Friday, September 30, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Things I love about England:
(1) Signs of history everywhere! The local Church of St. Nicholas in Surrey had (probably still has) an Anglo-Saxon wall, built before the Norman Conquest. And I found out that Henry VIII really was roly-poly,judging from his armour. (He was about five high tall and five feet around.) When I moved to London, I found the gravestone of Anthony Trollope in the nearest cemetery, not singled out in any way from the rest.
On the Canadian prairies where I live, there are no buildings from before the 1880s. Public schools don’t teach children much about the history of the First Nations peoples who were here before “we” (white folks) arrived. And until recently, First Nations children were educated/missionized in church-run residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their own languages. The result is a kind of general amnesia about anything that happened before the late Victorian Age. Where's the evidence?
(2) The climate! Seriously. In southern England, you get two basic choices: it’s raining or it’s not raining. Sometimes the sun comes out. The air is humid enough to substitute for skin moisturizer. No one dies from overexposure to rain. Compare that to temperatures that range from 40 degrees below zero (about the same in Fahrenheit and Celsius) to 40 above zero (Celsius) or 110 (Fahrenheit).
(3) The scenery. I wouldn’t mind going for a walk in England and reaching a dead end, so to speak. (In a city, it would probably be an interesting building. In the country it would probably be something quaint and ivy-covered.) If you go for a walk in much of Canada (especially in winter) and get lost, your end might be deader than you planned.
(4) The arts. In Surrey, I went to a festival of Renaissance music played on the original instruments. Where I live, no one still has their grandmother`s piano. I also saw what was probably the worst performance of A Midsummer Night`s Dream I`ve ever seen, done by local amateurs on an ancestral estate. At least the locals were willing to honour the Bard, and the ancient oaks and rose bushes stole the show.
(5) Neighbourhood pubs that aren`t meat-markets. This might have changed since the 1970s, but in my experience, a young woman could sample the local beer without having to fight off unwanted suitors. Wanted ones are a different case.
(6) Some of the food. I`m sure Marmite was invented in hell (black yeast on toast! Who ever decided that was edible?), but Lancashire Hotpot, Devon Cream and cheap fresh fish make up for it.
(7) Micro-culture. Every county seems to have its own accent, its own landmarks, its own beer, its own cheese. Devon and Cornwall even have milk with a distinct regional flavour. Nowhere in North America can you find this much variety in such a small area.
(8) A non-hysterical attitude to sex and sexual orientation. (Mary Whitehouse was actually a prudish critic of the BBC, not part of the social mainstream.) The double entendres in British television sitcoms still seem daring by the standards of parallel North American programs aimed at `family` audiences. Sex ain`t no joke over here.
To be fair, I know the British economy sucks. O to be a tourist in Britain, with an income from somewhere else! I need to start planning.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The young lady in the green Publix apron looks up at me as earnestly as a girl scout. My mouth opens and closes like a fish. I can’t bring myself to say it. Yes, in fact there is something I’m looking for. Something I came specifically to Publix and not Krogers to buy, because I know they sell it here. In fact I’ve seen it here and marveled over it. Just can’t remember where I found it.
Even if it were condoms; extra, extra large, screaming the word “MAGNUM!!” on the box, made in bright adventurous colors that glow in the dark, lubricated with cherry flavored oil, ribbed and studded with little bells that jingle and vibrators built in, and tiny winged fairy girls that sing and dance when you roll them on, I could manage to squeak “Where is your family planning section?” and we’d both know what we’re talking about.
But this – gah.
It’s the words. It’s the words I can’t bear to conjure with.
“No, I’m fine thanks.”
“Okay,” she says and moves on, knowing intuitively I’m not fine, I’m just a stammering old fart who still doesn’t know after all these years how to tell a woman what he wants.
I cruise the aisles awhile, think it might be by the jellies and jams, its not, or by the barbeque sauces and charcoal, its not. I see a young man in a green apron, a likely lad, shelving breakfast cereal off a hand truck. With the confident stride of a Grenadier I step forward and say “Where do you put your British gourmet stuff?”
“Aisle seven, sir, down from salad dressing.”
“Thanks.” I look up at the aisle markers and head over to aisle seven. I find the British section across from salads, right next to the Chinese and Spanish stuff. There are McVities digestive biscuits, said to be a working class secret favorite of the Royal family. Treacle, a kind of cake in sweet syrup, which may be the source of the adjective “treacley”. A little jar of Marmite, which I do want and toss in my cart. And there in a can, its name defiantly intact against the efforts of the public relations munchkins is a tin of raisin sponge cake, also known as “Spotted Dick.”
If I were in England or Ireland I might have Irish Coddle, or maybe some rashers and bangers or maybe some kippers for breakfast. Rashers being English style bacon, a little like Canadian bacon, Canadian bacon being what we yanks would just call ham. Bangers are sausage, kippers are small smoked fish, usually tinned (or “canned” if you’re American.) I might have that with a cup of tea along with some biscuits. Biscuits not being the Deep South culinary cult item, which British would think of as unsweetened “scones”, but biscuits being what we would think of as cookies or even small pastries if you’re having high tea. High tea means something different too, in as much as in England high tea is what you have around four in the afternoon, whether you’re the Queen mum, or a garage mechanic, maybe with a tin of tasty chocolate covered biscuits, whereas in America high tea would be some really strong marijuana accompanied by several compulsive bags of Doritos.
Discrepancies like this exist in Spanish cultures too. In Panama “bicho” is a generic word for any kind of creepy-crawly, like the word “bug”. In Puerto Rico “bicho” is slang referring to a man’s tumescent penis, not that far away from spotted dick. In Panama the word “chicha” refers to fruit juice made by hand from raw fruit, either at home or sold on the street, such as maybe lemonade (“Dame una chicha del limon, por favor.”). In Puerto Rico, “chicha” refers to a vagina sufficiently aroused for reproductive engagement. I didn’t know this until shortly after we arrived in San Juan and went to a greasy spoon for breakfast and there was a big mosquito floating in my wife’s orange juice. She announced this by waving and yelling “Oiga! Aie un bicho grande en mi chicha!” which got the undivided attention of every male in the room.
I’m even informed that “Garce” means something rather nasty in French, but I’m okay with that. Words are images. Words are fluid. Words never stay the same but are constantly shifting in meaning from different cultures that share the same language and even from different time periods. I’m old enough to remember when Gay meant cheerful and care free. You might see a group of gay young men on a corner whistling, you know, "gayly" at young ladies. This is why words are such a traditional part of magic in all cultures from all times, because words conjure images and the images conjure reality. This is why I love words, and for me the pleasure of language is a key part of the writing life. Words are how we domesticate reality and bring it to ground especially in the world or writing and poetry.
Word processors are wonderful in this way because they give you to ability to edit and rewrite so smoothly when a better idea comes along, and there’s always a better idea somewhere. My early interest in computers in the mid 1980’s was primarily word processing machines. Many years ago I used to have a big Wang. My wife loved using my big Wang too. I miss my big Wang. It stopped working and I finally had to let go of my big Wang. I don’t know where it is now. You don’t see any big Wangs around in the stores anymore. Where did all the big Wangs go? They stopped making them? Do they make little Wangs now? Maybe in China they still have big Wangs, but not in America.
You’ll be pleased to know I got my spotted dick. I shared it with my wife, she likes spotted dick as much as any English woman. Say what you will, Spotted Dick is fantastic when its warmed up nice and hot with a gob of cold vanilla ice cream on it and it goes down good with chicha if the chicha is clean and fresh. Chicha smells bad and tastes funny when its not fresh. For a midnight treat there’s nothing like watching her licking a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream off my hot Spotted Dick and then diving into some fresh chicha afterwards. Mmmm mmmm good. Boy, I wish I had some right now. Just thinking about it makes me want to go look for some.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
So in no particular order, here are the top five things I'm envious of, when it comes to America and Americans:
1. The fact that you have Hershey's Mint Bliss thingies, and I do not. How is that fair? How is it just and right that you can go down to the nearest supermarket and buy a bag of heaven's treats, and I have to make do with stupid Twirl bites? And yeah, I know our chocolate is supposedly wayyyy superior to yours, but when it comes to Mint Bliss thingies I just don't see it.
2. You get The Office about a year before we do. I'm so envious of this I sometimes cry at night over it. And it's not just The Office, either. You get about a million other programs first that I need to have in my life right now. My only comfort is ordering region one DVDs online, but even then it's not the same as actually getting to watch this stuff live as soon as it comes out.
3. When a good movie comes out, invariably it will also take a year to come out over here. We still don't have Cedar Rapids. I'm not even sure if Clue has ever properly come out over here. Jane Eyre took six months. SIX. It's out on DVD where you are. Here, it's barely at the cinema. I had to watch it for the first time on a plane. ON A PLANE. By this point, my envy is literally trying to choke me.
4. The two most handsome men in the world, Armie Hammer and Brandon Routh, are both American. In fact, most of my top one hundred hunks are American. Ryan Gosling, Zachary Quinto, Lee Pace, James Spader, Timothy Olyphant, Edward Norton, Ryan Reynolds, Bradley Cooper, David Hyde-Pierce, Nathan Fillion...all American. I think. Some of them may well be Canadian. But as American envy is almost exactly like Canadian envy, I'm not going to split hairs.
5. All the places you can get lost in. You can literally drive down a road in America, and end up in the wilderness. You know what happens here when you drive down a road? You end up in a cul de sac, or maybe at a newsagents. There is no wilderness here. Whereas America sometimes seems almost primarily made up of wilderness. You can set stories there where people actually legitimately wind up almost eaten by bears.
America is orsum.
And that's all I have to say on the matter.
P.S. I have another menage book out, this month - All Other Things. It's got a kinky Irishman, some hot action with a desperate to experiment married couple, and a lot of hot bonking. Here's the buy link for it, where you can find an excerpt and the blurb:
But if you'd like, you can enter my contest to win a copy:
Would love it if you could stop by!
Monday, September 26, 2011
I've mention a few hundred times about my Romanian lineage, but my mother's family is English (and Welsh and Scottish, but the name is English). However, the cast-offs that my mother's people are descended from (scandalous folk, most of them) have been in the United States since the founding of Jamestown, so it's a real stretch to call the English branch family. They probably wouldn't want to claim us either.
Given that background, you'd think I'd have some Anglophile tendencies. I suppose I do. Not that I woke up early to watch Prince what's-his-face marry Pippa's sister a few months ago, or like Morris dancers or even have a great yearning to visit This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. But I'm terribly fond of my internet acquaintances from the UK such as Ashley Lister (former Gripper), Nikki Mangennis (have you read her work? You should. Amazing stuff that fills me with writer's envy. And she's probably going to kill me for suggesting she's English, but I'm not sure exactly how she identifies), Jim and Zetta Brown of Logical Lust (okay, I know he's Scottish and she's from the US, so I'm evoking the ignorant American protective clause right now), and current gripper Charlotte. Not to mention a host of other people I will remember the day after this post goes live.
And I'm hugely envious of the literary output of English (and UK) writers. William Shakespeare - the immortal bard. Mary Shelly - the mother of science fiction. Agatha Christie - who could make even murder seem so terribly posh. P.D. James - who made me realize that murder was actually a rather sordid affair. J K Rowlings - for being a damn fine storyteller and single-handedly saving an entire generation of readers. Jane Austin - for showing everyone that stories about women were interesting. For Rudyard Kipling, Douglas Adams, Author Conon Doyle, W.H Auden, Geoffrey Chaucer, Joseph Conrad, Val McDermid, Beatrix Potter, and oh, so very many names. Too many to mention.
Then there's television. Monthly Python's Flying Circus, Being Human, Dr. Who and Torchwood, Queer as Folk, The Avengers, Blackadder, Hamish Macbeth, Red Dwarf... again, too many to list.
Of course, we get to see only the best, so I'm sure there's mediocre stuff on their bookshelves and on their TVs, but their quality stuff is amazing. So all I can say is "Good show," and thanks for letting us steal it, corrupt it, and try to make it our own. And my apologies for sending, in exchange for all that wonderful work, McDonalds' restaurants and Jersey Shore - the immoral lard.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
By Lisabet Sarai
My first erotic work was published by a U.K. house, the late lamented Black Lace. Inspired by reading a Black Lace title by another author, I specifically targeted the book toward that trailblazing "erotica by and for women" imprint. Before I began, I made sure that I studied the extensive and somewhat shrill Black Lace guidelines, and I did my best to follow them. Single quotes around dialogue. No periods after honorifics like "Mr" and "Mrs". British spelling (no zeds allowed!) and vocabulary.
I tried, I really did. However, it's hard to reverse thirty odd years of writing habit. Kerri Sharp, the extremely activist Black Lace editor during this period, found errors on practically every page.
Correcting the spelling and punctuation issues didn't cause much difficulty. Vocabulary was a different story ("storey"? Maybe not!). I really hadn't realized (or should that be "realised"?) how many common concepts are addressed by different words in British versus American English. I particularly recall Ms. Sharp (i.e. "Ms Sharp") lamenting about my frequent use of "panties" to refer to my heroine's undergarments.
Apparently I employed the term quite frequently, often in juxtaposition with concepts of dampness. I just couldn't agree to replace all those references with "knickers". At the time, I could scarcely think the word "knickers" with a straight face. It reminded me of Monty Python (though as far as I can recall there's no MP sketch centered on ladies' underwear). My heroine is American, I protested via email. She'd never call her panties "knickers", any more than she'd refer to a sweater as a "jumper" or consider having sex in the "loo". And how could something called "knickers" ever be erotic?
We eventually compromised (hey! an American word that uses "ise"!), using "bikinis" in at least some of the instances where Kate's underwear is under consideration. As I recall, male clothing raised some issues, too. If I'm not mistaken, British men don't wear pants. They wear trousers. It didn't seem to matter that Gregory was also a Yank, albeit tempered by long years living in the Far East.
Ms. Sharp won most of the vocabulary battles - she was, after all, the editor, and I was seriously intimidated by the whole process of publication. Ironically, after Raw Silk went out of print and I reclaimed the rights, I sold it to the New York erotica imprint Blue Moon. They published it without a single edit - British spelling, punctuation and vocabulary intact.
The funny thing is that these days, a lot of my writing is once again being published by a company in the United Kingdom. Total-E-Bound is located in the historic town of Lincoln and I suspect that at least half of their authors are British. Fortunately, the editors at TEB sympathize (oh, I mean "sympathise") with their benighted colonial cousins. House style requires British spelling and verb forms, but vocabulary depends on where the story is set, and dialogue punctuation uses American conventions. In addition, they provide a Word template that highlights my errors when I unwittingly use a "z" instead of an "s" or fail to add the "u" in words like "colour" and "glamour".
I still have trouble with past tense verb forms. If I'm not thinking about it, I'll write "spilled" or "burned" or "kneeled" - given my penchant for BDSM, I use the latter a good deal! - only to have these corrected by my editor to "spilt", "burnt" and "knelt". Sometimes the template points out these issues but often it does not. Since I've learned (sorry - "learnt") to more or less ignore Word's grammar corrections, I won't usually notice anyway.
It's enough to give me a major headache. Sometimes, I wish I were a Brit. There's the food to consider, but I'm a decent cook, so I'd make do. Practically everything else about England appeals to me: its rich history; its extensive literary tradition; the knicker-dampening effects of a British accent, especially tripping off the tongue of Sean Connery or Michael Caine; the peculiarly British enthusiasm for corporal punishment...
If I were British, I'd be able to give TEB stories that required far less editing. And that's not all. I'd be able to use fabulous, emotionally evocative words like "whinge", "knackered", "posh", "bollocks" and "bloody", with authority and flair. When I sat down to pen this post, I had some notion that I'd adopt a British voice and pepper my essay with the colorful (excuse me, "colourful") slang that I find so appealing. I gave up on that idea pretty quickly - it was a far more difficult task than pretending to be Jane Austen - even if she was a Brit.
So I guess I have to accept the fact that I'm a Yank, unable to write the Queen's English with the same fluency and control as Charlotte and her compatriots. Indeed, one reason I adore Charlotte's work is the intensely English tone of her characters' thoughts and conversations.
You know, actually, the Brits put up this front of being all conservative and conformist, but I think they may have dirtier minds than anyone else. (Our Saturday guest, Jacqueline Applebee, agrees.)
Maybe I've got some Anglo-Saxon ancestors.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Parker is my patron, my lover, and my muse. I live with Parker in her beautiful three-story century home downtown. I sit at her antique desk, with the laptop she bought me, and I write her stories. Dirty stories. Because that’s what Parker likes. Sometimes I write about Daddies and their little girls, dirty little girls who like to be fucked. Sometimes I write about rock hard butches in low slung jeans and pouty femmes with short skirts and bright red lipstick. Sometimes, there’s even romance. I write about dominance and submission and bondage and pain. Because Parker is a sadistic fuck, and because you have to write what you know.
From “Writer’s Block”
Lisabet wrote earlier in the week that the heroes in her stories are often partners from her past, and that she’s never used any of her husband’s traits to fashion a character; Charlotte wrote that none of the specifics she writes about have ever happened to her. In fact, the consensus seems to be “but not my partner” when it comes to what gets mined for story fodder. I started writing this thinking I would tell you that for me, it’s the opposite – that I can’t seem to get away from writing about my partner. And to a certain degree, it’s true.
She is patron, lover and muse to me, and I do sit at her antique desk with the laptop she bought me and write her stories, a lot of them, like “Writer’s Block” with BDSM elements. It is what I know, and it’s probably also why none of my past lovers have ever shown up in my fiction – because I know without being told that she doesn’t want to read it. She’s also butch to my femme, and thematically, I’ve gone there a lot too, both because it’s familiar to me, and because personally, I think any kind of gender fuckery is just plain hot. There are pieces of her sprinkled throughout my stories: physical characteristics, mannerisms, things that she’s said. They’re never all in one place. I’ve never written her specifically, but if I were to gather all the pieces together, I’d have quite a detailed picture of her.
There are some places too where our life and our relationship bleed through more clearly than others, and some stories that are more akin to love letters to her than they are works of fiction. I’m conscious of the fact, as Jean reminds us, that there can be consequences to putting too much truth out there, but in these cases, it’s deliberate. Physically, the characters aren’t us, and the sex is never a past encounter I’m replaying, but the settings have been real, and the emotions…there’s truth in them. I want to look back in five or ten years and be reminded of how I felt, of the little shared moments that were so memorable but that I know will inevitably fade in my own memories with time.
I knew that day that what I felt for her was without equal. I knew
that the only way for me to live my life was with her by my side. I knew it with a certainty that had no credible explanation, but that I trusted implicitly. We hardly knew each other, and I knew that such a declaration would be viewed with skepticism from those who knew us until time proved otherwise. As it has.
From “In Your Pocket”
I think what I’ve come to understand in writing this though, is that it’s not my partner per se that I’m mining, so much as it is the intangible stuff that comes out of our relationship. That’s the stuff, to borrow from Garce, that I’m picking up and sticking in my head. I’m a very ‘bricks and mortar’ kind of girl. I want to know the size and shape of things. My partner is not. She lives in her emotions much more than I do, and quite frankly, I’m pretty bad at sitting and talking about that kind of stuff, like, deer in headlights bad. I need the time and distance writing gives me to really let it all come together, whether that’s exploring the mess of emotion that I feel when I can’t write like in “Writer’s Block”, or in exploring the mushy good stuff she makes me feel like in “In Your Pocket”. In other words, it’s not her (really), it’s me.
Not very long ago, we had to deal with a very real threat against her life (in her professional capacity she spends much of her time helping people who suffered terrible abuse as children; sometimes these people grow up to be very damaged adults with a lot of misguided rage, and sometimes, though rarely, it winds up directed at her). I wrote about it in Sacchi Green’s Lesbian Cops
…[E]ven like this, held tight in the circle of her arms in the privacy of our bedroom, he was there. He was everywhere. His taint was like a mist curling in through a crack in the window, seeping under the doorframe, spilling through the keyhole. It was insidious, filling the inside the room until I felt like I couldn’t breathe again, until I felt like I was suffocating in fear and anger and despair.
Patrice was vibrating, struggling with emotions of her own. I knew I should say something about how everything would be o.k., and about how I knew she would catch this filthy coward, but the words couldn’t make it past the lump in my throat. I was determined not to cry – she didn’t need that from me right now, but when she said, “I put a copy of my will in the lock box…” the tears fell of their own volition, and she rocked me in the dark, and nothing more was said.
From “A Cop’s Wife”
My partner is not a cop, and the facts of that story bear no resemblance to happened to us, but for a couple of months our life was incredibly tense and overwrought with all kinds of crazy emotion. To this day she hates that story, but for me, writing about the experience was cathartic and frankly, cheaper than therapy.
At the end of the day, most of what I write is pure fiction, conjured out of the void by an image, or a “what if”, the lyrics of a song, or a half-remembered dream. But if there is something I return to again and again, it’s her; it’s us; it’s the things that are closest. I don’t know if that makes me a good writer or a bad one. I don’t know whether or not I’ll move farther away from personal experience as I become a more practiced and skillful writer or not. For now, I’ll continue to cobble together what inspiration I can from the world at large, but mostly, I’ll write what I know.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Sally got a few stories published on websites and print anthologies. She thought the story of her relationship with Harry was the most powerful one she had ever written. She thought of changing enough details that no reader would recognize her or Harry (assuming the thing would ever get published). When she tried revising it, some of the power leaked out.
Sally decided to stick with the truth, and to expand her story into a novel. She sent it to several publishers, and on the fourth try, her book was accepted for publication. The editor assigned to work with her said that inspirational stories like hers were very big that year. Sally and Harry celebrated with champagne.
Sally was invited to appear on talk shows. Hollywood agents approached her about movie rights.
Total strangers stopped Harry in the street to ask if he was really the guy who once weighed 300 pounds, and if he really grew up in a slum. They asked why he wasn’t more assertive when he was bullied in grade school. Strangers told him that all his problems stemmed from being the “forgotten child” in his family, or from that awful episode at summer camp, when he was inappropriately touched by an older boy.
Harry found a photo of himself at age eighteen on the website of a former classmate. That had been the year he dropped out of all his first-year university courses. A friend of a friend found the unlisted telephone number of Harry and Sally, and told Harry that his eating disorder was really a symptom of unresolved sexual issues. The caller advised Harry to admit to himself that he was gay.
Harry became sexually turned off. Whenever he and Sally were alone in their bedroom, he felt as if he were being watched through a webcam. He could only come when he was alone.
Harry asked Sally to stop blogging and to turn down all requests to promote her book in public. She accused him of trying to sabotage her writing career as well as his own recovery. She said she was concerned about him, and advised him to go back to the support group. He didn’t bother to tell her why he couldn’t.
Harry moved out. A close friend recommended a lawyer who might agree to help Harry sue Sally in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds if he won.
This worst-case fantasy isn’t any more drastic than some cautionary tales from real life. The messy triangle of D.H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda (who left her first husband to live with him and be his Muse) and the socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell is part of literary history, even though they have all been dead for years. Read Women in Love or watch the movie version if you’re interested in a thinly-disguised version of real-life events.
The rants of David Lawrence (as he was known in life) on numerous topics are still easy to find in published form. So are contemporary accounts of his fights with Frieda, written by other writers who knew them.
You want know the dirt about the writers Henry Miller and Anais Nin? It’s all there in their books, as well as the movie versions.
As an English major in university, I learned about Bad Romance and its long-term literary consequences before any of my own writing was published. Eep.
Of course, I wrote about my own experience, which included the people I knew in real life. Some of them would probably dispute my version of things if they knew what I had written. Conflict is dramatic, and relationships that don’t end well are interesting to read about, but does the whole world need to know why my high school boyfriend broke up with me? I think not. (Actually, I wrote about that in a piece for my column, Sex Is All Metaphors, which ran on the Erotic Readers and Writers Association site from July 2008 to November 2010. Oops.)
I began writing erotic stories in the 1980s, before I met (or remet, since we were acquainted before) my Significant Other. If I hadn’t met her in the real world, I would be tempted to make her up. She became a political refugee in the 1970s because she had the courage to oppose a military dictatorship. After being sent to the windswept Canadian prairie (not her first choice of destinations) with her husband and child, she became fluent in English by watching TV soap operas. She became a community organizer. She was already a talented musician on a variety of instruments. Her singing voice is warm and soft, but capable of filling a room without amplification. She could probably survive being shipwrecked on a desert island.
My erotic writing didn’t become an issue in our relationship until we acquired a computer, I read some calls-for-submissions and started writing my sex fantasies again. I can’t imagine a Significant Other who could be perfectly calm about the possible public spilling of every bean by a lover who writes.
“Just don’t write about me,” she said. “Please don’t.” It seemed like a reasonable request, especially since I wasn’t willing to stop writing about sex altogether. This plea from a woman who wouldn’t beg for mercy from armed men reminded me of the power of every creative writer. We can ruin lives, including our own.
I’m sure some traces of everyone I have ever known (including Significant Other) have seeped into my writing, especially my erotic stories. Tempting as it is to describe her physical characteristics (and my amazement at how sexy she still is in her early 60s), I resist temptation as far as possible. None of my characters look much like her, and few come from her home country. (I wrote one story about sex on a beach there – between two men.)
I’m sure the details of my life wouldn’t be hard for a determined snoop to discover. (But who wants to?) For better and worse, my life overlaps with those of several other people. As inspiring as they are, I don’t have the right to speak for them.
So there it is. I could claim that in some deep Jungian sense, all my characters are me, and also not-me. Where they come from is no one else’s business.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Saturday morning I head out to for my occasional pilgrimage to Aiken South Carolina. It’s not that far from Augusta about a half hour drive depending on how hard you push it. I like driving on the highway because it’s so meditative and the mind is so free to wander. I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff and car trips are good for thinking.
Aiken is pure old south. Pulling off the highway, heading down the county road towards Main Street you see cotton fields go by, junk stores and farmer’s markets. As you get towards town, everything is less funky and more gentrified. The main street on Aiken is made for tourists, kitschy and artsy and precious. I lock up the car and as I slouch my way towards Moonbeans, I’m already starting to feel moody.
Moonbeans is what I come here for. A while back I decided to take my coffee jones to the next level and bought an old electric coffee roaster from eBay. Moonbeans is a little coffee bar where the artful folks gather to write earnestly in notebooks and discuss the the big stuff. Fifty years ago they’d all be wearing berets and turtlenecks. Next to the coffee bar is a little room, a snug little wizards den with exotic burlap bags of green coffee beans locked away in bins and the air is filled with a water watering toasty smokiness. Jim is that rare man who is madly in love with his woman and his job. He’s a young man who kind of fell into this work by accident when the business opened. He’s happy, tall, strong looking with wire glasses, a kind of taliban beard, and a black t-shirt that reads "Corporate Coffee Sucks!" We talk coffee roasting and beer making for an hour and negotiate over a couple of small bags of tiny green unroasted beans from Guatemala and Sumatra.
I toss the bags in my van and lock them up. I look around and I feel that feeling again. That feeling that I should have lived here, that in a better life I would know these people and people like them. That I could be a part of that airy black turtleneck world of latte fueled ideas. I’m always okay until I’m among them and then I have that sense of a life unlived, of having left the tracks long, long ago. I want to write about that feeling, but I don’t know how yet and who wants to read that soppy stuff anyway?
It’s such a nice morning and I feel so much like going for a walk to beat the blues. I wander into this little shop of locally made art objects. This is a good place to pick things up and touch them. You never know. This is where ideas come from. John Lennon wrote “Good Morning Good Morning” for SGT Pepper’s by listening to a Kellogg’s corn flakes commercial on TV. “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” came from a vintage circus poster he picked up, probably in a shop like this one.
In my case I would never write a story about my wife or kid, I wouldn’t even know how to bring them into the worlds I write. I suppose that’s true for most writers. A fiction writer is more like a beach comber, wandering the streets, looking down at his feet with one wet finger in the air testing the wind. You pick up small objects of thought here and there and see if they can be fit together, like arranging cards from a tarot deck into a story or bit of sooth saying. It seems to me this is the only difference between a writer or poet and relatively sane people. You pick stuff up and stick it in your head the way a baby sticks things in its mouth. That and some verbal skills if you work hard to learn language. The rest is managing your demons.
My eye is drawn to a sexy green pot bellied goddess, nude and full breasted, etched with continents like the earth. She smiles like a feminine Buddha with infinate maternal patience, and her hands are resting proudly on her swollen pregnant belly. Gaia, goddess of the world.
I imagine myself and her standing next to me. Will such a person greet me when I die? If it were God would I forgive God for all that goes on? I try to imagine God this way, this sexy pregnant babe who wants to be my lover and friend and maybe teach me how to boogaloo. I try to sketch out a story like that and I can taste it just out of my reach. I almost want to go back to Moonbeans and buy a cup and sketch it out on some napkins but I can’t feel the emotion of it, just a vague longing with no where to go.
Back on the street I start walking towards the edge of town and turn left down a side street. This is a very gentile, old south road such as buggies with horses, and young men in uniform returning from the war might have come down. There aren’t any sidewalks, but it doesn’t seem to need them. The street is a wide boulevard such as you see in big cities, lined with towered pines and Magnolia trees. If the magnolias were in bloom I might feel like Nixie remembering dark German forests at night with her heart breaking cuckoos. I remember that line when I wrote it, it was a good line. Where did I get it? I think I got it walking down this street a long time back.
A woman in loose blue exercise jerseys and thick sneakers goes padding by pumping her elbows high. I can’t see her face, but I know from how she moves that she's an older generation Korean. I’ve lived with Koreans, I know how they carry themselves, and she’s wearing one of those huge billed poker visors that Korean ladies like to wear when they exercise even on cloudy days. As she trots by I notice she has unusual breasts for a middle aged Asian lady, a D size at least. The stuff of fantasy. I wave and try not to stare too rudely as she wobbles past like a buxom little butterfly in blue.
I stop and think, what would it be like to be married to her? Fantasy. How? What if she only married me for a green card, didn’t even speak English, but intoxicated by her body I decided to keep her? Even though we couldn’t communicate? Could I marry someone for their exotic sexuality and keep them and be happy? Is that what the eroticism of paranormal romance is about? Does this mean I'm an ugly person? Try again, what does it really mean to be the lover 0f someone so different?
I would never write about my family. But I’d write about her because she's a stranger, a blank sheet. I don’t know why I desire her so specifically and so strongly. This is where stories come from, things that drift by and stick to the flypaper of the mind’s eye. Images. Images are how the soul searches itself. And think again – the desire to fuck her, no, that’s incidental, that’s not where the truth is hidden. Why make love to her instead of another? Why so exotic? Is it exploitation or something else? Explore that question and you have the real story.
Next to me is a huge old house, a kind of antebellum mansion such as Scarlett O Hara might have entertained soldier boys in. Another sea shell on the beach, I pick up and hold up to my eye. What if I lived there and it were haunted? A lady ghost who seduces you at night and gives you pleasure to exhaustion and leaves with the dawn? Why does it appeal to me? No doubt it’s been done to death by a dozen writers already. But in real life, wouldn’t that be delicious?
I search my heart and realize these are all fantasies of alienation, which is how Aiken with its rich artsy culture and gentrified atmosphere makes me feel so bad whenever I come here. I could have had such a different life. I could have been a better person in my own eyes. Walking in Aiken makes me feel small and mediocre until I want to die.
I think about the little statue in the shop. Why couldn’t God have been that God, female and earthy; a goddess who would whisper dirty jokes in your ear and guffaw haw-haw-haw and give you a hug, instead of the dour male desert God of religion?
There’s this feeling that comes to me in that moment, in the midst of my down-castness that I will try to explain. But I can’t explain it well. Not really.
It’s a revelation. A kind of consolation a lonely man might receive from his soul. In the real world revelations are not dramatic blinding experiences. Neils Bohr discovered the basic model of quantum mechanics while standing at a crosswalk waiting for the streetlight to change. He wasn't even thinking about it. A revelation is a man stopping and standing where he is. Looking at his shoes, chewing gum, with far away eyes. A triumphant grunt “Huh.” And continues walking, but he is not living in the same world anymore
It says to me – nothing is as it seems. Death is not as it seems. Life is not as it seems. Absolutely God is not what you think. Come here honey, says the green goddess. Just put your ear against my tummy and listen:
The world is a web.
I’ve heard this before, but it takes a moment of howling soul sadness to recognise it. Nothing is as it seems. Everything is connected, the way every drop of water in the vast ocean is connected. I feel profoundly alone, but the little pot bellied Goddess is saying to me – you are never alone. You cannot be alone. There is nothing in existence that is not connected to everything that exists. The fall of a sparrow is felt by the world. The passionate intense union and intimacy with The Other that you starve for is the natural longing of your soul just before it blossoms, as the flower longs for the bee that completes it.
The feeling passes and my feet begin to hurt. I need to go back, go home to my little house and roast some coffee. And none of it is important, and somehow all of it is profoundly important. The revelation is just out of my reach, like a feminine orgasm. I know there’s a story in there somewhere. If I just knew how to write it.
As I walk back to the main street I feel dazzled and released. The Korean lady with the extraordinary breasts goes jogging past and this time looks up at me and smiles. I’m connected to her. We are all a part of this huge laughing pot bellied cosmos. Is she an angel? I’m going to think about her all the way home and if I write a story, she’ll be an angel.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
1. People say words.
2. Sometimes they have sex.
3. Occasionally there are feelings.
But I've got to be honest. None of the specifics have ever happened to me. And you know why?
Because in my books I control all of the parameters; my heroines can do whatever they like. There's no worrying about making a massive blunder or accidentally making a mess. No one has to experience a fall out I didn't endorse beforehand, everyone must check with me at the gate before they board.
In real life, things are difficult. Stuff doesn't want to happen. I don't want stuff to happen. I don't actually really like the idea of having sex with Brandon Routh in a toilet cubicle - it happened in the film Karla and frankly it looked uncomfortable.
I mean, he's just so massive. And in reality, big cocks feel like being hollowed out with an ice-cream scoop.
I don't want to be hollowed out with an ice-cream scoop. I mean, I'd love to be able to say, here, that I've had fantastic adventures like Lisabet. I'd love to tell you I'm interesting, because maybe you'll now think I'm a fraud and not want to buy my books.
I mean, really. What do I know?
Though I do at least know this: the fantasy is always better than the reality. And that's what I write: fantasy. I try to write it gritty and real and so close you can almost taste it, but it's still always one step away.
And that's how I like it.
Monday, September 19, 2011
As I've often mentioned, my favorite place to write is on the deck of my golden barge as it sails the mighty Los Angeles River. There's something stirring about the sunlight glinting from the bare, sweaty, muscular backs of my oarsmen; the soft, cooling breeze that wafts from the ostrich plume fans wielded by leather-clad pony boys; the attentive care of my twin ex-gymnast grape peelers...
Okay, I can't keep writing this with a straight face. So here's the real deal. My sex life is scattered all through my stories. Like the time I watched my college roommate's boyfriend fuck her. Hey - they knew I was in the bottom bunk. And he saw me watching when our gazes met in the mirror. Didn't stop his rhythm one beat. I'd seen lots of porn, but before that moment, I'd never realized how sexy men are while they're fucking. All that power and thrust in their thighs and buttocks, and the intense concentration on their faces. Beautiful. It also means that I write a lot of voyeurism tales, because I know firsthand how hot it can be.
I've written many times about the breathless look of lust and wonder on a lover's face when they realize sex is inevitable. The transformation is a powerful, primitive drug. In real life and in stories, I mine that moment over and again, and it always works for me.
Once upon a time, I gave worst blow job in the entire history of blow jobs. No exaggeration. He stuffed his dick back into his jeans to stop the travesty bad. I've since dedicated my life to perfecting my technique. But the good side of that - other than my very content practice partner - is that when I write oral sex, I know the bad from the good, and I like writing about how very good the good can be.
What I don't mine for stories is the bad sex, which is why I rarely write lesbian erotica. One time my roommate passed out at a house party and one of the guys gave up his room for her to sleep it off. I thought I'd stay with her to make sure she was safe since I was one of the few sober people in the house. A girl I'd met at the party crawled into bed with me. And like any fumbling boy his first time out with a girl who knows a lot more, I learned how really angry women get when you're terrible at sex. I mean so bad that she left the room in a huff and spent the rest of the night on the floor in the front room with a bunch of broken pretzels as a pillow and a towel for a blanket. Yeah. That bad. It hovers over my imagination like a black cloud of pestilence. Every time I get warmed up to the idea of women lovers in a hot, sexy scene, the cold water of life experience dashes over me and kills the mood.
Theoretically, I'm open to improving my lesbian sex skills as much as I was my bj technique, but in reality, no. Like my golden barge, I think that ship has sailed. But that's okay. I still have plenty of material left to mine even though I'm in a very monogamous, long term relationship. Because I think that the secret to really good sex writing is in the seduction, not explicit sex, and even in a long term monogamous relationship - or especially in one - the seduction is an ever evolving work of craftsmanship.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
By Lisabet Sarai
Kathleen is responsible for this week's topic, “Nuggets of the Good Stuff”. Her explanation follows:
Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will. ~Goethe
But what about the world around you? What about your partners, your history, your setting, etc. do you mine for your stories? And how do they feel about being your muse, or fodder?
Oh, where to begin?
Practically every story I've ever written uses details from my personal experience. I have a reputation for tales set in exotic settings, and yes, I've spent time in Bangkok, London, Prague, Luang Prabang, Provence, and Amsterdam. The distinctive atmosphere of those locales can't help but seep into my writing. For the rare stories I write that are set in locations I haven't visited (Guatemala in Serpent's Kiss; Assam in Monsoon Fever), I tend to work by analogy, importing material from places about which I do have first hand knowledge, to make the results of my research more convincing.
I spent the first quarter decade of my life in school, college and grad school, and ten plus years working in universities since. It's no surprise that I count more than a few graduate students and professors among my characters. I find the superficially formal, conformist academic environment to be a supremely appropriate backdrop for outrageously kinky behavior.
The area where I borrow most intensively from my history, though, is in the creation of my male characters. I've had a rather diverse and colorful love life. It's pretty common for me to base my heroes on one or another of my past partners.
Of all my lovers, my poor Master has suffered most from my literary exploitation. Aspects of his personality and his physique show up in dozens of my stories, starting with my very first book. Raw Silk was partially dedicated to him, “My master, mentor and muse”. I even borrowed some quotes from his epistolary seduction of a D/s virgin (me, that is) to use in the novel.
How does he feel about appearing (in various disguises) in so many of my salacious tales? Simultaneously flattered and annoyed, I believe. As I've noted before, he's a very private person, and I'm sure he's somewhat concerned about his identity being compromised. This didn't stop him from bragging to his close friends about Raw Silk, though!
Another rogue who looms large in my fiction is D., the man whom I've referred to here as the “dark poet”. We had a sometimes exhilarating, sometimes depressing, relationship for a number of years while I was in grad school. Intellectual, creative, moody and passionate, intensely sexual but suspicious of his own carnal desires – lean and disheveled, with unruly dark hair and a droopy mustache – D. was the physical model for Rick Martell in Ruby's Rules, and has shown up in a range of other tales, most notably Truce of Trust, where I imagined him as my (that is, my heroine's) husband. (My master also shows up in that ménage tale.)
Then there's M. I met him at a friend's wedding and fell instantly in lust. The chemistry was mutual, even though at the time our lives and our values could hardly have been more disparate. M. was short, like me, with a strong, compact body and an infectious smile. He makes an appearance in my short story “Something Borrowed”, loosely based on that wedding, and also influenced the physique of Mark, my hero in Incognito. I'm still in touch with M., but like most of my friends and acquaintances he doesn't know about my literary endeavors. I plan to keep it that way – just in case he's uncomfortable with the liberties I've taken, making him bisexual and a BDSM switch!
In mining my history, I've gone back as far as high school. Gino in Almost Home bears a close resemblance to a guy who teased me relentlessly from the eighth through the twelfth grades and who I later realized was as attracted to me as I was to him. There's a lot of my past in that story, including the story about how “Gino” shamed my then-boyfriend, Gino's closest buddy, into taking me to the prom. I understand now how generous a gesture that was; I strongly suspect he wanted to ask me himself.
Then there's DD., my Indian lover who partially shaped Anil in Monsoon Fever; M., the first man (or perhaps I should say boy) I ever kissed, who was the model for Ray in Incognito; and the guy who's name I can't remember, who seduced and then abandoned me when I was a shy, naïve college junior. That experience appears (with some embroidery) in Incognito, as the justification for Miranda's fear of intimacy. The fact that I've forgotten his name is probably a good thing!
As I wander through the rogues' gallery of my past loves, I'm struck by the fact that I've never used any of my husband's traits to fashion a character. Perhaps one needs a bit of distance to stimulate the imagination. I doubt that K. would really mind, as long as I distorted enough details to preserve his anonymity.
Writing this post has also reminded me of all the other men I've known who haven't shown up yet in any of my stories, but who might contribute to future heroes. Let me reassure you, though, that not all my characters have a basis in fact. Indeed, as I become a more practiced and skillful writer, I find my characters becoming more diverse and more independent of my personal experience. My most recent release, Wild About That Thing, features two heroes who have little or nothing in common with any man I've ever known. Zeke is a blond, burly blues guitarist from Mississippi, a bearish type quick to smile but dangerous to cross. Remy is a slender, elegant, shaven-headed black man from New Orleans, equally passionate about the blues. The physical inspiration for Remy (and the germ of the story) came from a guy I noticed at a blues concert, so focused on the music that I doubt he was aware of anything else. His personality, though, flows entirely from my imagination.
I also notice that I can't think of a single female character who borrows much from anyone in my life – other than from me, that is. Some of my heroines are more like me than others, but I dare say that all of them, even the ones who are the most different, share some of my traits – whether I intend them to or not. I guess that this is what Goethe means. For the most part, my borrowings from the rogues' gallery are deliberate acts of literary license. In contrast, when I insert myself into a female character, I might not even realize that's what I'm doing.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
I was easing myself into the columns of the morning spreadsheet and remarking how especially crisp the 3s and 7s looked when I sensed a presence. I swiveled the Edwards hips in the task chair—entangling one of the casters with the fax-machine cable in the process—and found myself face to face with Reeves.
The Reeves half of the face-to-face action held a hint of foreboding, if foreboding is the word I want. I don’t mean to imply that you’d stop her on the street for an autograph, having mistaken her for the Greek mask of Tragedy, or sidle up to inquire solicitously which Russian novel she’d wandered out of. No, Reeves is not one to convey emotion on a grand scale. But years of employing Reeves as my assistant bookkeeper had taught me to recognize the soupcons of anxiety that appeared from time to time in the Reeves countenance, and this was a soupcon if I ever saw one.
“Oh, hullo, Reeves.”
“Good morning, sir.”
“Here a bit early, aren’t you?”
“It is kind of you to notice, sir. I did arrive in a chronologically anterior fashion today.”
“Eager to dip into the Habermas, were you?” One of the reasons Reeves stays with us is that toiling in the college-bookstore milieu gives her access to her favourite scribblers. From what Reeves tells me, this Habermas fellow writes tomes that grip the reader from start to finish. I imagine he’s pretty generous with the ménage and exhibitionism scenes.
“No, sir. I thought my presence might be of some small benefit as we examined the contents of the Federal Express envelope.”
Well, I won’t say I fell all the way off my task chair, but the fleshy parts slid far enough down the seat that the phrase “mileage reimbursement” crossed my mind.
“Reeves, you must be more careful with your enunciation,” I said sternly. “You slurred your speech so awfully just now, it sounded like you said ‘Federal Express envelope.’”
“No, sir. That is indeed the phrase to which I gave utterance.”
“What? Why the d. would you do that?”
“Because, sir, the term was the most accurate description at my disposal when I found it necessary to impart news of the object’s arrival. It was presented by the delivery gentleman shortly before closing time last evening, and I surmised that you would wish to respond to the missive at your earliest convenience.”
“What do you suppose the blasted thing says?”
Reeves coughed discreetly. “Conjecture will not be required, as I took the liberty of perusing the document when it arrived.”
“Well, what did it say, Reeves?” Despite her general attitude of—what is it? Starts with an r . . . ah, right, reserve—despite her reserve, Reeves has a sneaky flair for the dramatic that can be exasperating. I mean to say, there’s a time to exercise one’s f. for the d., and a time not to exercise it, and in the opinion of J. Edwards the present moment had definitely shaped up to be a non-exercising one of the first order.
“Out with it, Reeves. Don’t keep me waiting like those pals of yours whose colleague never turned up. What was the chap’s name? Go-something?”
“You are perhaps thinking of Godot, sir, an offstage character in a work by Samuel Beckett.”
“Yes, that’s the fellow. Seems just as well to leave him offstage if he’s going to be so inconsiderate.”
“You are undoubtedly correct, sir. One can assume Mr. Beckett was thinking along similar lines when composing the drama.”
“But we can discuss the latest theatre goings-on at some later date. What was in this letter from HQ? I assume it was from HQ.”
“Your supposition is entirely just, sir. The letter of promotion emanated from our central corporate offices.”
The fleshy parts sailed another reimbursable mile or two down the task chair. “Letter of p-promotion? You mean as in ‘sales promotions’?” Never let it be said that the Edwardses aren’t optimists. “New batch of flotsam they want us to feature at the front of the store? What is it this time, spiral notebooks with chalkboard covers? Sweatshirts with cheaply made cell phones sewn into the hoods? I trust it’s not more highlighters, Reeves. We still have nineteen cases left over from last time.”
“The letter did not pertain to merchandising strategies. After a few cordial references to our recent efforts to advance the company’s fiscal status, it chiefly concerned itself with the details of your imminent promotion to store manager.”
Reeves looked sympathetic, by which I mean that the rightmost eyelash on her left eye drooped about half a millimetre.
“Store manager? Me?”
“I fear so, sir.” She cleared her throat. “Shall I bring a sheet of bubble wrap from the stockroom? Rupturing bubbles is an excellent method of alleviating tension, if one is to credit the professional literature.”
“Bring three sheets, Reeves.”
“Very good, sir.”
Friday, September 16, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Looking at her actual surroundings, Jean noticed the cracks in the walls of her spacious home, a house in the Prairie Gothic style that was like an aging farm widow who had inherited a fortune in land and equipment but had no idea that the psychedelic prints of the 1970s were no longer featured in fashion magazines.
"Here's some more dip," announced Jean's house-mate, another lesbian single mother. Marion enjoyed food, and her well-upholstered body showed the results. Jean found her eating rituals exotic, like the customs of an isolated tribe on a tropical island far from the gym-centred, health-conscious "queer" culture which had migrated north and radiated to the rural heartland from chic neighbourhoods in San Francisco and New York. As a graduate student and the mother of an eight-year-old, Jean often wished she could avoid eating altogether, and use the time she had to spend feeding herself and her child on more useful pursuits instead, such as writing the Great Canadian Novel. Marion was a graduate student in psychology who wrote sensitive poetry when feeling emotionally overcharged. She regarded it as a form of self-therapy.
Jean and Marion were not lovers, nor friends with benefits. Their different conceptions of the role of literature in the lives of lesbian-feminist single mothers fed the communication gap that hovered between them like blue-grey fog. Marion's three-year-old son had been the result of artificial insemination, and she took pride in being a "single mother by choice." Jean once pointed out that she had chosen to become a single mother by leaving her alcoholic husband, clutching a baby with one arm and a plastic bag of belongings with the other, but she was clearly not a member of the Amazon sisterhood which favoured a post-millennial, secular version of immaculate conception.
"Dip," said Jean with a hint of sarcasm. "I think we'll have enough."
Marion's son was with his usual babysitter, and Jean's daughter was spending the night with her grandparents. All the house-warming guests were expected to be adults. In an unusual fit of interest in the contents of the produce aisle in the neighbourhood Safeway, Jean had bought eleven kinds of vegetables for dipping. She hoped the munchies for the party could serve as an evening meal for those, like her, who preferred not to cook. She was a connoiseuse of exhibit openings at local art galleries because of the hors d'oeuvres which always appeared, arranged in contrasting colors on asymmetrical plates, early in the evening.
The doorbell rang. While Marion carefully pulled black forest cake out of a thin cardboard box decorated with silhouette angels and the name "Heavenly Bakery," Jean rushed to the door to welcome the first guest. Jean had little faith in her potential to become a gracious hostess, and she was afraid of tripping on the carpet and falling face-first into one of the bowls of dip.
"Darling!" exclaimed Alexander, one of the more flamboyant of the handful of gay men that Jean and Marion could both accept. Despite the glitter in his eyeshadow, the green streak in his spiked hair and the tight black leather pants that barely concealed his cherished assets, Alex exuded comfort as he envelped Jean in a hug.
"Hi, Alex!" called Marion from the kitchen.
Jean wanted to ask Alex to replace her as co-hostess. She assumed that hostessing was one of the many inborn skills she lacked, like an aptitude for sports. As a graduate student with a thesis-in-progress, however, she recognized the value of practise and revision. She decided to give it her best effort.
"Come in," she said. "We have veggies and dip. And wine and beer." She hoped that her offer of healthy snacks and liquid cheer would give her an aura of graciousness. Alex looked delighted, but Jean knew this was his usual expression.
The doorbell rang again. The party had begun.
(For those who aspire to write CanLit, Margaret Atwood casts a long shadow.)
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
A long lost tale of Garce the Barbarian
by Robert E. Howard
The clamour of battle died away, shouts of victory mingling with the cries of the dying. Men lay as they’d fallen, like broken branches after a great storm. The fluorescent lights glinted coldly off gilt chain mail, helmets of burnished bronze , smashed shields, severed limbs and broken swords.
Brooding over the carnage stood a grim red bearded, horn helmeted Norseman, clad in barbaric black wolf pelts, clutching a great broadsword that dripped fresh gore. In his other hand was an open bag of kettle fried potato chips.
A brooding sun burnt giant iron thewed and beetle browed, in tattered leather and torn chain mail armor listened sullenly to the sounds of the field as though to dancing girls strumming a lyre. In his right hand he gripped what was left of a scarred battle axe. He held no shield, nor had he ever needed one.
“By Odin’s bloody beard, friend Garce,” growled the Norseman. “There’s many a brave man feasting in the halls of Valhalla tonight.”
The big man adjusted his corslet. Spit blood on the ground. “So you say, friend Scotchgaard. May they feast in Valhalla or mayhaps rot in hell, so please the gods.”
The red beard held up the bag in his hand. “Chips?”
The dark mooded man waved him away. “Not this day, old friend. Watching my cholesterol. Still.” For a moment he stood regarding the dead, and cursed. “By Mitras big hairy tits,” he intoned wearily “I feel maybe like a pizza.”
“By Birdseye's Buttered Peas.” rumbled the Norseman grimly.
Garce looked thoughtful. His brow darkened, and furrowed pensively. “Don’t think I’ve heard of that god."
“Birdseye? No, I mean pizzas are two aisles over next to the Birdseye frozen peas section.”
“So the gods would have it,” Garce said, grinning mirthlessly. He shook fragments of skull and brains from the axe and hefted it lightly.
“Right next to the beer and wine aisle,” said the Norseman.
“So! Now I’m of a mind to quaff a flagon of ale or two!”
“And some wenching!” said Garce. “Let’s find some jolly sleek bellied wenches and quaff until we're shit faced.”
“Red wine for pizza,” said the Norseman, with imperturbable Nordic wisdom . “Or a dark ale, say porter or stout. Or Marzen should be in season by now. Anything else would be, well, barbaric.’
Garce laughed until the broken links of chain mail tickled like a dancing girls ankle bells. He raised the great war axe over his head. “Quaffing and wenching!”
They journeyed through the aisles to the North, the glass case of ice and frozen food. As they rounded the corner of the seafood aisle, a circle of dark gaunt warriors looked up at them from a fire. They howled like the great hyenas of the Khemitic steppes and seized their pikes.
Neither man spoke. Scotchgaard grinned wolfishly and drew the great blade from its leathern sheath and with an inhuman berserker scream hurled himself into the mosh pit of howling devils.
Garce shifted the haft of the war axe from hand to hand and waited for the first man to come to him. Scotchgaard’s blade whirled and heads flew. Steel rang like great belles as the Pict warriors surrounded them in a circle of death. The first man came, holding the iron pike on high for a fatal thrust. “Crom damn me for a meddling fool!” cursed Garce. “All I wanted was a pizza. So be it then, ye dark dogs! I'll give your hearts to the wolves!”
Garce knew the only way to take advantage over such a number of men was by putting his back up against a glass frozen food case. Like a cornered tiger he wheeled and met the Pict warrior head on. With the first swipe of Garce’s fighting axe the man’s hand and pike flew from him, and with the second the great heavy blade dropped and split the Pict’s skull to the teeth. Garce wrenched it free and kicked the body away, twisted and the next warrior’s pike glanced off a rent in the battle shorn chain mail. The axe whistled and the man’s head flew into a cooler of gourmet cheeses.
The Pict warriors broke into a chorus of inhuman howls, but their numbers were far fewer than before. Scotchgaard the Berserker, spun a whirlwind of singing steel that left death and dismemberment in its wake.
When the last man fell he collapsed exhausted yet with an unholy light in his eyes.
When he was sure the mood had passed, Garce approached him and held out his hand. Scotchgaard grasped it firmly, and leaning on his sword stood, his breast panting. His bosom heaving provocatively. He stared strangely at the barbarian and held his hand.
“I haven’t fought like that for a moon or two,” said Scotchgaard.
“Nor have I,” said Garce. “All that action has got me really ready for some serious quaffing and wenching.”
“Garce, my companion. We’ve been through many battles, back to back, beard to beard, balls to the wall, have we not?”
“Aye, Scotchgaard. That we have.”
The red beard looked lost. “I . . . I feel strangely close to you, friend Garce.”
“And I to you, Scotchgaard, you old dog.”
“Very close and warm. And . . . and . . .What I mean is, I think of you as . . . what I mean to say is . . . much more than a friend. You are much man, Garce the Barbarian.”
Garce regarded the man and felt strangely uncomfortable. With an effort he pulled his hand away. “Well. This would be a good time to find us some wenches. What say you to that? Some wenches eh? Eh? Some wenches, and pussy and quaffing and manly things, right? Right Scotchgaard?”
“What a big manly man I see in you. More than you see in yourself I think. Those mighty thighs. Those powerful buttocks. . grrr. . . You can call me ‘Tonto’ if you like. If it helps you feel comfortable with me.”
Garce coughed and hefted the axe a little higher. “I think I saw some wenches nearby. I think just right over there. Let's go look.”
“They say the sails of old sea-dogs like us, blow both ways.”
“They say that do they?”
“I see. Okay. Imagine that. Wow.”
“Some men prefer snails. Some men prefer oysters. Which do you prefer?”
“Clams. Yes! Bearded clams. Do you like to eat bearded clams, Scotchgaard?”
“I see things in you Garce, I can help you discover things about yourself. If you’ll . . . if you’ll just trust me for a night.” Scotchgaard loosened the wolf pelt that covered his loins and let it fall.
Garce raised the axe. “Stand you back, old friend or by Ishtars perky nipples I swear – “
“Cash or credit, sir?”
He looked at the cash register. “Wha?”
“Credit. No coupons.” He blinked and looked around. The people lined up behind him with their shopping carts were staring at him impatiently. God, life was dull. Money, money, money. Where had all the adventure gone?
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” said the girl behind the register.
“You’re a fine looking wench, you know that?” he said.
“Don’t make me call the manager, sir.”
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
But rather than leave you all with a big blank spot where my post should be, I thought I'd give the gift that keeps on giving. Hunks!
I know, I know. The fourth one down is my favourite, too.
Monday, September 12, 2011
It was about eleven thirty in the morning, mid July, with the sun shining on the palm trees and the Santa Monica Mountains playing hide-and-seek with the murky haze that passes as air in Los Angeles. I was wearing my black suit, with red shirt, two inch black pumps, and a slightly annoyed expression. I was neat, clean, precise and sober and didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed office domme ought to be. I was doing lunch with money.
The bistro was a little place on Wilshire Boulevard with café chairs out on the sidewalk. Planters of fresh herbs cordoned off the public sidewalk for the bistro's private use. The homeless guy with the slick army green sleeping bag wasn't intimidated by the land grab. Tattooed, pony-tailed waiters in tight black t-shirts gathered near the door to hiss and whisper over the situation. This was the Republic of Santa Monica after all, the capital of politically correct lip service.
Inside, the bistro was blonde wood, crisp corners, bright lights and a cement floor. Noise bounded off the walls and collided with my ears. I'd never met my lunch date, so I paused at the door and let my eyes do all the moving. Power moms fresh from yoga or whatever the flavor of the month sacrifice to the Goddess of Eternal Youth was filled most of the tables. None of them seemed more than mildly curious about me, so I staked out the last table and picked the seat facing the door.
The menu was full of the kind of stuff that's all right if you were doing lunch and not actually eating it. Salads made from lawn clippings and sandwiches on artisanal wheat whole grain ciabatta. A coffee menu with more fake Italian than an old Chef Boyardee commercial. My waiter suggested I try the turkey that got a massage with a courtesy reach around after a hard day out on the free range before being humanely turned into lunch meat. I craned to read the sign across the room through the blinged flesh tunnel through his ear lobes and lost track of what he was saying by the time the words heirloom and locally sourced fell from his pierced lips.
Forty minutes later, I was tired of defending my table from legit customers, so I stood and made ready to go. That's when she finally sashayed in. She was oxblood. The kind of leather that makes a purse fetishist's panties damp. Ferragamo.Weak kneed, I sank back into my seat and let my tongue trace over my bottom lip. She probably had hair and eyes and legs that reached all the way down to the floor too, but my eyes never left the purse.
It's good to know your weak spots so you don't do something foolish like fight against them. Me, I give into purse temptation at every opportunity, but I hadn't had a Ferragamo level opportunity since the day the doc slapped me upside the ass and pronounced me a female to get that first cry out of me.
My lunch date extended her cool hand with that downward angle some women use when they want to make you wonder if maybe you should have kissed the back of her hand instead. Or maybe her ring. Definitely her ass. She was all kinds of trouble for someone. Expensive trouble. Probably drama too.
She slid into the chair and dropped her purse on the floor by her feet while checking the restaurant for someone to air kiss. Her eyes narrowed when she realized she had to settle for me. Her jeans were tight enough to exfoliate her long, thin thighs while she walked. I didn't know her history, but she looked like a third wife. Maybe the forth if he was really loaded. She might have even been a real housewife celebutant. I figure there are enough people out there who keep track of those things that I don't have to.
We chatted a bit about the charity that brought us together. Not that I was the one looking for charity. I definitely wasn't looking for approval, but it was clear that she was checking to see where I rated on the Westside scale of "People Who MATTER." I could have saved her time. I'm not even an all lower case "person who matters." But it wasn't about me, was it? So I let her condescension drip all over me. I'm no sugar cube. I don't melt.
For all his previous interest in my lunch order, my waiter seemed to have forgotten me. I tried to catch his eye, but I was on waiter time out. Since her time was suddenly important, my lunch date slapped down her menu and raised that boney, cold, pale hand into the air. Before I could even groan, she snapped her fingers at him.
Money. It can buy anything but class.
If you're telling a story set in Los Angeles, Raymond Chandler is the go-to narrative voice.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
By Lisabet Sarai
Although no one will dispute that marriage is the most desirable estate for both men and women, there are times when the institution demands an excess of patience. Eliza endeavored to suppress her sigh when, over the remains of breakfast, Mr. Sarai raised the subject she had been dreading.
"My dear, we really must attend to the matter of Tiger's claws. If we do not convey him to the veterinarian soon, he may suffer injury from his in-grown toenails."
"But Thomas, I have so many responsibilities to fulfill today. I've three blog posts to pen and two calls for submission awaiting my attention, not to mention my normal heavy correspondence. Can you not bring the cat to the clinic by yourself?"
Thomas' curt reply made his irritation clear. "You know very well that I can't communicate with the doctor. You speak the local language far better than I."
He spoke the truth. Eliza understood that it galled her husband to admit her linguistic superiority. Male pride was so tender and easily bruised She smoothed her skirts, brushing away the toast crumbs, and adopted the sweetest demeanor she could manage.
"Please, darling, let us wait until next week. By then I should be more at liberty."
Her husband settled his teacup into the saucer with a deliberateness that Eliza recognized all too well. "You're always making excuses, Liza." His eyebrows knit in disapproval. "How can you be so callous? Tiger and Velvet deserve the very best we can offer them. Your lack of concern almost makes me glad that we are childless."
"Please, Thomas, do not berate me." Eliza released the sigh she had been holding back. Thomas ignored her distress. "Very well, we'll go this morning. Just let me dress and we can be on our way."
The pleased satisfaction on her husband's face almost compensated for the inconvenience of the early expedition. "Thank you, my dear. I'll fetch the carrier while you prepare yourself."
Back in her dressing room, Eliza surveyed her wardrobe, trying to decide what sort of garments were appropriate for a visit to a veterinary clinic in a foreign land. The navy cotton ensemble wouldn't do. It would highlight every strand of cat hair. Given the sweltering humidity that characterized the climate in her adopted home, she was sorely tempted to don nothing more than a pair of cutoff shorts and a tank top, but she recognized that such a costume would be viewed as highly inappropriate for a woman of her years. Finally she settled on a batik-print skirt in hues of salmon and peacock, and a short sleeved shirt in matching green. The vivid patterns in the skirt should hide the inevitable consequences of holding Tiger in her lap, yet the design was sufficiently artistic that she would not be dismissed as some gaudy, painted tourist.
As might have been expected, the cat himself offered significant resistance to their plans. By pooling their efforts, Mr. and Mrs. Sarai finally succeeded in depositing him in his padded carrier. Outside their dwelling, they hailed a hansom and gave the cabbie directions to the animal clinic. As they wended their way through the narrow streets, Tiger's piteous cries issuing at intervals from the cage, Eliza watched the driver sitting in front of them.
He was a handsome young man, clean-shaven, wearing a crisply-pressed shirt of sky blue that complemented his dusky skin. She noted the muscled forearms peeking out from his short sleeves, one of which was adorned with a tattoo in characters she could not read. A chain with links of gold circled his strong neck, gleaming through the black locks that feathered his nape. She felt the first hint of moisture gather under her skirt and dragged her imagination back under her control. After all, he was far too young for her. However, he'd make a fine match for Miss N., the language teacher whom she and Thomas had come to think of as a friend.
"Excuse me, sir," she began in the local language. "Might I inquire whether you are married?"
The driver turned to smile at her, with a flash of brilliant white teeth. "No, Ma'am, not yet. I am working to save money. I want to buy a house before I marry."
"And do you have a sweetheart?" A sidelong glance at her husband told Eliza that he was buried in his newspaper. Of course, he would have difficulty following her conversation in any case.
If the man's complexion had not been so dark, Eliza was sure she would have seen him blush. "No, Ma'am." His melodious laughter made her think of a lively creek, dancing over the rocks on its way down a mountain. "Who would want to marry a poor cabbie?"
"Nonsense. You are obviously a thoughtful, prudent man - a man who desires to take care of his wife. And well-favored, too, with a fine smile " She leaned closer to the young man's ear. "I have a friend who I am certain would like to meet you."
"Is she rich?" the driver asked. Tiger wailed as the man whipped the vehicle around a corner somewhat more rapidly than Eliza considered safe. The poor cat was prone to car-sickness. Eliza prayed that the animal would not vomit all over the inside of his carrier, as he'd done so often in the past.
"Gently, if you please. My cat cannot bear a rough ride."
"Sorry, Ma'am." To Eliza's satisfaction, he reduced his speed considerably. "So, about your friend - is she rich like you?"
"I'm hardly rich!" Eliza wavered between amusement and offense.
"In comparison to us natives, all foreigners are rich. I'd like to marry a rich woman - one who'll buy me real Rolex and an iPad."
"My friend is not rich, but she's respectable and intelligent, and she has a warm heart. She's also quite lovely, I might add. Oh, there's the clinic. Stop here, please."
"Well, beauty is a plus, but if I have to choose, I'll take money over beauty any day."
Eliza swallowed her annoyance at having her romantic fantasies so rudely dispelled. "This is the place," she told her husband in English. She handed the fare to the young man behind the wheel, pointedly giving him the exact amount rather than rounding up as she normally would have done.
The veterinarian made quick work of Tiger's misshapen talons. Eliza clasped the animal to her breast as the doctor measured the cat's temperature and listened to his heartbeat, resigning herself to the inevitability of a patina of fur on her carefully selected clothing.
"He's perfectly healthy," the medical practitioner told her. "You've taken excellent care of him."
Thomas beamed, clearly understanding at least this much of the social interchange. Slipping his arm around Eliza's waist, he hugged her to his side. "My wife and I brought him from America. He's very dear to us." Eliza found his enthusiasm touching. She knew that he'd be less pleased when he realized how much fur had been transferred from her blouse to his suit.
Tiger appeared to find the events of the morning severely traumatic. He cowered in one corner of his cage during the trip home, alternately panting and swallowing as though he felt nauseous. As soon as Eliza unfastened the catch of the carrier, he dashed away to hide himself beneath one of the sofas. Even the promise of breakfast could not lure him from his sanctuary.
Thomas, on the contrary, appeared to be in an excellent mood. He captured his wife in a tight embrace and planted a hearty kiss upon her lips. "Thank you, my dear. I truly appreciate your taking time off from your pursuits for errands like this."
Eliza scraped a cat hair off her tongue and smiled up at her sturdy, reliable husband. "You were right, Thomas. The felines are far more important than my scribblings. If you'll excuse me though, I think I will resume my work."
"Of course, Liza. I have urgent matters to attend to myself." He disappeared into his study, leaving Eliza to ponder the commonplace mysteries of marriage and to consider whether she might find a way to introduce the dashing, avaricious taxi driver into her latest opus.