Tag Archives: Genre

Writing Your First Sex Scene

So, basically, Delilah S. Dawson’s “25 Humpalicious Steps for Writing Your First Sex Scene” is now one of my new favorite On Writing articles — and I don’t even (usually) write erotica (*cough*thinking of you Tina!*cough*).

One of my great friends from my writing group first discovered this article while we were writing together at Red Emma’s here in Bmore — so we were already (unknowingly) breaking Dawson’s rules #1 & 2; I mean, #1 would come later (that’s what she said (OMG, why aren’t we friends, Dawson?)) — and right away my friend couldn’t keep herself from reading the entire article aloud to me, both of us giggling like grade-schoolers and looking self-consciously over our shoulders. Not only was this article a tremendous thing to share together, but it also sparked some great discussion about the hows/whys of writing sex scenes.

First, who could resist this intro?

I never set out to be a romance writer. When I was asked to turn a black-out scene into steamy hot sex, at first I panicked. Then I followed these 25 easy steps and panicked some more. And then I got a three-book deal for a paranormal romance series with Simon & Schuster, despite being a somewhat prudish Southern girl who’s been married to her college sweetheart since 2002 and has never actually seen a pair of assless chaps. And you can, too! Here’s how.

Dawson! Again: Why aren’t we friends??

But perhaps what I appreciate most about Dawson’s article, aside from her wonderful candor and sense of humor, is just how much of her advice had both my friend and me gushing, Oh my God, yes! Just take rule #7 for example:

7. Consider the lowly Jimmy hat.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a romance book neglects to take into account that most women (and men!) have very strong feelings about whether or not they wish to end up preggers after a sexual encounter. …


Anyway, if you’re still here reading this instead of at Terrible Minds reading Dawson … why are you?

Banned Books, Questions of Genre, & (Re)Learning to Love Our Graphic Novels

I came across Lynn Neary’s article, “Too Graphic? 2014 Banned Books Week Celebrates Challenged Comics“, on WYPR’s website this morning, and couldn’t wait to share it here. (I’ve always had a deep fascination for all things to do with book-banning, as may be obvious from my URL: howlinghowl, a small tribute to my favorite (and once-banned) poet, Allen Ginsberg.) Neary not only gives a succinct and interesting look into the continued controversies surrounding the business of banning books, but also highlights some important changes currently hitting the graphic novel and comics genre. Namely, that graphic novels and comics are now being considered more and more as a branch of capital-L Literature (hooray!) and as works that can be used for educational and/or socially meaningful purposes (huzzah!).

Art, such as what we find in many graphic novels and comics today, isn’t something that can be neatly defined (no matter what our friends in the marketing world would prefer us to believe ;-p). I’m teasing in that aside, but only partially. I don’t mean to throw shade on my marketing pals, but we’d be naive if we didn’t admit to ourselves that, in large part, genres and categories exist because they makes things easier to package, organize, and sell. And really, this isn’t a bad thing either. Genres and categories and lists aren’t inherently bad–it’s only when they’re used to exclude and marginalize works of art that they become real problems. For years, artists have been punished for not fitting neatly into any one category or for seeming to fit too well into a category that’s poorly thought of or often misunderstood (such as, for a long time now, the graphic novels and comics genre). Because of how easily genres-labels like literary fiction, flash fiction, graphic novels/comics can be sub-labeled/packaged as “literature”, “trash”, “high literature”, “obscenity”, or “fluff”, it’s imperative that we, as readers (as well as artists), continuously revisit for ourselves how we’re using these terms and how we’re allowing them to act upon and influence our actions.

In appreciation and celebration of graphic novels and comics that I personally love, I’d like to provide a brief list here of some of my favorites, and ask that you please also share some of your favorites in the comments section.

Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf: A Sex Education Comic Book
This comic book is easily one of the best and most meaningful pieces of art that I’ve ever encountered. On its face, it sounds goofy–perhaps even salacious. But as soon as you crack the spine, you’ll realize that this work is actually incredibly gritty, honest, educational, painful, and beautiful. It’s a visionary compilation of comics and art submitted by people from all over the country (possibly the world) that tackle issues of sex and sexuality in a wide array of ways both funny and sad.
book-cover meatloaf

Mount Vernon Ink: Hippo Comics
I must admit that this is actually something of a personal project. I never contributed any art, writing, editing, or storylines to these comics. I was, however, the Service-Learning Liaison that worked to facilitate the relationship between Dr. Philip Troutman’s class (Serious Comix) and their nonprofit partner, Safe Shores: The DC Children’s Advocacy Center, when they were first getting things started. All the same, I feel compelled to share these student comic books here not because of my past affiliation with the course, but because I believe these comics serve as a fantastic example of what art can do for the world and especiallyof the impact that young artists can have on their community. You don’t need to be Neil Gaiman to make waves with your art.
brothers keeper

And speaking of Neil Gaiman…

The Sandman
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Gaiman for his beautiful The Sandman series. I’m a reader that came comparatively late to the world of graphic novels and comics, and so one of the most influential reads for me in this respect was The Sandman. It’s beautiful, fascinating, well-written, powerful, thought-provoking, eerie–the list goes on and on. If you haven’t read it yet, get over to your local bookstore now and get reading.
the sandman

Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud’s classic Understanding Comics is a terrific read not only for the insights he provides on the inner-workings of the art and industry, but for the inventive beauty and style that McCloud employs. McCloud proves in this work just how diverse an artform comics and graphic novels are and how they can be used for both educational and entertainment purposes.
understanding comics

Hark! A Vagrant
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, Kate Beaton, for these tremendous, feminist, literature-inspired comics. Your work is hilarious, cathartic, valuable, and well-loved.
hark a vagrant

Lumberjanes from Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Brooke Allen–I haven’t read you yet, but I love what I’ve heard and you’re next on my list.

So, whether you’re banned, challenged, or just a sufferer of genre-prejudice, hang in there! You’ve got readers out here who love you!

Further Readings:

American Library Association’s list of challenged and banned books

Comic Book Resources: List of 15 Feminist Comics

Banned Books Week

Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants getting challenged!

Adaptation in Writing & Film

I don’t know how many of you have seen the new film, “Drive,” by Nicolas Winding Refn or not (but you absolutely should if not! It’s amazing!) but it has gotten me meditating on the art of adaptation.



(movie poster source)

This film is an adaptation of a novella by James Sallis, “Drive.”

The film is a gorgeous fairy tale, a dreamlike depiction of Driver’s transformation into a “real human being.” Of course, I’ve only just begun reading the novella itself but what intrigues me most about this is not simply how a story may be adapted from one medium to another, but how it may be adapted from one story into an entirely new story.

After all, Refn’s “Drive” is inherently different and new from Sallis’ “Drive” (and vice versa). And we hear it said all the time that there is nothing new under the sun and that all stories are essentially built from a handful of foundational plots.

Do you at times find yourself frustrated by this — longing for something new as a viewer/receiver/reader or dreaming of the inspiration that might trigger something “new” as a creator? I know when I was younger, I found myself constantly frustrated by the fact that everything seemed borrowed — as if we were a room of potters all passing around the same clay to re-mold again and again. But now I find this incredibly exciting, a cool and constant challenge. I also find this is not something that is restricted to fiction works by any means — academia recycles plots and information as well (in fact, it might be even more blatant within academic writing). What do you think?

What do you think of adaptation between media? What do you think of it from story to story? Do you find yourself drawn toward a certain type of plot as an audience member? Do you find yourself drawn to a different plot type as a writer/creator?

Fiction v. Academic Writing: Sadism Showdown

Kurt Vonnegut once gave out a list of 8 rules for writing, one of those rules being:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999)

This is an age-old rule that so many of today’s most beloved authors have clearly taken to heart (channel Stephen King here) and a rule that we find constantly reiterated throughout the Writing Tip world. Take, for example, this story from the Huff Post Books, called “Writing Advice: Tips for New Fiction Authors.” Their third tip, “Create real characters” is a page right out of Vonnegut’s book (although with much greater elaboration), suggesting:

Make your characters human – give them nervous tics, phobias, a funny way of messing up clichés. … Place your character in situations that force him or her to make difficult choices, mistakes, etc.



And, while I most certainly ascribe to this rule as a fiction writer – no one wants to read a story sans conflict, after all – I have been considering lately whether or not academic or nonfiction writers face this same challenge. After all, there’s only so much freedom an academic writer has for creating intrigue and conflict…right?

After plowing through Howling, my first major academic project, I’m no longer so certain. For instance, consider the choices an academic writer must make insofar as which sources to utilize, who to interview, how to both accurately and interestingly convey different results. All of these elements can impact the tone and excitement of a piece, certainly, but do they add anything close to conflict? Do they indicate any level of “sadism” on the author’s part? What about how relentlessly or to what ends the author went during the research process – definitely bits of that gory mess must seep through from time to time, right?

I would argue that it is Voice and a healthy dose of Self-Reflection that may lend an academic author some real toothy wildness, enabling them to truly dig into what that other researcher said, what that political group was protesting, how that development impacted the local ecosystem – by presenting arguments clearly and factually while utilizing a creative narrative voice and letting the reader see a bit of the authorial struggle, perhaps an academic author can manage to squeak a bit of sadism into their work.

What do you think? Do you feel like sadism is an important quality for a fiction writer? Have you ever felt as though a good story became lost or obscured because you just couldn’t commit to killing the goofy, loveable sidekick? And can an academic author join in on this fun or is their writing a different beast entirely?



(Pssst! Of course, on the other hand, there’s always our pal, Carl Sandburg to turn to: “Beware of advice—even this.”)