Friday, July 31, 2009

I Buried My Love On Mount Royal

By Helen E. H. Madden

A vacation is the true test of any romantic relationship. Especially a marriage. Husband and wife have to be of a like mind to survive a trip into the unknown. Where will they stay? What will they eat? How much will they spend on souvenirs? These questions simply must be answered before buying two tickets to paradise.

I have been on several vacations with the Hubster, both before and after the birth of our children. And I can say with great certainty that no matter where we go, no matter what goal **I** might have in mind for our holiday adventures, my darling love always attempts to achieve the same thing.

My death.

It started with our honeymoon. We were headed for Orlando, for a week in the happiest place on earth, Disney World . But to get there, we had to fly. I am not a big fan of flying. I don't understand how airplanes manage to stay up in the sky, and having my rocket scientist husband explain the mechanics of it to me in mind-numbing detail does nothing to soothe my nerves during take off. When our flight to Orlando hit some bad turbulence, I clung to my armrest with a death grip. When the plane suddenly dropped and the young women sitting sitting behind us screamed, I just about had a heart attack. The plane leveled out, thankfully, just in time for my darling husband to nudge me, incline his head toward the toilet, and say, "So, do you wanna?" His inquiry nearly resulted in me having a fatal apoplexy on the spot.

Cinderella's Castle, 1993

Failing to do me in that way, the Hubster then proceeded to try walking me to death. He deliberately, with intent to kill, created an itinerary designed to allow us to cover the maximum amount of theme park in just four days. Day five was saved for Universal Studios (all of it!), while day six was apparently reserved for transporting my legless corpse back home for my funeral. Before that week, I had never hurt so badly in all my life. Understand, I was in pretty good shape back in those days. But the Hubster was a cyborg from the 25th century, with legs of admantium forged in the fires of Mount Doom (yes, I know I'm mixing my movie metaphors, but bear with me). He could endure any amount of walking. He could, and did, literally walk me into the ground that week. I had no idea someone could kill a person just by walking them to death, but Hubster came awful close to managing it. Somehow, I survived, but he went on to repeat that tactic again and again, at various exotic locales all around the world.

In Puerto Rico, on our next major vacation, Hubster opted for a more subtle approach. Rather than kill me himself, he decided to let his mother do it for him... by letting her drive. For three days, I was shoved into the back seat of a tiny, two-door, purple Toyota Tercel, watching in horror as my mother-in-law played chicken with every other car on the highway. It was like being trapped in Road Warrior, only the part of Mel Gibson was played a sixty-something Hispanic woman with Coke-bottle glasses and an accent thick enough to smear peanut butter on. My only defense to this pernicious, evil plan, was to screech at the top of my lungs any time Hubster suggested we get in the car and go somewhere. Finally, desire not to go deaf early in life took over and at my insistence, he took command of the car.

El Yunque rain forest, Puerto Rico, 1998

By the time we made it to Australia and New Zealand a few years later, the Hubster was back to his "Walk 'em to death" tactics. We started in Sydney, walked all through the Blue Mountains, took a harrowing midnight tour of the red light district in King's Cross (Hubster swore it was a shortcut back to our B&B), tramped all over Port Douglas, swam through the Great Barrier Reef, and dredged the depths of the Yara Valley in search of good wine. Over in New Zealand it was more of the same, though he did let me soak my twice-their-normal-size feet in the hot springs at Rotarua.

Scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, September 1999

(As an aside, apparently some little known director started filming a low budget film while we were in New Zealand, but we never saw any of that, probably because I was blind with exhaustion and Hubster was too intent on killing me to keep a look-out for movie sets.)

Front section of The New Zealand Herald, 11 September, 1999

Italy came a few years after that, and in addition to walking me everywhere, Hubster threw in the added torment of climbing steps. If an edifice had steps, we climbed it. The Duomo in Florence, numerous churches in Rome, the slopes of Anna Capri, the ruins of Pompeii and the Herculaneum (don't ever try to see both in the same day), the rabbit's warren of roads and back alleys in Sorrento, the stairwells of San Marco and the Doge's Palace. Everywhere we turned, there were more steps to conquer. It was so bad that to this day, I still get the shakes when someone asks about our lovely little jaunt to fair Italia.

Ruins of the Roman Forum, Italy, 2000

But the absolute summit of all this torture, the day I finally realized my husband was actually trying to kill me, came during a week-long trip to Montreal. Hubster had a conference there, so I had a few days on my own to casually stroll around the area, soaking up the culture, relaxing in cafes, browsing through the shops - all things I can't do when Herr Hubster is cracking his whip, itinerary in hand. I was having a great time. Then the conference ended, and Hubster decided we would pay a visit to Saint Joseph's Oratory.

Insert ominous music here...

Our trip to this holy site started with the 99 steps leading up to the Oratory itself. It is tradition for pilgrims to take each step, one at a time, on their knees, saying a Hail Mary before moving on to the next step. When my husband mentioned this tradition, I shot him a look that said, "Don't even suggest it, Buster! I'm wearing two hat pins and I ain't afraid to use 'em!" We opted to climb the steps the normal way, and I was winded when we got to the top. But that was okay, because Hubster assured me we would have a nice break inside the church.

During an hour-long Mass.

Which was conducted entirely in French.

As his English-speaking Buddhist wife, you just know I loved that. As soon as we escaped the service, we headed outside to see the garden which featured seventeen statues depicting the stations of the Cross. This was an immensely beautiful garden, with the towering stone statues depicting Christ's progression toward his crucifixion. Even though I'm Buddhist, I felt a great deal of sympathy looking at those statues. I really did. Because it seemed like I was also progressing toward my own crucification as we spiraled endlessly upward around the Oratory. It took forever to get through the garden to the top, where Hubster assured me there was a drink stand waiting for us. A drink stand that turned out to be completely mobbed by other poor souls who'd made the same insane trek we were making in the full heat of summer.

I was already dying by that point. We had literally climbed to the highest point in Montreal by then. Hubster suggested we ease my agony by going back into the church and tour the inside. It was interesting. We saw the relic of Saint Joseph, his heart encased in a silver reliquary. We saw lots of votive candles and offerings laid out by people seeking blessings. We found the back entrance to the chapel...

Where we found ourselves trapped in another Catholic Mass and had to sit through the thing all over again.

At least this time it was in English.

By the time we got out of our second Mass of the morning, I was done. There was a little soda shop at the bottom of the mountain, across the street from those 99 steps we'd climbed coming in. I was determined to go there. I dragged my husband back down the stairs and was about to cart him into the soda shop to buy me a drink when he dug in his heels and cried, "Wait!!"

"What for? I'm tired and I'm thirsty and I want a drink!"

"Let's save our money for the Mont Royal park. They sell the world's best ice cream at a stand in the park! It's not that far. Just on the other side of the cemetery."

You'd think the word cemetery would have tipped me off to what was going on at that point. But no, even then I had still not figured out my husband's nefarious plan to kill me by walking me to death. So I reluctantly agreed to join him on a quest for the world's best ice cream, the course to which was through the Mont Royal Cemetery and then into the Mont Royal park. A little path connected the two sites, which sat on opposite sides of the mountain. We'd go through one and come out in the other and get our ice cream. Easy peasey.

Except that there was no fucking path.

Hubster dragged me all the way up through the cemetery to the top of the mountain. We passed through terraces and slopes filled with marble head stones, obelisks, urns and mausoleums. I gawked at cherubs and angels of death, not quite understanding why I felt like they were all staring at me, the woman completely oblivious to her certain doom. When we reached the top, we found a 12-foot-high chain link fence. And no path.

"I don't get it," Hubster said, scratching his head and checking his guide book. "Fodor's says it's right here."

"Can we go back to the soda shop now?" I politely asked. "I'm dying of thirst here!"

"No, let's go back down and come up one of the other paths. The way through has got to be up here somewhere..."

So we went back down the mountain... and then we went back up the mountain... and then when we didn't find the path again, we went back down the mountain... and came back up... and went back down...

At one point, mid-way between the top and bottom of that bloody cemetery, we ran into a jogger, who spoke a little English.

"Is there a path around here somewhere that leads to the park on the other side of the mountain?" Hubster asked.

After much hemming and hawing in French and English, the jogger indicated there might be a path up that way, but she wasn't exactly sure. This was all the justification my husband needed to drag me yet again back up to the top of that mountain.

Where we found a hole in the chain link fence. It was just big enough for a person to carefully step through, if they could climb up the two-foot slope of red clay mud leading up to it.

I was dressed in my best white poplin shirt and green linen skirt, since I'd known we'd be going to Mass that morning. I wore these little black flats that matched the outfit perfectly. I eyed that slippery slope of clay and said, "No way, Jose. No way in hell."

"Oh, come on! We're almost there. Then we can get some ice cream, Helen. Best ice cream in the world!" Hubster sang.

Fool that I was, I relented and managed to scrabble my way up the slope without falling flat on my ass. We found a narrow path in the woods beyond and followed that, Hubster remarking that it must be one of the park's many walking paths that he'd read about in Fodor's. Then the woods got deeper and darker, and the path branched off.

There was no sign indicating which way to go, but that didn't stop my husband.

"We'll try left," he said, striding off into the unknown.

Then the path branched again, and again there was no sign.

"Hmmm. Maybe this time we should go right?" the love of my life said.

"You know what? You go right, you jerk. I'm going back to the cemetery and then I'm headed for the soda shop. I don't give a damn about the world's best ice cream anymore. You're about to get us completely and totally lost out here in the woods, and I'm not having any part of that! See ya later, pal!"

And I turned and walked right back out of those woods. Hubster had to run to catch up with me. We were almost at the hole in the chain link fence when he said, "But we could have had an adventure!"

"I've had enough adventure today to last me a lifetime! I'm hungry! I'm thirty! I'm--"

I stepped through the hole in the fence, my little black flats making contact with the slick red clay of the muddy slope. Down I went, ass over tea kettle, white poplin shirt, green linen skirt and all.

"Ah... ah... ah..." I stuttered.

"Honey? Are you okay!"

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAH! I hate this fucking vacation!!!!!"

My backside was completely covered in dark red mud. It looked like I had managed to hemorrhage out the ass. I sputtered and shrieked for a few more minutes then stomped down the mountain to the soda shop. I said absolutely nothing else to my husband. I was too furious. I was ready to kill him. I was going to bury my love in the cemetery of Mont Royal.

In the soda shop, Hubster waited on me hand and foot. Perhaps he realized he'd finally hit my limit. Perhaps not. After a couple of drinks, he stood up and said, "You know, if we follow that sidewalk over there, we should be able to walk around the mountain and find our way into the park from there..."

The walk through the park (yes, I actually went, plotting Hubster's death every step of the way), was a quiet, almost pleasant stroll. If my ass hadn't been covered in red mud, if my legs hadn't been numb from all the hiking up and down the mountain, if I hadn't been so murderously incensed, I think I would have enjoyed it. At the ice cream stand, Hubster went to fetch two cones of the world's very best ice cream while I stewed under a large tree.

"I'm done," I said flatly, taking my cone from him. "We go back to the hotel now."

Hubster checked his watch. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea..."

Forty-five minutes later, I limped into our hotel room. I stripped off my ruined clothes and climbed into the tub. I came out a while later completely exhausted, too tired even to yell at my husband. As I collapsed on the bed, the man of my dreams came over to me and kissed me gently on the cheek.

"Better get dressed quick," he said. "We've got reservations for La Caprice de Nicholas in half an hour. It's about a three block walk from here. Then we're hitting the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to see the Picasso Erotique exhibit. I hear the display is huge! It may take us hours to walk through it all."

They could hear my screams all the way back in Virginia.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Holiday Romances

by Ashley Lister

Whilst writing and researching my non-fiction titles on swinging I discovered a curious fact about vacations. Couples are more likely to become involved in sexual experiments whilst they’re on holiday.

(I should point out here that I’m not a big fan of the phrase ‘sexual experiments.’ It always makes me think of laboratories with professors in lab-coats attaching electrodes to various anatomical appendages. Not that this has ever happened to me. And, even if it has, this isn’t a place where I would be writing about it).

Various reasons for the phenomena of sexual experimentation on vacation were posited by those people I interviewed.

• Holidays are relaxing.
• Holidays take a person away from the normal restrictions of family life.
• Holidays are a time for letting your hair down.

However, none of these excuses really seemed to explain why so many of the couples I spoke with had found a fortnight in the sun led to threeways, swapping and swinging. There’s a big difference between being relaxed and enjoying the weather; or doing a double header with an obliging waiter/waitress from the hotel where you’re staying.

To go off at a tangent for a moment: in the 1990 sci-fi movie Total Recall (inspired by a Philip K Dick short story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’) Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character visits a company called Rekall that offers memory implants. Schwarzenegger goes there to discuss options for having the memory of a holiday to Mars implanted in his brain. It’s supposed to be cheaper and more time-efficient than actually having the holiday, and you come away from the process with memories that are indistinguishable from having genuinely had a vacation. (Trust me: this makes sense in the context of a futuristic Schwarzenegger film).

As Schwarzenegger seems to be deciding against the purchase, the manager asks, “What is exactly the same about every single vacation you have ever taken?”

Schwarzenegger can’t think of an answer.

The manager says: “You. You’re the same. No matter where you go, it’s always you.”

He then goes on to lure Arnie into having implanted memories where Arnie will ‘remember’ being a secret agent on his trip to Mars. After that the film becomes a little complicated (well, as complicated as a Schwarzenegger movie could ever be). But the manager’s question always struck me as being thought-provoking.

Are we the same person when we go on holiday? Or do we allow ourselves to become someone different? I’m not suggesting I remember being a secret agent when I last took a trip off the planet. But I’m certainly not the same anally retentive computer-slave I am when I’m not on vacation.

On holiday I’ll admire exotic locations. I’ll enjoy new foods. I’ll try different experiences from roller-coaster rides through to exploring unfamiliar marketplaces.

In short, I have a regular persona and a holiday persona.

And, perhaps it’s that incarnation of the holiday persona that allowed so many of my interview subjects the freedom to try new experiences whilst they were enjoying their vacation.

The salesman in the Schwarzenegger movie was wrong. When we go on holiday the majority of us allow ourselves to become different people. We become people who are experiencing new cultures; people who are able to test new flavours; and people who can experiment with everything from local wines to the pleasures of consensual swapping and swinging.

All of which is my longwinded way of saying: if you’re going on vacation soon, take lots of condoms and lube, and don’t forget to share your holiday pictures with all of us here at Oh Get A Grip.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eat A Peach

C. Sanchez-Garcia

1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.

Ecclesiastes 11 1-4

She recognizes me before I recognize her, even from half way down the Augusta Mall from the escalators. She waves. I'm not used to seeing her this way, a beautiful Pilipino woman, wearing a flowery silk shift with a large pearl necklace and earrings. I think she just came out of the Da Vi nail salon. Not very long ago, her long thin fingers, such as women in vampire novels have, gently cradled my naked balls and tugged them gently while I turned my head and coughed. Every year around Christmas time, she closes the door with a nervous smile and a little small chatter and bids me undress. Don't be shy. Lay down. Relax. While I stare at the wall flowers I hear her rummage for the KY jelly and a moment later her long, cold, index finger goes up my ass to the hilt, in and out, feeling and probing, and her soothing voice behind me “Relax . . . don't tense up . . .relax. . ." A minute later the finger is gone and she passes me a tissue box. Feeling a bit cheap, I wipe myself off wondering if this is how old gay men feel in the morning. Prostate's a little enlarged but well. How are the hemorrhoids? Did you get the medicine all right? Good. This manicured hand which has known me intimately reaches out and her shoulders tense. Too late I realize, as I shake her hand I’ve missed the body language offering me a warm hug. I'm so dumb at these things. We never hugged each other growing up in my family. We never touched each other much at all, so I never picked it up.

"How are you?" She beams. "How is your mother in law?"

I hold up both hands with fingers crossed. I'd cross my toes if I could. The unspoken message is so far so good. We’re not bankrupt yet.

My mother in law, Chencha, is from Panama. Her brothers are nicknamed Checho, Chacho, and Chencho, like the Marx brothers. She has had a hard life, this woman. My wife’s brother, his wife and children all died from AIDS right out from under Chencha in spite of everything she did to save them. She is with us for two months, ending on 29 July at 5:00 pm exactly in the Atlanta Airport. Today in fact. I have cause to count the minutes.

Chencha has, among other things, diabetes. Three weeks ago, she announced she was almost out of the diabetic prescription meds she’d brought with her for her two month visit. Only enough left for a few days. We went to the Kroger pharmacy and showed them to the pharmacist. Melliformis? A generic medicine. Cheap at four bucks a box. Did she have a prescription? Panama? No, from an American doctor. Well, no medicine for you then. (Try not to die or anything.)

I had one of these life changing revelations, where something is revealed that is so obvious absolutely nobody notices it.

"What happens," I asked the pharmacist, "if she goes into a diabetic shock or has a heart attack or something?"

"Are you her sponsor?"

"I guess."

"Is she covered by your health insurance?"


"Then you'll have to pay the hospital bills out of pocket."

I walked out of there breathing heavy to steady my head. I was beyond freaked out. Was this true? When people visit their families from other countries what in the world happens to them?

We made an emergency appointment with the beautiful Pilipino woman who sticks her finger up my ass once in a while, and she insisted on giving Chencha a proper examination before prescribing anything. As predicted, I paid for the office visit from my pocket, two hundred bucks.

"Yes," she said, after the exam. "She has diabetes and she has a heart murmur, maybe an enlarged heart. Her blood pressure is too high also.”

“If she lands in the hospital, who pays the bills?"

"Are you her sponsor?" Just like the pharmacist, she held out the hoop and I jumped through.

"Yes. And no – she’s not on my insurance."

"In Georgia, you would be responsible for her medical and hospital expenses from your pocket."

"If she had life critical heart surgery, say a double bypass, what would that cost?"

She named me a figure, comparable to what it would cost a highway crew to build a double bypass, say on Interstate 20. At least it sounded like that to a guy with no dough.

Visions of living out of our car swam before my eyes. It doesn’t stop with mere bankruptcy in my case. I have a security clearance. Most of the spies they've caught in the past did it for money alone. If you go bankrupt you’re regarded as an unacceptable security risk. They yank your clearance. That means they yank my job. It all comes down so fast.

She gave us a stock of high quality diabetic medicine and a prescription for more if needed. We walked our beloved little time bomb out of there gingerly and home to the TV and the nice air conditioning. From that moment I began counting down the days to the 29th. Meanwhile the Fourth of July was coming.

My father had died in November last year of leukemia. It was a relapse. The insurance had grudgingly paid for most of the chemotherapy the first time around. We all came to visit him for that Fourth of July in 2008, including Chencha, but we didn’t go up to the lake cabin in Ely. He was in the middle of the treatment and way too weak for traveling. But Chencha was in her karmic element, caring for the dangerously ill. This was an experience she had handled most of her life for one person or another, and she was suddenly herself again. She and Maria made Dad some Panamanian beef soup with lentils, which struck hidden memories of home cooking in his Spanish childhood in Kansas. The soup was emotionally and physically healing for him and his spirits picked up tremendously. We went home with good memories. At the end, he was pronounced cured by the doctors. All traces of the cancer were gone, though there was a small but possible chance of a relapse.

About three months later, the skin blisters began to return, and his trip to Italy was canceled. This time the insurance company said that considering his age and his chances for success, it wasn't really “cost effective”, sorry old fellow, to provide for his medical care. You understand how it is old chap, there's a jolly good sport. Have a nice trip.

Someone in an insurance office, probably some college kid working out of a company policy manual had cheerfully condemned Dad to die and that was that. He got his affairs in order and I made a trip out to spend election night together with him. Wrapped in blankets, he and I drank beer, smoked cigars (lung cancer being no longer an issue is his case) and watched Obama become president. We went through some old photo albums and he explained the images to me, who they were, ancestors going back five generations. Pictures of him when he was a kid in the sticks. The next morning we said our goodbyes in tears. We forgave each other the odd things between father and son that pile up over a lifetime, and said we loved each other. He told me I was a good son. I told him he was a good father, which was true. I brought the album home with me on the plane to scan onto a DVD for preservation. I also brought with me a very special old camera. Three weeks later he was gone.

The funeral was in December, but I didn’t have any money to travel and told Lavonne Anthony and I would come up for a week in the summer and we'd have a private service for him then. With Maria keeping a close eye on Chencha, Anthony and I left for Minnesota on the first of July. Dad's old friend Ron and Sharon, one of Lavonne’s band-mates from “The Wildcats”, picked us up and brought us up to Ely Minnesota, the real life Lake Wobegon. Over an intense four days we ate a lot, swam a lot, and saw a small town parade on Main Street including a marching band which clapped aluminum lawn chairs rhythmically. On the night of the fourth, I sat in a field with Anthony, Lavonne, and my two half sisters and we all watched the fire works and went back to the cabin for more wine, beer and food and rowdy talk. What I found was a taste of what I wanted. A part of me still wanted to be like Dad.

The memorial service was held at the cabin, on the lake shore. About a hundred people came, small compared to the funeral, but still a pretty big crowd. They asked me, the first son, to say a few words.

I had no idea was I was supposed to say to them. The man they knew was different from the man I grew up with. They caught him at a different time in his history. His daughters knew him in ways that I didn’t, had the good things at a time when he could afford to give them, when he was a success, a way of life I never knew in my time. They gave back to him the things I no longer could.

The crowd assembled on the lake shore where different people took turns speaking and telling stories. Then it was my turn. I just opened my mouth.

"The last time I saw Dad alive,” I began, “was after election night. He had only one material possession I wanted; this was his old press camera, a Zeiss Ikon Twin Lens Reflex. It was built in Germany with beautiful Carl Zeiss lenses in 1950. You can’t get film for it anymore. Nobody makes those flash bulbs anymore. You can’t do anything with it. But the thing is, none of you knew him then. I was his first child. You see, that camera was from my time."

I felt myself choking up. I took off my glasses and put them in my suit pocket. I never cry and suddenly I was just falling apart.

"He was a news reporter then. He made about $75 a month or something. And that was with a college degree he got on the GI bill. We lived in the projects in Ames Iowa, Pammel Court, in this thing that was like an airplane hanger made from corrugated steel. When you’re a little kid you don’t know you're poor. If you’re eating oatmeal for dinner, you just figure everybody eats oatmeal for dinner so oatmeal's great. But those were his hungry days, when he was ambitious. And you - " I had to stop and pull myself together. "You see, you were the people he was dreaming of."

I waved my arm taking it all in. "He spoke Spanish then, because he grew up speaking Spanish in his family. When the cops caught a perp who only spoke Spanish, they'd call my dad in to translate and give him the story. Crime. Basketball games. Highway accidents. Dad was there with this camera. A lot of humanity passed through that camera. That's why I wanted it. Over time he forgot how to speak Spanish and started moving up the ladder. When he was a news editor in Wyoming he told me stories about being in the newsroom when Kennedy was shot. When they shot Oswald he was gone for three days covering it. That was my time, when that camera was precious to him, it was how he earned a living. The first time he was sick, he told me I could find it in the upstairs closet and it was okay to take it, but I said no. I said to him, that if I just took it, it was like saying our team wasn’t going to win. I wanted him to give it to me from his hand, father to son. The best things can’t be taken. They have to be given. But our team didn’t win. The last time I saw him, he gave me the camera. I received it from his hand."

I stopped and drew a deep breath. Everything looked wet. "You see, all those years when I was a kid, he was trying to get to you and to all of this. But sometimes there are things that get in the way. That was when my family broke up. He had to make a new start, to reset his life. Everybody runs into that choice, and you have to handle it your own way. I think that was very difficult for him, because he was a moral man, a responsible man and he knew he was hurting us, but it needed to be done. And he watched me and my brother closely to make sure we were all right. He wanted us to be all right."

I was being careful, choosing my words. I can’t tell these people outright what I’m thinking, that we were the sacrifice, my brother and I, we were the lambs on his altar. It wouldn’t be fair to them.

I wouldn’t tell them the painful things, that my brother and mother and I, we were version one. The beta version family, the buggy messed up version that needed a lot of trouble shooting. We were in the way of the future. All the harder because Dad was a genuinely good man.

"I'm very glad," I continued, "that he found his way to all of you. I'm glad his sacrifice paid off. His gamble paid off, not because he became well off, but because of you. Because in the end he was loved so well by so many. You made it worth it. I want to thank you all for loving him and being his friends and making his life full and successful and truly happy during that second half of his life.."

The half where I couldn’t be, because I was off chasing God. Dad, my good stepmother, my two sisters - they were the lambs on my altar too. They wanted me but I was busy trying for sainthood. My sisters grew up together without me. We all sacrificed each other for what we wanted. Isn't that the way of love?

Afterwards there was more food, more beer, more wine, hugs, loud laughter and conversation. Lavonne's brother Ron and I hung out talking about poetry and stuffing ourselves with date bars and getting loud. I looked around and thought, I should have grown up around these people. I should have known them and let myself be known by them. I screwed it all up. I could have had all this. I could have had them.

Anthony loved Minnesota, he loved the lake, the icy water, the loons, the whole northern way of life. He was a natural fit. But we needed to get back to the real world. Hugs and tears, a long car ride to the city. The next day we were back in our own world.

Sitting in the back, with no answers and none the wiser. The real questions have no answers. On NPR radio a woman who lost her job in the recession is talking about food banks. Looking at the little peach tree. It survived June. The June bugs tore it to pieces, but my tattered young tree bravely offers me six peaches. The peaches are split from the sun and the bugs. An odd gray fungus spots a few of them. Anybody can tell I don’t know shit about raising a peach tree. But if a tree can express pride, I feel this tree is proud. It’s proud of its ugly peaches. I wanted to show it to Dad. He would have understood this tree. He would have seen himself in this tree. I pull a peach off. Someday, somehow, somewhere down the road, all this will make some kind of sense.

I bite the peach, hot from the sun, the sweet warm juice bursting and running down my beard, staining my shirt.

It's glorious.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wish you were here

by Jude Mason

Ah vacations. Those tiny spaces of time where you can race off to some foreign place and act the fool, or the sexy nymph, because no one there knows you. Sigh! Yeah, I do love vacation time.

The times I've camped out in the wilderness and gone skinny dipping or laid out in the sun nude to get that 'all over tan' are so numerous I won't even dare to guess. I adore the freedom and that wicked feeling of doing something that most people wouldn't dare. Of course, I'm always pretty darned sure there's no one else within miles and clothing or shelter is within reach, usually. A new town or city, checking out the night life is always so much more fun when you're dressed in something sexy, don't you think? Dining out at a restaurant you've never gone to before, knowing you'll never go there again really does leave the doors open for some sexy play. Oh, there's this book coming out soon with a story called Maximum Exposure that's going to be in it. A very sexy couple are very into exhibitionism...well one of them is and the other is trying to show he is too. An excerpt you say? Well sure thing. Here's a little something from a story Jenna Byrnes and I have coming out soon:

“This way, please.” The man turned and walked into the dimly lit dining room.

They followed him, Max behind Rob. It took a moment for Rob’s eyes to become accustomed to the muted lighting, but when they did, he smiled. The smallish room appeared less than half full, and most of the tables held couples sharing a meal.

The man guided them to a corner where a dark green, velvet curtain partially shielded an alcove. The linen-covered, round table had a bench seat running along the back. Tall candles in crystal holders sat in the centre of the table, and while they watched, the maître d’ lit them.

The man stepped aside and bowed. “I hope this will be satisfactory.” He placed the menus on the table.

“This will be fine.” Rob slid into the secluded semi-cave. He felt the cushion shift and knew Max slid in right behind him.

“May I get you gentlemen something from the bar?”

“Beer for me. Coors,” Rob answered. He looked around their small sanctuary. His heart raced. Perfect. Once the curtain was drawn, they’d have complete privacy.

“Same,” came Max’s reply. He moved closer to Rob, their thighs bumping each other.

“Very good,” the man said and backed away. He unfastened the gold tie securing the drapery open and held it as he said, “Your waiter, Kenneth, will be with you in a moment.” He let the curtain fall into place

Rob nodded and turned his attention to Max. “I like it.”

“It’s perfect for our needs.” Max reached up and slipped a hand behind Rob’s neck, drawing him forward into a kiss. Their lips melted together. Soft, wet tongues flicked out and found each other, the lingering taste of spunk still coating Rob’s.

“Mmm, yeah,” Rob groaned into his lover’s mouth. “I’m hard already.”

“Lean back and let me get at your fly.” Max pushed him until Rob leaned against the soft cushion. An instant later, Max’s hands were at Rob’s groin, nimbly unfastening his trousers.

With them unbuttoned and the zipper whirred down, Max’s fingers delved into their warm confines. He pushed Rob’s underpants aside, and in no time at all, Rob’s shaft felt the tug and squeeze of a familiar hand. His dick pulsed its welcome, and Rob sighed his pleasure.

“Lift your bum,” Max urged and gave the unfastened trousers a tug.

“The waiter’ll be here in a minute,” Rob said, nervously.

“So?” Max winked and gave another tug. “The table cloth will cover you. Just lift your ass.”

Fear clutched at Rob’s heart, but a surge of excitement sent a shiver of lust racing straight to his cock. He did as requested, his cotton-clad rod butting against the underside of the table in his eagerness to comply with Max’s wishes. He thrust down his trousers, taking his underpants along with them. His erection caught on the waistband, but just for a delicious second before it sprang free. The chill air enveloped him, and the drop of pre-cum anointing his crown cooled instantly. He settled down on the seat and shuddered at the unfamiliar feeling of the material.

Suddenly, in a heart stopping move which sent terror down Rob’s spine in a flash, the waiter drew the curtain aside. He stood in the opening, all six-foot plus of rugged man-flesh that at any other time would have encouraged a lusty look or two from both Rob and Max. In one hand, he balanced a tray holding two chilled beer mugs filled with golden brew.

Rob’s face burned with embarrassment. He clutched the tablecloth to his groin, terrified the man could see his erection and guess what they were doing. For a moment, he couldn’t catch his breath and thought he’d simply die right there, cock tapping on the table.

“Good evening. I’m Kenneth, your waiter. Here are your beers.” The hunk’s voice sounded calm and unsuspecting. “Have you had time to decide what you’d like from the menu, or should I come back in a few minutes?”

Come back? My God, he can’t come back!

Sigh, now doesn't that sound like a great way to have dinner? Keep your eyes open for this at Total E-Bound in their Friction Anthology

Another story I have might be just the bit of encouragement you need to try this yourself. An artist cojoled into painting a lady friend is excited by her then led out into the afternoon light during carnival. A snippet of Paint Me, one of my all time faves:

"No, cher, that's not quite what I had in mind. I think we'll go out first, then I'll fuck you."

She let his suggestion wrap around her thoughts. Teasing her, he moved his hips back and forth, leaving a sticky trail of pre-come along her painted thigh. With a twist of her hips, she trapped the shaft between her buttocks, making him groan.

"Yes, let's go out first. Fuck me out there."

He showered and dressed quickly, and in only moments was ready to go, dressed in his usual jeans and loose, unbuttoned shirt. The humidity and heat didn't ease with nightfall; the music and laughter grew louder as the festival wore on. Costumes grew more daring and the dancing more sensual and hot.

Cat-like, she preceded him, darting from one alley to the next, dancing when she felt the need or desire, taking pleasure as if it were a drug. She slaked her thirst for sensation as often as she pleased, gyrating and thrusting against men or women. Heated flesh rubbed heated flesh in the wild attempts of others to draw her in and keep her. He joined when he wished, watched and smiled when she went crazy on her own. Carnival had her now and all he could do was follow, and share it with her when she came to him.

Hours later, nearing exhaustion, the alley called to her, dragging her into its dark recesses and him behind. Alone, hot and frenzied, they surrendered to their lust. Animal passion unleashed; he wrapped his hand in her fine long mane and held her against the rough, stone wall. She snarled and thrust herself in his direction; her need, held at bay for too long.

"Come on, fuck me," she growled over her shoulder. Swiveling her hips, she spread her feet and pushed her ass towards him. His fingers slipped between the folds of her sex and plunged straight inside her. She gasped at the sought after intrusion and clenched tightly around his finger, as he explored her depths. The slickness of her silken core and its heat were an invitation for more.

There are always opportunities for a little time out. Even if it's just an evening where you and your lover go for a drive to the next town for a show. Remember how much fun it was when you were young and your lover of the month sat with you at the back of the theater? The fumblings and secret touches were always the sweeter for the extra taste of naughty. Don't you think? The excitement of 'what if someone sees' always got my motor running a little faster. Yes, I know, I'm possibly a perv, but what can I say?

Anyone have a story they'd like to share? Perhaps a place you and a lover shared a moment of passion while the neighboring campers barbecued a dozen feet away? A tryst in the backseat of the old Ford at the riverside? An evening of secret play while the band played on? I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Watch out world, here I come!

By Jenna Byrnes

When I was a kid, vacations consisted of piling into the car and driving wherever my dad wanted to take us. He'd crack his window about an inch so the cigarette smoke could escape, and drive until my mom made him stop for a bathroom break. There were four of us kids, two would curl up at either corner of the backseat, and two would lie on the floorboards, using that hump for a pillow. (Gawd that sounds awful now! Do backseat floors still have that hump?) I even remember climbing into the rear window one time to get more room to stretch out. Those were the days when we didn't need seat belts- ah, the good old days!

I'm not knocking my dad, he took us on some great trips. By the time I was a teenager I'd visited every state west of the Mississippi River and Mexico. We went to Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, the Ozarks, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, up the coast of California including San Diego and SeaWorld, L.A. (Disneyland, NBC and Universal Studios) and San Francisco (I can still smell Fisherman's Wharf). There were tons of other destinations and so many sights I can hardly remember them all.

I'm sure dragging around four kids was no picnic for my parents, and I give them credit for taking us as many places as they did. When we got old enough to stay home alone, my parents began taking trips as a couple. Cruises, and flights to far-away, exotic destinations like Rome and Spain. I envy that now, but at the time I was happy to stay home with the keys to the car. *G*

My husband and I haven't done as well taking our kids places, but they've seen a few sites. We're not big travelers, sticking pretty close to home most of the time.

Which is why my vacation this week has me so excited. At some point last winter, I decided I wanted to take a trip. Not just any trip--I wanted to go visit my friend and writing partner Jude Mason. We batted the idea around until the details fell into place. I invited my husband to go along, but he politely declined, something about hens cackling or whatever.

Through the magic of Blogger and pre-scheduled posts, while you're reading this I'm jetting through the sky some 1800 miles to the frozen north. (Canada is frozen, right? I packed all my sweaters and long undies...) I'll be stopping off in Minneapolis and Seattle, and eventually arriving in a foreign land. I'm really looking forward to my first solo vacation. Keep your toes crossed for me that I don't get lost or miss a connection. That totally sounds like something I'd do.

See you in a week!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Perfect Vacation

By Lisabet Sarai

Anyone who knows me at all will not be surprised to learn that my notion of the ideal vacation is a trip to a foreign country. I'm fond of recounting how my husband seduced me on our first date (in a Burmese restaurant) by regaling me with stories of his adventures in Europe and Asia. After keeping me on the edge of my seat for two and a half hours, he smiled provocatively and said: “I'm looking for someone to travel with me.” I was hooked!

As it turned out, he and I have similar tastes in travel (as well as in many other areas). The three main ingredients we seek in the perfect vacation destination are scenery, history and culture. Delicious food and local wine are also strong criteria, but alas, you can't always evaluate these aspects of a country until you are on the ground. We like to walk, even do a bit of hiking, but we're not the extreme sports type. We enjoy the ocean but are both too fair to be beach folk. We prefer funky tourist class to five star (which we couldn't afford in any case) but we do like some comfort – hot showers and a double bed are a must.

During our twenty-nine (yikes!) years together, we've shared many memorable voyages. Our two week trip to Provence, France, stands out as one of my favorites. We flew into Marseille then rented a tiny Fiat and motored around the diverse region, enjoying ancient hilltop villages, scenic gorges, Roman ruins, medieval castles and Belle Époque hotels -- not to mention lots of chêvre and Côtes de Rhone. A high point for me was a visit to the ruined chateau of the Marquis de Sade, in the picturesque village of La Coste. I had just finished reading At Home with the Marquis de Sade, Francine du Plessix Gray's fascinating biography of the infamous author. For a devotee of BDSM such as I, this was a sort of pilgrimage.

On another magnificent trip, we spent more than two weeks in Turkey, wandering around Istanbul, viewing the ruins of Ephesus and the weird landforms in Cappadocia, visiting a university in Adana – and of course consuming our share of kabobs and raki, the anisette-flavored liquor sold in every sidewalk café. That same magical trip included a three day stay in Prague on the way to Instanbul. It is hard for me to believe my time in Prague was so short. The ancient, mystical city, with its spired castle and cobblestone streets, soaring cathedrals and basement taverns, has made its way into the landscape of my dreams. Unfortunately I cannot recommend Czech cuisine very highly, but I can vouch for the delicious beer.

A more recent journey took us to Vienna, Trieste, Venice and then down the Adriatic coast of Croatia. Venice is supposed to be one of the world's marvels, but in my opinion, it could not begin to compare with the fortress-town of Dubrovnik (Croatia), perched high above the azure sea. This prominent Renaissance trading city is almost perfectly preserved, with massive gates and stone streets that turn into stairways as they climb toward the city walls. Croatian wine is dispensed out of tanks in the grocery shops. The people bring their own bottles to be filled. Even the ordinary “black wine” is incredibly good, especially with spicy cevapcici (“chev ap chee tse”), a kind of seasoned hamburger dish.

Two springs ago, we spent a magnificent ten days in Japan. Aside from some difficulties in communication, we absolutely loved it: the tiny, organized “business hotel” rooms, the bullet trains, the friendly Tokyo pubs, snow-capped mountains and serene rice paddies, wooden castles and gilded temples. We had feared that the trip would be horribly expensive, and were pleasantly surprised to find that with care, we kept our costs within reason. Of course we ate our fill of sushi, tempura, yakiniku, and tonkatsu, as well as many other dishes that we couldn't identify, washed down with plenty of warm sake and cold beer.

Since I've been publishing erotica and erotic romance, traveling has an additional benefit. My vacations tend to trigger story ideas. The medieval abbey of Thoronet in Provence became the setting for my story “Communion”, about a young twelfth century nun. The bare stone floors and vaulted ceilings made me think of sacrifice, renunciation, and redemption. My memories of Prague are woven into “Prey” and “Glass House”, the first erotic short story I ever wrote. Our visit to Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos, inspired the story “Vows”, which features an unorthodox (in several ways) threesome involving a married couple and a monk. “Shades of Red”, which appeared in the anthology She's On Top, derives from a fairly recent sojourn in Amsterdam. I just submitted a tale called “Citadel of Women” to an anthology edited by Robert Fleming. The setting and one of the characters derive from our tour of the Angkor Wat region in Cambodia a number of years ago.

I've never tried to deduct the cost of our vacations on our income tax returns, but there might be some justification for doing so. However, I can't know ahead of time when a particular spot will inspire me. I'm always doing “research” when we travel, but the impressions may take years to mature. In the early eighties my husband and I spent a week in Jamaica, one of our first vacations together. Only now, more than two decades later, did I decide to use this experience in a story. I'm working on a vampire tale set on the island. The vamp is a former slave, turned by his mistress, who lives among the ruins of her plantation in the mountains south of Montego Bay. The story begins with a horseback ride into the hills, something my husband and I actually did on that trip so many years ago. (We did not, to my knowledge, encounter any vampires—though we did meet a woman who had a stage act involving pythons!)

In enumerating the stories I've written that were inspired by my vacation travel, I'm struck by how many places I haven't yet used. It's astonishing to realize that I still don't have stories set in Turkey or Sardinia, Rhodes or Tokyo, Hanoi or Bangalore. I'm accumulating settings far more rapidly than I'm writing about them.

On the other hand, I can hardly complain about that—can I?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

If ever oh ever a villain there was…

By Dakota Rebel

I love villains. In movies, in books, on TV, I just adore them. Not only are they generally the hottest character, they usually have awesome accents too. Alan Rickman in Robin Hood, Alan Rickman in Die Hard, Alan Rickman in Harry Potter, Alan Rickman in…well everything. How can you not love him? YUM!

Writing villains however, this creates a bigger challenge. The majority of my books don’t actually have a villain. I had one in Sweet Dreams, Joaquin, and I am pretty proud of how he turned out. But for the most part the conflict in my books is not a person, but an event, or an action, or just between the heroes themselves.

I may love villains, but very rarely can I pull one off well. I much prefer to read villains in other people’s books. It keeps it fresh for me. Loving villains in other stories is easier because I don’t find myself wondering what I would have done differently. I can just kick back and enjoy the ride.

I suppose though that this isn’t what the Grip group had in mind when they invited me to post. Or maybe they did, I don’t know. So in an effort to save this post from absolute ruin here are my top three favorite things about villains:'

1. They don’t give a f@*k about anything but their goal. I like someone who is driven and strives for excellence.

2. As I mentioned earlier, they are almost always hot and usually have a great accent too. It is a great combination to have.

3. Sometimes they turn out to be not so bad. I really do enjoy a good twist in a book where the villain is villainy through the whole thing, but then you find out that they really aren’t that bad. When this is done well, it is a beautiful thing.

So there you have it, my favorite three things about villains. I’m sure you’re all just thrilled and awed by my amazing talent to fill up a blog post with random ramblings yes?

I would like to thank the Grip for inviting me back to post on the blog. It’s been a long time and I love what you’ve done with the place. It looks fabulous.


Dakota Rebel

Dakota lives in Detroit Michigan. She loves the city at night and the shopping during the day. She loves David Bowie and vampire movies, The Beatles and Dolly Parton. She is partial to pixie sticks and cannot stand her food. She will always believe that pizza is the perfect food. She is as much in love with her partner as she is with herself. And she will be the first to tell you how incredibly witty she is. She doesn't believe in lipstick but won't leave the house without eyeliner. She is fiercely political and can often be found ranting around her house and the internet on any given topic. She still won't admit whether or not she really believes that vampires exist. And if you let her, she can convince you she doesn't know how to ride a bicycle.

For more information and links to her books visit her website at

Dakota also just started her own jewelry line, Rebel Jewelry, at

Friday, July 24, 2009

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Evil

by Helen E. H. Madden

These are my boobs. And they proudly bear the motto of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West - "Defy gravity."

I was overjoyed some years ago when I came across a book entitled Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch off the West by Gregory Maguire. I have a thing for villains (go figure; I love unhappy endings too). Villains always seem so much more interesting than the heroes, at least when they're done right. A villain with style will go a long way in my book. Think Malificent from Sleeping Beauty or Ursula from The Little Mermaid (yeah, we watch a lot of Disney princess movies in la casa de Madden). The coolest costumes, the best songs, the most glorious death scenes all go to the villains in the world of fiction.

But to see a book told from the point of view of one of the most memorable villains of all time? That just rocked my world. And Wicked did not disappoint. It had everything I love in a good book. A detailed and twisty plot; a lengthy back story and mythology carefully crafted and interwoven into the tale; a conflicted main character doing morally questionable things; and an ambiguous ending that left me wondering, what happens next?

One of the high points of Wicked comes near the end, where the witch, Elphaba, confesses to a murder she may or may not have committed. The confession is not to relieve her sense of guilt, but to lay claim to a crime she fears may be covered up. And her choice of confessor? An old school mate who used to hate her and is perhaps the most amoral character of the story. What follows is a lengthy dinner party at which the elite of Oz discuss Elphaba's crime whilst they feed her roast and key lime pie, and then retire to the drawing room to debate what evil really is. Imagine that discussion, if you will, a confessed murderess playing Devil's advocate, egging her companions on as they debate whether or not she in fact is guilty of a crime dependent upon their individual defintions of evil. The definitions are as varied as the guests themselves, but in the end, it's the emerald-skinned witch who has the final say:

"Why did you do it?" asked the hostess with spirit.

The Witch shrugged. "For fun? Maybe evil is an art form."

But as she wobbled toward the door, she said, "You know, you're all a pack of fools. You ought to have turned me in instead of entertaining me all evening."

"You entertained us," said Avaric broadly, gallantly. "This will end up being the dinner party of the season. Even if you've been lying all evening about killing this old schoolmarm. What a treat." The dinner guests drolly applauded her.

"The real thing about evil," said the Witch at the doorway, "isn't any of what you said. You figure out one side of it -- the human side, say -- and the eternal side goes into shadow. Or vice versa. It's like the old saw: What does a dragon in its shell look like? Well no one can ever tell, for as soon as you break the shell to see, the dragon is no longer in its shell. The real disaster of this inquiry is that it is the nature of evil is to be secret."

from Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

Villains are much the same way. We only ever see one side of them at a time. Others before have mentioned that villains act with intent, they have their reasons. They have lives, backgrounds, histories, motives. But how much of that do we see on the written page? How much does the reader really get from a few thousand words in a book?

Another favorite villain of mine is Akito Sohma, head of the cursed Sohma family in the manga Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya. On the surface, there couldn't be a more evil villain. Domineering, manipulative, violent, abusive, mentally unstable, Akito does everything he can to maintain his hold over the other members of his family. He is, in his own words, God, and the rest of the family must answer to him without question. As members of the family slowly but surely breaking free from his control, he slides even further into the depths of madness and cruelty. But why? What drives Akito to fight so hard to maintain his position as God in the family.

The wonder of Fruits Basket is that Natsuki Takaya spends as much time revealing the wherefores of Akito as she does her heroine, the sweet and innocent Tohru Honda. The clash between the two is inevitable. The results, unexpected and more satisfying than any other story I've read in a long time. By the end of 23 volumes of this manga, I cried as much for the villain as I did for poor orphaned Tohru, and Natsuki Takaya gave me good reason to. She gave me the secrets of Akito, just as Gregory Maguire gave me the secrets of Elphaba in Wicked. And the revelations in both books were amazing to behold.

Do my own villains have such secrets? Do they have their reasons for being bad? I'd like to think so. I'd like to believe that my characters, both the good guys and the bad, have that kind of depth. But when putting them on the page, I am confronted with Elphaba's conundrum. Show one side of the villain and the other disappears into shadow, and vice versa. Making the villain both evil and human is a paradox I'm not sure I can solve.

But that doesn't mean I won't try...


In Daeva Shudra, the city of eternal twilight, there existed four races of demons. The lowliest of these were the Urobach. Twisted beings with skin the color of ashes and eyes like molten lead, the Urobach were the builders and laborers of demonkind, common creatures whose duty it was to serve.

Above them came the Marae, nebulous beings of shadow and mist whose true appearance no mortal had ever seen. The shapers of dreams and fabricators of illusions, it was they who first imagined Daeva Shudra eons before the Urobach labored to raise its foundations on the mountain Abbydos hidden deep inside the Earth.

Next came the Rephaim, the warrior caste of the demon races and the giant hounds of death that fed upon the blood of their enemies.

Above all the other races ruled the Daeva, shining and elite, the princes and arch-mages, the Earth’s firstborn children. The Daeva were the most beautiful and most powerful of all the demons, and the most beautiful and powerful of all the Daeva was the empress Shebazael.

She floated serenely in a bathing pool carved into a floor of polished onyx, her blue-white hair spread out like a cloud around her. The scented water caressed her pearlescent flesh like a lover, while her prismatic eyes caught the light of a nearby torch and shattered it into tiny sparks of blue and violet. Small and slender, she appeared fragile as glass, and yet she could crush armies with a single word. Now she spoke to Orziel.

“What have you done, cousin?”

Orziel leaned back in the water and sighed. “I’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing,” he protested as he floated on his back. “I was merely visiting an old acquaintance of mine when your loathsome consort showed up and tried to kill me. Look what his miserable pawns did to my foot!”

He lifted the injured member out of the water to show to the empress. She turned away, ignoring his wound as she spoke to the shadows surrounding the edge of the pool.

“Summon the prince consort. Tell him I will speak with him now.”

One of the shadows swirled and assumed the form of a maiden with hair the color of turquoise. The maiden, a Marae demoness, bowed before drifting away in a cloud of smoke to do her mistress’ bidding. When she was gone, Shebazael returned her attention to Orziel.

“You were with Asheru. I told you not to seek him out again.”

“Did you? I must have forgotten that conversation.” The half-demon dove under the water suddenly then sprang up directly in front of his liege. He placed his hands on her curving hips and leaned in close to kiss her. “Perhaps we could make this discussion more memorable?” he suggested as he pressed against her.

Shebazael raised a hand ever so slightly and Orziel went flying across the room. He hit the tiled wall of the bath chamber with a resounding thud and collapsed into a sodden heap on the floor.

“Oh, my empress!” Orziel laughed even as he writhed with pain. “Such a tender sign of your love for me. I’ll treasure your caress always.”

Shebazael shook her head and sighed. She glided to the edge of the pool and ascended its onyx steps. Two more handmaidens materialized, their skin pure silver, their hair and eyes hyacinth. They stepped forward and wrapped a linen sheet around the empress. She stood patiently as they rubbed her dry and plaited her floor-length hair.

When they were done, she raised her arms and a damask robe materialized and draped itself about her body. “Enough of your foolishness, Orziel. Why did you disobey me?”

He struggled to his feet, battered and sopping wet. “Because Asheru is mine, my creature and my lover!” He shoved the wet hair out of his eyes. “Besides, what better way is there to piss in your consort’s face than to fuck his precious heir?”

Before Shebazael could answer, Valefar burst into the room, his cloak a swirling torrent that trailed behind him as he came.

“You filthy half-breed!” he roared when he saw the still-dripping rogue. “Shebazael, your bastard kin has defiled my nephew. I demand he be punished!”

“My husband.” She regarded the raging prince coolly. “You know perfectly well Asheru is more than capable of rejecting Orziel’s advances, should he choose to do so.”

“And the fact that he chooses not to reject me ought to tell you something,” Orziel added with a wicked smile.

Valefar turned on the half-demon, his pale face darkening with rage. “You will not touch Asheru again!”

“You’re just jealous because I fucked him and not you.”

The half-demon wriggled his hips at the prince consort and laughed like a jackal. Valefar raised his fist, cobalt lightning spitting from between his clenched fingers.

Before he could release the deadly spell, Shebazael made a cutting motion with her hand.


Valefar’s spell sputtered and died. Orziel fell silent.

The empress moved to stand between the two foes. “You will not harm Orziel,” she told her husband. “Half-breed he may be, but he still carries the blood of the Daeva in his veins, and there are too few of us left for you to slaughter him over some petty prank.”

“As for you,” she said, fixing Orziel with a piercing gaze. “You will stay away from Asheru.”

“He’s my lover!” Orziel spat out.

“No more. He’s a prince, and a member of my court. You’ve debased him long enough.” The empress paused, giving her next words considerable weight. “It’s time Asheru put aside such childish games and assumed his rightful duties. I’m naming him heir to my throne. It’s my decision that he be wed within a fortnight so he may produce heirs of his own, and thereby secure the bloodline of the empire.”

Orziel blinked in shock. “You’re naming Asheru the next emperor of the Daeva? The same Asheru who less than an hour ago spread his ass cheeks and begged me to fuck him? You must be joking.”

“Shut up, you dung-eating bastard!” Valefar fumed. “Even Asheru won’t succumb to your vile advances once he realizes how far he’s been set above you.”

“You can set him as high as you like, even on the imperial throne,” Orziel said between gritted teeth. “He’ll still drop his breeches and bend over gladly when I tell him to.”

The prince consort snarled, but Shebazael stayed his anger. “Leave him to me, Valefar. You have other concerns to occupy you now.”

The furious demon glared at Orziel a moment longer before he spun on his heel and stalked out of the chamber.

When he was gone, the empress turned back to her cousin. “You will stay away from Asheru,” she commanded.

“You can’t honestly mean to make him your heir,” he replied.

“I must. I need an heir.”

“But why him?”

The empress closed her eyes. Her delicate lips narrowed to a razor-thin line. “The curse of our Mother is harsh and far-reaching. First, She turns the light of the sun against us, so that it burns us to ash and forces us underground. And now...” She placed a hand over her womb. When she looked at Orziel, the white heat of anger burned in her eyes. “I’m barren.”

Orziel snorted. “You want a child? I never considered you to be the maternal type.”

“I want an heir,” she corrected him. “The empire needs an heir.”

“Why? Are you planning on dying soon?”

Shebazael’s eyes narrowed. “We’re all dying, Orziel, the entire demon race. Think, how long has it been since you last heard of a child among the Daeva? Five hundred years? A thousand? During our exile beneath the Earth, countless numbers of our kind have died. Too few have been conceived to take their place. We’re immortal, but we have a talent for killing each other and if we don’t start to breed again, we’ll disappear. It’s all part of the Mother’s punishment against us for turning on Her all those years ago.”

“So you plan to marry Asheru off in some pointless quest to beget his own offspring? If this is the Mother’s curse, then surely he’ll be affected as well.”

“Asheru is part of the last generation of the Daeva, born after our exile. He had no hand in the war against Her, so it may be that he’s not affected by the curse.”

“Of course he’s affected!” Orziel exclaimed. “Don’t be ridiculous, Shebazael. If he’ll burn in the sun like the rest of us, then he’s just as sterile--”

Shebazael flicked a finger and Orziel dropped to his knees, clutching his groin and gasping as he felt an invisible hand almost crush his genitals.

“Don’t interrupt me again, cousin. As I was saying, Asheru may not be affected by the curse in the same way. If he weds another of his generation, he might breed a successor and give hope that our race will continue. But he will not do that,” she declared, “so long as you continue to make him a slave to your lust.”

Orziel sucked in a sharp breath and leered. “I don’t force him. He’s a willing slave, more than happy to kneel at my feet and worship me. You know, when he’s down between my legs licking my balls, Asheru looks just like your darling consort. Do you think I should remind Valefar of the family resemblance?”

The empress sighed. “Orziel, your half-mortal blood already numbers your days. Why shorten them even further by insulting Valefar?”

“As if you treat him any better,” he said, staggering back to his feet. “Besides, how else should I occupy myself? Since you’ve refused to give me any station or power within your court, I have no other amusements.”

“I give you no station because you’re a bastard and half-mortal. It’s your own tainted blood that ruins your chances of advancement within my court.”

Orziel spit into the crystal waters of the bath. “Then why bother keeping me around, if you have no use for me?”

Shebazael caressed his damp cheek. “I never said I have no use for you. But you must be careful not to get yourself killed before I can employ you.”

Orziel leaned closer until his slick, wet body almost touched hers. “My lady, I have such services to offer you that would make you forget that eunuch husband of yours.”

“Dear cousin, if I thought you could perform such services to my satisfaction, I would have made use of you long ago. Stay away from Asheru,” the empress ordered as she turned away. “Valefar may still seek to avenge his honor. I’ll assign a detachment of my personal guards to keep you safe and out of trouble.” Then she glided out of the bath chamber, leaving behind her dripping-wet bastard kin.

from Demon By Day, by Helen E. H. Madden (available at Mojocastle Press)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Putting the Villain into Villanelle

by Ashley Lister

I often find it hard
Trying to find the words
Perhaps I am a ‘tard

I know I’m not a bard
My prose can look like turds
I often find it hard

I sit in my back yard
And idly watch the birds
Perhaps I am a ‘tard…

Because I’m caught off guard:
Ideas come in herds
I often find it hard

To write them down unmarred
I seldom catch two thirds
Perhaps I am a ‘tard

The process leaves me scarred
My words are herds of turds
I often find it hard
Perhaps I am a ‘tard?

There’s nothing particularly villainous about the villanelle. The villanelle is a French form of poetry with two simple end rhymes including a pair of repetitive refrains over the nineteen lines of the poem. The etymology is indistinct although it’s pretty much agreed by the experts that the word ‘villanelle’ harkens back to medieval references for rustic songs.

And, the reason there’s a villanelle at the top of this blog entry is because I can’t see the word ‘villain’ without trying to compose another villanelle. I often find it hard. Perhaps I am a ‘tard?

It’s not a word I associate with fiction because I don’t believe there are any villains in good fiction. When it’s written properly, good fiction mirrors real life and there aren’t many villains there: only people who royally piss us off as their diabolical plans get in the way of our own existence.

In fiction for example, at the start of Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark, the eponymous hero begins the story trying to retrieve a golden idol from a Peruvian jungle. Jones is thwarted by a rival archaeologist, Rene Belloq.

Jones is clearly the hero. He’s played by Harrison Ford, his name is in the movie’s title and he’s looking well-cool with a bullwhip and a jaunty hat.

As an audience we’re supposed to believe that Belloq is the villain. Belloq is played by Paul Freeman (the same guy who went on to play Ivan Ooze in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie). Belloq is also in league with the Nazis and, worst of all, Belloq is French (just like a villanelle).

But is Belloq really villainous? Admittedly, he’s trying to steal a golden idol from the Hovitos people. But Indiana Jones is trying to do the same thing too. The only difference between these two thieves is that Jones spends the first fifteen minutes of the movie running from giant boulders whilst Belloq has established a less exhausting method of collecting the idol: stealing it from Jones. To this end, Belloq is actually more resourceful than Jones and employs greater foresight. Heroic attributes for someone who is supposedly a villain.

It’s true that Belloq is acquiring artefacts for the Nazis – but that doesn’t make him evil, does it? In this movie the Nazis are little more than a force of comic-book bad guys: labelled villainous through their association with a skewed political ideology. Their ideals of racial purity and the divine rights of a master race run counter to the contemporary western belief in capitalism, democracy and equality. But, in fiction and in reality, just because someone has different beliefs and values: that doesn’t mean they’re a villain. Personally, I think the Nazi ideals are deplorable. But I also think the same about religions that subjugate women, daytime TV soaps and health foods.

Perhaps this brief excerpt from Robert McKee’s Story (1999) better illustrates what I’m trying to say:

An interviewer once remarked to Lee Marvin that he’d played villains for thirty years and how awful it must be always playing bad people. Marvin smiled. ‘Me? I don’t play bad people. I play people struggling to get through their day, doing the best they can with what life’s given them. Others may think they’re bad, but no, I never play bad people.’

This is not to say that I’m right. I believe that villains (in fiction and reality) are only characters with viewpoints and opinions that are different to mine. Perhaps you have a different opinion?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dialogues With The Devil

by C. Sanchez-Garcia

It all happened so fast. In an instant he was on the ground and she was sitting on his chest, her face - a hellish mask of fury and need - was an inch from his. Her eyes had changed and he couldn’t bear to look at them.

Mi angel – “

“Stop that! Du verdammter bloder idiot! Stop that! I’m not your angel – look at me!” She grabbed his cheek in her sharp nails and forced him to see her. “I’m a devil; I’m a devil and I’m taking you to hell with me. Do you like that?”


“Your blood is mine! Do you hear me oh God?” She screamed the words in his face and he saw that she was crying those dark despairing tears again. “Why should you live another second? Tell me why! Tell me!” With both hands she grabbed his jacket and shook him like a rat. “Why! Should! You! Live! “

“The Blessed Vir – “

“Stop that! Stop that!” She slapped him so that his eyes spun. “Stop talking that stupid shit to me, sheissekurl, because you’re going to die now. Why should you live? Tell me.”

“Because God send you – “

“God didn’t send you shit, you poor stupid bastard – do you hear me? God screwed you over.” She slapped him hard again, her nails raking his skin. “Just like God screwed me over. God hates me. Do you like that? Why would God love you? You’re the same as me. Why should He save you? Tell me!”

“I got family!”

“I don’t! I will never have a family. I will never have a little girl or grandchildren or a warm home to go to. I will always be like this.” She beat her chest with her fist. “This is Hell, shiessekurl. You’re in Hell with me now. What do you think of that? I have a nice boyfriend, and he thinks I’m being a good girl. Just look at me! Isn’t this funny? Look at the good girl in Hell!” Her tears were falling on him. “Why did you leave your family for this place?”

“For money!” he cried. “Just for money!”

That seemed to catch her by surprise. She looked away and wiped her face on her sleeve. “Well, there. So zik, Scheisskopf. There you’ve truly said something now.” But when she turned to him, she put her hand on his throat and squeezed. “Money?”

“I love family.” He wheezed. “I hate money. Fuck money. But family, need money. You say, you say - Nixie, you want good girl. I want be good man.”

She let go of his throat and leaned back, thinking. Her bright hair, hung down over her face, and she put a white lock of it in her mouth, chewing on it as she sat quietly, mulling it over. “What means a ‘good man’ do you think?”

He gasped and drew a raw breath. “My Juanita. My little Lupe. My Papa, he leave me and my mother. He go another woman. They all go another woman, men in my country. Not me. Not me! I want be good man. I stay. Even poor, I always stay my wife. But no money. I no drink. I no putas, I no gamble money. I espouso for my Juanita and Papa for my Lupe. But no money. Mierda. How I be good man with no money? That’s all. Kill me - my family just more poor. That’s all.”

She slapped him but without strength. “What does it mean? Why has God given you in my hands? You should curse God.”

“Maybe, angelita, maybe God gives you into my hand.”

Her cool fingers reached out of the dark and stroked his hair. He felt the fury drain out of her. “There you go again, funny man, you think you’re good at breaking my heart, jah? So what shall we do with you? I want to do something bad, but then you go speaking some silly thing and break my heart all over again.” She stroked his bleeding cheek delicately with her fingernails. “Maybe the Blessed Mother really watches over you.” She lifted her hand to her lips, licked her fingers and shivered. “But I don’t know how to be a good girl for you.”

He reached up and took her fingers in his hands and squeezed them, feeling the bones beneath the cold skin. “If you devil, no too late be angel.”

She lifted her knee and rolled off him, looking away. “Get up.” She said. “Get the fuck out of here, quickly. Don’t look back.”

He got to his feet and his knees were shaking. Now that he had finally met the devil hidden there, he was no longer afraid of the night. “I pray for you.”

She sat in the dirt, somewhere in the darkness and he couldn’t see her. “Oh that’s good. Jah, light a candle for me, Manolo.”

* * * *
Nixie and Manolo from the story "Singing In The Dark" copyright 2009 C. Sanchez-Garcia
image based on art by Gene Putney
* * * *

In 1960 in Buenos Aires Argentina, in a little house on Garabaldi Street, a man named Peter Malkin was babysitting for the devil. His charge was a balding old man in dark horn rimmed glasses who sat in his underwear in a back room, occasionally asking permission to use the bathroom. Malkin had been given strict orders not to talk to this man, not to ask him questions. If the man tried to escape, he must kill him. The man who gave him those orders had a sister and three nieces who had been killed in Buchenwald. Malkin also had close friends and members of his family killed in Nazi death camps. Ricardo Klement, the old man in the glasses had had much to do with it twenty years before when he had been Adolf Eichmann, the minister of the death camps and an architect of the final solution for the Jews.

There are things about Eichmann that are universal to evil, in the real world and in good fiction. Evil is transparent to the evil doer. Evil is complex. With the increase of evil, the world becomes smaller and more dangerous for the soul sinking into darkness until there's no light left at all. When evil has matured, the only way for the soul to endure its damnation is to bend the world into a reflection of itself.

Eichmann, Saddamn Hussein, Adolf Hitler, all of these men were good men in their own eyes. They loved their families, and bought gifts for their grandchildren. The Israeli Mossad agents had confirmed the old man they'd been stalking for weeks through Buenos Aires was Eichmann because they had observed him on the evening known to be his silver wedding anniversary. When they saw Ricardo Klement carrying a large bouquet of flowers home for his loving wife, they knew they had their man.

In life and in good fiction, men are drawn into darkness willingly by their choices. They make decisions. This is the difference between a villain that breathes and a villain that is cardboard. They have moral reasons for the decisions they make, and while a part of them cries out against the soul's rape, the other part seduces them with explanations. Eichmann had his reasons. In his view he was not an evil man. I can't emphasize enough how key this point is. In fiction and in reality. Evil is transparent. Eichmann saw himself as fortune's fool, one who haplessly found himself on the wrong side of history, when all he wanted were opportunities for advancement and prestige. The price was merely mass murder. He had nothing against Jews, he told Malkin. He rather liked Jews, admired their piety. Think of this skewed midnight conversation from Malkin's "Eichmann in My hands":

"What were you doing in Palestine anyway?" I cut in, trying to shift away from the subject.

"It was a study tour, to see the Jews in Palestine. It was necessary for my work." He paused. "Haifa. Ach! The view from Mt. Carmel is enchanting. You must believe me, I was always an idealist. Had I been born Jewish, I would have been the most fervent Zionist!" He paused. "Ich war den Juden immer zugeneigt!" said Eichmann. I have always been fond of Jews. "I had Jewish friends. When I was touring Hiafa, I always made a point of finding Jewish taxi drivers. I always liked the Jews better than the Arabs."

I paused, almost unable to contain myself. "My sister's boy, my favorite playmate, he was just your son's age. Also blond and blue eyed, just like your son. And you killed him!"

Genuinely perplexed by the observation, he actually waited to see if I would clarify it. "Yes, he said finally, "but he was Jewish wasn’t he?"

That is what evil really looks like in this world. Left to judge themselves, no one would be condemned except the most morally sensitive, ironically the truly good men and women.

The Zyclon B showers? The ovens? Nothing personal, just business. Just a matter of getting things done and keeping the traffic moving along. It was his poor fate that he had been given the dirty job of running the camps instead of something nicer. But, he explained, like a traditional German of his generation he believed in duty, diligence and hard work. He ran the camps well, he said, with efficiency because that was the responsibility he had been given and it was his nature to be efficient. People did not escape his camps. Schedules were followed. If he had been given a railroad to run, he would have managed it with the same perfection.

The great villains of Shakespeare are all moral beings of one kind or another, with powerful character arcs. They come in all shapes. Goneril and Regan torment their father Lear out of a twisted sense of public duty. Iago and King Richard III were evil geniuses since they were in diapers. Hamlet's Uncle Claudius murders Hamlet's father out of romantic passion for Gertrude, and has enough decency left in him to cry out in shame when he sees his crime reenacted during a play.

In the creation of fiction, your hero is only as good as his opponent, and the general purpose word "opponent" is important. "Villains" are only a particular species of opponent. Opponent is whatever the hero or heroine has to push against to initiate their character change over the course of the story. The apprentice writer has to consider first and foremost the moral values of his villain or opponent at least as much as his hero, and they must be related. A good villain is a mirror of the hero. His values are similar though sometimes the reverse of the hero. He often wants the same thing the hero wants, but in a competing or skewed way. Next to the hero/heroine, the opponent is the most important character in the story and the story will rise or fail by the quality of the opponent and the stakes the opponent and hero are fighting for.

Opponents are not always what they seem. In "The Anatomy of Story" John Truby describes such variations as the false-opponent-ally and the false-ally-opponent. The false-opponent would be a character such as Hannibal Lector in "Silence of The Lambs". He appears at first to be the villain, the serial maniac. But in his relationship to fledgling FBI agent Clarisse Starling, he is an invaluable mentor, a "Yoda from Hell". In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago is a false-ally opponent. He appears to be Othello's friend in finding out if Othello's new wife Desdemona is cheating on him, when in fact he's conjuring plots to destroy him.

Common place villains in fiction are characterized by an inability to change. They are the wall against which the hero dashes himself over and over, which causes the hero to change. In bad fiction, villains twirl their mustaches and glory in their assholelinity. Good villains justify what they do; even take offense that any would oppose what they see as their righteous destiny. The most memorable villain is the one who starts out good and descends into evil. Think Darth Vader. This is the man who knows his nature, who clearly sees the blood on his hands and walls himself against his enemies and his conscience.

The best villain in Shakespeare and the most frightening by far is Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is unique among protagonists, in that he is the hero of the play in the Aristotoliean sense, but he is also the villain. He is both at once. The horror of Macbeth is the disintegration and death of a noble soul, a hero transforming into a villain. We bear witness to the heart breaking flowering of evil, knowing it can happen to us. The world of Macbeth is a reflection of his changing interior world. It is the increasing paranoia, murk and torment of a consciously made Hell. When King Duncan first arrives at Macbeth's castle for the night it appears to his innocent mind "This castle has a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and delicately recommends itself to our gentle senses." By the time of the infamous banquet scene, it has become as dark and haunted as Castle Dracula. As his soul dissolves into viciousness, his world shrinks around him. He becomes obsessed with security, as his soul struggles against his spiritual self-rape;

"One cried 'God bless us!' and 'Amen!' the other
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands.
Listening their fear, I could not say 'Amen.'
When they did say 'God bless us'.
. . . But wherefore could I not pronounce ‘Amen’?
I had most need of blessing and 'Amen' stuck in my throat."

Macbeth reels in nightmare phantasms until his conversion to evil is complete. Once he has accepted himself as he has become, he finds a kind of peace, because he is no longer a hypocrite to himself, but a pure tyrant. The world around him becomes a comprehensible world of endless death and cruelty. Cut off from his own humanity, he is spiritually exhausted:

"I have lived long enough.
My life has fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf.
That which should accompany old age as love
Honor, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have.
But in their place, curses, not loud but deep, mouth honor
Breath which the poor heart would fain deny but dare not."

His spiritual fall is fast but so perfectly paced as to seem organic and inevitable. The spiritual fall of Lady Macbeth is predetermined and in its way much more violent. Macbeth has the residual decency to struggle briefly against his damnation, to question his decisions. If Macbeth wails about his "hangman's hands" Lady Macbeth cries out to any evil spirits passing by "Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe with direst cruelty!" She is fearsome, fascinating, a creature of unrepentant evil. She wants it, baby. She wants it bad. But as Macbeth grows in power, she shrinks and her world dwindles until it suffocates her. Towards the end she is shambling wreck, who mutters in her sleep and relives in dreams her brief satanic moment of power. Her sweep of passion for that moment was irresistible, and absolute.

Eichmann's evil is mediocre, bureaucratic, and dumb. A kind of J. Alfred Prufrock paper pushing evil, murder carried out with statistics, forms, fountain pens and weary discussions over drinks. If not for the fact he'd overseen the death of millions of people, you’d want to swat him with a newspaper. Because of this his hands are clean in his eyes, there is no awareness of death. Because he is clean in his eyes, he can be fingered as that man bringing flowers on an anniversary who will yet have a secret tattoo of the SS under his left armpit.

I don't believe in Heaven and Hell as such. But if there were, I think when the worst souls are brought before God, they will be outraged that they are so poorly thought of.