Tag Archives: Fantasy

Review of Biowars

NaturalKillerCell-SyrinxI was recently introduced to Biowars, an online comic book series, created by Gabriel Shaoolian along with a team of writers and artists. Now, I’ve been a fan of webcomics for some time, and I regularly follow works like The Order of the Stick, Girl Genius, and Schlock Mercenary. Right from the beginning, Biowars gave me a different impression from the other webcomics I read. It seems to be less of a webcomic and more of a digital comic book.

What’s the difference? Well, while webcomics like The Order of the Stick release their work online, they do so in a page-by-page format. Readers see each new page as it’s released, and once an entire story is complete, the pages are compiled into a book and released as a completed story. I’ve seen this format across enough webcomics to consider it a sort of “industry standard.” Fans of the page-by-page work can buy the print versions in order to have their own hard copies of the books and to get the bonus content that comes with it, which usually includes deleted scenes, author commentary, and other additional material not found online.

Biowars seems to operate on a very different concept, which is closer to the way traditional print comics work. A full issue is uploaded to the Biowars website once a month, and they have a page where you can view all of the issues currently released. They’re free to read, but unlike other webcomics, you get a full story at a time. It can also be read online as a digital book or downloaded for free in PDF format. This is definitely a different style than I’m used to seeing, and I can see some advantages to it. Since the comic is released a full issue at a time, there’s no waiting in the middle of a storyline to find out what happens next. Though of course, there is a “To be Continued” at the end of every issue, and an ongoing story arc continues across the entire series.

As of this writing, there are nine issues currently posted online. I decided to start at the beginning in order to find out what kind of world these comics would create. The first page of issue #1 started out with some very vivid and interesting artwork, and introduced an interesting premise. The beginning of the story takes place inside a human body, with quasi-mystical beings engaging in a conflict against a “pathogen from the beyond.” This intrigued me right from the start; it gave me the impression of a story similar to Innerspace or Osmosis Jones, but with more of a fantasy and supernatural feeling, rather than being purely sci-fi. As if our inner workings are controlled by magic and other arcane forces, rather than by medical science. The concept seemed so unique that I had to read more and find out what would happen.

SuturaThe story does show some sci-fi aspects, though at times it’s hard to tell where the science ends and the fantasy and mysticism begin. There are soldiers who seem to represent white blood cells and who use some kind of biotech scanners to search for infections. They fight with biological weapons or in hand-to-hand brawls with their enemies. But then there are characters with more mystical natures. For example, Sutura (pictured to the right), is described as “a healer.” She’s able to use some kind of empathic ability to “sense” how “the world” (the human body the characters live in) is in pain. This makes her seem like a cross between a component of the human nervous system and a Druid who uses magic to understand the plight of Mother Nature. She then performs healing on damaged tissues, and her healing powers seem much more mystical than technological.

Similarly, the “bacteria” that the characters are battling against are depicted as demonic monsters, alien in appearance and swarming in a massive horde. The battle sequences are in the style of proud soldiers doing battle against a swarm of alien invaders. When reading the battle sequences, you almost forget that this is a collection of cells fighting off a bacterial infection. It’s depicted more like an army defending their homeworld from invasion.

Then, about halfway through the first issue, my entire understanding of the world got thrown upside down.

The first issue cuts from the battle raging inside the body to show what is happening outside. We find out that the infected body is that of Alexander Hawking, a man on the run. He’s being chased by some kind of high-tech secret agent through the streets of New York. What the agent is after isn’t immediately apparent, but the entire “real world” sequence immediately raises all kinds of questions. Was Alexander infected with some kind of top secret genetically engineered supervirus? Who are the people responsible? Suddenly I feel like I’ve been pulled out of a mystical-slash-sci-fi-fantasy-alien-warzone story and into something more like a traditional comic book story. Alexander may turn out to be like Bruce Banner or Peter Parker, a man who has been genetically altered in a way that might end up granting him superpowers (though the exact nature of the infection has yet to be revealed).

Despite the way these two halves of the story have a very different genre and feel, I can’t help feeling like they’re going to be woven together in a combined plot line. The concept is fascinating, and not quite like anything I’ve ever seen before. I can see all kinds of potential for the way the two halves of the story might interact, with Alexander’s experiences in the real world affecting his body in ways that impact the struggles of the “soldiers” living inside of him. Or the victories and failures of those soldiers affecting Alexander’s life in ways that I expect will go far beyond a simple cough and cold. The story goes back and forth between the two halves, so you constantly see the balance between Alex’s struggle in the real world and the internal struggle of the biological soldiers inside of him.

I’ve read all nine issues that are currently available, and I found the story to be quite intriguing. So far there’s mad scientists, high-tech secret agents, mystery, intrigue, political scandal, murder, and a genetically engineered supervirus created by a secret organization with plans to change the world. And that’s just on the outside. Meanwhile, inside Alex’s body, the struggle against the virus continues, with mutations causing it to spread, while the bio-warriors struggle to stave off the infection in order to protect their biological universe.

I’m curious to see where the story will go from here, and I’ll definitely be checking out future issues.

If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find the Biowars comic here. You can also find updates and previews on Facebook and Twitter, and the creators run a blog where they discuss comic books, superheroes, and similar topics.

My #NaNoWriMo Excerpt

I was peer pressured encouraged to share an excerpt from my current #NaNoWriMo Project, Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled). The chapter below is an early chapter that introduces Gabby Palladino and her sister, Adrianna.

Be warned, spoilers ahoy. Since this is a sequel, there’s massive spoilers in here for my first novel, Manifestation. Read ahead at your own risk.

Don't say I didn't warn you!
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

Gabby and the Manifested warped into Evesborough, landing at the edge of the city in a flash of light. They staggered a bit in catching their footing and adjusting to the difference in elevation; Evesborough was in the mountains, high above sea level, so it was a stark shift from the coastal city they’d just left. The air was cooler, the sky was clear, and the mountains around them were covered in fresh evergreens that climbed the slopes all around the city.

Gabby rubbed her temple, fighting off a headache. The pressure around her skull from the ever-present weight of her aura was worse than usual. She was sure it was a mix of not only the stress she was going through, but also of the massive mana surges she’d just witnessed Tock wielding in the City of Arcana. Tock’s power had become immense, far greater than it had been last time Gabby had seen her a couple of months before. It was something she wasn’t sure how to handle, or even wrap her head around.

“What happens now?” Mason asked. He stood off to the side with the others, outside of the range of Gabby’s aura. She was having trouble holding the aura in right now and pulses of mana were leaking through it. The Manifested kept their distance in order to remain safe.

“Gather the rest of the Manifested in the city square,” Gabby said. “We’re going to have to make preparations for tomorrow.”

“Preparations for what, exactly?” Vijay asked. “To fight?”

Gabby shook her head no, but she didn’t know what other answer to give. “We’re going to stop the fighting.”

“How?” Mason asked.

Gabby sighed. “Just get everyone together.” She turned to Jaden. “Send out a city-wide summons. Not just our usual crew. I want all willing volunteers with any kind of arcana to come. We’re going to need everything we’ve got.” Evesborough currently held a few hundred thousand citizens, most of them refugees who had fled from other mountain towns in the surrounding area and come here for the protection offered by a more well-defended city. Out of the whole population, somewhere between ten and twenty thousand were Manifested, though they hadn’t been able to perform any kind of census to get an exact count. Plus, many of the Manifested were children who were too young to fight, or people who were unwilling to join the struggle. Gabby could hope for a thousand, maybe two, but that would be it. Not enough to stand against the entire massed force of the Northern Union army, to say nothing of Tock’s mass-produced golem army.

Jaden raised her megaphone and channeled a stream of mana into it. Translucent emerald light flowed from her fingertips into the gemstones that were encrusted around the device, melding arcana and technology together in a design Vijay had developed just for the telepath. When she channeled her thoughts into the megaphone, they were amplified by the arcanatech and channeled across the whole city. All Manifested willing to help us stop the war, please gather in the city square. Commander Palladino requests all Manifested willing to fight . . .

Gabby gave Jaden a grateful smile. “I’ll see you guys there in a few minutes.” She headed off on her own, walking down the street towards the lodge that had been turned into a makeshift command center. She kept her head held high as she walked, giving professional nods to the citizens and Manifested she passed by. The streets were fairly crowded with pedestrian traffic, though there wasn’t a single car in sight. They hadn’t yet had time to develop any arcanatech vehicles, and gas was a resource that had all but run out in the months since the mana storm. She didn’t think there was a single operational car or truck left anywhere in Evesborough, and in the other cities to the south, the military had taken control of all the gas supplies to keep their jeeps and tanks running.

She headed into the lodge, where groups of volunteers were working to coordinate everything from the details of Evesborough’s defense force, to the management of their food supplies, to the manufacturing of arcanatech weapons and devices based on Vijay’s designs. Several people stopped her with questions as soon as she entered and she was stuck for almost ten minutes making decisions about where to mount the newest arcanatech gun turrets, how to handle distributing food supplies to different parts of the city, and how to settle disputes between different teams who each wanted a bigger portion of their limited manufacturing supplies. She didn’t have the first clue what the best answer was to half of the questions, so she just made her best guess, or delegated the task to someone else. She didn’t really know how to lead an army or be responsible for the lives of others. She’d just been roped into the job because of how powerful her arcana was, and how it made the others look to her as their leader.

As she was moving among the various desks that filled the lodge’s main lobby and central rooms, Gabby spotted her sister seated at a desk in the corner. She arched an eyebrow, curious as to why Adrianna was there. Her doctor, Mahir Pavari, stood by Adrianna’s side. Gabby walked over to the and gave them a small wave. Adrianna looked up from the paperwork she was working on and gave her a tired smile.

“Hey, Sis,” Adrianna said. “How did it go?” Her eyes showed signs of strain and dark circles had formed under them. She was dressed in a hospital gown and slippers, with a fluffy blue robe on top.

“About as well as could be expected,” Gabby said. She decided not to go into detail, not wanting to add to her sister’s stress. “What are you doing here? Should you be out?” She looked to Dr. Pavari.

Adrianna frowned and lowered her head. She pressed her palms down flat on the papers that covered the desk before her. “I’m not an invalid,” she said. “I’m perfectly capable of being out on my own.” She glanced over her shoulder at Dr. Pavari. “I don’t need to be babysat.”

Dr. Pavari pushed his glasses up his nose and said, “We’re giving it a trial run. I think it’s good for her to get out and try to get into some kind of normal routine.”

Adrianna pressed her hands down harder on the desk. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. Then she nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, then smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.” Adrianna had worked at a small restaurant in the West District suburbs for a few years, back before she got pregnant. She had been planning on going back to work when Dante was old enough. Though his death, and Adrianna’s subsequent breakdown, had prevented that. So had the beginning of the apocalypse.

Gabby opened her mouth to reply, but she was distracted by the way Adrianna continued smoothing out the papers before her. Her movements became rougher and she ended up ripping one of the pages. She held the two halves of the page up and pressed them back together, frowning. “I can fix that,” she said, her voice a bare whisper. “I can fix it. I just need tape.”

“It’s okay,” Gabby said, giving her sister a reassuring smile. “It’s not a big deal.”

“No,” Adrianna said. “No. I can fix it.” She opened one of the desk drawers, her hands shaking. She dug through it, her movements becoming more frantic by the moment. She slammed the drawer shut and reached for another. It stuck and she yanked on it, squealing. “I can fix it!” She yanked the drawer open and knocked it off its tracks. Pens, pencils, and paper clips spilled all over the floor.

“Maybe it’s time we head back,” Dr. Pavari said, touching Adrianna’s shoulder. “It’s been a long day, and it’s time for your pills.”

Adrianna sat stiffly, tilting her head towards him. “I don’t like the pills,” she said. She pressed her hands down on top of the desk again. “I don’t like the way they make me feel.”

Gabby swallowed a lump in her throat, fighting off tears. “Addy, if the doctor says—”

“You’re always taking his side!” Adrianna snapped. She stood up and slammed her hands down on the desk. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a child, Gabby!” She leaned against the desk, shaking.

Gabby held still, not sure what to say. She hated having to treat her sister like this. She’d always looked up to Adrianna when they were growing up; her sister was two years older than Gabby, and she used to teach Gabby about life and love and making friends. But their relationship had broken down during Adrianna’s pregnancy, and fallen apart completely in the aftermath of Dante’s death.

Dr. Pavari touched a hand against Adrianna’s back. “Let’s get back to the hospital. You can get some rest, and we can come back to finish the work later.”

Adrianna turned and glared at him, her fists clenched. Then she turned her glare on Gabby. “Fine,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Fine.” She swung her hand out and knocked the pencil sharpener off the desk. Flakes of pencil trimmings flew everywhere. Adrianna turned and stalked from the room with Dr. Pavari trailing behind her. He gave Gabby an apologetic look and Gabby responded with the bravest smile she could force onto her face.

When they left, she took a deep, shuddering breath. The rest of the people in the room were staring at her, though most of them were trying to hide it. She held back her tears and pushed down her feelings, then forced herself to get back to work. There were still questions that needed to be answered and concerns that needed to be addressed. She was the one in charge, so she had to keep working.

* * *


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Review of Fallen Son, Darkest Night

FSDN Cover ArtI read “Fallen Son, Darkest Night,” by Melissa A. Petreshock without any prior experience with her work. Even though it’s Melissa’s newest release, it serves as a prequel to her novel, Fire of Stars and Dragons, so I decided to read the prequel first.

The opening of the story was simultaneously intriguing and a bit confusing. The reader is introduced to a goddess who is distraught over the fate of her son, who seems to have been banished from the divine realm down to the earthen realm. Down on earth, the goddess’s son, Dante (a vampire), is waging death and destruction on innocents, possibly out of rage due to his exile. These elements of the story are quite fascinating, though the way the information is laid out at the beginning is a bit hard to follow, relying heavily on the dialogue between the characters in order for the reader to put together the pieces of this world’s rules and mythology. The dialogue is also hard to follow because there aren’t many dialogue tags or other indications of who is speaking, leading to confusion about who is saying what.

The story then shifts to the goddess giving Theo Pendragon, a dragon who can take on human form, the task of stopping the vampire’s rampage. This part of the story has some interesting descriptions of Theo transforming from man-form to dragon-form, and it paints a vivid image of the dragon soaring through the skies in search of the vampire. But a bit of confusion continues to be threaded throughout the narrative. One confusing thing is the dialogue; it has a lofty, medieval-fantasy tone that is both elegant and at times hard to follow. The other point of confusion is the style of the names, with things like the “Arcai Ylanjae islands” and the “Sqaera Brej village.” I ended up having trouble understanding or even pronouncing those names, which pulled me out of the narrative a bit.

A brief battle between Theo and Dante ensues, after which Dante flees. Dante then comes upon a stranger and attacks him, only to end up turning him into a vampire as well. This was another interesting sequence with some good descriptions, but it was lacking a bit in emotion and drama, particularly since the fledgling vampire accepts his fate and his new unlife without the least bit of resistance.

Dante then takes a somewhat sudden shift, now turning towards the path of repentance. He changes his ways and begins destroying the other vampires he has been responsible for creating, with the exception of his newest fledgling who “has a pure soul.” Though the story barely touches on his time hunting his offspring, which is a bit of a disappointment. The reader is told by the end that he killed nearly 250 vampires, though we only see one of those, and it’s a fight that is over so fast, there’s never any reason to believe Dante was in any danger.

By the end, I felt that the story was “good” but not “great,” with some unsatisfying aspects that left me wanting more. The plot jumps around too much, as if the author were trying to squeeze in a lot of different elements into a short span (most likely to connect as many aspects of this prequel as possible to the main novel). I would have liked to see the story trimmed down and focused more on a central conflict that got more development, instead of shifting focus so much. I became interested enough in the characters that I’d like to see more about what they’ll get up to in the novel, but I feel like more could have been done with them here.

Where There Be Dragons

This story is dedicated to Beau Barnett.

Where There Be Dragons

“Weredragons,” the innkeeper said.

“Dragons?” Sidney asked. His hand shot to the sword at his hip. “Where?” He looked around the inn, but saw only the usual patrons. About a dozen people sat at tables around the room or on stools at the bar, nursing their drinks. A group in one corner was playing some kind of card game and laughing over the results of the recent hand. A waitress moved between the tables, delivering drinks and avoiding the occasional pinch.

“Not dragonsware,” the innkeeper said. “Weredragons!”

Sidney frowned and shook his head. “What’s the difference?” he asked. He let go of his sword and crossed his arms. He had come here looking for an adventure, not a grammar lesson.

“Well,” the innkeeper said, polishing a glass with a dirty cloth, “weredragons make dragonsware, which is more durable and heat-resistant than clayware or stoneware, what with it being made from weredragon scales and all.” He put away the glass, then set a serving of salted nuts on the bar, served in a bowl made from thick red scales.

Sidney waved his hand to decline the nuts, while he thought over the innkeeper’s words for a moment. “Ahh. Right,” he said, scratching his head. “Well then, where be the weres?”

“Where?” the innkeeper asked. Then he pointed out the window and said, “There.”

Sidney looked out the window. In the distance, beyond the town and past the rolling hills, a brooding mountain sat, bringing the whole scene down. “There?”

“They’re there, the weres have their lair there,” the innkeeper said with a serious nod. “Mighty big reward to a man what could slay them.”

Sidney stood taller and straightened his tunic. “Well then,” he said, “if that there be where the weres have their lair, I’ll have to go they’re.”

“There,” the innkeeper corrected him, “not they’re.”

“Whatever,” Sidney said with a dismissive wave. He turned back to his table. “Beau! Leave that wench be, there be weredragons there!”

Beau ignored him and kept flirting up the busty wench he’d been occupied with all morning. She was swooning so much over his manly charms that little hearts were floating around her head. After Sidney called him again, Beau grabbed one of the little hearts out of the air and tucked it away in his pocket. “To remember you by, m’lady,” he said with a wink.

“Oh, Beau,” the wench said, “you’re such a charmer!” She inhaled quite interestingly, and Beau had trouble pulling his eyes from another pair of keepsakes he would have liked to pocket.

“Beau!” Sidney called as he stalked out the door. “Come now, you can ravish her later!” Beau kissed the wench’s hand, which resulted in another volley of hearts pitter-pattering through the air. Then he hurried off to join Sidney on their way to the weredragons’ lair.

They arrived at the weredragons’ cavern just as the sun was setting in the mountains on the horizon. It poked into one of the mountain peaks as it set, and sprung a leak, spewing gas across the sky as it flew around like a deflating balloon before crashing somewhere in the distance beyond the mountains. Darkness fell, knocked over on its rear by the fleeing sun. Sidney and Beau had to find torches, but once they had them they realized they had no way of lighting them.

“This is all your fault,” Beau said. He held up the unlit torch and shook it in Sidney’s face

My fault?” Sidney asked. “How is this my fault!?”

“If you hadn’t been flirting with that wench, we’d have been here before sundown!” Beau said.

Sidney started to steam. He sputtered in fury. “What!?” he shouted. “That was YOU! I was busy getting us this job!”

“Oh, don’t be such a hothead!” Beau countered, knowing that would just aggravate Sidney even more.

“A hothead?” Sidney asked, steaming even more. “I most certainly am not!”

“Actually, you are,” Beau said, setting his torch against Sidney’s head. The heat sparked the torch and it combusted, flames sprouting from its head. “Thanks for the light!”

Sidney fumed, steam shooting out of his ears. He forced himself to calm down so his hot head wouldn’t light anything else on fire. “Let’s just get this over with,” he said. “Now, where are those weres?”

They descended into the cavern with their torches held high. Sidney drew his sword and kept it at the ready. Beau remained a few paces behind; he was a lover, not a fighter. He only came along on these adventures so he could brag about his heroics to the wenches back in town. They descended deep into the bowls of the earth, which Sidney was grateful for, since they weren’t nearly as messy as the bowels of the earth. Soon they entered a broad cavern. The ceiling held an open rift that reached all the way up to the sky and carried in the moonlight. Sidney watched as it carried the moonlight one bundle at a time before dropping it down into the cavern below.

“Weredragons!” Sidney called out. “Where are you? Show yourselves, and face my blade!” He waved his blade around menacingly, and the face of the blade glared at the weredragons as they approached. The weredragons glared back, but their glare was at least twice as menacing, if not three and a half times as menacing. The blade whimpered and closed its eyes. The weredragons had won the first round.

“Who dares enter our lair?” the leader of the weredragons roared. He had the body of a man with a dragon’s head, sharp claws, and green scales. He stood tall on scaly hind legs, hunched forward, with a long, sweeping tail behind him. The tail dropped the broom and stopped sweeping; this was serious business, with no time for tidying up.

“It is I,” Sidney said, raising his blade to do battle, “Sidney the Brave, and my companion, Beau the Flirtatious! Stand ready, and prepare to be slewn!”

“Slewn?” Beau asked, turning his eyes skyward to the sky. “You sure about that word?”

“Slewed?” Sidney asked, keeping his blade raised. He paused for a moment in thought. “Err, slewt?”

“SLAIN!” the weredragon shouted. “We’re about to be slain, you fool!”

“Exactly!” Sidney said, then he swung his mighty blade and lopped the weredragon’s head clean off its shoulders. A moment later it wasn’t so clean as blood sprayed all over the recently swept floor.

The other weredragons charged, and Sidney swung his sword to and fro, hacking them to pieces. Then he hacked the pieces to pieces, just to be safe. When the onslaught was finished, he stood leaning on his sword, breathing heavily. The air in the cavern really needed to go on a diet.

“Sidney,” Beau’s voice called from behind him. Sidney turned and saw his friend lying on the ground in a pool of blood, and he sure wasn’t doing the backstroke.

“Beau!” Sidney cried out. He rushed over to his friend and knelt beside him. “No! Beau! You were too beautiful for this world!” Tears flowed down his face and mingled with the blood on the ground.

“Sidney,” Beau said, his voice weak. “Just promise me one thing, old friend . . .”

“Anything,” Sidney said, holding Beau against his chest. “What is it?”

Beau pulled the heart from his pocket and handed it to Sidney. “Ravish that wench for me,” he whispered. “Ravish her good. I promised her a good time when we got back. Give her one for me.”

“I will, old friend,” Sidney said. He took the heart and tucked it away in his pocket. “I will.”

He buried Beau beneath a cement-tree that grew in a cement-ery. On the cement headstone he inscribed, “Here Lies A True Friend, A Ravisher of Wenches: Beau the Flirtatious.”

When he returned to town he was lauded as a hero and given a huge reward. No longer caring about riches, he donated it to the orphanage in Beau’s name. Then he found the wench, dropped to one knee, and presented the little heart to her. The heart floated into the air between them and made her swoon. Then they kissed, and the heart exploded into a flurry of little winged hearts and cupids shooting arrows all around.

“What’s your name?” he asked her. One of the strange things about the magic of little hearts was how they could make you fall in love at first kiss, even with a total stranger.

“Beauty” she said. “I hope you’re a good man. My last boyfriend was such a beast!”

Sidney assured her he would always strive to bring her happiness. Then he scooped her up in his arms, whisked her away to his room at the inn, and ravished her quite thoroughly. He tried to be understanding when she accidentally called out the name “Beau.”

Literature vs Genre Fiction

I’m currently enrolled in a Fiction Writing Workshop class at Rowan University. Since this is a graduate-level class, the intent is that we will learn things that go beyond just plot and characterization and show, don’t tell. The professor described it as a more in-depth course where we will be refining our writing on multiple levels and in as much detail as possible.

One of the issues that was raised on the first day is “What is the difference between Literature and Genre Fiction?” The answers varied, but in the discussion that followed we basically defined Genre Fiction (whether it be fantasy, sci fi, romance, mystery, etc) as books that are designed just to tell a story. They have a plot with a beginning and an end, and they are written for the purpose of selling books. Many authors who write a sci fi adventure book probably don’t say that they’re trying to send some epic message about the human experience. They may just enjoy those types of stories and think that they have a good story to tell.

Literature, on the other hand, was defined as writing that has some deeper meaning or message that goes beyond the story. It tells us something about life, and resonates in a way that will carry with the reader long after the experience.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have Sci Fi Literature. If you picture it as a Venn Diagram, you’d have some overlap between various genres and works of literature. Some stories, however, are just stories.

To give a basic run down, I’ll go over some of the books I’ve read so far this year. One was George Orwell’s Animal Farm. This is definitely Literature. The story wasn’t just a story about animals taking over the farm. Instead, it was a political commentary about how power can corrupt and governments can take advantage of the people.

Then I read Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars, about the war taking place in Wonderland where Alice has to overthrow the Queen of Hearts (in a darker and more action-oriented tale than the original Alice in Wonderland, in a similar vein as the 2010 Alice in Wonderland film). This book didn’t seem to have any important political message; the war in the book was simply the Queen of Hearts grabbing power and ruling the land with an iron fist. You don’t really need to dig much deeper than that to understand the conflict.

Some books, as I mentioned above, can fall into both categories. For example, while there might be some individual dispute on this, I’d consider the Hunger Games Trilogy to be both literature and sci fi/action-adventure. On the surface, the first book is a story about teenagers being forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the evil Capitol that rules over the various districts. However, there can be parallels made to many social issues: youth violence (such as school shootings), poverty, the misbalance between starving third world countries and lavish capitalist societies, and the way media will depict any kind of tragedy or violence on the air just to get higher ratings. The fact that these events are taking place in a futuristic high-tech society that has force fields and such is just a matter of setting.

The questions raised in my graduate class, about the difference between Literature and Genre Fiction, has made me have to sit down and consider my writing in a new way. I don’t have any aspirations to be considered a literary writer or have my work have some deeper meaning (though if I sat down to analyze my work from a neutral perspective, I could definitely list a variety of ways that Manifestation and Contamination are critiques on how our society reacts to acts of terrorism, and the way blame is passed to people who aren’t responsible for the attacks just because society views everyone of certain “groups” as being equally to blame). I sat down to write an urban fantasy story, and if people later decide to consider it literature, then hey, bonus.

However, even though I don’t consider myself a literary writer, this class will require me to produce works of literary fiction. I still plan to make it urban fantasy literature, but I need to think more deeply about my approach. My goal with the class is to work on more short stories to go alongside Radiance, Belladonna, and the other shorts I’m working on for release along with the rest of the series. I may end up writing several new short stories, or one long one (since the class is open to either possibility). But for the new stories I work on to count as “literature,” I need to make sure there is a deeper meaning.

Is there a deeper message in Radiance? I would say yes. On the surface level, it’s a story about a girl gaining a magical power. Yet on a deeper level, it’s about faith and belief (which are themes that run though all of my writing, since belief is a very powerful force in the Arcana Revived world). So I’m considering how to look at the types of themes and deeper messages I tend to work with, in order to consider how to focus more on those things in whatever I’m about to write this semester. I haven’t yet decided how to go about this, but the ideas of belief and faith are a good starting point. I think I can say a lot about the power of belief and the way your personal perspective can change reality around you.

On one level, these are concepts I’m familiar with from my Communication Studies education; there’s a principle called Symbolic Interactionism that explains how our understanding of reality is changed by communication. This is a subtle effect, but can have a real impact. A small example would be if your parents treat you like you’re stupid, and you end up unmotivated in school, resulting in low grades, thus proving your parents right. Yet if they encourage you and tell you that you can succeed, you’ll try harder, get better grades, and prove them right. Your success or failure in such a situation can be determined by what kind of communication takes place.

On another level, this idea can be applied to fantasy works when considering the effect magic can have on you. The way characters like Gabby Palladino and Maria Vasquez communicate about magic in their world has a very real impact on how it functions. I don’t want to go into more detail because of spoilers, but it is something you can see in Radiance if you pay close attention to Maria’s thought process during the story and watch the nonverbal communication between her and the other minor characters in the book. There are some deliberate moments where people’s reactions reflect their beliefs in a way that causes literal changes in the world. It’s Symbolic Interactionism meets Magic and Mystery.

So in order to write literary works in this class, I think I’m going to take these concepts and focus on them more than I have in the past. Hopefully the results will be something my classmates say has a deeper message or says something about faith, belief, and society.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

Critique Partners, and Shifting Gears

So as of this morning, I’ve sent Manifestation out to four people for critiques. I made the decision late last night after going over the document a few more times. I ran through my entire stack of notes until they ran out. Some of the notes were about scenes that I’d already cut. Others were old notes about issues I’d already worked out without needing to consult the notes to remind myself. The rest of the issues in the notes I addressed, until I didn’t have a single note left to consult.

That left me sitting there, staring at the document, going, “Now what?”

I decided my lack of certainty about what to do next meant it was time for critiques. After all, I’ve already rearranged the chapters, done line edits, cut scenes, added more scenes in, rearranged some more chapters, split some scenes in half, cut stuff out of the middle, slid the pieces back together to fill in the gaps, and made sure that every chapter flows as best as possible from one into the next. I’ve done as thorough of a job as I can making sure the writing is solid, the grammar is clean, and the story is sound.

Which means I needed a fresh set of eyes on it to point out whatever I’ve missed. People call this “Author Blindness” or things to that effect. After working on this novel for almost a year and a half (off and on), I’m at the point that I can’t view it objectively. And NO ONE has read it yet. I have given a couple of chapters here and there to a few people, but no one has ever yet read the whole novel from beginning to end (not counting the first draft scenes that used to be on the blog).

Hopefully my CP’s will have some excellent suggestions for me to work out, so I can dive back into this project with full gusto. I’ve still got a March 6th deadline to get Manifestation to the editor I hired. That’s just about two months, minus whatever time it takes for my CP’s to finish reading and critiquing the story.

Meanwhile, I need something else to shift my efforts towards. I always have projects I need to work on, but there’s always a “central” project that I’m devoting most of my attention to. Part of my efforts will be classes at Rowan when the spring semester starts on Jan 12st. I’m also working on a literature review for my Graduate Assistant job. Then there’s the Goodreads Reading Challenge I’m participating in. But none of those are a core project for my personal writing career.

So what I’m going to do next is start revising a short story. If you haven’t heard yet, I’m self-publishing a series of short stories to go along with the Arcana Revived series. The first story in the series, Radiance, follows the origins of the character Maria Vasquez, who starts playing a major role in the third book in the series, Collapse. Originally, Maria’s entrance was supposed to be in the second book, Contamination, but that book ran longer in some parts than expected and certain events were pushed back to book three.

In addition to Radiance, I’ve written several other short stories set around the events in the series. Most of these are all in first draft form, but I plan to revise them all and get them ready for publication. The short stories are naturally pushed back behind the novels in terms of importance, so I’ve been focusing more on Manifestation first. However, since I’m on a short break from Manifestation, I decided it’s time to start some revisions of these stories.

The one I’ve decided to work on first is titled Belladonna. This story follows the origins of another major character in the series, Maelyssa Southeby. Mae is first introduced in Manifestation, then steps up into a major role in both Contamination and Collapse. Belladonna not only gives a closer glimpse at Mae’s individual life as a character, but it also serves to show the reader what else is happening in the world beyond what we see of Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, the two main characters of the series.

So today, I’m going to work on those revisions. Belladonna is currently about 4500 words, making it one of the longer short stories I’ve written (and longer than most individual chapters of Manifestation). I’m going to take it through at least a second or third draft before it, too, goes out for critiques. Then it’ll be polished up for publication, and will soon join Radiance as part of the Arcana Revived short story collection.

Radiance – Now on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords

My short story, Radiance, is now available through both Amazon and Smashwords:

"Radiance" Short Story
“Radiance” Short Story

Radiance is the first short story released in the Arcana Revived series. The ebook contains the 3000 word short story, Radiance, plus a poem, Frozen Petals, and a short excerpt from my upcoming novel, Manifestation. It’s just 99 cents (US price; price in other countries is automatically adjusted based on conversion from US dollars).

Radiance is also listed on Goodreads.

#NaNoWriMo Day 19

I’ve got a few things to discuss today, so let’s tackle them one at a time.

"Radiance" Short Story
“Radiance” Short Story

First, I’ve gotten some feedback from people saying that they’re interested in my writing based on the excerpts and such that I’ve been sharing. That always feels rather good. While there’s only about 100 people or so who visit this blog every month, my hope is that all of them are people who enjoy my writing and want to see more.

In that vein, I figured the middle of #NaNoWriMo is a good time to pitch my self-published short story, “Radiance.” If you haven’t seen me talking about it on the blog before, “Radiance” is set in the same world as my three novels, “Manifestation” (currently in revisions and planned for release early 2014), “Contamination” (which I just finished writing last week), and “Collapse” (which I just barely started). This is one of many short stories to be released in this series. See, there is a LOT of potential for development in the world I’m building, and a lot of stuff that won’t fit in the main novels. So I’ve written short stories that show different things outside the main story, following different characters. A couple of the stories I’ve written take minor characters from the novels and give them a chance for their own time in the spotlight. Others, like “Radiance,” show characters that haven’t yet appeared in the novels (but might in the future). These characters’ stories show the way the main events of the story impact others throughout the world.

“Radiance” is actually set at the same time as the main climax of “Manifestation.” The climax (which I won’t describe because SPOILERS!) is an event with far-reaching consequences that affects many lives. But, of course, the novel naturally remains focused on the main characters, not the others affected. “Radiance” and the other upcoming short stories let us see the scope of events beyond what we see in the main novel.

My goal is to release multiple short stories alongside the novels until I have a full set, then publish them later as a compilation. In the meantime, this story serves as a preview of what’s to come.

(And it’s only 99 cents on Kindle!)

Okay, enough self-promotion, right? I did promise there were multiple things to discuss today. The second is Writer’s Block.

Now, I don’t usually suffer from writer’s block. I used to, when I was younger, but then I figured out a technique that works quite well for me. It might not work for all kinds of blocks, since sometimes a block can be due to stress or other emotional issues where you feel like you just can’t write anything. One type of writer’s block, however, is just not knowing where the story itself is going next, and that’s where this technique comes in.

I tried to write quite a few novels when I was younger. One made it to 30 pages before I quit. One to around 50. One, my best early effort, made it to about 150 pages before I reached a point where I was like, “Okay . . . what happens next?”

See, I didn’t have a clear goal what I was writing towards. In that story, I started with the (overused) idea of random threats attacking people in a small town, so that the main characters had to track down the source (this is basically the opening plot of Lord of the Rings with the Ringwraiths, Wheel of Time with the Myddraal, and several other big fantasy novels). The problem was that when I first sat down to write, I had NO idea 1) Who sent these enemies, 2) Why they had been sent, or 3) What the characters would do about it.

I was, essentially, doing it backwards. Nowadays, I figure out who the enemy is BEFORE they attack. Think of it like writing a mystery. You don’t sit down and write about a murder and drop clues (a handkerchief, a footprint, and a pipe), and THEN ask yourself “Okay, now what do those clues mean?” Instead, you should figure out whodunnit, where, and with what, and then drop clues that hint at the real culprit.

Likewise, in my current works, I had a LOT of important details figured out before I began. I knew how the main characters’ magic would work, I knew how magic as a whole worked, and I knew what the consequences of magic’s revival would be. There were some specific details that changed as I went along, but all the way through books one and two, I had a specific goal I was working towards. I reached that goal with the climax of book two, and while it happened a little bit different than the original plan, it worked quite well.

Then I started book three, with only a half-formed plan. Without going into spoileriffic details, my basic plan for the plot of book three is “dealing with the consequences of the climax of book two.” I wrote about the first ten thousand words while focused on getting the characters out of the chaos they’d wrought at the end of book two and into a stable position to launch them into book three’s main plot. I may end up trimming some of that in revisions, since a lot of it was me exploring the crazy situation they found themselves in (though a lot of it is good, action-packed stuff involving clowders of demon cats). But then I reached a point where I had to sit back and ask myself, “Now what?”

And that brings me to the anti-writer’s-block-technique I mentioned earlier. I had all the pieces in place. I have plenty of conflict all around the characters’ lives. But I needed the story that would stem from that chaos, and I needed it before I went any further, so that I could write knowing where I was heading and knowing what clues to start dropping about where things were going next. I had some ideas, ideas involving armies of super-soldiers and the consequences thereof, but no clear idea how Gabby Palladino would be a key player as she had been up to this point.

So I did what I’ve learned to always do in this situation: I had the characters sit down and talk.

See, I, as the author, had something in common with my characters. They had no idea what they were going to do next. I mean, think about it: You just got through a crazy situation involving super-powered soldiers, golem-building terrorists, a fallen angel, and a huge conflict you barely escaped from. You got away, but the danger is still out there, much bigger than you, as an eighteen year old girl who didn’t finish high school (due to extenuating circumstances (remember, magic is changing the world)) can possibly do about it. You’d feel lost. You’d be confused. You wouldn’t know WHAT to do next.

So I figured, if I don’t know what Gabby is going to do next, and Gabby doesn’t know what Gabby is going to do next, the best technique is to write out her confusion. I wrote a long scene of her and the other main characters discussing their situation and planning what to do. Their conversation was essentially me, as the author, thinking out loud and figuring out what I wanted to do. By the end of the scene, several important plot points emerged, and I figured out exactly where the entire rest of the book is headed. I now had the big goal, and I know what the basic idea of the climax (100,000 words from now) will be.

So my advice (which has worked for me in several previous writing projects as well), is that if you’re ever stuck and not sure what to do, try just writing your characters in a scene where THEY are stuck and not sure what to do. If you’re writing a romance, have the main character call her best friend/mother/sibling to get advice. If you’re writing a mystery, have the detective talk things out with his partner. If you’re writing an action story, have the cop/army captain/starship commander call a meeting with his top men. Have them discuss the issue and see what ideas emerge.

I may end up cutting part of the resulting scene during revisions, since it rambled on a bit. But that’s fine. Right now, it’s writing time. Getting the ideas flowing is the most important part. Get them out, get them on the page, then decide during revisions how much of it goes and stays. You might end up cutting the entire scene, but so what? If that scene tells YOU what you need to know, it’s served its purpose. It got you moving to the rest of the plot, and that stops you from being paralyzed by the question of “What happens next?”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I know what happens next in “Collapse,” and I need to get writing.

How to Write a Sex Scene

I was uncertain what to write about today, so as is my wont, I went to Twitter. One of the Megans I follow (Twitter is a breeding ground for Megans) suggested “How to Write a Sex Scene Using Goats as a Metaphor.”

Blame her. This whole post is her fault.
Blame her. This whole post is her fault.

She failed to clarify whether she meant “How to Write a Sex Scene That Uses Goats as a Metaphor (for sex)” or “Use Goats as a Metaphor for ‘How To Write a Sex Scene.'” I’m choosing to interpret it as the latter; that is to say, goats will be my metaphor for how to write, not for sex. Though I expect there will be some gray areas.

So how do you write a sex scene? It’s an area many writers find uncomfortable. I’m going to speak frankly, however, so if the previous paragraph about you goats and sex didn’t scare you off, be warned that adult content is coming (pun intended).

First, allow me to precursor this by saying I’m not an erotica writer. I have written my fair share of smut, however, which can be found on certain corners of the internet if you know where to look. I’ll be sharing a sample of it below, so if you’re not shy, you can read it and judge for yourself whether I write it well enough to be giving advice on the subject.

The first thing I’ll suggest is the same thing every experienced writer will tell you about writing anything: you need to read a lot. You have to write what you know, and in the case of sex scenes, “what you know” doesn’t necessarily have to be based on your own real life experiences. It can be based on what you’ve read. By reading more erotica, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, and that’s the best way to learn how to write it yourself. I also suggest reading a wide variety, both the good and the bad. Read sex scenes like a goat in a junkyard: don’t discriminate, and chew on everything you can find. Sure, you might chip a tooth on a dull piece of tin or some tough rubber, but you’ll learn something in the process. After all, what better way to learn what NOT to do in your writing, than to read some bad erotica and learn from its mistakes (I’m looking at you, 50 shades of Grey)?

I’ve read more than my fair share, and based on what I’ve read, I’m going to lay out a few general categories:

1. The Ram – These smut stories rush right into the dirty parts without any style or grace. The result is usually poor writing, and is likely to be more pornography than erotica. The difference between porn and erotica is that one is art, and the other you just jack off to. Compare, for example, (NSFW) this versus this. One is artistic, meant to provoke emotion. The other is for milking your goat cheese. One of the key differences is good taste, but there’s more to it than that. I’ll explain in more detail about the “good taste” side, but what you should realize about the Ram is that its focus is just on the physical and the instant gratification.

I’d like to analyze these two photos from a purely artistic perspective. The first one, despite not being particularly crude as nudes go, is still a provocative pose. It’s designed to draw the viewer’s attention to the obvious female body parts. The model’s pose is simultaneously submissive and seductive, and from the spread legs, the arching of the back, and the expression on the face, it’s easy to imagine this model in a sexual context. I could probably find plenty of even more sexual examples on Google. Is this photo artistic? Yes. It’s clearly professionally done, and not just some snapshot someone took of their girlfriend. But it’s also clearly a shot designed to entice men in the way all porn does (and if you have any doubt, you can check the other NSFW shots from the same website, which get even more sexual).

Now, let’s consider the second photo. I found it among several others in a set that all strike me as being much more artistic. In these, the model isn’t the sole central focus of the shot. The backgrounds and lighting are as important in these shots as the model, whereas in the previous shot, the background was plain, non-distracting white. The model on the first image is even on a white table; this is clearly a deliberate choice to make sure nothing distracts you from the nude girl.

Take another look, and think about where your eye first enters the photos. Look at this one compared to this one. Where is your eye drawn? In the first one, the eye is most likely immediately drawn right to the breasts, and then down to the crotch. This isn’t accidental; the model’s pose creates a line of motion that draws the eye in that direction. Even the angles of the first model’s legs are all designed to be lines leading to a central point, the point the viewer is presumed to be interested in. (For a wonderful explanation of how object placement in a photograph can lead the viewer’s eye, I recommend this article). But with the girl in the barn, the eye is drawn first to her face, then along her back towards her feet. Nothing about that shot makes the woman’s breasts a central focus or signifier. Yes, she’s still a beautiful naked girl. But her pose isn’t seductive or sexual.

This is the difference between the Ram, which shoves the sex in your face, and a more artistic approach, where the sensuality is more part of the background. You can use a similar approach in your writing. Focus on the entire image, not just on the naughty bits.

2. The Sheep – The sheep is soft, docile, and easily guided by a firm hand. This is your relationship with a tantalized reader, who waits with wide eyes for you to take them on an erotic journey. Don’t scare them off. An average reader isn’t coming to your book to get rammed, and they (hopefully) keep their pants on the entire time they’re reading your book. Your goal isn’t to get your reader to seek their orgasm. Your goal is to capture their attention and keep them emotionally invested in your story.

In his book, “Stein On Writing,” Sol Stein says that the key to suspense is to give your character a goal, something they desire, then keep them from achieving that goal as long as possible. In erotica, the goal is the culmination of the character’s sexual desires, and the character should be forced to wait as long as possible to get what they want. If the reader is in tune with the character, they will be just as eager as the character to see it finally happen. In the romance novel my friend Carey wrote, the protagonist doesn’t get to taste her “forbidden fruit” until one of the final chapters. The result is a reader who is on edge the entire book, waiting to see if it will happen.

Even within the single sex scene itself, a skillful writer won’t ram right into business. There should be flirtation. There should be foreplay. There should be a LOT of “show, don’t tell” emotions. How long you wait to get to the “good stuff” depends on your writing style. It could be paragraphs, it could be pages. But if you grab the goat by the horns in the second sentence, you’re doing it wrong. Let the emotions and tension build for awhile before the climax (both in the story structure and in the bed).

3. The Pompeii – If you google “erotic goat,” this pops up. Click the link, and read the accompanying article. I assure you, it’s intellectual, not revolting (though it certainly might weird you out).

The reason I shared that article is because it raises an interesting, and I would say important aspect of eroticism in art. Our mythology is filled with examples of eroticism that aren’t limited to humans, and if you’re a sci fi or fantasy writer, this is an area you might find yourself delving into. The important thing to remember in cases like this is that this isn’t bestiality and it isn’t perversion. It’s history and myth. It’s also something you might want to use in your writing, if you do it right.

Piers Anthony is a fantasy writer who delves into this sort of thing, and does it in good taste. In his world, “Xanth,” there exist magic love springs that enchant any creatures that drink from them. After taking a drink, creatures are compelled to mate with the next creature they meet, and the magic ensures that the coupling can and will result in a child. Different species accidentally stumbling across love springs is how the world came to have species like centaurs (half human, half horse), harpies (half human, half vulture), and satyrs (half human, half goat). Though Piers Anthony never shows us a human and a goat mating in erotic detail, the results of the mating are there.

If you’re a fantasy writer, you may want to write human/dragon mating, or something similar. You can play it for laughs, the way Piers Anthony does, or you can address it with seriousness. Consider more than the physical questions of “will it fit?” Think about the cross-cultural differences between the two species. Think about how difficult the mating ritual might be between a mammal and an egg-laying reptile. Think about whether a dragon would have the human emotions associated with “making love,” or if they would view the act differently. Fantasy writer Elizabeth Haydon depicted a dragon in her novel, “Rhapsody,” as viewing his mate as a shiny piece of treasure to be guarded as part of his hoard.

All of these elements and more can become important parts of your story. They can be used to build up to the eventual sex scene, which instead of just being two people bumping uglies, will instead be a triumph over cross-species cultural barriers and all of the conflict that comes with them.

4. The Domestic Goat, Capra aegagrus hircus – Goats can be domesticated, like cattle, and kept as pets or livestock. This is like functional, bland sex; you might milk the goat every day, but that doesn’t mean the goat enjoys it. If a reader feels like reading your sex scenes is a chore, you might be better off skipping the milking and going straight to the breakfast table. There’s nothing wrong with the “fade to black, cut” method of writing sex scenes. It’s probably the kind I use the most often. Does your story need the sex, or are you just putting it there because sex sells? I only write a full erotic scene if there are strong emotions involved, and I’m trying to show the characters reaching a new level of their relationship or achieving an emotional bond. If it’s not important to the story, then you’re just going through the motions of the daily chore.

All of the above examples talk about the purpose of sex in a story, and how to sculpt a scene. “But Jason,” you ask, “when do we get to the naughty fun parts?” Well, as I said earlier, you need to tease your audience and make them wait to build suspense. But I suppose I can’t write a “How To Write a Sex Scene” post without discussing the language itself.

First, I’m going to share some examples of different ways to write descriptions in a sex scene. One will be an example of my own work. I don’t by any means think my own work serves as the highest artistic examples of erotic writing, but I do believe it’s appropriate that if I’m going to write about sex, I should have the courage to share my own writing.

Once again, everything that follows is NSFW.

First, let’s look at an example of bad writing; The Ram, in full force. Here is a short excerpt of a story on Literotica.com:

“I have driven to meet you at your house. After chatting online for awhile we were anxious to meet each other. It’s a hot summer’s day, so I told you to be in shorts, no boxers. It is a long drive but finally I arrive and knock on the door. You open it only to be pushed back inside by me. Seeing as you want an aggressive girl, there is no time for small talk.

The door slams shut and I drop to my knees right there at the door. You are not expecting to get moving so quickly. I look up to see a mixture of amazement and curiosity on your face as I start to unzip your shorts.

You open your mouth but I don’t give you time to say anything. I shove your soft cock into my mouth. I suck and lick it, making it grow and come to life in my mouth. Finally it is fully erect, gagging me as it touches the back of my throat.”

Now, I’d like to analyze this story, not as a work of porn, but the way I’d critique any piece of writing. Let’s review it from a professional angle. We open with no introduction to who these characters are, just that they have been “chatting online.” There is no description of their appearance, their occupations, or anything. The action starts in the first paragraph with the “aggressive girl” pushing her way in; this story tells us from the start what we should expect from it. Then, second paragraph, the girl is already on her knees. By the third paragraph, we have some extremely graphic language and a scene straight out of a cheap porno.

If this sort of scene appeared in a novel, would you keep reading? I wouldn’t. There’s no emotion. There’s no reason to care who these characters are. This story is about fucking, plain and simple. The entire story is 768 words, and there isn’t a single paragraph in it that isn’t about the raw, physical act of sex.

Now, if you want to write porn, you could use this style. But I think most of the people reading my blog want to write books and stories. That’s certainly what I want. So, how do you write a sensual, erotic scene in a novel, without it turning into trash like this?

Let’s take a look at something more emotional. The following excerpt is from my WIP novel, “Manifestation.” It contains minor spoilers from the novel, so be warned:

            “Hours later, Tock awoke in Frankie’s bed. She glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand, and realized it was four in the morning. She hadn’t intended to fall asleep there, but after a rather energetic night of fun and experimentation, she had passed out in Frankie’s arms. Part of her wanted to get up and go back to her room, but his arms felt quite nice around her. Something else also felt quite nice pressed up against her from behind, filling her with an urge that she couldn’t deny. She lay there for awhile and contemplated the most sensible thing to do. She knew that leaving, and letting the boy wake up alone, would be a better way to get the message through to him what it was really all about. She wasn’t prepared to do the relationship thing; her life was simply too much of a mess.

            She stared at the clock as the digital display ticked away another minute. What would Frankie Palladino think if he knew he was in bed with a murderer? Would that change his tune? She couldn’t ever admit such things to him, of course, but she still needed to make him understand that she wasn’t the ‘girlfriend’ type.

            But then, his body felt so warm and nice pressed up behind her . . .

            I’ll spell it out fer ‘im in the mornin’, she thought. She rolled over to face him and slipped her arms around him, then kissed him urgently. He moaned in his sleep as she pulled him on top of her and his body responded on instinct before he was even fully awake. Her gentle but none-too-subtle hands sought the source of her urges and soon woke him fully. The response she felt under her hand made it clear he was more than ready for another round.

            She spread her legs for him and pulled him in close, wrapping her arms around him and tracing her fingernails down his back. She gasped as he entered her, and forgot all thoughts of whether they were in a relationship or just fucking. She just became focused on the sensations pulsing through her body. Frankie was strong, and his athletic body was warm and firm against hers. He made her moan, and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, clinging to him as she let him have his way with her. Part of her just wished he wouldn’t be so tender and gentle about it . . . that just made the situation all the more complicated . . .”

See the difference? First, it’s a little more than twice the length of the clip of the porno story, but you can follow the link to Literotica to read that whole story (all 768 words of it) and you won’t see what you see in my excerpt of “Manifestation.” Let’s analyze it bit by bit.

First, the opening paragraph of the “Manifestation” excerpt sets the scene. This particular scene comes after a short mid-chapter scene break, so what you see above, with Tock waking up, is the “beginning” of this scene, for all intents and purposes. That first paragraph names both characters, and it sets an image of the setting around them: a dark bedroom in the middle of the night, a digital clock counting away the minutes, and the fact that this is Frankie’s room (in the college dorms). These visual details aren’t much, but they’re certainly setting the scene better than “I knock on the door, you open it.”

Now, my first paragraph still sets an erotic tone, as Tock observes the feeling of Frankie pressed up behind her. I never name a body part, but you know which part is pressing against her. It’s subtle (more so, at least, than the other story). But it sets the stage for what comes next. More importantly, though, there’s emotion here. You can see a sense of conflict. She has doubts, and isn’t sure how to express them. That makes the lovemaking that follows all the more meaningful.

Let’s take a closer look at the actual vocabulary, shall we? Both stories reach a point where the penis enters an orifice, to use the boring technical terms. Let’s compare those specific moments in each story.

The Ram:

“I move down from your face, to your stomach, turning around to face you, so you can see my tits bounce as I press your cock into my ass. I take some of your pre cum and rub it on my tits, sucking the cum off in front of you.”

“Manifestation”:

“She spread her legs for him and pulled him in close, wrapping her arms around him and tracing her fingernails down his back. She gasped as he entered her, and forgot all thoughts of whether they were in a relationship or just fucking. She just became focused on the sensations pulsing through her body.”

I’d like to set aside the crudity of the Ram’s language and focus on the actual imagery and emotions (or lack thereof). In the Ram’s story, we see “bouncing tits,” a “cock,” “pre cum,” and lots of rubbing and sucking. The images are all sexual. The only emotion we see is lust. As for the words themselves, these are all classic “porn words.” People who write stories just for the sake of getting off tend to focus on these kinds of words, thinking that the crudity is what a sex scene is all about.

The “Manifestation” clip, on the other hand, focuses on entirely different body parts and images. “She spread her legs,” “wrapping her arms around him.” We see “her fingernails down his back.” Even when the sex itself starts, it’s not “he shoved his cock into her pussy.” Instead it’s “She gasped as he entered her.” It’s still sensual and erotic, but it’s not crude. The focus isn’t on the physical anatomy. It’s on the emotions.

Compare these two scenes to the earlier photographs. As before, one is focused on breasts and sexual things. The other is focused on emotion and artistry.

That, in my humble opinion, is the key difference between porn and art. Art moves your heart, while porn just moves your genitals.

Focus on the characters. Focus on their emotions. The sex is just the background. The story is more important. As yourself what purpose a sexual scene serves in your story. The “Manifestation” scene above is meant to show Tock’s inner turmoil, the conflict she feels between her desire for Frankie (desire that is both physical and emotional) and her doubts and fears. The closing lines, “Part of her just wished he wouldn’t be so tender and gentle about it . . . that just made the situation all the more complicated . . .” are the real reason that scene exists. If I weren’t trying to show those emotions, I’d have cut straight to the following morning. This scene exists to show the reader that conflict. The fact that Tock’s emotions and confusion are being shown during a sex scene has little to do with the sex, and everything to do with the story.

In closing, I hope you’ve read and appreciated this post in the mature, professional way I’ve tried to approach it. I love me some naughty bits, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place to approach things from a serious angle.

Cut and Gone

So I sat down and did some serious revisions today. Worked on them for a good three or four steady hours. I got through several chapters, added some necessary changes to three particular scenes that I knew needed work, and all in all made some decent progress.

I also did some of the cuts I mentioned I had to do. I hacked out six full pages that I felt weren’t helping the story. Of course, there’s still quite a bit more that I feel like I might need to cut soon. I just haven’t entirely decided what yet. The pages I cut today were chosen because I was working on those sections during the three scenes I mentioned above. Part of what I changed and added to those three scenes was essentially replacing the stuff that wasn’t helping the story with different (albeit indirectly related) stuff that was.

Hopefully the rest of the cuts will come soon. Meanwhile I’ve got about another 170 pages of revisions to get through in the coming weeks. I’m still shooting for a July 1st deadline.