Saturday, August 14, 2010

Janine Ashbless: An Appreciation of Macho Sluts by Pat Califia

Macho Sluts was bought for me by a gay friend who Knew What I Needed, back in the mid nineties. Bear in mind that this was pre-internet (for me) and that my erotica reading, to that point, consisted pretty much of one recently-acquired Black Lace book, a sneaky peek at the sociology section of Reading University Library, and the dirty bits in Jaws.

This book was the door to a new world. And, given that most of the stories are set in an American landscape of leather bars and gay clubs peopled by aggressive knife-wielding lesbians, it was a world so alien to me it might as well have been in another galaxy. I didn’t even know what Crisco was, for crying out loud – though the characters used it in large quantities and I gathered from the context that it was slippery. Heh.

I had a lot to learn.

Macho Sluts is a collection of eight short stories/novellas, all of them lesbian/gay and all but one at the deep end of the BDSM scene. There’s a Victorian love-triangle, a vampire tale, a M/M psychodrama, a story about a woman picked up and put through hell by 3 male cops, a slave-initiation by seven tops, and a science-fiction story set in a dystopian matriarchal future(!). Whipping, fisting, slaves, enemas, incest ... Even now, re-reading, I am struck by how edgy and controversial some of them are. Of course, back then I had no genre standard to compare them to: I just knew they were brilliantly written. And that the author was fiercely intelligent - even though there isn’t the faintest flavour of that “literary erotica” that so bores and frustrates me. And that the book challenged me to reconsider all my sexual-political-feminist assumptions, and yet had a pure integrity all of its own.

And that the foreword alone was such an extraordinary rallying cry for sexuality, and not just LGBT and BDSM sexuality but for everyone who wants to read a dirty book or look at porn, that it had changed me forever. If you are a writer of erotica, you should read that foreword.

Oh yeah, and I should mention that it’s hot as hell! But it’s not the hotness that really inspired me ... after all, even a rubbishy letter in a skin mag can be hot, in an ephemeral manner. It’s that the stories were beautifully crafted and full of insight about their characters, and that even though the tales were all about sex, they were not the rubbish that we assumed then that smut must be.

So when I started writing, this book was my model. I didn’t worry myself about what was allowed and what wasn’t, in erotica. I didn’t write “what there was a market for” or even “what women wanted.” I just assumed that if the stories were good enough, that would be all that mattered. That I could write about anything that turned me on (dragon-sex included) and that the stories would speak for themselves. My naivety makes me laugh now – and yet it worked.
That friend back then had no idea how much I did need Macho Sluts – or the effect it would have on the rest of my career and life.

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You can find Janine here, being orsum: http://janineashbless.blogspot.com/
And here's some handy info about Pat Califia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Califia

10 comments:

  1. I didn’t worry myself about what was allowed and what wasn’t, in erotica. I didn’t write “what there was a market for” ... My naivety makes me laugh now – and yet it worked.

    Sounds a lot like when I started out! I had a lot of exposure (pun intended) to reading erotica in my younger years, but my approach was still quite blissfully fearless when I took to writing it.

    I've had a lot to learn since then, but being focused on the story first is critical, methinks.

    Great post!

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  2. Thank you Craig!
    One of the the many many quotes I was tempted to use from Califia's foreword is: "The task of creating high-quality pornography is a challenge worthy of any talented writer ... I'm talking about phrases that stay with the reader, images that come back in the middle of a work day and make her blush, a book that she will want to read again and won't lend to her friends because she knows she'll never get it back - not a disposable paperback she can toss into the garbage without remembering whether she read it or not."

    That's the standard I was challenged to write to.

    And I really would urge anyone serious about the craft to read this book.

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  3. Ha. I remember reading a Pat Califia story ling years ago in a friend's book of erotica. Most of the stories was pretty and literary and not very hot at all, but that one definitely stood out. I'm not sure I remember any others.

    This was before I was aware of the 'men like porn and women like romantic bubblebaths' divide but I guess even then I knew which side of the fence I was on :)

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  4. Janine - I'm glad someone brought up Patrick. His work inspired many writers.

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  5. Janine, thank you so much for being our guest here, and with such a wonderful post. As ever, your taste is impeccable, educational to others, interesting, and brilliant. I'm not sure how someone's taste in things can be all that stuff, but somehow yours is.

    And I'm glad I could have one of my heroines here for this particular topic.

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  6. I'd certainly agree Macho Sluts is one of those works that really extended what 'erotica' could be, and has bacome an almost 'canonical' work.

    Equally, as you say, the foreword always struck me as a hugely intelligent argument. And the work as a whole has certainly affected what I write.

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  7. Hello, Jannine,

    Welcome to the Grip! I've read some of Pat Califia's stories but not this book. Obviously my education has been lacking!

    Thanks!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  8. Haha! I have fought past the evil censorship of google chrome (*spit*) to get here and say Thank You to everyone commenting. And Thanks to Charlotte for inviting me!

    Kathleen brings up the point that Patrick Califia is nowadays male identified. I happen to have an original edition of the book with the name Pat on the cover/copyright. No offence was intended to transmen by me using the short version of his name.

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  9. Janine - I hope you didn't take that as a nudge. I'm from the South. We tend to use full names.

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  10. Kathleen, I did take it as a gentle nudge but I thought it was a reasonable and justified point, so absolutely no problems there. :-)
    I'd asked Charlotte to put in the wikipedia link to Patrick Califia because I thought the relevant information ought to be accessible even from my short book-focused post.

    And now I know something new about Southern speech patterns too!

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