Tag Archives: Writing

How to Write a Sizzling Sex Scene

From my new book, now available for the Kindle, the Nook, and other electronic readers.

I decided to write this small book right after I got yet another call from a writer’s conference director asking me if I would come give my sex talk at her conference.

My sex talk.

For years, I’ve been teaching weekend workshops on writing erotica for women (and one memorable one for men—more on that later) and giving short conference-sized workshops on how to write well-crafted sex scenes. Sex scenes are crucial to good fiction; they’re excellent opportunities to reveal character, and there’s a simple structure to it. These classes are wildly popular, and they have made me an “in demand” instructor at writer’s conferences and conventions all over the world.

sex scene book cover

In fact, occasionally I will walk down the hall at a writer’s conference and hear furtive whispers: “There goes the sex writer.”

Sex writer! As if I were a pornographer. I could be insulted, but I’m not; I’m amused.

The classroom is packed with expectant faces. What is she going to do? (What do they think? Unbutton my blouse?) What is she going to say? (What do they think? Run down a list of dirty words?)

I talk about writing. I talk about the sexual nature of their fictional characters. I talk about the three-act structure of a scene, and the three-act structure of a sex scene. I talk about practicing writing. I talk about vocabulary and what to call body parts. I talk about the difference between pornography and erotica. I talk about revealing character to the reader, and revealing character at a most vulnerable moment.

Those in the audience, they hear me—they’re taking notes—but I know they’re not thinking of their fictional characters. They’re thinking of themselves. This is what makes these classes so popular. I don’t use any dirty words. I don’t name any body parts. I talk about writing, but they’re all thinking of themselves. They think of themselves as fictional characters and they look at their sexuality. My class gives them permission to do that. And it’s fun, because they can ask thinly veiled questions: “My character has this problem…” And we pretend she’s talking about her character. I make light of it, and I can do that without insulting her, because we’re not talking about her, we’re talking about a character in her novel. She can laugh and learn and everybody else laughs and learns.

Sex is, after all, pretty funny.

Occasionally, it gets a little heavy, a little dicey, and I am always the first to hold up my hand and claim that I am not a therapist; I am a writer. This class (or seminar) is not about pain or healing your sexual issues. We’re talking about fiction here. And even that gets a laugh.

Then I give them an assignment and ten minutes to practice what they’ve learned in the past hour. After ten minutes, I open the microphone and they line up to read the portion of a sex scene they’ve written.

It’s hilarious. It’s moving. It’s astonishing. They have no problem saying those words, naming those body parts.

And we all go home thinking of ourselves and our sexual nature in a little different way. Certainly none of us ever looks at our fictional characters in the same way again; most of us look at our spousal units in a very good way later that evening.

I think that’s the real reason these classes are so popular. Even though I don’t talk dirty, I don’t tell smutty jokes, I don’t demonstrate anything vulgar on stage, everybody in the audience employs their largest sexual organ—their brain—for the hour and a half (or weekend) we’re together, and they learn a little bit about human nature. Their nature. Which is what writing is all about: Fearless, relentless introspection.

Of course the writer in me is always worried that I’ll drop dead some day soon and be remembered for giving the sex talk instead of the short stories, essays and novels that I so agonize over.

But in the meantime, I’ll go to another writer’s conference and give my “sex talk” and laugh and have fun, learn a little, teach a little, and best of all, spend time with other writers.

And now there’s a book.

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Top Ten Things I Wish I had Known

Top Ten Things I Wish I’d Known…

After thirteen books in print with a fourteenth and fifteenth slated for publication, I’ve garnered a little wisdom along with all the heartbreaks, hard knocks, high fives and golden moments that only a published author can experience. Here, then, are the top ten things I wish I’d known when first starting out.

  1. If you’re good enough to get one agent/editor/publisher, you’re good enough to get another agent/editor/publisher. Don’t be so grateful to be represented or to be published that you grovel, sell your soul, or take minimum wage for your work. Trust the professional who sees something in your work that makes it worth their while, but don’t hang on to a sorry relationship out of fear that this is the only person who will ever believe in you. It isn’t true in love, and it isn’t true in publishing.
  2. Worry about your writing and your career will take care of itself. This was the advice given to me by my very first editor, and for the most part, it is true. I look after my career, because it means more to me than it does my agent, my editor, or my publisher, but once I turn a manuscript in, it becomes someone else’s job.
  3. The job of an author is to acquire readers, one at a time. There’s the profession of being a writer, and then there’s the profession of being an author. The writer’s job is to write. The author’s job is to grow a readership.  Be nice to your fans. Don’t annoy them with too much self promotion.
  4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The fate of nations does not hang on your deathless prose. You’re a storyteller. Tell the story that is up for you to tell today and then move on. Do not rewrite it until you have ground off all its edges or smoothed out all its wrinkles or turned it into mush. By the same token, even if you’re an Author with a capital A, you’re still just a storyteller, not a brain surgeon, unless you’re that, too.
  5. Take your writing seriously. While you should never consider yourself all fancypants because you’ve had a book published, you should always consider that the contents of your work may be widely read. While you should be fearless with your truth, be certain that it is your truth before you try to convince others of it.
  6. Relax. There is real value in “creative procrastination.” I believe that we can outpace our creativity with page-count goals. If the words aren’t coming, don’t take a hammer to your head. Make sure you haven’t told a lie in your fiction (asked a character to do something that is against his or her nature in order to serve the plot, because this will cause all the characters to go on strike). If your work is solid, the pages will eventually come—provided, of course, that you are sitting at the keyboard. The book won’t write itself, you know.
  7. Be a professional. Be someone for up and coming writers to look up to. Be the person your agent adores. Be the writer your editor admires and loves to have coffee and/or a chat with.
  8. Be grateful. You have achieved what countless thousands others strive to achieve.
  9. Be generous. Give back. Teach, donate your time, expertise, and money to help the next generation of writers achieve their dreams as well.
  10. Know that there’s plenty to go around. Just because so-and-so got published first, or better, or more frequently, or whatever, this has nothing to do with you, your writing or your career. Don’t compare yourself and don’t be jealous. See number 2.


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A New Writer’s Conference in Eugene, Oregon

The organizing committee of a prospective new writing conference in Eugene, Oregon, has formulated a survey so that the committee can design the conference to address the needs of the attendees. The short (3 minute) survey covers writers, presenters, attendees, and volunteers, so if you are or have been any of those, we would like to have your input.

Please take the survey (only once) and then pass the link on to any writing friends so we can have as broad a perspective as possible.


Thanks! And have a wonderful 2013.

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Kick Start Your Novel

For the first time in several years, I’ll be teaching the Kick Start Your Novel class June 4,5,6,7 in Eugene, Oregon.
This series of four evening classes is an intense, hands-on novel writing workshop designed to get your novel going in the right direction. Classes are structured so you will learn about the internal structure of fiction and the key aspects of writing a novel, then work on your book in class.
This workshop is for the writer who has basic writing experience, is highly motivated and has at least a nodding acquaintance with the novel that dwells within. While you may work on your novel-in-progress if you insist, I strongly suggest that instead, you work on something fresh for the purposes of this workshop. Leave your old work at home and let the spirit of the moment move you. Trust the creative process and watch the magic happen.
Plan to attend all four sessions, and spend non-class hours working intensively on your book as well. Momentum is important. This class is not for the faint of heart, the weak-willed or those who are afraid of the intense internal examination that novel writing entails. Your level of experience is not as important as your dedication to the process.
The fun, intense class will take place over four consecutive evenings, June 4,5,6,7 from 6pm to about 9 or 9:30pm. Space is limited to six participants. Cost is $250 per person. Email me for more information.

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2011: The Year of Living Simply

I’ve been naming my years now for a while. It’s more than a resolution, it’s a reminder to bring more lovingkindness, more awareness, more sweetness to life. In naming my years, and in holding those thoughts in my head and in my heart, my outlook changes.

In 2011, I vow to live more simply.

What does that mean? To travel less for business. Maybe just travel less.  To only go where my dog can come along. She’s not getting any younger, either, and every day in a boarding facility is just that. To make fewer commitments. To acquire less stuff and to give more stuff away. To appreciate what I have rather than spend time and energy thinking about what I want. To not busy my schedule out a year in advance. To do more of the things I really enjoy and fewer things I dread. To not please people, but to please God instead. Pleasing people is exhausting. Pleasing God is simple.

To do more art. Both in writing and knitting and living. I heard not too long ago that if we, by our countless tiny decisions, make each day a work of art, by the time we’re finished, we’ll have created a masterpiece.

That’s for me. That’s what I want for 2011 and beyond. To build a simple masterpiece, day by day.


Filed under Aging, goals, Joy, knitting, Possibilities, Prayer, Reading, Spirituality, time, Writing

My Keynote Presentation

This morning I was honored to deliver the keynote presentation at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. This is the text of that presentation:

Good morning. It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you this morning. The keynote, as I understand it, is the talk that sets the key note for the conference, and I am delighted to share with you what I hope will be the keynote of your experience here in Surrey.

There are two things I’d like to talk about this morning. The first is the responsibility of writers in our culture, in our history and in our future, and the second is our responsibility to our readers.

The first—responsibility to our culture—cannot be overestimated. Writers are the keepers of the literature, the chroniclers of our times. Think of the rich history Dickens has lent to those of us who have never experienced those times. He has shown us the attitudes, the vocabulary, the sights, smells, sounds of Victorian London. And he was but one writer. One voice.

Sometimes we think that we’re sitting alone in our offices in front of our keyboards (Facebook minimized in the corner), making up silly little stories that don’t really matter in the greater scheme of things. It is easy for us to let the committee in our minds get control of us and encourage us to ‘get a real job’ or ‘do something worthwhile’ – especially if one of the voices that comprises our committee happens to be The Mother. And it may be true that there isn’t a Dickens in this room who will speak for an entire generation, but together, we do. Each voice is a part of the great chorus of this generation of writers that will speak for eons. And every chorus is comprised of what? Individual voices.

So put the committee down for a nap whenever you sit at the keyboard. You are providing an important service for our culture and for the future inhabitants of this planet as well as for your current readers.

And that brings me to my second point. Our responsibility to these readers.

When you sit down at the keyboard, you are in the process of creating a product that you hope to sell. You don’t want to sell a useless gizmo to your friends and neighbors, loved ones and fans. You want them to feel good about their purchase, to spread the word. In order to do that, you have to give readers something they want and need.

Well. What the hell do readers want? I’ll tell you. They want to read about conflict. They don’t want to engage in it, they don’t want to live it, in fact, we all go to great lengths to avoid conflict in our lives.

But when we go to bed at night, and turn on the reading light and pick up that book on the nightstand, we want to dive into outrageous, mind-blowing conflict, but only if the author is artful in putting us into the shoes of the characters. If we can make ourselves believe that we are embroiled in amazing conflicts, we continually say to ourselves, Could that really happen? I would NEVER do such a thing, or I would LOVE to do something like that, all the while knowing that it is never really going to happen. But what we’re actually doing is learning about ourselves, because we don’t have the opportunity to actually see ourselves in much conflict.

This is the entertainment value of fiction. We get to fantasize about situations we will never actually find ourselves in. The great value in that for a reader is that they close the book and come away from the experience with a greater understanding of themselves.

This is what you’re selling. Readers’ enhanced experience of themselves.

This is why you must pay so much attention to character, to setting, and to plot. This is why you must write with such realism that the reader can actually put themselves into the clothes of the characters, both good guys and bad guys. This is why you must pay particular attention to the emotional makeup of the character. This is why the bad guy must be so bad. A milquetoast bad guy results in a milquetoast story. Your story is only as strong as your antagonist. Give your characters real evil to battle. This is how all readers want to see themselves: not going to their mundane jobs as accountants, janitors and IT techs, but as night time heroes, battling evil and saving the world.

This is what you’re selling. This is escapist literature. This is entertainment.

This is your responsibility. Your job is to dig so deeply into your own soul, your own longings, your own failings, your own insecurities and present them to the page so clearly that you change lives.

This is how you join the chorus.

And so if I am to strike the key note at this conference, it is this: The world needs your words. The world needs you to learn your craft so that you can join the chorus in tune and vie for that soloist spot. The world needs you to continue to experience without aid of self-medicating so that you don’t keep using up your experience without replenishing the well. The world needs you to be ruthless in your self-examination. The world needs you to speak your truth, and speak it loudly, boldly, fearlessly.

And if you do that, you will change lives, not the least of which will be your own.

Thank you and have a wonderful conference.

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A New Short Story

A new short story of mine (a vampire story, no less) appears in the new Apex anthology now available via Kindle. 

If you don’t have a Kindle (really?), it’s available in other digital forms from Apex Books.

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The Twentieth Annual Ghost Story Weekend

…is now in the history books.

I have to say, this was perhaps the best weekend with the highest quality stories across the board. Everybody really rose to the occasion. You’ll be reading some of those stories in magazines soon, I expect.

And now we turn our attention to Science Fiction Story Weekend this fall, perhaps in a new venue with accommodations more befitting our advancing ages, and the next Ghost Story Weekend next Spring, God willing.


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Want to Write A Short Story?

I’ll be teaching The Art of the Short Story for Lane Community College on Thursday nights, 6:30-9:30pm, January 7-February 18 at the Downtown Center, room 321. Registration number is CRN 32718. To register via ExpressLane, if you have an L-number, go here.

As with all things, the more you put into a class like this, the more you will get out of it, but we’ll have fun and you’ll come out of it with some serious short story experience.

While short stories seem to have fallen out of favor of late, I am a firm believer in the art form. Unfortunately, most mainstream magazines only publish one short story per issue, if that, and most short stories are revered in the horror, science fiction and fantasy realms for their anthologies and magazines. But that’s fine. Writing short fiction teaches the writer many things about plot, character, scene and setting. It is always a worthwhile endeavor.

I grew up reading short fiction, and began my career with short fiction. A short story sale was my very first professional publication credit.

So while we’ll write stories, pick them apart and talk about them (both student stories and professionally-published stories), we’ll also talk about some marketing aspects for them.

It’ll be fun. Come and join us.

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A Webinar on Writing

Next Sunday, November 1, I’ll be the guest of honor for an hour-long webinar at www.wiredwriters.net. I think the event begins at 1pm, with chat with Don McQuinn, and you’ll have an opportunity to submit questions which he’ll ask me when I show up from 2-3pm.

Rumor has it that Terry Brooks will join us, if he’s available.

Got questions about writing, publishing, agents, editors, protagonists, antagonists, short stories, articles, essays, science fiction, fantasy, discipline, or the writing process? Log on to the website, register for the webinar and submit your questions. Let’s make this a fun event!

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