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The women who make sex sell

DUBLIN-born author Caroline McCall writes sexy sci-fi and paranormal romance for American publisher, Ellora's Cave. A paralegal by day, Caroline spends most of her evenings and weekends dreaming up alpha males and feisty heroines. Caroline lives in Dublin with her partner, and "several spoilt, ungrateful felines".

I started out writing romantic fiction, but then I was picked up by Ellora's Cave, the biggest publishers of erotic and sensual romances in the world and it just went from there.

My first three novels Time Slip, Jakes' Prisoner and Virtually Yours were written for their Blush line.

Earlier this year, I got the opportunity to co-write an erotic novella with Eileen Gormley. Angels, Demons & Doms [out now] was the result of our collaboration. We've just completed the follow up and we're currently working on a full-length erotic romance.

You could say that I have a very vivid imagination. I generally have more stories in my head than I have time to write. A lot of the time, they are like planes circling an airport waiting to land. I dream up a lot of my stories when I'm walking on the beach. I love people-watching, especially on the Dart into work in the mornings. Yes, handsome man on the 8.30am, it is you!

MECHANICS

I did keep my career from people in the early days. I mean, how do you tell your family you're writing sexy romance? I have five sisters, so you can imagine the teasing I get. The girls in work love it when I bring in the pictures of my latest cover model.

I showed my first ever draft to the other writers in my writers' group -- The Corner Table. We have an online forum where writers can post their work and get critiques. We now have members in four or five countries. This year, we had to start a separate X-rated forum for the naughty stuff.

Like all other types of writing, some of it is down to technique. You can learn the mechanics, but if your heart isn't in it, if you feel uncomfortable writing sex, that will come across to the reader. There is nothing as truly awful as a badly written sex scene.

If you want to start writing erotic fiction, get yourself a good writers' group who will critique your early attempts. Search out some hot writers and read how they do it and remember, that in all good erotica, the relationship is the most important thing. The reader has to want the hero and heroine to get together."

EXTRACT:

From Virtually Yours (Blush, a division of Ellora's Cave)

"Kiss me," she whispered. Her voice was half invitation, half plea. His mouth grazed tentatively at the edge of hers, sipping on her upper lip, nipping eagerly along the edge of her full lower one.

"Don't tease," she pouted.

She pressed her mouth against his in a languorous caress. Her tongue slid inside his mouth, gently exploring. When Blondie stroked the back of his neck and threaded her fingers through his hair, Pete felt his blood racing. God, this was torture. He drew away, shaking. He hadn't saved her from a couple of creeps just to take advantage of her. "I think it's time we got you into bed."

"Yes, please."

Eileen Gormley, who began her writing career at this very newspaper, co-wrote Angels, Demons and Doms with Caroline McCall. She lives in Swords with her husband and three daughters.

When I told people I was an erotic fiction writer at an event recently, I noticed that everyone was asking me questions while gazing at the ceiling! They wanted to know the answers, but they didn't want to meet my eyes. I have teenage daughters and they are, of course, mortified by the whole business. As for my husband, as far as he's concerned, my writing about erotica is no different to me writing about the Napoleonic wars.

I started off as a news reporter for the Herald, but then I had babies and I stayed at home and didn't get back into it. I later took a course in creative writing in UCD, which is where I met Caroline.

I wrote a piece about a space alien and the course tutor, Patricia, said, 'That's good, make a book out of it'. I did and it got to the quarter finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I later wrote some science fiction erotica and showed it to Caroline and she said, 'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I can't believe you wrote that!'

Caroline and I kept meeting and saying, 'We must do a co-write'. Around this time, Caroline's author made a submission call-out for stories. The only thing is that there was a 10-day deadline. We did it, all 30,000 words of Angels, Demons & Doms.

I don't think Irish women are prudish when it comes to erotica. In fact, we have found that we have to tone down our language a bit for the American market. Irish women are far more used to bad language. We say 'f**k' a lot and Americans don't.

I think there has always been a huge market for erotica, but there were always the questions of where can I get good erotica and where can I buy it where nobody will see me? To a large extent, the Kindle and e-reader has changed that and nobody knows why you're grinning on the bus.

I think Fifty Shades of Grey is so popular because it's like Twilight. Bella and Edward didn't get it on until well into the series and all the Twilight fans were saying 'do it, do it, do it'.

And it's good for sex lives -- an awful lot of guys say, 'I know when I see her with that book that she is going to be hopping on me tonight'!"

EXTRACT:

From Angels, Demons & Doms (Taboo, a division of Ellora's Cave).

She had no idea her blinds were open and she was giving a show to any horn dog who happened to be looking in her direction. He dialled her cell phone and she picked up on the second ring.

Just to tease her, he dropped his voice. "Lexi, you've been a bad girl tonight, haven't you?"

"No. I mean--" She sounded defiant. And hopeful?

"No, what?" It wasn't a question, it was a demand.

A pause. "No, sir."

Sam felt as if all his birthdays had come at once, but he managed to keep his voice stern when he said, "Tell me what you're wearing." Would she tell him?

"A bra."

"And what else?"

"My skirt and panties."

"Too much. Take off the skirt." He could see her getting up from the chair, holding the phone to her ear while she fumbled at the side zipper of her skirt. "Wait. Switch on hands-free on your phone. You're going to need both hands."

KRIS KENNEDY is a hot romance writer, who writes Irish-set novels such as The Irish Warrior. She lives with her son and their dog in the Pacific Northwest.

I set many of my novels in Ireland because it's scarred and strong. More real-life drama has been acted out on Irish soil over the ages than the history books can ever relay. And when it comes to heroes, there's nothing more potent than a confident man on a mission, a man with a 'cause.' And my readers love the Irish angle!

I write erotic romance, as opposed to simply 'erotic fiction'. Part of the definition of 'romance' is that it at least hints at a Happily Ever After (or the real hope of it). My definition of 'porn' is the complete objectification of the participants, with no purpose beyond titillation. In the hot romances I read and write, nothing could be further from the truth. People change as a result of their passion in erotic romance, and they change for the good.

My advice for would-be writers is: don't hold back; be bold. And dig deeper. (Much as I now sound like a fool who doesn't realise the ridiculous euphemisms she's created!) If the story follows the sexual relationship as the main arc of the story, it has to be about more than sex-and-plenty-of-it. The sex, the passion, the desire has to be about something more for the characters. There's got to be emotional stakes.

Fifty Shades of Grey has certainly created a hubbub in literary circles and popular culture; everyone's discussing it, from voracious readers who hate it because of its low-brow language and simplistic plot and characterisation, to Jewish rabbis analysing it as a voice for the necessary and healthy lust in our culture. It has got people examining their own selves and the culture at large, and I'm fairly certain that's one of the measures we use for what's 'valuable' literature."

EXTRACT:

From Deception (Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster). Released on July 31

"And whether you like it or not, Irish," she murmured, her voice husky and low, "not only do I need you, but now, you need me."

The tumble of loosened strands of hair fell down past her shoulders, curling brown-red ribbons past her deep blue gown. Her eyes, so close to his, caught the moonlight, which was quite a thing, her dark green eyes, glinting back candlelight at him.

"I should throw you out the window. Or tie you up," he muttered.

"Or let me in," she said, coming closer. "Will you deny me this chance?"

The whiskey was doing its work, running hot through his blood. Her mouth was very close to his. "I am no knight, Sophia," he said slowly, looking at her lips.

"Does that mean no?"

UK-based erotic fiction author Mitzi Szereto holds regular erotic-writing workshops across Europe.

Writers are becoming more interested in the erotic fiction genre after the success of Fifty Shades, which may or may not be a good thing. There are and have been other erotic works of far superior literary quality, so I'm not convinced Fifty Shades is going to encourage writers to aim for literary excellence. Erotic fiction has already been denigrated as a low-end form of fiction and one not worthy of critical notice. That's unfortunate. I'm not saying this designation isn't sometimes deserved. Erotic writers need to set a higher bar for their work. It's something I've been saying for years and which I try to drum into those who attend my writing courses.

I suspect the Fifty Shades phenomenon will spawn a huge number of would-be erotic writers all hoping to replicate the success of the author. My advice to them is the same advice I'd give to any other writer: don't parrot other writers! Develop your own voice and your own style. One of my pet peeves in erotic fiction is cookie-cutter writing. It looks as if they're writing to some formula.

Focus on quality. Don't write cheap porn that has as much value as used loo paper. I'm not saying you can't sell cheap porn (you probably can), but if you're going to the effort to write, then why not write something you can be proud of and which has some literary merit? The biggest mistakes would-be writers make is writing something that has as much emotional impact and intellectual depth as a porn video. They think the entire focus is on the sex and forget about the main elements of good writing, such as crafting an engaging story with interesting characters and a plotline, not to mention writing quality prose. I'm always telling students 'the sex is not the story'.

Regarding those tacky slang words for the genitalia, this is a major pet peeve of mine, and I discourage their use unless there's a stylistic reason or necessity for it in a character's dialogue. I tend to see lots of references to chasms and chambers, along with references to gentlemen's bits that make them sound like something used to break up concrete rather than being part of the anatomy! Breasts that tend to be described as 'pillowy' aren't top of the list for literary finesse either!"

EXTRACT:

(From the short story The Blood Moon Kiss, by Mitzi Szereto from Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance -- an anthology edited by Mitzi Szereto)

"Her dress lies in a dark puddle on the white sand as she stands naked on the beach, facing away from him toward the watery horizon. His head is bowed into her neck, his arm crossed over her breasts, holding her firm against his chest. The nail of his thumb flicks against one nipple until it can harden no further, at which point he takes it between the pads of his thumb and index finger, pinching it lightly, then less so, varying the pressure so that she doesn't know what to expect, stopping just short of causing actual pain."