Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Making the Scene at ERWA





Here in the Barnes and Noble at Augusta Mall, I usually pick the same little table near the back of the Starbucks. They’re lined up pretty deep at the coffee bar because it’s 100 goddamn degrees outside and everybody is ordering their woo-woo coffee drinks on ice. So I have to wait. I set up shop on my favorite little table and go over to the story anthologies section to scan the shelves while my laptop warms up. They have this book I’ve been snacking on, “Alison’s Wonderland” edited by (natch) Allison Wonderland. I wonder if that’s her real name.

I scan through the contents page of Allison’s Wonderland to see who’s on the bill. I don’t know anybody. It’s not my Scene. The Allison’s Wonderland book represents a certain kind of erotica, sort of the equivalent of Top Forty radio. It’s commercial erotica, sexy, descriptive, slickly produced but not too challenging. But it does have a really cool cover. When I scan through it I recall a discouraging observation in Han Li Thorn’s “Conflicting Desires: Notes on The Craft of Writing Erotic Stories” where he lets us in on the fact bookstore chains order erotic books based entirely on cover appeal with no interest in literary content or the authors sales record. Shucks. So that’s one end of the erotica rainbow, but what I’ve discovered is there is this other end. The literary end. It represents a Scene, different from the slick commercial Penthouse, Alison Wonderland “He Fucked Her Ass Good” Scene, or the Ellora’s Cave and Whisky Creek erotic romance Scene. These different groups represent different places to inhabit on the spectrum of naughty reading, just as back in the Rock Era (now they have a historic name for it) of the ‘60s, rock had different Scenes in different parts of the country. There was the British Invasion scene. The East Coast Scene. The Chicago Blues scene. The Southern Rock Scene and the San Francisco Scene. What I observe as I get to know this genre a little better is that erotic writing very definitely falls into distinct schools or “Scenes”. People in these Scenes know each other.

Now by habit when I pick up a book of erotic stories the first place I go is the contents page, not to scan the titles but the authors. I want to see if there’s anyone there I know. I want to check out - The Scene. Lisabet is the one I see the most often, she’s been at this for many, many years and she knows the job. After her I often see Kathleen Bradeen’s name go by, then Jean Roberta and D L King who seems to write vampire stories and lesbian stories, and occasionally Remittance Girl, though she doesn’t often submit her stuff to publishers for philosophical reasons. I love to see their names. Like the guy in Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, I want to accost somebody and shout “I know these people!” I feel like we’re part of a literary Scene, like the expatriates in Paris in the 1920s. That’s worth explaining.

These days my kid and I have been re-discovering Jefferson Airplane and I’ve begun to understand more about what a Scene is. When I was a high schooler in 1970 I took a girl to see the Grateful Dead at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. That was probably one of the last shows they did with their revered keyboard player Pig Pen before he kicked the bucket from alcohol poisoning. I didn’t know anything about the Dead, up till then I’d thought they were a biker gang, but I liked the girl and she liked the Dead, which is how these things work. At the time I didn’t think they were that great. They seemed stiff and uncomfortable. Kind of lost. The Grateful Dead weren’t at their best in a small Shakespearean playhouse where the audience of strangers sat quietly lamb-like in plush seats being fans. The Dead and the Airplane were elements of a much larger Scene, and to really hear what they were capable of, you had to see them in their natural habitat in San Francisco at the Family Dog or Winterland. Guitar cases scattered on the stage. Beer bottles parked on top of stacked amplifiers, smoldering cigarettes tucked inside tuning pegs, high as a hard boiled weasel on god-knows-what, surrounded on all sides by a circled crowd of familiar people who had known them as friends for years– people who were not particularly their fans, people who were not especially there to see them. These people dancing and boogying along – they were part of the Scene. If the Airplane was playing at the Family Dog tonight, well, that was just a plus. But the band didn’t matter, they were just the entertainment. Being there, being part of the Scene was what mattered. It was a life style. On YouTube when you see the Airplane and the Dead and even Santana, all together on the same stage at the Family Dog, that’s a very different experience than seeing the Dead at the dignified little Guthrie. Because when you’re on the Scene, you’re among family.

On the anthology shelf next to Alison’s Wonderland, is the Mammoth Book of New Erotica VOL 7. I’m in VOL 8 with “An Early Winter Train”, but Barnes and Noble never has it on the shelf. I cruise through the contents of 7 and they’re there – my people. My Scene. My band buddies. My blog mates. Rose B Thorny, Mike Kimera, Maxim Jakubowski; they’re all there. They were all my guests here at OGG, the literary equivalent of a jam session. Ashley Lister is there. Lisabet is there. M. Christian. Robert Buckley. All veterans of the ERWA (Erotica Readers and Writers Association) Scene, the erotica equivalent of ‘60s San Francisco. Next to it is Best of the Best of Women’s erotica VOL 2. ERWA veteran Kathleen Bradeen is in there. Its Winterland. It’s the Fillmore. It’s a Night at The Family Dog and Jack Casady/Ashley is shaking the dance floor with his thundering Guild Starfire bass. Grace Slick/Lisabet is yelling at the top of her Helluva Voice and burning the place down. Its Jorma Kaukonen/Bradeen and Carlos Santana/Charlotte-Michelle dueling Fender Stratocasters like a knife fight, and Jerry Garcia/Sanchez-Garcia watching and strumming the rhythm, waiting his turn to jump in while three Mexicans go ape-shit, sweat flying off their arms, slapping their conga drums as if they’re fighting off bees.

When I see these names in erotica anthologies I feel like I’m part of this ongoing Scene, not a big part but a substantial part. I’m there. In the Jam. On the Stage. These writers in the Mammoth and Coming Together books, they know me, some of them know my stuff. My sound. I’m so proud of that. I come from a background of no formal education, never having been around writers or academics in my life. A long strange life on the road. Knowing these writers and being known by them is a thrill and an inspiration for me. Ever and always. Love live The Scene.

26 comments:

  1. Garce,

    Thank you. Reading this made me feel as though I was part of the important scenes you discussed.

    One of the good things about the internet is that, as communities of artists, we can all connect in a way that has never previously been possible. To use your analogy: If John and Paul had been forming the Beatles today, they could have found a decent drummer rather than having to make do with using an 'adequate' local guy.

    Very thought-provoking post.

    Best,

    Ash

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  2. I always feel incredibly blessed to appear in Coming Together next to such accomplished erotica authors. And I'm proud to know that editors like Alessia Brio feel that I can hold my own alongside them. Like you said, it makes me feel like I'm part of the scene, though I'm only just arriving.

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  3. Hey, there.

    I'm really happy for you and your niche and the "scene" you describe being so comfortable in, but might I respectfully point out that not only is Alison's Wonderland not 'natch' edited by Allison Wonderland (though an author of that name appears in the TOC), but the book is inhabited by quite a few well known authors.

    I gladly direct you to http://alisontyler.blogspot.com for more information or even to my own site as I too appear in the book and have appeared in many of Alison Tyler's books http://smutgirl.blogspot.com as does Thomas Roche www.thomasroche.com and Donna George Storey (of ERWA fame) http://foodsexandwriting.blogspot.com and Shanna Germain (ALSO an ERWA alum) www.yearofthebooks.wordpress.com .

    Just thought I'd get that on the record as I've been snacking on the book too and am really enjoying the diversity from fun and flirty to dark and intense.

    best,
    Sommer

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  4. Garce - thanks for the praise.

    I like the way you think of these as scenes. While the differences are in a way indescribable, there are various approaches in erotica. All of them just as good, but not all of them will appeal to every reader.

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  5. Hi Ashley!

    The Internet is what made my contact with other writers and receiving their crits and guidance possible, as well as an audience form time to time. It does form these little communities which before would never have been possible. Thanks to Facebook my kid may have a chance of keeping his high school friends close all his life, whereas mine have scattered away.

    Yeah, imagine if the Beatles had had a chance to pick and choose. In their defense, dumping Pete Best was George Martin's idea and they just went along. I guess that makes Pete Best the patron saint of Almost Made Its.

    Garce

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  6. Hi Heather!

    I'm always so glad to see you pop by reading my stuff. Thank you! Alessia Brio's anthologies are such a good show case for new writers like you and me. She's opened up a lot of doors. Very glad to see you in there too. Knock 'em dead.

    Garce

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  7. I remember you! I went to your web site. You're Sommer Marsden, publicly at least. You wrote that story "The Three Billys" about the lady who hires these rough guys with muddy shoes to fix up her house and one of them hauls her off into a closet and boffs her from here to Sunday. Actually that was a pretty hot story. I liked that one, and the one Portia Da Costa wrote. That was the first Portia Da Costa story I've read.

    Well, don;t get me wrong. Those stories are a lot closer to crowd pleasing erotica than what I write. What I write is pretty quirky and not everybody likes it. In many ways I envy you, because you have the potential to command a wider audience than I ever will. On the other hand, you, me, and J K Rowling - we all just write what the story fairy gives us. We all write the stories we would like to read. Bruce Springsteen would sound weird singing "The Dancing Queen" and Celine Dion could never pull off "Smokestack Lightning" like Howling Wolf. Its just what makes the world go round. I enjoyed Allison's Wonderland. Maybe if i catch the call to submissions when it comes around again I can make "Through the Looking Ass" or whatever Vol 2 turns out to be.

    We might even share the covers together someday.

    Garce

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  8. hi Kathleen!

    That's kind of what I was saying to Sommers, different approaches to the same cultural mythology. we write what we're given to write.

    Glad to be part of the same Scene with you.

    Garce

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  9. Great analogy, Garce, though I'm not sure how well it would hold up to analytical scrutiny. I don't think the "scenes" in the world of erotica are nearly as well-defined as you paint them to be. After all, I write erotic romance, too. I actually have a story called "Crowd Pleaser". It shifts back and forth.

    "What I write is pretty quirky and not everybody likes it." That's an understatement. But the world of erotica is perhaps broader and more inclusive than the Airplane's or the Dead's.

    I'm glad that Sommer popped in to set the record straight about "Alison's Wonderland". I certainly would label Alison Tyler's stories as well as those she picks for her anthologies as "literary erotica". These authors might not be as interested in sex and death as you are () but they're not just writing about boffing either. Alison in particular understands and expresses the lure of darkness.

    And I'm hugely flattered to be identified with Grace Slick. I'm not a fannish squee kind of person, but she's definitely something of an idol...!

    Hugs,
    Lisabet

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  10. I'm new to the scene if you want to know me. I wrote an erotic novel called Cinderella Club. It's now available in both print and ebook at excessica.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and a bunch of other places.

    A chapter of Cinderella Club is available on www.literotica.com. It's titled Fox Hunt and I write as mia_erotica.

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  11. Hi Lisabet!

    I went to Sommers web site, damn she's prolific. I don't know how people do it. It takes me so long.

    You will always be my Grace Slick.

    Garce

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  12. Hi Mia!

    Welcome to the scene. Grab a bottle, stay away from the brown acid. Come visit you as often as you can. And good luck with your novel.

    Garce

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  13. Hmm...I wonder what my scene is? Of the 100 short stories I've sold so far, they've included romantic erotica (like my story "The Broken Fiddle" in Alison's Wonderland), lesbian erotica, BDSM erotica, literary erotica, fantasy erotica...sometimes a combination of several of those. (As well as non-erotic SFF and media tie-in, and my first novel, an erotica, received rave reviews for the mystery plot.) Come to think of it, I've also been in one or two Mammoth Books and Coming Togethers.

    Maybe my scene is "multiple personality? ;-) After all, it's been said that "she has so many pseudonyms, you'd think she was a spy!"

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  14. Hey Garce,

    You don't strike me as a man who reads broadly so you may have missed Sommer Marsden's response to your post over at Excessia blog.

    You ruffled quite a few feathers with your piece, mine included. I might have laughed off your somewhat adolescent relish for obscurity were it not for the fact you insulted me and so many of my peers in your post. I'm sure you didn't intend to insult us. However, if you consider yourself a writer, then it's your duty to choose your words carefully; to consider your audience (because this is the internet and it's not just your buddies reading your stuff); and to get your facts right. (Alison Tyler is an erotica pioneer and has long been one of the most well-respected editors in the business. If you fail to recognise her name on the cover of Alison's Wonderland, then you really ought to be embarrassed rather than cheerily proud!)

    Now, I don't wish to sound like a prick but my work appears in Mammoth 07, 08 and 09 (heck, my name's on the front cover of Mammoth 09 along with that of Rachel Kramer Bussel and Thomas Roche, two writers you'll also find in the TOC of Alison's Wonderland). I'm also in Best of Best Women's Erotica 2 (Hi Kathleen!). I don't say this to grab some literary cred and exclaim "don't you know who I am?" I say it to highlight that I, and many of the writers in AW, also appear in publications you appear to respect. If you don't know anybody on the bill of AW, I can only assume that your reading habits are rather blinkered; that you home in on your friends' fic while making major assumptions about that of other writers.

    Personally I rather resent the inference that because I'm not part of your imagined gang, I write 'he fucks her ass good' fiction; that mine is the erotica equivalent of a McDonald's Happy Meal and I only make it onto the bookshelves because bookbuyers have been duped by the pretty covers! The difference between commercial and literary isn't as stark as you suggest; just because an author sells, it doesn't follow that they're producing easily digestible pap.

    Sure, it's nice to feel a sense of belonging but the 'scene' you've conjured up looks to be sculpted by your own blindness. As has been pointed out in the comments, erotica doesn't divide itself up as neatly as you think. While you later claim your intention was merely to point out differences and make no judgement, the disregard you have for 'non-scene' writers prevails.

    Lisabet has pointed out, with way more tact, grace and patience than I'm capable of, that Alison's output, as editor and author, has plenty of literary merit and depth. I'm stunned that you respond to Lisabet's comment with little more than a reference to Sommer's productivity and your own slowness (the implication being Sommer's a hack while you're a tortured genius.) With your Grace Slick comment, you then slam straight back into reinforcing your notion of an exclusive, superior club. I really think Lisabet's comment deserved more than that; perhaps a little humility wouldn't go amiss?

    In reading the comments here and on Excessia, I'm struck by how extraordinarily tolerant, forgiving and diplomatic readers of your post have been (I'll exempt myself from this; consider me, like, some way-cool beatnik of the comments section). If there's such a thing as a 'scene' in erotica, it's of a hugely supportive, welcoming, intelligent, open-minded community of writers and readers. And though you clearly like to position yourself as edgy and non-mainstream, I'd suggest this is one scene where being on the margins might not be so comfortably 'hip'.

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  15. I agree. The analogy could've been drawn without scorning any writer you're as yet unfamiliar with and sneering at a book because it was stocked by a bookshop. As are the books you appear in.

    But considering how you see your fellow customers, I'm not surprised: "They’re lined up pretty deep at the coffee bar because it’s 100 goddamn degrees outside and everybody is ordering their woo-woo coffee drinks on ice." The only community that sort of contempt belongs in is the Philosophy 101 course.

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  16. In a weird way, the post reminded me of a blog post I clicked on because it showed up on the "freshly pressed" screen from WordPress, titled something like "10 Over-Rated Travel Destinations." I travel a lot, so I wanted to see what was "over-rated." Two on the list: the Grand Canyon and the Taj Mahal. The feeling I had was, "If something is popular, then I will be cool if I dismiss it."

    Rather than comment on whether the stories in the anthology are "crowd pleasing erotica," I want to ask... what is wrong with crowd-pleasing erotica? Is there something wrong with me as a reader, or something second-rate, if I enjoy stories that a lot of other readers also enjoy?

    Sure, I can go with the music analogy. I'm trained in classical music. Some days I sing along to Bach's Mass in B Minor (I do a soulful "Agnus Dei"). Some days I sing along to "I Wish They All Could Be California Girls." Am I a 'worse' musician when I like a song in the top 40? Because sometimes I *do* like a song in the top 40, and I refuse to pretend I dislike it just because a lot of other people enjoy it.

    I love dark edgy fiction. I also enjoy popular light fiction. I don't feel I have to choose one or the other to champion; and I take umbrage at being thought somehow less intelligent for reading books that other people read.

    I'm aware of issues of shelf space, and no, of course I don't want a bookstore to be just one "scene." However, I think cultivating an "us and them" attitude, or even a "me and them" attitude only perpetuates this. I think you can recognize familiar names without marshaling them into a camp (or a scene).

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  17. Wow, I've upset quite a few people with this. Okay. I've learned my lesson and I'll keep it mind.

    In this case I may be the victem of my own inept expression. When I say "scene", my original intention is not that one scene is better than another, although I did say something stupidly that implied that. I'm sorry. This is my official apology.


    What I mean literally by scene however is outside of quality. its more a matter of tone. If a person is a Grateful Dead fan it doesn;t mean Howling Wolf is junk. Its just a different kind of music.

    As I've said, Allison's Wonderland is a very successful and popular book. It certainly out sells my stuff. I've offended people with my clumsy remarks. I'll be more careful next time. You are all of you perfectly correct to value your stuff, and I wish Alison Tyler well.

    Once more - my remarks were phrased in a way which gave a tone of condescension I had not anticipated or intended and gave offense.

    Sorry.

    Sigh.

    Garce




    Garce

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  18. I also want to apoligise to my blog mates. My remarks have probably embarrassed you as well, and I just want to emphasize they are mine alone and do not reflect the views of paricpants on this blog.

    Sorry.

    Garce

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  19. Also Sheharazade:


    Sorry.

    My post was shit. I'm sorry. I also like the people who buy coffee at Barnes and Noble. They're fine human beings and I'm happy to read while I wait for them. I don;t hate people. I really don't.

    Sorry.

    I won;t mention anybody's books anymore. I'll keep my opinions on the low key too. I don;t like offending writers.

    Garce

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  20. Well hey now. I don't think anyone thought that you "hate people." Or at least, I didn't think that.

    I can't speak for others, of course, but for me, one reason I reacted strongly is that the attitude I perceived (rightly or wrongly--after all, both the writer and the reader have some responsibility) is one I've noticed elsewhere.

    I spent a long time in academia, and I read a lot. I read great books, and I read some (frankly) so-so books, and I read books that are very good but that are often judged to be crap because they belong to a certain genre.

    Just as some people have to sneak their erotica books under opaque cover sheets so no one can tell what they're reading, I hide my chick lit. And that irritates me. I want to just read what I like to read, without having to apologize or explain it.

    Surprisingly, I've found friends who know that I write erotica to be a lot more accepting of straight sex stuff than they would be of ... well, as one person put it, "Just promise me you'll never write romance." And why the heck not? (Of course, that immediately made me want to write one!)

    I take my coffee hot and black, but I do like that coffee is now sold in a lot of bookstores!

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  21. Garce, thank you. It takes courage to recognize one's mistakes and even greater courage to apologize.

    I hope we share a TOC some day.

    All best,
    Dayle Dermatis
    aka Andrea Dale

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  22. Thanks Garce, a nice apology, much appreciated.

    I think perhaps one of the reasons your post got a lot of people annoyed is because you go from talking about an *anthology* which didn't do it for you to talking about *authors* who do. The comparison is flawed. And it suggests you wouldn't want to give any more time to the authors in AW based on a single story of theirs you read - it's not your kind of book therefore these are not your people.

    I hope from this you'll gain a willingness to look outside your 'scene' and to try writers who are new to you. After all, you might find something you like; you might end up challenged and surprised; and then, hey, your world just got bigger! And that's got to be a good thing for anyone serious about creativity.

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  23. Hi Kristina

    Point taken, and yes i think actually that would be a good thing, looking outside my scene I mean. Someone said it sounded like I didn;t read broadly. I think I may say this isn't true. My tastes are very eclectic. Along with Lisabet's anthology "Sacred Exchange", I'm also reading a a book on physics and another book on Qabalistic tarot. But it can be said justifiably that my reading of erotica is limited in scope, that;s true and I should try to fix that.

    Be my friend Kristina. Tune in next wednesday and say hi.

    Garce

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  24. Garceus,

    I'm here because Nikki Magennis posted a link on her blog to a post at Excessica where Sommer Marsden had commented on what you'd written here. So there you go. The cyberspace grapevine.

    Seems to me you're a writer who's new to the erotica genre and making observations anyone new to the genre would.

    In 2001, I began reading Marcy Shiener's Herotica series and Susie Bright's Best American Erotica series and thought, "I want to do that too." Yeah. I wanted to write something as beautiful as Sonja Kindley's "Make Me." Oh yeah. We aspire to the talent of others, immulate work we respect, hold that which we wish to do ourselves as example.

    Likewise, I made mental notes of the names appearing in the Table of Contents just as you do. I thought, "I want to be like them." I wanted to be prolific and published and respected. I wanted those writers to take note of my work and respect my writing. Furthermore, I wanted that audience to like my work. In fact, I wanted an audience who felt moved and inspired maybe even changed by my stories.

    That was important to me and still is, it's why I write, and yet it's easy to get caught up in a scene and let your self become preoccupied with who's doing what where and how often. Yeah, yeah, the world is a clusterfuck of cliques, cliches, stereotypes and scenes, genres, labels, crowds and gangs. We can't function in a world where we're unable to label every freaking thing around us, and most times we want one label. "Mainstream." "Literary." "Alternative. or "Commercial." My son is biracial but when I fill out his paperwork for school he's either White or Mexican, never both. There's no room for it.

    Garceus, congratulations again on your publication success. Publication is an acknowledgement of your hard work, and it feels great to feel part of something. Good for you. I hope, too, that it's not just belonging to a scene that matters to you, but also the work.

    Peace,
    A

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  25. Heh, I'm late commenting here because I actually read Sommer's response first and only got round to here when Shanna linked to it.

    Ah, the internet, where our word spew comes back to bite us in the ass.

    All I can say is that the original post leaves me slightly bemused, because Alison Tyler was my first introduction to erotica, and all the writers mentioned and commenting are the ones I know as my scene. And they've all individually blown me away on many occasion, and there is plenty of darkness there.

    I mean, personally, I'd be sooo scared to make Kristina angry :D

    I hope you get to read more of their various work.

    Sommer's prolific turn out is nothing short of amazing - but she wears her ass to the bone to do it. Me, I'm slooow too. Wish it was different!

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