Friday, December 30, 2016

The Guest List

by Jean Roberta

As the late comedian Joan Rivers used to ask, “Can we talk?”

Period dramas set in an ancestral pile in England in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century (Upstairs, Downstairs, Downton Abbey) fascinate American and Canadian viewers because none of us have “servants” (even if there is a cleaning lady who comes in once a week), and of course, none of us have ever been ”servants.” We like to believe we live in a classless society in which the concept of knowing one’s “place” (rank) is limited to the military and to BDSM scenarios.

Parallel dramas about life “below stairs” and in the drawing room are considered quaint because nowadays, we are all “middle class,” and no is ever banished from “society.”

This is a collective delusion.

When entering a new school, neighbourhood or social group (e.g. a queer community), we all want to “fit in,” to be accepted by the rest of the group, even if we can’t be the unofficial leader because that spot is already taken. Nineteenth-century realist literature about the bourgeoisie, or “people in society,” often shows the humiliation of a woman who tries to host a party at which no one shows up, or who is not invited to the social event of the season, because there has been “talk” about her, whether it is accurate or not. In Daisy Miller by Henry James, circa 1880, young Daisy is simply a flirtatious young American, but European society turns its back on her.

I’ll never forget a costume party of the early 1980s, hosted by a popular prof in the English Department where I was a graduate student, to which I was not invited. All the guests were supposed to attend as literary characters. When the other grad students told me what they were planning to wear, I thought at first that this event was being put on by the department as a whole. Then I learned that “Chuck” (known by his first name, even to students) was putting on this soiree in his home. I found excuses to speak to Chuck in the halls, thinking my invitation would be forthcoming, but it never came.

I complained to my mother, who told me Chuck had probably just forgotten to invite me, and that I could go to the ball like Cinderella transformed into a princess, and everything would be fine. The more I considered the situation, the more I doubted whether I could just show up as a well-disguised stranger, and be welcomed in. What if Chuck had a reason for not inviting me? I couldn’t imagine what it might be, but he didn’t owe me an explanation. (Note that I was the divorced mother of a mulatto child, but I was not “out” as a lesbian yet.)

After racking my brains, I realized that I couldn’t crash a party to which I hadn’t been invited, so I stayed home. Later, I had to hear endless accounts of who went as which character, and how much fun it all was. Everyone around me seemed to assume I simply wasn’t a party-goer.

When I “came out” by going to the gay bar alone soon after this event, I was picked up by a younger dyke who had dropped out of high school, and who warned me about the “fancy educated women” in the community, who presumably liked to show off. I soon found that reality was more complicated, at least from my viewpoint.

There were “public” social events, such as the monthly women’s dances and lesbian potlucks, which any woman could attend--including those who weren’t sure about their sexual orientation-- and then there were private parties which were discussed at length at the dances and potlucks by those who had been there.

As a graduate student, I was a “fancy educated woman” to the working-class lesbians who identified as “dykes” or “women” (butch or femme) and classified everyone else accordingly. Because I was a femme to them, they could forgive me for my education as long as I never used “long words” and as long as I planned to become the wife and housekeeper to a butch, even though most of the butches I knew had trouble finding work and could hardly support themselves, let alone me and my daughter. Their chivalry could be charming, but in the long run, I was alarmed by their drinking, their violent culture, their limited vocabulary, their notions of how children should be raised (or placed in foster homes), and their vision of our future together.

White, university-educated lesbian-feminists were prevalent at the potlucks (not in the bar), and they were polite to me when we met, but after a few years, I realized that I was never going to be invited to their parties. Of course, they never explained why, so I was left to guess. I was often told at a potluck on Sunday that “the whole lesbian community” had gone to So-and-So’s party the night before, but no one had invited me.

When I began dating Mirtha, now my spouse, in summer 1989, she was a newly-hatched lesbian who thought I was well-established in the community because I belonged to various groups, including the elected board that ran the bar. When she noticed that no one invited us to private social events, she blamed racism. (She originally came to Canada from Chile, and can pass for an “Indian” from here, aside from her accent.) She thought I was being left out because I was with her. I thought it was the reverse: who knows how popular she might have been if she hadn’t tied herself to me before playing the field? I told her she was free to test the waters as a single woman, but she shuddered at the thought. What she had seen at public events, and heard from me, apparently convinced her that a monogamous relationship with me was her best option.

There have been times when we've hardly noticed our general exclusion from every private social group, especially when all our three children were living with us, and their fathers popped into their lives occasionally. There were school events, then there was a period when a tribe of teenagers filled our basement for days at a time because every kid who knew our kids and couldn’t stand life at home preferred to hang out at our house, called the Mothers’ Nest.

Now that our youngest is 36 years old, our pets are our only live-in dependents. In general, we enjoy our life together, and we sometimes run into people we know, who are willing to chat with us one-on-one (or one-on-two). We still seem to be left off every guest list, but by now, we’re used to it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Not a Random Bedroom in America ( #WritingTechniques #Setting #Characterization )

By Annabeth Leong

I’ve read so much erotica that seems to take place in “a random bedroom in America.” Unless the anthology topic is something like “al fresco” or the sexual partners in question have a particular kink for unusual locations, the place where they’re doing whatever they’re doing is often treated as an afterthought.

I’m not going to pretend I’m innocent of this phenomenon. I suspect that if I counted up my “random bedroom” stories, they’d represent an alarming percentage of my work. Despite that hypocrisy, knowing where characters are in the world—even and especially when they’re in the bedroom—makes for better stories.

To me stories always come back to character. I write erotica in part because I love what sex can say about who people are. What we do when we’re literally naked, how we talk and think about it, how that vulnerability makes us feel—for a person addicted to the rush of knowing things about people, there’s no substitute. When I teach writing workshops, I often argue that this is a good way to think about what you’re doing in a sex scene. You’re revealing something about who these people are and how they relate to each other. What happens in your scene should advance what your reader knows about your characters, and what they know about themselves. That means that even if you’re writing your 200th cunnilingus scene, it’s unique because you’ve never written about these people in this particular cunnilingus situation before.

I’d argue that bedrooms have a lot of similar qualities. Lots of people work to make their bedrooms their own, and even if they don’t, that says something about them.

I had a girlfriend who had plastered every inch of her walls and ceiling with pictures cut from magazines, often in artful shapes. The majority were of women, and I remember being fascinated by the statement being made about femininity inside her bedroom, and the way that made me feel about her and myself whenever we made out in there. She had so many icons of femininity on display, so many women who knew how to wear makeup and heels, how to pluck their eyebrows. I was trying to default out of that sort of gender consideration, and the result was that I dressed in whatever people gave me. I’d be there in my shapeless outfits, surrounded by these impeccably styled women, wondering what they had to do with me, with us. It represented a world I’d never understood, and I remember kissing her, fearing I didn’t know how to do it, maybe fearing even more that I didn’t even know what I was doing at all. Those perfect women watched me, and I didn’t know if the complicated feelings they aroused meant I was definitely a lesbian or that I definitely wasn’t.

That bedroom, though, inspired my own. I loved the effect of the powerful statement, and I tried to create the same effect. Starting at the top of one wall, I began collecting images. Most of them were of Trent Reznor, Tori Amos, Courtney Love, and Charlize Theron, and no one could have sorted out the complicated mixture of wanting to be them or wanting to fuck them—least of all me. However, not having the same level of motivation as that girlfriend, I only made it a foot down the wall. Many other signs of the unfinished appeared. The books I hadn’t read stacked up beside the bed. The candles I had burned and left to drip, and the soot marks above them. A hurricane warning came through Florida, and I boarded my windows but then left the blockage up. I liked to sit in the dark in silk nightclothes that had belonged to my mother, smoking cigarettes and putting them out in the trophy I’d been given for being valedictorian of my high school. When lovers came to my room, they found it dark, smoky, musky. It was likely impossible to lie to yourself about the fact I was fucking other people. I kept condoms in the same drawer as a ritual knife I’d bought before I got too scared of witchcraft. Someone had left porn in my room at some point, and I kept it around the way some people keep guest towels.

Or how about another bedroom I saw, later in life, while I was in the process of getting divorced? This one belonged to a guy who was trying to date me before I was quite ready to date anyone. My general sensation at the time was of bewilderment. The title “married” bestows a certain quality of adulthood, and I’d just been stripped of that title, and I didn’t feel like I had much else that made me seem grown up. This guy owned an apartment not far from the one where I lived, but it was full of electronics I couldn’t have bought for myself. It was clean, put together. Everything matched. I played video games with him on a modern console and he laughed at me for the way I moved—but I couldn’t help thinking about how I only had hand me down consoles I’d kept running through a combination of hacking and prayer. I went into his bedroom, caught in some combination of fascination, fear, arousal, and repulsion. I looked at his bookshelf, like I always do, and there were only a few books there. About half were about business and the others had names like The Art of Seduction and The Game. I don’t remember much else of the setting except the darkness of the room, the way it felt expensive. When I noticed the books, though, the place began to seem like the sort of performance that comes before a trap. I kissed him to see what it would feel like, and then I left. If not for the books, I think I’d have slept with him.

The point here is that each of these places has a specific feeling in my mind. It’s a big deal to let someone into your bedroom for the first time. I’ve met few people who are truly casual about doing that.

When I revise my work, I try to pay attention to these questions of setting, though I don’t know that I always do it well. I hope I’ve demonstrated here that there’s value in making a bedroom specific rather than generic. It’s another way of showing who these characters are, what it means for them to have sex, and why the reader and writer might care.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Regular Places. A Doorjamb Jive Flasher

by Daddy X

When you cross the threshold and enter the jive, you’ll encounter a choice of two doors.

“John? Why don’t we go on ordinary dates?” asked Carla.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s always these choices with you. Wherever you take me.”

“The sum of our choices is our combined identity,” he replied.

“What’re the choices?”

“Let’s try this door,” John suggested. “May find our type here.”

Inside, a naked woman on all fours was blowing a man, one dick up her cunt, another in her ass, while giving two others hand jobs.

“Christ--she’s the only woman here,” said John. “Six more guys waiting a turn. Let’s go check out the other door. We already know what this one’s about.”

“Yeah. Girl’s got her … ahem … hands full, so to speak. Not to mention her all her holes stuffed too.”

John opened the other door. “Let’s take a look in here.”

Once through the alternate portal, a big band blared over a red-carpeted dining room. Tuxedoed waiters balanced covered dishes on silver trays while bartenders poured fine champagne into crystal flutes. Well-attired couples danced, floating across the ballroom floor.

Carla said, “Let’s go back. The first scene seems more us.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A job for life

I’m no great fan of knowing your place, not really. History is awash with people who knew their place and as a result did nothing much out of the ordinary. Conformity breeds inaction. Rebels don’t always change the world, but they are in with a shout.
A few obvious examples spring to mind. Nelson Mandela, Emily Pankhust, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parkes – I for one am grateful that none of these was content to stick to the rules and accept their allotted role in life.  They wanted more, they wanted different, they worked and fought for a better vision, a future they believed in.
Revolution comes in all shapes and sizes. Some renegades, just like the ones I mentioned, leave their mark on nations. Others forge a new and alternative future just for themselves and those close to them. My own family is an example of this. My grandfather, Ernest, was a mill worker, as were most who lived in his small industrial town in northern England in the 1920s and 30s. He made carpets and he did all right. He became an overlooker which was a senior job, sort of, and it paid fairly well. Ernest should have been grateful, satisfied even. But Ernest didn’t know his place.
He was not wealthy, not by any means, but he found he could get by without sending his only daughter into the mill at age fourteen. That was what he ought to do, because everyone did it. And the mill wasn’t such a bad offer. Weaving carpets was a job for life, or so everyone thought back then. It offered security, certainty and a sense of belonging.  People were glad of a job in the mill. That was Ernest’s place, and it should have been his daughter’s too, for that matter.
Ernest disagreed. His daughter remained at school, she passed exams. The mill had no use for educated machinists so it was quickly apparent that that ship had sailed. She stayed at school a bit longer, passed more exams, and then went on to university. This was unheard of along their street. The neighbours had plenty to say and Ernest’s family were incredulous. What was he thinking, letting his daughter miss out on the chance of steady employment and a chance to meet a nice young man with an honest trade to fall back on?
But Ernest didn’t seem to care. He had his eye on something different, something better, a new place for his descendants. His daughter never went into the mill. She became a pharmacist, and all his grandchildren had a university education. One even ended up writing smutty books for a living, which surely vindicates Ernest’s mold-breaking madness.

 As a writer, I relish feisty, disruptive characters who like to stir things up a bit. Some of the best stories are built around that element of conflict, of confrontation, of tenacity and victory in the face of adversity. This excerpt is from one of my personal favourites. Sure Mastery tells the story of Ashley McAllister, a petty thief with a prison record. Following a huge personal tragedy Ashley decides to re-invent herself. She has a talent for photography (even though she did steal her first camera) and she capitalizes on it. No matter how many times others tell her she is just a worthless little crook, she rejects their assessments and does her own thing anyway. And she makes it work.

I think Ernest would have liked Ashley. He might have admired her. I know I do.

This excerpt is from Unsure, the first book in the Sure Mastery trilogy, and marks the start of Ashley’s journey:

I pulled it off. Mary, Joseph and all the saints, I only fucking did it! Months of planning, sacrifice, sheer desperation and soul-deep tragedy have brought me here. So here’s where I am. At last. Free. Free to start over.
The monotonous asphalt of the M6 heading north rolls in front of me, miles and miles of it. And every mile taking me farther away from—before. Away from ‘Shaz’, away from poverty and violence and doing without, leaving behind my old life jam-packed with nothing much but drudgery, fear, humiliation.
Not that the future looks particularly certain. But at least there’s only me in it.

* * * *

I remember with absolute clarity the moment I knew I was going to be rid of Kenny. It was July thirteenth 2011 at nine sixteen p.m., the moment when the radiologist at Southmead Hospital’s maternity unit at last finished clicking away at her keyboard, swirling her chilly probe through the gunk on my abdomen, looking again at her monitor and once more for good measure before she finally turned to me. She had on her well-trained sad and sympathetic face as she calmly announced that my baby had no heartbeat. No heartbeat! How can a baby have no heartbeat? He’d be dead if he…
The maternity unit staff were kind, caring, but they couldn’t put it right. Nothing, no one could put this right. My baby was dead. Dead because my thug of a boyfriend couldn’t keep his fists to himself. One shove too many, one punch too many, one heavy fall too many, and it was done. My baby, gone. I sobbed. I screamed and kicked and refused to accept. Refused to accept a life lost, wasted through thoughtless cruelty and callousness.
It’s not as though Kenny had even meant to kill my baby. His baby. He just simply hadn’t cared one way or the other. But it was real, this was all real—really happening to me, and eventually my body took over and expelled my tiny, tiny baby son, out onto a cool, clean rubber sheet. Months too early. Dead before his life had even started. Before I’d even looked into his face to say ‘hello’ it was already too late to say ‘goodbye’. The midwife taking care of me—her name was Ann-Marie I think but it’s all something of a blur—scooped him up and out of the way while the young doctor dealt with the afterbirth, and other nurses cleaned me up, made me sanitary and ‘normal’ again.
Ann-Marie brought my baby back, beautifully laid out in a tiny basket, on a pale blue satin cushion. He was so small, his little limbs matchstick thin, and he was a very deep pink, like a little pixie. Not quite human, yet not quite anything else either. Even though I never asked her to—it never even occurred to me—Ann-Marie took a photo of him with a little digital pocket camera they must keep in the maternity unit for this sort of thing. She also took his tiny little handprints and footprints. And she put all those mementos into a little white memorial card that she gave to me.
I have it still. I’ll have it forever. That’s all there is left to show my baby was ever here.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Home for the Holidays

Sacchi Green

Perry Como sang, “There’s no place like home for the holidays” in 1954, when post-war families were already moving away from where they’d grown up in much larger numbers than had been common before the two World Wars. Going “home” for the holidays, back to where their parents lived, and possibly many generations before them, was getting harder, but it was still the nostalgic ideal. It still is, for many, even though the population as a whole has become even more transient, moving for jobs, for cultural opportunities, for education, for warm winters.

“Home is where you hang your hat” still applies to where you live on a daily basis even when the type of hat that used to hang on hat stands has become, not extinct, but on the retro side (though vastly becoming to those who can carry it off well. Hi Jeremy!) But the “home for the holidays” notion applies these days to more to wherever your family gathers, and that doesn’t necessarily mean genetic family as much as family of choice.  Sometimes, in fact, young families count their first holiday season in a home of their own as a milestone. Just as families come in various permutations, shifting with time, so do our concepts of “home.”

Then there’s the truth of Thomas Wolfe’s You can’t Go Home Again, published in 1940 but set in the 20s and 30s, a book on the one hand about a writer who based a novel on his own hometown and found its inhabitants outraged to point of sending death threats (you thought those were a new fad? Hah!) But the book, and the evolving usage of the term, is about more than a single writer’s experience. It’s about inevitable change. Not only can’t you go back to the home you remember, because it’s changed along with everything else in the world, but your very subjective memories don’t portray a true time and place. Like the all too many people who seem to want to “Make America Great Again” (apparently, in their minds, like life in the 50s,) life wasn’t as great back then as they think they remember it being, and even if it had been, change, much of it for the better, was unavoidable. I’d bet that most of the folks with the nostalgia mind set wouldn’t want to do without many of their modern conveniences and entertainments.

This is as good a point as any to say that yes, I know our theme is about knowing one’s place in a hierarchical society or subgroup, rather than a sense of place in a geographical sense, but I think there’s some crossover involved. The nostalgic-for-the-50s group isn’t limited to the central, more traditionally agricultural parts of the country, but it does seem to be more prevalent there, as well as places that have lost their manufacturing and mining underpinnings. These people feel their economic stature falling, and their stature as citizens, too. They don’t get respect by what they picture as the coastal, educated elites. Respect is a factor hard to define, but you know it when you feel you don’t have it. And when their children move away for education, work, “city life,” and come home only for the holidays, if that, they feel it all the more. You can’t go home again, and if you’ve stayed home, you try so hard to hang on to the old nostalgic views that you’ll vote against your own economic interests if there’s a chance of getting respect.

Well. I didn’t start out with the intention of getting political. It’s the concept of “home” that I’ve been contemplating.

I’ve called places home in three different areas, although in more than three different houses/apartments, but at this point I’ve lived for forty years in the same house, gardened the same soil, hiked the same trails.

The house where I mostly grew up is just over an hour away from here, and I make the trip more and more often as my father gets older and more in need of help—he’ll be 97 in about a month. He spent this holiday weekend with me, and the extended family gathered at my nearby brother’s house, and things went well, but for my dad it wasn’t being “home for the holidays,” and nothing will ever feel like that again now that my mother is gone.

For me this house, where I can watch the squirrels and birds around my bird feeder as I type this, is home. I hope it stays that way for a very long time. But I spend quite a bit of time at his home, which still feels like home to me in a different way. It’s disorienting to go back and forth between the homes, and, in a sense, between times. The town where he lives has progressed over time, of course, and that’s kind of disorienting for me, too, but his house, brand new in the mid-fifties, hasn’t changed much except for needed (increasingly needed) repairs. I do have roots there, though, and here, and even some nostalgic ones for where I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late sixties. I’ve been back there a few times, and each time the you-can’t-go-home-again truism is emphatically confirmed. Neither I nor the place are what we were then. I even have a few roots in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where I've had a cabin retreat for over twenty years; I try not to get too attached, since I’ll probably have to sell it soon, and the more help my dad needs the less time I can spend there.

A sense of place means a lot to me, probably more than it should. Places change, people change and move on, and that’s not a bad thing, except when maybe it is—as a kid I roamed woodlands in central Massachusetts and imagined myself linked to the Native Americans who were there first, but of course I was an intruder. Peoples move, continents move; continents, at least, don’t feel guilty about it.

I’ve traveled moderately often, and in my writing I do considerable research, both historical and geographical, to create a sense of place and time. Those are important to me, in life as well as in fiction. Actually being there means much more than reading about a place, though, or seeing pictures. I remember being at the Grand Canyon, taking pictures, of course, with everyone around me doing the same, and I thought about the fact that there are some places, some aspects of nature, that are too big for us to just “be there,” in the moment, too big to hold in memories. We try to cut them down to our size by confining segments in static photos.  Maybe memories of home, of our lives, are like that. We take photos, and we save as much in the way of memories in our minds as we can, but being in the moment and the place are what counts most.

Wishing us all health and joy and maybe even peace in the coming year, and wishing us all happy moments and places that we can truly be in, and feel—and, if we’re writers, of course, translate into our writing well enough to bring a reader into a moment worth enjoying, even though, like memories, they’re fleeting.  

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sex Education #powerplay #teacherstudent

I've been pretty open for the past year or so that I not only write as Willsin Rowe, but also as Abi Aiken. (Heck, I have three other pen names, too, but I keep those close to my chest).

And while I had a couple of solo titles out as Abi, right now I only have co-written titles out. Among those titles (all written with the lovely Rozlyn Sparks, which is the pen name of my even lovelier friend, Katie Salidas) are two trilogies. These trilogies both deal with different types of power play. The first one, Consummate Therapy, is the story of a stressed out female billionaire who's exhausted all means of mainstream therapy in trying to deal with her career-based anxiety. Her doctor ends up sending her for "Submission Therapy", where she gets taught, over the course of the three titles, the benefits of being able to let go. To allow others to do their jobs without her micromanagement. And in effect, to know her place.

But it's the other trilogy I'm focusing on today. It's called "Sex Education", and is a fun little romp between a flighty college student, Chelsea Hopkins, and her favorite teacher, Professor Blake. Again, it's a form of power-play, but while there is a D/s vibe to the stories, for me the kernel of the relationship is Blake's ability to draw her focus, to distract her from her mild self-harming tendencies... and to know that her place is in fact far more elevated than she feels.

As I was searching for an excerpt, I found myself drawn back into the banter and the voice of our main character. I feel she exudes an identifiably human weakness, as well as an internal steel she's reluctant to acknowledge. For those of us with Y-chromosomes she also pulls at several strings... not just the one between our legs. She awakens the very male desire to protect and even nurture. Sure, Professor Blake might force a cold shower on her as a form of nurture... but men and women tend to nurture in different fashions anyway! Heh.

* * * *

Excerpt from "Extra Classes" (book 3 in the Sex Education trilogy)
by Abi Aiken & Rozlyn Sparks

She glanced over the list of classes and nodded as she saw each grade. Mostly C’s a few B’s, pretty well par for the course for her. Passing was all that really mattered to Chelsea, and she’d done enough in every class to scrape through.
And then one grade in particular slapped her in the face and sent a shower of icicles through her blood.
Hands shaking with rage, Chelsea nearly crumpled the paper she’d just printed. How could he? Her heart was a war drum setting the pace as she stormed out of the building on her way to Professor Blake’s lecture hall. 
Rage made her deaf to her surroundings, and tears blinded her. This wasn’t the plan. Today was supposed to mark an end to the secrets. It was supposed to be the first day of the rest of her fucking life. This wasn’t how it was meant to play out at all. She gripped the treacherous scrap of paper in her fist as if it had a life she could squeeze out of it.
Even in heels she managed to almost sprint up the short flight of stairs and into the brownstone building without a single stumble. As she made plans get to the bottom of this—and quickly—she couldn’t help but think on how anger suddenly gave her mind the focus it always lacked. Well, not always. Professor Blake had tapped all kinds of reserves inside her. Which just made this betrayal sting even more. 
The lecture hall was empty, thankfully, because after cooling her heels in that cattle call of students she had no patience left. In through the hall and down the steps, her heels clip-clopping the whole way like a pantomime donkey, she found the door to his private office and threw it open. 
“You failed me!” Okay, so it would have been kind of smart to see if he was truly alone before screaming her accusation out at the top of her lungs, but smart had left the building. Chelsea still struggled with the whole concept of self-control. It seemed to be something which happened to other people, not her.
For all the noise and bluster of her entrance, Professor Blake seemed utterly unmoved. He simply sighed and finished writing in his notepad before looking up to meet the angry glare of his student and lover. “Sit down, please, Miss Hopkins.”
“I will not.” Her voice sounded almost alien to her, the words squeezing out of the tiny spaces between her gritted teeth. “We were supposed to be celebrating tonight. We were finally going to be able to acknowledge our relationship.” She held out the mangled page, pointing the end of it at him as if it were a dagger. “And you failed me!”
Professor Blake adjusted the glasses up on his nose and fixed Chelsea with a look so cold and calm that the heat of her anger cooled in an instant. His eyes told her wordlessly she’d crossed a line. She wracked her brain to remember anything he’d said to her that she could have somehow misunderstood.
Before opening his mouth, Professor Blake turned to his file cabinet and selected a folder. He eased it open and glanced at the contents for a moment before speaking.
“Whatever I may be in the privacy of my own home Miss Hopkins—and whatever personal relationship we may have—is secondary in importance to our professional conduct when we are on school grounds. This is an institute of higher learning. It is not a meeting place or a social club. And though your pouting behavior might give lie to the statement, this is not high school. Here, we cease to be lovers, confidantes, even friends. We are here for the furthering of education. Your education. The amount you pay for this privilege should give you pause.” He tossed the file in front of her. “And this mockery of an examination result should fill you with shame. You have spat on all your good work, and more cuttingly, on all of mine, as well.”
The file landed open and her final test lay on top, unfinished. Barely even a mark on it besides her name. If memory served, it had been a bad day. One of what she thought of as her insect sessions, where she was buzzing from thought to thought with nothing really to land on. In truth, she really hadn’t wanted to take the test. Professor Blake had been riding her hard—in class and in bed—preparing her for that test. The pressure had built up in her head so much she froze when the moment arrived. Of course, that was no excuse. But the brat in her had told her she could use her sweet young pussy to get away with it.
Clearly her inner brat was an idiot.
After giving her a moment to take in the document, he scooped it up and slid it back into the folder, clapping it shut so sharply it felt almost as if he’d slapped her. “I do not even know at the moment where to begin.”
He turned crisply and shoved the folder back into the cabinet. It was maybe the first time Chelsea had ever seen his actions driven by anger.
“You have disappointed me beyond words, Miss Hopkins. And your actions leave me disappointed with myself for all the leniencies I have granted you.”
“Leniencies?” Chelsea felt her eyes gaping along with her mouth. “What leniencies? You ignored me for the past week, except to single me out in front of everyone for any tiny mistake I made. You loaded me up with all sorts of shitty mumbo-jumbo and called it advanced reading.”
“Miss Hopkins…” His voice once again crackled with warning, but Chelsea was on a roll.
“And you’ve taken up so much of my time with your fucking sex games. That’s why I failed. I had no time to sleep, let alone study.”
He whirled to face her again, his blue eyes bright and sharp. “Miss Hopkins, you will hold your tongue. I demanded of you nothing which you were unable to handle, nor unwilling to give. Either in work or in… play. You have repaid my efforts with tardiness, bratty behavior, and an arrogant disregard which borders on professional suicide.”
Tears burst from Chelsea’s eyes as she took in the blunt force of his disappointment. She wished she’d taken the seat when he offered it. Her knees were suddenly on the verge of failing her, but to sit down now would feel like yet another loss.
“Miss Hopkins, I presented you a golden opportunity to excel. As has so often been the case throughout your life, it is your attitude which has been found wanting.”
He paused as he lowered himself into his leather chair. And then hit her with the hardest blow in his arsenal.
“I feel we need to take some time apart and reevaluate our situation.” 
It couldn’t have hurt more if the blow had been physical. She wanted to scream the word, no, but her throat was too dry to speak. Her mouth, however, gaped open. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. It was only one lousy test.
One test that made up the majority of her semester grade. God, she was so stupid. Had she really thought her skills in the bedroom would let her coast through? Had she been thinking at all?
“Now, if you please, I shall need you to take your leave. Some of your classmates made at least a token effort, and I have appointments to see several of them and discuss the futures they saw fit to strive for.” Professor Blake’s eyes returned to the notepad on his desk and he picked up his pen as if this conversation had no effect on him. Even his hand was rock steady as he made notes on the test papers.
Sometimes Chelsea wondered if he was part machine. His emotional control was so complete at times it was hard to believe he was the same man who could bring her to a roaring climax with only his tongue.
The world had gone numb for a moment, and Chelsea wasn’t sure how to act, what to do, where to go… and whether any of those mattered at all to him anymore.
“I–I can do better.” She summoned up all the voice she could and still only managed a mumble. 

“It is my awareness of that very fact which makes your result so disheartening, Miss Hopkins. Now if you please, I’m busy. Go home.”

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Who is a gift for?

by Giselle Renarde

My grandmother came to Canada in the 1930s. Her family was beyond poor, often relying on a downtown soup kitchen for meals. I remember her telling me that if it hadn't been for a box of gifts distributed by the local newspaper to children living in poverty, she and her siblings wouldn't have received anything for Christmas.

Fast-forward to the 1980s, when my cousins and siblings and I were coming up. My grandparents were working class people living on a budget, but you would not believe how many gifts my grandma gave us at Christmas. Little things, but tons of little things. Cheap plastic toys and clothing from the clearance rack at her local discount store. We're not talking one or two items (or three or four)--we're talking garbage bags full of stuff.

I don't remember how I felt about the sheer quantity of gifts I received from my grandmother. When I was a kid things like storage space were not a concern. But the reason she gave us so much is clear to me now: she was compensating for the poverty of her own childhood by spoiling her grandchildren.

Fast-forward again to the present day. My grandmother died in the 1990s, but her memory lives on--most notably because my mom and my sisters refer to my girlfriend as "Grandma R" behind her back. It's something they snicker about. They snicker, I groan. It's easy enough to laugh when you're not the one whose girlfriend gives you gifts you don't want.

I live in a 1-bedroom apartment. I'm not a fan of "stuff." And yet from our very first Christmas as a couple, my girlfriend has been giving me an abundance of junk for Christmas. And when I say "junk" I'm talking about bags of random shit from the dollar store.

The thing is, my girlfriend LOVES Christmas. She is a Christmas fanatic. I won't even go to her house between November 1st and the end of January because it's so overly decorated (Christmas stuff EVERYWHERE--including on the floor) that I can't breathe. It's overwhelming.

Just like the gifts. The gifts are overwhelming. It's too much cheap crap, too much stuff I have no use for. And I'm too environmentally-minded to throw it in the garbage, which means it's now my job to figure out which charitable organization accepts donations of stupid crap.

Last week we were talking about gratitude here at The Grip. This is the opposite of that. And I'm sure I sound like a snotty ungrateful child, but this is my eighth year trying to communicate to the most important person in my life that I really would prefer it if she didn't buy me presents. I'll tell you right now, this conversation never goes well. I try to communicate that I would prefer we did experiential gifts, like a special meal or a getaway. DO something instead of giving things.

Every time I broach this subject, a hissy fit ensues. "Fine! If that's what you want, fine!" And then she inserts passive-aggressive little jabs into conversations again and again. She wants to give me gifts. She derives joy from the act of shopping for me and giving those things to me and watching me open presents.

But what if I don't want them?

A more gracious person would accept them and smile and say, "Thank you! How did you know? It's just what I've always wanted." But I don't believe in lying to an intimate partner.

Last year my girlfriend handed me my gifts and said, "Here's more crap you're just going to throw in the garbage."

So why give it to me?

Who is a gift for? If I've said please please please do not buy me anything and you do the opposite, who benefits? Not me, that's for damn sure. If my girlfriend enjoys buying me gifts so much that she will go against my wishes year after year to give them to me, isn't she doing that for HER, not for ME?

Is a gift for the receiver, or is a gift for the giver?

All I know is Christmas was a hell of a lot easier when I was a kid.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A View From the Bridge

Standing at the bridge over the canal.  I’ve measured the distance off before with a pedometer and I know this bridge is exactly one mile from the parking lot, so if I walk here and back I’ve clocked in my two miles and the attendant feeling of virtue.

 I take my broad hat off, though I like to deceive myself that it makes me look like Ansel Adams, and hold it in my hand so I can stick my head between the wooden safety rails and look down, straight down into the water.  If you hold yourself at the right angle, the sunlight glaring off the surface is off set and you can see down into the clearness to the bottom

Below there is a shallow forest of seaweed, or maybe canal weed, that waves in invisible winds under the surface like a field of fat flowers.  Something orange and alive weaves among the weeds, maybe a snake.  I can’t tell.  The fish gather here, and like cows in a field they all seem to line up in the same direction, as though letting that undersea breeze blow back their hair.  They’re small fry, I don’t know what kind from up here.  There is a fish among them big enough to gobble them down, but they ignore him, as if they know, because it’s their business to know, he’s not hungry today.  There is something dangling from his lip that could be a fish hook.

I wish I could look down there and see an octopus.

I’m thinking about an octopus this morning because I was reading a book review about them.  They have every evidence of not only unusual intelligence, but sentience.  They are self-conscious, moody, silly, resourceful, with distinctive personalities and even attitudes toward human divers they meet.  

They express their moods with color schemes that are constantly changing.  And their brains are vastly different from ours.  Their primordial ancestor was different.  We share a brain and a spinal cord structure common with almost all animals.  Octopuses don’t.  Their neurons are distributed from a brain center and then down their limbs.  Their arms are where part of their brains are actually located.  They have no skeleton internal or external.  A moderately small octopus can easily fit itself into a discarded beer bottle and back.  Octopuses in lab tanks have slithered under the door crack at night, down the hall, into the vending machine to grab a snack and then back to their tanks.  Their brains are the closest we can get to meeting an extraterrestrial intelligence. 

I look down on the fish, leaning out over the bridge, a silver haired man slipping towards geezerhood but still thinking like a child.  I wonder how the world looks to an octopus.  When they aim that human eye at us, what do they see?

A turtle with a red ear stripe, like a tear, is looking up at me.  I see the turtle.  The turtle sees me.  Hello turtle.

I remember Terry.

We stood on a bridge like this.  I was sixteen.  She was seventeen.  We were both in high school.  Neither of us was anyone’s idea of a winner, but Terry had just damaged her life.  She had gotten knocked up by the handsome lout on the third floor of our apartment building.  She had given birth.  Her mother beat her occasionally.  And in spite of her shame, she was defiantly going back to high school to finish and find herself a future.  

And Terry talked to me.  She felt I was the only one she could talk to.  Why did she think so?  I have always loved women, their conversation, their complexity, their nonsense.  Their depth of soul.  But did I love them as a young man?  At my age, memory is like an archeological dig.  One has to examine the evidence.  The evidence is that I have always loved women.  And they loved me, chastely (alas).

“I like to stand on a bridge,” Terry said.  “When I was in the nut hospital, at Glenwood Hills, I’d stand on the bridge over the stream.”

“Not to jump?”

“I thought about it.  Twice.   I almost jumped the second time, but I knew it wasn’t deep enough to kill me.  That’s just stupid.  You just get hurt.  Which is stupid.  If you shoot yourself in the head with a 22 it’s the same.  The bullet’s so fucking small you just hurt yourself, but you don’t die.  That’s stupid.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

“You know, “ she said, leaning against me, “when you look down from a bridge and watch the water passing under it feels likes it’s carrying all your troubles away with it.”

“So the bridge was good for you.”

“It saved my life.”

Those turtles below.  I don’t think those are native to this latitude.  These are the abandoned ones.   The disowned ones.  These are, or are descended from, freed slave turtles.  Baby pet shop turtles, languishing in their shit in plastic turtle bowls with a little plastic island with a forlorn plastic palm tree; bought from Woolworth and Ben Franklin dime stores, that smelled like toffee peanuts roasting, these stores, like sensual circuses of small wonders, kids today have never seen or heard of.  Then the children had to move away.  On their way out they spared Patches or Pokey, or whatever the suffering critter’s name that fatal dive into the toilet bowl and instead tossed them into the canal.  A turtle always knows how to be a turtle.  They switch gratefully from dead dried flies shaken from a jar to live minnows they have to chase.  In the fish hunt and the long sunny naps lounging on logs they rediscover themselves.   They gain their strength.  They rejoice in their turtleness.  The child is forgotten and lost to time.

A dog goes loping behind me on a leash, sniffing.  The leash is held in the hand of a young woman in black shiny spandex, tight as Wonder Woman.  The turtle drops his head and vanishes.  I put my hat back on and head back.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reminding Him of His Place (#gayerotica #eroticaexcerpt)

I don’t often delve into BDSM themes — which is what first comes to mind when I hear the post theme “Knowing One’s Place” — but one of my first stories touched on it. Going All The Way was the third in a three-part series about hot sex and hot yoga — with the dominant older yoga teacher instructing the nubile young twink yogi in all manner of scorching hot maneuvers. While I feel my writing has improved considerably since when I wrote this story, it remains a consistent seller.

(Fun fact: the characters in this series are loosely based on an older daddy-type yoga teacher and twink yogi that I always saw hanging out together at the hot yoga studio. They might not’ve been fucking, but I’m pretty sure they were.)

In this excerpt, Brad (the dominating teacher) has to remind Simon (the mostly-submissive twink) about his place in the relationship. To give some context, prior to this scene, Simon inserted a vibrating butt plug into his ass, which is controlled by an app on Brad’s smartphone. The excerpt picks up in a gay bar in downtown Toronto, as Brad and Simon are celebrating Simon’s recent win at a regional yoga competition.


When they were alone, Brad picked up his glass and clinked it against Simon’s. “To my favorite boy.”

Simon blushed profusely, trying to hide behind his glass as he sipped. After a few sips he leaned in close, lowering his voice. “Are you going to get me drunk so you can have your way with me? I’ve always wanted to drink and fuck.”

“What, you’ve never done that before? Be honest.” Brad took out his phone and placed it before him on the table.

“Honest!” Simon’s cheeks turned redder still. “I’ve only done a few things before you—with Randy—and since you...only what we did that night at the studio.”

“Hmm. Just Randy, eh?” Brad tossed back another mouthful. It went down smooth, burning a path to his guts.

Simon matched him, taking back his drink as eagerly as he took cock down his throat. His eyes watered, but he steeled himself, pretending to be more of a man than he was. “I’m telling the truth, I promise.”

Brad stared at his phone, tapping the table with a thumb, then slammed back the rest of his drink—Simon copied, fixing him with his best innocent face. Both drinks finished, Brad flagged Alex over to order another round.

“So you want to drink and fuck, eh?” He said when the server was gone. Brad nuzzled his knee against Simon’s under the table. The boy responded by rubbing his foot up along Brad’s calf. That simple touch made Brad ache with need. He longed to take the boy and ravish him, plunge his dick deep inside him, share his energy with him...tell him he loved him.

A ding sounded from Simon’s direction, barely audible above the smooth jazz from the overhead speakers. Simon fished in his pocket, then withdrew his phone. He grinned. Tap tap tap tap tap tap came the annoying click of texting fingers.

“Simon...?” Brad said.

“One sec. Just texting Randy. He’s asking how the tournament went today.”

Brad tapped on his phone too in the designated spots until he hit the desired app that made Simon’s body jolt.

The boy dropped his phone and fixed Brad with pleading eyes. Brad gestured to his phone. “Thought I’d answer a text too while you ignored me.”

Simon clamped his lips shut, slamming his hands against the edge of the table to brace himself, screwing up his face in a ridiculous expression. He squealed—barely audible. A quick glance around revealed that few people noticed or cared about the outburst of sound.

“You seem to have forgotten that you’re still my slave. A little reminder can’t hurt—that’s all this is, a reminder. Now, I will turn this off if you promise not to touch that fucking thing again while we’re out. Got it?”

Simon nodded fiercely. With a tap, Brad turned the vibrator off.

“Now,” Brad said, picking up Simon’s phone where it had fallen on the table, “I hope that taught you a lesson.”

Simon gasped a few times before speaking. “Yeah. I—won’t—anything—I’m—yours.”

“Good boy. Now put it away unless I tell you to take it out.”

“Yes, sir—master.”

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Erotic Love & Carnal Sins: Confessions of a Priest (co-written with Sandra Claire). He is also the publisher and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, a publisher of erotica and high-heat-level erotic romance. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit