Sisters in Smut and Their Stories

When first invited to spend some time at a whacky-sounding gathering called The Smummit, I was both curious and cautious. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was worried about. The event was hosted by my good friend (and favorite extrovert) Dr J and I’m always happy to spend time with smart, funny women — especially when one of my besties refers to them as sisters.

Unfortunately, my hesitation is something these women encounter quite often, simply because of their genre: they write erotica. It’s not a genre with which I’m terribly familiar, so, of course, curiosity took over. Not only were all the Smummit participants delightful humans — they also happen to be good writers. So I decided to conduct some interviews. I hope you enjoy getting to know Ria Restrepo, Wednesday Noir, and Oleander Plume as much as I did.

Meet Some Sisters in Smut

So, ladies — sisters — let’s talk about pen names. Why do you use one and how did you come up with it? Any special significance? Let’s start with you, Oleander. (Here’s her Twitter handle.)

Before I came up with my pen name, I had a blog called Poison Pen/Dirty Mind, and, for reasons that still mystify me, I wanted a pen name that coordinated. Anyway, oleander is a poison, and plume is French for pen, so…Oleander Plume.

And what about you, Ria?

I use a pen name primarily to protect my privacy. It’s unfortunate, but a woman writing erotica tends to draw unwanted attention and I’d rather not have weirdos showing up on my doorstep. Also, most of my family is not aware that I write erotica. I’m not sure how they’d react, but to avoid any possible unpleasantness, I keep it to myself.

As for how I chose it, I wanted something that reflected my Hispanic heritage. I’ve always liked the predominantly Colombian surname Restrepo, so that was easy. To pick my first name, I used a character naming book where I learned Ria means “from the river’s mouth.” I liked its sound and no one appeared to be using it, so that’s what I chose.

But Why?

How did you come to this genre? What are some of the unique joys and challenges faced by romance/erotica writers in general? You specifically? Let’s start with Wednesday.

Writing erotica seemed natural to me. I love the genre and always have. But there’s more to erotica than sex. Maybe it’s weird, but I want to write erotica for women — to give them a mental vacation from their daily lives and a story to lose themselves in. And hopefully, once in a while, make them laugh. This genre is home to me. It’s where I feel safe, and those dirty stories are more than a collection of naughty words: they’re a symbol for empowerment, a chance to explore, a place where everyone belongs.

How about you, Oleander?

Why I started writing erotica is too complex to go into here, but I can tell you why I keep writing it, despite the challenges: the answer has a lot to do with shame.

I’m shamed for being a survivor of sexual violence. I’m shamed for being a woman who enjoys reading and writing about sex. I’m shamed for being a woman who writes gay romance. Sure, I could quit writing smut and possibly have a happier life, but I refuse.

This is my personal rebellion against the conservative right. Against patriarchy. Against the ridiculous and dangerous current political regime.

Against the shame I’ve felt about myself.

Erotica writers can do important things. We can normalize healthy sexual relationships for folks of all types. We normalize consent. We can normalize diversity. We can inspire, empower, and help survivors heal. That’s why I will never stop peddling smut.

Erotica writers can do important things. We normalize consent. We can normalize diversity. We can inspire, empower... Click To Tweet

Some Advice from the Sisters

And, sticking with Oleander for one more question, please: What advice do you have for someone just starting out as a writer?

The absolute best advice I can give is this: your words are not precious. Say it out loud with me, right now:

“My words are not precious.”

Here’s the thing, when you start out, 99% of your work is going to suck. IT’S SUPPOSED TO SUCK! No one is born a writer. We writers make ourselves, using hard work and tenacity. Staying humble is an important part of the process.

When you drop your defenses and allow your work to be edited or critiqued, you’ll grow as a writer. And as a human.

Ria, do you have any advice for our readers who write?

I’ve really stepped up my blogging game within the last year. My blog is called Ria’s Writing and is mostly erotic romance stories. Mainly, I do it to keep myself writing on a regular basis and to build an audience. I also love the challenge of writing stories for the various online writing prompts which allow me to experiment with ideas I might not have tried and gain confidence in my own writing instincts.

Sweet Adventure

Finally, ladies… do you have anything to say about your visit to Amelia Island? Let’s continue with Ria.

Amelia Island is a beautiful area I was thrilled to finally visit. The carriage ride around the historic area was definitely a highlight. I especially enjoyed the ghost stories—and I may have even come away with a picture of a possible supernatural sighting. Above all, though, I was overjoyed to meet and connect with the very talented women I’d only interacted with online. Meeting the Sisters in Smut in person reinforced everything I already knew: they are the most supportive and encouraging group of women I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

Meeting the sisters in person reinforced everything I already knew: they are the most supportive and encouraging group of women I've ever had the pleasure of working with. Click To Tweet

What about you, Wednesday Noir?

Visiting Amelia Island changed me. It wasn’t the beautiful streets, the charming houses, or even the sea breeze. But believe me, I enjoyed the scenery and still miss the breeze.

It was the company that changed me. I’m an agoraphobic introvert. When I set out to write for a living, I never expected to make friends. But oh boy, I did. I’d already met Dr. J, and chatted with the other Sisters In Smut daily, but I didn’t expect the emotional impact of being in the same room. There was so much laughter, my cheeks hurt the entire trip, and oh gosh, the happy tears. I’m surprised we didn’t flood the island.
Not only that, I didn’t expect to come away from the trip with even more writer friends. Everyone I met, was so sweet, so kind, and taught me there’s more to life than writing and Twitter: I can talk to people, and I can go places. I’ve even been getting out more while at home. The island is beautiful, but I enjoyed the Amelia Island state of mind most. I carried a bit of y’alls good humor and easy-going nature home with me. Seriously, is anyone ever grouchy there?

See what I mean? They’re lovely. Here are some sisters’ author bios for you.

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Oleander Plume plans on living until she is 100, so the fact that she didn’t start writing until the age of 50 doesn’t bother her at all. Her short stories have been featured in best-selling erotic anthologies from Cleis Press and Riverdale Ave Books. Horatio Slice: Guitar Slayer of the Universe, published by Go Deeper Press, is Oleander’s first (but hopefully not last) full-length novel. When Oleander isn’t writing, you can find her creating art, dabbling in graphic design, or hanging out with her wonderful family in Chicago, Illinois.

Ria Restrepo may appear to be a mild-mannered bookworm who drinks too much coffee and spends most days tapping away on her computer, but beneath the quiet exterior lurks a filthy-minded sex kitten with a lurid and lascivious imagination. Her work has appeared in Spy Games: Thrilling Spy Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica of the Year Volume 1, Chemical [se]X 2: Just One More, The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30 Volume 3, and coming soon in Best Bondage Erotica of the Year Volume 1.

When Wednesday Noir isn’t writing, she can be found with a cat on her lap, a cup of cinnamon tea in hand, watching cheesy 80s horror movies while avoiding in-person social interaction. She’s not married but considers herself in a committed relationship with Netflix. 

 

Five Amazing Things I Brought Home From My First Writing Conference

open notebook with "am I good enough?" written on page. Pen and pencil on notebook.I recently attended my first Romance Writers of America national conference in New York City. I left home full of nerves— What if I didn’t make any friends? What if I wore the wrong things? What if, when asked, I couldn’t remember what my book was about? Worst of all, I left home with a sneaky, sinking suspicion that when surrounded by other writers, I wouldn’t measure up. I packed all that in my suitcase along with six pairs of shoes, twenty-two pairs of underwear (just in case!) and headed to New York.

What I brought home four days later weighed one pound more (FTW, Delta!) and was more valuable than the extra Biscoff cookies I nabbed from the flight. Whether you write romance, thrillers, literary fiction, or children’s books, let me tell you about five of the things I brought back from my conference and why you might want to attend conferences in your genre.

Worst of all, I left home with a sneaky, sinking suspicion that when surrounded by other writers, I wouldn’t measure up. I packed all that in my suitcase along... Click To Tweet

#5. So. Many. Books.

In fairness, these didn’t come home in my suitcase because I had to ship them from the business center in the hotel, but let’s pretend for the sake of metaphor. I work in academia and I’ve written before about how I hid my love of romance for a long time, believing people would think it wasn’t “smart enough.”

I’m over that now, but there was no greater symbolism for that than holding a stack of new romance novels and talking with fellow readers who were educated, successful professionals about our shared interest in the book’s promise of happily ever after (and just for a minute about the shirtless model featured on the cover). I found my people along with new books.
#4. Business Cards

I was given a head’s up that having business cards would be beneficial, so I brought a stack to trade. I recommend doing this because I ended up bringing home a stack of cards from other authors. One of the most important things you’ll do at genre-specific conferences is meet other authors, industry professionals, and vendors. I also met many people in elevators, in line for the bathroom, and while waiting for sessions to begin. I knew we had at least one thing in common, so striking up a conversation with “What do you write?” was easy.

One of the most important things you’ll do at genre-specific conferences is meet other authors, industry professionals, and vendors. Click To Tweet

#3. Notes

The educator in me knows this should be #1, but I came home with a notebook filled with notes on marketing strategies, writing craft, publishing ins and outs, and important topics like domestic violence in romance. I love networking and cocktail parties, but the nerd in me was here for the learning. Taking notes AND talking about writing? Yes, please. Sessions will vary, but these conferences are a great opportunity to hone and stretch ourselves as authors. I went to sessions I knew I’d love and chose a few where I wasn’t sure what I was getting into—they all came home with me.

#2. Confidence

Admittedly, I attended the conference with a few things going my way already. I was a finalist for an award for unpublished authors, I’d signed with an agent a few months before the conference, and my book had recently sold. Still, I questioned my talent and abilities. During the conference, I met fellow new authors who could talk about our shared anxieties, I met seasoned professionals who offered to help and told me my book sounded great, and I met people who were just kind, welcoming, and friendly. Between the shoes I didn’t end up wearing, and the NYC-themed toys I bought for my son, my suitcase was filled with affirmation that I can not only write a kick-ass book, but the shoulders-back, boobs-forward confidence that I will write several more.

#1. A Plan

Confidence is great and I strutted (in my mind) down the jet bridge, but the most important thing I came home with was a plan. Between my new network of people, my notes, and Author Denise Williams smilingnewfound knowledge of my genre and the publishing industry, I came home with the tools to make a plan. I’ve already been in touch with authors I met willing to help boost my book when it comes out, I’ve started sketching out plans for marketing and questions to ask my publisher, and mapping out next steps for my career.

On top of those five things, I brought home a camera roll full of selfies with new friends and author heroes, a little bit of a hangover (Whew! Authors know how to party!) and three new ideas for novels. NYC is a cruelly expensive city to visit, as are many conference locations, but consider the options for your genre if it’s possible—local, regional, national, and international conferences are out there and can be great for indie, trad, or hybrid authors, unpublished and published alike. Pack your bag and see what you come home with—I’m glad I did.

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Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. I Hate You and its sequel, I Still Hate You, featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD in education. When she’s not writing romance novels, she’s chasing two dogs, one husband, and a hilarious toddler.

Dr. Naya Turner has never failed at anything, but when she puts herself out there, she stumbles in every possible way. Luckily, the man she’s stumbling into doesn’t seem to mind. This is a story about surviving — and finding love and laughter on the way to finding one’s own voice.

Follow Denise on Twitter , Instagram , or Facebook.  How to Fail at Flirting, her debut romantic comedy, is coming December 2020 from Berkley. To receive an email when the book is available (and to learn more about Denise) visit www.denisewilliamswrites.com

 

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Wait, Does RSVP Really Mean “Respond, Dammit?”

Remember learning that RSVP meant “répondez s’il vous plaît?” And, if you learned that as a kid, do you remember how cool and
sophisticated it made you feel? I sure do. Not only was it French — the most romantic of the romance languages — but it was like I had been given yet another key to open another secret grown-up door. And, in this case, I was picturing a very swanky, high-class door. How cool was that? All I had to do to become part of the club was to communicate. Usually in writing. Even better, am I right?

All I had to do to become part of the club was to communicate. In writing. Click To Tweet

Do You Care About Getting Your Stuff Read?

So what does RSVP have to do with writing? Not much — if you don’t care about having your stuff read. But if like many of us, your goals include getting your beautiful book babies in front of readers, then you are probably engaged in far more marketing, outreach and networking than you ever dreamed possible. You may still not be seeing the connection but, trust me, I’m getting there.

You post on Facebook and Instagram. Or Pinterest and Twitter. You interact with readers and other writers. You re-tweet and re-post in support of good people, products, or ideas but, when it comes to your own work? You’re frequently committing professional malpractice.

I’m going to break one of the cardinal rules of online communication. I’m going to (virtually) shout at you. Ready? Click To Tweet

And, to make sure you don’t miss it, I’m going to break one of the cardinal rules of online communication. I’m going to (virtually) shout. Ready?

When someone offers you an opportunity for increased exposure? RESPOND, DAMMIT!

What forms of increased exposure, you ask?

  • You’re offered an interview? RESPOND.
  • Someone asks for your author photo? RESPOND.
  • A reviewer has requested a copy of your book? RESPOND
  • A Twitter chat leader invites you to co-host and needs a bio for the promos? RESPOND
  • And what do you do when one of your contacts asks for a high-resolution copy of your book cover? Let’s hear it from the tenors, now: RESPOND.

And, for the hundreds of other opportunities that might come your way? Let’s hear it in unison, loudly, for the people in the back… RESPOND DAMMIT!!!

And Here’s a ‘Respond Dammit’ Don’t

And here’s what you shouldn’t do: DO NOT WAIT.

Believe me, I am well-aware of how busy a solo practitioner (aka indie author) can get. And, I promise you that I’ve dropped the ball on more occasions than I can count. That’s probably why I get so agitated about it: I always hate to waste a good mistake.

What no longer works is an e-mail auto-responder — or slotting these things for “later, when I have time.” You’re not going to have more time later — and email is not where many of the requests will come from. (It is, however, useful for longer communications, such as the Q&A for an online interview, but more about that in another post.)

Believe me, I am well-aware of how busy an indie author can get. And I've dropped the ball too many times. Click To Tweet

But… HOW to Give a Fast Response?

So how does a busy, perhaps traveling, author make sure she’s able to respond? The answer, my friend, is in the cloud. Not only do I keep author photos, bios, and book covers on my desktop, I’ve got them stashed in various locations in the cloud: on a private page of my website, in a documents folder in my iCloud, and in the DropBox folder that comes with my Amelia Indie Authors membership! (shameless plug).

Why does a fast response matter so much? As stated before, you’re busy. We know that. But so are the people making the request. And the longer it takes for them to assemble the pieces they need to reference (or feature) you, the less of a priority you — and your beautiful book — become. And, if you sit in virtual limbo for long enough, the initial idea becomes untimely. Or irrelevant. And it takes more work to figure out how and what to do with you. You’ve gone from being an interesting addition to a mildly annoying loose end. And that’s surely not your intention. Or your wish.

So how about looking at those requests as invitations? Invitations to a more grown-up, professional place in the writers’ community; invitations that come with an RSVP.

How about you just RESPOND, DAMMIT?

Merci beaucoup. 

 

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Not only does Andrea Patten speak French, she is our Director of Operations, currently tasked with keeping all of the plates spinning. In her “spare time,” she does her level best to keep up with her dogs — and her own writing.

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