Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Anatomy of a Paragraph

Look at the image above. This is a screen shot from the film classic “The Seven Samurai”. The samurai's name is Kyuzo, a supporting character in the story. This is the image which I have as a wallpaper on the old laptop where I do my writing. He's there to remind me of what I’m trying to do.

To keep it short, seven samurai are recruited to protect a village of poor rice farmers from a gang of bandits. The farmers don’t have any money, so each samurai has his own reasons for suiting up. Kyuzo is a pure swordsman. The sword is his zen, and his life is spiritually devoted to perfecting his art. He joins the samurai because he admires Kambei, the leader, and because it offers an opportunity to improve his fighting skill through genuine combat.

Look at the way he stands. Right knee bent at a perfect angle. Center of gravity balanced between the hips. Back straight, shoulders flat. Relaxed but attentive. His arms, his precise grip on the ends of the sword handle – one palm in, one palm out – the stony expression on his face of professional focus and attention, without gloating over the opponent he has just killed in a duel. If you enrolled in a Kendo school or studied a book that would be a formal pose with a fancy name. That pose would be arrived by a series of movements each with fancy names which, when perfectly executed, will terminate in that pose of self-possessed follow through. These movements would be the result of a cool tactical decision, like a chess move, chosen intuitively in an instant of mortal danger. This is a master swordsman doing everything exactly right. Baby, that gives me the fan-tods.

After banging away at this writing thing for the last three years all the visions of sugar plums have stopped dancing in my head. They’ve been pretty much knocked out of my head. I’m never going to make any money at this. I’m just not that guy. So I had to do a lot of soul searching as to why I should go on doing it. I decided I want to reach that place personified by Kyuzo up there with his perfect sword stance. I want to be that guy someday.

Words are the writer’s sword. I aspire to wield words someday the way Kyuzo handles his katana. With precision and craft resulting in effect. This isn’t something everybody can do. Its an intuitive gift that you cherish by nurturing it with hard work. Hard work means arduous rewriting as long as it takes until you finally get it right, and close reading the stories of others. Prose artists like Nicholson Baker or Angela Carter you should study on your knees. A writer should develop an ear for the right word the way a musician develops an ear for the right note. I have one thing going for me - I love the sound of words. I close-study plays by Peter Schaeffer and Martin McDonagh, and read stories by Elmore Leonard just to hear what the human conversation sounds like when its done right. Sometimes when I have nothing to write about, I’ll get a book of Angela Carter stories and a pencil and just write out her paragraphs word forword, pretending they're mine. I do that to get a feeling of what it sounds like to compose those excellent sentences in your head, the way Kyuzo might go through his sword postures with a wooden sword to teach his body how it feels when its being done exactly right.

I write stories the way a painter paints, by starting with a pencil sketch of words and layering over it. When the layers become complex enough the story begins to reveal its internal truth. If there is no internal truth I stick it in a drawer for the future. There has to be a truth in that story, something soulful that speaks to me, or the story is dead. I hate sloppy writing, even when the story is good. I adore beautiful writing even when the story is thin. Take Edgar Allen Poe. Poe is all about atmosphere and build up. His story plots are very simple, almost nothing. In “The Masque of the Red Death”, my favorite Poe story, Prince Prospero isolates his rich friends in his castle for a costume ball while the plague burns through the people of his kingdom. The Red Death shows up at his party personified as a guest dressed as an infected corpse and everybody dies. That’s it. Forget it. That’s all that happens. You can see the whole thing coming as soon as you read the title. The Masque of the Red Death is a wonderful study in language and atmosphere. Poe makes love to the reader with a slow hand and exquisite fore play. In the hands of a writer of less genius, (less genius. . . yuck. lesser genius. . no . . . something missing . . . a lesser genius. . . I dunno, maybe. . . its those two "of"s. . . its like you stumble over them and fall on your face . . . ) this story wouldn’t make it out of the slush pile. (Make it out of the slush pile. . . make it past the slush pile. . . out of the slush pile. . . past… no, definitely past. Bam. Boom.) In the hands of a writer of a lesser genius, this story wouldn’t make it past the slush pile. (still not right)

Which brings us to the hammer and nails of writing – language. Words and sentences. The delicious paragraph. Yum yum. Last week I posted some short vignettes. This was harder than it looked, because I tend to write long because I love words (using “because” two times in a sentence. Monstrous. Can't believe I get away with this shit . . . Note to self: kill one of those “becauses” when you rewrite this beast). This time I had to write very, very short, almost like a prose poem. Every word had to carry its weight like a prose poem. Every sentence had to convey as much as possible in a short space (redundant . . . like a prose poem. . . This time I had to write very, very short . . . period, stop, shuddup.) Every sentence had to convey as much as possible in a short space, like a prose poem. (okay) I want to show you how this thought process works.

Paragraph 1ver1 (lead into Cicada vignette)

The young man whispers in his sleep. The pink dawn is seeping thru the window. The cicadas have stopped singing at last. Without waking, he bunches his blanket under his groin and rubs hard against it.(I like this paragraph because of the drama of its short, punchy, prosaic sentences. But it still sounds wrong when I read it out loud. My ear doesn't like it. Why? Gotta think about it. How would Nicholson Baker do it? Because this is for a blog I don’t have the luxury of writing with my verbiage romping through the daisies. Three sentences in a row start with “The”. Hemingway could get away with that shit back in the day – he would never use the word “pink” in anything - but not a lesser mortal like me. Gotta rearrange it.)


The young man whispers in his sleep. The pink dawn is seeping thru the window. The cicadas have stopped singing at last. Without waking, grunting with urgency, he bunches his blanket under his groin and rubs hard against it.(A passive sentence. Geezus, I’m getting worse. And I’ve still got those three “the”s kicking their heels. If this were sword practice I would have cut my effing foot off by now.)


The young man whispers in his sleep. The pink dawn is seeping thru the window. Without waking, he bunches his blanket under his groin and rubs hard against it, grunting with urgency.
The cicadas have stopped singing at last.
(Reorganized that limp wristed sentence, and broke up that little conga line of “the”s. Now “cicadas” has it’s own isolated paragraph, the way Ray Bradbury would do it If this were a movie the sound track orchestra would have just made a dramatic “da –DUM!” But does it deserve that much dramatic weight? “Holy Shit! The cicadas have stopped singing at last.” Da-DUM! Naw. This isn’t “Cicadas From Hell”, the cicadas aren’t hurting anybody.)
1ver4 The young man whispers in his sleep. The pink dawn is seeping thru the window. He bunches his blanket under his groin without waking and rubs hard against it, grunting with urgency. The cicadas have stopped singing at last.(Okay, stay with that one.)

By the way, just so you know – when I write a story I do this with EVERY paragraph.


And that’s AFTER I’ve overhauled the story line over and over until I’ve run out of ideas. And then, if it’s potentially a good story, I offer it with reverence to my much cherished and long suffering First Reader, our own wise Lisabet, take seriously what she has to say – and by golly overhaul the bastard AGAIN! That’s how you get to be Kyuzo someday.

Now the paragraph is more or less in its final form let’s talk about what it says. It’s a little dinky paragraph, four lines. It doesn’t look like much. But tell you what; this is a very hard working paragraph. There’s a lot going on in this paragraph. Here’s how it breaks down: The young man whispers in his sleep. This is a cut scene, it links the vignettes and gives them a context. After all this was supposed to be on the subject of self loving. The cut scenes remind the reader that these vignettes are taking place in a certain context, one that sounds autobiographical. This ia very old form of storytelling, going back to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and even Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew (“Wow, Mr. Garcia; you know a lot about the great books. You’re smart and sexy.” Fucking right.) But the blog is more about the vignettes not the cut scenes, so I had to breeze over this part really quick, get it said and get out. The pink dawn is seeping thru the window. A scene, even a dinky one, requires setting and a sense of time. The long night is almost over and I’m letting the exhausted reader know we’re getting to the last vignette and wherever this whole thing is going. He bunches his blanket under his groin without waking and rubs hard against it, grunting with urgency. This is actually a very loaded sentence. It raises questions worth discussing, about the writer and his relationship with the reader. Hold this thought a second, because we’ll come back to it.

The cicadas have stopped singing at last.

I've decided that the sentence is not dramatic enough to have its own this-is-a-big-deal paragraph, but of sufficient gravity that it should be the last flash bulb going off in the reader’s eyes. Because – this is a cut scene, to what? Cicada vignette. I want the reader to be sure to get the idea, I’m practically hitting him/her over the skull with it – this last judgment hoo-hah is a riff on cicadas! Cicadas! Get it? Cicadas have stopped singing, and then here’s this dead geezer digging his way out of the ground. Get it? Get it? Sex and Cicadas?

Which brings us back to the significance of this sentence:

He bunches his blanket under his groin without waking and rubs hard against it, grunting with urgency.

Now dig this:
Any guy reading that sentence, knows this is a load of happy horseshit. This is not how its done in the real world. Wet dreams are their own autonomous thing. They are not initiated by anything a guy does with himself when he’s sound asleep. It’s out of our hands, so to speak. For a guilt ridden young man trying to break up with Sally Fivefingers, a wet dream is a freebie. So why this false description? The real question is – do you trust your reader’s ability to read well? Let’s do that again –

Do you trust your reader?

Holy Shit! Readers From Hell!

This is a big question for a writer. Do you trust the intelligence of your reader? Does your reader know how to read what you actually wrote? In my growing experience this is way more complicated than it looks. A sentence like “He bunches etc.” means I’m not sure if the reader, especially non-male readers, are going to twig to what’s going on here, so I’m embellishing it with false information. The guy’s jerking off in his sleep. But guys don’t jerk off in their sleep. I just don’t feel confident the average reader is going to get what's happening here if I don’t have Mr. Young Man do this Really Obvious Thing, so when I wrote that line I was having a little crisis of faith. I have cause to feel this way.

One of the early lessons I learned on ERWA is that when you post a story, people see what they've always been used to seeing, but they don’t always see what you’ve written. When I recently posted “The Lady and the Unicorn”, a Nixie story with very graphic violence and several references to blood drinking, one of the two people who read it (neither one liked it) never realized it was a vampire story in his comments! I don’t even know how that’s possible. I had to tell him. Dude - she's a vampire. Reading is an art. To read what an author has put in your hands requires skill, depending on the depth of the writer.

Writers and readers have a yin yang relationship. The writer is initiating this thing, the reader is responding to it. There’s something innately erotic going on. If the writer is good, the reader will allow herself to be charmed, then caressed, then seduced, and finally to surrender her imagination to the world of the story. If the writer draws attention to himself (“Look how good I’m writing!”) instead of the story, the reader will shove him off and button up her blouse.

In the end this brings up another question – who should you write for? How important is it to write for others rather than yourself and what is the artistic price for that?

That would be a subject for another blog.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stella's Morning

This is a tough one for me. I honestly don't see myself having habits for writing. I just get up, do my bathroom duties, which you really don't want to hear about, dress, get coffee and head for the computer. Yawn! Five or six days a week, this pretty much covers my routine. More yawn!

So, I'm going to create a character who has a specific ritual she needs to follow in order for her to write. Let's see how this goes.

Placing her coffee cup in the sink, Stella Dark gauged the distance from the rim of the cup to the top left corner of the sink, the well-polished sink. She nudged the cup an inch higher and nodded.

She ran fingers through her hair, tugging out a knot then smoothing the wild mass of curls down. Her blouse, neatly tucked into her threadbare jeans, hugged her generous curves and wondered how quickly she could get to work. The manuscript was due in less than a week.

Checking the kitchen, she nodded then headed for the den, stopping only to twirl twice at each of the doorways she went through and skirting the rose patterned rug in the living room. It wouldn't pay to trod on that, she thought remembering her last short story and how it had bombed after she'd walked on the corner of the luxurious plush.

"Not going to do THAT again, for sure," she mumbled carefully sidestepping the dark brown fringe. When she got to the doorway to the den, she stopped and took a deep breath. Placing her toes on the threshold, he inhaled, then leaped into the room, as far from the entrance as possible, landing a good five feet in and again stopped, not daring to take a step.

She closed her eyes and recited her litany, "Today will be a good day of writing. I will allow nothing to interrupt me, nothing will tear my attention from my work. I will get at least two thousand words written."

This was the same thing she said every morning since she'd started this book. So far, it had worked and she was nearly finished it.

She checked her desk, saw the neat stack of papers on the top right corner. The printer on the left . The keyboard carefully centered, it's edge an inch (measured the previous day at quitting time) from the edge of the well-polished of the desk.

On her left foot, she hopped the six feet to the chair and sat down a little harder than she'd planned. She crossed her legs, but quickly uncrossed them and switched, re-crossing them the other way.

Stella leaned down and pushed the button, turning on her computer. She counted, slowly, hoping the count would be right. If not, she'd have to go back into the kitchen and re-do her entry. She'd once repeated it four times before the count had come out right. A waste of time and energy, but necessary.

"Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five," she whispered then smiled, saying a silent thank-you to whoever might be listening. Her screen blinked to life, her hands went to the keyboard.

Before she opened up the folder on her desktop, she glanced at the tiny green stuffed frog sitting on her tower. His lopsided smile always gave her encouragement. The larger stuffed bulldog didn't seem quite so friendly, but his attitude gave her strength.

"Okay, guys. Are we ready?" she asked the duo, a note of excitement in her voice. She loved the first seconds of creation, even if it was chapter 25 of some monstrous book she'd nearly completed. The initial few words of a morning always seemed the best. If only I didn't have such a horrendous pre-writing crap to perform.

Stella clicked her tongue and counted to ten, then typed, 'zyxwvutsrqp...' all the way to 'a'.

Done with her ritual, she opened the folder and found the ms, clicking on it quickly. When it opened, she scanned to the end page and read the last few sentences from the previous day's work.

"Ah, yes," she murmured and sat forward in her chair. Her fingers flew across the board, words flashed onto the page and images of the story flowed freely in her thoughts. She blinked only when her eyes burned, she mouthed words and smiled. Unwilling to slow down or stop, knowing their would be rituals for that too, she continued typing for the next two hours, non-stop.

Phew, and that's how Stella works. I'm very glad I'm not her, but you know, I'd do it all if I had to, I'm sure. Writing is that important.

What about you? Got a special pen you use, a toy that has to sit in a particular place?Anything that you need to do in order to get those juices flowing?

Monday, September 28, 2009

A journey, not a race

By Jenna Byrnes

The reams of stories written on wide lined notebook paper, bound with orange yarn, don't count. Those started in fourth grade. My first heroine had twenty-some babies and just as many husky sled dogs-- for two reasons. One, like many ten year old girls I swore I'd grow up to be a veterinarian because I loved dogs, and if I couldn't have a dozen of them, my characters could. And two, I loved choosing names, and never stopped to think that I didn't have to use all my favorite names in the first book I wrote. But, I digress. I said those stories don't count. Back then, I could while away hours lying on my bed writing in a notebook. Man, what I'd give for some of that free time now.

When I picked up writing again as an adult, my children were little and it was a pastime for the evening hours when my husband watched whatever sport was on TV at the moment. Back then I had a used word processor (which at least allowed me to get rid of the liquid paper) and an old fashioned printer with paper that had tear-off strips on either side. I wrote my first novel on that thing, a 120,000 word tome that eventually got published as a nice, tight, 30,000 word novella.

I put writing aside during the child-raising years. In the span of nine years, besides working full time and raising my children, I was a cub scout leader, a boy scout troop treasurer and committee chairman, a religious education teacher (that one for the whole nine years, yes, I said- NINE years!), president of my church's council of Catholic women, Eucharistic Minister, church neighborhood group leader, on the committee for church activities planning, and tired....very tired. Once my boys hit those milestones- Eagle Scout, driver's licenses, Sacrament of Confirmation in 9th grade, I dropped out of my active life and let them fly solo for awhile. I was very glad to have done all those things, thrilled to have watched my kids achieve all they had, but I was ready to take some time back for me. I started writing again.

At first it was late night scribblings. I had an honest to goodness computer, though it would be considered a dinosaur now. I remember staying up late, usually on Saturday nights, and writing like crazy while the rest of the house was asleep. Those were interesting times, but not a schedule I could live with for long.

Once I began to figure out the write/submit/sign contract/edit/publish/promote cycle, I knew I needed more regular writing and promoting time. I've slowly settled into a schedule that works for me, even though it means getting up earlier than normal and missing a few lunches here and there (which nobody can tell, I'm sure.) Somehow I manage to handle the day job, squeeze in some writing each day on my own time, get my housework managed and end up with some family time as well. Okay, some days that means falling asleep in front of the TV which we've all gathered round to watch. (Someone will nudge me.)

The system isn't perfect--with such strict allowances for writing time, when I sit down to do it, if the words don't flow, I get frustrated and feel like a slacker. Then Jude kicks me and reminds me it's okay to take some time off now and again. I write a lot. I know it's not a sin to take the occasional break (though the propensity to worry about sin is ingrained.)

There are so many stories in my head, they fight each other to get out. These days, I'm usually working on one solo project and rotating between my publishers so I send each of them something fairly regularly, and I'm also working on a project with Jude. When she has the manuscript, I work on my stuff, and vice versa. So, like Lisabet, beginning each writing session by reading the last bit I wrote is especially important to me. Wouldn't want to stick the wrong character in the wrong book, LOL. (Actually, I've never done that but it sounds funny and I might try it to see if Jude notices.)

Writing is a habit, and sometimes when I don't do it, it's hard to get back into the routine. I write six days a week when possible, and save that last day for blog posts and catching up on stuff. I usually write about a 1,000 to 1,500 words a day. I've done up to 3,500 words in one day, and wish I could be that prolific all the time. But then I'm afraid I'd be back in that crazy active lifestyle mode, when I was tired all the time. (Even more tired than I am now, which I can't fathom.) So I try to remember that writing, like life, is a journey, not a race. Half the fun is in the trip.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Writing Habits

By Lisabet Sarai

After my rather fanciful post last week, I decided to play this one straight (though I couldn't resist the visual pun). Every writer does things a bit differently. I'm always fascinated to hear how my colleagues make the leap from that niggling idea to a finished story or novel. Let me share my approach.

Unlike some authors, I can't write every day. My normal schedule and my energy level don't allow that. Furthermore, I find that I'm most productive when I can devote a significant block of time, a minimum of three hours, to the writing process. So I try to set aside at least one day a week (usually Sunday) for dedicated writing. If possible, I arrange not to have commitments on that evening, either. That way, I don't have to break away when I am in the middle of torrid scene and the creative (and other) juices are flowing.

I'm extremely linear in my writing. I'm always amazed when I hear that other writers craft disconnected scenes and then later arrange them into a story. I almost always write from beginning to end. Furthermore, when I'm working on anything longer than 4 or 5K words, I usually organize my composition around the chapter structure of the book. (A lot of my submissions these days are to e-publishers, who solicit so-called "short stories" in the range of 10-20K, and want them with chapter breaks.) If I finish a chapter and it's getting near the end of the day, I often won't start the next chapter because I don't want to have to abandon it in the middle. I like my writing in nice, manageable chunks.

One question that always surfaces when authors discuss their methods is what kind of external aids they use for organizing and keeping track of their work in progress. I'm normally a fairly organized person, but I don't use notes or outlines when I write. For a short story, I'll begin with the premise and the characters plus some notion of the plot arc, but nothing else. It's fairly common for the story to twist away from my initial notions as I write and the characters reveal themselves. I've learned not to fight this, understanding that my intuitions while writing are more reliable than my thoughts when I'm not facing the screen.

When I'm working on a novel, I keep a (computer) file of notes, including a scene sequence, details about characters' appearance or history, and so on. Compared to what many other authors do, though, it's pretty sketchy. (On the other hand, my novels tend to be relatively simple compared to some of my colleagues who create entire worlds with the mythology to support them!) I may also have a paper file with background information about setting, time period, or topic. When I was writing Serpent's Kiss, which involves Mayan mythology and takes place in Guatemala, that file became quite thick. Even so, I mostly rely on my memory for detail when I'm actually writing. The notes file helps me generate and organize my ideas before I start writing, and to record decisions about plot and character--which I may or may not follow.

Because my writing time is so limited, I usually work on only one project at a time, in terms of actual composition. I may be planning or researching my next project, but I tend to focus on my current story, writing systematically until I get it completed. Of course, this habit makes it easier for me to rely on memory rather than external aids. I imagine that if I were like some of you, with three or four projects going on simultaneously, I couldn't survive without extensive outlines, notes and so on.

When I actually sit down for a writing session, I reread at least the last chapter, to remind myself of what is going on and to get myself back into the characters' world. This preparation also gives me the opportunity to do some editing. After being away from my work for a few days, I'm far more likely to see the awkward structures, the repeated words and the problem pronouns (a serious issue when writing third-person M/M stories, as I've been doing lately!) By the time I reach the point where I left off last time, I hopefully remember what I expected to happen next or at least have a sense of how the characters are thinking and feeling. It's not uncommon for me to ask the characters: okay, now what? Usually they can be relied upon to get things moving.

In the middle of a writing session, I try very hard to avoid interruptions and resist the temptation to do something else. I'll check my email no more than once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I'll get up and make lunch, get something to drink, or go to the bathroom., but that's all. My writing time is precious and I don't want to squander it on other activities. Even when the words aren't flowing very well, I force myself to continue.

I share an office space with my husband, who is usually working on some software project while I am writing. He understands that he should interrupt me no more than necessary. The cats also hang out on my desk, but most of the time they are not too demanding. Occasionally Mr. Toes insists on walking across my keyboard or standing in front of the screen (despite the fact that I've told him he's not transparent), but a few minutes of dedicating petting is normally enough to get him to settle down.

Blackness likes to knock my pens on to the floor (her precision "whop" is something to see), but she gets bored with this game fairly quickly.

When I've finished my first draft, I do at least one pass of self-editing, once again from beginning to end. This may sound pretty minimal but it's often sufficient, partly because I edit as I write and partly because my spelling and grammar are above average. (I only wish my creativity were at the same level as my grasp of the nuts and bolts!) Sometimes I'll ask a colleague to read and crit the work. Occasionally I'll be in the middle of something else and I'll be hit with the recognition of some major inconsistency that needs to be fixed. I'll write the point down, saving it for my writing day. On the days when I'm not writing, my focus has to be elsewhere.

Reading this post over, I realize that I sound pretty boring. Dedicated time for writing. Composing from the beginning to the end, chapter by chapter. Editing from the beginning to the end. No fevered, drunken all-nighters, pounding the keyboard until dawn, inflamed by the passion of my story. No long afternoons loitering in a café with my espresso or my absinthe, contemplating my fellow man and scribbling in my notebook. No fits of pique or anguish, crumpling my latest creation and tossing it into the trash (or dragging it to the Trashcan). No severing of body parts. Sometimes I wonder whether I'm really qualified to call myself an artist.

The truth is, though, that all these dark, glamorous myths about authors are mostly just that: myths. Yes, you need a modicum of passion in order to write, but that doesn't necessarily express itself in flamboyant behavior, dramatic gestures, or desperate excess. Books get written one sentence, one paragraph, one chapter at a time. To produce those sentences, paragraphs and chapters, you have to adopt whatever habits are personally effective--comparisons be damned.

By the way: today I'm leaving for a two week overseas trip. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to get on-line. Certainly I won't be commenting as often as usual. But I will be at the Grip in spirit!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Let us play

The nuns and priests told us that masturbation would make you go blind, and my first ventures of hand to pussy ended in red cheeks and a flush of shame. Praise the Lord, I’ve gotten over it. Show me your pleasure. Self loving, as Betty Dobson so graciously calls it, is one of the simple pleasures of life. It’s honest, raw, real and pure. Many of my favorite movie scenes include masturbation. In Secretary, Mr. Grey (James Spader) has his secretary, Lee, played by Maggie Gilenhall, bend over the desk, pull up her skirt and pull down her panties, while he jerks off on her butt. “Don’t worry, I won’t fuck you, “ he reassures her. In the recent controversial coming of age movie, Towelhead , 13 year old Jasira discovers she can make herself come by rubbing her thighs
together. The look on her face of surprise and discovery is priceless. Oh, sweet freedom.

I even like the quirky scene in
The Squid and the Whale where Frank, a frustrated young teen masturbates in a library and smears his cum on the shelves. Rebellion? Protest? Anger? Assertion? That audacious act says so much. God I
love honest moments.

After surviving marriage to a man who wouldn’t touch me “down there” , my own furtive, singular encounters escalated, over time, to full blown private celebrations. Three cheers for that mid life crisis that made me rediscover my own hand to pussy moves:

“A stroke and some well placed rubbing and Bam! She was there. She was surprised and delighted at how easy it was. Like a consolation prize. After birthing and breastfeeding, she no longer had her tight little body, but everything was magically tuned up and revving to go. Maybe there was something to that mythical midlife hormonal peak. It felt like a peak. It sounded like a peak. It smelled like a peak. She loved to sniff her fingers. She was now a veritable perfume factory. Oh, she threw herself diligently into experimenting and found that she could make herself orgasm four times in a row before she began to feel so lightheaded that she made herself stop. She was a shiny new car, of the fancy kind, testing the limits of her speedometer, and riding with the top down.

When the kids were at school, and her husband at work, she made efficient use of her time. She played wild music and danced while she did the housework, shaking her hips urgently. It was as if some hidden energy that lay dormant demanded release. After all, she had been holding it in for so long. She did a striptease for no one, letting articles of clothing drop seductively as she went about her daily chores. She sat in front of the mirror, with legs spread, and painted a little miniature portrait of herself. It was a beautiful thing and she was excited to realize that she found it to be beautiful.

Sometimes for a little variation, she would go for a walk in the park, and allow herself to converse with an entirely imaginary and decidedly male companion of her own design. He was always sympathetic, very sexy, and utterly attentive to her. Imaginary Lover Boy not only listened, but also wanted to know every single fascinating thought in her brilliant mind. Not one of her feelings was ever silly or inconsequential, and he always held her hand. Once she didn’t even wait to drive home afterwards. She simply climbed into the back of her soccer mom mini van, and not wanting to be seen through the tinted windows, pressed herself down as low to the seat as she could, the way a mouse or a bug will try to disappear into the ground when it senses you are near. She could easily pretend that her fingers were her imaginary lover’s as she pulled the bit of cloth underwear aside so she could sink them into herself. Her movements were frantic. Frenetic. Compulsive. It was all so utterly shameful and she was so completely unashamed. Her body was making its needs very clear, and she, the well-trained Mom, was answering its cry.” *

Though fucking one’s lover be joyous, playing with yourself or watching your lover do the same is , well, not only refreshing, but immensely edifying. It’s as pure as picking your favorite flavor of ice cream, singing in the shower, or slipping on your favorite pair of jeans. There are few things as telling as what turns you on when you
are alone at play. And if you are lucky enough to be with a partner who unselfconsciously plays with his dick while you watch, the goddesses have smiled upon you. Self trust and self knowledge engenders more of the same. In the words of William Shakespeare: ” To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Image credits A Near Miss, by Gil Elvgren Weighty Problem, (Starting at the Bottom) by Gil Elvgren Well Built R-Roof! by Gil Elvgren

* excerpt from unpublished work by Jicky Smith

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Have No Shame

I've done it on a train.
I've done it on a plain.
I've done it on a boat.
I did it once near a goat.

I've done it in the pool,
And once upon a stool.
I've done it in the bathroom,
I've done it in the kitchen,
And yes, I've done it out in public,
Now will you please quit yer bitchin'?

I've done it with my husband
And I've done it all alone;
While working on the computer,
While talking on the phone.

I've done it at my parents,
I've done it in my car.
I've done it here, I've done it there,
I've done it near and far.

I really have no shame, see?
And can you really blame me?
For doing what's so natural,
It's really matter-of-factual.

We all know deep in our hearts
That everybody...


What? What did you think I was talking about?

Oooooooooh, that!

Yeah, I do that to.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Unlucky in Self-Love

By Ashley Lister

Just to go off at a tangent here, I’d like to mention that this is my thirteenth post for Oh Get A Grip. This means there are a dozen previous pages of pith, perception (and something else beginning with P) for readers to peruse should they enjoy the writing style of my post today. And I mention this here, at the start of a blog about self-love, to show that, whilst I’m comfortable with most aspects of myself, the one part of my personae that embarrasses me is the fact that I’m superstitious.

Thirteen is a number that gives me the willies (and not in a good way). If a short story I’m writing ends on page 13, I’ll edit and trim until it’s down to twelve pages. If I’m due to begin a project on the thirteenth of the month, I’ll postpone or prepone, just to make sure I’m not inadvertently hexing the prospect of success. On Friday 13th I shut the computer down, don’t talk to anyone, and try to stay in a darkened room for as much of the day as possible.

“How interesting,” I can hear you yawn. But what has this got to do with self-love?

I’m not just superstitious about the number 13. I don’t walk under ladders. I won’t light the third smoke from a single match. This is the thirteenth sentence of my thirteenth blog. I never leave shoes on the table. I do rituals if I spill salt. I don’t walk under black cats.

There are times when I disgust myself with this stupidity. Superstitions are irrational and based on archaic presuppositions. When I ‘knock on wood’ for good luck or to avert misfortune, I know it’s an action that has its precedent in the ancient worship of trees and nature. When I refuse the third light on a match I know it’s a habit that (according to popular rumour) was a practical necessity in the trenches of World War One.

I cross my fingers. I have a horseshoe nailed over the back door of my home. And I’ll wear garments inside out throughout the day if that’s the way I accidentally put them on first thing on a morning. And I mention these things to show how self-love, particularly in my instance, can be blind.

I’m not sure if it’s right to say I love myself. I certainly like myself but I’m not yet sure if it’s love. I’ve only been seeing myself for 44 years so it’s early days in the relationship and I’m not sure I’m ready to make the commitment. Also, the phrase ‘loving myself’ could either sound like an admission of conceit or masturbation and I don’t want to take this post in either of those directions.

I mention these superstitious foibles because I like myself, despite my superstitions. If I met someone who was so superstitious, I’d likely proclaim them as a crackpot and distance myself from them completely. I’d make jokes about them behind their back and I’d probably go out of my way to make their life uncomfortable by scheduling important meetings for each Friday the thirteenth. Maybe I wouldn’t be so mean but it’s almost certain that I would have little time or patience for someone with such irrational beliefs. And yet, I tolerate these personal peccadilloes because I know they’re a part of who I am and I sincerely like the person who I am.

I’m now going to cut this blog short, for fear that, when printed out, it might turn out to be thirteen page lengths in duration. And, even though I know that’s irrational, superstitious and stupid, I kinda love myself for being that way :-)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Natural Acts

In an old English oak across from the apartment building on Portland St, cicadas are calling for sex. The midnight dark is filled with their rising and falling chorus. In a tiny one room apartment a young man is laying nude on his bed, alone. The young man is burning with feverish tension. The intolerable craving to insert his penis into a woman immediately will not let him sleep. The need for release has drowned out all other thoughts. He is famished with the illness of love. But there is no one to love.

On the little kitchen table, next to a cold cup of coffee, a book of marine biology is lying open. On one page is a color photograph of a female deep-sea Anglerfish. She is large and bulbous, with unnatural teeth like a heap of translucent swords. A long rod of flesh dangles down with a glowing ball at its end. A very small male Anglerfish is fused into her belly permanently, like a benevolent parasite. On the other page, there is a color photograph of a limpet, which has anchored itself to a blue rock. There are other limpets fused to the top of it, like a small stack of party hats. Next to the book of sea life, is a thick copy of Dante’s “Divine Comedy". The young man’s friend DeEtta has been writing to him, extolling him to read Dante, so that they can discuss death. “To understand Christian afterlife mythology, you have to know Dante.” writes DeEtta, in impassioned handwritten letters. “It all comes from Dante.” But the idiot howling of the young man’s flesh for sex has drowned all thought.

His phallus has been erect for over an hour but he refuses to relieve himself. He has determined to remain pure for God, to break this shameful daily addiction. He has refrained from masturbation for three days and two nights now, the longest he has ever gone. This will be his offering to his dour, silent God. He wishes God were a woman. He wishes She would come to him and take pity on him. He wishes She would make love to him.

Behind the headboard of the little bed, there are night noises. Muffled shouts. Shrill laughter. The soft rhythm of a headboard thumping the wall. That would be his neighbor, the woman. “Walkie-Talkie” is about the same age as his mother. He has seen her walking up and down the hall, always the same, wearing bunny slippers and tiny gym shorts, her peaked nipples swaying left and right beneath an old t-shirt. She is always walking up and down, talking on a cell phone, possibly to the man who is inside her at this moment.

Outside the calling of the cicadas for mates seems to fill the room. The night is filled with the sounds of sex and the clamoring for more sex. The only sound he can hear which is not sex is the ticking of the windup alarm clock on the folding chair beside the bed. The ticking of the clock. The frenetic rhythm behind the wall. The cicadas crying.

Mercifully he begins to doze.

He must swim. He must never stop swimming or he will die. There is only the dark, and his paddling hands and kicking feet in the icy current. If he stops swimming he will sink down into the deeper dark, and killing cold where the water has no oxygen and he will suffocate. If he aspires to rise to the higher waters above, to reach to the happiness which he can sometime sense far, far away, his body begins to swell and bloat. As he tries harder to rise, to reach the happy world, his skin becomes taut, begins to itch and then to burn. Soon the hellfire pain is too much and he turns away, back to the freezing dark, weeping salt tears of despair into the ocean. He does not belong up there. He is a solitary creature of eternal night, cold and alone.

He has no use for hope. The knowledge of what could be only torments him more. He has only one skill of any use, the ability to smell out the little fishes which he catches and crams in his mouth, wriggling, swallowing them whole.

And now - there is a smell. A new smell, rich and musky. Not a fish. It is sweet and inviting. This smell, what can it be? It is meant for him – him alone. It fills his being with an immense longing.

He paddles his hands. He kicks his feet, following the smell wherever it leads. He has no will to resist or question, he can only follow. And there – up ahead is something he has never seen before. Until this moment he did not know he had eyes.


A tiny, bobbing spot of light. It is where the perfume comes from. He must go to the light. He swims harder now, feeling excitement for the first time in his existence. His only thought is his impelling need to be with the sweet smelling spot of light.

It is a lantern. It is a lantern held in the outstretched hand of a gigantic, monstrous woman. She has cast the spell of her perfume on him. He belongs to her utterly, body and soul.

Her enormous body is a dozen times larger than himself. Her huge breasts bob in the current. Seeing he has found her, seeing his phallus is erect and ready for her, she lies on her back and opens her legs for him wide, wide. Her vagina is cavernous. He knows what he must do. He doesn’t know how he knows this, but only what must now be done.

He lays on his back, feet towards her vagina, which is winking like a giant’s eye in anticipation. Her huge hand grasps his legs and pins them tightly together. She guides his toes tenderly, slowly into her vagina. He holds himself still. She pulls his feet into her, then his knees, then his legs. Now half his body is inserted into her, only his chest and arms and head are left. He holds his hands and arms straight at his side, and strong muscles deep in her womb grasp him, ripple, pull him into her relentlessly. This must be. His erect phallus rubs against her vaginal skin as he passes and he orgasms thrillingly into the water. Her huge hand caresses him with affection. His chest is enveloped in her warm, comforting slickness. Then his neck. Now only his head. His eyes take a last farewell glance at her face, glowing in the light of the lantern in her other hand. He knows he will never see his beloved’s face again. He worships her. He loves her. A great sleepy peace overcomes him. The muscles pull, her sex hair waves in his face like a bed of seaweed as his head is sucked inside and her vulva seals shut over him forever.

The young man moans and weeps in his sleep. Without waking, he rolls onto his belly and rubs his groin against the sheets.

Through a twilight of murky golden sunlight, it drifts in lukewarm currents, feeling nothing. As it drifts, it passes over a shiny flat blue rock on the sea bed, hidden behind a hedge of pink coral. Here – here is as good a place to die as any. It drifts among fishes without purpose, eating and sleeping, trying not to be eaten. It has sought wisdom and failed. Why is there suffering? What is happiness if it is so fleeting?

It drifts down, lights upon the rock and attaches itself there.

But what if someone tries to take my rock away? It feels rage and fear.

It is my rock! I found it first. Mine!

Ah. Attachment causes suffering.

I will not leave this rock, until I know the answer. I not leave this rock, even if I must die here.

It withdraws into itself. It is hungry, but what use is it to eat? It will only be hungry again. It stops the sound of its thoughts. It waits in silence. Time passes slowly and it withdraws into deeper and deeper stillness.

A clear inner light dawns – it knows! It awakens and returns to the world with its revelation.

I am woman.

The old self falls away and she opens to world, vulnerable, fearless. She discovers she has had legs all the while, but immersed in suffering could not see them. She has arms to embrace. A womb to give birth. Breasts swell and blossom on her chest, sprouting sensitive nipples. She parts her legs and there is a sting of tearing and a cleft appears there, pink and moist. She touches herself there and thrills with ecstasy. Liberation. She exudes perfume from her cleft so as to call others to share her wisdom.

One of her kind drifts overhead following the beacon of her musk. Seeing her breasts, seeing her cleft it discovers what it desires most in all the world is to join with her.

I am man!

Between his legs, instead of a cleft he sprouts a rod, stiff, and prodding and eager to join with her cleft. A pair of balls to fill the rod. His chest swells and he has strong shoulders and powerful buttocks, the better to drive his rod into her cleft. He descends on her, lights upon her and she opens to him. He fills her again and again. The more fiercely he clutches her, the more fearful he becomes of losing her.

You are attached to me as I was once attached to my rock. You will see, attachment causes suffering.

She begins to die. The man with his penis inside her rages and weeps with his inconsolable grief. She caresses him, admonishes him. All that lives must die, she says. All that dies returns. I will return.

He roars and weeps over her corpse as it crumbles in his arms. Devastated, he withdraws into silence. Driven deep inside by misery, he stills his thoughts, searching within to taste every memory of her. At the utmost height of his grief he sees the light also. He sees her. She has never left him. She was always inside waiting. She is his true nature within.

I am woman!

She rolls onto her back. Her penis and balls fall away and a cleft is there, moist and inviting. Her chest swells and breasts bloom like lotuses. A form drifts over her. And more gather drawn by the perfume of her open cleft. The sight of her wisdom and limitless love and compassion brings them to her, burning for her.

They become males.

They fall upon her in a pile and the cycle of birth and death begins again.

The young man whispers in his sleep. The pink dawn is seeping thru the window. Without waking, he bunches his blanket under his groin and rubs hard against it, grunting with urgency. The cicadas have stopped singing at last.

An old man opens his eyes in a satin box six feet under the churchyard sod. A sound has brought him back from oblivion. He can’t recall what the sound was, or where he has been. The lightless box fits him loosely and there is an annoying odor of decay and age. He touches the fabric with his finger and the old cloth falls away. He touches his hand to his face. The skin is hard and brittle.

There! The sound again. It is a trumpet, blaring almost in his ear.

He pushes the lid of the box and it breaks easily. Knowing instinctively in which direction to dig, he tunnels up through the earth with his hands. Tiny roots. Then grass. Sunlight stuns his withered eyes as he bursts forth into the world he has forgotten. A great wind is beating in his face.

With an effort he climbs out of the hole and stands in the churchyard. Clods of earth are falling from him. Overhead, just above the treetops, a golden man in a white robe is held aloft on white feathered wings and holds a golden horn to his lips. He blows again.

All around the old man the churchyard graves are bursting open. Men and women, even children are climbing out of the ground.

The old man does not like his skin. It is thick, hard and brittle like armor. It reminds him of the life he has left behind, a life of great hardship and sometimes wickedness. He wants to be free, to be open to his feelings and whatever may come. To love completely. To hate completely. To feel with his body completely. But first he must rid his heart of his shell. He kneels, with his palms on the grass. He takes a deep breath and pushes it into his chest. A stinging along his back and a cracking sound as his skin tears in a gash from his shoulders to his anus. He feels the old skin letting go of the new skin. Moving his fresh pink fingers beneath the old skin as though removing gloves, he lifts up.

Its hard work, exhausting to lift himself free of the old body into the new body. To be born again. After a great struggle he stands behind the hollow mold of his old self. He is nude. His new body is youthful and fresh. His muscles are strong, shapely and beautiful. All around him, the men and women are bursting their skins, climbing out of them, naked and young and joyful. He catches the sight of a young woman reveling in her new found beauty and his penis becomes erect. Between his shoulders there is something wet and crumpled which is trying to unfold. He shakes his shoulders. Takes another great breath and presses it into his shoulders.

Wings. Not feathered angel wings. Glassine, veined wings, wide and thick and enormous like church windows of stained glass. They are longer than he is tall. The woman is spreading her wings. She takes a stance with her legs apart and raises her arms to heaven.

For a moment he wonders what she is waiting for. Then he knows. He holds up his arms and takes a deep breath, filling his chest.

He sings.

A thunderous full throated masculine note that shakes leaves from trees. He beats his wings and rises. All around him the winged women and men are doing the same, singing in a great deafening chorus, soaring as a flock towards the clouds as the angel blows his trumpet call and blows and blows. The woman is coming to his song. He knows she is for him now. They will be together for eternity. She alights on him and inserts his phallus inside her, beating her wings, clasping him hard with her thighs and arms, burying her face in his neck. He thrusts into her with his virile young body. With a gigantic song of praise to God he explodes into her.

“Unh!” The young man opens his eyes. His whole body is tingling. He lifts up carefully and waits for the clenching spasms in his cock to subside. There is a shiny pool on the sheet. He climbs off the bed, pulls off the wet sheet and tosses it into the corner. In the bathroom he stands at the sink and washes the sticky gunk off his body.

He will take a shower and study the books again. He will make coffee and write to DeEtta. On this new morning he feels bright, buoyant. Relieved. For the first time in days he feels generous. Maybe it’s better, he thinks. Maybe this is what God really wants. He turns on the shower and steps in to the cold water to wash off.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Self love and you aren't alone

"Show me."

Two tiny words that can make the biggest, bravest man cringe, or puff his chest out with delight. The same can be said of women, but perhaps with slightly more cringing than puffing. LOL

How many of us, and this will vary with age, length of relationship and a number of other issues, would leap at the chance to strip bare, lay back and spread our legs, then show our partners/lovers just how we like to touch ourselves? Cripes, how many would dare ask?

We write about it, as Jenna said, it's a great way to bring a little sex into an erotic romance when you don't want your characters to leap into be quite yet. It's also fun to add a masturbation scene into a book for variety. I'm actually a huge fan of using masturbation to torture my characters. Yup, you go right ahead and touch yourself, but don't you dare come or I'll slap/tickle/flog or whatever. The variety of how we self-pleasure and the reasons we come up with are endless. Fetish comes to mind: the sexy sod who lusts after his wife's stilettos, the sexy mature woman who adores the feel of satin, or leather between her thighs, the middle aged banker who can't wait to kneel at his master or mistress' feet.

Oh, and while you're indulging with those fetish items, stroke that pussy, cock, bearded clam, rod for us.

What are these characters thinking of while they stroke? Fantasies they've created for themselves, lovers they've had, want to have or have now. Scenarios they want to try, don't dare try or are possibly illegal, but it's still all right to dream.

Knowing thyself. That means knowing the sexual part of yourself as well as all the other aspects of what makes you... well.. you!

Liking and loving that aspect of you is enormous and often more than people can do, unfortunately. How many of us have secret fantasies we couldn't dare share with our partners? Not even partners you've had for ten, twenty, thirty, or more years? Whether it's shame or embarrassment, there are too many of us still too many of us unwilling, or unable, to share the things that excite us.

But, if you can take that leap. If you can swallow whatever fear holds you back. If you can take a deep breath and blurt out how much you're enamored with your husband's thigh high waders or your wife's frilly lace apron, chances are you'll find they're more than accepting, they're eager to play along with you.

I guess the big secret here is to realize we're all very much alike. No matter what turns you on, there are a dozen, a thousand or more who are into the same thing.

Got a kink or fetish you'd like to share? I'd love to know all about it. Told your special someone and had a good/bad experience, I'd love to hear about those too.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Love the One You're With

By Jenna Byrnes

One negative aspect of writing erotic short stories can be the lack of time for a relationship to blossom. When an author is working within word limit constrictions, it's harder to get to the steamy stuff fast. Readers (and publishers) want sex in their erotic romances. If the characters don't know each other, they come across looking like horndogs when they hop into bed on page three.

Jude Mason and I have addressed this in many of our co-authored works by having the characters in already established relationships. But sometimes, the story calls for a new romance. And it's not always feasible for the sex to happen right off the bat.

One way to get the spice in there early is to throw in a little self-loving. This adds heat, and at the same time, gives the hero/heroine a chance to fantasize about someone they've just met or perhaps only caught a glimpse of.


Denise lay back on the bed and pulled her thick plastic vibrator from the nightstand. She turned it on and the soft hum made her smile. It had been just the two of them for so long now, the next time she was with a man he might have to hum like a vibrator to get her off. She chuckled and spread her legs, slowly inserting her plastic friend as deeply as possible. “Oh yeah,” she moaned, using one hand to thrust the fake cock in and out, and the other hand to massage her breasts and pinch her nipples. She thought once again of the man outside, and envisioned him rising over her.

His cock filled her completely, deliciously, and he pounded her until she couldn't take any more.

“Now!” he grunted out the command and she came explosively, feeling his heat pour into her in waves.

“Yes.” She held on until their simultaneous shuddering had stopped.

“Rest now.” He kissed the side of her face gently. “There are so many more things I’m going to do to you. Relax, and get your energy built back up…”

Denise withdrew the vibrator and turned it off. Her pussy had that pleasant “used and abused” feeling to it, but she still wasn’t satisfied. She wanted more, and she knew who she wanted to give it to her.


When I was looking for excerpts for this blog post, I discovered something interesting. Every masturbation scene I've written has the main character fantasizing about being with someone else. Not one of them was happy to be in the moment, loving the one they were with, so to speak.

I guess this makes sense given the genre. Perhaps an erotica anthology about 'self-love' might celebrate the act, but in erotic romance, apparently it takes two...or tango. Enlightening!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Conversation with Polonius

By Lisabet Sarai

Felix Aylmer as Polonius in Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet", 1948

“This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

The old man shook a gnarled finger at me. His snowy beard wagged as he gulped for air, somewhat overcome by his own animation.

“Good Polonius,” I say, helping him to a velvet-upholstered armchair. “I thank you for your advice. But if we all followed such precepts, what kind of world would we have? A me-first sort of place, full of ego and ambition. No one would hesitate to take advantage of his fellows in order to further his own goals. Violence, cruelty, indifference—to an even greater extent than we already have.”

“Nay, child, 'tis not so. Although I am known as a taciturn and reticent individual, a man of few words who would never vaunt his wisdom or pretend to superior understanding, I cannot refrain from enlightening you and demonstrating the validity of my counsel.”

“Indeed, sir, I wait upon your explanation.” It occurs to me to wonder why I've adopted such antiquated speech patterns, but then, I'm easily influenced. When I visit my relatives in South Carolina, I find myself unconsciously adopting a southern accent. When I'm in New York City, I'm often mistaken for a native.

“As you have truly observed, the world is a sorry place, rife with horrific crimes against God and society that sadden and sicken the hearts of virtuous men such as I. The hard-won wealth of industrious men is squandered and pilfered by perfidious financiers. Did I not say, neither a borrower nor a lender be? Headless bodies are unearthed, the scourge of the undeclared wars between rival purveyors of addictive intoxicants. Every day, it seems, we hear tell of some misguided fanatic hoist with his own petard, taking scores of innocents to hell along with him.

"Some would argue that the perpetrators of such evil deeds suffer from an excess of self-love. In pursuing personal goals, be it glory, riches or power, the villains care not whom they deprive of life or livelihood. Their overarching egoism permits any injury to another. The desires and dreams of others matter not a whit should such desires stand in opposition to the criminal's objectives.”

“Exactly my point.” I slip in my comment as the elderly Dane is gathering his breath for another paragraph or two. “Self-love leads to many ills.”

“You are deluded, daughter, if I may be allowed to say so. I believe that every individual is entitled to hold his or her opinion, however ridiculous, and it is not my place to correct him. Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice, that is my motto. Nevertheless I cannot allow you to persist in such an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

“Yes, sir?” I know I will receive enlightenment whether I agree with him or not.

“These vile creatures who are responsible of the crimes of which we speak, do you think they love themselves? I will be brief. These persons are propelled not by self-appreciation but by self-doubt, inadequacy, an insufficient regard for their own worth which drives them to try and prove that they are better than their peers. It matters not how often they triumph, how full their coffers, how many they slay. No deed, however marvelous or vicious, can assuage their deep-buried convictions of their own worthlessness.”

“So you are of the opinion that self-love engenders virtue rather than vice?”

The elder's cheeks were pink with exertion. He gestured with such energy that, had he a sword, he might well have cut me to the quick.

“I would represent my position not as mere opinion, a bauble to be tossed about in the tavern by drunken wastrels, but as manifest truth. Think on it: what said our Lord Jesus Christ? 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'”

“Sir, I do not think it is advisable to descend into religious arguments on this blog...”

“This is not religion, you green girl, 'tis merely common sense. How is it possible to be considerate, compassionate, generous, if one is not at one's own ease? How can I care for my neighbor unless I care for myself? Kindness toward others is the fruit of self-love, as are respect and affection.

"If you suffer from the belief of that you are inferior, others appear only as threats. Their accomplishments and their worldly possessions accuse you. Voracious envy gnaws your heart. Suspicion clouds your eyes. Believing that you have little, you live in fear that it will be taken from you. Suffering from a sense of lack, you attack those who enjoy the blessings of which you feel you have been deprived.”

“Self-love protects a man from this curse. Knowing one's worth, one can appreciate the worthy deeds of one's fellows. A man who is true to himself can afford to be even-tempered, tolerant, charitable. He can follow my oft-repeated maxim: take every man's censure, but reserve thy judgment. He can share his bounty, loving his neighbor as the Scriptures dictate, because he is confident that no one can deprive him of the love he bears himself.”

Despite his volubility, the old man made some sense. “Well...”

“Think on thine own case, wench. You are a scribbler, I believe, penning fantastic tales for the ignorant masses.”

“Well, I'd like to imagine that my readers are not ignorant...”

“No matter, that is not the meat of the matter. I have heard that you are quite willing to help other authors, are you not? You write peer reviews, offer critiques, share information on opportunities for promulgating news of their activities and for disseminating their own scribbles, and so on, do you not?”

“Um—yes, but I don't see...”

“I beg you not to interrupt your elders, girl, when they are attempting to share their hard-won wisdom!”

“Sorry. I offer my apologies, good Polonius.”

“I accept them graciously as is my wont. Beware of entrance to a quarrel, I always say. Where was I? Oh yes. You are moderately generous with your time and your energy. You do not feel that these other authors are your enemies, do you?”

“No, of course not! I am happy to provide assistance where I can. Many people have helped me. It is only just that I reciprocate, maintaining the flow of positive deeds.”

“You do not envy other authors' success?”

“Perhaps a bit, but I know that in most cases they have worked hard to achieve what renown they may claim.”

“And what do you think about your own writing ability?”

“Well, to be honest, I have a fairly high opinion of my work. I know that I am not a great artist – I will never be a William Shakespeare – but when the inspiration hits, I can write a spicy tale that entertains.”

“You see, you love yourself. You believe yourself to be worthy, in the realm of your writing at least. This allows you to share your time with other writers without feeling threatened. You are true to yourself and hence you cannot be false to your fellows.”

“Hmm. I suppose that you may be right, sir.”

“Of course I am right. Videlicet, a sage, well-tempered in the ways of men, bearing the benedictions of age along with its burdens. But the king calls me, no doubt to solicit my counsel. I must hasten to his chamber. Farewell, Lisabet, and remember well what I have said to you.”

“'Tis in my memory locked, and you yourself shall keep the key to it.”

“Good girl.”

“But Polonius, sir, if I might offer you some advice of my own...”

“What is it, child? Be brief.”

“Do not be too curious or eager to spy. And stay away from the arras.”