Sunday, June 29, 2014

SM Johnson ~ Disengaging from social media ~

I love you, my darlings, and I have so many fun things to blog about, but I have clipped my fingernails short, logged off Facebook, turned off the television, and turned on the music.

I need to get my good habits back and finish Dare in the Dungeon.

Peace out.

I'll be back when the book is done.

In the meantime, as always, have fun and be safe.

MWAH!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

SM Johnson ~ Guest Post ~ 10 Rules for Authors of Dark Fic

Welcome to Thursday!

I am busy in Maine, ready to attend the wedding of the man who made my dreams come true, my publisher, Sven Davisson of Rebel Satori Press (round of applause, please) (moment of silence) (bow of worthy respect)...



And so I've solicited a guest blog, not from a blogger, per se, but from a reader I highly respect, whose thoughts were invaluable to me when she graciously beta read Jeremiah Quick as a favor to me. And honestly, her feedback made my book so much better!

So... without further ado, here is my friend, Bluerabella, along with another friend Zosia, offering a few rules for authors of Dark fiction, that grew out of a discussion in the Goodreads group I created and loosely moderate, DarkSafe.




Hi.

Do you know the feeling of reading the blurb of a book and thinking: "Yeah! Yeah! That sounds great! I want to read that! What's left of my pocket allowance, 'cause I need to get that, and read that, asap!"

Do you? Of course you do. You're a reader. Same as me. You know the excitement. You know what you want to read next. You know what you read before. You know what direction you want to turn next. Or if you don't, you recognize it when you see it.

It. The blurb. You read the opening chapters when they're available. You think, "Yeah!" again. And you click the "Buy Now" button. And excitement floods your veins as you see the arrow light up, indicating that it is in fact downloaded and waiting for you to be read.

Aaaaaah. You think. Me time. And you settle back. And read the copyright notice, the warning sticker, the intro note, and you get to the first line of the first chapter and you're ready to dive into a whole new experience. Another's words. Creating a world for you. To lose yourself in. Pure pure bliss.

Or so you think. Because in chapter 3, which was not in the teaser chapters, you notice something. She said what? He did what? But you hold on. Hey. We have an open mind. Give the author a break. It'll pick up. And it doesn't.

You check the blurb again. The title again. Yeah, this is what I got, or thought I would get. Then how, why, she, he.... And you think, "Um excuse me, what's going on here, exactly?"

But dogged determination, if nothing else, will keep you reading. You hate her. He seems to be... A copy of someone else you read about? And then the really weird stuff comes along. You close your - whatever you're reading it on - and think "Ugh!".

Only dear husband looks up with a worried question mark in his eyes. And you find you said that out loud. And furthermore, you can't explain without wanting to rant at him. Him. Who's done you no wrong, ever. And you sigh and smile a weak smile. And you see him thinking, "That time of the month again..."

But it's not. It's the book. The promise it held. That seems to be blown into smithereens at the moment. You sigh. You have a good night's sleep. And you pick it up again. You drag yourself through the pages. How could this have had all those rave reviews? How is this possible? Is this the beta version you have? Nope. It is what it is.

And by the time you've finished, you're ready to kill someone. Yourself most likely. Or at least pull out every hair that ever lived on your head. Because there went your pocket money down the drain, along with the last chapter, the last paragraph, the last words.

The end notes confirm that you have, in fact, finished the book. This is what it is. There's nothing more. You want to scream again. And again and again. But you don't. It would upset dear husband, not to mention the kids, or the person sitting next to you on the train into work.

You need to talk to someone though. And you find your favorite online book buddy. And together you rant and rant and rant. Not just about this book. No. About all the books you ever wanted to rant about before but couldn't, because you hadn't found each other yet. And you do it in a respectful, constructive, fair, civilized tone of voice. That goes without saying, doesn't it? But fully reflective of the crushing of the dream, the disbelief, the frustration, the anger, the sadness, the mourning, until finally, the acceptance comes. It was what it was.

And this is what came out of the rant that I had with my best book buddy on June 14, 2014:


Ten Things Every Author Should Know to Create the Perfect Dark Depraved Novel
- that will get you rich and famous as well as those high ratings you always wanted

1) No series with annoying cliff hangers at the end of the first novel in the series.

2) No series should take longer than 3 novels to tell the actual story. Each novel in a series has to tell a significant and rounded part of the overall story. The parts of the series should be novel length or if they're not they need to be combined into one novel. It is allowed to elaborate, add on, extend the story beyond the basic story line in additional sequels, either by adding characters or sideline stories. These can not conflict, contradict, detract from the original basic story. Each of the sequels has to follow these same guidelines.

3) Do not, ever, break the fourth wall. Do not make a character say to us, the readers, what you, the author, wanted to say. Let your characters speak for themselves. Let your text speak for itself. You, the author, have plenty of space to do your own talking in the blurb, introductory notes and end notes.

4) The blurb should not distort the premise of the story. No false advertising. No lemons where peaches were promised and/or hinted at. Or vice versa.

5) Keep your novel free of high-tech, unbelievable, impossible, coulda-shoulda-woulda-talked-but-didn't plot mechanisms.  Do not try to force our suspension of disbelief so far that it detracts/distracts from anything else.

6) If you're gonna pull a rabbit out of the hat at 80% of the novel, reversing everything the reader has come to understand about the characters/plot/story direction, bloody make sure that the remaining 20% is spectacular enough to compensate for that.

7) Write with the reader in mind. Use descriptive prose and fluid dialogue. Use scene sequencing to achieve desired effect. Have someone beta read and proofread at the very very least, to take out the more stupid things like killing off the grandmother in chapter 3 and having her to babysit in chapter 10 and the sillier there/their spelling errors as well as the typos. Adapt text according to hints and tips.

8) If there's gonna be mean things, describe the mean things so we can see/feel/hear/smell how mean they are. Show, don't tell. Don't keep the nasty business off camera (all the time), don't shove it down our throats either.

9) If you're gonna do a meanie, make him a meanie. The perfect monster is not a sniveling pussy, he dominates. He is consistent, even if only in his inconsistencies. He cannot be out of control for extended periods of time. He can be aggressive, must be superior in most ways and although he may have weaknesses, he must be close to infallible. He must have a reason for being the meanie he is, even if it is not known to the reader (yet). We do want to find out about it though, and his reasons, however outrageous they may be, better be good. The perfect monster has a libido that is at least beyond average and he does not rely on (the size of) his dick alone to do his nasty meanie sexy business. He has a varied repertoire of techniques and/or tools. There will be at least some to an amazing amount of pleasure for the object of his attention. Any pain he inflicts, harm he does, cannot be for the sake of maiming, destroying, killing alone.

10) The woman/girl that attracts the perfect monster's attention, desire, affection, interest is not too stupid to live. She cannot be an unworthy opponent. If the perfect monster kills her off at the end, make sure it happens in a memorable, worthy way.

(c) Copyrighted and written by Bluerabella (bluerabella@gmail.com) & Zosia, in DarkSafe group of the Goodreads forum, on June 14 2014. This text may be spread around freely, provided you do so in its entirety, including this (c) notice. (Don't forget to send us an ARC when you think you've come up with one that qualifies, thank you very much in advance :D)





PS - send her ARC's - really. Bluerabella is an amazingly astute reader and reviewer! And, you know, she's my friend and all that, and I'm (SM Johnson) a shitty reviewer, so definitely send ARCs to her, k? Thx.

Thank you so so so much, Blue and Zosia, for permission to use your list as a blog post this week, while I'm on vacation. It means more than you know : )

Thursday, June 12, 2014

SM Johnson ~ Review dilemma

So... here's the thing. I read a lot of books. And I've always read a lot of books. I was the kid leaving the library with my backpack bulging and my arms aching from the weight of the books that wouldn't fit inside. Sometimes I had to stop and rest on the walk home.

And once I arrived home, I'd spread all the books out on the floor of my room and sit in the middle of them, consumed with the deliciousness of choosing which one to read first.

I love books.

But here's the other thing: I read a lot less these days than I used to. Sometimes I tell myself this is because I'm so busy. And if I have time to read, then I really should be writing. Or my kindle is too full, and it's so hard to pick which book to read next. The kindle is not nearly as tactile or as visual as an array of books on the floor, and often I can't remember just from the title in a long list of titles what made me purchase a particular book. There might be wonderful stories lingering on the list, and I have no real idea what they are.

But - and here's where I get myself in trouble - the primary reason that I read less, I think, is because there are so many truly crappy books out there, and I get frustrated trying to invest my attention and interest in them. And then I start to think reading is boring, and maybe I don't like to read for entertainment anymore.

And then bam! An awesome book really grabs me, and I wolf it down, hardly able to set my kindle aside for any reason whatsoever. And I remember, Oh, yeah, THIS is the reading experience I'm always looking for. Grab me by the throat and never let me go. Please.

Us Three by Mia Kerick, for instance. Or King Perry by Edmond Manning. Or The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater.

These are books that I blog about, tweet about, shout about wherever I can. When I love love love something, I want everyone to share in the experience. It's so much good clean fun to share pretty sparkly things, isn't it?

And then... there are the books that I think are putrid stinking bombs.

Oh dear.

What to do with these?

I have an instinct to share these, as well, if only to warn my beloveds away from them, especially if the bombs are in my own genres of erotica, vampire, and dark fiction. And the instinct goes as far as... me writing a review in my head, well rehearsed and soaked in sarcasm,  vitriol, and vehemence. Arrogance. Entitlement. Mean-spirited snark. Oh, I sound so funny, I tell myself, such amazing wit have I! I will crack up my tens and tens of followers...

And then of course... I rein myself in, because, um, well. Reality.

Reality #1: I am not a mean person, and it doesn't make me feel good to shit on other people and hurt their feelings.

Reality #2: I was a baby writer once. And I thank the gods that self-publishing wasn't an option for me back then or I would have published terrible work, too.

Reality #3: I am a writer. I am a professional. Yes, I maintain the right to review any book that I have paid for - I don't think being a writer myself disqualifies me from writing reviews, despite what others think about this. I've been a consumer of books long before I became a producer of them. I would not write a negative review out of professional jealousy, I truly would not. Unless the book really did suck, then I might (grinz).

My dilemma here is that I just really want to COMPLAIN, and be wholly non-constructive. Am I allowed to do that?

Yeah, probably not. But I'm still going to.

I just read a thing that was a compilation of things, and I'm not going to say anything more specific about the thing than that. But it was a thing I should have loved. I kept thinking... well, the next one has to be better. Um, nope. Well, maybe the next next one?

Sadly, no.

There is some perception that for something to be called Dark Fiction, it has to contain some kind of kidnapping or capture of the main character by some person who is wholly disgusting, and then rape must ensue. Detailed, non-erotic rape, with fetid breath and groping fingers and revolting body odor... and an ending that not only borders on hopeless, but IS hopeless.

I like Dark Fiction that has an element of the psychological, where the antagonist has purposeful control, where the main character falls down a rabbit hole of dark and depraved, and is trying to either climb out of the hole, or reconcile his or her love for the darkness with the person he or she always thought himself to be. I don't mind bittersweet. In fact, I love when  a book makes me cry. But there should still be some element of hope in the ending, some note of character change or growth.

So, okay, back to complaining.

First off... let me just say... I'm old. I'm older than 40. And I am just DONE with the adult virgin trope. I don't mind it when it involves a genuinely young male or female - but even then, I want seduction and foreplay and the tension of apprehension. I don't want "I screamed as he crammed his gigantic member into my virgin hole," because... seriously? Ugh.

Second - I don't like disgusting rapists who have beer guts and bad breath and greasy hair and don't shower on a regular basis. Unless the MC is going to kill them in the end, and the story is more about her inner strength and character rather than rape scene after rape scene after rape scene...

I can't stand exclamation points, in general, in a narrative. An exaggerated amount of exclamation points is often my first clue that a writer is a baby writer. Why be subtle when you can use lots of exclamation points? Especially main characters who use them when they are thinking... they come across as bobble-headed college co-eds that are kinda dumb. And usually blonde. With large tits. His fingers pinched my nipples and it felt so good! "Don't stop! That feels great!" I wouldn't even care if my dorm roommate or her mother walked in right about now! He's so hot! And he's so rich! "Keep doing that! After I cum, I'll suck you off!"

See what I mean? Bobble-head.

Let's see... what else do I hate? Oh, I know.

Juices.

I hate the following phrases: my juices were flowing; he made my juices run down my legs; my pussy juices flowed, he really got my juices going,  etc. feel free to create your own. I especially hate this when ALL of these phrases are used in one book, every time a pussy gets wet. I mean, I can over look one juicing, but when I start to feel like your pussy is craving the opportunity to squeeze oranges... just... please. Stop it.

Try for some variety of language, but at the same time, try also to avoid over-using "moist" and "cream" (gods, I know, I'm such a picky bitch).

Another one... I appreciate that there are stories about BBWs (big beautiful women). But a phrase like, "I leaned my 18W bulk against his strong, manly chest," just isn't sexy anywhere, ever. Gods. Your characters don't have to be supermodel thin by any means, but to tell me the character's dress size? Ugh. (This annoys me when the dress size is a 2, btw, so I'm not picking on larger characters, not at all). But for BBW characters, please find another way. She can be sensual, curvy, lush, soft. She can describe herself as "I'll never be a stick," or "I know I'm heavier than the average gym addict, but he makes me feel delicate..." or  "He sighs his content as he melts into my pillowed curves..."  blah blah blah. You know what I mean, right? We get to use language in many beautiful ways, and as a writer, you need to reach for the better ones. And another quick note on character description, including size... you don't need to KEEP telling us what the characters look like. Once we're sucked into the story, we have a general sense of the character, and if you keep hammering at me that the character is "larger than life", that pulls me out of a story that I'm trying to be busy enjoying. Skilled authors (and I'm still working on learning this myself) - describe what a character looks like very briefly, and then most of what we learn about the character herself is internal or as projected by other characters.

I'm really bad at dressing my people. Honestly, I'm so bad at it that half the time you'd think my people were running around nekkid. I'm a tee-shirt, jeans, hoodie sort of gal, so I pretty much want my clothes to be clean, and that's good enough. But for the rest of you - it's great to dress your characters, just remember that you're not writing an LL Bean catalogue. (Is that really the wrong way to spell catalogue? Huh. I have no idea what will make spell check happy here...)

I recently read the most bizarre anthology ever. I liked maybe two of twelve stories, and those two felt like the ones that didn't belong, both in writing quality and story quality. The oddest thing was, this set was a mixture of word-counts, and included prequels to other works, novellas, full-length novels, and short stories. I had no idea what to expect from each story, ever.

I'm not going to write a review. One of my conscious decisions is to only write review for books that I like, and to never review books I feel bitchy about. And I'm lazy about reviewing even books that I adore, so yeah, I'm going to skip the specific snark.

Oh. Baby writers. I do love you. This is just the one instance where indie publishing is not serving you well - ya'all don't even know that your work isn't ready yet, and you can just fling it out to Amazon etc. which damages not only your own reputation, but the reputation of independent authors in general, and makes it harder for everyone to find good books that ARE ready.

There's a thought that a writer isn't ready to publish until they have written a million words. Overall, I think this is true. It takes time and a lot of words to learn to write with finesse, to learn to stay in a single point of view and not hop from one person's head to another, to learn how to not have your dialog feel stilted and formal, to write sex scenes that are more than just mechanics. To show versus to tell.

I'm not perfect. I'm not the best writer in the world, or even the best writer I've ever read. I like my own stories because I write what I can't seem to find anywhere else, and maybe because the stuff that I perhaps neglected to transfer to the page is still sitting there in my head, so for any given scene, I already know well the past and the future. But I also give myself the benefit (arrogance?) of having worked hard and earned some skills - both by writing lots of words myself, and attempting to analyze the techniques of people I consider to be great writers.

I mostly don't enjoy reading the work of baby writers - but even as I say that, I hope these newbies get a chance to improve their craft before negative or hurtful reviews make them believe they aren't good writers. They have every potential to be GREAT writers. They're mostly just new and publishing before they are ready.

Have a safe and happy June, my beloved darlings. I'm leaving Wisconsin and heading to Maine for the rest of the month, where two of my favorite people are getting married (!)

~SM


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

SM Johnson ~ Pushing Back Dare in the Dungeon

Hello my lovely darlings...

This is just a quick update post to let you know that I'm pushing my release of Dare in the Dungeon to August. Most of may and these first couple of weeks into June have been just lost, due to having a new puppy (or maybe just due to laziness?) and I have not worked at the pace I've come to expect of myself (meh, sometimes you just need to relax, you know?) And how can you resist that puppy face? I sure can't. We have this crazy thing in common - apparently we both LOVE NAPS - so I keep losing the middle of the day because the minute I sit down on the chair and get cozy with a blanket, Quinn is all, "Yay! Naptime! Yay! My favorite thing!" I might say something back like, "I thought sticks were your favorite thing?" And her response looks a lot like, "Stick! Where? I don't see no stick. But nap! Yay! Naptime is my favorite thing!" So you see, I've been getting coerced into taking A LOT of naps. Yeah, pretty much all of them. So if you've been missing your naps, I will guiltily admit that I might have stolen them.

But I digress. Dare in the Dungeon is going to be late due my wholly non-productive spring. Oh, yeah, and the part where I'm going to be away for pretty much the rest of June. That slows production even more. Meanwhile, they're only puppies once, and for such a short time, too....

xoxo darlings.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

SM Johnson ~ Fighting censorship of erotic works

Summer cup because grass! Dandelions!
Good morning, darlings.

I think I was going to post about sweet puppies or cute kittens, or letting wild snakes go back into the wild... or the fact that I am having a carpenter ant problem that has me ready to burn the house down, but I went a little crazy leaving a comment on the One Handed Writers blog, so I decided to copy it to over here. And expand on it, because, why not?

Yeah, lazy. Heh.

The topic was Amazon's ever-increasing intrusiveness to filter/block/ban erotic work, and you can read the post I was responding to HERE.

Honestly, I'm okay with adult filters. I don't want my kid running into titles like Daddy's Little Fuck Toy or Having Sex With My Brother while browsing Amazon. And I think it's too much for authors to expect inflammatory titles and covers to be accepted by the mainstream.

 I write erotica and Dark myself, but the sensationalized tasteless titles are a serious turn-off (to me). Not that I'm going to "report" them, but that kind of title tells me I won't like the book or the writing style anyway, so personally, such blatant non-creative titles don't generate a buy from me, and they SHOULD be filtered.

I read the darkest and most depraved stories I can find. And when I can't find what I want to read, I write it myself. Jeremiah Quick, for instance, and my M/M BDSM Dungeon series. I love words, and I love stories, and I love for my eyes to widen with shock while I'm reading. But I also require what I read to be written well, and if an author sensationalizes covers and titles with intent to shock and titillate, it's almost guaranteed that I won't care for the story. But that's just me. There are plenty of people who eat "penthouse letter" style porn like popcorn at a movie theater, and that's great. It's great for the readers looking for it, and it's great for the authors making some dollars writing it.

And if these books are hidden behind filters, well... the people looking to BUY them will figure out how to find what they want. I wish Amazon would just give us a blatant, in your face adult filter the way Smashwords does - it's there at the top of the screen, an option to "filter adult content" - ding, ding, ding - easy!

But.

I DO think the purpose of KDP and Amazon and other retail outlets offering vehicles for self-publishing was designed, very specifically, as a ploy for said retailers to get a share of the porn market. And when I say "porn market" I mean DOLLARS. They want a cut of the money readers are willing to spend buying your books. That's the whole point of a retailer.

I mean, seriously, do you think Amazon DIDN'T know that tons of self-published titles would be porn? Erotica and pornography has historically been the number one thing people use the internet FOR.

And on the other hand, Amazon, as a capitalist for-profit entity, doesn't want to alienate the people shopping for mainstream best-sellers, either. So god forbid search results are so raunchy and tasteless they drive these people to visit brick and mortar bookstores instead of buying from Amazon. That would be a terrible loss of sales for Amazon.

The problem with Amazon is they have automated keyword monkeys that unpublish books based on particular keywords. One of mine got knocked out for the phrase "Traction is like non-consensual bondage, and Jeff calls red."

The solution was to write to Amazon and request human review. Not only did they put my M/M BDSM book back on sale, they CALLED ME ON THE PHONE to apologize, and when they didn't catch me the first time, they called me again later that day.

Book one of the series, Above the Dungeon, btw, has been lingering as a top book in category fiction, and I've made a few hundred dollars from sales of books 2 and 3:

Believe me, Amazon WANTS the dollars generated by sales of your erotic writing. There will always be a work-around, and if that work-around is clean packaging... well, consider kids and conservative Christians wandering around Amazon aren't much different than kids and conservative Christians wandering around Walmart.

Some products, by their very design, aren't appropriate for all ages. It's not so hard to figure out, is it?

Some writers use titillating keywords in their titles to drive sales - to me, this is a marketing tactic, and is usually a red flag that the writer has wrapped a poor quality product (IMO) in shocking packaging, and I already have the opinion that the narrative is going to be amateur, filled with exclamation points, and isn't going to arouse me any more than industry standard visual porn does. (shrug). 


But at the end of the day, Amazon doesn't care about quality or content - Amazon wants their cut of your sales. So if you're running into "censorship" and "filtering" problems - I suggest writing to Amazon through their KDP Help screen. Give them the ASIN # of your blocked/banned work, and tell them why it should not be blocked, banned, or filtered. But if you sound like you want to fill children's heads with visions of anal sex and fucking daddy... perhaps you might reconsider what your book looks like on the outside. 

I'm just sayin'.

Another piece of this, for me, is how baffled I am by marketing and promotion in general. So far the best generator of Amazon sales, for me, was putting book one of a series for free. (This required writing to Amazon via their KDP Help screen, as well).

There is some school of thought that a books title should contain elements of its description, including genre, so that keywords searches pop it up in front of potential customer's eyes faster. I dunno. Above the Dungeon: A M/M BDSM Erotica Novel feels a bit cumbersome to me. Let's try another... Jeremiah Quick: A Dark And Moving Tale Of Boy Meets Girl, Leaves Girl, And Finds Girl Later. 

Yeah, cumbersome. I think I'll stick to my original premise that readers are smart and they know exactly how to find the books they want to read. 

Remember the card catalog?

Good luck, darlings, keeping your books for sale and finding wonderful dark and erotic stories to read. And have a fun and safe weekend!