, I have not read every last word reported on the issue. I have read a handful of posts about it from people I respect on both sides of the debate and mostly ignored it outside of that. One thing I am absolutely sure of, however, is that this is about money. Period. And that's okay, because as as I said, this is business. But for Amazon to go on about helping "book culture" as though readers are incapable of changing the market by making their decisions about how much to spend (or not spend) is disingenuous at best.

Mr. Pietsch, I may not agree 100% with your side of this dispute (I truly don't know to what extent I agree with any side) but I feel a bit of solidarity with you based on one glaring similarity we share: Amazon thinks you and I (and every KDP author to whom they sent their email) are idiots with our heads up our own asses, apparently. They must think so, if they believe an email full of buzzwords, emotionally-charged imagery, and one-sided spin is enough to get me to fight their fight. To do that, I'd need to ignore a whole lot of common sense.

This is where I'm supposed to implore you to "Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle" while ignoring the fact that by doing so Amazon obviously thinks it's okay to use me as leverage and put me in the middle of this so long as they come out on top.

Or perhaps I should remind you that "With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock," etc. while ignoring the fact that, although they're obviously referring to large print returns, they make it quite easy to return e-books, potentially to the detriment of the author when that feature is abused. If I'm going to remind you of this, then I should also ignore the fact that as a self-published author with Amazon I am already pigeon-holed into their pricing requirements with no means of negotiation and subject to their whim should they decide to pull my books for any reason they see fit.

Am I convincing you of Amazon's position yet? No? Here, let me keep trying.

It's important to note that Amazon thinks "books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive." I'll ignore the fact that people regularly pay more money for a mobile game than some e-books cost, and then they pay money again and again to buy more features within the game. Let's also ignore how actors are paid more per movie than I can hope to make in many, many years, and that movie tickets are expensive but people still choose to buy them. While we're at it, we should ignore all of the books being made into movies, because they obviously they were only made into movies because the books were too expensive and nobody bought them. And nobody in the history of the world has ever seen a movie adaptation first and then bought the book after, am I right? Movies and TV shows are never adapted into video games, free news sites obviously never post books reviews, and no author in the history of the Internet has promoted their books on Facebook because all of these things are supposed to be in competition with each other! The logical solution is to make all books as cheap as Amazon wants! Um, right?

I should wrap this up soon because I am obviously terrible at doing what Amazon tells me to do in their ridiculous emails. One last thing, though. The thing Amazon is ignoring, and hopes I'm ignoring, too, is choice.

I have friends published by Hachette and its imprints that have been caught in the middle of this nasty fight. I have friends published by other big publishers who have been treated poorly, and others who've been treated like rock stars. I have self-published friends who have been hurt by Amazon's policies and past actions, and others who have made six or seven figures since self-publishing, largely with Amazon. There are so many choices about how and when and where and why to publish these days, and there is no one golden path. Authors have a choice, and as Amazon is so quick to point out, we are not all united. Why they took that to mean we would all fight their fight still escapes me, but that's neither here nor there at this point.

Hachette has choices. Amazon has choices. Is there an amenable compromise to be had here? I be there is, but I also bet one or both parties are unwilling to compromise on a lot of things. Which means there's also the choice to sever the business relationship, as unpleasant as that may be.

As a self-publisher, I have the choice to sell my book where and for the price I want. I choose, currently, to include Amazon in my sales plan. Despite the fact that they give preferential treatment to pretty much everyone else--in the name of "book culture," I'm sure. Despite the fact that in addition to taking a slice of my profits they want me to grant them exclusivity before I can take advantage of their Kindle Unlimited program. That is, unless they handpick me from the unwashed masses or I'm published by a big publisher whose books are priced higher than mine. So much for that "cheaper is better" thing, right? Despite their many shortcomings, I sell my books there. It's a business choice.

Readers have a choice of where to purchase e-books. They have the choice to either pay what is asked, or not. If they choose not, that's a clear signal to a publisher or a retailer that they need to do something differently or risk going out of business. Consumers have a long history of speaking with their wallets without Amazon or anyone else forcing the issue.

Amazon had a choice, and it chose to treat me and others like idiots by sending an email full of out-of-context quotes and cherry-picked statistics in the hopes that we will defend their position in this negotiation, despite the fact that we don't even have the ability to negotiate with Amazon on our own behalf as author-publishers. That was a poor choice on their part. I have to agree with Chuck Wending when he says, in quite possibly the tamest language I've ever seen him use, "I think it's tacky." To say the least. And it has me looking long and hard at my choice to sell on Amazon, which is probably not the reaction they had hoped for.

Mr. Pietsch, I hope Hachette and Amazon can come to a decision that is beneficial for both businesses and for the authors involved. What that decision is, though, is up to you and Amazon. I have no part of it. I hope that I haven't wasted too much of your time today. That goes for everyone who was copied on this message, too. You may not have cared, you may have wished to be left out of it, and you may not have wanted to spend your time reading just another writer's opinions of something in which they have no stakes. But Amazon didn't let that stop them from dragging me along for the ride, and if there's anything I gleaned from their email, it's that they obviously know what is best. Have a wonderful day.


J. Lea Lopez

Needless to say, the whole thing is making feel a little something like this....

17 June 2014

Maybe When I'm 30

I started another blog a while back to talk about being childfree, but I haven't updated it in quite a while and decided there's no reason I can't share all my thoughts right here. So over the next few weeks I'll be re-posting some of the things I originally posted there. This post was originally from last year, just as I turned 30.

Maybe when I’m 30

That’s what I used to say when people asked me about having kids. I always thought that I’d have kids at some point because I figured I’d want to at some point. No one ever tells you it’s perfectly fine to neither want nor have kids. They spend most of their time, in fact, telling you the exact opposite.

You’ll change your mind… One day you’ll have kids… You’re too young to know yet…

Whenever anyone asked what my plans for kids were, I certainly did know that they were not in my near future. I just didn’t have that urge. But I swallowed what they were feeding me and was convinced that one day I’d wake up and realize Oh my god, I’m ready. I want to be a mom! So in high school, and college, and after college when I got married, whenever anyone asked about kids, I told them maybe we’d start trying when I was 30. That seemed like a good age. I figured we’d be financially established by then, but it wasn’t so late in life that I’d be risking health issues for either myself or a potential baby.

Well, yesterday I turned 30. (Edit: Actually, now I'm 31!)

A few years ago I started getting a little anxious about that number. Not because it means I’m getting older, like many people seem to assume. Hell, I’m excited to be 30 years old! I feel like this will be a great year for me. No, the reason I started looking at 30 a bit sideways when I was still in my 20s was because there were still so many goals I hadn’t reached and that seemed like they would be ten times more difficult if I suddenly had children to care for. I’d been saying maybe when I’m 30 for so long, but I was starting to think I should start saying maybe when I’m 35. That wasn’t too late, right?

My concerns over the age at which to have my first child were superficial at best. It was a distraction from the real reason I was wary about reaching the maybe when I’m 30 deadline. The truth was that I just didn’t want kids. I still hadn’t had any urge or desire to have a child. Whenever I thought of my future – where I’d be or what I’d be doing – kids never factored into my daydreams and desires.

But… I couldn’t say that… could I? It seemed so strange. So foreign. As I mentioned before, we’re all indoctrinated with the message that we will all be parents one day, and it will be glorious, and hard, and rewarding, and frustrating, and miraculous, and fulfilling, all at the same time!

No one tells you that you can choose not to have kids.

When I first realized that I didn’t want kids, period, I couldn’t even assert myself fully. It was all I don’t think I want kids… Maybe I’ll want them in the far-off future, who knows? But I doubt it… Who knows, who knows… Because I was afraid of the reactions I would get. I mean, doesn’t everyone want kids? How weird was I for not wanting what everyone else wanted?

It’s taken a few years, but it finally doesn’t feel weird to say it. I’m not having kids.

Okay, I lied, it’s still weird. I still struggle with worrying what people will say or how they’ll look at me when I say firmly, “I am not having children.” But even though I worry about that, I’ll still tell them.

No kids for me. Not even when I’m 30.

23 May 2014

Anniversary Time! A New Ebook Cover and New Price

One year ago today, my first novel went live on Amazon. It has been a year of learning, growth, and (I won't lie) some WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING???? moments. I think taking the plunge and self-publishing has magnified certain aspects of my personality that I can never be sure whether they're good or bad. Like my stubbornness about what I like and don't like, my perfectionist tendencies, my occasional (okay, so maybe it's chronic) indecisiveness, and my "If you want it done right, do it yourself" attitude. In my life in general, those things have definitely shaped my decisions and produced some wonderful (if occasionally stressful and slow-burning) results. But they're results I've been happy with. The same is true so far for my publishing journey.

I think there are likely things I could do differently that might result in more sales or faster results. But I'm unwilling (so far) to compromise on how and why I do things. I figure if I'm going to self-publish, where I have complete control, then I'm going to do it exactly how I want to do it, no exceptions. I'm happy with where it's taken me so far. To celebrate one year of publishing, I've given Sorry's Not Enough a face lift with a new ebook cover, which I created myself (see above re: perfectionism and DIY attitude) and I've also dropped the price from $3.99 all the way down to $0.99! The sale lasts through June 1, 2014 only, so get it while you can! It may never see this price point again. Links are below. (My free short story collection, Consenting Adults, also has a new cover courtesy of my friend and fellow author Cali MacKay.)

Thank you to everyone who has helped me along on my journey so far. I hope you'll follow along as I continue forward.... :-)

Amazon US    Amazon UK    Nook 
Kobo    iTunes    Smashwords