Thursday, December 14, 2017

Taking a Hiatus

by Annabeth Leong

Hi everyone! I’m sorry my posting schedule has gotten out of whack these past several months.

I very much value my involvement with the Grip. It’s been immensely rewarding to participate in our fortnightly topics--writing for them, reading your thoughts, and discussing things that come up with people in the comments. I don’t want to give that up.

At the same time, I need a break to get things more in order on my end, and I don’t want to keep letting you guys down while I work on that.

I talked to Lisabet, and she’s agreed to let me take a hiatus until mid-January. So I’ll be quiet here until then, but I’m very excited to get back with you once that time has passed. Happy holidays and New Year to all of you!

<3

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fantasy Madness

Sacchi Green

Madness, by whatever definition, isn’t something I’ve known much about except from its outer edges. Depression doesn’t count, I think, on its own. OCD (Obessessive/Compulsive Disorder) may come close, and in the case of a family member it had some bizarre manifestations, but medication helped considerably. Dementia I saw all too closely, although my mother at least always knew who we were.

As a writer, though, madness is tempting as a subject for fiction. I haven’t gone that route, as far as I can remember, possibly because anything I write that seems like it could concern madness turns out to be fantasy, so that what would seem like madness in the “real” world is reality in that fantasy world. I’ve been tempted a time or two to insert a twist at the end of a story revealing that the point-of-view character is, in fact, mad, and has been imagining it all, but that’s an outworn trope, and in any case I wouldn’t do that to my characters.

But I’ve just had the crazy thought that readers entirely captivated by a fictional world could be, in a sense, temporarily mad. Willing suspension of disbelief might be a very distant cousin of unwitting separation from reality, but a cousin nonetheless. Right? No? Okay, I guess that's just my own dubious hold on reality speaking. Still, there have been cases where people (usually adolescents) already unbalanced for one reason or another have become so intensely immersed in fiction that they act out dangerous and destructive scenarios, although their inspirations tend to come from social media or movies or “indie” rock bands rather than the written word.  

Fantasy fiction comes in various forms. Writers of stories set in fantasy worlds need to build those worlds to be convincing within the context of the story as a whole, and those who can do that—Tolkien, for example—make magic seem real and inevitable. Fiction set in our recognizably real world has to approach things differently. The Harry Potter stories are set in a world-within-a-world, coexisting with reality, while the thousands of stories featuring vampires or werewolves can rely on their fans’ super-willing suspension of disbelief. Some do more than others to consider the way their characters may think they’re going mad when they first encounter the supernatural elements.

I’ve touched on that last element several times in minor ways. Level-headed, common-sense Emmaline, for instance, in my ghost story “Spirit Horse Ranch,” doesn’t want to tell her partner about having her hair yanked by invisible fingers down in her root cellar, even though she’s having trouble convincing herself that it was only a rat. (Apologies for repeating something I’ve shared before, but only a little of this was in that excerpt.)
_______________
From “Spirit Horse Ranch”

 Sigri’d noticed something, though. “You okay, babe?” She stroked the loose tangle of hair Emmaline had forgotten to tidy. Fear came surging back.
With her arms around Sigri’s lean body and her head nestled against a firm shoulder, Emmaline managed to say, “Sure I’m okay. How’d it go in Bozeman?”
“Not too bad.” Sigri tried to get a look at Emmaline’s face.
Emmaline burrowed a little closer, then tilted her head back for a kiss. Chinook, firmly trained not to interrupt such proceedings, lay down with her head between her paws, and then, impatient, went to nose around the edges of the trapdoor.
Emmaline became vaguely aware of the rattle of some small object being pushed around the floor behind her. Sigri, looking past her shoulder, broke the clinch. “What’s that dratted dog got? Chicken bone?”
“Not from my kitchen…” Emmaline stopped. Chinook was offering her prize to Sigri. Held tenderly, in jaws trained to pick up eggs without breaking them, was a four-inch sticklike object. Not, they both knew, a stick. Bone, but not chicken bone. Chickens don’t have fingers.
Sigri knelt. “Good girl,” she said, ruffling the dog’s ears. She took the bone and inspected it. “Not fresh, at least. Old. Real old, I’d say, but not prehistoric. Where’d you get that?” She looked up. “Where’s she been?”
Emmaline managed to yank a chair out from the table and slump into it. “Just here, in the house, or right beside me outdoors. And…down in the root cellar. I was putting up some more shelves.”
Sigri’s long body straightened. She hauled out a chair, straddled it backwards, and surveyed Emmaline keenly. “Down in the dugout? Guess you must have been hammering up some storm to get yourself so bedraggled.”
“Well, I was,” Emmaline said, steadying herself with pure stubbornness. “I built a good strong set of shelves. And maybe shook a little dirt lose from the wall, but I swear there wasn’t any crack big enough for…for a rat.”
“What’s a rat got to do with it?”
“Nothing!” Emmaline fastened her hair back tight with the rubber band from the bundle of mail. A couple of magazines unfurled to show covers she wouldn’t have wanted the local postmistress to see, which, along with the occasional specialty mail order delivery, was why they kept a post office box in the university town of Bozeman.
“Then why’d you mention it? Come on, Em, tell me what’s been going on.”
Emmaline drew a deep breath, let it out, and tried again. “I don’t know. Maybe one of those flashback things like they write about. But I was feeling so happy right then, safe, my preserves and vegetables all set for winter…and when I felt somebody behind me I figured it was you.” She reached out a hand. In an instant Sigri’s fingers were warm and firm on hers.
“But it wasn’t you,” Emmaline went on. “Somebody…something…yanked hard on my hair, pulled my head right back, just like that old bastard used to do. I yelled and swung the hammer and jerked around, and…nobody was there. Just Chinook, scrambling down the stairs growling fit to scare a bear from its den.”
Sigri looked a shade paler under her tan, but her voice held steady. “Good for her!” She stood to pull Emmaline into another hug. “So what’s this about the rats?”
“Nothing, really. She just went poking and whining at the rough spot in the wall, and wouldn’t come upstairs until I started to close the trapdoor. So I thought of rats, and wondered if one could have jumped on me.”
“Do you still reckon that was it?” Sigri was so close her breath warmed Emmaline’s cheek. Emmaline wished she could never be any farther away, although warming other bits of her anatomy would be just fine.
“I…well, I don’t believe in ghosts any more than you do, so…” she stopped, feeling a slight tensing of Sigri’s body. “But…you don’t, do you?”
“Don’t I? Can’t say as I recall ever discussing that particular subject.” Sigri didn’t seem about to say any more.
Emmaline made a lame attempt at humor. “Well, generally you’re so level-headed snow could build up a foot deep and not slide off if I didn’t tip you over from time to time.”
_______________

I’ve also had a character deciding not to worry about whether she’s going crazy when she sees the gargoyle outside her window come alive, because what’s sanity ever done for her? And there are others who had to believe what they saw and heard even if it might mean they were crazy. I’ve been struggling most, though, with a very reality-oriented setting and characters, when one of them becomes what might pass for a superhero. How do they accept this? How do others? It’s a hard balance to keep, and I may not be managing it. I’m in the midst of a severe editing phase. I’m sure I won’t come close to immersing readers deeply in the story, but it may yet have some entertainment value. In any case, here’s an excerpt where they first try to come to terms with what’s happened. More apologies if I’ve posted this before, too.
_______________

From Shadow Hand

There was a hint of movement outside. Now Cleo could see, clearly, the man pausing just beyond them under an overhang that jutted out like the prow of a ship.
He began to turn. Ash’s hand didn’t move, just tensed even more, and a tremor shook the overhang. She raised a finger, and a clod fell. Another twitch of her finger, and a bigger clod fell from the overhang into the wadi, then another, and another. With a loud crack the whole formation began to capsize, stones and dirt pelting down, almost hiding the man. He yelled and struggled, lurched as though he’d been shoved from behind, and managed to stumble away before the full brunt of the landslide hit. When the noise and dust subsided he could be heard some distance downstream scrambling up the side of the wadi.
When silence returned it seemed louder than the turmoil just past. What had just happened? What had Ash done? And how?
Ash kept on staring down at the object in her hand. Cleo had no idea what to say, so she said nothing. Eventually the men who had been searching the ruins could be heard on the path back to the road, but it was a while before they revved their engines and roared away. Cleo knew all too well what they’d probably been doing in the meantime to her jeep.
At last, desperate to move her aching joints and feel more air and space around her, she lifted the end of her rifle and began to knock bits of dirt and pebbles out of the small opening in front of them. Ash looked up, and all at once great gaps appeared, as though some giant hand was punching through that wall.
Ash lurched forward and scrambled out on all fours, dropping the pistol along the way while favoring the hand still holding the hidden object. Cleo tumbled out behind her. They sat a few feet apart in the dry streambed, gulping fresh air, dazed, but not so much that Cleo wasn’t on the alert for any sign that someone had stayed behind.
“Cleo,” Ash said at last. She hesitated. “Sergeant Brown.”
This was serious. Cleo waited. Usually when Ash shifted into full Lieutenant mode her clear gray eyes took on a steely glint, but not now. This time her eyes begged for reassurance.
“Sergeant Brown, what…what did you just see?”
“I saw you save our sorry asses, Ma’am. I don’t claim to understand what happened, how things moved the way they did, but I saw it.”
“So if I’m hallucinating, so are you.”
Cleo could get away with a lot when it came to most folks, but she could never lie to the Lieutenant. To Ash. “We’re not hallucinating. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I know plenty of things for sure without understanding them. Objects moved, and from what I saw, you seemed to make them move. What did it feel like to you?”
“It was…strange. Things happened because I thought about them, but it wasn’t just me. It was this.” She opened her right hand at last and showed what she’d been holding; what, Cleo was pretty sure, had fallen on her in the cave and drawn blood. “It was Her.”
Not stone, at least not any kind Cleo’d ever seen. Ivory, maybe, yellowed by age. Whatever it was made of, the carved figure was clearly, extravagantly female, four or five inches high, with three pairs of full breasts springing from her torso. Probably some kind of ancient goddess. She wore a sort of high crown that must once have been even higher but had been broken off. Her legs were obscured by a wrap or skirt incised with unidentifiable designs. Her face had lost part of its nose, but was otherwise intact, with a regal look about the chin and the direct gaze. Her arms, too, were mostly missing, although you could see where they’d been, and there was enough left of one of them to form a sharp point where it had broken—a point stained with recently shed blood.
Ash’s blood. All that mattered to Cleo right then, besides the unlikely fact that they were still alive, was Ash. The Lieutenant was…shaken. Not scared, not confused, not angry, exactly, but struggling with something made up of all of those, and more.
“She’s stuck right in my mind,” Ash blurted out at last. “Trying to control me. She may have saved us, but I want her out. I get all the orders I can stand from my commanding officers.”
Defiance! Cleo nearly shook with relief. Ash was going to be all right.
“Toss her to me, Ash. See how you feel then.”
She held out her hand, then tried to duck when the figurine shot up and hurtled toward her head, stopping with a sudden jerk just before it hit. Ash’s face was taut with strain. A fierce heat flowing from the hovering figure felt as though it would sear Cleo’s skin, but all at once the goddess, or whatever she was, vanished. A few pebbles could be heard dropping inside the cave. Maybe she’d burrowed back into it.
Cleo’s whirling mind took refuge in crude humor. “Guess I’m not this particular Desert Queen’s type. Just as well. She wants somebody like one of those Hindu Kali statues, with a bunch of extra arms and hands to do justice to all her extra boobs.”
“What she wanted,” Ash said, standing somewhat stiffly, “was to hurl herself right through your head. I struggled to stop her, and I won. Now she’s gone. I made her go away. It’s over.”
Cleo got to her feet with an effort. It seemed like they’d been scrunched up in that cave in fear for their lives an hour or more. “So it was only your ass she intended to save, and mine was just collateral non-damage? I can live with that.”
“If you’re lucky,” Ash said. “She may be bound to this place, not to the fortress over there—that’s only about 1300 years old—but to something much older. Astarte, Ishtar, Ashtoreth—many names for more or less the same goddess. Maybe some temple was here thousands of years ago that left no trace—except for Her.”
“A real Desert Queen, then? But ‘Ashtoreth?’ Really?”
“Don’t go there! It’s just a coincidence. Besides, in this area her name would most likely be Ishtar.” Ash’s irritation was an improvement on worrying about possible hallucinations. “A hundred years ago the clerks at Ellis Island didn’t bother with figuring out how to spell immigrants’ names. My great-grandfather’s name became ‘Ashton’ instead of ‘Athanasiou.’ Greek. A whole different crew of goddesses.” Her expression warned Cleo not to mention her first name, Athena. “Anyway, enough of that. She’s gone now. End of story.”
“Sure.” Cleo watched Ash bend down for the pistol she’d dropped, now half-buried in gravel. The gun rose to meet Ash’s hand. “If you say so.”
“It’ll wear off,” Ash muttered, still looking down.
Cleo groped for words. What must it feel like, some impossible, unnatural power being thrust into you without your consent? Something that couldn’t be explained by experience, or training, or instinct? For that matter, was Cleo herself suffering from shellshock, to be willing to believe in a stone goddess controlling her commander? Right now it didn’t matter. She found some words. “Whether it wears off or not, you’re still you.” She reached for Ash’s hand, a hand that met hers in an entirely natural grip.
“We’re still us,” Ash said.
_______________

Ah well. Sometimes I think this business of writing a novel when all my instincts are for short stories is driving me mad, but there are several other candidates for that honor, mostly to do with family health situations and my own responsibilities. I’m hanging on.
 
         

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Sobering Experience

by Jean Roberta

Definitions of insanity are parallel to definitions of obscenity. They all tend to be circular. In effect, “obscenity” is a picture or a description of anything the viewer or reader thinks should not be shown. “Insanity” is any person or action that seems illogical in the eyes of the viewer.

So, for example, when my new husband insisted that I had had sex with some stranger on the arm of the armchair I had bought second-hand (and which had a stain on the arm), I thought he sounded insane. He thought I was a nympho, a woman with an insane appetite for sex. His arguments always led back to the fact that I hadn’t been a virgin when he met me, so obviously, I was a nympho. How could I deny it?

His accusations continued from then until I left him, which further confirmed my insane, impulsive nature in his mind. Clearly, I was suffering from post-natal depression, a kind of insanity lite.

Gossip often includes at least one accusation that someone is “insane.” In some cases, the accusation is mutual, especially when the gossip follows a divorce. Very few exes seem to have been sane at any time in their lives.

Most of the time, I take reports of someone else’s “insanity” with a huge spoonful of salt, even if the person has spent time in a psychiatric facility. (Definitions of “insanity” have varied wildly from one culture and era to another.)

Re being illogical, however, I have to admit that sometimes I’m guilty. On Friday, I went to the first holiday dinner party of the season, in the home of a friend who keep a large quantity of wine in her front room. (She knows of an outlet that sells it for about $5 Canadian per bottle to customers who supply their own bottles.) I over-indulged, and today I regret it.

Gah! I think I'll be saner for the rest of the season.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How I Survived This Horrible Year

by Giselle Renarde


2017 has been terrible. Worst depression year I've had in almost 20 years. Anxiety on top of that.

I've got a lot to be grateful for. Aside from tax headaches, the horribleness of this year hasn't been personal. Nobody's died. I haven't been evicted. My girlfriend's still dear to my heart.

But sometimes things can be going right and you still can't cope. Mental illness is funny like that. This world is a hard place to live in.

So how do I cope?

Comedy.

Doesn't work for everybody, but it does work for me.  My girlfriend says that when she's having a bad depression day, comedy is the last thing she wants to consume. It feels too trivial to her.  But I want the trivial.  I don't want to think about all the bad stuff in the world, all the hatred and the fear.  I want to laugh. I just want to laugh.

The top three things that kept me going throughout this horrible, terrible year are:

1. Mystery Science Theater 3000


https://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Science-Theater-3000-1/dp/B00YT9IT2Y?tag=dondes-20
I have my girlfriend to thank for this discovery. MST3K was barely on my radar when she introduced me to it. But as soon as I started watching old episodes, I was hooked.

In case you're not familiar, it's a show from the 90s (recently revived by Netflix) set in the not-too-distant future. A guy and his robot pals make fun of the best of the worst B movies and sci-fi flicks. It's deliriously hilarious.

Bad movies, clever remarks and robot friends--what's not to love?

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the funniest goddamn thing I've seen... possibly ever.

2. Four Finger Discount


https://fourfingerdiscount.podbean.com/
My sister turned me on to this wonderful Simpsons podcast. Being a huge fan of Golden Era Simpsons, I've really enjoyed reliving old episodes with two funny Australian boys.  Most of the people I spend time with are considerably older than I am, so it's great to vampire off their 20-something energy.

In every episode, Dando and Mitch review a different Simpsons episode. It goes in chronological order. New episodes are posted once a week.  They started with Season 1 and they're up to Season 6. That's commitment!

Four Finger Discount is my new favourite thing to listen to while washing dishes.

3. Frasier


https://www.amazon.com/Frasier-Complete-Kelsey-Grammer/dp/B00S89IRH8?tag=dondes-20
I love Frasier so much that when I had a particularly good sales quarter a couple years ago, I bought the entire series on DVD. Every night, I go to bed with Frasier. I put it on and let it lull me into sleep. It helps my brain power down.

I'm not sure how many times I've watched the series in its entirety, but I'm not tired of it yet.

So I want to send my gratitude out into the universe, or at least into the internet. Thank you to everyone helped to create the media that soothes my mentally ill mind. Maybe you didn't know it when you were making robots or recording podcasts in your living room, but you've helped someone this year.

You've really helped me.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

In a Coffee Shop Again



Sitting here in my coffee shop, listening to the noise and watching the people.  At the table there, just over there, far enough that I can pretend to ignore them, close enough I can hear a little of them, four ladies are knitting and chatting. One is young, maybe college age.  The others old enough to be her mother and one maybe her grandmother.  Maybe they are.  An odd thing to be knitting in a public place, it took me awhile to understand it.  I wish I could smoke a pipe.  If it wasn’t totally bad for me, I probably would.  Maybe someday I will anyway.  It’s because I understand now about knitting in public.  It’s how women smoke a pipe.  Meditative.  Conversational.  Repetitive.  It demands a piece of your attention, but not the best piece.

Over there, that table there, a young girl, maybe high school or college is thumbing her phone.  She has green and purple hair.  It’s not even Mardi Gras.  Why does she have green and purple hair?  Why don’t I?  My hair, aging gracefully, has transformed into a perfect snow white that in a good light can be mistaken - briefly – for a halo.  It’s like a blank piece of sketchbook paper waiting to be colored with paints or pizza sauces or maybe have a message written across it. 

A person behind me is slouched deep in an easy chair.  There is a fat plastic bag on the floor behind him.  He’s wearing a baseball hat and every jacket he owns.  He’s been drinking the free water and trying to stay down so he doesn't get kicked out before he’s had a nap.  He has nowhere to go.

My mother must have been like that guy.  I think she’s been all these people at one time or another.  Her own madness crept up on her over the years until Dad couldn’t take it anymore and moved out and divorced.  She eventually disappeared for several years and then turned up in a nursing home in Chicago, after the cops had plucked her off the street during a Chicago snowstorm.  She died there.

Her legacy to me has been a fear for my own sanity.  I keep a close eye on myself for signs of schizophrenia or mania, or eventually – more likely – dementia.  Life was not fair to her.  Nothing special about me either.  We’ll see.

I’m a mystic.  As I crawl closer to the final moment of my days, my fascination with consciousness and the slippery mystery of sanity grows.

I stop a moment, drop my eyes towards the gray coffee in my paper cup and let my thoughts go quiet.  I put my awareness on my breath, moving into my nostrils, let it swell me a little, let it touch down and begin the journey out, slow drawing my attention with it.  I let it back in gentle, just watching, feeling its entry carrying the smell of my coffee, the aroma funk of the homeless guy behind me and smell of cookies baking somewhere behind the counter.  My imagination drifts out like a fishing net.  Comprehending – the women at the table, the green haired girl, the guy behind.  If you hold your sense and attention just right, the people begin to melt.  They become ribbons of karma in a stream.   

The stream flows, the personalities in the stream, with their eccentricities, maybe their medically suppressed madness, their stories, their problems, their chatter, their loneliness, their moving hands, the home waiting, or for one guy here, not, letting the streams of individual drama move around me, trying to visualize all the people in the world with their stories of changing fortunes, an old turtle sticking his snout up in the moving water.

I wonder what their madness is.  I wonder what they do, each to each, not their jobs, but what drives them crazy.  What keeps them up?  Madness is contagious, ubiquitous.   It’s sanity that’s rare these days.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Mad as a bucket of frogs

In the UK we have a saying ‘mad as a bucket of frogs’. It means that something makes no sense, is confused or just plain crackers. In readiness for this post I made a list of things which strike me as worthy of the title ‘mad as a bucket of frogs’.  It turned out to be quite a long list, so here are the edited highlights…

VAT, or Value Added Tax as we know it here in the UK. It works like this – at the completely arbitrary whim of the tax man an amount, could be 5% or could be 20%, is added to the price of some things you buy. Not all, that depends on the capricious twists and machinations of the rules as they are understood by a very small, chosen few. For example, a Jaffa cake is not liable for VAT because it’s a cake, not a biscuit, or so say the manufacturers, McVities. They won a court ruling on the matter so it must be right. No VAT is payable on plain biscuits or cakes, except when the biscuit is covered in chocolate which elevates it to a luxury and the VAT man must have his slice, so to speak. It’s an entire parallel universe of convoluted logic. Suffice it to say I’m relieved that my income is unlikely to climb to the point at which I’d be obliged to register for VAT. Life wouldn’t be worth living.

Next on my list – Reality TV Shows. Here I must confess to a certain degree of inconsistency. I actually like one or two of them, but for the most part they leave me utterly bewildered. I’m particularly baffled by those fly on the wall things where the viewer gets to witness the everyday lives of people who are themselves mad as the proverbial frogs. We get to see the likes of the Kardashians, or the inhabitants of Essex, or Chelsea in all their glorified mundanity. We listen in on their petty squabbles and are invited to gasp in empathy at their everyday struggles over which lipstick to choose or who’s sleeping with whose brother.

But the reality TV show which really leaves me scratching my head in complete bewilderment is the Jeremy Kyle Show. The real life participants are odd enough, though I suppose there is some discernible logic. Dysfunctional, misguided souls who agree to be paraded on television, offering themselves up for inevitable ridicule and admonishment in return, I assume, for a fat fee. But what on earth am I to make of JK himself, parading up and down and yelling at the participants as though he’s some avenging angel with a right to pass judgement. Why does no one at least try to deck him?

The final item I want to pick out from my list of the completely bewildering is bungee jumping, and the linked madness which is parachute jumping for fun. Nothing on Earth would ever convince me there was anything to be gained by jumping from a perfectly serviceable airplane, and the very idea of leaping off a cliff with nothing but a rubber band between me and disaster is quite beyond reason or logic.  Perhaps the devotees of the sport are all closet VAT inspectors…


Okay, that’s the end of my personal rant about those aspects of life which strike me as absurd. On the plus side, the mad stuff makes life more interesting, and where would we Brits be without these little quirkinesses to complain about?

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Thin Line #madness #obsession #passion


Crazy fractal

By Lisabet Sarai

I have some acquaintance with madness.

In my late teens, I spent three months in a state psychiatric hospital, struggling with anorexia. Though I’d starved myself down to eighty five pounds while still perceiving myself as fat, I didn’t think I was crazy—which just goes to show how truly delusional I was—but my fellow patients sometimes acted that way. I became accustomed to people mumbling to themselves, shrieking in terror at invisible threats, or sitting for hours in one place, rocking back and forth. A few years after I was released, when I saw George Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead”, I had nightmares for weeks. His mindless, shuffling zombies reminded me too much of my Thorazine-numbed fellow inmates.

Still, I’m in some sense attracted to insanity. In my early years, I devoured tales by Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, two authors known for skirting the edge of madness. One of the books that influenced me most as a teen was Lilith by J.R. Salamanca, the story of a fascinating, creative young woman with acute schizophrenia who gradually draws an innocent hospital attendant into her world of glittering, terrible hallucinations. I fell in love with Lilith right along with Vincent. I couldn’t help myself. Indeed, madness and brilliance are closely linked in both fact and fiction. From Vincent Van Gogh to Sylvia Plath, we can all name crazy geniuses who produced great works of art despite—or perhaps due to—their disordered, tortured minds.

Madness is particularly relevant in erotica. There’s often a thin line between erotic obsession and insanity. Intensely focused desire can distort everything else in a character’s world, eclipsing rationality and silencing conscience. I’ve written a number of stories that explored the difficult distinction between normal lust and insane passion. Unfortunately, such tales rarely end happily. Also, they tend to make readers distinctly uncomfortable.

Consider, for instance, “Renfield’s Lament”, in my paranormal collection Fourth World:

Do I seem mad to you? If so, they are responsible. They've driven me mad with their beauty and indifference.

They don't even bother to hunt anymore. They spend their days in their king-sized coffin, alabaster limbs entwined in a frozen tableau of passion. They devote their nights to surfing the Internet, listening to Bach or Dvořák, or lounging on their deck, the endless grid of the city sparkling below them.

Except, of course, for the nights when they feed.

Occasionally, on rainy days when there's no risk, I muster the courage to lift the polished rosewood lid of their communal casket and peek inside. I'm always startled by the scent that rises from their inert forms, orange blossoms and sun-warmed stone, no hint of dankness or decay. Their exquisite pallor complements the perfection of their naked bodies. They seem like statues modeled from translucent, milky glass.

He slumbers with one palm cupping her pert breast, the other arm wrapped around her waist. Her honey-brown hair fans over his chest, fine as spider silk. She curls her fist around his cock, which is rampant even as they sleep. The bold gesture contrasts with her innocent features. She has the smooth cheeks, pointed chin and plump lips of a teenage cheerleader.

My fingers twitch. The urge to trace the shape of that sweet, ripe mouth is almost irresistible. More times than I can count, I've seen those lips distorted by a fiendish grin and those girlish cheeks smeared with gore. It doesn't matter. She will always be my angel, my inspiration, my heart's desire, my doom. My beloved mistress.

My master is equally magnificent in his own way, with a dancer's subtly muscled arms and legs and a head of glorious ebony curls like some pale gypsy. He has a bookish look, with a high forehead rising above bushy black brows and a sensitive mouth that cries out for kisses.

I've never dared to lean close and take advantage of his immobility, much as I ache to feel the chill of his flesh against my own. If I gave way to temptation, would he know? I'm not certain that their death-like daytime sleep stills their minds the way it freezes their bodies. I doubt he'd punish me, if he discovered my transgression. He knows I'd welcome the mark of his bullwhip or the icy invasion of his knife. No, more likely he'd mock me, or simply ignore me, refusing to acknowledge my existence. I couldn't bear that.

The sight of them, locked together in eternal stasis, holds me captive. Blood pours into my cock, blood I know they'd savor if they'd only take it, until I'm hard as the concrete walls of the basement room where they sleep. My pulse pounds in my temples as my futile erection strains my trousers. I am their creature, their slave, stunned into helpless worship by their unearthly beauty.

I know they need me. That should satisfy me—the knowledge that without me they'd might fry or starve or succumb to some overly zealous reader of horror fiction. Month after month, year after year, I guard them and I procure them their victims. It's my privilege to serve them. That should be enough. But I want more from them, God help me, more than I can ever hope they'll give.

Renfield’s desire is so powerful that he offers himself to a sadist’s blade in order to trick his master and mistress into drinking his blood. Set against his awful need, death means nothing.

My recent story “Underground”, in the recently published ERWA anthology Unearthly Delights, has a somewhat similar theme.

So maybe it’s not totally sane. I’ve always been fascinated by madness.

As for safe, where’s the thrill in safety?

You can’t, however, deny that it’s consensual.

Ducking into a blank alley, one of thousands in this city, I make my way to the metal door near the end. The keypad gives off a faint green luminescence. I tap in the combination and the door swings open; my pulse is already climbing. My boot heels ring hollow as I descend the industrial steel steps, and the thump of the bass rises to meet me. Excitement wells up, flooding my cunt, even before I’ve buzzed the final door and been admitted to this most particular and perverse playground.

The techno soundtrack punches me in the solar plexus. My heart stutters like I've been shocked by a defibrillator. Delicious weakness sweeps over me, a premonition of what’s to come.

A few black clad figures shuffle to the hypnotic beat, clinging to one another as though drowning. Beyond the dance floor, naked bodies are draped over couches, shackled to walls or splayed wide on the bare concrete floor. Familiar scents reach me—pussy, cum and blood.

Some of those who frequent Underground are actual vampires, or so I’ve heard. I believe it. Others just like to play with knives.

Then there's me.

My heroine Elena is intelligent, well-educated, self-aware—and consumed with a craving for a perilous but intoxicating erotic experience no responsible or rational human will give her.

My nameless protagonist in “Fire” (in Rule 34: Weird and Wonderful Fetish Erotica) becomes an arsonist to satisfy his fire fetish, and almost ends up committing murder. He doesn’t think he’s crazy. After all, he plans his fiery escapades down to the smallest detail.

I’ve written a few characters who were literally insane. In Necessary Madness, my hero Kyle has uncontrolled prescient visions which have driven him into psychosis. Meanwhile, my unpublished lesbian story “Countertransference” features an exquisite teen-aged schizophrenic who tantalizes her therapist with her grace and creativity. There are echoes of Lilith in this tale, but the truly crazy character is Doctor Gardner, so obsessed with her patient Alisha that she risks everything to consummate her lust.

At one point, I planned to write a novel called Asylum, set in a psychiatric institution. I’ve dropped that idea for now, partly because I realized how similar my notions were to Lilith. The theme, however, continues to fascinate me—the fuzzy edge between sanity and insanity. What’s real? What’s a delusion? What is more important, passion or safety? Ecstasy or order?

I do think I’m pretty sane these days, but when I write some of these stories, I start to wonder. What am I missing?