Saturday, May 9, 2015

Let’s Get Weird

By Aurelia T. Evans (Guest Blogger)

A person doesn’t decide to write about a circus best known for its oddities, some of which are human and others demon, lightly—especially with erotica. There were times when I wanted to hide Arcanium and never let it see the light of day for fear of doing it wrong.

The same issue cropped up to a lesser degree while I was writing the Sanctuary trilogy, when it came to Renee’s mental illness. I drew from my own experience, adding some legitimacy to the fantasy. But did I have a legitimate claim to marvels and oddities, and if I didn’t, what did I have to do to write the subject right? I had to look at this from every mortifying angle to make sure it was the right thing to do. I’m neurotic that way. It’s not always a bad thing.

I eventually realized I was overlooking many cases of the obvious. The biggest one was that asking the questions at all suggested I was writing in the right direction.

Every time I considered pulling the series, I ended up resisting. Because I love Arcanium. I love its cast of characters, from the most tortured soul to the most gleeful demon. Sideshow acts and freak shows by their nature require some objectification—as in all the performing arts—but not to the point of dehumanization. That’s not okay. But every one of my Arcanium characters has a rich life, demons and humans alike, and a series lets me approach such a varied cast from all sorts of angles. I’m in love with this freak show of a circus so much, and when I love something, I have to share it.

I don’t write from the perspective of all the oddities, and I admit that I start out relatively mild in terms of average vs. non-average characters with Fortune and Carousel. An oddity isn’t part of the central romance until Aerial (Book 3), and I don’t write from the perspective of an oddity until Ringmaster (Book 4)—although I’d originally planned for Ringmaster to be the second book. Part of it is that there’s a difference between backstory and story—some of the characters don’t inspire a story in me, no matter how interesting they are as characters. However, the Behind the Curtain short stories/vignettes give glimpses into some of the cast members for whom I don’t write novels.

I care about all of them and want all their stories told one way or another, and I think I help them represent a collection of human experiences when dealing with being non-average. We have the people brought into Arcanium involuntarily and punished with non-average traits, and they suffer for it. It’s experienced as profoundly negative. Then there are the people brought in involuntarily and transformed, but while they struggle, it isn’t intended as a punishment and is eventually perceived as more neutral. Some of them learn to accept what they’ve become. Others use the transformations to punish themselves. Others just wait for the time when they can leave, as either normal again or still non-average.

Then there are those who have entered Arcanium willingly and who embrace their oddities, who see value in what they add to human variety and who don’t want to return to whatever ‘normal’ is.

But definitely not everyone in Arcanium is okay with the way things are. That’s reality. Not everyone is some kind of ‘inspiration,’ as though that’s what their aspiration should be, and it’s not fair to those who view what happens to them as negative to disregard that experience as weak or a bad representation.

I think it was writing Kitty in Ringmaster (Book 4) that the second obvious part occurred to me. Kitty is a voluntary oddity in Arcanium. She’s not just the Bearded Lady—she has hair all over her body. She’s not always thrilled with herself, but she’s come to accept and embrace what she is and has no problem being in a freak show, because it’s not making her hide who she is like she’d have to do in most cases in the real world.

Kitty is my other half. She’s my complement. She’s covered in hair because of some unknown congenital condition (not a typical case of hypertrichosis), and I have a pernicious form of obsessive compulsive disorder that causes me to pull out my hair (and pick holes into my skin), which has led me to regularly shaving my hair off to keep from doing so. I’m still a little self-conscious about it. I have yet to give a vocal performance without my hair and usually wait until after a performance to shave it off again. However, I’m not self-conscious enough to wear a wig and a shit-ton of foundation the rest of the time to hide the fact that I have trichotillomania and other body-focused repetitive behaviors. That means that my girlie bald head goes out in public often, and I have scabs all over my face (as well as places the public doesn’t see).

When I’m bald, I haven’t had to deal with the same discrimination that Kitty has, at least not overtly. No one’s told me I walked into the wrong bathroom. I’ve been lucky thus far that the jobs I’ve worked at are okay with it. However, it’s one thing to be bald voluntarily and another to be bald because your illness has overtaken your will—frankly, having to shave my head got old about three years ago. And people can’t tell whether I’m bald because I’m rebellious, a lesbian (my hair has nothing to do with my sexuality, and what is this, the nineties?), or because I’m sick. Trichotillomania or alopecia probably don’t even come up in their considerations.

When I go into the salon to get my head shaved, the salonists often ask me several times whether I’m sure. I have to reassure them that I’ve done it many times before, and I often have to explain what trich is (although I think all hair-loss conditions should be part of any cosmetology curriculum). Educating people about trich is just something that I’m going to have to do, probably for the rest of my life.

Cancer survivors have asked me whether I was fighting, and it always feels weird telling them I’m not sick, at least not in that way—as though I’m somehow invalidating their struggle, which is stupid. I’ve had kids point at me in the grocery stores and department stores and ask their parents why that boy was shopping in the girl’s section or why that girl doesn’t have hair. It’s the kids that stare, mostly. They’re already prone to staring, because they haven’t learned not to. I value their curiosity and honesty, so it usually doesn’t bother me much, although that ‘boy’ thing was a bit of an ego puncture.

If the kids stare, it’s not a stretch to assume the adults do too. They’ve just learned to be more circumspect. Or they deliberately don’t look, which is more insulting. It’s a way of ignoring difference, pretending it doesn’t exist, so they don’t have to confront it or their own discomfort with it.

I think realizing that I am a non-average person—hell, more than half the time, I barely feel like a human being—was what finally allowed me to give myself permission to write Arcanium without nearly as much anxiety (before, I was still writing through the first three books and loving it, but damn, I was stressing out, because that’s what I do). I’m not the same kind of non-average, because I could pass if I valued passing more than comfort and wore a wig. It’s a choice that I don’t, although trich isn’t a choice and it sometimes feels like passing isn’t a choice either. I’ll never have the hair I want, never have the skin I want. And people will always notice. Some may even work up the courage to ask about it.

The fact is, I’m always going to be weird. I’m always going to be perceived as an oddity to the people around me when I pick at my skin, pull out my hair, or shave it off entirely. I can’t escape it. I’m surprised it took me this long to figure that out—maybe because I’m mostly used to it and most people around me are good with it. Aside from the stares in real life, though, what brought it home to me was watching characters in several TV shows who had some of my body-focused repetitive behaviors, most of them troubled and some of them psychotic or psychopathic…and wondering in horror if that’s how people see me when I painstakingly search for or pull out an offending hair or pick at my skin until I bleed.

These are things I have trouble accepting, and sometimes I even cry. I’m upset that normal isn’t always a choice (oh man, so much more to say about that…). That’s how I know for a fucking fact that not all non-average people are sunshine and puppies about it. Sometimes it feels like a punishment or a cosmic joke.

I might not have the same level of oddness as the Arcanium oddities—even my other half, Kitty—but just as my mental illnesses aren’t as debilitating as Renee’s, I can draw from and extrapolate from my own experience, plus respect other people’s accounts of their own.

The key for average people writing about non-average people: remembering that their bodies might throw you, but their minds resemble yours. Sometimes there’s mental illness. Sometimes there are developmental disorders. Sometimes they’re perfectly average in the mind. Just like average-looking people. We have feelings. We just want to live our lives. We want to be acknowledged, accepted, and ultimately treated as though nothing is wrong because we aren’t wrong. Which isn’t the same as treating us as though we aren’t different.

One of the things I fought for while hashing out details during my development of the Arcanium series was not making the non-average characters plot tools for the more average-looking characters. That’s why it was so important to me that Kitty’s story get told in Ringmaster (and there are other Arcanium novels from the perspective of an oddity or with an oddity as a romantic interest, both written and not yet written). That’s also why it was important to write the Behind the Curtain short stories— which will be free, by the way. You’re welcome.

However, these are just the characters with physical differences. There’s some serious mental shit that all my characters have to go through, which is a whole other kind of difference. Invisible conditions can be just as problematic, although for different reasons. I know that much through personal experience as well.

In the end and after much deliberation, I signed the contracts for the Arcanium series because I’m a huge fan of embracing the amazing beauty of human variety (although I sometimes don’t practice my own advice, because I’m only human and share the generalized pressure and desire to be normal). I also think there’s something of a homogenization in the erotica pool. While I understand that people use fantasy to get away from reality, the lack of variety within our own fantasies sometimes seriously disappoints me.

I want non-average people, non-average bodies, non-average beauty, to be brought to the erotica table. That’s part of the awesomeness of the BBW (big, beautiful women) erotica movement. I think Kitty is gorgeous, for instance, and most of my characters come to a similar conclusion in their own ways. I want us weirdos to get Happily Ever Afters and Happily For Nows. I want us to be perceived as beautiful and erotic not because of the fetishization of the ‘exotic’ (bald woman fetish is a thing—it’s not attraction that’s the problem, but objectification), but because we are beautiful and erotic. Not in spite of our weirdness or even entirely because of it, but because we are people, full of richness and history and amazing things and not-so-amazing things. Fantasies need a little weirdness. Erotica needs a little weirdness.

So…let’s get weird, people. Welcome to Arcanium.

Blurb for Fortune (Arcanium Book 1):

He’s the reason to be careful what you wish for.

After her jealous boyfriend makes an angry, careless wish, Maya DeLuca finds herself trapped in a traveling demonic circus and at the mercy of a devious jinni, Bell Madoc. She joins the other lost souls of Arcanium who suffer in perpetual purgatory under the weight of their wishes, all making the best of a cursed situation.

But Maya’s not even cursed because of her own wish, which means she still has three for Bell to grant.

He may be fond of her—the passion they share is as hellfire hot as it is wrong—but that doesn’t mean she’s safe from his endlessly inventive, wicked imagination. He might twist her wishes at his whim for his own pleasure. Or he might just give her what she wants…which could be even worse.


Purchase for early download at Totally Bound (general release on May 15):

Arcanium publishing schedule:

Carousel (Book 2) early download: June 5
Carousel (Book 2) general release: July 3
Aerial (Book 3, prequel) early download: July 10
Aerial (Book 3, prequel) general release: August 7
Ringmaster (Book 4) early download: August 7
Ringmaster (Book 4) general release: September 4
Contortion (Book 5): TBD


Aurelia T. Evans is an up-and-coming erotica author with a penchant for horror and the supernatural.

She's the twisted mind behind the were/shifter Sanctuary trilogy, demonic circus series Arcanium, and spiritual gothic urban fantasy series Meridian (publication TBD). She's also had short stories featured in various erotic anthologies.

Aurelia presently lives in Dallas, Texas (although she doesn't ride horses or wear hats). She loves cats and enjoys baking as much as she dislikes cooking. She's a walker, not a runner, and she writes outside as often as possible.


Lisabet Sarai said...

Aurelia - As I told you privately, I'm honored that you feel comfortable writing such a personal post for my blog. And let me tell you, it blows me away every time I read it.

There's so much food for thought here. For one thing, I wonder whether anyone really feels "normal" or "average". Faced with the societal pressures to conform, and wanting (as we all do) acceptance and approval, we are all tempted to believe that we're different and often lacking. (I certainly feel that way sometimes.) That's one reason why I find this post such an affirmation.

Then there's this: " I also think there’s something of a homogenization in the erotica pool. " Oh, do I ever agree with you (as I think you know). One reason I love your Sanctuary series is that you have not let yourself be fenced in by the constraints of "normal romance". It sounds as though you're pushing things much further in this series.

I read an excerpt from Fortune at someone else's blog. Based on that snippet, I think you've succeeded. It was hot as hell, and nearly as scary.

Thanks again for being my guest. I wish you great success with this series.

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with the "homogenization in erotica" theory...I think maybe that's why paranormals have become popular, because of that whole aspect of living with difference in an otherwise "normal" world. The Sanctuary world-building sounds really intriguing!

Trix, vitajex(at)aol(Dot0com

bn100 said...

interesting about about your writing

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

Anne said...

Interesting post. I wonder if you, Aurelia, have been watching Dancing with the Stars and seen how it has been incorporating non-average participants and how you feel they are portrayed. Most have physical issues, but one cast member was transgender Chaz Bono. I think it's a step in the right direction, but how it's handled sometimes seems a bit degrading with the support and positive praising being over the top.

I think the show also shows how mentally fragile we all are at times and how we have issues, stressors and self doubt even if considered beautiful or very successful.

In a totally different direction: I was never a fan of short stories, not enough back story or character development for me. In the past couple of years, a couple of my favorite authors have written short stories featuring secondary or even barely mentioned characters and I started to appreciate short stories. In this case, there is the back story and character background provided by the full length books. I've started to love the extra glimpses at these characters which ultimately make the next full length story richer too. The fact that your Behind the Curtain stories are free is a win-win.

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate in my life to never be an outcast, so my sense of exile was never externally imposed, thank goodness. I just never felt a part of much either. I don't think anyone feels normal and everyone's afraid other people will figure that out. Mental difference and physical difference bear themselves out differently, though, because as rich as our internal lives are, we can only mine in the shallows with the rest of the people around us, and judge accordingly, as is our unfortunate nature.

Thanks so much for having me. It's always a pleasure to be here at your blog. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree that paranormals speak to an unconscious need to break away from 'normal'. I think the mainstreaming of colored hair, piercings, and tattoos also speak to it. There's always a push, but the paradox is that once it's mainstream, it becomes normal. :D

Anonymous said...

I don't watch Dancing with the Stars, but I do watch American Idol and America's Got Talent. AGT, especially, tends to overdo the 'person overcomes adversity' with a heavy hand. Part of it is that they treat each episode as though people are watching the show for the first time or as though they forgot last week's or last month's episode, which is why they hammer the same concepts through. But for those who've watched it from its beginning, it ends up sounding like the whole 'non-average as inspiration for average' that can really grate my cheese. So I understand why they do it, but I don't think it works the way they think it should.

As far as short stories go, it's not my favorite kind of writing for precisely the same reason. :) I'm a long writer by nature. Writing short stories in connection to the longer ones seems to work out better, because I don't have to introduce a whole world, which I assume the readers have already encountered - I just have to show a glimpse.

Michelle said...

Are there other genres you have considered writing in ....why or why not ?

Michelle said...

purrpurrkoshkamb (at) aol (dot) com

Anonymous said...

Variations on the paranormal is what I'm good at - it's where my mind works. I've considered trying non-paranormal contemporary, but it'll have to wait for a while while I get other things done first.

Debby said...

Intriguing post. Everyone is average while at the same time each has some aspect of uniqueness to them.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Mary Preston said...

I'm loving the idea of a Demonic Circus.


Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, everyone,

Thanks for dropping by to welcome Aurelia. I've drawn a winner. Congratulations to Mary P.!

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