Monday, September 26, 2016

Some Enchanted Evening



By Lisabet Sarai

Some enchanted evening
you may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
across a crowded room,
and somehow you know,
you know even then,
that somewhere you'll see her
again and again.

~ Oscar Hammerstein II, South Pacific

I’m willing to believe that love at first sight happens occasionally, but I haven’t experienced it myself. As I think I’ve shared here before, when I first met my husband (36 years ago!), I tried to discourage his obvious interest in me, because I already had too many men in my life. It took four months of cross-country correspondence and a month at my dying mother’s bedside for me to begin to understand what a special person he was.

My relationship with the man I call my master also developed gradually. We were casual friends for over a year, before he dropped out of grad school and headed for California. A lengthy epistolary seduction landed me in his bed and his bonds. (Hmm. Both cases involved writing. Is there a pattern here?)

I’ve certainly been hit by lust at first sightthat intense, immediate chemistry one sometimes feels when meeting a potential partner for the first time. That has rarely worked out well. Physical attraction and sexual compatibility just aren’t enough, by themselves, to support a serious relationship. I recall one guy, in particular, whom I met at a girlfriend’s wedding in San Francisco and found almost unbearably attractive. I gave him a lift back to the LA area, where we were both living at the time. We first had sex that very same evening. Definitely fireworks material. Before long, though, I realized that though I still wanted him, I didn’t like him much. He was immature, and not very trustworthy or honest. Still, we remained lovers for a couple of months, mostly because of the sex. I felt a sense of relief when we finally broke up.

Love at first sight is of course a common trope in romance, but it’s difficult to make the phenomenon convincing. When it’s done well, the couple almost always questions the reality of the connection. The characters know that this kind of immediate bond is rare. In fact, coming to believe in their own love can be a central story conflict.

As I mentally review my own backlist, I can’t think of a single contemporary or historical title in which my protagonists fell instantly in love. In paranormal romance, though, I’ve found I can stretch plausibility. My paranormal titles sometimes feature what I call “magical lust”—an instant, irresistible attraction between the protagonists that derives from their fated connection. Characters in a paranormal book are often lovers by destiny. Their complementary powers draw them together. Often they’re mystified by the potent forces that bind them, but readers understand and welcome this kind of attraction (which is, after all, another trope).

Here’s an example from my novella Rough Weather.


A high-pitched whine drew her attention to the tumbled boulders that marked the eastern extent of the beach. Atop the pile of rock crouched a dark-skinned man, boring into the surface with some kind of drill.

Hey! What are you doing?” Ondine strode towards the interloper, still holding her discarded clothing. “That noise—you’ll disturb the fish!” She halted on the sand below his perch, one hand shielding her eyes from the glare. “Stop that this instant!”

The stranger raised his head and fixed her with eyes like polished jet, set in a proud face almost as black. A cloud of wiry hair haloed his skull. He flipped a switch and the irritating noise died. His full lips parted in a confident smile, revealing even, pearly teeth. He rose to his full height—at least six feet, she guessed, though her position made him look even taller—and gazed down at her.

Self-consciousness blasted through her as she suddenly remembered she was naked. Hot blood raced to her face while her nipples tightened into ruddy peaks, and an echo of her recent climax shimmered in her still-damp pussy.

The stranger looked distinctly amused, as though he sensed the physical effects his presence triggered. There was something else, too, an unnerving sense of familiarity, although Ondine was certain she’d never met this man before.

She squared her shoulders, ignoring her embarrassment as best she could. She wasn’t ashamed of her body—far from it. “You can’t drill here. Tide pool habitats are very sensitive. The vibrations could kill crustacean larvae, for a start, and confuse organisms that rely on echolocation…”

The black man’s grin grew broader. He scanned her nude figure with deliberate and obvious interest before he answered. Ondine’s nipples ached under his scrutiny, even as her blood boiled at his brazen attitude.

I have a permit.” His voice had an unexpected softness, with a faint hint of the Caribbean. He rifled in the pocket of his tight jeans and pulled out a sheet of paper, which he offered her. “Mass DEP. Go ahead and check. I think you’ll find it’s all in order.”

The sun beat down, hotter than ever. Sweat gathered under her arms and at the back of her neck. Ignoring the proffered permit, she planted her fists on her hips and summoned every ounce of authority she could muster.

This beach is private, reserved for Katama residents. What’s your business here?”

Stuffing the permit back into his pants, he sank into a crouch to pick up a piece of equipment that he’d propped against a rock, next to a two-meter steel pole. His thigh muscles flexed against taut denim as he rose. His white T-shirt emphasised his ebony skin, sculpted pectorals and massive biceps—her mouth felt dry and her pussy, wet. “I’m installing a temporary meteo-hydrographic monitoring station.” The device bristled with lenses, buttons and dials, the pinwheel of an anemometer, and the tongue-like extrusion of a rain gauge. “Come on up. Take a look.”

Just a minute.” She stepped into her shorts, then pulled her shirt over her head, trying to ignore the sensation of fleece brushing across her naked breasts. In her bare feet, she clambered up over the knobby, rust-coloured stone until she stood beside him. He towered over her. She caught a whiff of sandalwood and coconut oil and was washed by sudden desire.

He pointed to a white plastic rectangle. “This is the hygrometer, the humidity sensor.”

Yes, yes, I understand. You’ve got a laser ceilometer for cloud height, I see, and an infrared camera for thermal imaging…”

What…?”

She found his surprise gratifying, as he realised she wasn’t just a naked, blonde beach bunny.

I’m a marine biologist. We use similar devices in my lab at Woods Hole. But VineyardAirport has a full suite of weather instrumentation. Why are you installing this system here?”

I’m working on the design for an offshore wind farm.”

Wind mills?” Her indignation returned, blasting through her with hurricane fury. “Those spell death for sea birds!”

We’re doing research—”

And the awful, endless hum disorients cetaceans. They swim in circles until they starve to death!” She snatched the apparatus and held it above her head, threatening to smash it upon the rocks.

Don’t! Please!” Seizing both her wrists in one massive hand, he pried the delicate gadget from her clutches with the other.

She did not fight him. When he touched her, her anger fled as quickly as it had arisen, to be replaced by irresistible, irrational lust. Her pussy gushed and her clit pulsed between her thighs. Electricity zipped along her limbs. Her modest breasts felt huge and heavy, aching for contact.

The stranger’s eyes grew wide. Sweat beaded on his forehead. She dropped her gaze to his crotch. A visible bulk distended the fabric there, evidence that he shared her reactions.

Without releasing her, he placed the weather station upon an outcrop, then dragged her into a rough embrace. Their lips mashed together as they grappled, tearing at one another’s clothing in a desperate quest for bare skin. The rusty taste of blood flooded her mouth. She’d bitten her own lip in her hunger for him. His flavour was spicy with a burnt edge, like an autumn breeze. His brazen tongue mirrored the frantic dance of his hands on her flesh.

She wormed her hands into his trousers so she could grip the smooth, solid curve of his buttocks. The muscles tightened and shifted under her palms as he ground his hardness against her. Her shorts hung loose on her hips. He dragged them down to her knees and plunged his fingers into her drenched cunt, smothering her moan of delight with another fierce kiss.

Ondine fumbled with the stranger’s zipper as he delved into her core, pushing her closer to the edge. She needed to complete the circle of pleasure, to feel him hard and smooth and slick in her hand. The pressure of his swollen flesh against his fly and the exquisite play of his fingers in her sex combined to render her task almost impossible. Finally, using both hands, she managed to open a gap big enough to release his cock from its prison. Now she made him moan, as she stroked his taut shaft and coaxed him towards release.

Oh, ah, Father Legba! Oh, woman, you will undo me…!”

The man sank to his knees, and she followed, unwilling to relinquish her hard-won grip on his cock. He fisted her hair to take possession of her mouth again. She drank in the heat of him, the taste of him, at once strange and familiar, pumping his cock all the while. Gravel tore at her knees as she opened her thighs to expose her needy cleft. His thumb found her clit, sending bolts of sensation roiling through her. She rolled her thumb over his slick bulb in return. Waves of tension rippled up the shaft, proof of his struggle for control.

Somehow he’d ripped her shirt open. He bent his head to suckle her and she felt the same pull deep in her centre. His teeth closed around her aching nipple. She raked her nails along his length.

His cock shuddered and jerked in response, spilling warm fluid into her palm. At the same instant, he captured her clit between two fingers and squeezed.

~~~

The characters go from adversaries to lovers in seconds. As it turns out, Ondine is a Water Elemental and Marut is an Air Elemental. They have been lovers for eons, reborn in each generation. They’re fated to be together, to balance the varied forces of Nature. Though they don’t understand their connection, they can’t help but surrender themselves to magical lust, and to love.

Writing this sort of scene is a guilty pleasure. I know this kind of overwhelming, magic-enhanced attraction probably doesn’t exist. It sure is fun, though, to pretend that it does.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Power of Silence

by Jean Roberta

As the person who posts last in a two-week (or fortnightly – such a handy word) cycle here at the Grip, I get to read everyone else’s post first. Much has been said about criticism, insults, negative messages aimed at us and/or our writing.

I’ve experienced some of that too, especially the question, “Why don’t you write serious literature instead?”

However, the most devastating message can be silence. If someone accuses you in words of something you haven’t done, you can defend yourself with words. If someone interprets what you have done in a way that seems insulting, you can critique their critique. If someone refuses to speak to you, the message is unanswerable. Whatever you say in response is likely to seem hysterical or unjustified – because they didn’t actually say anything, at least to your face. And the misunderstanding, the credibility gap, or the conflict goes on as though preserved in cotton wool.

“Jean, you’re just so --.”

The “co-operating” teacher never finished her sentence. Apparently she couldn’t find an adjective that was negative enough to describe me. It was the spring of 1980, and I was a student teacher in a large high school that served the upper-middle-class South End of town.

From the beginning of my four-month stint, there was tension. I already had a four-year university degree in English, and I had done all the classes for a BEAD (Bachelor of Education After Degree). All I had left to do was to get a passing grade on my practicum from my Faculty Advisor, who got his information from three “co-operating” teachers, all of whom had Education degrees only. They clearly thought I was over-educated. They all knew that if I got a pass, I would immediately graduate and enter the public school system as a high school English teacher, and I might get paid better than they did, due to my greater knowledge of language and literature. They had been wrangling teenagers for years, and they were inclined to think I was an educated fool.

Besides all this, I wasn’t Sally (as I’ll call her). This was my predecessor in the role of student teacher, and all the regular staff glowed when they mentioned her name. She must have done an excellent job of sucking up. And now here I was in her place.

Of course, I had discipline problems in the classes I was allowed (expected) to teach. Students act up when a student teacher is trying to maintain some sort of order. It’s a tradition.

I had been told that my three “co-operating” teachers would mentor me, explain their own techniques, and give me advice and support. Instead, they let me take over their classes while they hung out in the staff lounge.

At the end of four months, my three “mentors” told my Faculty Advisor that I wasn’t the stuff of which teachers are made. Faculty Advisor told me I wasn’t passing, just before I headed into a classroom of rowdy eighth-graders; later, he commented that I didn’t maintain enough discipline. (I was aware of the flying spitwads in the class, but I hadn’t found a way to force thirty kids to sit still and pay attention to me.)

Right afterward, there was a “conference” of five: Faculty Advisor, the three witches from Macbeth – uh, my “mentors” – the head of the English Department in that school, and me. One of the Team of Three smoked silently (smoking was allowed then), looked disapprovingly around the room, and hardly spoke. Another one listed my many faults, including my apparent inability to relate to high school students because I knew my subject-matter too well. The youngest one said I had an “unapproachable personality,” then made the comment quoted above, with the missing modifier.

What wasn’t said aloud upset me more than the actual complaints, which I could dispute. (But of course, when I disagreed with anyone in the room, that seemed to confirm my hostile, unapproachable nature.)

Later, I asked my Faculty Advisor what was the outcome, since he had the right to decide. He decided that I should continue my practicum, which was to last for another week, and then he would pronounce judgment. So the torture dragged on.

When my sentence was over, the youngest “co-operating” teacher told me that of course I hadn’t passed, and that this had been made clear to everyone involved, including me. (This seemed like another reference to a resounding silence.) Faculty Advisor said he felt uncomfortable giving me a failing grade, even though the practicum was supposed to be a pass or fail kind of deal. Since he didn’t think I had failed, exactly, and the Panel of Three thought I certainly had, he gave me an “Incomplete,” a kind of non-grade which prevented me from getting the degree I had worked for. To get the degree, I would have had to repeat the practicum.

So the loaded silence of those who judged me unsuitable became a gap on my resume. Luckily, I didn’t need an Education degree to teach at the university level, where knowledge is not frowned on. What I needed was a Master’s degree, which involved a somewhat different kind of torture – yet silence was still the method of choice of my new Advisor, who ignored my thesis-in-progress for months.

Before and after my stint in the High School Jungle, I often wondered whether my parents’ belief that I was hysterical and delusional (which they formed after I tried to commit suicide after being raped in my first year of university) still held, and whether my younger sisters really believed I was the madwoman of the family.

Months would pass when no one in the family called me insane – not exactly. My mother liked the term “high-strung,” which was vague enough that I couldn’t disprove it. How could I show that I was actually low-strung, or perfectly tuned? My sisters had their own concerns. So I would tell myself that bygones were bygones, and that if I noticed some eye-rolls around the supper table after I said something about the existence of institutional violence in any form, I was probably imagining the silent sarcasm.

Then something would happen to remind me that my image as the Madwoman was firmly intact. After the first time I brought my current spouse home to meet my family, she seemed shaken, and she urged me never to list my parents as my “next of kin” on any form that would give them legal power over me.

Later, she explained that my parents had taken her aside to tell her I was “completely lost,” that I didn’t know what I wanted in life (I thought I did), and that I really needed a husband to take care of me. This advice was clearly intended to scare off a lesbian date. Being the radical she is, Spouse rose to the occasion, told my parents she knew everything she needed to know about me, and that she would form her own opinions.

Since then, my parents have passed into a deeper silence, and my sisters no longer speak to me. Their silence doesn’t feel peaceful, but I can’t believe my well-intentioned friends who assure me that a “good talk” amongst the three of us would resolve a lifetime of distrust and disbelief. In some cases, silence is probably the only logical response.

--------------

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Letting Them Win

by Annabeth Leong

I’ll never forget the way my stomach squirmed the first time I put on a bra. It was an unbearable sensation, and all I wanted was to take the thing off again. It felt mortifying to me that my dad had “noticed” that I “needed” one now. I didn’t understand what it meant to “need” this garment.

So I avoided wearing bras. I basically didn’t wear them at all until I started going to high school, at which point my mom managed to convince me to wear one for all of freshman year. Sophomore year, I stopped a second time, and didn’t put one on again until after grad school, at which point I was so desperate to get a job that I was afraid to do anything that might give someone an excuse not to hire me. I asked my sister in law to help me buy some bras before my first interview.

Over the years I didn’t wear a bra, all sorts of people felt free to tell me that I needed one.

To me, the embarrassment and discomfort produced by a bra outweighed whatever I might go through if I didn’t put the thing on. I hated being talked to about my breasts, but that discomfort was small compared to the panic I felt about them.

This earned me a ton of detractors, who fit into several categories:

A) The modesty police: These people seemed to believe that I was forgoing a bra in order to (pick one or more) steal their boyfriends, invite people to look at my breasts, attract men generally, or engage in other forms of sluttiness. Somehow, these people believed this despite the fact that the thing I wore most commonly over my breasts was a XXL black T-shirt, which I chose specifically for its shapelessness. This is a paradox I’ve never been able to sort out. Having now gone through a femme period, I can attest that wearing a low-cut blouse and demi pushup bra, the combination of which bares me nearly down to the nipple, wins me nothing but social approval. On the other hand, my anguish over this garment I couldn’t bear to put on, a fact I attempted to hide with the giant T-shirt, somehow made people think I was out to find a boyfriend.

B) The concern trolls: These people went out of their way to explain the health problems that would likely ensue from my refusal to wear a bra. According to them, I would have back pain and my breasts would sag down to my navel before I reached forty. It is truly amazing how many random strangers over the years have worried for me about the future perkiness (or lack thereof) of my breasts. It would be one thing, I guess, if any of these people had been my doctor. However, they tended to be people like the woman working the cafeteria line at my college, strangers at department stores, and the like.

C) People out to cop a feel: There were also people who believed that the only reason I wasn’t encasing my breasts in a bra was that I must want someone (they volunteered!) to grab my breasts. These people seem to ascribe to the bodies as valuable property metaphor which causes so many problems whenever it pops up. According to them, not wearing a bra was akin to leaving my wallet on a subway bench. I was, apparently, begging for them to reach in(to my shirt) and pull out my nipples/my money. These people varied from shouting their enthusiasm for my breasts to giving uncomfortably lingering hugs to actually reaching into my shirt. They were enthusiastic supporters unless and until I made it clear that my breasts weren’t for them, at which point they became heartfelt detractors.

***

Highlights of the experience:

That time I joined a club and the women called each other to figure out who should be the one to talk to me about how I ought to be wearing a bra. I found out when a woman did talk to me about it, and then later, the woman I was closest to in the club confessed to me that she’d gotten phone calls about this, too.

That time I went to (an open church service at) a monastery and a woman pulled me aside to hiss, “You need to wear a bra among these men.”

That time in college when my breasts were the answer to a trivia question in a joke quiz sent to the entire school.

All the times I got picked for greeting committees, handing out awards, or really any thin excuse to have me hug a lot of people (because my breasts were a special extra reward!).

***

One reason this always bothered me was I really felt incapable of wearing a bra for a lot of years. I’d panic at the department store, panic when I saw a bra, panic when I tried to put one on, panic when I saw myself in the mirror wearing one. If I did wear one, when I took it off at the end of the day, I’d feel this lingering, itching cling that I couldn’t get off.

I’ve never understood exactly what was going on with all this, but it put me in a weird position. My reason for not wearing a bra wasn’t on people’s radar, they kept making weird assumptions about why I wasn’t putting one on, and the last thing I wanted to do was discuss this awkward psychological state with hostile strangers.

These days, I wonder if there are elements of gender dysphoria to this. I’ve been curious how I would feel binding my breasts, and have wondered if that might give me some relief from my constant discomfort with them. It’s hard to explain how much fear I feel about this line of thinking, though.

I do wear bras now, but I still have a hard time buying them. I went into a Victoria’s Secret with my ex-girlfriend and started panicking just standing in line with her. I think the big reason I wear them at the moment is that I’ve gotten more afraid of all the unwanted attention from strangers. Though I know it isn’t true, there’s a part of me that fears I’d be inviting even more street harassment if I went back to dressing the way that makes me comfortable.

This is nonsense, though. I’ve received unwanted attention from strangers all my life, with and without bras, dressed well or dressed badly, in any and all conditions.

However, in the case of bras, the detractors eventually won the day. I put one on in the morning because it seems like I do “need” it if I don’t want my breasts to become a topic of conversation while I’m buying a coffee.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

High Hopes




by Daddy X


When I first stared writing erotica, I was desperate for someone to read my work. Momma X (greatest editor on earth) isn’t interested in erotica. And friends? They’ll say either what you want to hear, because they don’t want to hurt you, or, they never speak to you again. :>)  

I’m sure there’ve been such times, frustrating for everyone, times before getting to know and appreciate the supportive folks in this erotica-writing community.

After an introduction by a mutual friend (call her Elaine) I approached a local mainstream author with professional editing skills. She was between projects, and though never having considered writing or editing erotica, she agreed to have a go. I sent a check as a retainer.

The following (except my comments within parens) is her report, word for word:

9 June 2011

Dear (Daddy)

As you see, I’m returning your check
  

                                              

(See notation on check)

Let me explain a bit. I read the stories in the order in which you described them, began making notes about such matters as run on sentences and phrases, and in the particular problems as I saw them with each one, as in The Gift when it was difficult to know the age of the first person narrator. A man of, say, 75, fanaticizing like that about a teenager has a creep factor beyond dirty old man. Good closing scene of the girl’s lover recognizing your (sic) lust, and showing her dominance, I wrote, then went on to Stairmaster, (avail. The Gonzo Collection) noting some funny lines, eg, “The ladies frequenting the apparatus right in front of me are quite concerned with their posteriors. So am I.”

(Stick with it. This builds)

Puzzlement got the best of me in “Case Closed” about the trio in the car, and “Tenters” (First ever submission, Naughty Nights Press. First acceptance. Batting 1000 for a while. Yay! Now avail. Brand X) when I didn’t know if the reader is supposed to think the man’s wife is in bed alone or not. I thought she was. There is a good description of the girl with “bright rosy cheeks and dimples of the Anglo Celts over fine and fair Norse skin, accentuated with the full black tresses, dark features, and even darker passions fathered by Roman seminal overflows from occupied England.” But I was confused by the back-and-forth narrative. In retrospect, I appreciated that at least in this story, everyone was willing.

As for “Phyllis Diddle”, I didn’t know if the language was mock-offensive or real offensive.

Finally I read, skimming some passages, “Suasion” and “A Woman In My Position”. (Gonzo Collection; previously, ERWA Gallery and Treasure Chest) I found the depictions of the humiliated women, written in the first person, so excruciatingly offensive and pathetic, that I realized whatever I might have to say about scenes, voice, and more—basic editing advice—would be impossible for me to give.  I could not overcome my discomfort at their appalling self-hatred and wretched lives. Some may consider there to be philosophical elements, but to me everything was obscured by sado-machochism. (sic)

So, rather than spend more hours trying to put together helpful suggestions for the collection as a whole, I am bowing out, gratis. I know Elaine considers you a friend and fine person, and that made me decide to agree to read the stories. By the end, though, I had to recognize that whatever your work needs, I am not the right editor for it.

Sincerely,
(Name deleted to protect the innocent.)



(Sigh)

Me again.

That obviously didn’t deter me. I figured if she came on that strong, the work must be effective on some level.

At that point, I took some workshops with Susie Bright, who was apparently impressed with my stuff and referred me to the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. The kind folks at ERWA and editor Lisabet Sarai helped turn these stories into quality products.

I haven’t asked ‘Elaine’ if the woman ever mentioned anything.


Brand X   https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DONG9R2/#nav-subnav
Or, hit the cover at your right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Frenemies and other human detritus by Suz deMello

Humans are very much like wolves. You want to know about human behavior? Watch a TV show about wolves, and you'll learn everything you need to know.

We're social, pack animals who create hierarchies without intending to do so. And in any hierarchical society, there are those who seek to improve their status by undercutting others. Some are open about it, while others are sneaky.

And thus, we have the frenemy.

Most often found in work environments, the frenemy is just what s/he sounds like--an enemy disguised as a friend--think Littlefinger in Game of Thrones. The term was popularized by Sex and the City, but was used as early as the 1950s by, of all people, Walter Winchell, who used it in regard to the Russians.

Whenever I hear someone who is not my family member say, "We're family," I know I'm going to get screwed.

Case in point: in 2009 I worked as a grant writer for an outfit in downtown Sacramento that was in the business of ripping off taxpayers. We were family (of course) according to the ripoff artist who ran the show.

What this business did was apply for and get state contracts for projects that were, for whatever reason, farmed out to unrelated business entities instead of being handled in-house by government workers. I never was able to find out how or why this took place. The state of California employs about 2.5 million people, and you'd think that among that large number, there would be someone who could do whatever it is or was that needed to be done.

This company specialized in project management and computer software system design for various parts of this vast, sprawling monster. As such, it was easy for them to claim that work had been done while actually very little or nothing had taken place. 

Here's an example: there's something called a "deliverable" that can be something--or nothing at all. I regret that I didn't keep any--this was a few years ago--but I saw deliverables that were no more than a one vaguely worded paragraph about how someone had written a few lines of software or visited a job site.

I didn't get paid much, and even though I held down  two other jobs--one as a Starbucks barista and another as a freelance writer--I couldn't make ends meet. So I left to go overseas to teach English, a gig I'd still be doing if I didn't need to live in SacTown for family reasons.

I left the job owed over $3K but didn't worry about it. We were family, right?

Not.

I had to sue those Bozos in Small Claims Court just before I left the country. I won, of course, but had to enforce the judgment from overseas. FROM CHINA, where I was teaching English to toddlers in a backwater called Luoyang. Though about five million people live there, it's primitive by American standards. I had to travel to Shanghai to visit the US Embassy to get papers notarized to enforce the judgment and get my money--including interest, of course. I was angry enough that I wasn't going to let a single penny slip through my grasp. I actually had to put a lien on the asshat's house--the guy who told me I was "family." Ha.

No one but family is family.

Help me
I'm not so suspicious that I believe that frenemies are lurking everywhere, but... I have experienced so many betrayals that, deep down, the only person I really trust is the person I see in the mirror when I brush my hair.

And I'm not so sure about her.

We're often our biggest detractors especially women. Brutal self-examination is taught to us from an early age. We undercut ourselves in ways we don't even see because negative self-talk and programming is instilled from Day One. We're compared, often unfavorably, with our siblings, and when we get to school, it's even worse. Instead of being appreciated for whatever our gifts might be, we're taught that we're not so hot. 

As we become adults, it's clear that we'll never be thin enough, blonde enough, sexy enough. 

The entire world has become our frenemy, our detractor.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Too Old to Scold

Sacchi Green

My family have always been book lovers, but on the whole they haven’t looked down on any particular genre, or on genre as opposed to “literary” fiction. Erotica may be an exception, but by the time I started writing it and mentioned it in passing when they’d ask if I was still writing, I was too old to scold, if there can be such a thing.

My parents couldn’t even get their minds around the science fiction and fantasy I wrote, so they didn’t expect me to share any more of my writing with them. The only story I ever published that they really understood and liked was a short story I wrote for one of those “One Hundred Little (whatever)” anthologies Barnes & Noble used to put out, in this case One Hundred Crafty Cat Tales. The stories were supposed to be mysteries, but it turns out that not very many mystery writers wanted to—or maybe could—write very short stories. The editor had connections in the sf/f community, so he circulated his Call for Submissions there, and I dashed off a story about a cat and a homing pigeon military station on the English Coast during WWII, where the pigeons were used to bring messages from the troops in Europe. (My title was Cat Among the Pigeons, but as it turned out, the cat wasn’t guilty of pigeon murder, but he did inadvertently help to catch a German spy.) Anyway, that story is the only one that has been shared with various relatives, most of whom have passed away by now.

My mother would have liked me to write mystery novels.  She was a librarian who read widely and kept abreast of book reviews, etc., in order to know what to order for the library and recommend to readers, but mysteries were what she read for pleasure, along with some kinds of romances. She introduced me to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances before I ever got to Jane Austen. My father preferred non-fiction history and biography, but his comfort reading was westerns. I don’t recall them ever prompting me to write “serious” or “literary” books, but I think they did wish I’d write things with a wider appeal.

At this point I kind of wish I did, too. I was in NYC this weekend—in fact I’m writing this post on a bumpy bus ride on the way home—and made a dispiriting discovery. I always go the Barnes&Noble Mothership in Union Square to see if they have my books, and they always used to have at least the newer ones. The B&N branch near my home stopped displaying any LGBTQ fiction a year or so ago (just in time for the edition of Best Lesbian Erotica that I edited not to be on the shelves,) but surely the big store in  new York would still have them! But no. I asked where that section had been moved to, and was directed to a small table at the back of an escalator that had maybe a dozen nonfiction gay books spread on it,. That was all.  I checked the small anthology section, too, where one used to be able to find straight erotica anthologies like Best Women’s Erotica, but still with no luck. I suppose the rationale (and reality) is that people only buy that sort of thing online these days, but not having them visible on bookstore shelves is bound to cut into our sales and readership severely.

My New York trip was not, however, all that dispiriting. I was there to do a reading with writers from my latest anthology (including our own Annabeth Leong) at Bluestockings Books, one of the few surviving and, as far as I can see, thriving “alternative” bookstores that were fairly common in urban areas a decade ago. All of my readers were outstanding, and so was the audience, absolutely filling the space, showing appreciation, and even, I think, buying a fair number of books. One of the workers told me she’d never seen such a big crowd in all the time she’s worked there, but I missed my chance to ask her how long that was. I’ve seen audiences that big there a few times over the years, but not recently.

What I take from all that is that yes, erotica writers are in trouble when it comes to showing up in major bookstores (if, in fact there are any “major” bookstores left,) but there’s still an appreciative audience out there, which is something.

I can’t resist going off-topic here to say that after the reading, several of us (including Annabeth Leong and Jeremy Edwards, who wasn’t in this book but has been in others of mine,) staked out a table at Katz’s Famous Deli and discussed the evils and occasional joys of the writing and publishing world well into the night. We don’t know how to solve the problems, but we sure know how to have fun ranting and gossiping about it. Actually, I may have been the only one gossiping; my mind gets fuzzy after matzo ball soup and too many blintzes. And mustard, but that’s Jeremy’s story, so I won’t tell it here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Disapproval of Strangers

From the early years of life we encounter detractors of all kinds. Sometimes we learn to just roll with the criticism, other times it seems impossible not to take it as gospel. It can be as personal as hell, but there’s still an element to it which is bearable, because it’s a genuine exchange. Face to face, the person insulting and the person being insulted are potentially on level pegging. The insulter runs the risk of direct physical repercussions. At some level they’re actually genuinely invested in the exchange, even if all they’ve done is call you names.
With the explosion of social media over the past ten to twelve years, though, one of the most noticeable effects is a plethora of new people to hate on you. And plenty who love on you as well, but this blog is about the detractors so let’s save the lovers for laterz.
Probably my biggest bugbear with the communication of social media is the evil twin version of my favorite part. Its immediacy and vitality. The fact you can have a real-time conversation with someone in another country is still exciting to me, even after ten years of doing it. Firstly through email, now more generally through Facebook.
But because of that same immediacy, misinterpretations seem to abound far more easily. I made a post on Facebook about that very thing late last month and am cannibalizing it for this blog, in fact.
My feeling is that many forms of social media offer us a “disconnected connection”. We interact with the pictures and words of people we, in all likelihood, will never see in person. Often not even on video. Just static pictures and quick stabs of text. 
On many occasions, you’re probably dealing with someone you consider a friend, but even so, conversations are often limited to nothing but the words. No vocal tone, and no body language. Mistakes can come much more easily, but at least with a friend there’s usually the benefit of the doubt. They might think you’ve said something terrible about their mother, but they’ll wait for you to explain or they’ll politely enquire.
In the hurly-burly of general social media, such as commenting on a Facebook post, you open yourself up to all kinds of people. Unlike your friends, and even unlike your childhood detractors, these strangers have absolutely nothing invested in the exchange. They can crap on your comment with no repercussions beyond what they choose. They can drop their “gold” and never return to the thread.
And so often, our beautiful English language becomes a type of Rorschach test, where folks look at your words and find a butterfly. Or a serial killer wearing a corset.
In later life those of us who go on to work in creative fields tend to unwittingly court detractors from far and wide as a direct effect of us putting so much of ourselves out there. Not necessarily our personal lives, but every piece we create in any field bears part of our souls, or some such fancy-pants malarkey. It’s inevitable that someone hating on my story is really hating on the precious wonder which is me.
Touching on part of Giselle’s blog, the way I see all this relating to writers and writing is through reviews. Fly-by one-stars are not uncommon these days, and there isn’t really any ground I can stand on to say any review is or is not warranted. For myself, I struggle to think of a genuine (i.e. non-scammy) book I’ve ever seen which would truly deserve only one star, but others feel differently and that is, of course, their right.
What does bother me about it, though, is again the lack of investment. Where a book critic is paid by a publication to accurately review a story, they have something to lose by being untruthful or juvenile or just plain wrong. And that is, their job. That’s obviously not true for our keyboard warriors out there.
But what I’ve come to realize is how easy it can be to simply put aside the distraction of detraction. Whether it’s someone’s utterly bizarre comment on Facebook which shows they completely misunderstood your meaning, or a rant-infused review of your book which makes you doubt they even saw it, let alone read it, there’s one piece of Willsin’s Wisdom which gets me through.


The only power in a stranger’s disapproval, is that which we give it.