Sunday, March 31, 2013

writing tips

This is a post I've been thinking about making for several months. I kept putting it off because I knew it would be a lot of typing, but Neil Gaiman finally pushed me over the edge with this post. Here he's offering his own advice about writing, and the best part is that when he was a teenager, the stuff he was writing was crap - but he kept doing it anyway. That's the key: don't give up. I wrote a lot of crap, myself, as a teen; and I guess many of you did, too. But if you like to write (or make art or music, or whatever), don't stop even if you think it sucks. You'll get better over time. You just need to practice.

Another thing you can do to polish your skills is to study the writing of people who really know what they're doing. Now, you have to be careful about this; as Gaiman says in his post, it's a bad idea to copy someone else's style. But you can learn techniques, like how to enhance a scene with the right setting or realistic dialogue, and (especially useful for writers of erotica), how to give it sensuality.

And this is where the idea for my post began. A few months ago I was reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Amazing, fantastic novel - and (not to turn anyone off with hoity-toity-ness, because this isn't a hoity-toity novel) a Pulitzer Prize winner. It's about the birth of superhero comics and the relationship between two Jewish cousins, one a smart-alecky New Yorker and the other an escapee from Nazi-occupied Prague. The part I want to share with you concerns Sammy's first romantic experience. He's the New Yorker, and he's developed a friendship with a radio actor named Tracy Bacon. Despite the name, Tracy is a man. You can see where this is going. But let me linger over that name for a second. A few months ago I blogged about how to name characters, and "Tracy Bacon" is a great example. Not only is his first name androgynous, but his last name is Bacon. Remember, Sammy's Jewish. Bacon is forbidden for him...and yet....

I'll set the scene just a little - no need for much detail since Chabon lays it out so beautifully. And I'll encourage you to notice, as you read, how incredibly sensual it is despite involving nothing but a kiss. Everything is sexual: the inevitability of the approaching storm, the heat and electricity - of so many kinds - the phallic nature of the building and cigarette, the not-as-innocent-as-it-seems body contact, all the different liquids....It's nothing but a kiss, and yet it's more erotic than any dozen sex scenes on the EMCSA.

So anyway, the setup: Sammy hasn't yet realized he's gay, or that Tracy has been flirting with him, but he's definitely attracted to to the guy. Sammy is alone on the top floor of the Empire State Building (never mind why) when Tracy sneaks in to see him. Then this happens:

"Jeez," Bacon said, getting up from the table. "Thunder."

He went over to the windows and looked out. Sammy rose and followed him.

"This way," he said, taking Bacon by the arm. "It's blowing in from the southeast."

They stood side by side, shoulders pressed together, watching the slow black zeppelin as it steamed over New York, trailing long white guy wires of lightning. Thunder harried the building like a hound, brushing its crackling coat against the spandrels and mullions, snuffling at the windowpanes.

"It seems to like us." A feather of laughter fluttered in Bacon's voice. Sammy saw that he was afraid.

"Yeah," Sammy said. "We're its favorite." He lit a cigarette, and at the spark of his lighter, Bacon jumped. "Relax. They've been coming all month. They come all through summer."

"Huh," Bacon said. he took a swallow from the bottle of Burgundy, then licked his lips. "And I am relaxed."


"That stuff doesn't ever, you know, hit the building."

"Five times so far this year, I think it is."

"Oh my God."


"Shut up."

"They've recorded strokes that were more than twenty-two thousand amperes."

"Hitting this building."

"Ten million volts, or something like that."


"Don't worry," Sammy said, "the whole building acts like one gigantic - Oh." Bacon's breath was sour with wine, but one sweet drop of the stuff lingered on his lips as he pressed his mouth against Sammy's. The stubble on their chins scraped with a soft electric rasp. Sammy was so taken by surprise that by the time his brain with its considerable store of Judeo-Christian prohibitions and attitudes could begin sending the harsh and condemnatory messages to the various relevant parts of his body, it was too late. He was already kissing Tracy Bacon back. They angled their bodies half toward each other. The bottle of wine clinked against the window glass. Sammy felt a tiny halo, a gemstone of heat burning his fingers. He let the cigarette drop to the floor. Then the sky just beyond the windows was veined with fire, and they heard a sizzle that sounded almost wet, like a droplet on a hot griddle, and then a thunderclap trapped them in the deep black cavern of its palms.

"Lightning rod," said Sammy, pulling away. As if in spite of all he had been told one evening last week by the bland and reassuring Dr. Karl B. Maceachron of General Electric, who had been studying the electrical atmospheric phenomena associated with the Empire State Building, from Saint Elmo's fire to reverse lightning that struck the sky, he was suddenly afraid. He took a step back from Tracy Bacon, stopped to retrieve his smouldering cigarette, and sought refuge by unconsciously adopting the dry manner of Dr. MacEachron himself. "The steel structure of the building attracts but then totally dissipates the discharge...."

"I'm sorry," Bacon said.

"That's all right."

"I didn't mean to- wow, look at that."

Bacon pointed to the deserted promenade outside the windows. Along its railings, a bright blue liquid, viscous and turbulent, seemed to flow. Sammy opened the door and reached out into the ozone-sharp darkness, and then Bacon came beside him again and put out his hand, too, and they stood there, for a moment, watching as sparks two inches long forked from the tips of their outstretched fingers.

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