Friday, April 26, 2013

A Thin Veil

by Jean Roberta

Several of my erotic stories have been inspired by dreams, which tend to be bizarre, unreal and (unfortunately) disjointed. As several other Grippers have mentioned, even a story set in a made-up world or featuring traditional fantasy characters (vampires, werewolves, fairies, ghosts, ancient deities) has to have a certain logic and coherence. At least an illusion of reality has to be maintained.

While reading a vampire novel for review several years ago, I was pulled out of the spell by apparent inconsistencies in the vampire characters’ physical characteristics. (None of them needed to breathe, being dead, but sometimes they breathed heavily, being aroused. Sometimes they were impervious to extremes of temperature but sometimes they were sensitive to the cold.) Aside from these annoying details, I found the novel well-written, hot, dramatic and believable. Those vampires could have cast their glamour on me if they had simply been live, breathing humans.

I made a note to myself that fantasy can only be written at one’s own risk. Of course, the same can be said for writing in any genre, including blog posts.

My earliest erotic stories were certainly fantasies in the sense of being fuckfests with minimal plots and few real-life complications. The characters met, they ripped off each others’ clothes, they came. The novelty of writing stories like this soon wore off.

I realized that in erotica, as in any other kind of fiction, there have to be complications that move the plot along. The characters need to learn things about themselves and each other. They have to change.

Characters have to morph or shapeshift in some way (on the page or in the implied ending or backstory), because everyone does. If you don’t believe me, try looking at a photo of yourself from thirty years ago, then look in the mirror. If you were not even a twinkle in your parents’ eyes thirty years ago, look at one of your grandparents of the same gender and imagine yourself looking like that at the same age.

This little exercise can serve to remind us all that we appear and disappear, every one of us. Where were you before you were conceived in this life? Who knows? Where will you go after you inevitably leave your body? There are numerous theories about this, but I don’t know of any solid proof.

I came to realize that fantasy plots, settings and characters are thin veils over what passes for reality. To the extent that all fiction describes events and characters that never existed in real life, it could all be considered fantasy. However, as Amanda explained, creating a fantasy world from scratch seems to work better in a novel than in a short story, and reading other writers’ fantasies has shown me how easy it is to slip up and break the rules of a created world.

When I first thought of writing a collection of erotic stories, I ventured into the kind of fantasy called “metafiction,” in which the author intrudes to interact directly with the characters or the reader. (Here is a fairly well-known example by Ursula LeGuin: )

My story “Mindscape,” begins with a Politically Incorrect fantasy:

The scene has the eerie glow of fantasy or nostalgia, and it looks as choreographed as a dance sequence in a musical about urban gangs. An adorable young woman, a cute chick with a glossy chestnut ponytail and assertive tits under a clingy sweater, has been cornered by three members of a gang (The Cobras? The Switchblades? The Renegades?) against an old brick building in a part of town where the sound of torn paper and empty bottles rattling down an alley in a sudden wind serves as a menacing soundtrack.

The young toughs are edgy because they are randy and defensive, knowing that nice girls are warned to stay away from them. They are no less image-conscious than the one they have captured. They are slim but muscular under leather jackets; neither their sculpted haircuts nor their tattoos are homemade. All three are (surprisingly or not) female. They are faintly outlined by moonlight.

I think of the girl as Felina because she is cat-like. She takes dance lessons and it shows. She is also as curious as a cat, and this is why she let herself be lured outdoors by a gang member (who is after all, she told herself, another girl). Felina is so full of energy that she always seems about to laugh, cry or come. Her general interest in other people is often interpreted as flirtation, although she is less vain and manipulative than snide observers suspect. She is bouncy with hunger.

The three blades (Mike, Spike and Dyke? Cut, Slash and Burn? Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos?*) have itchy hands. Soon they will be pulling off Felina’s sweater to reveal a white cotton bra, which will not stay on long enough to shield the tender breasts from the night air. The girl’s poodle skirt will be raised to show petticoats, panties (girdle? garter belt and stockings?), all the trappings of archaic femininity which have never been an obstacle to the serious explorer. (*the three Fates in ancient Greek mythology)

Soon Felina will be naked in a semi-public place, on all fours on rude cement or passed from one pair of arms to the next. She will be kissed, stroked, squeezed, pinched and slapped until she is breathless. Experienced fingers (nothing bigger?) will invade her surprised pussy and she will be fucked until she is hysterical with fear or delirious with joy. If she tries to squeeze her legs shut to keep things out of her “privates,” a finger or something more threatening will be pushed up her inviting ass. Demanding mouths will cover all the entrances to her body, swallowing her screams and anything else that might come out of her.

The sound is growing louder. It must be the wail of an approaching police siren, bringing law to the lawless. But the cruiser never appears in the scene because the wail of protest is coming from the author’s feminist conscience.

So here is the central conflict: retro fantasy (dyked-up, but still featuring gender polarity) vs. an equally pressing desire for safety and respect for women. Luckily, all the characters in this story are able to convince the author that what they do is Safe, Sane and Consensual, not to mention metaphorical, metafictional, and completely unreal. Felina even points out that she hasn’t been touched yet, since the author put all the action in future tense. Eventually, this story was published in my collection, Each Has a Point (

I admired the combination of sex and fantasy which is the specialty of Circlet Press before I had three fantasy stories accepted for Circlet anthologies: “Smoke” (about an encounter between a mortal woman and a demon) in Best Fantastic Erotica, “Taste” (my heterosexual gargoyle story) in Best Erotic Fantasy and Science Fiction, and “The Way to a Man’s Heart” (about a territorial dispute between a proud woman and a man who can turn into a hawk when he needs to fly) in Like a Sword, a mini-collection of “high fantasy.”

Having this many fantasy stories in print gave me the courage to write a new version of “The White Cat,” a French fairy tale from the 1600s, for Rumpledsilksheets, a collection of lesbian fairy tales published by Ravenous Romance in 2010. As you can see, the “hero” of my story is hardly different from some modern people. There have always been masculine-identified females:

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived a King and Queen who had three children: a daughter and two sons. From her earliest childhood, Princess Valerie had asked to be trained in horsemanship and all the arts of war, and her parents loved her so much that they provided all she asked. And when her younger brothers were growing to manhood, she trained them in fencing and archery and hand-to-hand combat as skillfully as the masters their parents had assigned to them.

"I was meant to be a man of authority," young Valerie often whispered when saying her prayers. She would smile at the proud shoulders and firm jawline in her reflection in the glass, and frown at the budding breasts under her jerkin. Her hairless cheeks glowed with health, but she preferred to hide them under a visor. She had no desire to be courted by a foreign prince who would expect her to bear his heirs.

How differently she would court a woman if she were a gentleman. As Prince Val, she knew she could teach all the fops at court how to show an unfeigned, quiet strength. How it grieved her that her finest impulses were considered unseemly in a princess, although she was her parents’ firstborn heir.

Since my story is fantasy, this character eventually becomes Prince Val without surgery or hormone therapy. In fantasy stories, magical transformations are always possible, and love is the most powerful spell.

Fairy tales, loosely speaking, tend to be set in a vaguely-medieval Times of Yore, and therefore they seem like a combination of fantasy and historical fiction. Here is the opening scene of my story of moral temptation, “The Battle Lost and Won:”

"Sister Mary Agnes."

The creamy, insinuating voice held a hint of mockery as it echoed off the high ceiling of the convent kitchen.

Everything else within the room could be identified and put back in its place. Cups, bowls, tableware, sun-bleached tablecloths, pots, pitchers and candlesticks waited patiently in the cupboards until they could be of service. Like penitent sinners, the dirty dishes from the evening meal were being scrubbed clean, dried and placed safely where they belonged.

Sister Mary Agnes enjoyed washing the dishes alone, when she could focus on her work and not on the presence of another sister. Everything about this humble task was satisfying, from the warmth of the soapy water to the caress of the young nun’s plain habit on the skin of her legs as she moved back and forth.

But someone else was in the room with her, and its voice was too androgynous to be identified clearly as that of a man or a woman. "Do not ignore me, Sister, at the risk of your immortal soul." The voice was not human, yet it reminded her of someone she knew.

The disembodied voice, of course, can be regarded as that startling inner voice that can’t be ignored. It goads Sister Mary Agnes out of a life which is calm and peaceful into one that teaches her what she really wants. This story is part of a collection of my historical lesbian erotica that is due to be released by Lethe Press in Fall 2013.


  1. What a rich post, Jean - both in fictional tidbits (I've got to read Obsession!) and in insights. I believe there needs to be a kernel of truth buried in the fantasy, or it just won't satisfy, no matter how much magic and how many orgasms you throw in.

  2. i loved the way you incorporated the author's thoughts in your story. you can have a lot of fun with metafiction as a technique. one of the reasons why i tend to stay away from the paranormal except in rare circumstances is because of all the lore associated with supernatural creatures. i want vampires to break out of their stereotypical characteristics, but it's hard to substantiate when readers are so loyal to those characteristics & having a breathing vamp with a beating heart is absurd, which is what i enjoy about the idea. when i do venture into the paranormal, it tends to be more of a parody. no real fan of vampires would enjoy mine, me thinks ;)
    i loved the lush & rich excerpts you shared.

  3. Lisabet and Amanda, thanks for your comments! Amanda, I'm always aware of possibly writing some fantasy that would seem like a joke or a parody, which is probably why I prefer writing historical fiction, though that also has pitfalls. (Beware the dreaded anachronism.) But as Elizabeth Black commented on the ERWA blog, realistic fiction can seem too -- real. Every genre carries its own risks.

  4. if it's successful, all fiction seems too real.