The Delicious Torment – A review

Alison Tyler and I agree on a crucial point: that it’s important to do things properly, especially when it comes to sex. At the start of her last novel, Dark Secret Love, she says:

I’m hoping to paint the proper picture. I want you to know the way the wood felt under my bare feet. I want you to be able to trace a cut-crystal whiskey glass with your fingertips, to feel the sting of a slap and feel the rising blush.

With erotica more than any other genre, I think, the details are important. A single ill-chosen word can squick the reader; for me personally, even the cover can be a turn off.

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Dark Secret Love: A Review

Wow, the blog has strayed far from its original purpose, hasn’t it? Look at what my About section says: ‘I blog not only about my fiction, but also about the things that matter to me, both in the bedroom and out of it.’ My life in the bedroom is supposed to be secondary to my writing, and somehow it’s become the main focus. This isn’t leading to some big conclusion, or change of direction, it’s just a reminder to myself that the people in it are real and I should go steady here with what I write about them.

Anyyyway … this post is more about me doing something I’m uncomfortable with – reviewing someone else’s writing. I haven’t written a book review since I was in school, and honestly? I don’t really know where to start. Especially because, when it comes to erotica, I don’t always read chronologically, and some bits get, erm, much more read than others. But I do think it’s important. The erotica market, in the UK at least, feels to me like it’s in a bit of a mess at the moment, and surely if women want to see a range of high quality, well-written erotica, then we actually have to talk about the stuff we’ve enjoyed and recommend it to others.

Starting with something based on someone’s real life experiences seemed a good place to start – after all, it’s something I think I understand the motivation for. And the other thing I loved about Alison Tyler’s Dark Secret Love? The heroine has agency.

I think that’s a bigger deal than it might seem at first. I plan to review much more of what I read here, and I have no intention at all of comparing everything back to FSoG. But it’s worth doing here. In FSoG, Ana doesn’t have any submissive desires of her own – she desires Christian, and she wants to be sub because that’s what he wants.

Although in the UK edition, Black Lace have tried to suggest otherwise with the cover (‘It’s ok, bashful ladies, this is just a book about a rich guy with nice ties, nothing to be ashamed of’), there’s none of that in Dark Secret Love – Sam, the heroine, is very much submissive by her own choice.

The other thing I really liked is that she’s fundamentally monogamous. If you put FSoG and all its spin offs to one side, it can sometimes feel like erotica is dominated by people who are polygamous, and that, if you really love sex, you have to be having it with more than one person. Dark Secret Love proves that that’s just not true. Monogamous but filthy? Yep, that’s totally a thing.

For me, the only downside was that the type of BDSM Sam is into is the formal kind: whips, canes, spanking … whereas the type that gets me off tends to be more about psychological domination. That’s very much a personal thing, and if you prefer the former, there’s no doubt that this is a very hot book.

In the introduction, Alison writes: ‘This is meta-fiction, beta-fiction, masturbatory fiction.’ For me, it wasn’t the last of those, not quite. But for a lot of people it will be, and it’s good to know that Alison is happy for you to use it for that purpose.

FFS, or, ‘The rise and rise of erotica for women’

So, the plan for today was to write the second part of ‘Things I read in 2013.’ But, as often happens, something got in the way, something which matters more to me and which I think needs writing more urgently. Secretly, I like it that way – I much prefer writing posts about things that have got me riled up than calm, collected review posts (don’t worry, Part 2 will still happen at some point).

This morning I got up, and was all cosied up on the sofa in my dressing gown, watching Gary Barlow’s Big Ben Bash Live (although not live, obviously) and browsing Facebook, when I came across this article entitled ‘The rise and rise of erotica for women.’

Sounds good, yes? Sadly, like most things in the post-FSoG era, the truth is a little more complicated and a lot more disappointing. I’ll start by saying that yes, I’ve read all three FSoG novels, and sometimes I even defend them (I think EL James has mastered the romance plot. Do I think it’s erotic romance? Not particularly, no.) Plus, after FSoG was published, a lot of good things started to happen, which I thought were promising both as a reader and as an aspiring writer of erotica, not least that the UK erotic romance line Black Lace was resurrected.

Black Lace books have featured prominently in my life for years now. As a teenager, I bought them in secret and stacked them high on my bedside table, hidden by ‘real books.’ I’m pretty sure my mum knew they were there all the same. When they stopped publishing, I kept buying old titles from the only places they were still stocked – motorway service stations – and tried to avoid the curious looks of checkout staff more accustomed to selling overpriced chewing gum. I even mentioned this by way of an utterly bizarre chat up line to someone once, but hey, it worked!

So when it returned, I was understandably delighted. Except … I’ve been disappointed with nearly everything I’ve read by them since. There are exceptions, of course. I loved Kristina Lloyd’s writing the first time round, and I still do. Black Lace also own the UK rights to Alison Tyler’s Dark Secret Love, which I’ve just finished, and which I’d also highly recommend (review to follow in the coming weeks). But a lot of the other stuff has just felt gimmicky, or too much about the happy ending (no, not that kind of happy ending!), such as the Christmas anthology, Stocking Fillers (Black Lace used to do excellent anthologies – check out this one, if you’re interested).

The Contributoria article quotes Gillian Green as saying:

“Black Lace titles are erotic romances rather than a string of sex scenes held together by a thin plot. Women, it seems, still want their Mills and Boon-style happy ever after, just kinkier.”

Now, I read Mills & Boon – rarely, now, but often, in the past and I just don’t agree. I’m pretty vanilla (monogamous, Gary Barlow fan, used to enjoy the bit in Famous Five books where they all go home and have tea way more than the actual plot), but when I’m reading erotica, it’s the sex scenes that matter, more than the plot, or the ending. Of course it is – these are the books I use to get off. Someone asked me on Twitter the other day whether the ending of Kristina Lloyd’s Asking for Trouble made me cry. Er, no – because by the time I actually read the book in order I pretty much knew it inside out anyway. Which isn’t to say that Kristina writes a weak plot or a weak ending – nothing could be further from the truth. She just doesn’t write a romance plot (although she writes emotion amazingly). So why does Gillian Green think it has to be romance – why not an erotica thriller, or just a contemporary erotic novel in which the girl doesn’t end up with her guy?

Plus, the article also mentions that Black Lace “plans to publish a series of erotic memoirs.” Do these all have happy endings? Really? Because that makes me nervous. I wrote what could essentially be classed as erotic memoir for NaNoWriMo this year and Black Lace is one of the publishers I’d eventually consider submitting to. But what I wrote doesn’t have a happy ending, because I think true life rarely does. I’d be pretty gutted if, in order to find a publisher, I had to put some kind of positive spin on the ending.

My final bugbear with the article is the way it ends:

“All publishers and authors agree that stylish covers are important for sales, as well as good proofreading.”

Maybe Black Lace books do have what the industry consider to be stylish covers, I don’t know. Personally, I’m not a fan. They do, at least, finally have men on them sometimes, but when you compare them to the beautiful covers used by the US imprint, Cleis (this is my favourite), they’re pretty disappointing. When I bought Alison Tyler’s Dark Secret Love, I was disappointed to get this cover, not this one. I’m not the kind of girl who’s ashamed to be reading erotica, so please, let’s have covers that reflect the content of the book.

Still, at least there’s one positive thing to come out of this:

“Green says she is always on the lookout for broadminded editors who don’t flinch at editing explicit sex scenes.”

Maybe 2014 will be the year I get a new job …

 

I like your cock … just not as your avatar – Part 1

Alison Tyler is one of my erotica heroines. Not only does she edit collection after collection of seriously hot erotica, she also runs craft competitions and she loves bookshelves. How could I not love her?

Last week, she posted on Twitter ‘If your avatar is a picture of your penis, I’m probably not going to follow you back.’

I totally get where she’s coming from with this, and, with a few exceptions, generally the people I follow don’t lead with a picture of their cock. I’m sorry – but your cock in isolation, whether it’s hard or not, just isn’t that hot (for the record, it’s probably hottest when it’s semi-hard).

That doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of naked men, or of pictures of naked men on the internet. This one, courtesy of Kristina Lloyd’s blog, is currently my desktop background, and he makes me very happy indeed.

So, what’s the difference? Well, firstly, you can see his whole body, but more importantly, it’s sexy because a) you can see his face (kind of, it is actually blurred out), and b) it’s an action shot, and that sense of movement, of intruding on a private moment, is oh so hot.

It also brings me neatly to the viewpoint of Girlonthenet, someone else whose writing I really rate, but whose view on cock pics I was pretty sure I didn’t share, since her email address actively encourages guys to send her pictures of their dicks. I’m totally on board with the whole ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’ approach, but if it were me I’d rather photos of your legs, say, or your amazing forearms.

Then, last month, in very quick succession, she posted two pieces that I couldn’t agree with more. The first was on how hot guys look when they’re wanking and they don’t know you’re watching (see, that brings me back to Kristina’s picture), the second was about how much hotter words can be than images.

I understand completely that what I’m asking for might be unrealistic. After all, your Twitter account, or your blog, is in the public domain, and yes, you’d be plain stupid to put up pictures where both your cock and your face are clear as day. But, that said, in an ideal world, what I want from naked pictures of men on the internet (in increasing order of importance) is:

1) Words – Yes, ok, when you post a picture of your cock, and it’s hard, I can see that you’re feeling horny. But that’s all I know – I can’t tell what you were thinking that made you hard, and that’s what I’m really interested in. If you want to make your cock pic hot, put some sexy words alongside it – erotica you’ve written, a brief description of something that turns you on, how you felt when you took the picture. Because that’s what I’m really interested in.

2) Your face – Even if you turn away from the camera, it’s nice to get a sense of your face in pictures. From a picture of your cock alone, I find it hard to conjure up an image in my mind of an act, whether that’s you wanking, me sucking you, or you fucking me in a nice hotel room. Make it easy for me: give me a hint of your jawline, or your cheekbone, your hair even – that’s the picture I’ll take to bed with me.

3) Action – See above. Pictures of you engaged in an act are the sexiest of all – they suggest that you’re not afraid to have people look at you when you might not look your best and they require the least mental work on my part to devise a scenario in my head that I can get off to. It’s a win win situation.

I’m rereading Kristina Lloyd’s Asking for Trouble at the moment, and today I reached this passage, which sums it up perfectly:

He was bare from the arse upward, his naked back facing me. His olive skin was overlaid with a sheen of dark bronze, and he was perfectly muscled: sinewy, work-strong contours rather than vulgar brawn. His black-hair was cut in a grade-two crop and the suggestion of skull beneath was menacingly beautiful. His head was slightly turned, eyes downcast, mouth set in a firm line. You could see an ear, jawline, a high cheekbone, and part of a big hawkish nose. 

His left arm was angled at the elbow; his hand was in front of his body. It looked like he was wanking, oblivious to anyone else.’

So yeah, I’m not a massive fan of pictures of your cock, but if anyone wants to stage the scene above for me, and take a photo, I’m totally on board with that.