Tag Archives: Women

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?

Advice from Women Writers


Don’t romanticize your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

—Zadie Smith

This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.

—Barbara Kingsolver

First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.

—Octavia Butler

Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

—Margaret Atwood

Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

—Anne Lamott

It’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it…You have to let people see what you wrote.

—Tina Fey

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.

—Maya Angelou

Tetons & Yellowstone 2014 316


$PREAD: Triumphs & Trials of an Indie Magazine

spread logo

Recently, my husband and I went to an event at Red Emma’s (our local radical bookstore), featuring two of the founders of $pread magazine — the first ever magazine written by and for sex workers.

We went for a number of reasons: A) Duh; this sounds fascinating, and B) because I’ve always been eager to learn more about the processes and trials faced by indie magazines. And while the presentation wasn’t as well put-together as I would’ve hoped (it seemed as though a lot of improvisation was happening on stage), I now recognize that this was the same style and attitude with which the magazine itself got started: People need to know about these issues – There are voices here that need and deserve to be heard – Let’s just run with it. 

I’m beginning to realize that too much (don’t ask me when too much is “too much”) preparatory work may also at some point become its own pretext for never actually trying anything new. After all, the more I learn about the difficulties of starting up a radical project like $pread, the warier and more uncertain I become. What’s more, it isn’t as though these women didn’t have useful background information/experience and networking connections already in place when they decided to try their hand at running their own indie mag (the original founders/idea-women “met while organizing a benefit for PONY (Prostitutes of New York)” and some staffers were still or had been sex workers themselves) (Aimee et al., 17).

By diving in head-first, the women of $pread got a good five years worth of issues out to a community greatly in need of venues willing to provide an honest platform for their stories and voices. The lesson, at least to me, was clear: When it comes to matters of social justice, there’s no time to waste. Once you have what you need to get your feet off the ground (even if for only a little while) in regards to research, understanding, respect, and empathy — then get your damn feet off that ground!

As $pread editors Rachel Aimee, Eliyanna Kaiser, and Audacia Ray explain in their new anthology $PREADThe Best of the Magazine that Illuminated the Sex Industry and Started a Media Revolution: “Probably the most important reason we succeeded was that we didn’t know what we were getting into” (32).

Though $pread is no longer in circulation, they had a strong and deeply appreciated five years of quarterly mag issues, and have left “a legacy of making space for the voices of people who have been silenced” (Aimee et al., 32-33).

Here are a few of the more interesting points (in my opinion) from their presentation:

  • A primary concern for the editors of $pread was that women’s voices be heard regardless of their perspective or political opinions. This, unsurprisingly, wasn’t always a popular stance (especially within the larger feminist community), as it led to many pieces getting published with extremely controversial perspectives. –But this also gets to the real heartwood of editorial work: When your publication has a set mission (like being an honest platform for voices from a regularly silenced community), you can’t let your own political opinions and unique perspective get in the way. This causes many editors to tread a fine line with their authors (and with deciding who gets to become one of their authors), but it’s a vital line. For all you fellow editors out there, don’t forget to always be on your guard against that insidious prick Prejudice.
  • While $pread had its reasons for choosing to go for a print magazine rather than a digital one, many of its editors now regret this decision given how cumbersome and expensive the print version became.

“We entered the arena of publishing at a moment of epic transition from hardcopy to digital. We had been inspired by lovingly handcrafted, desktop-published, and photocopied sex worker zines like DanzineWhorezine, and PONY XXXpress. We were fans and hoped to be the peers of small independent magazines that had real print runs and distribution, like Bitch, LiP, and Clamor. If we had known from the beginning just how hard everything would be, we almost certainly would have been too intimidated to undertake such a lofty project. But we didn’t. So we did.” (Aimee et al., 19)

(Dig it!)

  • Even though $pread eventually became an Utne award-winning magazine, it never managed to make enough money for any of its staffers to be paid.
  • They raised most of their initial funding through benefit parties.
  • Through reader surveys, the editors of $pread learned that their initial audience was composed mostly of white, college-educated women. To address this, they began distributing copies of each issue directly to outreach organizations that focused on women in the sex industry.
  • Many anti-human trafficking bills are used (at least in some part) as smokescreens to get more anti-prostitution legislation passed.

All in all, it ended up being just as I expected: a fascinating presentation that challenged many of my own preconceived notions and opinions, and that gave me a better look at the work involved in bringing a terrific, radical idea to life. Thank you, $pread! And thank you, Red Emma’s!

Further Reading:

Final Disclaimer

Writing Feminist

As many of you already know, I’m currently working on a novel that’s feminist in theme and nature–though, hopefully, that won’t end up reading like agitprop. In working through it, I’ve come to ask myself a lot of questions about just how this is done: How can we write in ways that promote social justice without turning our stories into political propaganda? As Indiana Seresin, a Radcliffe Research Partner at Harvard, explained for Radcliffe Magazine, “Writing an intentionally feminist-friendly book is totally different than writing from a feminist perspective. It’s a very difficult line to tread.”

Picture1But it wasn’t until recently that I began actually brainstorming and writing down some of my own answers to these kinds of questions: How do you write feminist fiction? What does it mean to write in a feminist way? How do we tread the line between fiction, feminism, and propaganda? Where’s the line between a sexist character and sexist writing? (and so on and so forth)

The fruit of my meditations:IMG_1159

  1. Be Imaginative: As a scifi lover, I’m constantly disappointed in stories that succeed in imagining beautiful new worlds and technologies yet fail to imagine any new social systems that break with real-world stereotypes and prejudices. As Angela Davis said, “It is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world.” In other words, it’s as much an activist’s duty to speak out against injustice as it is to imagine worlds free of it.

  1. Stop Using Violence Against Women as Plot Device: I’m not against stories on tragedies or dark looks into our many dark possibilities–the horror genre happens to be one of my personal readerly favorites–but I would like to see more work that does away with the use of violence against women as mere plot device (especially those that then use said violence as justification for yet more and more violence). It’s not only annoying and (usually) sexist, but is also often boring and, frankly, lazy. There are certainly plots, characters, and stories that necessitate pain, violence, and abuse (and definitely gore!). However, there are careful lines to tread in these areas, lines that separate art, reality, entertainment, and protest from hate, true violence, and prejudice.

  1. Create an Actual Character: So often in stories, the primary and secondary female characters are not really what anyone would call characters. They’re often so poorly constructed and so lacking in detail and complexity as to barely be more than a name on a page. As Rachel Shukert explains in her article, “How to Write a Feminist Young Adult Novel” for Jezebel, “Other women are neither cheerleaders nor enemies. A female friend is another person, with her own thoughts and feelings and motives, which may or may not dovetail with the protagonists. If they do, it doesn’t mean she is unconditional, unthinkingly self-sacrificing fan. If they don’t, she isn’t necessarily an implacable enemy.” (emphasis added)

  1. Read Feminist Writing: As with studying and developing any skill and style, the best way to begin is to study the work of those who came before you: Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Dorothy Sayers, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Alice Munro, Pat Murphy, and so on. The importance of this has been driven home to me again and again by my own experiences as a rDorothySayerseader as well as by resources like the VIDA Count and by activist writers like Toni Morrison (who herself served as an editor for Random House for many years, where she worked tirelessly to bring the voices of underserved and minority populations to print). Unfortunately, many high schools and even some colleges continue to keep women writers largely off their syllabi. This means that it’s often up to you to do the research and find the writers for yourself—seek them out, however, and you’ll find them.

  1. And, as Shukert also states in her aforementioned article, probably the best way to write feminist is to first Be a Feminist! The best way to ensure that your writing is feminist in nature (without necessarily becoming “preachy” or propaganda) is to embrace feminism for yourself. This is at once complicated and simple, requiring introspection, action, socialization, study, and thoughtfulness. If you’re to trust your artistic instincts as inclusive and unprejudiced, then you yourself must strive to be also in all facets of life.

Toni Morrison & Angela Davis: Rebels, Writers, & Heroes

“Toni Morrison and Angela Davis on friendship and creativity”

By Dan White

I knew as soon as I came across this interview that I wanted to share it here! Definitely check out this terrific conversation about writing, reading, activism, friendship, and creativity.

UC Santa Cruz Review writer Dan White had separate in-depth conversations this summer with Toni Morrison and Angela Davis about their past collaboration, their longstanding friendship, and their bedrock belief in the power of literature. Davis introduced Morrison while she was in Santa Cruz to deliver the Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture at the Rio Theater on October 25. The subject: “Literature and the Silence of Goodness.” Angela Davis was interviewed by phone from Massachusetts, and Toni Morrison from upstate New York.

Do I Look Like a Baby Killer?

Hello again! I know this post doesn’t appear, at first, to have much to do with writing or writers. However, it does have a great deal to do with what I’ve been writing about lately. As far as freelance goes, I’ve discovered that, to motivate myself, I need to not only find writing topics that grip me but publications that, as a whole, do likewise.

I’ve since found a beautiful marriage of rich, meaningful writing, research, and topics in various feminist publications. I have always fancied myself a feminist but the farther I get from the classroom the more I realize just how uninvolved I’ve been. Since recognizing this, I’ve begun writing a slew of articles on everything from childbirth to burlesque dancing to women’s health research. And this blog post by Kat Richter, in my mind, is a great reflection upon many serious and pressing feminist issues today and is a fine example of taking feminist action through writing.

Fieldwork in Stilettos

This morning I went to Planned Parenthood.  I go every three months to pick up my birth control pills and again in August just before my birthday for my annual pelvic exam.

My usual concerns when going to Planned Parenthood are:

A)     Where am I going to park?  Parking in Center City is never easy.

B)      How long is this going to take?  The folks at the Locust Street branch are always friendly and seem pretty efficient but if you don’t have an appointment, you can find yourself sitting in the lobby long enough to watch an entire Tyler Perry film.

I’m never worried about getting stopped by protestors because let’s face it: this is 2013.  This is Philadelphia.  We’re not like that here.

Plus, my visit to Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with abortion, which makes sense because 90% of the services offered by Planned Parenthood have to…

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