Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pre-Millennial and Space-Age Reading

by Jean Roberta

For the past few weeks, I’ve been spending whole days revising my old erotic novel, Prairie Gothic, which was available as a download from a British publisher, Amatory Ink, from 2002 to 2006, when the publisher folded. I wrote the novel in 1998, when I had more enthusiasm than skill, and I had a paid two-month break from my teaching job, which in those days didn’t offer many other perks. (No expense account, no job security.)

After rereading this saga, most of which I had forgotten, I decided to keep the period flavour as well as the local colour. However, the head-hopping now makes me groan. It demonstrates my concept of “omniscient viewpoint” at the time.

What to do? There are two central characters, and several secondary ones who have valuable insights into the comedy-of-errors relationship between the two stars. I don’t want to lose all the snark from the sidelines.

The original novel was divided into nine rambling chapters of uneven length. I’ve been breaking them up into chapters of 2-4K. I think this makes the narrative more digestible, and also allows me to stay in one head per chapter, even though it seems necessary to head-hop between chapters. (For example, chapters 1-4 focus on Kelly, a young woman who goes to the local gay bar for the first time, and meets several regulars. Chapter 5 has to show the viewpoint of Kelly’s new girlfriend Vivienne, because she is visited by her bad-news ex while Kelly is in self-exile on the family farm. Chapter 11 must show the viewpoint of Rae, who has an uncanny experience with a ghost.)

This format allows me to flesh out a few details that were simply mentioned in passing in the original version. The original is only 56,000 words long, which is short for a novel. I expect the new version to be considerably longer, which will make it more of a standard size.

Once the shiny new version is ready, I plan to offer it to a certain publisher. If the novel isn’t accepted there, I plan to post it on I’m excited to know that one of my early efforts can be recycled, and not left to waste space in my “Documents,” too good to delete but not good enough to resell.

Lethe Press recently sent me two books for review. I wrote a review of the anthology, His Seed: An Arboretum of Erotica, edited by Steve Berman, published under the new Lethe erotic imprint, Unzipped, and posted it on Facebook.

Here is a brief overview:

It’s hard to believe there is a theme in erotica which has not been overdone and yet seems visceral, organic and succulent. Here it is: sex between men, in which plants play various roles. This is not a joke. Several of the stories in this collection have horrifying endings, based on the undeniable fact that plants need nutrients, some of which are found in human bodies. Of course, this fact can also lead to interdependence, or mutual cultivation.
The stories cover a wide range of genres and tones, from stories that are basically sex scenes to fantasies about the Green Man or the Woodwose, the spirit of the forest in the form of a virile man. (One of these is a moving tale by our own Connie Wilkins about a man who has lost his lover in the first world war, but he discovers the Green Man living eternally in his native England.)

Among the sex-scene stories is “The Greenhouse” by Spencer Krell, in which a semi-sentient (genetically-modified) pumpkin vine makes advances to its cultivator, Aaron:

“He’d been about to get back to work once more when he felt a slight tickle against his ankle.”
This is not random contact; this is seduction.

Even for readers who are not gay men, these stories are entertaining and unsettling. Plants are the ultimate alien lovers, beings who are clearly alive in some sense, yet who are profoundly different from human beings.

According to the editor’s introduction, this anthology was compiled on a dare. I would say the experiment works so well that it wouldn’t surprise me to see more plant-themed erotic fiction some time, but I doubt if a copycat collection could outdo this one.

The other Lethe Press book is a single-author collection of speculative fiction by A. Merc Rustad, who is identified as “a queer trans-masculine non-binary writer and filmmaker who likes dinosaurs, robots, monsters, and cookies.” The collection is titled So You Want to Be a Robot, and consists of 21 stories. I haven’t written a review of this book yet, but it is fabulous, especially for a reader who has seen individual stories by this author in various places, but not all together.

Picking a favourite story in this collection is hard, because each one pulls the reader into an alternative world that is both completely unreal and completely believable on an emotional level.

For those of us who wonder if there is any hope for democracy or justice, “The Gentleman of Chaos” is grimly satisfying. Here is the opening passage:

“People call him the Gentleman of Chaos, but he is not gentle.

By popular count, he’s assassinated thirteen kings, seventy-two princes, one thousand nobles, and five queens.

By popular legend, he’s immortal, a god of commoners, a death-demon summoned to feed on corruption, a shadow that devours the unjust. He never unmakes the innocent, it is said.

He is not gentle; I have seen what he does.

But I tell you this: part of his title is true. He is a man. And men can die.”

The rest of the first-person narrative shows how ironic this description is. For one thing, the “gentle” in the term “gentleman” originally indicated high social class; it is more closely related to “genteel” than to the modifier in “gentle touch.” For another thing, the being who eventually takes on the title in the story is mortal, but not exactly male.

This shadowy executioner is a kind of personification of karma or logical consequences. Even if there is no benevolent Deity, a ruler who slaughters everyone who might threaten his power tends to create more and more opposition. Sooner or later, the dictator's paranoia bears fruit.

One theme in this collection is that apparently inanimate objects have wills of their own, whether they are human-made robots/androids, engines, or natural phenomena such as mountains. In this sense, this book of non-erotic fantasy and sci-fi goes well with the “arboretum” of plant stories. I highly recommend them both.


  1. I'm so excited about the re-release of your novel, Jean! Please do let us know when it's available.

    Revisiting one's early efforts can cringe-inducing. On the other hand, we all had to start somewhere.

    With regard to His Seed, don't you have a lesbian story involving plants? A bit of erotic horror? I remember images from the tale, but not the title.

  2. Good memory, Lisabet! I sent a thank-you message to Steve Berman & let him I have a story I could submit if he ever decides to compile a lesbian version of "His Seed" (Her Fruit?) My story is "Roots," and it is in the Treasure Chest at ERWA, so anyone can read it.

  3. I remember some of your Prairie stories, especially the one written for my motorcycle anthology "Hard Road, Easy Riding." And "Nightmare"...but I don't remember what book that one was in. Leaky mind. What I do remember best is the regional atmosphere you create. Gothic sounds just right.

  4. "Nightmare" was in Lesbian Cowboys - controversial title, & I remember your defender of it. Thank you re the local colour. I also have a holiday (Xmas) story, "A Visit from the Man in Red." The man in red is not who you'd guess. :)