James Gandolfini Was My Celebrity Crush

His sex appeal wasn’t “unlikely” to me

Like fans all over the world, I was very saddened by actor James Gandolfini’s death at age 51. I wasn’t a diehard fan of The Sopranos (though I enjoyed it), nor have I seen Gandolfini’s entire body of work or know every last detail about his personal life. None of this stopped him from occupying a hallowed place in my fantasy life: James Gandolfini was my celebrity crush.

While obituaries are calling him an “unlikely” and “improbable” sex symbol, I felt just the opposite. While I’ve been attracted to, dated, and slept with many types of people, if pressed to say I had a type of man I typically swoon over, it’s fat guys. Or big guys. Whatever you want to call them. In an ode to big bellies at The Black Table in 2004, I wrote, “Nothing gets me hotter than a nice, big belly, perhaps not so surprising since I consider James Gandolfini and Monica Lewinsky both people I’d fuck in a heartbeat.”

Like I said, I didn’t know all the ins and outs of Gandolfini’s body of work, but I appreciated that he did indeed become a sex symbol despite not fitting our culture’s male body image ideal. If you think men aren’t subject to that kind of scrutiny, think again. While women now have fatkinis and most of the women-targeted and general interest websites I read regularly run pieces about body image (a recent sampling: “FATshion: 7 Adorable Plus Size Dresses with TINY TINY Prints” at xoJane; “On Plus Side: New Fashion Choices for Size 18" in The Wall Street Journal; “Victoria’s Secret Protesters Strip Down for Body Diversity” at The Frisky), but I have not seen a corresponding upswell of support for fat men. In fact, in an article about female desire at The Atlantic, former Playgirl editor Ronnie Koenig recently wrote, “While a shlubby sitcom writer might try to convince us that hot girls do, in fact, want to marry fat, funny bald guys, most women want to be visually attracted to their partner.” I agree with her that attraction is important, and her larger point, that women are visual creatures too, but it’s this casual dismissal of a whole slew of men based on how they look, a hewing to the conventional standards so many are fighting against when it comes to female bodies, that’s problematic.

The assumption that attraction is a one-size-fits-all proposition is as offensive when we assume all straight or bisexual women want one type of guy as it is when we assume all straight or bisexual men want blondes with big breasts. Yet we are still perfectly comfortable with that as a culture. No, not everyone: Some women are proud to proclaim the fact that they like fat men (note the corresponding responses from the men in that forum), and there are even Big Handsome Men Meetup groups.

I’d argue that fat guys who are able to laugh at themselves, rather than apologize for their bodies, are sexy to many women (I’m focusing on women here, though gay male culture has its own body image issues, which are also problematic) — precisely because they are not trying to pretend they’re something they’re not. Even though it rhapsodized on Gandolfini’s sex appeal, a 2001 Sunday Mirror article began with the words, “He has the body of a couch potato….” I get that articles like this want to contrast Gandolfini with what’s more typically considered sexy, but again there’s this assumption that nobody would ever find someone with that body type hot. That way of thinking takes a toll on all of us, by reducing desire to a prepackaged set of options, and labeling anyone who falls outside of those a weird outlier.

Gandolfini stood out to me as someone who didn’t apologize for his size, and simply by becoming so well-known, he stood for a new kind of sex symbol. While the type often referred to as Big Handsome Men (BHM) has its admirers (here’s a list of why some women find them hot), we still aren’t at a place in our culture where fat isn’t seen as a target, a culprit, and an enemy.

Yet pop culture could do with more men turning the supposedly typical female fantasy on its head. Comedian Chris Grace stole the show in 50 Shades! The Musical not simply because he’s a big guy willing to play up his body in a red Borat-style mankini, but because he deliberately went against type as Christian Grey. In the performance I saw, many women in the audience at first seemed initially wary of his sex appeal, as they were about Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, but Grace won them over. He did so by flaunting his outsized character, managing to play E.L. James’s fantasy of a dominant man for laughs, rather than just literally throwing his weight around and waiting for guffaws. I want to see more of that take-charge attitude by big, chubby, fat, and not-skinny ripped guys. I want to see men who can laugh at our culture’s fat-hating, and laugh at themselves, without the punchline being simply “Fat. Ha ha.” That’s way too easy, overdone, offensive and lazy.

Many on Twitter haven’t wasted time pontificating about exactly why he died, because to them, fat people pretty much might as well be dead already. Andrea Wolter: “James Gandolfini died because he was fat and unhealthy. End of story.” Mike Weedon: “People say they are shocked by the death of James Gandolfini. Do they think enormous fat men live for ever?” The Hedgehog: “Watch Killing Them Softly and then claim James Gandolfini’s death is a surprise. The man was so fat he could barely breathe.” Justin Williams: “James Gandolfini r.I.p. But you knew that you were to fat so heart wasn’t good.”

I’m not writing highlighting these Tweets to debate how we should treat obesity as a health issue, but to point out that there fat hatred is too often tidily wrapped in the cloak of health concerns, whether you’re famous, well respected and/or recently deceased. Passing judgment on the health of someone you don’t know is seen as somehow okay because too many people think they “know” that fat=death. In response to a Facebook friend writing ,“I can’t believe James Gandolfini died. One too many cannoli I guess,” Snoggered posted on Tumblr:

Every time a celebrity dies who isn’t super old or super thin I find myself praying that they died of something other than a heart attack just because of little quips like this. It’s like saying “Oh a gay person died? Was it AIDS? because gay people die of AIDS all the time. It’s what they die of. If they didn’t want to die they shouldn’t have been gay with AIDS.

You don’t have to share my views of Gandolfini’s attractiveness to agree that a culture that makes weight a moral issue is problematic. I’m not arguing that Gandolfini’s death is any more or less sad because he was my go-to celebrity sex symbol, but I do hope that part of his legacy is to combat the idea that heterosexual men are only attractive if they have six-pack abs or look like Brad Pitt or Denzel Washington. In a culture where we treat fat like it’s a sin and have just labeled obesity a disease, Gandolfini defied the prevailing ideal of male hotness and by doing so, helped broaden (pardon the pun) our sexiness standards.I hope he also made way for more big guys in the public eye to own their erotic power.

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On overcoming writer’s block, one word at a time

True confession time: sometimes I get stuck with my writing. Most commonly, I get overwhelmed. I do not have a grand solution to writer’s block; if I did, I would have posted on this blog every day this year, as I had intended to before January 1st, but clearly didn’t happen. I did have two articles come out this week (although the first was finalized last week): one on dads and sex ed at Mic and one on new Kink.com model rules for The Daily Dot.

But the list of what else I wanted to write, meant to write, could have written, started to write, thought about writing, etc., is far longer. Now, I’m not saying everyone should write a certain amount per day or week; that’s not how I measure my writing. But I would guess that I’m not the only one whose output falls short of my goals not because of emergencies or actually “not having time,” but because of something psychological. This is in no way a new issue for me; writer’s block and I go so far back it almost feels “wrong” when words are bouncing off my fingers, whipping through my mind whether I’m walking or watching TV or peeing.

For me, it’s usually about one of two things (or both of them, cause I’m an overachiever like that): fear and getting ahead of myself. My fear runs deep. This week, I have a few emails I need to send for work; some are asking people to check out my new book, some are requesting interviews for upcoming articles, some are pitching new pieces. Almost all of them, even the easiest of the easy ones, the ones to people I know and like, the ones where there’s little risk of a bad outcome, have made me paralyzed with inaction this week. I’ve drafted those emails several times; I’ve written them on to do lists that literally litter my desk, but only sent one or two of them.

I’ve faced a great amount of impostor syndrome and fear of being thought of as a fraud, because while I’ve faced this writer’s block, I’ve also been promoting my next LitReactor writing class, which in itself took me a having a leap of faith that I could do it the first time. Those voices that tell me you can’t are loud, sometimes so much so that I have trouble hearing anything else.

As I’m writing this right now, Thursday morning at 8:34 a.m., what I can tell you is that there is a sense of calm running through my veins, an antidote to all the fear I’ve clung to this week, all the reasons why I needed to do any other thing than write the next essay/article/email/word. Clearly, the rush I’m getting from working out my thoughts by writing them down is like oxygen for me, the equivalent of a deep breath of fresh air after being cooped up in a stuffy, uncomfortable room. It feels like getting myself back.

There will always be other things to occupy my time than writing, but I don’t think there will ever be anything else that feeds me in the way writing does, that soothes me, that, as maddening as the process may be, gives me the thrill that writing does. Yet it’s more than a “thrill,” it’s not just a rush or a high; it’s more fundamental. Writing is an extension of me, so when I don’t do it, when I willfully ignore it, or let the fear win, I feel lesser. When I lie in bed at night, as I did last night, aimlessly reading part of an article, random social media, a few pages of a book I had pre-ordered and was very eager to read but at midnight couldn’t concentrate on, I felt hollow, sad, frustrated with myself because I hadn’t written what I wanted to. I hadn’t even let myself try to write.

In other words, the honest truth is that the only way to get over writer’s block of any kind is to write something. Literally, anything. One word, one sentence, one step in the right direction that will help you out of the quicksand of inertia. If even that one word feels impossible, you could start typing up a beloved passage or page from a book, which I’ve used to get my fingers moving in familiar rhythms, but what I would recommend instead is to type a single sentence or paragraph by someone else, then use that to riff off of. I’ll even give you a prompt: the epigraph to one of my favorite novels, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.

Anything can be a prompt: a word, an image, a song, a quote, a show, a sport, an object, a person, anything, really. Even if it has nothing to do with the thing you “must” write today. What I’ve found with my work is that the more pressure I put on myself to write, the more deeply afraid I become. I sometimes have to completely let any expectations go and simply write, which, for a control freak, is not easy. I like to know in advance which word should go where, leading me from one to the next to The End, but that is just not always possible. Sometimes the big picture gets so big it obscures everything in its path. No matter how good of a writer I become, I will never be able to write five essays or ten emails or three articles at once. I will only ever be able to write one word at a time. When I try to do more than that by, say, writing one thing but having my mind leapfrogging ahead to the next thing (and usually, it’s many next things), I always come up with something subpar.

Here’s the thing: anything we want to say requires a little bit of narcissism, and by “narcissism,” I mean a belief in the value of what you’re saying. My fear ultimately boils down to the notion that someone will reject my words, whether by clicking away, unsubscribing, ignoring my email, writing hate mail, officially rejecting a pitch or simply writing me off in their mind. When I let that fear rule me, I can’t get past it; it’s too loud, too strong, too compelling. I have to fight it off with every fiber of my being.

When I told my boyfriend how stuck I’ve been this week, he gave me all kinds of accolades, citing my accomplishments and bylines. I heard him, but in a faraway part of my mind, like we were playing telephone rather than standing next to each other in our kitchen. The thing is, when I’m in the depths of my blocks, my fear, none of my other writing matters. It’s almost as if it doesn’t exist, or rather, it exists, but seems like a relic from past me. Present me? She convinces herself she has no idea what she’s doing.

Speaking of narcissism (which I have to keep spell checking!), here’s the kind of healthy narcissism I’m talking about, from an artist you may have heard of:

That Dalí quote/image is from the book The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna (you can read the basics of her perspective at Medium but I also recommend the book). In it, she writes:

Must is not a faraway land that you hope to arrive at sometime in the future, it’s not for tomorrow or another day. Must is for today, now. And as you take daily action, the cliff will cease to be a cliff. It will simply become an obvious next step along your path to Must.

Now, writing is not a “Must” for everyone, but for me, it certainly is. It’s both what pays my bills and what feeds my soul. It’s how I make sense of my life, and when I don’t do it, when the ideas pile up but I watch them drift by over and over again, the fear not only wins, it snowballs. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the fear has fuel. The fear can say: See? You should have written that essay and this email and you didn’t, so don’t even bother trying today/tomorrow/ever. It’s too late. But it’s never too late in the grand scheme of things. It may be too late in a specific case, but words are always valuable. They are always there for you. They are always accessible as long as you have a writing implement and a piece of paper.

As I’m typing this, I’m listening to the podcast Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer by Sonia Simone, and her guest, artist John T. Unger, just said, “Part of why I got into making art is that when I was less successful financially, I just loved art; I wanted to own art. I couldn’t afford the kind of stuff I wanted, so I made my own versions of that. And the more that I made, the more it piled up and the more I got good at it…I was working in design until the big dot com crash, and at that point, I was like, you know, instead of learning to do something else sensible, I’m just going to do the art thing, because that’s what I want to do, and I’ll figure out a way to make it work.” (FYI: transcribing people’s thoughts on podcasts means you discover that seeing their words typed out is in no way equivalent to hearing them say it, so I recommend listening for the full impact.)

So no, I don’t have a secret sauce for overcoming writer’s block. I grapple with it far more than I would like. I wrote this for myself as much as anyone else. But I can tell you that especially when I’ve been stuck, when I haven’t written and that inaction is weighing on me, it’s downright euphoric when I do get the words out. Most of the time, they are not the words I would have expected to come out. They are not always ones that I’m madly in love with, but they are words, and they feel good, and they remind me that I am not the sum of my fears, but someone who has the willpower and strength and deep belief in my own worth to battle back against those fears.

Want weekly musings about writing? Sign up for my monthly newsletter and then drop me a line at rachelkb at gmail.com and put “Writing tips” in the subject line and I’ll add you to my weekly writing newsletter, which is a subset of the main one. (Sorry that’s so clunky; I will be streamlining the writing newsletter subscription process, but in the spirit of this post and the interest of not stalling any longer, which clearly I excel at, I wanted to share this now.) I’ll be sharing weekly writing links, tips and musings, both about sex and erotica and broader topics related to various aspects of fiction and nonfiction.

Originally published at Lusty Lady

Rachel Kramer Bussel writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture. She’s the author of Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays and edited of over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, Dirty Dates: Erotic Fantasies for Couples, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, The Big Book of Orgasms, among others. She teaches erotica writing workshops at colleges, conferences, sex toy stores and online at LitReactor.com. She Tweets @raquelita. Get her monthly newsletter by signing up here.

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On knowing when to accept your failures in order to focus on your strengths as a creative small business

Alternate title: I can write hundreds of articles but can’t string two photos together

I’m starting the new year gearing up to launch the book I’m proudest of, the one I kind of wish I could end my erotica editing career with because I love it so much (spoiler alert: I’m not done with anthologies, and have a new women’s erotica call for submissionsup). I’m also starting this week as the first of 52 where I have a weekly sales goal in terms of my income; in this case, “sales” means my words. For the purposes of meeting my financial milestones, I need to sell not a particular number of articles per week, but a combination of articles to hit my goal. If I meet those goals, it will not only help me expand my events, classes and book promotions, pay for web hosting, give me peace of mind knowing that I can book travel well in advance and thus secure the best rates, pay for unexpected surprises like moves, afford fertility treatments if I need them, and generally be assured that my business is on its way up, not ready to crash down at a moment’s notice.

I’m excited for these new endeavors and some new projects, which includes three websites I’m launching: one is a PG blog about a whole new topic, because I learned with Cupcakes Take the Cake that I adore having a blog that is outside my usual arena of sex and dating topics; the other two are about my writing classes, because I want to make teaching a broader part of my portfolio, in line with my desire to help other writers get published, which I’ve done informally but want to incorporate as a regular business practice.

All that means that I’m aiming to focus my business (officially known as RKB Enterprises, Inc.) on my strengths and talents. What’s NOTone of them? Anything to do with art or images. I know this from years of experience and frustration. I suck at the visual. I just do. But knowing this hasn’t made it any easier when I’ve spent the last hour trying to merge the following two images so that I can promote the hell out of my $25 Amazon gift card giveaway, which ends on January 11th:

I do have a takeaway here, I promise. I’ve had to accept and embrace the fact that I’m bad at imagery, that I just don’t have a mind that will ever find things like PicMonkey, Picasa, Photoshop, Canva, etc., easy. I hate it, get frustrated by it, and in turn, that frustration leaves me feeling worthless and stupid. It leaves me thinking things like: What kind of stupid idiot are you to think you can run a successful business when you can’t do something a child could do?

I’ve had days where that feeling has derailed any other plans I’ve had that day. I’ve had days where I’ve let one failure or frustration or thing I can’t do have a domino effect which meant I didn’t accomplish other things that I did have the capacity to complete. I can see it clearly in hindsight, but when that emotion hits me in the gut, it worms its way deep into my psyche. It attacks me where it knows it will do the most damage. It starts to convince me that no matter how many articles I’ve written or books I’ve edited or successful book promotions I’ve run or classes I’ve taught, none of it matters if I can’t also do this one task.

It’s a new year, and the truth is, I need to make myself over along with the calendar if I am going to thrive and if my business is going to survive. I have to, at times like today, simply make do with second best, and hope that the core of my message, which is that I want you to order/pre-order my hot and sexy new anthology Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1 (I need a handy acronym for that title, don’t I?) so much I’ve spent $125 and am ready to mail out those gift cards next Tuesday, gets through. I have to trust that it will reach the people who will forgive me for not being a Photoshop wizard, who will be excited for the chance to win this giveaway and will want to support my work, the writing of these amazing authors and a small publisher. I will have to have faith that the universe will see that I did my best, but ultimately chose not to waste wearying, stressful hours trying to finish a visual task that I’m not suited for.

Am I giving up? On photo merging, yes. On other technical tasks that will not actually further my business because they take way too much time because I never learned how to do them? Yes. On my writing, my book, myself or my capacity to play to my strengths? Not for one second.

There’s a reason successful entrepreneurs say things like “Time is your No. 1 asset.” We only have so much of it in each day, week, and lifetime. Just as I weigh whether every penny I spend on my business is worthwhile, so too do I have to weigh whether my time is worth devoting to a given task, or if it could be better utilized in a more productive, income-generating or career-building way. I’ve been in this same situation countless times and usually I am so deep in the hole of hating myself for what I can’t do, I forget that what I can do is maximize the skills I have in the time I have to earn the most money possible. I forget that the book I’m so proud of has deeper roots than one little botched photo merge, and that my self-worth shouldn’t rest on any lone task or to do list item.

So I wrote this to remind myself, and you, that while we are often taught we need to do “everything” to further our businesses, no one person can literally do everything, nor do they need to to be successful. This is the same principle when I hear authors or students wonder, “Do I have to be on social media?” If it’s something you despise, aren’t good at, and are only going through the motions, my answer is generally no. Is being active on Twitter, Facebook, etc. likely to help your writing career? Yes. So too would being able to make those images into one help me plaster it around the internet and Instagram. But at what price? Half my day and me wanting to throw my laptop in the garbage? That’s just not a price I’m willing, or my business can afford, to pay.

Ultimately, it boils down to the Serenity Prayer for me (the first and most famous part; I’m more of a fan of self-reliance than I am of the latter part). When I say “G-d grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference,” I don’t say it as part of a 12-step program. I say it as a way to center myself, to not waste my time on fruitless, pointless endeavors, and to refocus my mind on the things I can, in fact, change. Yes, in this particular case, it’s possible that someday I will learn how to play with images and bend them to my will, but today is not that day, and I highly doubt I will somehow become an online photo savant who can whip up gorgeous visuals at a moment’s notice. To use a phrase that will probably annoy many readers, and often annoys me, but is so on point I can’t resist: that’s not on brand. My brand is about words: using my own, and encouraging others to use theirs. It has zero to do with fancy images, even if those might help me sell a few more books. I can live with the loss in sales if it means I have my priorities straight, my sanity intact, and my efforts trained toward reachable goals.

By focusing on selling my words today, by writing the essay and article I had planned for this morning and doing the researching and email outreach I need to for future ones, I can hopefully someday afford to hire someone who does know what they’re doing to make graphics for me. I’ve been lucky enough to have a partner and friends help me with some of my images in the past, but I don’t want to be a freeloader and want to compensate workers for their time, just as I would be for my work. It’s very easy to veer off course, as I did this morning, and be so consumed with some seemingly urgent but ultimately arbitrary achievement you forget to see the forest because you’re so busy with that one damn tree. In my head, solving that photo issue, which I did try to do with three separate apps or websites, would have meant some sort of book sales nirvana. In my head, that was my finish line, rather than a starting point, and only became more entrenched the more attempts I made. That’s exactly how I lose my focus, and I imagine I’m not the only one who does.

So with that, I will get back to my real work, the kind I know how to do.

Originally published at Lusty Lady

Rachel Kramer Bussel writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture. She’s the author of Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays and edited of over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, Dirty Dates: Erotic Fantasies for Couples, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, The Big Book of Orgasms, among others. She teaches erotica writing workshops at colleges, conferences, sex toy stores and online at LitReactor.com. She Tweets @raquelita. Get her monthly newsletter by signing up here.

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The curse of copyediting, or, there will probably be typos in my new book so I’m apologizing in advance

Now that my new anthology Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, is officially shipping from the printers to my door (and to bookstores everywhere very soon), it’s time I confessed something that I dread but know to be an inevitable truth: there will be typos in this book. I mean, I could be wrong, and between my ace copyediting skills and my publisher’s copyeditor, this could be one of the very few books that ever makes it to publication without typos. But I don’t think it will be.

I realized this as I spent many hours revisiting the stories in the book to copyedit it. I wound up turning in 74 changes to my publisher, then thought, If I found 74 errors, there’s got to be more. This is what keeps me up at night as an anthology editor. I already hate it when mistakes find their way into my writing, which is sometimes my fault for making errors, and sometimes means those inaccuracies have been introduced after the piece has left my computer/control. But either way, my name is going to be on the spine and cover of this book. As I learned in my intellectual property classes in law school, the individual stories may be copyrighted to the authors, but the book itself is my work, and my reputation is at stake.

So as much as I’m eagerly awaiting a giant box of books arriving at my home, I’m fearful. Because these are the kinds of things I asked my publisher to change:

change “Michoacan” to “Michoacán” (thank goodness for Google!)
change “onto to each other” to “onto each other”
change “Holyhot guy” to “Holy-hot guy”
on one line, I changed “my hands” to “my hand,” and two lines later, changed “my hand” to “my hands”

Were they mainly small changes? Mainly, yes, but some were big. Either way, I know that when I’m reading an ebook or print book and there’s a typo, it pulls me out of the story. Sometimes I have to pause and think, Is this what they really meant? I even called out a typo when writing an otherwise positive piece about a food erotica story, because when I read the sentence “Suddenly I felt it envelope my cock” it definitely pulled me out of the story.

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss, and for me, knowing there were so many typos that I found gave me pause. Will I be considered a horrible editor writers don’t want to work with if there’s something there shouldn’t be in their story? Or will writers understand that there are so many steps along the way of the publishing process that catching every single error in 65,000+ words is probably close to impossible?

I will certainly say that copyediting my book, one I’m so proud of and think is my very best work ever as an erotica anthology editor, one that I’m hoping goes on to be my bestselling anthology, gave me much more empathy for other authors and editors. I say this as someone who’s seen my last name misspelled on the cover of an anthology I had a story published in, which, I won’t lie, made me a little less inclined to promote it. But we are all human. It doesn’t matter that I teach erotica writing classes or have been widely published or “should have caught it.” The reality is: I’m not perfect (as you can probably tell by my poor Twitter screenshots embedded here). I make mistakes, just like everyone else, and I take responsibility for them, which is what I’m preemptively doing here.

Typos don’t care that I was a full-time magazine editor for seven years and spent much of that time wielding a red pen and the copyediting marks I was taught at that job, or that this is my 61st anthology or that I believe in it so strongly and am counting the days until publication. It doesn’t matter how many hours I hovered over those pages with my red pen, circling and underlining and noting questions and Googling. All that matters is the final product. In a day or two, that final book, in all its glossy, sexy, unchangeable glory, will be in my hands. I will be proud of it, and I hope the 22 other contributors who wrote amazing, daring, wonderful stories, will be too. But I apologize in advance for any typos you may find. I promise, I did my best, and I will continue to do so next time. Cliffhanger: stay tuned for my January announcement of a new call for submissions.

Originally published at Lusty Lady.

Rachel Kramer Bussel is a writer, editor, event organizer and writing instructor. She’s the author of Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays (Thought Catalog Books) and editor of over 60 anthologies, most recently Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, Dirty Dates: Erotic Fantasies for Couples and Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica (all Cleis Press). She writes widely about sex, dating, books, pop culture, feminism, body image, and hoarding. Rachel teaches erotica writing classes at colleges, conferences, sex toy stores and online at LitReactor.com. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and on Facebook. Sign up for her monthly newsletter at rachelkramerbussel.com.

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When the universe gives you a sign that you’re on the right path, embrace it

Originally published on Lusty Lady

Just about a year ago, I had a setback in my career that made me wonder if I was doing the right thing with my life. I was preparing to head out to Los Angeles, to write about Hello Kitty Con and teach an erotica writing class. About a week before the scheduled class, despite having been sent a contract, the organization that had booked me abruptly cancelled my workshop. They were the ones who approached me, and I had been counting on their fee to help cover some of my expenses.

I was shocked at this turn of events, appalled by the unprofessionalism of a group I had thought I could trust, but worst of all, it made me question my own instincts in terms of who I’d chosen to do business with and wonder if, since they’d cancelled because of low enrollment, I had a future in teaching erotica. Teaching had been one part of my creative business, alongside freelance writing, anthology editing and consulting, that I’d developed as part of my income stream, one that I’d been honing and improving at the more I did it. Last year, I also added an online teaching component via LitReactor.com, which opened up my teaching skills and breadth of my offerings. I had been feeling good about myself, and this utterly threw me for a loop.

After that LA fiasco, I had a choice to make: go big or go home. Well, I did literally go home to New Jersey, but figuratively, I decided to “go big,” but in my own way. I realized I had to do better due diligence when it came to partnering with other businesses or groups, rather than simply relying on whether a group looked impressive based on what they said about themselves. I had to start getting contracts in place that I was willing to go to bat to enforce, and to take myself seriously as both a teacher and a businesswoman.

I also came to the realization that one failed event does not make me a failure, and doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing. It means I’m growing and learning. It means I, like any small business, has ups and downs, and the downs are opportunities to assess where I’ve gone wrong and correct course, to figure out what to do differently next time.

2015 has been, far and away, what I’d consider the best year of my career. Yes, in 2014 I left a soulless job I despised to become a full-time magazine editor and became a columnist for a newspaper I’d read since my teen years, The Village Voice, thus leading me toward the career I have today, but I’d say 2015 tops that. I’ve written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine and Marie Claire, and many other new to me publications, taught online and in person workshops and, as I prepare to enter my forties, am trying to figure out how I can top this year by going deeper into my passions next year.

The past few weeks have brought numerous signs from the universe that, unlike what I’d thought in my most pessimistic moments a year ago, I’m indeed supposed to be doing exactly what I’m doing. My job is not to second guess that I’ve found my groove, but to hone and refine it. One is a mere vague, wispy possibility, that if it comes to fruition, would be amazing, and if that happens, I will shout it from the rooftops.

As for the other: on Wednesday night, after an incredibly long day in Portland, Maine, where I’d written three articles and was utterly exhausted, I opened iTunes and found a new episode of my new podcast obsession, Raise Your Hand. Say Yes. by Tiffany Han, was ready for my ears. I was excited that a friend, Kate McCombs, was on to talk about pleasure. I Tweeted about how cool that was. Then, as I lay there listening, I heard her single out my erotica books for praise. I can’t stress enough how thrilled that made me. It truly felt like some kind of divine sign, especially because I had a phone interview scheduled with Han the next day for an article I’m writing.

I’ll be sharing more about my upcoming LitReactor class, and am planning a new slate of writing class offerings for 2016. Most of all, during the last few months of this year, I’ll be assessing what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong, and working hard to embrace these signs and live up to their promise.

For more information about my next monthlong LitReactor class, which runs November 3-December 3, click here. And whatever your passion is, I hope you’re out there making it happen, and looking for signs to help you along your path. Don’t listen to the naysayers or believe that one blip is a reason to veer off course. Your job is to make your own course.

my LitReactor Between the Sheets online class runs November 3-December 3

Rachel Kramer Bussel writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture. She’s the author of Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays and edited of over 50 anthologies, including Dirty Dates: Erotic Fantasies for Couples, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, The Big Book of Orgasms, among others. She Tweets @raquelita.

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