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Guest Post: The Challenge I Didn’t Expect by Annabeth Leong

Annabeth Leong and I have shared pages, but we’ve only just become friends. Annabeth came up with the brilliant idea that we exchange guest posts–I share my thoughts and  feelings about being a first time editor and share my current submissions call, and Annabeth write a post about her anthology and her evolution as an editor. After reading her post, I’m so thrilled to have Annabeth guest posting here today.

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Delilah, thanks so much for hosting me here!

At the start of this year, to be honest, I was feeling burned out. After eight years of writing erotica, I wasn’t sure anymore if I had stories to tell that mattered in the world. So I took a step back, sat down with a notebook, and thought about things I’d done that did seem to matter.

 

MakerSex

 

Immediately, the forays I’d taken into editing stood out. The first anthology I edited, MakerSex: Erotic Stories of Hackers, Geeks, and DIY Projects, came out in March, but even though the book wasn’t yet available I already knew how important it felt to have discovered great stories I wanted everyone to read, to have helped the authors polish and improve them, and to have put together a book that was sexy, diverse, and well-written.

 

Between the Shores

 

I also spent a lot of time in late 2014 and early 2015 copy editing for The New Smut Project. Both of the books that project produced—Between the Shores: Erotica with Consent and Heart, Body, Soul: Erotica with Character—are filled with stories that humbled me, stories I felt honored to have touched in any way, stories that changed how I think about erotic connection to this day.

Next, I thought about how proud I’ve been to have contributed to the Coming Together series of charity anthologies. I’ve been in nine of them, including Among the Stars, Arm in Arm in Arm, and Keeping Warm. I don’t make much as an erotica writer, so it means a lot to me to be able to give to charity this way, when I might not be able to otherwise.

Finally, I thought about this question of stories that matter in the world. The stories I’ve written that I’ve loved best came from my own unique voice. They spoke to experiences I hadn’t read described in quite that way before, and when they resonated with readers, they seemed to do so because they addressed a void, made people feel they weren’t alone in something.

So if I wanted to do a project that I could feel excited about amidst my burnout, it felt like it ought to combine these elements—it should give me a chance to help other writers, it should be for a cause I believed in, and it should speak to an experience in which people too often feel alone.

Some time ago, I realized that I’ve never read a piece of erotica that includes a person who has an STI. If erotica acknowledges that STIs exist at all, it’s only in terms of their prevention. (Whenever I write this, I add that I would love to hear about positive counterexamples. Please feel free to email me!) That was what I learned in school, too—only prevention and warnings. But the truth is that’s not the world. People get STIs all the time, and getting an STI doesn’t forfeit a person’s right to a fun, fulfilling sex life.

I remember being diagnosed with HPV and genital warts—both of which are incredibly common in the U.S.—in my twenties and honestly thinking I could never have sex with anyone again. The shame was overwhelming. I’ve since had lovers who had other STIs, and I’ve seen them in various stages of overcoming shame, too.

 

csph-logo

 

I got into erotica wanting to talk about subjects that had always been taboo, wanting to shine a light into places I’d felt shame, and where I thought others might, too. I came up with the idea for Coming Together: Positively Sexy, an anthology of stories including positive portrayals of characters with STIs, in this spirit. My hope is that the book will do good just by existing—that writing for it and reading it will heal shame. Beyond that, its proceeds will benefit the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, an organization that has helped to free me from so much of my own sexual shame, and that, among other work, educates people about STIs, including prevention, but also including enjoying sex responsibly after a diagnosis.

And since I put out the call for submissions, I’ve heard very, very often from people who want to read this book, who say they need to read it. I haven’t, however, gotten many story submissions.

I got into this project knowing this book would test my editing skills. I want to choose stories representing a wide variety of people and experiences, and to work with writers to help them realize their vision. I have an image of a book that includes a range from stories of people dealing with disclosing an STI to a new lover to people for whom it’s a quick, no-big-deal conversation before the sexy fun begins. I have experts at the CSPH available to consult with if needed, so I can be sure the book treats STIs in a medically accurate, non-shaming way.

What I didn’t realize was that this book is demanding a different kind of editing skill: convincing and encouraging nervous writers to try their hands at stories that feel risky to them. I have had many conversations with writers who say they don’t know anything about STIs and can’t write about them, only to tell me in the next breath that they’ve had or currently have an STI. I’ve had conversations with writers who say they can’t picture how a story could include mention of an STI and still be sexy. I’ve had conversations with writers who say they are far too worried about the possibility of getting something wrong. I’ve talked to writers who say they mostly submit stories they’ve already written, and they’ve never written a story that includes a character with an STI.

To me, this all speaks to the stigma around STIs, the very stigma that I’m hoping this book can question. I want to make a book that opens up a little space inside a dominant culture that often seems intent on shaming people, a book that offers up a vision that an STI doesn’t have to be the end of a person’s sex life, that it doesn’t have to be a big deal at all. I’m hoping to get some stories from writers who already know that because they’ve lived that experience, and I’m also hoping to get some stories from writers who are learning it through the writing they’re doing now.

I will confess that I’m not the greatest at promotion. I worry that I’m not up for the task ahead of me, and that I can’t edit the book I see a need for because I won’t get enough stories. I do want to say, though, that I am doing my best—that’s all a writer or editor can ever do. If you’re reading this, and you’re interested in writing a story, please give it a try. If you have questions, send me an email (positivelybook at outlook dot com). You can see the full call for submissions here, with all the information.

Thanks so much again to Delilah for hosting me, and thanks so much to you for reading.

Giving Back Blog Hop

Strange Shifters

In the spirit of this week’s holiday of American Thanksgiving, Lisabet Sarai has organized a blog hop for authors who have participated in Coming Together anthologies called the “Giving Back Blog Hop”

I’ve taken part in three Coming Together anthologies thus far (Among the Stars, For the Holidays, and Strange Shifters) and I plan to continue submitting to them in the future.

Over the course of my life, I have benefited from many forms of help. The largest was government assistance in the form of money and food stamps as a child. I received college scholarships, without which college would have remained just a dream. Teachers sometimes covered field trip fees so that I wouldn’t be left behind. And when my daughter was in the pediatric intensive care unit at only a week of age, she was gifted with a hat and a blanket that someone had knitted and donated to Project Linus in the hopes of providing comfort to a child in crisis. So now, whenever I have the chance, I give back. I love that one of the ways I can give back is through my stories.

Young woman takes off bikini to swiming in the sea.

The first charity anthology I participated in was Summer Loving, edited by Alison Tyler, with proceeds going to help Sommer Marsden’s family during a time of medical crisis. As someone whose family has dealt with medical trauma, and a fan of Sommer’s,  I was eager to participate. This was the first time I had heard of a charity anthology, or considered the idea that the stories we tell could help people in real, tangible ways. I was so glad when “Baby it’s Hot Outside” was selected to be part of the anthology.

coming together for the holidays

I first heard about Coming Together when they put out a call for Coming Together: For the Holidays, edited by Alessia Brio. I had a Christmas-themed story, “New on the Naughty List” (which you can still read for free here until Dec 1), so I sent it in. I not only was interested in the theme of the anthology, but the charity it supported as well–Stand Up for Kids.  Being part of that anthology–as well as gifting copies of it–was the opportunity to share a story I loved and help homeless kids at the same time.

Strange Shifters

My most recent Coming Together anthology is Strange Shifters, which is also my second Coming Together anthology with Lynn Townsend. This anthology, feature sexy shapeshifters, donated all proceeds to Bat World Sanctuary. This was the first story I wrote (well, rewrote) after being critically ill this year. In a year where I am most thankful to still be alive and able to write this blog post, it is fitting that my only publication of 2015 be part of a charity collection.  My story, “A Reindeer by Any Other Name” chronicles what Blitzen was up to during the events of “New on the Naughty List” from Coming Together:For the Holidays.

 

Among the Stars

As a Sci-Fi fan, I leapt at the chance to participate in Coming Together:Among the Stars. While a fan of Lynn Townsend’s prior to participating in this anthology, I credit it as the catalyst to our friendship. If you read my story “Love is a Virus,” you won’t be surprised to know that I’m a huge Trekkie. (For the story of that one time Wil Wheaton saw my horrible TNG fanfic, go here).

As “New on the Naughty List” is currently free, and I’ve recently excerpted “A Reindeer by Any Other Name,” I decided to share a snippet from “Love is a Virus.”

When Lily turned to carry the plates to her table, the ensign was standing next to it. “You can be casual. This isn’t Central Command, and I’m too damn tired to be formal,” she said as she put the plates on the table and dropped into a seat.

“Yes, ma’am.

Oh for fuck’s sake. “Lily.” She pointed at herself. “Saanvi.” She indicated the other woman. Maybe that will calm her down.

“Yes, ma’—.” She closed her mouth abruptly. Taking a deep breath, she began again, “In that case, should I—? Can I—?” Saanvi’s voice trailed off as she indicated her uniform jacket.

“Sure, if you want to.”

Ensign Patel removed her jacket and carefully hung it on the back of the chair. Beneath the jacket, she was wearing a regulation black t-shirt.

Maybe this isn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Lily glanced out at the stars, drinking deeply from her wine glass, but it was too late. The image of Saanvi’s breasts straining against the fabric of the shirt had already burned itself into her brain.

“Lily?” Saanvi seemed to be testing the word on her tongue.

“Yes?”

“I like your hair down.”

“Thanks.” Feeling a bit flustered, Lily focused on her salmon. When she regained her composure, Lily began again. “So, tell me how things have been going. I heard you really stepped up this week. Still healthy?”

“I was happy to help.”

“Personally, I was hoping for the flu. Then I’d have an excuse to go back to bed,” Lily joked, trying to put the ensign at ease.

Saanvi glanced across the room at the Captain’s large bed and sighed wistfully. “If I had a bed that big, I’d never want to leave it.”

If you were in my bed I wouldn’t let you leave it. Shit. Stop it, Dawes. She saluted the bed with her wine glass. “Rank does have its privileges.”

 

Share the name and link of your favorite charity and tell me why you support them in the comments below between now and November 30, 2015. 

On Dec 1, 2015 I’ll randomly select a comment, and I’ll donate 25 USD to your charity (I’ll send a screenshot to you via email to prove it.).

 

ETA—Thanks-Giving Back Hop Links
Sunday 22 November
Monday 23 November
Tuesday 24 November
Wednesday 25 November
Thursday 26 November
Friday 27 November
Saturday 28 November

Writing and Monkeys

Today I’m over at Lynn Townsend’s blog, talking about writing, Among the Stars, and monkeys.  Head over to Paid by the Weird to read my interview.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 12.49.16 pmPhoto credit: me

2014 Book Reviews/Recommendations

If you’re a last minute shopper, here’s a round-up of my book reviews for 2014, including a few new micro reviews as I’m running out of time before the end of the year.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 6.22.32 pmPut these books in the hands of your loved ones…

A reminder–If I don’t love a book, I won’t review it here.  I don’t want to waste anyone’s time on books I didn’t like, or to throw around bad karma by ripping apart someone else’s book.

Books I’ve reviewed this year, with best of awards given by me

Twisted, edited by Alison Tyler

Those Boys by Alison Tyler  **Best Novella, 2014**

Summer Loving, edited by Alison Tyler

The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica, edited by Rose Caraway  **Best Anthology, 2014**–my top anthology

Zombie Erotoclypse by Tamsin Flowers  **Best paranormal, 2014**

Skirting the Issue by Alison Tyler, Sommer Marsden, and Sophia Valenti

Roll By Lynn Townsend **Best LGBT, 2014**

The Mighty Quinn by Sommer Marsden  **Best novel, 2014**

Chemical [se]X, edited by Oleander Plume  **My husband’s top antho, 2014** (runner up as best antho from me)

Alchemy xii: New Years Eve by Tamsin Flowers  **Start of something amazing for 2015**

Books I haven’t gotten around to reviewing at length, but wanted to review before the end of the year are

Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors, edited by Delilah Devlin.  If you like your erotic heroes alpha and carrying swords, you’ll love this one. My favorites included

  • “The Promise of Memory” by Regina Kammer is a sexy and poignant story set in ancient Rome.
  • “To Love a King’s Man” by Emma Jay features a strong woman who isn’t about to let love walk away from her.
  • “The Squire” by Cela Winter has our heroine pretending to be a male squire and all the awkward that happens when she falls in love with her new knight.  (If you loved Tamora Pierce’s books when you were younger, this story is for you.)

Sex and Cupcakes by Rachel Kramer Bussel.  I really enjoyed Rachel’s essays.  As a plus sized woman, I found her piece about dating a plus sized man (“My Boyfriend’s Fat”)  particularly poignant.  I also really liked “What kind of submissive are you?” because it gets to the heart of how aroused I am by a specific kink is affected by who I’m playing with, what else is going on in my life, etc.  This was my favorite non-fiction piece on sex this year.

Coming Together: For the Holidays, edited by Alessia Brio.  My story “New on the Naughty List” (excerpt here) is part of this anthology (and I have 5 pdf reviewers copies), but I want to talk about which stories I enjoyed reading the most.

  • “Holiday Hours” by Lynn Townsend is the tale about a bored convenience store clerk on Christmas and the unexpected gift she receives.
  • “Fox’s Holiday” by Leigh Ellwood was an enjoyable shapeshifter story that made me want to read beyond the end of the story–what would happen next?
  • “Accosting Santa” by Sommer Marsden is the story of a neighbor who attacks the man she sees sneaking into the yard next door and combines her trademark hilarious banter and sizzling sex.

Other Days, edited by Jessica Augustsson.  Not erotica, but if you have a speculative fiction enthusiast on your list, this is a great one.  (Yes, I’m in it).

  • My favorite story in the book is “Lessons Learned” by Jessica (which I excerpted here) in which we learn the identity of Jack the Ripper (full disclosure, I beta read the story, too).
  • “Crux of a Faded Soul” by Jennifer Silverwood is a suspenseful ghost story narrated by a someone who insists she isn’t a ghost.
  • “The Karelian Egg” by Robert Young is the story of Anna, who is tasked to go back in time and steal one of the Faberge eggs for a mysterious man holding her brother hostage.

My story Choices (excerpt here) is included.  I have pdf reviewers copies if you would like one.

I have only just begun to read Coming Together: Among the Stars, edited by Lynn Townsend, but I’m still going to tell you to buy it if you have a sci fi fan on your list who would enjoy some kick in their Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.  I’m sharing pages with Rose Caraway, Lynn, Jade A. Waters, and Malin James among others, so I know it’s going to be awesome.  I have one pdf reviewers copy available.

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If you want a reviewer’s copy of Coming Together: For the Holidays, Coming Together: Among the Stars, or Other Days, leave a comment here or email me at delilahnight at gmail

 

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Also, there’s less than a week left to read my story, “Baby it’s Hot Outside” for free.  It’s a Christmas story set here in sweltering Singapore.