The Rise of Erotica

I’ve been reading for forty years, writing for twenty, published for ten.  I’ve seen erotica come and go, and am a fan of it myself, but it’s never been mainstream before.  It’s always been at the back of the bookstore, or purchased online and delivered in brown paper.  50 Shades of Grey has changed all that.

Ereaders like Kindle and iPad gave women (the main readership of erotica) their first opportunity to read it on the lounge or in the train without anyone being the wiser.  But who could have predicted that everyone from schoolgirls to housewives and their husbands would be happily buying paperback copies of 50 Shades at their local BigW and chatting to the checkout operator about who might play Christian in the movie.

BDSM?  Mainstream?  And the sales figures!  Dear Lord.  31 million copies worldwide in six months.  That’s the fastest selling series of all time.

To say it’s a shakeup of ‘normal’ reading habits is an understatement.  And not that I’m against it.  I’m one hundred percent behind readers partaking of whatever takes their fancy.  But the speed is astonishing and that speaks about an audience ready for a product.

There’s been a bit of hype about Twilight readers growing up and wanting more – to move from Edward’s patriarchal behaviour to Christian’s overt physical domination.  Perhaps that’s true.  But the phenomenon speaks to me more of women’s desire to fantasise about relinquishing control.  Most readers of 50 Shades would run a mile from a real Dom, but clearly they like to fantasise about that type of relationship, and I wonder if there’s some pendulum effect happening.

Back in the seventies romance novels were full of guardians falling in love with their much younger charges, governesses falling for the master of the house, or secretaries falling for the much older boss.  Then Women’s Liberation caught up with the genres and the pendulum started swinging the other way.  Heroines needed to have something other than a husband on their minds or we couldn’t relate to them, and by the turn of the millennium we were seeing kick-ass heroines across all genres – women who were not only equal with men, but often stronger: Ripley in Alien, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and one of my favourites, Sarah Connor from Terminator.  Her transition from helpless waitress to gun-toting revolutionary epitomised the change that was sweeping across fiction.  Women wanted to fantasise about being the hero – about being the one in control.

Put that alongside the rise of the geek/loser hero who more often than not is bossed around by the women in his world: Simpsons, Friends, How I Met your Mother, Big Bang Theory and it was looking as if strong men had disappeared.  Or at least that women weren’t as interested in seeing them anymore.

Pendulums, however, have a way of peaking and swinging back, sometimes quite viciously.  Shows like Mad Men started to get a following, and while we might wince at lines like “I only got a job here to find myself a husband,” to a modern working mother there was something alluring about the idea having nothing to do but run a beautiful home and have polite children, leaving all the worries of the world to a clever (handsome) dominating husband.  The resulting lack of choices would have been claustrophobic to a modern woman, but fiction is all about fantasy so we lapped it up.  Alpha heroes were cropping up again, not as Greek tycoons, but as vampires and werewolves – big, strong, sexy and more often than not, domineering.  Easy to fantasise about a lover like that because you know it’s not real.  But it’s only a hop skip and jump from vampire Edward to human Christian.

Again, not that I’m against it.  I’m always happy for adults to read whatever they choose to without having their preferences ridiculed by others.  It’s a free world, and women should be free to read whatever they want to.  I’m just trying to make sense of why BDSM is suddenly interesting enough for women to read not just one novel to “see what all the fuss is about” but to continue on and read the whole series.  That speaks of more than curiousity.

So why do you think women (and some men) are fascinated with the idea of a dominating lover?  Is it a desire to give over control to someone you trust?  To experience the bliss of a complete lack of responsibility? Are women over being the head of the household?  Are we seeing the start of a return to more patriarchal relationships?  Or is this just a phase of temporary titillation that will soon blow over?

Would love to hear your thoughts…

Continuum8, Melbourne: the Australian sci fi and fantasy NATCON


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Running late with this: a quick roundup of last weekend’s a fortnight ago’s Australian convention of all things sci fi and fantasy: Continuum8 in Melbourne.  A big slice of the Aussie speculative fiction community turned up to hear their favourite authors speak, and my contribution was to sit on panels about fantasy world-building, romance writing, mentoring writers and digital technologies.  I also did a reading from my work-in-progress erotic novel (which was fun – my first time reading erotica aloud), chatted in the hallways, wandered a couple of blocks down to Lygon Street and ate amazing food while (again) discussing all things literary with other authors, and hung at the bar.  A lot. (although in my defence, often drinking coffee).  The bar and adjoining restaurant were quiet places away from the bustle where you could catch up with mates and make new friends.  Networking.  Of course, it isn’t a con without costumes, and although I missed seeing Rachael Holkner as Wonder Woman, Tansy Rayner Roberts caught this great photo of her above which I’ve borrowed (there are more photos of the con on Tansy’s blog).  I did bump into  Donna Hanson (left) who is one of the organisers of the Canberra Con Conflux.  She was pitching her con for 2013 looking all very Victorian/Steampunk.

Another item on my agenda was attending Twelfth Planet Press’s launch of Jason Nahrung‘s fabulously moody novella “Salvage” which I bought and had signed.  It’s an awesome read and I can thoroughly recommend it.  Here’s a photo of Jason (below) offering wine and cupcakes to punters at the launch:


More photos below of ‘networking’ around the bar and restaurant areas of the con where all sorts of issues about writing were raised and discussed.  I sat in on a few discussions about bookstores and how they’re adapting.  Apparently publishers are looking at the idea of selling marginally more expensive print copies of books that include an eBook code in them, so readers can ‘bundle’ their purchase to have both print and digital copies of a book. I also discovered that ‘classics’ are having a resurgence in sales as people download them free as ebooks and fall in love with them, then turn up at a bookstore to buy a print copy.  Jane Austin, Dostoevsky, Homer, all getting fresh reprints, which is both lovely and interesting – ebooks driving print sales.

As well as indulging in deep-and-meaningfuls, we had a lot of fun, and to the left is a a pic of two people who gave us a lot of laughs.  Ian Mond and Kirstyn McDermott won a Ditmar and a Chronos award for their podcasts of The Writer and the Critic. (if you haven’t heard them, check them out)  They were also co-presenters of the awards ceremony and they gave the night some real pizzaz.  I was also very impressed by the way the spec fic men scrubbed up in their suits.  Not too shabby!  The plastic octopus Ian is holding was a stand-in award as the proper trophies hadn’t arrived in time.  Bonus, they squeaked!  I’m reliably informed that the lurid plastic octopi will be exchanged for proper Ditmar awards in the near future.

Just a few more photos to round out the collection.  Me on Lygon Street hunting down desserts, a homage to the fabulous architecture (and trams) of Melbourne, and a collection of amazing pocket watches I found in The Junk Shop on Elizabeth Street (very cool Steampunk accoutrements).

And for those who are lovers of movie/tv sci fi and fantasy, here’s the Opening Ceremony video highlighting the Craftinomicon aspect of the con – making costumes.  I’ve got a soft spot for Dr Who’s dog K9 so keep your eyes open and you’ll see him in the mix. Just be aware that it has a fairly loud soundtrack!

My panels at Continuum 8 Conference 8-11 June, 2012

The program for Continuum 8: Craftonomicon, the 2012 Australian National SF Convention in Melbourne from 8-11 June is now online and available to download.  I’m on several panels, one of which starts at 10pm at night!  I’ll have flown out at 6:30am that morning to get there so I’m imagining I’ll need some caffeine to survive that one.  Panels I’m sitting on are:

Writing Different Genders, Sexualities And Cultures – Friday 6pm  Our fearless authors delve into the ethics, issues and techniques for writing characters who are different. We’ll discuss how to work with unfamiliar, alien or just plain diverse perspectives and we’ll delve into the dangers and satisfactions of writing from another point of view. Finally, we’ll examine some of the reactions to ‘other’ writing and ask what motivates a writer to keep working with genders, sexualities and cultures that are not their own.

In Defence Of Romance – Friday 10pm  Paranormal romance, or romance in general, is often dismissed as bodice-ripping fluff. But these are stories for and about women, written by women. They can be more than a guilty pleasure, exploring important issues. Do they have a duty to? Why aren’t novels written by and for men called dudelit and treated to the same derision? Are the cover designs doing the genre a disservice?

Take The Pebble From My Hand, Grasshopper – Saturday 9am  When starting out on any path it’s always good to have someone you can ask for advice. Writing is no different and there are many people willing to help. Our panellists discuss how to find a mentor, the benefits of having one and the rewards of being a mentor.

The Future Is Now – Saturday 2pm eBooks, iDevices, apps etc are changing how we write and read. What’s out there, what’s worth using, and is all this technology a help or a hindrance? And where to from here?

Playing God – A Guide For Beginners – Saturday 3pm Building a new world for your fiction can be fun and exciting. But where do you start, what should you avoid and what makes it a living, breathing, believable world?

Writing Storyworlds – New Versus Existing – Saturday 6pm A discussion of the processes involved in creating convincing storyworlds from scratch compared with writing  material for existing storyworlds such as Doctor Who, Highlander and Dan Dare

Continuum’s “Enchantment Under the Sea” Maskobalo, Saturday 9 June 2012: Photo op and costume awards at 8:00pm, dancefloor opens at 8:30pm. Costume Parade Take a turn 20,000 leagues below, and follow the undercurrents to a hidden realm of secrets and wonder, of sunken treasure and swelling tides, merfolk and kraken. Lose yourself in the siren-song of Maskobalo on this night of enchantment under the sea.

Readings – Sunday 4pm FARADAY room. Ask a manuscript assessor Q&A

If you’re coming to Continuum 8 I’d love you to find me and say “Hello”.  I’ll be a long way from home so some friendly faces will always be welcomed!

Literati – rock-star writers descend on the Gold Coast


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Okay, some poetic licence there, but I am a fantasy author so I get to embellish.  Nothing made up about the glamour of Surfers Paradise, however, and the Gold Coast City Council’s Literati writing festival 2012 ran as smoothly as the surf rolling up onto the pristine white beaches a block from the hotel where the authors were housed, the gorgeous Watermark. This is the view from my window past the iconic Q1 building:

Friday started with me up at 3:30am for the drive down the coast.  I arrived over-caffeinated around midday, checking in to the Watermark to hang out my frock and dust off my heels before continuing to the bottom end of the Gold Coast for the afternoon masterclass I was tutoring on “Structural Editing” at the Elanora Library. It was a busy and exciting afternoon of pulling apart 14 authors plots and putting them back together again.  I love the revelations that writers experience through this process but I’m well aware it’s unnerving to discover that your draft novel needs more re-writing than you’d thought it would!  Still, the guys were very receptive to suggestions.

I finished up right on 4:30pm and instead of hanging around to chat (which I usually do) I raced out the door to drive back to the hotel so I’d have time to frock up for the evening’s Literary Feast which was to be held at the beautiful Gold Coast Arts Centre.  After meeting in the foyer of the hotel, the glammed-up authors were bussed to the venue and then had cocktails together so we could meet those we’d be on panels with the next day.  After that we were lined up in a dark corridor (bit spooky and some giggling at that point) waiting for our names to be called out…

On the other side of the corridor sat tables of waiting diners.  Each author was ‘auctioned’ to a table of literary patrons for entree, main and dessert courses so once we found our places we were able to charm and chat with readers, librarians and friends of the library, all eager for the Literary Feast.

I met some awesome people, chatted to school and council librarians about their jobs, talked to readers about the way ebooks are changing publishing options for authors, and had the pleasure of introducing our representative Harlequin author Helen Lacey to the president of the Gold Coast Friends of the Library (the sponsors of the dinner) who was a huge romance fan!  It was a great night.

The next morning I was up bright and early because the four masterclass tutors were on the first panel of the day at the Literati venue, the Robina Community Centre:

Left to right: Trent Jamieson, moi, Angela Sunde and Tiana Templeman. We all gave a short precis of what we’d taught the previous day, then took questions from the floor, and had some interesting discussion on how our private lives have influenced our writing, as well as how you should structure a novel to make it comfortable to read and yet unique and reflective of your own ‘voice’.  I love listening to other writers describe their process so this was a particularly satisfying panel for me.

The local Gold Coast ABC radio station FM 91.7 was broadcasting from Literati and I was interviewed after my panel, which was a lot of fun.  I managed to fit in some funny anecdotes (which is always a win) and really enjoyed the process:

Following the interview I managed to snag a bit of time off in the green room and had a lovely relaxed chat with Trent Jamieson (left, below) about his Death Works series which I’ve just bought book three of (and adored #1 and #2), and Stephen M. Irwin (who has such a cool website) and who also shares the same agent I do, the beautiful and talented Selwa Anthony.

Then when we’d caught our breath it was time to scoot outside and take our places at the signing table (below) where I got to speak to readers about my books and also to some writers who wanted help with their unpublished novels (keeping my author and manuscript developer hats both to hand).

There was time to catch up with other presenters after the signing session was over, so I snagged a ‘spec fic’ photo opportunity (below) when Marianne de Pierres, Kylie Chan and Nicky Strickland were all in the one spot with me:

It was also a pleasure to reconnect with fantasy author Rowena Cory Daniells (left, below) and my good mate Harlequin author Helen Lacey, so I had to get a ‘members of Romance Writers of Australia‘ photo of the three of us:

By this point everyone was getting a bit ragged, and with way too much caffeine and too little sleep under my belt it was time to leave before Evil Louise could make an appearance (assuming my lap-top smashing alter-ego exists).  Now all I have are my lanyard and happy memories:

It was an awesome weekend of luxury, fun, insight, shiny red heels, spectacular creme brulee and deep-and-meaningful conversations – one of my favourite festivals on the Literary Calendar.  I’m back home catching my breath and catching up on emails because in only a fortnight I’ll be zipping off to Melbourne for Continuum8, the national science fiction and fantasy convention.  Am seriously looking forward to seeing who’s at the bar at that Con!

Fantasy romance recommendations by ‘Book Thingo’


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I’m so very pleased to have been included in a list of Aussie fantasy authors reviewed by the ladies at Book Thingo.  Their VODCAST is here:

To see the accompanying Book Thingo article click here.

Of ANZAC Day and Fathers


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My dad died twenty-five years ago, and although from the age of ten I never got on with him, he was probably a normal sort of guy.  He grew up in Brisbane through the depression, and with a no-good alcoholic father, he was hungry a lot.  Not surprisingly, he put his age up to serve in the war in New Guinea, at Milne Bay in fact.  He was a bit of a tearaway according to his war record, and was disciplined a number of times before he was sent north to fight.  Unfortunately five weeks into his active service a grenade went off near him and shrapnel lodged in his back.  He was operated on (none too successfully) in Townsville and repatriated to the Military Convalescent Camp at Tallebudgera on the Gold Coast.

When his wounds were healed he became a driver at the camp and spent the rest of the war there. Some time later while roaring around on a motorcycle wearing a leather jacket (and no doubt thinking he looked cool) he met an innocent young farm girl from west of Rockhampton whose family had just moved to Brisbane. They got married and had four children (I was the third). Dad’s trade was carpentry, but unfortunately his back was never right and there were stretches while I was growing up when he was in Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital. He lived long enough to see me get married, but died of renal cancer before my children were born.

As I said, we never got on.  Nothing melodramatic.  We were just two people who seemed destined to argue over everything.  Then he got sick a couple of years after I got married, and when he died I didn’t cry.  I was too busy organising the funeral and thereafter being busy.  It was several years before it caught up with me (perhaps some denial there, I’ll allow).  I was attending the Brisbane Writers Festival.  I remember it was Father’s Day, which meant nothing to me as there were no fathers left in our families and my husband and I hadn’t had children yet.  But the panel I remember attending that day was called “Fathers, Absent and Present”.  John Birmingham and Gary Crew were speakers, and I remember Stephen Cummings was another.  I’m sorry now that I can’t remember the fourth, but what I do remember is their honesty.  Instead of talking about their books, they each spoke quite emotionally about their relationships with their fathers.  Some had fabulous memories, and their dads were in the audience.  One had a tragic childhood of neglect and emotional torment, but as a whole the panel was painful and poignant and perfectly fitting for Fathers Day.

I thought all this on an intellectual level while I walked to the festival coffee shop, paid for coffee and cake and settled myself into a table overlooking the beautiful Brisbane River.  The next thing I remember is sobbing, quite loudly and uncontrollably.  Big wrenching, painful sobs that pulled my lungs up into my throat and burned them there.  On one level I was aware of embarrassing myself, but there was nothing I could do to stop it.  So I turned away from everyone else and let it run it’s course.  By the time it was over and I had my breathing back under control the tables around me were empty, either out of sympathy or perhaps more likely because another session had started.

I don’t know what that was.  Still.  But from that moment on, my annual tradition of attending the ANZAC Day Dawn Service changed (pic on left is of me at the Canberra War Memorial, having snuck out of Conjure with Jason Nahrung and a few mates to attend).  Instead of it being only about respecting those who gave their lives to ensure I grew up in a free country, somehow ANZAC Day became the one day I could freely ‘chat’ with my dad.  At first it was just “So I hope there are lots of people in heaven to criticise.  Wouldn’t want you to get rusty,” but I have to admit that over time the bitterness started to shift.

During that period my inner life was obviously being projected onto my writing.  Fathers were either absent, ineffectual or downright obstructive in my stories.  I couldn’t seem to write about a father who was helpful!  In any way.  But as time went by and I attended ANZAC services in so many different places, surrounded by so many different people – seeing men who had been shaped by an experience I could never understand – my conversations with dad started to shift.  Instead of bitching I’d remember times when I was little and he’d carried me into the surf and kept me safe in his arms above the waves, or sitting on his lap reciting nursery rhymes and feeling very clever, dancing to ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ while my mum played the piano.  All memories from when I was small, when I was too young to realise I didn’t agree with him, and to say so.  But somehow those memories cracked a kernel of tenderness that I hadn’t imagined could ever exist between my father and I.

It was just once a year, just on that one day, but it must have done something because this year, amazingly (and I didn’t realise I was doing it until I was finished) I wrote a father who was terrible to his daughter, but on his deathbed he explained that everything he’d done was out of love, to create a ruse that had protected her from danger and strengthened her to step into his shoes and rule the kingdom in her own right.

To say I was taken completely by surprise would be an understatement.  I’d hated that king from the moment he’d stepped onto the page, and I thought his daughter deserved so much better, but when I looked at the story I’d written I realised that he’d been right.  Everything he’d done had made her stronger, smarter, safer, and he had the perfect motivation to keep his love from her, for her own good.

Amazingly, she forgave him.  I tried to make her bitter, but characters have a life of their own and she wouldn’t do it.  She was so much braver than me, and though these people I’ve created in my stories aren’t real, their honesty and their acceptance inspires me to be better than I am.

So now it’s ANZAC Day 2012 and my dad has been gone more years than he was with me growing up.  I’ve attended the Dawn Service at a submarine lookout on the Coral Sea, with the waves crashing onto volcanic rocks below, and for the very first time I’ve found it within myself to say “Thank you, to my father, and to mean it, and I know it’s changed me profoundly.

Even more amazing, this year, for the first time, my dad answered back.  One word.  Clear as a bell inside my mind. 


I don’t know exactly what he means by that, but I know what I plan to do with it.  My kingdom is in front of me.  It’s my show now.  I plan to be brave.

I wonder, what did your father teach you…?

Voting now: Best Australian Blogs 2012


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Very excited about the fact that my blog has been nominated in the “Best Australian Blogs 2012” competition.  If you like my blog and want to vote for me, please click on the button and look for Louise Cusack in the list.

If you want to be my new best friend, you can also tweet or Facebook the link and ask others to vote for my blog too.