Fiction Fragments: Lynn Hortel

Lynn

Last week VM Burns stopped by to talk about writing and unfinished projects, and this week Lynn Hortel is here to share an abandoned horror story. I met Lynn at Seton Hill University while earning an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. Like me, Lynn is a single mom who writes dark fiction inspired by her dark past. When Lynn submitted her fragment, she wrote:

This started out as a BDSM erotica experiment. Then I decided it would definitely be a short horror story. Then it got tossed in the fragment pile never to be looked at again.

This is not a Romance.

Look for Lynn’s debut  horror novel coming out next year.

Lynn Hortel has lived in several cities throughout the southwest. She never felt settled until she moved to Joshua Tree where she fell in love with the surreal landscape. At Seton Hill University she earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, and Throwback is her first complete novel—partly written out in the desert, scribbled on notebook paper while surrounded by cacti. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking, stargazing, and wildflower viewing. She lives with her son and an Australian Cattle Dog named Richard.

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: When did you begin writing and why?

Lynn:  I wrote stories as long as I can remember, but when I was fifteen I wrote a short story for school, and the teacher told me she’d shared it with others, including the principal, and they all cried. It felt powerful to cause emotion like that. That’s when I knew I should be a writer.

Girl Meets Monster: Your fiction deals with dark themes, where does your inspiration come from?

Lynn: My dark and traumatic childhood provides the biggest inspiration, but not just that. Even if my early life had been idyllic, I’d be obsessed with the need to understand bad things. Part of it is a silly, superstitious belief that if I keep my eye on evil, I can protect myself and my loved ones. Plus, dark things are delicious.

Girl Meets Monster: What stops you from finishing writing projects?

Lynn: Things that a lot of people struggle with — fear of success, fear of failure, resentment that I can’t pour myself into a project the way I want to because I have to work, so why bother. I think one of the biggest things that defines successful authors is their ability to write through any circumstance, so I’m working on it. At the end of the day it just boils down to putting down the words even though my tired, overworked self would rather read someone else’s.

Not A Romance, by Lynn Hortel

Katy walked down the musty apartment complex hallway and descended several flights of stairs to the first floor. Then she paused in the stairwell to check her phone. Maybe Mr. Bishop had left a voice mail. I want to do the right thing, Katy. I tore up the contract. See you at work on Monday.

No messages on her glossy, black android. Just a text from the driver. Bishop’s driver waiting out front.

She felt a sudden, strong urge to pee but didn’t want to climb back up all the stairs to use the bathroom. She might not come back down. Just nerves. It’ll go away. Maybe the bladder pressure would distract from the dread.

In the smooth, white landscape behind the glass entrance, a long, black limousine sat parked in front of her apartment complex. The first snow of winter fell and dusted the vehicle in lacy flakes.

She paused, took a deep breath, and pushed the lobby door open. Cold air stung her cheeks.

The biting cold combined with anxiety made her lungs seize. Katy put the flat of her hand against her chest, coughed, and forced a deep breath. This is what her poor daughter felt like—this and much worse. Katy could follow through if she focused on the real purpose- to help Annie.

A short, stocky man with brown skin and a black beanie cap exited the limo and opened the door to the backseat. He gave her a nod, huddled in his long black coat, and rubbed his mitten clad hands together while he waited for her to enter.

Did he know the deal she’d made? “Hi,” she said.

“Morning.” He smiled and gestured to the open door. It beckoned her inside like a hungry mouth.

Her heart hammered. Frozen, her limbs wouldn’t move. Was that pity in his eyes? He looked like someone who might live in her building rather than a bank employee. This comforted her a little. Still, she’d be consumed by the time she finished this, swallowed and digested, never the same. Was she doing the right thing? It didn’t matter. Too late to back out.

The poor man must be freezing while he waited out in the cold for her to get in the car. If for no other reason than to relieve his discomfort, she willed herself forward a few steps, so he could get back inside and warm up. Her black, leather boots crunched in the dirty, fallen snow.

Mr. Bishop’s assistant popped her head out and waved. “Hi Katy. Hop on in and let’s go. You’re letting all the heat out.” She wore deep red lipstick, and her glossy, brunette hair in a twisted, complicated up-do.

Katy paused in the silent stillness. She hadn’t known she’d have an escort. Another person who knew the truth about this arrangement, but not the whole truth. “Oh. Hi, Diane.”

Diane said, “That’s all right. You get in whenever you’re ready. I’m going to close the door, though. It’s cold out there.” She disappeared back inside the black monster limousine and shut the door. The driver followed suit and started the engine but just idled.

For a few seconds Katy’s mind spun in a million directions for a way out of  this—for a solution that didn’t end in a potentially fatal lack of medical care for Annie—or else the terrible, looming, irreversible tryst with Mr. Bishop. But there was nothing she could do except ride this dark wave towards the inevitable. All that mattered was Annie’s health.

Decision made, her pummeling heartbeat mellowed to a dull thud. In a daze she opened the door, sat down, and shut herself inside the black beast. “Good morning.” She tried to act normal, although, there was nothing normal about this situation.

Diane returned her good morning with a warm smile and the whitest teeth Katy had ever seen. Her coat was deep, rich, emerald green, the color of money.

Katy hadn’t thought it possible, but her stomach clenched even more when the limo pull away from the curb and drove down the street. Don’t let me be sick. Please don’t let  me be sick.

They picked up speed and drove in silence for a while. Diane had told her not to bring anything, no clothes or toiletries. Everything she needed would be provided. Like prison—they go in and leave with the same single set of clothes and their personal items in a paper bag. Through the car window, buildings and street signs moved along and got left behind along with her low income neighborhood. Butterflies flapped their wings harder and harder inside her belly. Screw butterflies. More like pterodactyls. She smiled. When she’d asked Annie if she wanted a giant painting of a butterfly on her bedroom wall for her birthday, Annie asked for a picture of a dinosaur instead, so she’d painted a cool prehistoric landscape mural with flying pterodactyls that covered an entire wall in her bedroom. Annie wasn’t fragile like a butterfly. She was tough. Toughness ran in the family.

They pulled into the valet lane in front of a huge hotel in a wealthy part of the city Katy had rarely driven through—even though she’d lived nearby for years. Huge glass doors displayed a giant lobby with black and gold décor and a ruby red carpet similar to the one in the upstairs hall of the bank.

She clenched her teeth until her jaw ached. Why couldn’t he just give her a pass on her stupid money mistake out of the kindness of his heart? Obviously, he could afford it and spare everyone involved a hell of a lot of pain and suffering. If only he’d accept her offer to pay the money back in payments, but no can do. Now this had to happen. Of course she’d do everything she could to spare him the consequences, but for the most part, it was out of her hands. Boy, would he be sorry.

“Well, here we are.” Diane said. Two young men in black bow ties and vests opened their doors in unison and then stepped back so they could exit the limo.

Katy willed her body to get up, but she remained glued to the seat.

Diane stuck her head back inside the car and smiled her perfect red-lipsticked smile. “Are you coming?”

Katy swallowed. “I’m just going to stay here.”

Diane offered her slender, pale hand. Long, polished nails matched her lipstick. “Come. It’ll be all right.”

No, it wouldn’t. But Katy sighed, took her hand, and exited the limo. The prescription bottle filled with sleeping medication rattled inside her backpack. For mercy’s sake, she hoped she’d brought enough. Mr. Bishop was built like a behemoth.

The driver drove the limo away and disappeared into the parking garage. They entered the hotel through the giant glass doors.

Dressed in a black and red uniform with gold embellishments and a ridiculous cap, the bell hop greeted them with a nod. “Hello, Ms. Diane.” He leered and winked at Katy with brown eyes that shone with a maroon glow. His jaw lengthened. He smiled with a mouth too wide and revealed broken, yellow teeth mottled with brown stains.

Katy looked down and away. It’s starting. No, his eyes must reflect the red carpeting somehow.

A portly man with a salt and pepper beard played a grand piano. Amongst red square pillars from floor to ceiling, men in suits talked to skinny, beautified young women at small, round tables with what looked like cocktails in front of them. Maybe they were virgin. It was early for alcohol, and the girls appeared too young.

Katy felt out of place in her thrift store jacket, Levi’s, and uncombed, wavy brown hair.

Diane introduced her to the satanic bellhop whose face had somehow returned to normal. “This is Katy. She works for Mr. Bishop.” He extended his respectful welcome.

All three of them entered the elevator. Katy did not look at the bellhop but listened to him banter with Diane in a mild, friendly tone of voice about the new, snowy weather. She must have imagined the red-eyed grin. Anticipation had her seeing things. He sounded nice enough. As long as she didn’t look at his face, it would be okay, but she knew, just knew if she looked at him again, his eyes would glow red.

The door created hundreds of years ago by ancestors she’d never met was already opening.

Red lit numbers rose all the way to the top floor. When they exited the elevator, instead of the usual endless row of doors that led to cookie cutter rooms like in motels. the hallway revealed only one set of huge, ornate double doors.

They walked down the long hallway towards the entrance all the way at the end. Katy’s heart pounded so loud and hard, she thought Diane and the bellhop must hear it. She smelled something—like burnt matches or sulfur, but she kept moving forward with cold, leaden limbs.

“Here we are,” Diane said. She knocked on the door and entered without waiting for an answer. “He’s expecting us.”

Katy had everything under control for so long. How had the world spun so far off its axis in just the last few weeks? She followed Diane inside.

Next week, Patricia Lillie and her alter ego, Kay Charles, joins Girl Meets Monster to talk about the benefits of recycling your abandoned fiction. Got some unfinished fiction you’d like to share? Comment below or send it to chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

The Safe Word is Chicks Dig Scars

You may have noticed, while browsing through my blog posts that I have a thing for vampires. I’ve spent a lot of time reading, writing, watching, and thinking about vampires. Hell, they even show up in my dreams sometimes. If I’m lucky, the alarm clock doesn’t interrupt the really good parts of the dreams.

A few days ago I wrote about Jean-Claude, Vampire Master of the City of St. Louis, who appears in the Anita Blake novels by Laurell K. Hamilton. Jean-Claude is one of my favorite vampires of all time, and he has quite a bit of competition given the fact that I’ve been obsessed with vampires since I was 12. When I first read the Anita Blake novels, I only had eyes for Jean-Claude and Richard Zeeman. Werewolves are hot, too, but with each book, I like Richard less and less. He’s a self-centered, self-loathing, mentally unstable, jealous asshole who refuses to accept his own reality. By clinging onto his fantasy world, he repeatedly puts the people who rely on him in danger. And, despite the fact that he is a super hot piece of ass, his sexual proclivities make me uncomfortable and lead me to believe that the few times he’s been accused of rape may not be that far-fetched. Sure, vampires are predators as well, but for the most part, they acknowledge their shortcomings and try not to lie about them too much.

I just finished the fifteenth novel in the series, The Harlequin, and after reading this book and the one before it, Danse Macabre, I’ve come to the conclusion that Asher is also one of my favorite vampires. To be fair, Asher is dangerous. He is a monster. He, like Jean-Claude, is part of Belle Morte’s bloodline and therefore his “talents” and powers are connected to love and sex. In fact, Asher’s bite causes people to experience the most intense orgasm of their lives, which makes him a very dangerous bedfellow.

The Safe Word is Chicks Dig Scars: Asher

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Asher’s backstory is interesting. When we are first introduced to him in Burnt Offerings, he has come to St. Louis with a group of vampires who wish to depose Jean-Claude. Asher is seeking revenge, because he blames Jean-Claude for the death of a woman they both loved, Asher’s human servant, Julianna. Julianna was burned at the stake as a witch and Asher was badly scarred because members of the Church attempted to exorcise his “demons” by pouring holy water over his face and body repeatedly. Holy water has the same effect on vampires as acid does on human skin. His striking beauty was forever marred by the scars he bears on the right side of his face and body. He blames Jean-Claude because he was too late in coming to save Asher and Julianna. Jean-Claude blames himself and can never get over the guilt he feels for losing two people he loved. When he finally rescued Asher, he was too ugly to return to Belle Morte’s court without some serious convincing on Jean-Claude’s part. Although Asher and Jean-Claude had escaped before, they needed a place to go so Asher could heal. So, Jean-Claude traded his own freedom for 100 years in order for Asher to have a place to stay.

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Belle Morte treated Asher terribly during this time and refused to take him to her bed. She forced him to watch other vampires having sex with herself, with Jean-Claude, and never allowed him the satisfaction of release. Although Jean-Claude saved his life, Asher never forgave him for what happened to him and Julianna. But, that hasn’t stopped Jean-Claude from loving him.

Because of her close ties to Jean-Claude, Anita has access to his memories of Asher before his accident and has caught glimpses of the intimacy shared between Asher, Jean-Claude and Julianna. Afraid that Anita with think badly of him, Jean-Claude limits her access to his memories of the love and sex shared between himself and Asher. But these memories create a sense of love and longing within Anita toward Asher, and when he sees the way she looks at him, it raises his hopes that he can find the love he once had. Because of Jean-Claude’s memories, Anita sees beyond the scars and slowly falls in love with Asher. Asher has a really difficult time believing that anyone would want him because he is so scarred.

Despite the strong feelings Jean-Claude has for Asher, he avoids having a sexual relationship with him. Again, this is because he worries that Anita will reject him if he succumbs to his desires for other men. Even when Anita accepts Asher into their bed, there are rules about who touches who. The first night Asher is allowed in bed with Jean-Claude and Anita, it is only because of the need to feed the ardeur. Jason and Nathaniel are on either side of Anita, touching her to feed the ardeur, and Jean-Claude is feeding on Jason while Asher feeds on Nathaniel. Because there’s no actual intercourse, and despite the fact that everyone reaches orgasm, Anita discounts the experience as not being ACTUAL sex.

Take a moment to think about that. Anita is in bed with two smoking hot shapeshifters who are essentially naked, and bringing her to orgasm through digital manipulation. They’re both being fed on by vampires who bring about orgasm through their touch and bites, and drinking blood is akin to sex for most vampires. Everybody is getting off, but because no one is literally fucking her, it’s feeding, not sex. I’m pretty sure whatever was happening in that bed sounded, felt, and smelled like sex. But hey, what the hell do I know?

At any rate, the next time Asher ends up in bed with Jean-Claude and Anita, it’s because they are protecting Asher from being sent back to Belle Morte. Without that relationship, he isn’t romantically involved with anyone else, so his connection to the vampire kiss is tentative at best. Without belonging to someone, as someone’s lover, and the fact that his strength as a master vampire isn’t enough for him to be especially useful to Jean-Claude, he is at risk of being reclaimed by his maker. Although Anita and Jean-Claude have genuine feelings of love and lust for Asher, his own self-doubt and fear of rejection keeps him from believing that they really want him. It takes a lot of convincing for him to accept their invitation into bed, because he fears that once they have proven to Belle Morte that he is in a romantic relationship with them, they will no longer have a need to show him true affection.

When they finally coax him into bed, it is one of the hottest sex scenes in all of the novels. Anita is between the two vampires, riding Jean-Claude, and begging Asher to also penetrate her. His initial thought is anal, but Jean-Claude stops him for fear of hurting Anita. That’s one of the things she doesn’t do in bed, and her judgement is compromised by the ardeur. But she keeps telling him to penetrate her. So, he bites her, and rubs himself off against her ass. When his bite causes her to orgasm in tandem with the ardeur that she is sharing with Jean-Claude, all three of them climax over and over until both vampires die at dawn. Again, because Asher was not having intercourse with Anita, she still doesn’t count that as sex. Which confuses Asher and amuses Jean-Claude. They refer to Anita’s perspective as a very American view of sex.

There’s another memorable sex scene between Anita and Asher in Danse Macabre, in which Anita is feeding the ardeur and allows Asher to bite her so that they can have sex. Up to that point, he hadn’t fed, and without feeding, vampires can’t perform. No blood flow, no erection. Once again, Asher’s bite is orgasmic. Once he drinks enough blood to perform, he stops feeding. But Anita wants more. She asks him to bite her again, and because he is under the influence of the ardeur, he agrees. They fuck and he feeds and they fuck some more, until he nearly kills her. She wakes up in the hospital suffering from blood loss. Asher is so horrified by his own behavior that he simply assumes that she won’t want to touch him again. But she reassures him that she loves him even more.

Yeah, I know. That’s pretty fucked up. I mean, vampire sex is hot and all, but she essentially said it was okay that he almost killed her. Fucking him was so good that it was worth dying for. After that incident, however, Jean-Claude forbade them from being alone again. If they were going to keep having sex, they would need supervision. I don’t know about you, but if the sex is so dangerous that you need a chaperone, you might want to think twice about having sex with that person again.

Maybe. Of course, when your options for chaperones include Jean-Claude, Micah, Nathaniel, Jason, Damian, Requiem, Haven…well, you get the idea. Richard’s right out, because the only man he even considered sharing Anita with was Jean-Claude. And, while that sex scene ended up being extremely hot, they had to deal with a lot of Richard’s hang-ups before anyone could relax enough to enjoy the sex.

All kidding aside, the scene in which Asher nearly fucks Anita to death is only half as disturbing as the sex scene between Anita and Richard in The Harlequin, in which she sustains internal damage while having sex with Richard in the throes of the ardeur. We are told repeatedly that Richard is well-endowed. And, he’s a werewolf. So, he typically has to be very careful when he’s having sex with women who aren’t shapeshifters. He’s been accused of being a bit rough on more than one occasion. Anita tends to like rough sex, and her other lover, Micah also has a rather large penis. He tries to be careful, but he has injured her before as well.

In The Harlequin, Richard not only gets upset because Micah’s cock is as big as his, but that Micah has hurt Anita during intercourse. So, how does he deal with this? By hurting her worse than Micah ever would have allowed to happen. And, he enjoys hurting her. And, what’s worse is that Anita doesn’t stop him and then tries to comfort him when he feels bad about hurting her on purpose. She’s more worried about his feelings than her possible injuries. She allows herself to be the victim of sexual violence at the hands of a man who claims to love her, and then feels bad when his feelings are hurt. What the fuck? I’m not sure if Laurell K. Hamilton used these two acts of sexual violence as cautionary tales about why it isn’t safe to fuck monsters, or if she wanted us to think that sexual violence is hot. The fact that Anita allows these types of encounters to keep happening makes me think that we’re supposed to accept this behavior as par for the course when you decide to fuck monsters.

Rough sex is one thing, but writing female characters who nearly died because of it is irresponsible. Accepting pain as a natural outcome of intercourse is fucking insane. I’ll be the first to admit that monsters can be sexy, but only when what they do doesn’t endanger the lives of the people they claim to love. Especially when they fantasize about sexual violence the way Richard does. To have him behave like a monster is one thing, but to make us as readers feel bad for him is another. Up until the point that Anita green-lighted Asher to keep feeding from her, he asked her repeatedly if that’s what she really wanted and tried to talk her out of it before he would consent. Richard admitted that he wanted to try to hurt her, because it got him off. Asher is not a sexual sadist. Richard is. And yet, she tried to make him feel better about himself in order to keep the peace. I keep wondering if she’s shared this tidbit with Jean-Claude, because something tells me that of he knew how Richard treated Anita, he wouldn’t allow Richard to come near her again. At this point, that’s only speculation on my part.

Sexual violence is not sexy. Just because you write about monsters doesn’t mean the sex has to be absurdly violent. A vampire bite is one thing, but your female characters shouldn’t experience organ damage from overtly rough sex with a sexual sadist even if he is a werewolf.

At the end of The Harlequin, Anita is still worried about her relationship with Nathaniel and meeting his needs to be sexually dominated. Jean-Claude suggests that Asher teach Anita about BDSM so that she can satisfy Nathaniel’s unmet needs. I’m not gonna lie. The minute I was done reading The Harlequin, I requested Blood Noir from the library, with the hopes that Asher will not only instruct Anita in how to dominate Nathaniel, but he’ll actually demonstrate using Nathaniel as a prop. If I’m really lucky, Jean-Claude will “chaperone.”

Fifty Shades of Self-Awareness: Why It’s Good to Read Bad Fiction

Recently, I did something I swore I would never do. I picked up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. Actually, I picked up the audiobook from my local library and listened to it in my car on my way to work and back and while running errands. It took me roughly two weeks to listen to the entire audiobook, during which time I laughed out loud, screamed “shut the fuck up” at the narrator, and said, “no duh” when something so unbelievably obvious was brought to my attention. This novel, much like the series of novels that inspired it (the Twilight Saga), is not a well-written work of fiction. In fact, it’s abysmal. So, why read/listen to it at all?

You Have to Read If You’re Going to Write

As a writer, I feel that it’s my duty to become better at my craft. Most good writers will tell you that to become a better writer, you need to read. A lot. I would argue that you should not only be reading the best of the best, but also the worst of the worst. This is especially true if you write popular or genre fiction. Genre fiction, when written well, can enlighten us, make us think about difficult subjects, and reimagine the world we live in. It is the fiction of the masses, so genre fiction is in high demand, and there is so much of it out there that I wouldn’t even begin to know how you would read all of it in a lifetime. Lots of people believe that it is easy to just sit down and crank out a romance, horror, or science fiction novel. If you are one of those people who think writing a novel-length work of fiction is easy, go ahead. Do it. But, your first attempt probably won’t be the masterpiece you’ve envisioned in your mind.

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Image by Freddie Marriage via Unsplash

While there’s a lot of good genre fiction out there, there is perhaps more that isn’t so good. And yet, people read it. I read it. Happily.

As a consumer of genre fiction who has a great love and appreciation for literary fiction and the classics, I am not ashamed to say that I will read, listen to, and or watch just about anything with vampires in the narrative. I have been obsessed with vampires since I was twelve, and I’ve never lost interest. Vampires are scary, dangerous, mysterious, and sexy as hell. Anne Rice’s novels were my gateway drugs. Thanks to her Vampire Chronicles, I have consumed a lot of vampire fiction, which enhanced my interest in classic horror films, Victorian horror novels, and inspired my own writing (both academic and fiction).

Over the years, I’ve expanded my obsession to include werewolves and demons, and I’m especially fond of Lucifer. I like to read, and attempt to write, about romanticized monsters. Monsters, in my opinion, make excellent leading men and love interests. But, I’m also aware that in some ways this is an unhealthy perspective on romantic relationships. But let’s not kid ourselves, unhealthy romantic relationships make fiction interesting and marketable.

The Danger of Romanticizing Monsters

Fifty Shades of Grey is not going to end up on a canonized list of great works of fiction (at least, I hope not), but it sold a hell of a lot of copies, became a series of novels, and has a film franchise. And, much to my chagrin, like the Twilight Saga, I feel a compulsion to listen to the rest of the audiobooks. When I read Twilight several years ago, I absolutely hated the protagonist, Bella Swan. I hated her because of her self-doubt, her lack of self-preservation, her inability to let go of the boy/man she loves who is LITERALLY a monster, and the fact that regardless of the danger ahead of her, she clings to this romantic fantasy that has no real basis in reality.

The risk you take with falling in love with a vampire is that death is always on the table. Whether you are “accidentally” murdered in a passionate moment when the lines between sexual arousal and hunger are blurred, or you accept the inevitability that in order to get your happily ever after with a vampire, you’re going to have to become one. Of course, other consequences include nightmarish, life-threatening pregnancies, and inexplicable acts of self-sacrifice.

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‘Bella Swan’ [Source: Summit Entertainment]


So, yeah. I hated Bella Swan. Not just for her lack of self-esteem and willingness to die for love. I hated her because I could see myself in her. Guess what? I hate Anastasia Steele, too. There are plenty of reasons for me to hate her. She’s a ridiculous twenty-something virgin who is completely clueless about sex, and has never masturbated in her entire twenty-one years on Earth. Despite her high GPA, she seems to have almost no grasp of human behavior and psychological motivations. Her internal dialog and incessant over-analyzing of EVERY. SINGLE. SITUATION. made me insane. But you know what really pisses me off? The fact that, like Anastasia, I am often riddled with self-doubt and second guess myself to the point of insanity, and I have also been manipulated by interesting men who turned out to be monsters.

There’s something sinister in the fact that a book I am content to mock from beginning to end, a work of fiction that is so poorly written that it’s laughable, and has the power to send me into fits of rage, can still entice me to keep reading. Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are not the only novels that have made me hate-read them to the end. In fact, some of the most popular works of genre fiction I’ve read in the past several years have had a similar effect on me. And, surprise, surprise, they had vampires in the narratives, too. I know, Fifty Shades doesn’t have any vampires, but for the sake of argument (and this blog post), let’s just agree that Christian Grey is based on Edward Cullen, and he would make an excellent vampire if given the opportunity.

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‘Christian Grey’ [Source: Focus Features]


Some other works of fiction that made me curse the narrator (and author) are the A Discovery of Witches Trilogy and Laurel K. Hamilton’s later Anita Blake novels. I’m not going to delve into either of those series in this post, because I have too much to say about them beyond their usefulness as examples of how not to write good fiction. However, I will say that the normalization of controlling and abusive relationships in romantic fiction has the potential to influence generations of female readers who won’t be happy unless they find a partner willing to threaten them with violence under the pretense of keeping them “safe.”

Don’t get me wrong. Vampires are hot. Vampire sex is even hotter. While reading (or watching) any work of fiction in which a vampire is shaping up to be the romantic love interest, I practically shout at the reluctant female protagonist, “fuck him already.” But, again, the consequence of engaging in a relationship with a vampire is death, and if not death, at the very least, exposure to a world often defined by violence and extreme power struggles.

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‘Elijah Mikaelson’ [Source: The CW]

I know. It makes for exciting fiction, but at what cost? Yes, you can readily find strong female protagonists with compelling character arcs in the pages of paranormal romances, but in most cases, vampire cock is their Kryptonite. I have no problem reading about fictional characters engaging in Olympian feats of sexual congress with vampires. In fact, when it comes to genre fiction, that’s my jam. What does aggravate me is the incessant internal dialogue about why it’s wrong to do it. And, if it is so wrong, why do they end up doing it anyway? I get it. Conflict, internal or otherwise, carries a story. However, denying your attraction to a smoking hot vampire, or questioning every compliment and expression of interest he sends your way, gets annoying after a while.

This is especially true of Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey. She not only has conflicting internal dialogue, but an entire chorus of inner voices that never shut up. I’m not that in touch with my own inner goddess, but I know she’s down with vampire cock. And cake. And bourbon.

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Image by Michael Mroczek via Unsplash

Even Bad Fiction Can Teach You Something

All kidding aside, this absurd work of fiction made me think about my own writing. I paid close attention to dialog, character development, and a lack of plot that didn’t involve the protagonist having sex with her monster while battling her (and his) inner demons. Beyond the useful exercise of recognizing what bad writing looks (and sounds) like, Fifty Shades of Grey also made me think about how I view myself, how I behave in romantic relationships, and what I want from my future sexual relationships. Here are some random thoughts that occurred to me while listening to Anastasia Steele prattle on about how hard it is to be the object of desire for a smoking hot billionaire with emotional issues due to childhood trauma.

Giving up control is hot. I consider myself an independent woman. I don’t have a partner and I’m a single parent, so I make a lot of decisions all day every day. And, I’m exhausted. I’m tired of having to make all the choices. I’m tired of being in control all the time. I fantasize about someone else taking the reins for a while. I wouldn’t describe myself as a submissive, but in the bedroom, I would prefer to be guided, encouraged, and yes, controlled. Like Anastasia, I have hard limits. I have had only minimal experience with BDSM, but for the most part I have enjoyed what I’ve experienced. Being told what to do, being bound, and wearing a blindfold have all enhanced my sexual arousal. I’m even down with occasional spanking, but I don’t like the idea of punishment. I’d like to explore BDSM more with a rational adult who doesn’t push me too far when I set my limits. But, outside the bedroom, don’t tell me what to do unless I’m asking for your advice. Feel free to step up, take charge, and pitch in, but don’t assume that you’re the boss of me.

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‘Anastasia Steele’ [Source: Focus Features]

Even though Anastasia finds herself sexually aroused when Christian uses bondage and spanks her as part of their sex play, she still doubts her own feelings. If you got off and nobody received permanent physical damage, go with your gut and accept the fact that those things turn you on.

Trust is not something I give freely. For me to feel comfortable letting my guard down, I need to trust people. That isn’t an easy thing for me to do. I’ve been hurt too many times by friends and lovers to simply allow people to get close to me. It takes time for me to open up, which is one of the reasons I don’t engage in one-night stands. It takes time to build trust between people, and if I don’t trust you, we aren’t having sex. However, if we do get to know each other and have a falling out over a trust issue, make up sex isn’t necessarily off the table.

Throughout the novel, Anastasia keeps saying she can’t trust Christian because she doesn’t know what he’s thinking or feeling. Yet, he constantly reassures her, spells out exactly what he wants and what he likes about her, and demands she communicate her own feelings better so that he can trust her as well. Trust is a two-way street. You can’t demand it from someone without giving them reason to trust you in return.

Attractiveness comes from within. I don’t believe in love at first sight. No matter how good looking that person might be. Have I ever been physically attracted to a stranger? Of course. Do I make a habit of hopping into bed with everyone I find attractive? Or for that matter, anyone who finds me attractive? No. If I get to know you and find your character, mind, and soul attractive, your physical self will magically transform before my eyes and you will suddenly be the most attractive person on Earth. This is true for real people as well as fictional characters. Even smoking hot vampires need to have redeeming qualities to rev my engine. Speaking of vampires, take a minute to think about Eric Northman in the first season of True Blood.

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‘Eric Northman’ [Source: HBO]

You can have more than a minute if you need it. I’ll wait.

He is without a doubt, a handsome man. I found him easy on the eyes at first glance, but the rumblings in my nether regions didn’t begin until he showed his true personality. Yes, he’s a monster. But he’s a monster who feels love, jealousy, and will risk his own life for the people he cares about. Sometimes he even risks his life for strangers. His kindness, sense of humor, intellect, and the fact that he can be a domineering control freak, are the qualities that make him most attractive in my opinion. Alexander Skarsgård is a very attractive man, but be honest, is he hotter as the complicated, Viking vampire in True Blood, or as the mentally challenged male model in Zoolander?

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‘Meekus’ [Source: Paramount Pictures]

Anastasia goes on endlessly about how attractive Christian Grey is. In fact, it seems that in her opinion, this is one of his best qualities. Oh, and his money. Is Christian Grey a domineering control freak who only wants to be in sub/Dom relationships? Initially, yes. Does he grow as a character and attempt to be more than that due to his feelings for Anastasia? Yes. In fact, each time we get a glimpse of his pain and the reasons for his behavior, and his willingness to change, he becomes slightly more attractive. Would I get pissed and tell him off if he spoke to me the way he speaks to Ana? Absolutely. I’m an adult. I decide what to eat, when to sleep, what to wear, and every other aspect of my personal upkeep. Would I enjoy having someone making sure I was taking care of myself and encouraging me to be a better version of me? Hell yeah! And, if that person wanted to give me expensive gifts, I wouldn’t say no. Of course, I’m a single, divorced woman who is raising her child alone. If I could spend my weekends with an attractive wealthy man who found me desirable, I wouldn’t question it every single second that I was with him. But…Christian Grey is an incredibly high-maintenance boyfriend with too many rules. And, I’m sorry, but he’s written as having the sexual prowess of a vampire. That just doesn’t happen in Nature.

There Is No Shame In Enjoying Bad Fiction

Despite its flaws (such as its super-fucking-annoying narrator), Fifty Shades of Grey does have some redeeming qualities. Authorial intent aside, this narrative provides some really great examples of 1) how not to write dialog between adults engaged in a serious BDSM relationship, 2) why you shouldn’t have your characters repeat the same inane words and phrases until your reader wants to stab them in the face, 3) why you shouldn’t adapt what I can only assume was shitty fan fiction inspired by terrible popular fiction into an even worse example of erotica, and 4) even in the worst fiction, you can find life lessons that illuminate aspects of your personal experiences.

Would I recommend that you read Fifty Shades of Grey? Yes, but I would recommend it in the same spirit that I would recommend watching a film like Blue Sunshine. It’s entertaining because it’s so unbelievably terrible.