I'm /u/Portarossa, also known as Hazel Redgate. Five or so years ago, I quit my job as a freelance copyeditor to start writing erotic fiction online. Now I write romance novels and self-publish them for a living -- and it's by far the best job I can imagine having. I've had people ask me to do an AMA for a while, but due to not having anything to shill say, I always put it off. But no more!

On account of it being my cakeday, I've released one of my books, Reckless, for free for a couple of days. (EDIT: Problem fixed. It should be free for everyone now.) It's a full-length novel about a woman in a small town whose rough-and-tumble boyfriend from the wrong side of the tracks comes back after disappearing ten years earlier, only for her to discover that he was actually a ghost all along. (No. He actually just got buff as hell and became a famous musician, but that ghost story would have been pretty neat too, eh?) If you like that, the most recent novel in the series, Smooth, has just gone live too, so that might be worth a look. They're technically in the same series but are completely standalone, so don't feel like you have to read one to understand the other. If you want to keep updated on my stuff -- or read my ongoing Dungeons & Dragons mystery novel, which is being released for free -- you can find my work at /r/Portarossa.

Ask me anything about self-publishing, the smutbook industry, what it takes to make a romance novel work, why Fifty Shades is both underrated and still somehow the worst thing ever, Doctor Who, D&D, what Star Wars has to do with the most successful romance books, accidental karmawhoring, purposeful karmawhoring, my recipe for Earl Grey gimlets, or anything else that crosses your minds!

Comments: 667 • Responses: 64  • Date: 

core-void993 karma

Fifty Shades is both underrated and still somehow the worst thing ever

I'll bite. What's your hot take?

Portarossa1961 karma

In-universe: The problem isn't particularly that Christian is bad at BDSM; in fact, he's actually pretty good at BDSM (with some notable exceptions). It's made very clear time and time again that consent lies with the submissive and that everything stops when Ana says so -- and as far as I can remember, there's no point where he doesn't abide by that. He is, however, quite pushy with the whole contract thing -- but that still takes them most of a book to negotiate. If you look at the parts of the book that are BDSM-centric (less than you'd think, weirdly), there are thousands of people who live that life in a way that works for them. And that's the issue. He can't separate the Red Room out from real life.

The problem is that he's an utter shit as as a human being, even beyond the kink. He stalks her. He puts a GPS tracker on her phone. He completely disregards her wishes when it comes to spending lavish amounts of money on her. He tries to control her diet and her birth control even when she doesn't seem thrilled about it. Everything about Christian Grey the person just screams red flag.

The thing is, though, he does all of that outside the boundaries of what (it's made clear in the book) is supposed to be a very regimented relationship. He does that even when they're actively not engaging in kink. Christian isn't a bad Dom; he's a bad person, and that's why, when he's supposed to obviously be the hero in Fifty Shades Freed, it doesn't mean anything. He might get his kink 'under control' (whatever that's supposed to mean), but there's nothing to suggest he's less of a liquorice-scented prick the rest of the time. If he was a better person outside of the kink, I don't think the depiction of BDSM would have come in for quite such a beating. No pun intended.

Out of universe: The book is pretty badly written, but I've definitely read worse in the genre -- and in terms of hitting its niche ('I read Twilight and now I want something a bit more raunchy'), it's an absolute masterclass in giving the people something they didn't even know they wanted. You've kind of got to respect that.

pain-and-panic107 karma

The writing. Yeah. See, I was encouraged by my girlfriend to read the book, because it was "fun smut". I turned to a random page and read "and the elevator whisked him away at terminal velocity". I paused, read it again and fully took in the implication that no one in the writing, editing or publishing staff understood what phrase "terminal velocity" actually meant.

I then took off my science girl hat and reminded myself that this was "fun smut" and tried again. But to no avail I just could not get past it. Honesty it was so infuriating that it contributed to me writing my own novel.

90,000+ words later and it's in no shape to publish and I now have a better apprication for anyone who makes it, no matter if I enjoy the book or not. I'll never ciritcize a book again.

Portarossa105 karma

To be fair, I've had my moments like that. In the first draft of my most recent book, someone furrowed their brow thirteen fucking times. None of my editors or beta readers caught it, but once I'd seen it, that bastard phrase was everywhere.

The advantage of publishing ebooks is that once you've spotted something like that, you can easily change it.

ryrykaykay820 karma

The romance genre is amazingly saturated — how do you settle on an idea that feels good to write about (with the intention of going commercial with it) that doesn’t feel too ‘done’?

Portarossa1526 karma

Romance is quite a nice genre to write in for many reasons, not least because it doesn't really require you to be horribly original. You don't really need a high-concept story to get the job done; there's no 'Dinosaurs run amok on a theme-park island' or 'A young boy goes to wizard school', because most of the time people don't demand it. That's not to say that there aren't high-concept romance novels out there, nor that they're not worth doing, but ultimately everything has to serve the love story: that's what people are paying their money for. 'Boy meets girl' (or 'boy meets boy' or 'girl meets girl') has a billion different permutations, but they all basically aim to answer the same question: how do I get Person A to a Happy Ever After with Person B in the space of ninety thousand or so words? After that, it's just a case of finding characters that your readers can fall in love with -- easier said than done -- and choosing initial conditions. Whether he's a rock star and she works in a diner, or she's a bridesmaid and he's a jazz musician, or he's a gynecologist and she's a former nun, or he's a criminal on the run from the Yakuza and she's a magician's assistant who dreams of something bigger, it's all pretty much the same formula.

That sounds a little dismissive, perhaps, but it's not meant to be. Romance is almost unique in terms of popular fiction genres because (most of the time) everyone involved knows what the ending of the story is before they even start. The originality comes in making the journey fun, and there are plenty of ways to do that that don't rely on particularly out-there ideas, if that makes sense.

ARIZaL_50 karma

You’ve done a fantastic AMA so thank you for that. Happy cake day and you should totally listen to critical role, Matt is the best! Good luck and thank you for the book!

Edit: Sorry, I forgot we were talking about Rampart.

Portarossa172 karma

I'm not going to lie, this took off a lot more than I was expecting.

I'm glad people seem to be enjoying it, but at this point I just want to talk about Rampart.

Luna_LoveWell466 karma

Whenever I try to write romance, I find that it comes out (in my own opinion) cheesy and not believable. I'm so concerned about it that I don't even do romantic subplots in other longer works that aren't romances. Does that happen to you? If so, how do you get over your own self criticisms?

Are there any other authors that you feel are very good at writing believable chemistry between characters?

Portarossa540 karma

Oh shit, it's Luna! (For anyone who doesn't know, there is probably not a single person who has done more to help the writing community on Reddit than /u/Luna_LoveWell. If you haven't checked out their subreddit and you like short fiction, absolutely go and do that thing now.)

It's a lot easier to write romance in books that are, you know, romances, because there isn't really that much else there. The way I go about it is to treat it as a character study. At the start of the book, there are two people who have to end up together, but something is stopping them getting together yet; I need to keep them apart for seventy thousand words, and then make it seem logical that they get their happy ever after. What needs to change for that to happen? How do they either need to change themselves or change their circumstances to make their relationship viable? Generally, though, I agree with you: romantic subplots are often clunky. Love isn't the prize you get for saving the world. It should stand on its own merits, or not at all.

As for other writers who did exceptional chemistry, I'd recommend Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife, and Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. The former is great because it has so much of the ordinary against the backdrop of something that's absolutely insane, and the latter is the opposite: Rowell has a way of elevating the ordinary mundaneness of a teenage relationship where the two people involved feel real (he's a skinny Asian kid and she's a chubby redhead; they're not your traditional Harlequin love story) into something truly magical. In both cases, everyone involved reacts how you might reasonably expect people in that situation to react -- both to the outside world, and to each other.

notable_bro318 karma

This is one of the most awesome responses in an AMA that I've ever read. For reasons:

  1. It acknowledges a particular redditors contributions (and status) proving they are a redditor first and foremost.

  2. It promotes various resources outside the AMA. For no other reason except to promote the craft.

  3. Rather than talking "to the people", its written as if talking between colleagues, friends or members of the same book club.

Portarossa331 karma

Shit, man. It's Luna. Respect where it's owed. Have you ever heard the lyric 'Work until your idols become your rivals?' It's sort of like that. When I was starting out on Reddit, posting on /r/WritingPrompts, Luna was the person everyone compared themselves to. The only problem is, there is no rivalry. Luna's always been an absolute peach, and I've never heard anyone say a bad word about them. It's like trying to have a rap beef with Mr Rogers. You can't do it.

We haven't really encountered each other much in the wild, but on the rare occasions we've crossed paths, I've never found them to be anything but lovely. (Plus I genuinely had a little fangirl moment when I saw that post, I won't lie.)

OddDirective89 karma

Well now I have the image of Mr. Rogers blasting some sick bars in my head, so thank you for that.

Portarossa112 karma

Where do you think Eminem got his sweater from?

HoosierManGames244 karma

Do you listen to Critical Role? If you do have you considered asking permission to write Tusked Love? Cause I would buy it.

Portarossa293 karma

I don't, but I have a close friend who does and her response was (and I quote):


So what, do we start a petition now, or...?

YellowLeafAndSear212 karma

I currently work in a big digital marketing agency and do a lot of copy editing and writing. I've always loved to write, and have only recently rediscovered my passion for it outside of my job and started writing again for myself.

My question is - how does someone begin to meet with/get in contact with publishers, and also (two part question - sorry!), is it important to have a 'portfolio' or can you just present a single work? I know you're a self-publisher, and I'm also really curious as to how you start doing that...

Portarossa680 karma

I self-publish, so it's a lot simpler for me (and if you're writing a genre with a big self-publishing market, like romance, it might be worth considering); I never even bothered trying for print publication. For self-publication, it's really as simple as writing a book, formatting it to look pretty, designing a cover, writing a blurb, putting it up on Amazon's KDP store, and then trying to market the hell out of it. (Easy, right?) That said, assuming you're writing fiction:

  • Finish your book.

  • Edit your book. Properly. Make it as good as it can be.

  • Find a couple of literary agents who you think might be a good fit for your work based on other people they represent. (Things like the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook are apparently a good place to start.)

  • Write a bitchin' synopsis.

  • Write an equally bitchin' cover letter including a bitchin' elevator pitch. (Do not use the word bitchin' in either of those things.)

  • Send them off, along with the first three chapters of your novel.

  • Wait to hear back.

  • Try not to cry.

It's a tough sell, but it all depends on you finishing your book first -- so good luck!

YellowLeafAndSear93 karma

This is such fantastic advice and thank you so much for taking the time to respond! I really appreciate it.

Just a quick follow up Q (if you have the time), do you use a specific program to write and format your work?

Portarossa81 karma

Any time!

Just Microsoft Word. I've heard good things about Vellum, but I'm on PC and I'm not familiar with a non-Mac alternative.

victorfabius14 karma

Non-Mac alternative to Word?

Have you heard of Scrivener?

Obviously not sure if it's right for you or for anyone who gets this far down the comment chain, but it's one I know of. Now I have to look into Vellum myself.

Portarossa23 karma

Non-Mac alternative to Vellum, I meant. It lets you pretty your ebooks right up, but it's only for Mac as far as I can tell.

I have used Scrivener, back when I was trying to write radio dramas and the like, but I could never really get into it. (Likewise, I went through a period of using yWriter that didn't quite stick either.) Word always did the job well enough for me, plus it meant I could use it pretty much anywhere I could find a computer. Whatever works, right?

nopethis32 karma

how long does it usually take you to write a rough draft?

More importantly, tell me more about this earl grey gimlet!

Portarossa221 karma

It honestly varies. I tend to work on multiple stories at a time, which is a terrible habit, so it's hard to judge. I will say that I can comfortably write around 800 words an hour, so an 80,000 word novel usually represents about a hundred hours' worth of ass-in-chair time. (That doesn't include the time I spend plotting it out or thinking about ways out of corners I've written myself into or cursing my characters for not doing what they're goddamn told, but in terms of actual writing it's a pretty good estimate.)

But the important stuff: the key to an Earl Grey gimlet is getting a good Earl Grey syrup. What you want to do is brew a cup of really, really strong tea (like, twice what you'd normally drink; no milk or lemon, just the bag). Mix that with an equal amount by volume of plain white sugar in a saucepan over a low heat, and stir it until it's all dissolved. (Don't leave it or turn the heat up or you'll end up with Earl Black and a lot of scrubbing time to get your new tea-toffee off the bottom of the pan.) Leave it to cool.

Once it's done, use a shot of that syrup, a shot of lemon juice, and two shots of gin (nothing fancy; the cheap stuff will do). Shake it over ice and pour it out. Drink it before anyone else can.

Sunburn79151 karma

I saw this AMA and recognized your username from some incredibly well informed and well sourced political posts. I honestly thought that the "smut" in your title was referring to the political garbage that's going on right now and was surprised to learn that you meant actual smut.

My question refers to the former type of smut and I'd like to know how you stay so well informed and how long it takes you to type up your responses? Are you like /u/PoppinKREAM where you have some things in the bag ready to go, or do you sit down and start from scratch when writing those responses?

Portarossa204 karma

I've been interested in US politics for years, so I've got a basic grounding in most things that are going on. (I also religiously watch Colbert's monologue and Seth Meyers's A Closer Look, so I'm usually aware of stories that people might be asking about ahead of time; that's a good opportunity to go and read up further on what's actually going on.)

As for how I work, I generally write a short TL;DR and a disclaimer that I'll be doing a deep dive on the topic, so to keep it in mind that it's going to be a work in progress for a little while. Then I'll write it up from scratch over the course of usually between one and two hours, checking sources and taking a broader narrative view. That makes the piece a bit of a discussion. Instead of just tapping away in a void, I get people telling me 'Don't forget about...' or asking follow up questions that I wouldn't necessarily have considered including, which gives me the opportunity to work them in. I usually start from the big questions -- 'Who is [whoever]?' or ['Why are people fighting in [wherever]?' -- and then focus in on the specific issue at hand. My argument is that context is a lot more important than the specific question that has been asked; I'm not just answering one person, but to the ten thousand or so people who might read that question over the course of the day. My goal is to make it so that they could sit down at dinner that evening and have an informed opinion about the events. Maybe they're not going to experts on all the nuances of the Iran Deal or the Government Shutdown or the Fourteenth Amendment, but they're going to have an idea of why people are talking about it and -- more importantly -- why that's important.

It's also how I procrastinate, so sometimes I get really into it. If you see me posting a bunch of times in quick succession, that means the book isn't going well...

I'm glad you enjoy it, though!

EarthExile124 karma

If someone wants to break into the erotica game, do you think they should aim for some kind of fetish or category that's underrepresented? Or is there room for people to write basically anything as long as it's sexy?

Portarossa278 karma

It varies. You basically have two options: write what you think is a popular niche (in which case you'll have a buttload of other writers to compete with, so you'd better be producing a lot and have your graphic design game on point), or write a less-popular niche (in which case you're more likely to be able to splash and make a name for yourself -- always important -- but there just might not be all that many people looking for Hawai'ian Bigfoot watersports porn).

It's been a fair while since I wrote erotica, so the advice might have changed now, but I'd say it's probably best to aim for a middle ground. One valuable piece of advice I wish I'd got earlier, though, is to split up your fetishes. Don't just lump them all onto one pen name. People who might love your series about virgin steam train conductors probably aren't going to go in for your one-shots about a ghost dominatrix. (Because I feel like I should clarify this: these are deliberately terrible book ideas and yet will still probably make someone a decent chunk of money regardless.) When you find something that works and gets an audience -- which is often luck, more than anything else -- then you write as many books as you can in that niche and make it your own. At that point, you have a popular pen name that's ripe for people to log on and buy as much of your stuff as they can handle.

Good luck!

Pianoplunkster56 karma

I remember hearing a story (probably some NPR affiliate) about how there was a rapidly growing market for erotica that featured people of color (particularly ones that didn't play on racial stereotypes). People just want to be able to see themselves in the characters without feeling like something exotic or alien. Do you think this might also hold true for kinks?

Portarossa100 karma

I can absolutely believe it. My most recent book -- the one that's just gone up for sale, in fact -- has a black lead. (It's set in New Orleans, so it just seemed to fit; his blackness is, as far as the story goes, mostly incidental.) From early feedback, I think people are just happy to have stories about people who are like them without it being a thing. I see no reason why this wouldn't apply equally to erotica as well as romance.

I shit you not, though, finding a suitable cover image was the hardest thing about writing the book. It took forever.

bhamv113 karma

You're pretty much the queen of r/outoftheloop. What's your secret? How are you able to provide such high-quality answers on such a consistent basis?

Portarossa175 karma

George Soros pays well, what can I say?

But seriously, it's just how I procrastinate. I've been interested in US politics for a longass time, I try my best to keep up on the news with a critical eye from as many sources as I can, and I'm a firm believer that 'being unbiased' isn't the same as refusing to say that some people are wrong based on evidence. The posts take about an hour or two to write up, but it's honestly my idea of relaxation, so they have a tendency of taking a wider and wider view of the world as time goes on. People seem to like the additional context, so now I try and include it whenever possible.

I'm glad you enjoy it!

Denis51793 karma

An evolutionary psychologist Gad Saad has stated multiple times that the trope of "attractive eccentric rocket scientist billionaire who wrestles alligators on his six pack" works extremely well for the romance novel genre because it tends to fill the needs of the type of person who buys these books, while the idea of a "skinny, ugly, minimum wage, gentleman in touch with his feminine side " would never work.

My question is what is your opinion on these characteristics that most think will "always" sell , and do you think that you could make a man who isn't very generally attractive appealing to people buying Romance novels?

Portarossa154 karma

I'm going to say it: this has been my favourite question out of all of them, and I could probably write a multi-comment response on it. I have thoughts.

The basics, though:

  • There's a strong line between 'erotica' and 'romance' here. You might be able to do it in romance. You almost certainly couldn't in erotica. Why? Because erotica is all about fantasy wish fulfilment. It's about getting everything you want. I mean, let's say you have a fictional billionaire who's hung like a stallion and is kind to the servants and helps out at an orphanage in his spare time and speaks eighteen languages fluently, but who's only a six in the looks department. He's not real. Why not make him a smokin' hot ten and ensure that you don't alienate people?

  • In romance, we see a strong line in inequality here. It's absolutely fine -- even encouraged -- for female leads to be normative while male leads are exceptional. Why? Because the female leads are the author insert, and male leads are the prize. Ana Steele is stunning, but also plain. The wish being fulfilled here is that the smokin' hot billionaire who's great in the sack could have any woman, but there's something about you -- you in particular, just as you are -- that means that he wants you desperately, almost to the point of obsession. (Sometimes actually to the point of obsession, which is why Fifty Shades hit so many buttons.) That's the other part of the fantasy being sold: that just as you are, you can have whoever you want.

  • The book Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell -- great book; read it if you can -- deals with this pretty well. It's a YA novel, not a romance the same way I write, but the protagonists are a skinny Asian boy and a chubby redheaded girl. ('Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.') Could that work in adult fiction? I don't see why not -- but I also don't know if I'd risk ninety thousand words to try and find out. It's a lot of input for something that's by no means sure, and I don't know if I'd like to be the one to take the leap when an attractive eccentric rocket scientist billionaire who wrestles alligators is right there and will sell like hot cakes.

NestroyAM90 karma

Let's do this!

  • What are your favourite and least favourite words to use synonymously for our respective genitals (Extra points, if you came up with them on your own)?

  • Have you ever felt like you've written the same steamy scene effectively twice?

  • How do you keep them unique or do they even have to be unique in your opinion?

Happy Cakeday! A belated Happy Festivus and a Happy New Year in advance!

Thanks for your AMA!

Portarossa160 karma

  • I love 'cock' and hate 'pussy'. (Good luck taking that one out of context.)

  • Oh, definitely. Moreso when I was writing smut rather than romance -- I tend not to lean more towards sweet than erotic now, so you'll get maybe one or two sex scenes per book rather than one every six thousand words -- but yeah, at times it was a lot like writing IKEA instructions.

  • For smut and romance, 'uniqueness' isn't as important as 'gives the reader what they want'. Sometimes it's to get off; sometimes it's for their heart to get off. You always want to give people enough variety that they know it's not just a copy-paste job (sidenote: if you have to ask what a pastejob is, you can't afford it), but ultimately everyone knows what they're getting when they read one of my books. I don't think it's particularly improved by throwing in something completely out of left-field.

Thanks for the good wishes, and a happy 2019 to you and yours!

actualblanket34 karma

What’s your least favorite word for male junk? And your most favorite for female junk?

My wife also loves ‘cock’ and hates ‘pussy’.

Portarossa126 karma

I've always thought 'dick' and 'prick' were more insults than sexy -- they're a thing you yell when someone cuts you off in traffic -- but anything too elaborate or too obviously comedic has no place in smut. It's just distracting.

My favourite is to keep things vague. I've always been a big fan of phrases like 'I reached down and guided him inside of me'. You know I'm talking about fuckin'. I don't need to spell it out.

girolski0777 karma

Any tips for aspiring young writers?

Portarossa255 karma

Write. Write and write and read and write and write some more. It sounds dumb and a bit glib, but it's like anything: you don't get good until you've worked at it for a while. That's probably going to mean sucking for a good long time, but sucking isn't permanent! Don't be precious about your writing -- aiming to make it good is fine and great is better, but trying to make it perfect is usually a lost cause -- and just keep on cranking it out until you've produced something you're happy to show to friends, and then to strangers. (Then try not to get too dissuaded by the inevitable bad reviews. It sucks, but it's part of the job.)

Good luck!

Stereotypy231 karma

that reminds me of this quote from ira glass that i love inserting whenever tangentially appropriate.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it's like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you're making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn't as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you're going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you're going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you're making will be as good as your ambitions.

Portarossa65 karma

Smart guy, that Glass chap.

-Anyar-10 karma

When you write, who do you show it to? Assuming you need external criticism to improve.

Portarossa38 karma

The first draft is for myself; no one sees it until it's done. (I'll occasionally show a chapter or two to someone if I need a read on how it comes across, but never the full book.) I'll also usually show someone the first chapter or two when I've just got started to see if they think it's interesting enough for me to carry on with, but I usually have a good idea of whether a story has legs.

It's not really about criticism -- I think every writer is their own toughest critic -- but in terms of being too close to the story. For example, I have to plot the whole thing out before I write it (whether it's a week before or six months before). Have I made it obvious what's happening? Can someone who isn't in my head figure out what's going on? (There have been a truly depressing number of times when I realise that I've got to the end of the book and just haven't written a key scene or bit of exposition; because I know what happens, I assume the reader knows what happens too, which would be a damn good trick.)

Once the first draft is done, I send it to a couple of friends. Then it goes to my editor for grammar checks, and then it goes to my ARC readers. Then it goes live, and I hope I didn't fuck it up too badly along the way.

Sadistic_Dreamer62 karma

First of all, you're doing exactly what I want to do, and because of that I'm getting the blue screen of death coming up with the right question but let's do this. Here's the one you can't exactly google.

How do you walk in both worlds? I'm assuming you don't only write erotic fiction most times. Can you ride success from the adult genre into others without facing bias or backlash? Or vice versa?

Portarossa105 karma

I wish I had a better answer for you, but the truth is that I just divide it up into different pen names: smut goes here, romance goes there, and never the twain shall meet. It's better that way. You don't want people looking for a quick wank material to downvote your romance because it doesn't have enough hump-and-grind, and you don't want to give the delicate sensibilities of the people who are looking for something a little more sedate a shock by having them face to face with a double fisting scene.

I also write literary fiction, but I don't publish that anywhere. Maybe one day, though. Probably under my actual name, if it comes down to it.

psychonator51 karma

I currently write horror fiction and self publish through Amazon Kindle. I'd like to give erotica a try, using a pseudonym of course, but am a little wary of being exposed as also the author of mainstream horror. Is it possible to truly protect your identity through use of a pseudonym?

Portarossa76 karma

Yeah, you're safe on KDP. Unless you do something like out yourself by taking a screenshot to brag about your mad stacks, I can't imagine a situation by which anyone would be able to figure it out.

But even if they do, wear it with pride! Henry James wrote erotica! You can do both!

BenjaminStanklin36 karma

It is with utmost certainty that you are aware of this being a successful author of erotica, but to you and the others who have sadly not yet had the perverted pleasure of reading James Joyce's love letters to his wife, I beg of you to give them a read. The most notorious of them is dated 8 December, 1909, my dirty little fuckbirds.

Portarossa22 karma

There has never been a more fitting username. Good play.

lepusamissa46 karma

Do you think for a novella it's better to write from one person perspective or from both?

Portarossa114 karma

The standard response is 'Whatever best serves the story', which is nice (and true!) but not ultimately all that useful. I think there are a couple of other things to keep in mind:

  • Writing from one perspective will let you use dramatic irony; you can keep things from the audience better if you don't have to present both sides of the case. (If you want to see an absolute masterclass in this from a non-romance perspective, read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie.) The trade-off from this is that you're basically only stuck with one viewpoint.

  • Novellas are, by their very nature, pretty short. That means both of your protagonists are going to have to share the limelight, and it might leave them feeling a little flimsy. Generally, the shorter the book, the more likely you are to want fewer people in the spotlight. (There are exceptions to this, but there's a reason why A Song of Ice and Fire books can afford to have thirty main characters in each.)

  • You can always split the difference and write in third person, which is often the best solution to the problem, but you lose the immediacy of being right there in the characters' heads.

If you're really in doubt, try it both ways. Write a thousand or so words of your story with split narration, and then the same scene again with one narrator. It'll become apparent pretty much immediately which is the right one for your story.

Bigluce39 karma

Who is your Bad Sex award?

Personally i can't stand it when I'm reading a steamy section and the author basically puts in as many words for vagina and penis but written so unerotically.

Like, her aching wet mound. Or his throbbing rod. Worse maybe, alluding to a vagina being some kind of new flora: delicate unfurled pink petals. Godamn it.

Just. No.

Portarossa100 karma

I hate hate hate the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. They're a personal bugbear of mine. It encourages people to laugh at something that is actually really fucking hard to do well, rather than encouruaging the people who've actually learned how to write it in a way that's genuinely sex. When there's a Good Sex in Fiction Awards, then we can talk.

That said, I do hate the overwrought descriptions too. Basically, it's anything that distracts from the story. I'm a big fan of phrases like 'I guided him into me'. You know we're not talking about sticking his toe in my ear. I don't need to spell it out for you.

asus42035 karma

with a name like Hazel Redgate, what made you think you needed a pen name?

Portarossa105 karma

Hazel Redgate is my pen name. (Well... Hazel is my real name. 'Redgate' was pulled out of a phonebook.)

As for why I went for a pen name, it's quite handy: it gives me an out in case I ever wanted to distance myself from my books, or (at the start) in case I wrote a couple of books that were absolute flops and needed a fresh start. It also means that I can write books freely without having some of the odder sides of the internet find the 'real' me; as I'm sure you know, revealing your full name on the internet is asking for trouble, but it's also pretty handy to be able to talk freely about your work if you want to drum up sales. Besides, sometimes it's nice to put on a fresh persona, you know?

someoneelsesfriend33 karma

Is there a line for erotic fiction that it cannot cross?

Portarossa123 karma

For Amazon? Yeah, and it's weirdly specific. There are the obvious lines (rape, necrophilia, non-con), but in other cases it's very strange. Take shifter porn, for example. (That's werewolves and other were-animals, for people who aren't in the know -- and please take this with a grain of salt, because it was never my particular niche.) You can have a woman having sex with a werewolf, but only in human form. A woman having sex with a dinosaur is fine, and so is a woman having sex with a cryptid, like Bigfoot. Having sex with a vampire is fine; having sex with a zombie is not (I believe).

A lot of my job was weird for a long time.

thelordbaron33 karma

You’ve mentioned before that you do not live in the US, yet you routinely post in r/OutOfTheLoop about US politics. First off, thank you for doing so as your research is thorough and your writing is great. Secondly, how do you find the time and interest to do so, given all your other projects?

Portarossa51 karma

It's how I procrastinate. I like explaining things to people, and the OOTL community is generally pretty nice. Figuring out the best way to make complex subjects understandable is like doing a crossword puzzle for me. It's just fun.

As for why that topic, I got massively into US politics as a teenager -- completely by chance; I was on holiday with my family in Florida in November 2004, when Bush won the second time, and I stayed up and watched the election coverage for hours even though we were going to a theme park early the next day -- then got into Colbert and The Daily Show and The West Wing and all that good stuff. I find US politics genuinely interesting, even when it's... not going great for a lot of people, let's say.

I'm glad you enjoy my posts! I've been pulling back recently on account of having to get this book ready for publication, but I'm sure I'll be posting more in future.

standswithpencil31 karma

I'm terrible at writing sex scenes. I don't know why but I get all conservative and inhibited when it comes to writing or even talking about this. Any suggestions?? I'm such a prude and I don't mean to be

Portarossa63 karma

Unless you're writing erotica, in which case you need to go a little more in-depth, it's fine to be subtle with your sex scenes. People know what's happening, and their imaginations will give them plenty to work with.

Beyond that, just practice. Writing good sex is hard. No one gets it right first time. (In that sense, it's a lot like having good sex. Also similarly, it's a thing you can practice alone without sharing it with anyone else until you're comfortable.)

VforVicious30 karma

You ever had to dig one out while writing?

Portarossa124 karma

Back in my smut days, I got a commission for a story about a woman who was trapped in a rubber suit and turned into a sort of living art display, kept there forever while museum patrons touched and groped her. It's not particularly my fetish, but my God, I cranked it to that story like I was trying to start a Model T.

It's my single most narcissistic moment, and I have zero shame. Well, close to zero. Within the margin of error.

Restless_Fillmore29 karma

What are your thoughts on the marketability of male POV works, or those that split POV between male and female (perhaps written by a team of a male author and female author)?

Portarossa47 karma

By the time you realise that a book is in split POV, you've probably already put down your three dollars to buy it. If it's good, you'll probably keep reading it. It might not be your first choice, but I think it can work.

Male POV is a little different, because a lot of romantic fiction operates on an 'author insert' principle, which is harder to

I personally can't imagine putting the time in to write a solely male POV book (unless I was writing gay) -- I think it would probably make it harder than it needs to be to draw in the reader -- but I don't think there's anything so inherently off about it that it could never work.

Itsamadmadmadworld28 karma

What's a depressing or crazy fact you've leaned about human sexuality since you've become an erotic fiction writer?

Portarossa139 karma

It has absolutely nothing to do with my erotic fiction career, but one of my favourite facts of all time is that when Alois Alzheimer first presented his paper about the disease that would later be named after him -- one of the most important papers in the history of medicine -- no one asked him any follow up questions or made any comments, because they were all paying more attention to the next guy on the agenda, who was giving a talk about compulsive masturbation.

In terms of stuff I've learned since I've been writing smut, it's actually all been quite nice. People love to talk about their fetishes when they feel that they're not going to be judged for them. Generally I sum it up as the three universal rules:

  • Everyone has a weird sex thing that they like.
  • Usually it's not as weird as they think it is.
  • Occasionally it's very fuckin' weird.

Vaelkyrim26 karma

What’s your favorite cheese?

But in all seriousness, what’s your writing process? Do you have to be tuned on in order to write? Does writing come more naturally after spending time with a partner?

Portarossa86 karma

Mozzarella, wensleydale with cranberries, or halloumi. I like a mild cheese, so my options are limited.

Oh, god no. The last thing you want is to be turned on when it comes to writing. I mean, I understand why people would think that, but ultimately -- even when I was writing straight-up filth -- writing is my job. I need to be able to focus or I don't get to afford food and electricity, both of which I am fond of.

Now when I want to focus, I go to the library and just don't log into their WiFi. It's a lot easier to keep focused on the screen when I feel like people will judge me if I slack off.

thethinkingguy23 karma

Hi Hazel, cheers for taking the time to do this AMA.

Couple a Q's (if you feel inclined):

1) How often do you write? Do you have a word quota or a time limit you strive to complete or do you just let it flow day by day?

2) I don't think you've mentioned it, but what got you into writing? Where did you get the drive to write?

3) Change of pace now, what do you think is the biggest or most threatening problem the world faces right now?

4) You have the power to go to any time or place in the universe once in your life. Where/when do you go?

Ta for any and all answers.

Portarossa47 karma

  • I write every day, without fail. Sometimes less, sometimes more, but always every day.

  • It's kind of tragic, but it was actually the only thing I was good at as a kid. When I was little -- about six -- a teacher put a short story I wrote on the Wall of Achievement, and that was it for me. (Like most authors, I am an absolute whore for positive reinforcement.)

  • There are the epoch-making ones like Global Warming, but I think the root of all of them is misinformation. It's like the old saying goes: 'It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.'

  • Ooh, shit. I'd probably go into the not-entirely-far future: a couple of hundred years or so. The past is already stories. I just want to see where we're heading.

ecnad18 karma

Do you think making a living off of writing Romance is a viable option for someone with no real passion for the genre as long as they're willing to research the tropes and plant their ass in the chair? What was your experience like just starting out as an author?

Love your responses on /r/OutOfTheLoop btw. Always a pleasure to read your stuff.

Portarossa46 karma

That was exactly my situation when I started. The thing is, when you start reading around the genre -- enough to research it thoroughly -- you'll almost certainly find books that you genuinely enjoy. After a while, you realise that you want to write a book that you want to read, but that just happens to be about people falling in love. (It's weird. It's like getting Stockholm Syndrome from a library, but it's still kind of fun.)

Glad you enjoy them!

CashWho16 karma

You mentioned Doctor Who so...

Series 11. Good? Bad? So-So? What's your take?

Portarossa30 karma

I wasn't impressed. I was a very big fan of the twisty-turny elaborate plotting and scheming of the Moffat years, and there just hasn't been any of that this time around. I really wanted Chibnall to knock it out of the park, but he just didn't. There was a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, too many companions too soon (which made it very hard to care all that much about any of them), and a really weird sense of morality from the Doctor. (Also, was that really the best frog they could come up with?)

As for a female Doctor, I think Whitaker has proved that there's nothing wrong with the idea in itself. I just don't think anyone involved has been given enough to work with to make it special. Maybe I'll tune in for Resolution (Totally Not of the Daleks) in a couple of days' time and it'll blow me away, but... yeah, I'm not holding my breath.

ralanr16 karma

As someone who has been writing a novel for maybe 4-5 years, do you have any tips for dealing with publishers or if self publishing is a better option?

Sorry for the loaded question. I know this involves a lot of factors, but I don’t know the factors.

Portarossa42 karma

It doesn't matter. The most important thing to do is finish writing your book. If you're thinking about publishers before you've got a first draft down -- let alone a completed draft -- then you're a tail wagging a dog.

You can PM me that question again when your book is done and I'll happily go into the pros and cons of each, but it shouldn't be on your radar yet. It'll just distract you.

Good luck with your project.

TiredWolfie13 karma

Hey there, thank you so much for doing this AMA! I've been humming and harring on getting into self-publishing, so I do have a few questions if you're willing:

- Do you use a publishing service such as Smashwords, or do you put together your own eBooks and market them? Do you have a recommendation either way?

- If you're self-publishing, do you hire others outside for book cover/editing of the manuscript? If so, where do you go?

- Do you ever ask your friends and family for their thoughts on your work, or do you keep it closer to the vest?

I hope those questions are okay. I'm really interested in your new book, I'm going to check it out!

Portarossa15 karma

  • I use Amazon KDP.

  • I hire an outside editor, but I do the cover design myself. I'm hoping to transition to hiring an outside designer for that too in the coming year. (I really enjoy cover design, and I think I'm OK at it, but the amount of effort that went into finding the right model for this round of stories means that if I can find someone for the right price, I might just save myself the bother.)

  • I ask them once the book is finished, generally, and when the book is just started (to see if the first couple of chapters are suitably attention-grabbing), but in the meantime I try not to. It's very easy to coast on their comments rather than finishing the book, so I've learned over time that it's better all round to just power through.

I'm hope you enjoy it, and thanks for your support!

claire_resurgent13 karma

Regarding the craft of writing romance fiction, my biggest frustration as a critical reader (and very occasional fanfic writer) is that the conflicts are often really bland.

Especially in fanfiction, but I'd say it's about 60% of why I give up on mainstream romance novels. My preference is that relationship fiction put a relationship (or several - juicy) front and center. This means the conflict should be largely person-vs-person, and the trick to making it work is to get the reader to empathize with one or more characters sense of attraction. The romantic interest is also the antagonist, and this dual role is delicious when it's pulled off.

(The other 40% is that I'm really queer and get bored of gender-normative straight couples straightly gender-norming.)

I.e. I really enjoy connecting with the sense "loving you is annoying, aggravating, troublesome, and just plain a pain in the ass but I can't get rid of you." In fact this isn't limited to romantic or positive relationships. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the finest relationship stories ever, and it's mostly motivated by lust for revenge that has obvious parallels to eros but it's not quite the same thing if we're being honest. (Something something Homestuck's "[caliginous quadrant]")

But, that's just my take. What do you think is the dynamo that takes smut (fun to read or write) and makes it also work as a story?

Portarossa26 karma

I've written about this before, but I think you're looking at the problem from the wrong angle. The conflicts are usually pretty bland, but the reason for that is because serious problems usually can't be wrapped up within three hundred pages.

Romance novels are, at their heart, wish fulfillment. They're one of very few genres where everyone involved mostly knows what's going before they even start reading. (Shit, go on Amazon, search for a bestselling romance novel, and see how many of them promise 'HEA' -- that's a Happy Ever After, in industry-speak. In any other genre, that would be considered a massive spoiler; imagine, for example, if the blurb of a horror novel ended with '... and on the last page they all die.') Because the resolution is so important, you need to make sure that the Happy Ever After seems like it will, in fact, last for a long time after the story is done. It's super unsatisfying to think of the couple riding off into the sunset only to break up due to being chronically mismatched after two weeks.

So that's where the minor conflicts come in. External forces are small and easily resolved, which is handy -- not because it makes the story easier to write, but because it makes the conflict easy to wrap up. It's a genre that lends itself towards simplicity, because it's usually supposed to be a warm hug of a book. That's what most people are looking for when they put their money down, so that's what most authors provide.

Now don't get me wrong, I love a book that subverts expectations -- both in terms of the happy ending, and in terms of queer content. That said, I do absolutely understand why they're more rare than they probably should be.

Cocochica3312 karma

I just want to say thank you for participating in kindle unlimited. As for a question - ever thought of writing any LGBT smut? That’s cool if the answer is no, but I would certainly enjoy it!

Portarossa18 karma

I wrote a fair amount of MM smut back in the day, as well as some FF stuff. There's a lot of money in the former; the latter -- annoyingly -- not so much.

As for novels, I've got an FF novel planned for the great At Some Point -- it's a hypothetical spin-off of a BDSM novel I've currently got half-written but have stalled on -- but I have no idea how it's going to work or if it's going to sell. I just fell in love with a couple of the characters and wanted to see them get a happy ending.

Kat_Kibbles12 karma

I’m sorry if this a too personal question (so I won’t be offended if you don’t answer :D) How much money do your books make? Like, best paying one vs lowest paying one.

Portarossa43 karma

I won't answer for my novels, because they're a going concern, but I can tell you that my most profitable short story (6,000 words) made £897 in the first couple of months it was up for sale, and my least profitable short story of about the same length has made £0.69 in four years.

It can be a bit of a crapshoot. I never had the absolutely stellar shorts that sold a bajillion copies, but I had more of the former than the latter.

sfa150010 karma

I want to self publish a book onto Amazon, not in the erotica genre, what are your tips or tricks of the trade after doing this for five years? Any links to a good guide?

Portarossa40 karma

  • Don't expect to make any money off it. It's great if you do, but it's a numbers game: you make money by building a following over many books, not by one runaway success.

  • Get a decent cover and a decent blurb. You're competing with professionals; you need to be professional too.

  • Make sure your book is free of typos.

  • Price point for a full novel is $2.99, US. Lower than that and you're not getting the 70% sales amount; higher than that and you're competing with people who are publishing at $2.99.

Good luck!

darr7610 karma

What is your preferred venue for reading smut online? In the past I've just logged on to literotica and poked around until I found something to suit my needs, but I can be a bit picky when it comes to writing style. I also don't like that you can't see how long the story is before opening it. Sometimes I want something quick and dirty, others I'm ready for the long haul!

Portarossa14 karma

Generally, I go for Literotica when I'm in the mood. However, you can get a Kindle Unlimited membership free for thirty days when you sign up. It's probably not worth it for the long haul if you're only interested in the occasional session, so remember to cancel it, but for that month you'll masturbate like a queen.

(You'll also be giving a little sum'n sum'n back to the authors with every page you read, which is nice.)

NottTheProtagonist10 karma

This sounds like a counter shill, but how do you get the novel for free? Amazon prompts me to buy it.

Portarossa31 karma

Oh, bollocks.

The short version is, you wait until December 28th. (Absolutely you should; I put it up for free for a reason, so I want people to get it without paying for a couple of days.) I put it up as early as I could, but the AMA was kind of an impromptu thing and it apparently hasn't gone live as a freebie yet. You'll be able to pick up a copy between December 28th and December 31st.

Sorry about that.

PM_ME_SUNNY6 karma

How hard is it to self publish? I’ve written for a while now but am too scared to enter publishing.

Portarossa24 karma

Almost stupefyingly easy.

Getting noticed and earning any money off it, on the other hand...

Pairdice6 karma

Is your name a variation of studio Ghibli's "Porco Rosso"?

Portarossa44 karma

It's not. I picked 'Redgate' out of a phone book, and then... well, you know. Red gate, porta rossa...

(I'm the only person who's ever been even faintly amused by that.)

yizofu5 karma

Thoughts on fanfiction/serialized web novels or stories being converted to actual published works?

Portarossa12 karma

I'm currently writing a serialised web novel, so I'm all in favour.

More seriously, though, I don't have a problem with it. I mean, hell, it's basically what Dickens was doing in the nineteenth century. Pretty much every technological development in the past five hundred years has changed the paradigm for how we engage with culture in one way or another. I don't see how this is any different. Some of it'll be great. Some of it'll be dreck. Hopefully the good stuff finds an audience.

thcslayer444 karma

Do you recall the good ole days before AMA was a soulless way to whore out a product?

Portarossa3 karma

I prefer the term 'prose-stitution'.

turalyawn4 karma

What's your opinion on the Chuck Tingle style stuff? Fun distraction or detracting from serious work?

Portarossa10 karma

Chuck Tingle is fine, I guess, but it's satire, not romance/smut. It does kind of piss me off in the same way that, say, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award annoys me: if you treat it as a joke, a lot of the good stuff tends to get lost in the mire, which is a shame.

I will say that whoever does his covers is on point, though. That's some genuinely fine work.

jakemg3 karma

You make so many great comments in /r/AskReddit. Do you think you make such highly upvoted comments because you are also an author? Meaning you’re probably better at expressing your point than many others.

Portarossa7 karma

I honestly think it's partly down to recognition. Being able to write helps, sure, and so does having the time to sit down and argue with total strangers about things that are entirely meaningless, but I also think that once you hit a sort of critical mass of posts, people recognise you as that person who wrote that one post they liked once and it snowballs from there.

There are lots of people on /r/AskReddit (and the site in general) who can weave a great story and have absolutely no desire to write a novel, put it that way.

Calvertorius3 karma

How did you pick your pen name?

Portarossa7 karma

Hazel is my real name; Redgate was out of a phone book.

faux_glove2 karma

Aren't you concerned about the impending pornography shortage impacting your ability to do your job? Tumblr has already dredged their porn wells completely dry, and DeviantArt is so slim they're fielding erotic nudes in lieu of proper bend-over-and-bite-the-pillow sex.

If your porn supply were ever to go dry and you had to abandon the erotic fiction category, what genre would you consider sidestepping to?

Portarossa2 karma

I got out early; I write pretty much exclusively romance now.

If that well ever dried up, though, I'd probably write mysteries. Lurid little thrillers, completely over the top. They're my guiltiest pleasure.

horgendorfer2 karma

You mentioned D&D, how has that worked it’s way into your life and/or career?

Portarossa2 karma

I started playing last year at 29. Honestly, writing is a lonely occupation a lot of the time -- it's mostly just you bashing your head against a keyboard -- so having a group of people who were once strangers who I can go and kill some fictional goblins with is a nice way to pull me out of my shell.

I've written up a good chunk of a Modern Magic campaign I ran for them, and that was pretty fun too.

kitikitish2 karma

What's for dinner?

Portarossa4 karma

I had a turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich.

And it was the tits. Christmas leftovers are the best leftovers.

OjomEightface2 karma

What is an Early Grey gimlet? And, incidentally, what is your recipe?

Portarossa31 karma

It's a cocktail. Very simple to make, absolutely delicious.

The key to an Earl Grey gimlet is getting a good Earl Grey syrup. What you want to do is brew a cup of really, really strong Earl Grey tea (like, twice what you'd normally drink; no milk or lemon, just the bag). Mix that with an equal amount by volume of plain white sugar in a saucepan over a low heat, and stir it until it's all dissolved. (Don't leave it or turn the heat up or you'll end up with Earl Black and a lot of scrubbing time to get your new tea-toffee off the bottom of the pan.) Leave it to cool. At this point, you might want to put a shot of clear alcohol in it -- vodka, gin, whatever. I've heard this keeps it fresher for longer, but it's honestly never lasted for long enough for me to find out.

Once it's done, use a shot of that syrup, a shot of lemon juice, and two shots of gin (nothing fancy; the cheap stuff will do). Shake it over ice and pour it out. Drink it before anyone else can.

HansTheIV2 karma

What's your opinion on Jodie Whittaker as contrasted with the other doctors?

Portarossa6 karma

On the one hand, she's proof that there absolutely can be a female Doctor and that it's not a big deal. A lot of people were aghast at the idea; a good few still are, but a lot fewer of them now than in September. The Doctor can be a woman, and the next time it happens it's not even going to be newsworthy. I'm glad of that.

That said, I don't particularly like her portrayal of the Doctor. (That's fine; everyone has Doctors they like and dislike. It's the nature of the show.) Part of that is down to conscious choices on the part of the showrunner and writers, and part of it is down to things that I'm sure aren't conscious choices -- I don't think this season has been particularly well-written, and Whittaker hasn't been given as much to work with as Smith and Capaldi (or Tennant and Eccleston) had. Thirteen's characterisation feels weak. I hope that's something that's going to be tightened up in -- for God's sake -- 2020.

On the third hand, I think that there are certainly some people who've gone easier on the show for its flaws this season because Thirteen is female and that any criticism of the show is inevitably going to be seen as a criticism of the BBC's new genderfluid agenda or whatever bullshit they think the SJW menace is up to this week, rather than just being the fact that there have been a couple of real clangers this year.

In short: I'm not a massive fan, but I mostly don't blame Whittaker for that.

retrolione2 karma

I bet your D&D games are fun. Do you dm? Have any funny stories?

Portarossa3 karma

I do! I'm actually writing up a Modern Magic game I ran this year over on my subreddit. By the time it's finished, it'll be a full-on mystery novel. Except, you know, with elves 'n' shit.

QP20122 karma

Why are so many Kindle romance/erotica books written in first person?

Portarossa5 karma

1) It's a sort of author-insert. You don't just read about her love affair; you can be part of it.

2) It gives you a window into the exact feelings of the protagonist; it means you only ever get part of the story, which opens your writing up to the doubt that characterises a lot of romantic plots.

3) A lot of books in general are written in first person. Keeps things peppy.


Thoughts on furry stuff? Do you consume furry smut?

Portarossa18 karma

Indifferent. I don't find it sexy, personally, so I don't feel I could do a good job of writing it, but whatever floats your boat. It's not hurting anyone.

I will say, however, that if I could draw worth a damn I would for sure be drawing furry art. They're a commmunity that respect good art and aren't afraid to pay out for it. The friends I have who work in that community make bank.