Monday, November 10, 2014

Unrequited

By Lisabet Sarai

Do I seem mad to you? If so, they are responsible. They've driven me mad with their beauty and indifference.

They don't even bother to hunt anymore. They spend their days in their king-sized coffin, alabaster limbs entwined in a frozen tableau of passion. They devote their nights to surfing the Internet, listening to Bach or Dvořák, or lounging on their deck, the endless grid of the city sparkling below them.

Except, of course, for the nights when they feed.

Occasionally, on rainy days when there's no risk, I muster the courage to lift the polished rosewood lid of their communal casket and peek inside. I'm always startled by the scent that rises from their inert forms, orange blossoms and sun-warmed stone, no hint of dankness or decay. Their exquisite pallor complements the perfection of their naked bodies. They seem like statues modeled from translucent, milky glass.

He slumbers with one palm cupping her pert breast, the other arm wrapped around her waist. Her honey-brown hair fans over his chest, fine as spider silk. She curls her fist around his cock, which is rampant even as they sleep. The bold gesture contrasts with her innocent features. She has the smooth cheeks, pointed chin and plump lips of a teenage cheerleader.

My fingers twitch. The urge to trace the shape of that sweet, ripe mouth is almost irresistible. More times than I can count, I've seen her girlish face grinning and smeared with gore. It doesn't matter. She will always be my angel, my inspiration, my heart's desire, my doom. My beloved mistress.

My master is equally magnificent in his own way, with a dancer's subtly muscled arms and legs and a head of glorious ebony curls like some pale gypsy. He has a bookish look, with a high forehead rising above bushy black brows and a sensitive mouth that cries out for kisses.

I've never dared to lean close and take advantage of his immobility, much as I ache to feel the chill of his flesh against my own. If I gave way to temptation, would he know? I'm not certain that their death-like daytime sleep stills their minds the way it freezes their bodies. I doubt he'd punish me, if he discovered my transgression. He knows I'd welcome the mark of his bullwhip or the icy invasion of his knife. No, more likely he'd mock me, or simply ignore me, refusing to acknowledge my existence. I couldn't bear that.

The sight of them, locked together in eternal stasis, holds me captive. Blood pours into my cock, blood I know they'd savor if they'd only take it, until I'm hard as the concrete walls of the basement room where they sleep. My pulse pounds in my temples as my futile erection strains my trousers. I am their creature, their slave, stunned into helpless worship by their unearthly beauty.

I know they need me. That should satisfy me – the knowledge that without me they'd might fry or starve or succumb to some overly zealous reader of horror fiction. Month after month, year after year, I guard them and I procure them their victims. It's my privilege to serve them. That should be enough. But I want more from them, God help me, more than I can ever hope they'll give.

From Renfield’s Lament by Lisabet Sarai

Our topic this fortnight is “Craving”. One can crave many things, of course: food, water, sweets, alcohol, drugs, attention, fame, money. For authors of erotic fiction, though, carnal yearning naturally takes precedence.

Unlike food or water, one can live without sex (as unappealing as that might sound), yet the craving for sex – or more commonly, for a particular sexual object - may well be more powerful than physical hunger or thirst. Sexual desire can be all-encompassing – physical, emotional, and spiritual. It can strip us bare, lead us to take actions we’d never consider if not under its irrational influence. Crimes of passion demonstrate the strength of this craving, its capability to render us temporarily insane with want.

Indeed the experience of sexual craving, that desperate longing for the desired other, may well be more intense than the pleasure achieved in its fulfillment. Yet erotica frequently focuses more on the latter than on the former.

When people ask me for my personal definition of erotica, I tell them erotica is fiction that portrays sexual desire. According to my definition, it’s possible to write erotica in which no actual sexual acts occur.

This is not a fashionable perspective. These days it’s tough to publish a story without at least one orgasm. A more popular definition of erotica is “explicit fiction intended to sexually arouse the reader”. Implicit here is the notion of satisfaction (either physical or vicarious). A tale of unrequited craving without the “payoff” may leave this sort of reader feeling cheated or frustrated. I guess I can sympathize. After all, so many people feel dissatisfied with their real-world sex lives; why would they want to be frustrated by the sexy fiction they choose to read as well?

As for me, I’m actually more interested in the desire than I am in the sex itself. I admire an author who can vividly evoke the state of neediness associated with acute sexual craving. One of the best tales in this category that I’ve encountered recently is Preston Avery’s “Won’t Last the Week”, in Tenille Brown’s recent anthology Can’t Get Enough. The narrator meets the woman of his dreams at a party. They spend the night on the beach, so entranced by one another that they forget to exchange phone numbers.

She isn't skinny like the girls I usually go for, like my ideal “on paper” woman, but curved and soft and she fits me just right. Her breasts are big with a delicious slope to them, and I know they will overflow my grasp. I could bury my face in the valley between them and never come up for air. I could have seconds and thirds and fourths of her and die a gluttonous happy man. She does everything I lead her into. I don't ask – words are still lost to us. The first time I lower one of my hands to those gorgeous mounds, hidden between a thin blue cotton shirt, she doesn't protest of push me away- she arches into me, into my touch, and makes the most beautiful noise in her throat. That moment, those moments, are all that I can feel. The future is as unreal to me as a unicorn on the planet Saturn. That place where names and phone numbers matter is at least a world away.

As the week goes on, dreams and fantasies of the lost woman consume the narrator. He wanders through his days in a trance of longing. He spends his nights re-envisioning their connection and rubbing his cock raw. Will he somehow manage to find her? Or will he go mad with need and frustration? The beautiful urgency of this story left me in wet wonder.

In fact, at the end of the tale, the poor guy does find his dream girl, against all odds. The story, though, is not really about that happy ending. Its focus is on narrator’s craving, so powerful it totally overwhelms everything else in his life.

And what about a story where the narrator does not get what he or she wants so badly? Can that still be erotic? I invite you to read the rest of Renfield’s Lament, over in the ERWA gallery. One of my goals in writing this story was to create a tale where the desires of the protagonist are ultimately frustrated. In fact the narrator does have an orgasm and achieve physical release. This, however, does not satisfy his craving.

Can I call this tale of unrequited desire “erotica”? Is it arousing? What do you think?

26 comments:

  1. Lisabet:
    Welcome back and congratulations on being selected for Maxim's best of 2013. The partial list of contributors I saw reads like a pantheon of the goddesses.

    Your definition of erotica is very interesting: When people ask me for my personal definition of erotica, I tell them erotica is fiction that portrays sexual desire. According to my definition, it’s possible to write erotica in which no actual sexual acts occur.

    I don't have a well formed personal definition of erotica but I agree with your conclusion that it is difficult to place a story labeled 'erotica' that lacks overt sex. From a writers standpoint, the danger of overplaying the build up is that the eventual sex may leave the reader dissatisfied anyway. In your works that I have read there is always a nice balance between anticipation and fulfillment. I have to saunter over to the Gallery and check out Renfield's Lament

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    1. Hi, Spencer,

      It's good to be back, much as I love traveling.

      Where is this list of people in Maxim's MBBNE 2013? Everyone's mentioning it but I haven't seen it.

      Actually, the reason I gave Renfield's Lament to the gallery was that I thought Maxim might like it for next year's volume. He's partial to dark erotica, and this is about as dark as it comes.

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  2. I like your definition of erotica, Lisabet. I think it's not unlike my own definition, "literature that explores and celebrates the human sexual experience in any of its manifestations, from attraction to desire to chemistry to sexual interactions of various kinds." As you see, I'm sort of trying to cover all the bases, but I might pick "desire" as the flagship element if I had to choose a flagship element; and I'm certainly with you in considering physical sex acts to be among the options in erotic literature, rather than obligatory.

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    1. I don't proselytize my definition LOL. But I've moved beyond being interested in sexual activity for its own sake, if I ever was.

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  3. P.S. Since there is a myth out there that erotica is strictly a "women's field," I'd like to take a moment to note that in addition to the "goddesses" featured in the partial list Spencer saw, the Mammoth 13 table of contents includes at least half a dozen authors whom I know to be men (including your own Garce), and several more who I believe are men (or whose names suggest that they're probably male).

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Btw, when I say "whom I know to be men," I don't mean to make it sound like I'm outing them! I just mean these are writers with "male" bylines whom I've crossed paths with enough to know that (barring any elaborate deceptions) they do indeed, at the personal level, identify or present as men.

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    3. Jeremy:
      I only saw a partial list. I'm glad to know the pantheon of the gods is also represented.

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  4. Remember when as a teenager, that high school girl or boy who took our breath away. not only our breath but our appetite, sleep and the ability to put two and two together. How powerful it all was. How we equated it to 'being in love'. Perhaps that's where desire manifests the strongest. When unrequited.

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    1. You've put your finger on exactly what I want to evoke in my fiction. That intensity, that power, that exists more or less totally independent of physical reality.

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  5. Hi Lisbet!

    I think it is. With sex or desire very often the wanting, and the more intense the better is more thrilling than the acquiring which too often turns to staleness.

    Garce

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    1. The fulfillment can definitely be a let down.

      (Thanks for reading my stuff!)

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  6. Have you seen "Only Lovers Left Alive" with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1714915/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_13
    Their vampires remind me a lot of your description of them...the movie is very well done, very artistic, and very moody.

    As for the "having" being dull compared to the "wanting", I guess that's pretty much true of everything in life then. What we can imagine is always way better than the reality, which inevitably disappoints us compared to what we were anticipating.

    But sexual pleasure for me, is the sole exception. Yes, I had my share of disappointing lays that, to quote a blues song, "Hardly made me put a wrinkle in my sheets". But on the other hand, when it's good...well then, nothing can come so close to all of the magic of fantasies as feeling nirvana when coupling with someone just as into you as you are into him/her. It's the closest I've ever felt to being able to escape the confines of my own skin and body, to meet in the middle with someone else's mind, while our bodies are locked in self-perpetuating pleasures. Though rare, those kinds of experiences make life worth living.

    It's that kind of magic that I try to capture in my writing, and that I seek in erotica. So personally, I'd be disappointed with no "pay-off".

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    1. Hello, Fiona,

      Thanks for the movie recommendation. I love Tilda Swinton.

      I'm not surprised by your comment. From what you've said in comments, I know you're an intensely physical person. I'm just the opposite. Even when I was in my sex goddess phase, the focus was more in my head/heart than in my body.

      You're lucky.

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    2. I don't know how "lucky" it is to be so unlike most other women. Sexually I think more like a man, but I'm a woman. This means I'm never in agreement with other women when they're complaining (inevitably) about how much sex their man wants. I'm like, "So what's wrong with that? I mean if you married him, he must be a good lay, right? So why don't you want it as often as possible?" The silence and the murderous looks I get from some women is enough to make me keep my mouth shut the next time I'm in the beauty salon.

      I'm convinced that's part of why my books don't sell much, besides my total invisibility to most readers. I write the way I think, and most women don't think like me...but they're my audience. Maybe I should market my books to men? But most male-written erotica I've read involves vignettes of sex scenes, with no back-story or plot-arc. I like those too, when I'm in the mood for a "quickie", but I prefer there to be actual reasons for me to care about how perfectly tab A fits into slot B. Then let the wild monkey sex commence! (Actually, from what I've read, I would make an excellent Bonobo monkey. They use sexual contact for every social interaction. That's what I want to be in my next life!)

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    3. I think there are plenty of other women like you. I'm just not one of them.

      And if it makes you feel any better, my books don't sell either. I spent more money for marketing last month than I made. Sigh.

      As for Bonobos - have you read Garce's "Pinkie" story? It's up at ERWA.

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    4. Fiona, it sounds like the male-authored erotica you've found your way to is just stroke lit. However, if you look at the best-respected collections of erotic short stories (not counting those where contributors are required to be women), you'll find work by male authors that, naturally, fulfills the same literary requirements as the women's pieces. I suggest, for example, looking for the "male" names in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Alison Tyler, Rachel Kramer Bussel, and Kristina Wright; in the Coming Together series; and in the Clean Sheets archives.

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  7. I've seen it said that women readers are more interested in lust than in an actual sex act. That was back when "bodice busters" were the rising big deal, and I figured then that most women probably weren't getting as much of the lust part in bed as they wanted, in the form of foreplay. It could also be linked to the general assumption then that women's part in sex was to lure, attract, inflame, or whatever, men, and then to satisfy the needs they'd aroused. These days women--but certainly not all women--are claiming their right to lust for men, and and to demand their own orgasmic satisfaction, in fiction as well as fact. But fiction gives us a chance to dwell more, for longer, on the build-up of erotic tension, the arousal that's fed by being desired as well as desiring, and as an erotica editor I look for that even more than for the conclusive pyrotechnics. Bear in mind, though, that I'm writing and editing mainly (though not always) for women readers, and lesbian women at that, so what male readers want could be very different. I've heard about some male writers trying to organize a "movement" for erotica just the way they think men want it (and they want to write it,) but I haven't heard any more about it lately, for what that's worth.

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    1. Are you thinking of the Best Men's Erotica project? That was basically two editors (under the auspices of an indie publisher) who didn't think well of virtually anything already in print by the many well-regarded male authors in contemporary erotica, and had their own idea of what male readers wanted. I got into a long debate with them over what I perceived as gender stereotyping and other flawed premises in their mission statements. (But I don't know whatever happened to the project, either.)

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    2. I hate this kind of stereotyping. I've known plenty of men who really enjoyed the flirtation, the build-up, the simmering climb to a burn.

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  8. Yeah, Jeremy, that's the one. In fact I may have heard about it from you. it's true, though, that there's no such thing as a Best Men's Erotica, as far as i know (and I'm sure they wouldn't wish to be associated with Best Gay Men's Erotica.) And I have to admit, to my shame, that erotica written specifically for men only makes me think of what appears in dramatically-illustrated men's mags. Not that some of that isn't good, at least probably--the only time I've looked into a copy of Penthouse was when I had a story in one, and that was just because they were plucking a few pieces from a fairly literary anthology by women to show men what women were writing. They gave me a very nice illustration, anyway, but trimmed my story to less than half its original length.

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  9. Well, by all accounts, Maxim Jakubowski has always been a man, and he chooses the stories in his Best New Erotica series without consulting anyone else (as far as I know), so the whole anthology represents one man's taste. I'm also not convinced that stereotyped notions of what males vs. females want are an observation rather than a cause of those differences. However, if an annual series of Best (Straight-Up Heterosexual) Men's Erotica gets off the ground, I wouldn't object. This seems to be the only target audience that isn't already featured in the title of an annual "best-of" erotic anthology.

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  10. Late to the party, but I love Renfield's Lament, Lisabet! It's got so much beautiful description.

    I, too, like definitions of erotica that don't require orgasm. Lana Fox once talked to me about the importance of portraying yearning and desire, and I think about that all the time, even if I am writing a story that ends in satisfaction. In all fiction, characters have to want something, and they have to want it enough to make the reader care. I think one of the reasons anthologies can occasionally get repetitive is that sometimes the desire for orgasm is all that's there, and it doesn't seem strong or personal enough, especially when it's too easily fulfilled in story after story. The stories that knock me over always have more palpable and personal wanting.

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    1. To be honest, the desire for an orgasm seems pretty banal to me. I mean, sure, I like orgasms. However, during the most intense sexual encounters that I can remember, I wasn't thinking about orgasms at all.

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    2. And thank you for your compliment on the story. I wrote it partly as a challenge to myself, in response to a discussion, I think on the ERWA blog, about happy endings in erotica.

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