Welcome to the four hundred and forty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with erotica commercial short story, non-fiction author and poet Elizabeth Cage. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Elizabeth. Please tell us something about yourself, and how you came to be a writer.
Elizabeth: UK based and now aged 50, I have always loved writing. When I was in my thirties I had several stories published in a literary magazine for women. One day I submitted a short story which the editor liked but thought too raunchy for the magazine, and she asked if I had considered trying an erotic publication. I hadn’t, but I was a regular reader of Forum magazine so I sent it to them. Their editor also liked it but said it wasn’t raunchy enough! She suggested I rewrite with this in mind and resubmit. I did and I have never looked back.
Morgen: Wow… and now of course we have the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey. Sorry, I was hoping to last longer than that. I’ve called you an erotica author, is that the genre you generally write?
Elizabeth: I write what would be termed commercial fiction but I also enjoy writing poetry, articles and essays.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Elizabeth: I’ve had almost 100 short stories, articles and poems published in the erotica genre, in magazines and anthologies and on various websites. In 2003, a collection of my stories called Kissing Velvet was published by Chimera Books, and is now available on Kindle. The erotica is written under the pseudonym Elizabeth Cage. Initially, I used my own name, being rather naïve, but when the erotica started to get published I was advised to choose a pseudonym for personal and professional reasons. And it can be fun to have a naughty alter ego!
Morgen: Absolutely. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Elizabeth: My fiction is in 24 eBooks so far. I got a Kindle for Xmas and although I was initially suspicious, I have now embraced it and love it! But it hasn’t stopped me reading paper. I actually read more now than I ever have. It just offers a different reading experience.
Morgen: I have some of the sexy shorts and Black Lace series… I’m a big short story fan, although my tastes are usually darker (crime and the likes) but one needs cheering up every now and then. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Elizabeth: The title for my collection Kissing Velvet was mine, but I have never had a say in the covers, which is a shame because I think book covers are absolutely crucial in selling. Some covers are great (for example, I’ve got a story in the Best Lesbian Erotica from Cleis Press (also available on the Kindle and I love their front cover) but in erotica, unfortunately there are some tacky covers out there.
Morgen: I must admit I’ve not seen that many (I clearly haven’t lived) but I can imagine that’s true… and true of any genre. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Elizabeth: Too many projects! A novel, a short story collection and a saucy novella, as well as a series of essays.
Morgen: Ah but variety is the clichéd spice of life. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Elizabeth: At the moment I am writing every day, and this includes blogging, which is a way of reinforcing the writing habit. And it’s fun. I don’t believe in writer’s block.
Morgen: Me too / me neither. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Elizabeth: I generally plot everything and know how my story will end before I switch the laptop on. I write a lot of notes on post-its.
Morgen: I tend not to with most of mine… in fact with the stories I write in my Monday night workshops we only have 10-15 minutes so unless they’re flash fiction I only get to the first few paragraphs but then I love finding out the ending when the characters do and it’s often a surprise (to me anyway). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Elizabeth: I love choosing names as they can be so evocative and they are often the starting point for a story and lead to other ideas. By the way, Morgen is a wonderful name, really powerful! The characters develop from names, my observations of people and my imagination. I hope they are believable to the readers.
Morgen: Thank you very much. It’s very handy with non-gender pieces, although I do get called ‘Mr’ or ‘Sir’ from time to time, fortunately only online and on the phone before they hear me speaking. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Elizabeth: I do a first draft, then an edit and often a second edit. However, I can re-read the story again maybe months or years later and then edit again. As I have got older I edit far more than I did in the past. When I started out, the first draft was usually the only draft!
Morgen: That’s interesting. I guess it’s experience over practice, both. Do you have to do much research?
Elizabeth: Not really. I am often asked this question when I give an author talk or interview at an event. My life has been full of interesting experiences, adventures and wonderful people and I draw on that.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Elizabeth: I’ve not tried second person. I enjoy both first and third – it depends on how I want to tell the story. First person is great for intensity and immediacy and can be an effective way of engaging the reader quickly.
Morgen: Second person is very intimate so could work well with erotica. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Elizabeth: Loads and loads! Admittedly I don’t get as many as I used to. When I was a lot younger it used to get me down, but I try to practice some excellent advice from Jane Wenham-Jones (who you have interviewed already). I make sure I always have several pieces of work out there so I’m not pinning everything on one piece. This works well, I find. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as the saying goes. (I think!) If necessary, I will also frequently rewrite a story that has been rejected until it finds a good home. I actually enjoy this process, which can be challenging.
Morgen: I have. Jane’s lovely. I recently built (and am still helping with) her blog (http://janewenhamjones.wordpress.com) and she makes me laugh, in person, on the phone and via email. I’m seeing her a couple of items in September (initially for the NAWG Festival of Writing 2012 then for Northampton’s first gay literature festival ). Do you have an agent?
Elizabeth: Not for erotica. I’ve not used an agent for this, although I do have an agent for other work.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Elizabeth: More than I would like to be spending time on, as it does distract from writing. However, I think it’s really important, especially in this genre. The erotica market is getting saturated, which makes it more challenging to make your mark.
Morgen: And especially more so since Fifty… sorry, there I go again! Marketing has been the answer in the majority of cases to my question “what is your least favourite aspect of writing?”, some calling it a necessary evil. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Elizabeth: The publishing landscape is changing rapidly and I honestly believe that there are more opportunities than ever before for writers to be in control of their destiny. That’s an exciting prospect for everyone. I think one lesson I’ve learned over the years is to be more patient. In the past I have been guilty of submitting work to publishers before it was ready. What’s the hurry? Make sure you are absolutely certain that work is the very best it can be before releasing it into the wild!
Morgen: Absolutely. I have an editor and an intimate group of first readers (plus two critique writing groups) and it’s amazing (perhaps shouldn’t be) what they come up with, but then I’m just as thorough with others’ writing (easier that way though isn’t it) – ‘firm but fair’ is our motto. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Elizabeth: My favourite word is Tenacity. That probably tells you a lot about me – and being a writer!
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Elizabeth: I teach writing workshops and give occasional readings of my work as part of a show called Wanton Words and Burlesque Bombshells, which we originally conceived for a one-off show for the Canterbury Fringe Festival last year. “We” being myself, fellow writer Penelope Friday and burlesque performers Miss Glory Pearl and Miss Maybe. I was ridiculously nervous but it was great fun, so much so that we have been asked back this year and have staged the show at other venues in the south east.
Morgen: I went to a burlesque evening here in Northampton last weekend, it was brilliant. I’d heartily recommend Tina C. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Elizabeth: Xcite Books are great publishers to work with and really supportive of new writers. Also the site Erotica For All, run by writer Lucy Felthouse. The other source that is invaluable for anyone interested in writing erotica is the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, which is full of information.
Morgen: Ah, Lucy, yes. She helped organise a blog tour for Jane recently (she gets around, doesn’t she ). Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Elizabeth: I have a blog http://www.elizabeth-cage.blogspot.co.uk and a website www.elizabethcage.com which has lots of other links to articles and interviews and a list of published work. I also have a Facebook page. I have not yet ventured into the land of Twitter, although many writers tell me I should. Thank you, Morgen, for taking the time to interview me.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, Elizabeth, it’s been fun. Although I find Facebook more intimate, I’d recommend Twitter, putting shout-outs on do get spotted and people are very helpful. Touting too much (1 in 10 maximum) is frowned upon and loses followers but it’s a great networking option and people are very responsive when giving useful information (such as links to interviews ). Thank you, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Cage is a writer, speaker and fundraiser. Her stories, poems and articles have appeared in numerous magazines including Scarlet, Desire, Forum, For Women, In the Buff, The Hotspot, and the International Journal of Erotica, as well as The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica 2010 (Cleis) and her fiction regularly appears in the fiction anthologies and e-books from Xcite . Her collection, Kissing Velvet, was published in 2003 by Chimera. She also does guest blogs, author talks, interviews, events and workshops. Her website is http://www.elizabethcage.com and she blogs at http://elizabeth-cage.blogspot.co.uk.
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