Get on the Good Foot

  • Posted on: 16 May 2008
  • By: MeiLin

In so many ways I started this whole story thing on the wrong foot. And by "started," I mean almost at birth.

I've been thinking about what happened to Always Aroused Girl, a blogger who writes anonymously about her sex life, parenting and whatever else is on her mind. Her blog is entertaining and informative and quite frank. Her fundamentalist parents, who had been told not to go borrowing trouble and search for her work, did anyway, found it (or more likely, were tipped off by someone malicious) and confronted her recently in a really painful, horrible way.

I am luckier in that my parents aren't fundamentalists. But my mom is very sex-phobic, especially when it comes to me. My sexual nature came out at an early age, and she has been pretty freaked out by me ever since, even though I wasn't a high school slut or anything. (I would have been if I could have gotten over the deep sense of shame I carried around. I would have been much happier, I think, if I'd at least gotten to kiss someone a little. Nope. I was 18 before I even got that. I think maybe I held hands a couple times.)

And here's my problem: I tried to write fiction for 40 years, but I knew where my fiction would always arise from: My libido. It always starts from psycho-sexual stuff, even if there's no sex in the piece; it's always there, and easily spotted. (I couldn't even create a D&D dungeon without things getting a little...odd.) I would read what I wrote and think, "I can't let my mom see this." And for 40 years, I've been waiting for either my essential creative drive to change, which isn't going to happen, or my mom to die, so I could write. I really, really hated sitting here waiting for her to die so I could write. I mean, jeebus, what a creepy, sad thing to do. I love my mom. I love my mom to bits. She's a supportive, great mom. She just can't handle some aspects of who I am, and I accept that now.

And then, I had a life-changing event and almost died. I realized that my plan, waiting for mom to go first, might not work. I could precede her. And my stories would go untold, even to myself. That wasn't creepy and sad, it was just sad.

So I started writing late last year. And just as I had feared, all this sex stuff came pouring out. At first I thought, well, I must be an erotica writer. So I went and hung out with the erotica writers and quickly realized I'm not an erotica writer.

But the sex thing--the idea that my writing and any worth it might have completely revolved around sex--it stuck to me, or rather, I clung to it. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I'd held it all in for so long that I just couldn't see past it. Perhaps I was afraid no one would read it unless there was promised smut.

In any event, here I am. I've done a lot of the marketing of this site around the sexual aspects of the story. I'm beginning to think I'm doing it a disservice and that I'm not taking my own work seriously enough. I can tell you, I really do take it seriously; my friends and family can tell you I'm a crashing bore right now, this is all I think about. But somehow, when it comes to talking about what I'm doing, I feel a need to denigrate it. It's "just" a genre story. It's "just" a soap opera. It's "just" smut. And it's showing in the marketing.

I think I need to get off the wrong foot and get on the good foot. Ideas and thoughts appreciated.

Comments

amiciaN's picture

Petitioner

You are doing yourself a huge disservice if you think this story is "just" anything. One of the most appealing aspects of it to me is that it isn't. Real life and real stories are not one dimensional and neither is AIHGK. Yes there is magic, yes there is Temmin coming of age, yes there is drama, yes there is sex, but no single aspect takes center stage all the time. Yes there is magic, but it is severely limited, with Temmin being the hope of restoring it to the royal line of Tremont. Yes, Temmin is coming age but it is not the only story you are telling; this is the story of the Kingdom of Tremont, not the story of Temmin. Yes, there is plenty of drama, but it's not the overblown drama of a soap opera and yes there is sex, but it is not gratuitous sex, devoid of any emotion besides lust and inserted only to titillate; in short it's not porn.

So what is it? I would describe your story as sword-and-sorcery fantasy without all the other good bits ignored or sanitized. As the title says, it is an *intimate* (hi)story of a fantasy kingdom, aimed at adults, with all the growth, drama and yes, even sex, that real people experience. Your story appeals to a similar target audience as Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series. That story is marketed as fantasy first and I think that is where AIHGK fits; fantasy aimed at those who have outgrown the typical offerings, or who prefer a more realistic world view than "good triumphs over evil always" and who want to have their own world views broadened or challenged. If I had to come up with a short tag, I would call it "adult fantasy" or "fantasy w/adult themes".

I hope that helps a bit.

TheBoy's picture

Embodiment

I think you're close.
I struggle, though with this one thing:
"adult" has a strong pornographic connotation these days.

More later, battery dying.

amiciaN's picture

Petitioner

Ok, now I can't get this image of June Cleaver telling the Beav to "act more pornographic" out of my head!!

So what word would be better? "Mature" is going to sound like it's aimed at the geriatric crowd and "grown-up" just sound childish to me. "Fantasy w/frank themes" maybe??

GAH!! Now I have pictures of "Frank Burns" (from M.A.S.H.) doing porn!!! :jawdrop: Pass the brain bleach!!!

MeiLin's picture

Most High

instead of "adult" because of the connotation. Generally speaking, when asked I describe it as "fantasy with the good bits left in." Smile

I'm genuinely wrestling with this. The original draft of the story was horrid, and in no small part it was because I just went bananas with the sex stuff; it was crass, it was cynical, and it wasn't terribly sexy. It wasn't true at all to the story I really wanted to tell, even if I didn't know the story I wanted to tell yet. I think really the only thing that hasn't changed is my attitude.

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

MeiLin wrote:
I usually say "grown-ups" instead of "adult" because of the connotation. Generally speaking, when asked I describe it as "fantasy with the good bits left in." :)

"Grown-ups" seems unwieldy, and "mature" sounds like you're either trying hard to be all artsy and literary and oh-so-very-grown-up, or like you're too prudish to call it porn, neither of which does justice to you or your story.

If you don't want to label this as "fantasy with adult themes" - which I think is a reasonably good label of less than five words IF you can live with the fact that some people will think "porn" and not read it while others will think "porn", start reading it, and then leave disappointed when they note it's not just wank fodder, "fantasy with the good bits left in" is as good as it gets. In fact, I like it a whole lot, because it is such an apt description of AIHotGK.

Trystia's picture

I think the reason I've always preferred mature is that 'adult' and 'grown-up' always seem related to rather arbitary ages that have no correlation at all to what is allowed to people of that age. Maturity is an emotional thing that develops at its own pace, which is why some people can make responsible decisions quite early in life, and some don't start making them until they've made so many bad decisions it's a wonder anyone let them even tie their own shoes. I don't really mind giving out my age when it's asked, but I never ask, and simply judge people on the level of maturity they display.

V's picture

Embodiment

Mmm. So many thoughts, but how to say them?

First...the more I've learned about you, the more I respect you. You're very honest about a side of yourself that you've tried to suppress, and I respect both decisions you made in the past, and decisions you're making now that try to address and recognize that side of you, while doing the least harm to the most.

I'm glad you're writing. The more I read, the more I'm coming to enjoy it--even when a few bits leave my comfort zone. I definitely don't want you to stop. And yet--you're right, when I came here I felt misled. I linked over from MU after you replaced those yiffy ads, secure in the concept of "Well, some stories have lots of sex but aren't erotica", read your intro blurbs and thought "Hmm, but it seems the hardcore erotica folks are the only market for AE's ads Sad " You maintained this impression with all the "Don't worry, the sex is coming soon. Soon. Don't give up hope" and later with the "See, see? Just skip to Ch 7! (linky)" Yeah. Wrong foot...I see that now.

Your story isn't "just" anything. It's genuine, pure, and it's also damn good. Have Sir spank some self-confidence into you if this is at all unclear Wink You're fortunate enough to start writing at a time when a story like yours, or AE's, can succeed, no longer fettered by the staid, categorized, Puritanical cogs of old-school publishing. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS Smile

The reason MU hooked me so completely is, while I read the adult content disclaimers and proceeded forewarned, it acknowledges sex as a PART of the story but not the FOCUS of the story. Your story has a heavier dose of sex, but as you've discovered...it's not erotica. It's still a story, and I think it would benefit more from the same sort of presentation.

Don't make excuses. Don't make promises. This is your story, it's not a story written for the explicit purpose of masturbation, but it's a REAL story. It deals with real people, real relationships, and it doesn't fade to black when things get sexual. The MU ads (sorry if I'm belaboring a point but they're a really convenient example) are intriguing, in that they'll get a click-through from a LOT of people, almost all of whom will be slightly confused by what they find. Only some of them will read further, and some will squick but others will squee. This is a new type of story, and trying to make it look like people's expectations will drastically narrow your market at 2 or 3 separate stages and disappoint quite a few of the people in each. It's different. Cast as broad a net as you can and try to snag all those who will like it. Sexy ads, staid ads, mysterious ads, quirky ads. Run some of each, in all sorts of places, and don't make it obvious that they all lead the same place. What are you afraid of? Someone's going to call the FCC? Send you flames calling you a talentless damned-to-hell lesbian? I think AE's thought of "Hey, webcomic readers are used to updates several times a week..." is a brilliant one and a good way to bolster budding serial novels.

Alright, your creative genius flows from your libido. Fantastic. It's like NMK: Your kink is not their kink but your kink is OK! Don't pitch your story as being libidinal, just present your story as your story. Put a legal disclaimer up front about 18+, legal age etc. Keep it minimalist. At chapter 7, put another disclaimer. Don't spoil the chapter, but explain that the story WILL contain heavy doses of sex, and that it's not always intended to arouse...just to be real. Accept that most readers will not have fun with the noncon stuff...those who like it, let them like it, but you don't need to justify or moralize on it...just give fair warning and let them make of it what they will. If you must pander, explain that the story will be a sweeping one and contain far more highs than lows, but only the lows can provide contrast for the highs.

Umm...I just scrolled up, and I think I'd better cut this post off for now. Will think more and try not to spam you overly much >.> Anyway--love what you're doin, don't sell yourself short, keep up the good work!

Kunama's picture

Devotee

Shame.. not so great. Waiting.. not so bad either. You're happy now, and I think parents are always going to be a little freaked out by the thought of their children doing anything sexual, I suspect it is a modern-world parent thing. Part of it is possibly something to do with how the world is supposedly more evil these days, or so say mine anyway.

But all that's off track.

I agree with all the comments so far, it's a story that's real. It is sexually charged, but it's not just sex/erotica. (I hear there's a generalisation that teenage males are all about thinking with their genitalia. Oh hey look more proof of real...ness.)

I also agree with the comment of making different sorts of ads. Because it's not "just" smut/soap opera (wtf is that anyway)/coming of age/serialised fantasy fiction. That leads me to believe there's no one genre you can fit it in.

Word association/thesaurus came up with the following:
frank
unadulterated
sensual (hmm, do you indulge the senses enough to add sensuous in there?)
evocative

Google gave me the following:
Different types of fiction for dummies
and the only one yours really fits under is Young Adult. Which is amusing because that's apparently 12-16yo, and although they're not meant to be reading 18+ stuff, there's no doubt that many of them do... honestly, better here than elsewhere.

... yep wall of text. Time to go sleep.

Katie's picture

Embodiment

It's really hard to follow up that block of text, since V covered pretty much everything...

Only thing I can say, is there are LOTS of mass market paperback fantasies with the 'good bits' left in. Not all of them are as explicit as this, but they do still have them, and there are NO disclaimers. They're simply marketed as fantasy or fiction or whatever genre they happen to be in. So yeah, you're really selling yourself short by calling it 'just' anything.

Side note? I like IHGK better than ToMU.

V's picture

Embodiment

I should have known it's a bad sign when you're hoping your comment ended up shorter than the original post >.

After thinking on it for a few days, the most consistent thoughts are these: unless you HAVE to fill out a category for some search engine, avoid categorizing or setting expectations like that creepy stalker from the blind date. Advertise in places you've considered but rejected. Make the goal of your advertising to attract and keep as many readers as long as possible. Some will be disappointed or even upset...tough, them's the breaks. But the less opportunities you give people to dismiss the story, the more likely you are to find some devoted readers who wouldn't have otherwise tried it. Paul Graham has a good essay he wrote for the founders of tech startups, but much of his logic is analogous for keeping readers...and making a successful web serial. http://www.paulgraham.com/die.html

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Especially as I get ready to put out the first History paperback. If I do it through Lulu or Booklocker, I'm looking at having to sell 60 books to break even on the first book, about 20 books on the second (through Booklocker at any rate). I want to go straight to Lightning Source, though (the actual printer of the books) which I think drops my longterm cost a great deal and allows me to give you guys a better price on the books; we're looking at close to $15 for a 300-page trade paperback, the majority of that going to the printer. In any event, it's a $300 or so investment.

Anyway. Your posts helped me a great deal. Thank you.

Katie's picture

Embodiment

You don't pay for the books until they're actually bought and paid for? Lulu is pricey, though. I think it was around $14 for a 400 page book.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Notably for the ISBN number etc, and yeah, both Lulu and Booklocker would put me at about $14.95 for a ~300 page 6x9 paperback. In fact, Booklocker would require that as the price.

I think I have the technical skillz to work directly with Lightning Source Inc, which is the actual printer of both of those POD houses. I'm getting a better idea what it would cost from them. I know I would have an upfront cost of $265 for a packet of 10 ISBN numbers from Bowker before LSI will even let me file for an account, but I would have to pay both Booklocker and Lulu for an ISBN as well, and I'm not doing this without an ISBN. I want to be able to sell via Amazon and bookstores as well as directly from LSI. Not that I have any illusions about how popular the book's going to be. I just want to get it out there in as many different ways as possible. There will be an ebook version as well that I may end up selling directly from here. Technology, I has it.

ETA: If I go through LSI I will be able to lower the price point of the book, possibly significantly.

Katie's picture

Embodiment

I understand now. I was going off of what Gavin over at NMaI told me, but I think he was not paying for an ISBN number, and was instead simply printing for his readers.
ETA:well duh he was printing for his readers. I meant his CURRENT readers.

I need more sleep.

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