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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.

Coming Together: Under the Mistletoe (Submissions Call)

book cover coming soon

I’m editing a book!

Not to get too maudlin, but after not dying last year, I’ve done a lot of things that I’ve wanted to but was too scared/repressed to try. I’ve dyed my hair crazy colors (currently pink/purple), wrote and published a novella, am mid-novel, and I’m meeting a tattoo artist once I can walk up a flight of stairs. What’s next? An anthology for Coming Together.

Coming Together is a series of charity anthologies. All proceeds from Under the Mistletoe will benefit Project Linus, which provides home-made blankets to children in crisis. Stick around after the call to learn how I became involved with Project Linus and why I care so deeply about the organization.

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Coming Together: Under the Mistletoe

Submission Call

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow because we’ll be heating up this sexy December anthology.

I am looking for your best winter stories. Are your characters cuddled up inside while a blizzard rages, or are they snowbirds spending Christmas Day on the beach in the tropics? Who belongs on Santa’s Naughty List? Is your billionaire a Scrooge? Is this the year they come out to their family? Do they have a special someone to kiss when the ball drops?

While the theme is winter, you may also add in your favorite December holiday, but this is not mandatory. I’m looking for compelling stories with compelling characters and a rich plot as well as beautiful poetry.

Guidelines

  • Your story should be set between December 1 and December 31 whether explicitly or implicitly.
  • All orientations, ethnicities, pairings, and interpretations of “winter” are encouraged.
  • All sub-genres and time periods welcome (contemporary, historical, paranormal, sci-fi, steampunk, you name it).
  • All heat levels from sweet and romantic to down and dirty—as long as it is plot driven.
  • HEA/HFN preferred, but not required.Deadline is September 1, 2016
  • Stories up to 7,500 words
  • Poetry is welcomed and encouraged
  • No underage, no scat, no non-consent, no incest

Coming Together is a charity organization. You retain all rights to your stories, and previously published stories and poetry are welcomed (as long as you hold the rights).

Please use Times New Roman font, size 12, and double spaced with one inch margins. No extra lines between paragraphs. Set indentations to .5 – do not use tabs or spaces to indent. Use .docx, .doc .rtf formats only.

Only submit your final, best version of the story to delilahnight@gmail.com with the subject line “Under the Mistletoe insert your title insert your name.”

Do not send multiple versions of the same story. Up to two stories/three poems will be considered from each author. Include your legal name (and pseudonym if applicable and be clear which one is which), mailing address, and up to 250 word bio. Do not paste your story into the body of your email

You will be notified as to the status of your story by no later than October 1, 2016.

Coming Together is a non-profit organization, and all Coming Together authors and editors have generously donated their talents to various causes. Compensation for inclusion in this work is a PDF contributor copy of the finished product and your name on Santa’s Nice List (or Naughty, if that’s your preference). You retain all rights to your story. All proceeds go to Project Linus, which provides home-made blankets and hats to children in crisis.

Questions? Email me at delilahnight@gmail.com

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My oldest daughter nearly died of a bacterial infection at seven days of age. She had a bacterial infection, and by the time we reached the hospital, she was in critical condition. She went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing. Two days later they told us she’d also had a stroke.

My husband and I lived in her Pediatric Intensive Care Unit room. We couldn’t hold her. We could only stroke her right leg–the only limb without something attached to it–and talk to her. My husband read her George’s Marvelous Medicine, while I chose to go to the gift shop and buy books like Pinkalicious to read to her. I wrote a hospital diary. He tried to work. But mostly we watched her, and watched her monitors as if we could will her into good health.

One or two days after she’d turned a corner and had been taken off the ventilator, her nurse came in with a hat and a blanket. A gift from Project Linus.

14477617634_1749d0eae6_mMy daughter couldn’t wear any clothes because of all the IV’s and leads and so forth. She looked like a science experiment. But when we put that little hat on, and covered the hospital blanket with the Project Linus one, she looked like our daughter again. It gave her back something that being so highly medicalized takes from you–a bit of self, of personality.

It’s a small gift–the anonymous gift of a blanket or a hat. However, knowing someone sat and went though effort of making and donating them was balm to my heart. Project Linus was a ray of light in a month of darkness.

We are among the fortunate few with a happy ending to this sort of medical crisis.

One of my daughter’s kidneys failed permanently, but the other is in good health. She needed some physical therapy and a brace on her foot as a toddler, but hasn’t needed any sort of aid since two years of age. There was no other physical or mental impairment.

Today she attends second grade at a Singapore Public School and is a straight A student. She is in an advanced gymnastics class, and also takes ballet. She wants to be a fashion designer or an artist. She’s awesome.

Every year we donate to Project Linus in our daughter’s name, but this year, I’m going to donate all the proceeds of Under the Mistletoe, too.

Please consider submitting a story or a poem