Saturday, January 21, 2017

It's All Boring Stuff...

Okay, so not everything I've been reading is boring. I have been nibbling at a bunch of books, all in the same genres as I talk about every time we do this topic. But my main reading lately has been non-fiction material which would be boring to the great majority of people.
For as long as I can recall I've been whining about how difficult it is to work from home as a writer and cover artist when people around you treat it like it's a hobby. Always interrupting when you're in the middle of it, asking you to stop so you can run an errand, organizing deliveries that coincide with your chief concentration time. All that crap. First world problem, for sure, but a problem nonetheless.
What I've come to realize, though, is that I'm causing it. Because I'm doing it myself.
I've been working as if my writing and cover art are hobbies. I'm not learning all the parts of my job description.
So what I've been reading lately has been essentially the posts in many marketing groups, the tips from the pros, and the success stories of those who've come from the same kind of meager beginnings as myself but are now making a decent living from this writing caper.
After all, that's what I'd like, as just a basic achievement. To earn enough from the hard work I've been doing that it pays me as well as a day job would. If that means I have to read information that my brain rebels against absorbing, then so be it. Nobody else owes me the knowledge, experience or wisdom that it takes to succeed. And if I'm not willing to put in, then I should probably get out.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Who Wrote This?

by Giselle Renarde


When the "What Are You Reading?" topic comes up, I usually I tell you about a book I'm enjoying. Today I'm going to tell you about a book I abandoned, which is much more fun.

Last year I might have mentioned reading V.C. Andrews for the first time and being shocked. I might also have told you about being in the younger cohort of a Grade 5/6 split. That wasn't last year--that was closer to the heyday of V.C. Andrews' fame. All the Grade 6 girls were reading Flowers in the Attic. They went through V.C. Andrews books like you wouldn't believe.

So last year, when I picked up an old V.C. Andrews and found it culminated in incestuous child rape, I couldn't believe this is what the kids in my class were reading back in the day.

That said, when I spotted another V.C. Andrews novel in the library, I didn't exactly walk on by.

Something got me curious, though. The dedication to this book reads: For Gene Andrews, who so wanted to keep his sister's work alive.

That's a weird dedication.

So I read the fine print on the copyright page and found this:

Following the death of Virginia Andrews, the Andrews family worked with a carefully selected writer to organize and complete Virginia Andrews's stories and to create additional novels, of which this is one, inspired by her storytelling genius.

Things that make you go hmmm, am I right?

Maybe this is all common knowledge. V.C. Andrews died in 1986. But it's news to me because apparently I'm 30 years behind the times.

I gave this book a chance (it's called Sage's Eyes, if you're curious) because the blurb seemed intriguing. I hate giving up on a book, so I worked my way through half of it before deciding life's too short. This novel is repetitive as fuck and focuses on minutia that might possibly be interesting to preteens but not to adult readers. The characters are supposed to be contemporary teenagers but they all talk like it's the 50s--the 1850s. heh

Anyway, tastes vary. I don't want to yuck anyone's yum. But it did get me thinking about author estate planning and literary wills.

As an author, do you care what's written in your name after you die? Do you want someone else to pick up where you left off? Complete your works in progress? Do you want your devoted readers picking up a book by someone else and thinking it's by you?

Maybe you don't care. After all, you'll be dead. But if you're beginning to wonder what measures you should be taking now to protect your interests after your death, have a listen to this episode of The Creative Penn: What Happens When An Author Dies. Estate Planning With Kathryn Goldman.

It's a start.


Giselle Renarde is an award-winning queer Canadian writer. Nominated Toronto’s Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards, her fiction has appeared in nearly 200 short story anthologies, including prestigious collections like Best Lesbian Romance, Best Women’s Erotica, and the Lambda Award-winning collection Take Me There, edited by Tristan Taormino. Giselle's juicy novels include Anonymous, In Shadow, Seven Kisses, and The Other Side of Ruth.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Let Them Eat Loafers





Friday is the day that will erase all doubts that I may be living in an alternative Universe, such as Phillip Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan got the Bomb first and won WWII.  Things aren’t that bad yet.  But for some of us, its hard to take.

I’m in my favorite bookstore coffee shop looking through the new issue of Harpers, with a picture of an Old Testament God like Trump screaming vengeance at a line of sort of Soviet kitsch Heroes of the Working Class writers bravely facing down his wrath, and something about 14 writers essays protesting Trump.

Looking at their credentials strangely fills me with hope.  Not hope that in this – or any – universe Trump would give a shit what these folks think about him or the proper pronunciation of Epictetus or any damn thing at all, but as a writer I feel a perverse thrill of hope at how pathetically thin their credentials are.  At least one of them is unpublished, and a couple are college students.  If these lightweights can get in the door in Harpers, home of Mark Twain and Emerson, maybe I can too. 

And its true the first couple of essays I wade through are filled with interesting insights, mostly on the subject of impotent rage, but they are also written with self consciously pyrotechnic grammar and word choice.  You gotta know something to read this stuff.  What made our President Elect (how the fuck did this happen?) such an outstanding communicator was the fact that he kept his vocabulary and syntax down at a fourth grade level ("Going to replace the environment with something terrific, folks.  We got very smart people working on this.  Beautiful, beautiful.") when everybody else was speaking on a seventh grade level or a college age level.  He framed his speeches to be not so much answers to difficult questions as a puff of cigarette smoke blown in your face.  These guys in the magazine, what are they trying to prove? 

These erudite intellectual wannabes are speaking to their own demographic, the one I yearn to join yet currently feel disgusted by, that of the liberal and cultural elite.  Can erotica (porn?) writers aspire to such hypoxic altitudes of thought?

It’s over for my bunch, the NPR listening, Garrison Keillor quoting crowd.  We’re preaching to hear ourselves talk real good.  Away with the quinoa crowd, the church potluck has spoken.

Honestly, I love potlucks too.  We were seeing this coming back in 1984 when I started a machine shop in Worcester with seven Japanese guys, my brave companions.  I ran an engine lathe at night and listened to Shakespeare on headphones from a primitive Sony walkman, while the two guys who really knew this stuff programmed and ran Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) mills and lathes that could run over the likes of me or even somebody good.  It was a sign that middle class men around New England standing at machines and factory lines were about to be doomed to obsolescence.  I wasn’t John Henry the Steel Driving Man versus the steam hammer and neither were they.  I wasn’t even Bambi versus Godzilla.  It wasn’t even a contest.  

In 20 years I would write and sell my first short novella “Mortal Engines” to Whisky Creek press, which was exhilarating although it sold almost nothing.  It was about sexbots, the John Henry’s and Jane Henry’s of the bed.  Infinitely skilled and indefatigable.  Best of all, uncritical.  Lately I’ve seen them come into their own on television in the show “Humans” and “Westworld” which I found fascinating as I binged my way like rat through liverwurst.  My brave little novella anticipated the driverless car and artificial intelligence a decade ahead of time, but not the Cloud or the downloadable app.  A sexbot fulfills the fantasy, slightly poisonous at the core, of the lover who will never refuse you, never have temper tantrums, never judge you or your performance, never get jealous or make scenes.  Now with the cloud, once the “Adult Options” are enabled, what wouldn’t be possible?  Want your lover to be a master of oral sex?  There’s an app for that.  A master of BDSM, perform in either dominant or submissive roles?  There’s an app for that.  Common barnyard animals?  There’ll be an app for too somehow.  Make you cum so goddamn hard – oh baby!  Unh!! - your heart stops and you need a cardiac paramedic immediately to save your life with a defibrillator and wipe that stupid smile off your face?  There’ll be an app for that too.  But it’ll double your insurance. 

Let’s see that job get farmed out to China.

Friday is coming.  We lost.  My crowd has been outmaneuvered and rendered impotent.  Flacid.  Flacid as in laying there like a dead dog on your woman’s lap.  Embarrassing.  Embarrassing as in “Gosh, this has never happened to me before.”  Painful, as in that rich, red haired lout next door is starting to look pretty good to her.  Viagra doesn’t fix this shit.

Aw hell.  I think I’ll put away Harpers for a while and read Weird Tales.


 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Reading Through The Slush (#amreading #erotica #eroticromance)

As mentioned before, I've recently started up an erotica and erotic romance publishing company. As such, a lot of my reading of late has been the slush pile.

(However, for those keeping track of how geeky I am, I recently finished Star Trek: Prey: Book Two: The Jackal's Trick and I'm currently reading Star Trek: Prey: Book Three: The Hall of Heroes. I'm also working on Abaddon's Gate, book three of The Expanse.)

Reading through the slush has been interesting. We've received a wide variety of stories -- everything from MF to FF and MM, as well as BDSM, FemDom, comedic horror, historical, fantasy, and more. Taking the lead from our acquisitions editor, I've started to develop a sense of how to tell if a story is good, even if the writing needs some work.

It can be tempting to accept everything that's sent our way, to see the good in everything -- after all, I hate to be someone that says "no" to something and I like to give everyone a chance. But this is a business and we need to make some tough choices.

Sometimes it's an obvious "yes," like when the writing is phenomenal, the synopsis is gripping, and the sex scenes ooze with eroticism. Other times, it's a little tougher. The writing may be a little rough around the edges and the execution may need a little work, but at its core, the story is strong and the voice is unique. (That was my toughest lesson, seeing the hidden gems.) And still other times, it can be difficult -- I might love a story idea and the attitude of the author, but the writing just doesn't do it for me. There have been a few times where I've been excited to read an authors pages, only to soon be let down. Very rarely is something a flat-out "no" right from reading the query letter.

Now that this business is in full swing, I'm reading more than ever, but barely managing time to write. I read the query letters everyone sends and I read at least the first few paragraphs of every submission. But after a book has been through the editors, I read everything before we publish it. Right now, we're doing mostly short stories and novellas, but we will be including some novels and longer fiction in the near future. That's a lot of time spent reading that I used to spend writing.

While I could complain that with less time to write, I'm doing less of what I wish I could do more of, I've found reading submissions and publishing books to be very educational. I'm a person who never stops learning and so to see how other authors are approaching their craft and studying how other authors portray their sex scenes, I suspect that I'll be a stronger writer in the near future.

Only a few years ago, I read over 70 books in one year. This year, excluding the books I'll read as part of the publishing process, I'll likely reach only a dozen or so. I suspect I'll also be reading fewer erotic books by choice, since most of my "work" reading will be erotic, meaning for the next several "What I'm Reading" posts, you can expect lots of Star Trek, with perhaps the occasional thriller.

(If you're interested, I recently wrote a post on my blog about writing sexy descriptions -- based on my learnings from reading the slush pile.)



Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Erotic Love & Carnal Sins: Confessions of a Priest (co-written with Sandra Claire). He is also the publisher and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, a publisher of erotica and high-heat-level erotic romance. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Magical Realism, Japanese Style (#murakami #amreading #magic)

Murakami cover

By Lisabet Sarai

This fortnight here at the Grip, we tackle our recurring topic “What are you reading?” I’m always in the middle of several books, but lately most have left me with a ho-hum feeling. When I realized that this topic was looming, though, I decided to crack open a novel I’ve been “saving” since I bought it a couple of months ago: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and HisYears of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami. I’m now about two-thirds of the way through this three hundred page volume, certainly far enough to chronicle my feelings here.

Murakami has been one of my favorite authors since I first read A WildSheep Chase, more than thirty years ago. I’m not alone in this sentiment; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki sold more than a million copies in Japan during the first week after its release.

When I try to analyze why I enjoy his work so much, though, I’m left with a bit of puzzle.

One thing that normally attracts me to an author is originality or diversity. For instance, I love T.C. Boyle’s chameleon-like ability to produce a wildly different type of story with each release. Murakami’s books, in contrast, tend to be quite similar to one another in language and tone. His characters also share many characteristics from one book to the next. His heroes tend to be quiet, hard working, nondescript, often lonely, men, drifting almost anonymously through Japanese society.

Thirty-something Tsukuru Tazaki fits this mold exactly. He lives alone in a Tokyo condo and works as an engineer building railroad stations (which happen to be one of his rare passions). He does his own laundry and often cooks his own simple food, drinks alcohol sparingly, swims regularly at the public pool for exercise and to quiet his mind. He has never been outside Japan. He has no friends—in fact an issue at the crux of this story—until he meets Sara, a enigmatic woman to whom he’s strongly attracted, but about whom he knows little.

Hardly an alpha hero. Hardly a hero at all, by the standards of popular literature, but quite typical of Murakami’s protagonists.

I also admire books with intricate and beautifully constructed structure, plots that not only provide interesting conflicts and dramatic resolutions, but which also showcase the author’s awareness of and ability to control the narrative. Examples that come to mind include Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. In these books, no detail is insignificant. Themes or events early in the novel turn out to have profound impacts by the end.

Murakami’s books, in contrast, meander from one event to the next, taking side trips along the way, which may or may not turn out to be relevant to the book as a whole. Murakami is also a jazz musician, and sometimes his books feel like improvisations. In addition, there’s little rise in tension. The story arc is so gradual as to be almost undetectable.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki follows this pattern, although it begins with an emotional cataclysm. During his high school years in Nagoya, Tsukuru Tazaki (whose first name means “the builder”) enjoyed a remarkable, close relationship with four friends. Studious Akamatsu (“red pine”), athletic Oumi (“blue sea”), beautiful Shirane (“white root”), warm Kurono (“black field”) and Tsukuru were inseparable for much of their teenage life. They spent work and play time together; they shared experiences and ideas; they complemented one another’s personalities. There was something intoxicating, almost erotic about their closeness, although the relations between the male and female members of the group were entirely platonic. Together the five were as much of a whole as the five fingers on a hand. Then during Tsukuru’s first year of university, the four friends whose names include colors suddenly rejected him. They refused to communicate with him. Furthermore, they would not tell him the reason.

Tsukuru almost dies as a result of this sudden amputation from the people he loves. The shock and grief are overwhelming. He stops eating. He sinks into grief and becomes preoccupied with death, as emotional pain totally consumes him. Yet Murakami describes this so calmly that the impact feels muted.

Perhaps he didn’t commit suicide then because he couldn’t conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death. But the method was beside the point. If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just part of ordinary life. For better or for worse, though, there was no such door nearby.”

This passage offers a sense of Murakami’s graceful, fluid style, as well as the distance he always seems to preserve between the reader and his characters.

The book does have a plot. Indeed, it is in some sense a classic mystery, as Tsukuru finally takes action to discover the truth of why his friends spurned him. He is set upon this quest by the insightful Sara, who recognizes that he can’t fully participate in building his relationship with her because he’s stuck in the past, pinned like a butterfly to an empty life by the pain of his old loss.

Still, it’s not really the plot that’s pulling me forward in the book, making it hard for me to stop reading at night even though I know I’ll be sorry when the alarm clock rings the next day.

What is it about Murakami’s work that excites me? Why am I trying to ration this book, so as not to finish it too quickly?

One answer lies in the richness of ideas the author explores. His characters tend to have long, philosophical conversations full of startling insights (which may or may not be important for the “plot”). Murakami is interested in life, death, talent, music, art, language, evil, logic, fate, luck, spirituality, relationships, and the nature of reality. There’s a deep pleasure in reading these conversations. You think, “Yes, that’s exactly right, that captures the truth.” Or sometimes, “what a remarkable perspective; that’s never occurred to me.” I find it difficult to retain these insights, just as it’s hard to hold on to the details of a dream. All you recall are the emotions. Of course, one joy of a book (especially a print book like this one I’m reading) is the ability to go back and re-visit favorite passages.

Murakami’s language is beautifully precise, whether he is describing inner or outer states of being. He has a gift for creating images that capture the essence of his subject. As an author, I can appreciate both the final effects and the difficulty of achieving them.

However, the main feature that calls me back to this author’s work may be the magic. Every one of his novels incorporates some hint of the miraculous or the unexplained. Don’t misunderstand me; there are no wizards or mages in Murakami’s books, no shapeshifters, blood drinkers or demons that characterize the paranormal genre. Instead, there are synchronicities, coincidences that defy logic, or states of being that take the characters beyond the material world. This is more like the magical realism that characterizes Latin American fiction like that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Laura Esquivel.The Latin magic is more vivid, though, portrayed in primary colors. Murakami, in contrast, describes these marvels in the same subdued and measured prose he uses for the rest of his books.

In Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, for example, Tsukuru has a disturbing lucid dream about his old friends as a well as a new friend, Haida (who vanishes not long after). The dream is a harbinger of reality, foreshadowing the reason his friends cut him off. When Tsukuru travels to Finland, where Kurono has moved, every experience seems edged with magic. He encounters the people he needs to assist him on his quest.

Like many other aspects of Murakami’s work, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the sense of magic comes from. It slips away, leaving a memory, like the refrain of a song that sticks in your mind, whose title you can’t recall. It’s haunting, though, creating a persistent sense that life includes something beyond the bare bones of physical experience. Often we can’t see this something, but it shines through the deceptively mundane events in Murakami’s stories, drawing the mind and the heart.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Glimpses of Truth

by Jean Roberta

I have all sorts of qualms about following the traditional advice to “write what I know” in the most literal sense. To start with, when Sacchi’s call-for-submissions came out for Wild Girls, Wild Nights, I had already written three lesbian stories that I thought of as unvarnished truth, in which only the names were changed.

One of these stories, “Family Gathering,” was about my first ever woman-to-woman sex, and it was published in Up All Night: Adventures in Lesbian Sex, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and Stacy Bias (Alyson Books, 2004). The second, “Gabrielle’s Fountain,” was about a first event (“squirting” or female ejaculation) in a doomed, long-distance affair I had with a woman who wanted me to move in with her in another town (with my grade-school-aged child), but her life alarmed me, and I didn’t really want to share it. This story was also published in an anthology from Alyson, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel: First-timers: True Stories of Lesbian Awakening (2006). For awhile, it seemed as if Cleis and Alyson were competing for the biggest share of the “true queer sex stories” market.

My third (or first, really) autobiographical lesbian story was/is not sexually explicit because we didn’t have sex. It is about my flirtation or one-sided crush with a charismatic local singer-songwriter who was an avid reader, and therein lay the problem. Unlike the women in my published stories, this person was likely to find and read any publicly-available material I might write about her. I only sent this story to one place: the Storytime list of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, in 1999.

This story felt dangerous for various reasons: the character was recognizable, and if I spiced it up by making it an actual sex story, and it got published, what kind of fallout could I expect? The risks didn’t seem worth it, especially since I had no problem making up stories which didn’t seem libellous.

When Sacchi’s call came out, I asked if she would accept reprints. She said no, the publisher wanted original stories. I had promised my spouse when she was still only my new girlfriend (in 1989) that I would never embarrass her by describing her naked body on a page for all to see. That seemed fair to me.

Of course, most of what I write (including fantasy stories) is rooted somewhere in my life, but I prefer to avoid gossip and accusations, if possible. So when a call for “true,” original lesbian stories comes out, I just have to pass.

Even when I’m writing about a general scene or situation (e.g. the sex trade) which is real, there is the question of how to present it, as Annabeth brought up. Even though the fierce feuds over “political correctness” which characterized the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s seem to be over, I think they left me with traces of post-traumatic stress.

When I read Michelle Tea’s latest more-or-less autobiographical, meta-fictional, surrealistic novel, Black Wave (so I could review it for The Gay and Lesbian Review), I was amazed, once again, that Ms. Tea is currently described as the voice of young, working-class queer women who dare to tell it like it is. Considering that her narrator, named Michelle, is constantly high and usually drunk, and that she breaks promises and hearts, including her own (as people in altered states of consciousness tend to do), I suspect that the same book, written in, say, 1982 (when Audre Lorde’s autobiographical Zami came out), would not have found a publisher. Or if it did, the author would have been barred from every conference and publication with “feminist” in its title.

In 2007, I dared to write a story for an anthology about (and largely by) “women of colour,” edited by Jolie du Pre for Alyson: Iridescence: Sensuous Shades of Lesbian Erotica. This was not a “true stories” anthology, thank the Goddess. My narrator looks white but has a dash of native blood, which actually describes me, so I hoped I would not be trashed for writing it. (I wasn’t.)

The story, “For All My Relations,” is about two sex-workers (based loosely on my experience in the early 1980s), and it starts with an anti-erotic scene. (Things heat up later.) I argued with myself about this opening, but I decided to leave it in. The fate of “Lynette” in the following passage shook me up at the time, and still does:

“Lynette had been missing for a week when she was found behind the Royal Arts Centre, naked and tied up. She had been left in the bushes in the surrounding park, on a January day when the temperature hovered at forty below zero in Fahrenheit as well as Celsius. She was found too late.

‘Jesus,’ I said to Amanda. We were watching the image of a covered shape on a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance by paramedics on the TV news. Police were looking for the last man who was known to have seen her.

‘Did you know her?’ I asked.

‘A bit, yeah. She worked for Crystal and Sapphire when I was there. She took on too many guys on the side, though, just to collect the agency fee. That’s not safe.’

Crystal and Sapphire were legendary, and their fame went a long way toward convincing most of our johns that all whores were dykes and vice versa. The two madams (Mesdames? I had taken some French in high school), one black and one white, had arrived in our simple town from a more worldly city five years before, and opened the first escort agency here.

A woman who could cheat on Crystal and Sapphire would have to be shortsighted, to say the least. It didn’t follow that she deserved a slow, painful death.”


“Crystal and Sapphire” were a lesbian couple from Winnipeg (capital city of the province of Manitoba, said to be in the exact centre of Canada) who started the first escort agency in the town where I live, which was formerly known mostly as the national headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Making a profit by renting out call girls here in the late 1970s took a certain vision, or business savvy, or cynical, woman-hating gall, depending on your perspective. If they saw a niche that needed to be filled, however, they were on the right track. They were so successful that their multiple agencies produced spinoffs. As far as I know, all the surviving local agencies can be traced back to the founding mothers.

I realized that this whole story could be read as a cautionary tale about the wages of sin, which is certainly not how I intended it. As other writers have said, however, once a story goes public, in some sense it no longer belongs to the writer. Readers interpret it through the lens of their own experience, their own biases, and whatever is generally deemed to be “true” in the cultural climate of the time. “Truth” is never a stable thing.
-----------------------

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fiction in Truth ( #Confessions )

By Annabeth Leong

We’ve talked a lot about the truth in fiction, so I want to talk about the fiction in truth.

Interlude: Lisa and Rob

We all used to hang out at an open mike night. Rob was known for his joyful covers of “Brown Eyed Girl.” I sang a cappella versions of my poems. I don’t remember Lisa performing, though she was always there. Mostly, I remember her for handing out pills.

On this particular night, we went back to my place after the open mike ended, probably to smoke (more?) marijuana. But as was often true during that era, I wasn’t very patient with the conversation. Rob, particularly, seemed to be the type who got high and wanted to discuss mind-blowing, half-baked theories about quantum mechanics, and the more he waxed philosophical about The Dancing Wu Li Masters, the more I wished I’d left him out of the invitation.

Lisa saved the day by asking us to do her a favor, something she loved but hadn’t gotten to try in a long time. She wanted us to drip candle wax on her bare back, blow on it until it dried, and then peel it off and blow on it some more. I was down for just about anything that involved people taking their shirts off, so I quickly agreed. Rob was down as well, probably for similar reasons.

Many candles adorned my room, so we had the materials at hand. Lisa stripped down to her bra, and Rob and I took turns going through the wax procedure with her. I remember my fascination with the texture of her skin and the way it reddened in response to the heat. I have a major thing for freckles and moles, and I can still recall one just beside her bra strap and how badly I wanted to touch it. I’ll also never forget her gasps and moans.

After she said she’d had enough, I decided I wanted to try it. I never wore a bra back then, so my torso was entirely bare when I peeled off my shirt. The scald of the wax felt sharp and itchy at first, but as the heat spread over and through my skin, it settled into a squirming warmth that transformed into an erotic sensation. But there was also the matter of the breath. Cool or hot, soft or strong, different depending on whether it came from Lisa or Rob—it landed with an unbearably pleasurable shock each time, on raw, nervy skin stripped of defenses.

Rob tried it, too, though I remember having the sense that he was perhaps not as much of a masochist as Lisa or I, and was largely enduring pain in the interest of having two women touch his back and bring their lips close to it.

We did several rounds of this, and, predictably, the scenario evolved into heavy making out. I remember kissing both of them and playing with Lisa’s breasts. Pants didn’t come off, though I’m not sure why—I’m sure I would have gladly removed mine. At some point, Rob and Lisa went home, and I went to bed.

Oh, and by the way, I had a boyfriend at the time, who would have been extremely unhappy to know what I’d gotten up to.

The next week, I arrived at the open mike to find Rob waiting with one rose for me and one for Lisa. I remember thinking the roses showed a certain sort of naivete. He had no idea, I thought, of who Lisa and I were and what that night had actually meant. I don’t recall if we ever discussed things, but nothing erotic happened again with that particular configuration of people.

***

So, that story is as true as I can make it. I’m sure I’m representing the events and facts accurately, and I’ve represented my thought process to the best of my ability.

However, whenever I tell a story, I’m aware of all the choices I’m making about what to say when—just as I do when writing fiction.

For example, above, I waited until the end to mention I had a boyfriend who wasn’t present for these events. If I’d mentioned that up top, though, it would have colored the entire story and made it “about” cheating in a way it isn’t if I reveal that fact at the last minute.

I spent paragraphs on the sensual details of the candle wax and glossed over the kissing and conversation. That’s an implicit decision about what constitutes the “important” part of the story.

I also left out the context and back story for my friendship with Lisa, which involved a complex love triangle between me, Lisa, and Lisa’s best friend, not to mention previous ambiguous sexual encounters and a lot of drugs I felt ambivalent about taking. I wonder if that back story and context is part of why I didn’t do more to escalate the situation between me, Lisa, and Rob. In a similar situation with different people, I might have been much more into making a triad out of it, but I already had reasons I felt reluctant about getting more deeply involved with Lisa. If I’d put all that, the story would have been more complicated, but maybe it would also have been more revealing?

There’s also the urge to make some sort of meaning out of the story, another thing familiar from fiction. So what is that story about? Is it about the fucked up things I did back when I used drugs? Is it about my discovery of the kinky uses of candle wax (something I still enjoy in BDSM play)? Is it about a missed opportunity at an interesting three-way relationship? Is it about my willingness to explore sexually? About infidelity? About how Rob maybe deserved better than to make out with someone who didn’t care about his interest in quantum physics? About how Lisa and I really should have talked about what we wanted from each other? About how an open mike is a good place to hook up with kinky people? About how I’ve wised up? Or how I’m still the same?

I could write the story to match all those things and more.

This says a lot about writing, both fiction and nonfiction. Perspective is inescapable. Opinions get infused.

Right now, though, I’m more interested in what it says about life and how I look at myself. I can shift the true stories of my life in all sorts of ways. I could use them to tear myself down for sluttiness and risky behavior. I could use them to portray myself as an interesting, adventurous, experimental person. I’ve done both. And sometimes I wonder if there’s any really “true” way to see it all. It’s a true story, so there are true things about me in it. What those things add up to, though, is complicated, and, to some degree, chosen. I’m a writer, and it seems like I do get to write myself, depending on how I tell this and many other stories.