Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Those Eyes

“You must try to think how strong the thing inside must be, that you don’t kill yourself when there’s no sun. I wandered in the dark and it made me hard and for a time I think it made me insane. There’s this time, I don’t remember so much and sometimes I hear voices crying in my head from that time. It's not like being blind, you know. When you’re blind you are still wanted, a person of the sun and a human being. But to be without sun, you live like a rat in the dark, and you become so angry and cruel. You are not even human, but you always dream to be, so you hate people. You are out cast like it says in the Bible, into the outer darkness and you’re exile from everything, from the passing of time, and from God and the human beings. You’re nothing. And because why? It’s like being a rape. I didn’t ask for this. If you knew what it was, you wouldn’t ask for it. It was done to me, by someone who was also exile and alone and wanted to see if I could be his companion together. A blind person, he can yet be loved. But no one loves a filthy leech who takes from others and they see you coming and even in the dark they know you’re not right and a thief of the life and they hate you.”

“You haven’t convinced me you’re a vampire yet,” He said, “but I’ll admit you’ve thought about this kind of thing a lot.”

“There is nothing else to think about. I’m not so smart or so special, I’m just ordinary. But the world is so treacherous. It’s like there is this hole, and you fall into the hole and you can’t get out and your whole life changes upside down. The world is full of these holes. A person kills someone, who never killed before. Or he loves his wife but he performs the adultery or some unnatural thing and he’s caught and he’s fallen through to the other side and his life is over and will never be the same. I fell in this hole very long ago and can’t get out.” She poured herself some more tea, emptied the pot. “But you? What is it you want?”

“I want a miracle!” He blurted out and realized it was true.

“What kind of a miracle do you want?” She said.

Nixie and Father Delmar
from “The Dying Light”

A man walks into a kitchen of a suburban house, somewhere outside of Baltimore. The man is about 40 or so, and the person he has come to meet is a girl of about fourteen. To make things worse, he’s naked.

This guy, you can hardly call him a man, this wretch, this doofus, this monster is standing in this nice looking kitchen waiting for his girl to show up and keep their rendezvous. But then a bunch of klieg lights come on pinning the guy in their righteous heat. A big man with a very big video camera on his shoulder comes out of the living room door, followed by a guy with a boom microphone and this TV correspondent named Chris Hansen. This ass-clown isn’t just busted. He’s busted on national television, the MSNBC show “Dateline”. All these people walk up to him and the camera zooms into his face. His eyes. They’re haunting. Once you see those eyes, you’ll see them in your worst dreams.

This isn’t terror the dingbat showy screamy way it’s depicted in the movies. No, this is what it really looks like when a human being witnesses his life implode right out from under him. This is the face of the mother on the phone at three in the morning when the Georgia State Highway Patrol calls and her daughter isn’t home yet. This is the guy sitting in the doctor’s examination room with the X ray of his balls pinned on the light panel on the wall. The face of parents looking out the window as the grim faced messenger in dress blues comes up the sidewalk with a doleful letter from the Office of the Secretary of Defense in his hands.

Real world ape-shit terror is this naked guy on TV. Silent. Almost calm. He’s emotionally shutting down, blue screened, memory dumped, totally honked, a skull full of quivering white noise in which thought is off line and dropping into free fall.

His eyes jitterbug from face to face. His lower lip trembles. It doesn’t even occur to him to scream because screaming or crying out to God or his life passing in front of his eyes, none of that bullshit will get him out of this. He stands in the hot silver lights and goes on breathing. It is the revelation that his life is over and from this instant on he will be one of the walking dead and the human cry will pursue him like the eye of God followed Cain across the wilderness. Now he will be defined by only one event. Life as he has always known it has collapsed in an instant. He will never get it back. Not ever.

Don’t get me wrong. This guy, and all the other guys who melt and whimper and threaten and sometimes plead for mercy in the stern presence of this camera crew from Hell, they deserve it. That’s not what we’re talking about here. There is something horribly visceral and communal about witnessing another man’s nightmare. This idiot, this cringing little fiend, had a life up until that moment. A job. A future with plans for the summer. Friends. Neighbors with barbeques. Trash pickup on Wednesday. Alternate parking on Sundays. A wife. Maybe even, the mind boggles, a little girl. But in one instant, all that is swept away. Its different from having a hurricane drown your family or losing them in a car wreck. You can’t help those things. This guy saw Nixie’s Hole and jumped right in.

I’ve had dreams at night where I did things that were seriously weird. Really deranged things that in past times might have landed you on a therapist’s couch. But that’s not it either – it’s the feeling you have in your dream when you know you’ve done something pretty dammed strange or just plain wrong and you’re scared you’ll never get it back – but wait! Ah! Your eyes open in the dark. Your wife slumbers next to you. The ceiling fan turns overhead. A glance at the clock and the alarm will be going off in one more hour. Aw shit! Aw thank you God. Oh it was just a dream. I didn’t screw my mother. I didn’t murder the pope. The world is not being attacked by ravenous vampire armies. Oh Jesus, I’ll be a good boy from now on I promise I will. Thankyouthankyou.

For the guy on the TV screen – it’s all over but the suicide. He stands nude in the hot lights like a hideous silly dream with the news guy in the suit and the yammering voices asking him questions he can’t hear for the sound of his own heart pounding in his ears and the insane world just keeps going on and on and it never stops. That look in the suit’s eyes – it’s the first time he’ll be seeing that look. He’ll be seeing that look in the eyes of every person he knows from now on, forever.

John Edwards, running for president. His staff knows about what he’s doing with that Hunter woman. They’re so terrified of what can happen this has become their nightmare too. They’re seriously thinking of sabotaging this campaign just to make sure he doesn’t actually win and have all this insanity come out after he’s the goddamn president. They’re running in circles because the see the cloud of Nightmare gathering over their own heads. Republican politicians, dragging them under like schools of ravenous piranhas, sticking them up in front of Senate Hearing Committees on CSPAN: “What did you know and when did you know it?” Their own careers ruined. These guys didn’t fall in Nixie’s Hole, they never asked for it, they’re chained like galley slaves to the randy boner of their leader and he’s heading right for it.

The last night, as Edwards leaves the woman’s room, feeling slick from her juices down below. Feeling stud.

“Excuse me Mr. Edwards.” A stranger waiting for him as he steps off the elevator.

The tabloid reporter chasing him down the hotel hallway, the sonuvabitch knows - everything! – and Edwards scuttling like a roach into the men’s toilet near the lobby in the early morning with this Enquirer reporter and his howling crew throwing their shoulders on the door. From this moment on, his accomplishments, his plans to help the poor, all of that will mean nothing. He will be defined forever by this one thing. The men’s toilet with the smell of piss on the floor. The face in the gilt edged mirror over the gold plated faucets. He has those eyes.

Not only does he not wake up from this nightmare, but the fun never stops. The woman’s confession. She’s pregnant and claims it’s his. He refuses DNA tests. His best buddy rats him out and writes a book about it and makes a zillion dollars while Elizabeth Edwards wastes away from cancer on the cover of People magazine. And there are tapes. Tapes!

I’ve had those eyes too, but so far only in dreams. Sometimes when I watch these human implosions on the news I think “There but for God’s mercy it could be me.” And a little voice in the back of my mind whispers “It can still be you, little buddy. Your own vanities are just waiting to be thrown on the bonfire.”

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dripping Crimson

When I was little, my nightmares were about machines that moved on their own, or cars bearing down on me when I couldn't move. Even then, I knew those dreams were about control. I had no power over my life and I hated it. Even worse, I didn't trust the people who did have power over me.

Gradually, those nightmares gave way to what I call my red or green dreams.

My parents abandon my sisters and me at a Victorian brownstone. We're shown into a parlor with a keyhole entryway that's hung with red velvet drapes. The furniture is heavy and upholstered in red silk and velvet. It stinks like an antique store and copper. There's some sort of meeting with people we don't know. As the people mill around talking, someone is murdered. No one saw it happen. Everyone rushes over to look at the body. At the back of the crowd, a man lies in a thick pool of his blood.

My eldest sister quickly figures out that the second we lose eye contact with people, the murderer strikes. People are dropping dead so fast that there are few of us left alive. So we three sisters link arms in a formation so we can keep watch on each other as we back out of the room.

You'd think we'd head for the door. We don't. As many times as I've had this dream, I've tried lucid dreaming to force us toward the front door. But the nightmare leaps ahead, putting us where it wants us - at the top of a dark, carved staircase.

We enter a bedroom. The bed is four poster, surrounded by red curtains. There's red watermark silk on the walls. We barricade the door, but my eldest sister and I don't feel safe. We head for the bathroom. I realize that our other sister didn't follow. I turn around. She's sitting up on the bed, but there's an axe in her skull. Blood trickles down her cheek. It's my fault for losing sight of her. When I turn to my eldest sister, she's in the bathtub, stabbed countless times. It's my fault for turning away when I knew in my heart that our other sister was already dead. As many times as I've had this dream though, I've never been able to keep both of them safe.

How it ends: I'm looking in the mirror, watching myself, because that's the only way I can be safe. Then I turn away from the mirror so that the killer can get me.

The smell of damp earth is so strong that I can barely breathe. I'm in a dense, lush jungle. The air is so hot and humid that walking is like swimming. This is not a nightmare; it's a night terror - a "wake up screaming, afraid to ever fall asleep again, not able to shake it for days" night terror. In this dream, I'm a dispassionate killer. It's been years since I've had a green dream, but the memory is so vivid that it still terrifies me.

I'm in an old theater. Gilt cherubs and drama masks look down from second and third story balconies. The seats on floor are covered in red velvet. I'm on the red carpet on the floor, looking up at the ceiling. An unseen person cradles my head in their lap. I'm calm, even though I know what will happen. As with my other nightmares, this is a recurring one.

The centerpiece of the baroque ceiling overhead is an orrery (a mechanical model of the universe). In this universe, black Saturn is the center, not the sun. Distant calliope music starts to play, only it hisses, pops, and warbles as if coming from an old record. The planets in the orrey lurch forward in their orbits. A gold shooting star slides along a track in the ceiling from the orrey toward the stage. When it gets to the stage, the red curtain rises. A grainy black and white movie flickers on the screen. The countdown begins as a black line sweeps over the numerals: 7,6,5... When it reaches one, the movie starts. The person cradling my head slits my throat.

My nightmares are as stuffed with Freudian symbolism as a Henrik Ibsen play. In daylight, you can only imagine the wry smile that elicits, considering the disdain I have for Freud. But at night, when the scents get intense and those jewel tone reds or greens fill my vision, it's not so easy to laugh.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Girl's Recurring Dream

Driving down a dark road at night. Unfamiliar road and car, and not driving, but riding in the passenger's seat. Just that alone is enough to render me uneasy from the start.

So far, there is darkness and loss of control. And nothing has happened yet.

A disembodied voice, that in my dream I know belongs to the driver, tells me to fasten my seatbelt. Reasonable request that sends shivers through me even as I comply, because I've been here before and I know what is to come. The prescience only heightens my dread.

I've had this dream dozens of times in my life, beginning around the age of ten.

And here comes the bridge. An old-fashioned bridge like you see in rural areas of the Midwest or New England, wooden with slats that don't seem suffcient to hold the weight of an automobile. Short railings along the side, and it's through these railings we crash, plummenting the thankfully short distance to the water below.

The water begins to fill the car, first slowly, then with a rush as the driver rolls down the window and frees him/herself, abandoning me to my fate. I frantically push at the old-fashioned push button release of the seatbelt, to no avail. It's stuck fast and the belt has tightened around me. Thrashing around, I try desperately to loosen the stricture. Nothing helps and the water inexorably rises as the car sinks.

Chest. Neck. Chin. Ears, as I tilt my head, still working at the belt, my fingers growing numb in the frigid matte black water. Temples, and now I'm submerged, thinking belatedly that I should have taken a deep breath before I lost the opportunity. My lungs are bursting with the need to breathe.

Just as I can hold my breath no longer...I snap awake. Sometimes bolt upright in bed. Sometimes in a random part of the house, always in motion as if I was running from my fate as I couldn't do in my subconscious. Always breathing as if to suck in every molecule of blessed oxygen within reach.

I don't know whether I've been holding my breath in actuality, as in my dream.

And I wonder sometimes what will happen the time I have this dream...and don't wake up in time. All I know is, I don't want to die in my sleep like many people say they do, because I fear this would be my last experience on earth.

Let me be aware and able to act, oh please, oh please.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


By Lisabet Sarai

They're coming. I've locked the windows and the doors, but I know that won't keep them out indefinitely. Now I'm on the second floor, with no way to escape. I hear the squeal of the wooden front door being torn apart. Where can I hide? In the bathroom there's a cupboard under the sink, with a louvered door. I squeeze myself into the cramped space, close the door, hold my breath. Footsteps on the stairs. Shadows cast against the barred light that enters my place of concealment. My chest hurts; I must release the air trapped in my lungs. I allow myself to exhale, as slowly and quietly as I can. They've left the bathroom now and they're checking the closets. Maybe I'll be safe after all. Then the cabinet is thrown open and I'm dragged out, screaming, to stand before their leader.

Who are they, these invaders? Sometimes they are vampires, sometimes aliens or zombies, sometimes a cult of evil witches and sorcerers—always creatures with power. They are often fiendishly attractive, hardly ever physical monsters. Yet I know that they'll kill me, though I'm never sure why.

Just like my other dreams, my nightmares have elaborate plots. The motivations, though, are hardly ever clear. The only certainty in these dreams is fear.

Sometimes I try to negotiate with the leader, to bargain for my life. Sometimes I wake up just as I am dying. The worst dreams, though, are the ones where I discover I'm holding a knife or a sword, and plunge it into the villain's body, again and again. Then I awaken, drenched with sweat, my heart racing, trying to wipe the images from my mind. The most awful nightmares are the ones where I find myself turning into the evil one.

I shudder when I think about the sensations, the yielding of the monster's flesh as my blade enters. How do I know what this feels like? I've never stabbed anyone, but in my dream I don't hesitate at all. I can't get the scene out of my thoughts. I get up, use the bathroom, drink some water, trying to banish the taint of violence. Sometimes I'm successful, but the doubts linger. Am I really capable of such acts? Could I mortally wound someone under the right circumstances? If not, then why do I dream it?

In the real world, I consider myself a peacemaker. I dislike confrontation. I'm willing to compromise for the sake of mutual harmony. I consider most if not all wars unjust. I demonstrated against the Vietnam war and the invasion of Iraq. I strongly believe that violence is counter-productive, that it merely breeds more violence in a vicious circle of retribution. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are my heroes.

So what does it mean that I sometimes dream of wielding a knife against an enemy?

Unlike many romance authors, I've never created a warrior hero. A few of my books, notably Exposure and Necessary Madness, include some violence—murders, beatings, arson, attempted rape. After all, it's difficult to write a thriller without some spilling some blood. I'm never all that comfortable writing about these topics, however, and I don't think that I do it very well. When I wrote Exposure, I worried that it was unacceptably dark; reviewers, though, seemed to see it as almost a romp.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I occasionally use my dreams as starting points for my stories. I wonder if I could harness my nightmares in the same way. Horror is a genre that I find totally beyond my understanding (other than at the level of parody). Dark erotica, however, like the work of Helen Madden or Polly Frost, is a sub-genre that I appreciate even though I've never been able to create it myself. Perhaps I could use my own dark dreams as a starting point. I should mention that in the recurring nightmare above, my negotiation is sometimes sexual. I'll offer myself for the pleasure of the evil crowd, in return for my survival.

The scenario above is not, of course, my only nightmare. I dream of elevator cables suddenly giving way (the classic dream of falling); of fat, chitinous bugs crawling out from the walls and across my skin; of losing my husband and having no idea where he is or how to contact him. The experience of assaulting my enemy is the most disturbing, though. I'd like to believe that's not me—but how can I disavow any of the images concocted by my mind?

For our Saturday guest, I've invited Kim Richards, horror author and founder of Damnation Books, to join us. Meanwhile, I'm understandably curious about the nightmares of my fellow Grip authors—and of our readers.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why Place Matters

Greg Herren

For me, nothing brings a story more vividly to life than a strong sense of place.

Imagine Stephen King’s work without his brilliantly rendered Maine small towns. Imagine Julie Smith’s powerful New Orleans mysteries with no descriptions of the city, or Sarah Paretsky’s without a sense of Chicago. The list goes on and on—and goes even further back than the modern era. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind would not have worked without the reader being caught up in Scarlett’s love for Tara and her admiration for Atlanta.

Place should be as important to a writer as creating realistic three dimensional characters—even if the setting is a fictional place. In my own work, New Orleans is integral to every plot—and I treat the city as another character. The story is much more likely to engage the reader and their imagination if they can visualize the setting—and much more real to them as well. Nothing pleases me more than getting a review or an email from a reader saying reading my work made them feel like they were actually walking down the streets of the French Quarter or driving around the city.

And it’s really easy to do.

The sights, sounds, and smells of a city are so easy to render that I often wonder why more writers don’t pay more attention to those details. I want my readers to see themselves experiencing the same details that my characters are observing—the heavy smell of garlic outside Irene’s Restaurant, the thick greasy air outside the Clover Grill, or the powerful odor of pine cleaner the French Quarter reeks of every morning as business owners hose down the sidewalks. Those tiny details are what bring a story to life and allow a reader to lose themselves in a fictional world while sitting on the bus, in their living room, or on the beach far away from New Orleans. Whenever I walk around New Orleans, I am constantly observing what is in store windows, the smells coming from restaurants or bars, the sounds of cars and carriage rides, what color the sky is, how strong the sun’s rays are, and the scents of the flora and fauna that proliferate here.

Place can also help you define and build a character. As I mentioned before, Gone with the Wind and Scarlett would not have worked without that strong sense of place Mitchell evoked in her prose. If we couldn’t see Tara, experience its views and vistas, imagine its smells, Scarlett’s love for the place—which was one of the building blocks of her character as well as the story—would not have been so powerful, and the book most likely would not still be in print seventy five years after its first publication. (Dickens, Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Faulkner were also masters of place, and undoubtedly would not be considered literary masters if that key component was missing from their work.)

When I was creating my character Scotty Bradley, I kind of visualized him as the embodiment of the unusual spirit of New Orleans—carefree and determined to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of life. Scotty grew up in New Orleans, and like so many of us who live here, cannot imagine living anywhere else. His love for his hometown is an integral part of his character, and I think part of the reason why he is so loved by readers is because he is such an embodiment of the values and joie de vivre of the city. The books—and character—simply would not work in any other place, and in order to make those stories work, it was essential for me to try to capture what makes New Orleans so unique and special on the page.

So, when creating your work, don’t forget how important place is to the success of your story. Transport the reader from their living room to a place maybe they’ve never been before, and make them want to go there.

Greg Herren is the award winning author of twelve novels, and currently works as an editor for Bold Strokes Books. His fourth Scotty Bradley novel, VIEUX CARRE VOODOO, will be published on May 15, 2010. Signed copies can be ordered by contacting the Garden District Bookshop in New Orleans at

Friday, March 26, 2010

Anywhere, USA

I'd have to say I am very much like Ashley with this topic. I don't go into too much detail with the location of my stories. Part of that is due to the fact that I tend to write short pieces which don't require much in the way of place setting, and partially due to simply not knowing any place well enough to pull it all off.

I have lived in the same small town now for 4 years and I still don't know my way around. I can get to the places I go to frequently - the college campus, my daughter's school, the grocery, the bookstore, the library, and so on. But whenever someone asks how to get to some place I don't go often, I draw a blank. I don't know what is more then three streets over from me on the west, or what's north of the local Wal-Mart, nor south of the grocery store. I simply am not much for exploring my surroundings. (Plus, I tend to get turned around and lost very easily. I have direction issues.)

It also helps that when we go anywhere, my husband tends to drive. Getting a bit car sick, I tend to read a lot when I am in the car, and not look around at the scenery.

So I really don't feel comfortable enough, even writing about Kansas City, to write in any real detail, even though I spent years there, and love the city.

So I tend to go for a vague description of location and let the readers fill it in, with only a few exceptions. My alternate reality series is set in Kansas City, but since it is mostly in ruins and being rebuilt, I don't have to sweat the details.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Your Town

by Ashley Lister

With the majority of my fiction, I try to set it in the generic location of Your Town. The landscape is vaguely familiar to everyone with its bumpy church steeples and chunky, modern office blocks. There are the familiar sights of a Burger King, McDonalds or Pizza Hut, as well as the local museums, schools and book shops. It’s a town that every reader already knows because every reader already lives there. And it’s a town that is nothing more than a convenient location for the story’s events.

I read some authors who bring a city to life, and I read others who personify a location to such an extent it becomes a pathetic fallacy: a character in the fiction with its own distinct personality. I’m not one of those authors. I have never known a location so well I can comfortably write about it in a fictional narrative. So I choose not to set my work in a specific location.

Admittedly, I’ve written novels that were based in such exotic cities as New York, Rome, Paris and London. I’ll be honest with you: I’ve only visited one of those places. The rest of my research came from holiday brochures, movies and online dalliances with Google Maps and other such paraphernalia.

I’ve written one novel where most of the events took place in an English village with a sinister secret. The village looked like every English village I’ve ever driven through whilst trying to find a McDonalds or a Pizza Hut. I didn’t describe the place so it looked like a specific location – it was more an amalgam of English villages.

The same amalgam was applied for the novel I set in rural France. Again, it wasn’t the specific location that was of importance. The essential thing for that story was that my central character was isolated, alone and surrounded by potentially hostile locals. As an Englishman, I figured France would be appropriate for those conditions.

But I’m not a writer who can bring a city, town or village to life, so I don’t bother wasting my efforts. The New York story was placed in that city because it needed the glamour that is quintessentially New York. The Rome story was set in Rome because it was a vampire story and I needed to contrast the vampire’s irreligiousness with Vatican City, as well as my heroine’s involvement with all things operatic. The Paris story needed the allure of contemporary avant garde French culture and the London story completed the trilogy.

As I said before, I respect and admire those authors who can bring a city to life. But, personally, I’m happier writing about Your Town. After all, it’s the place that you know best.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Every Blossum a Peach

There is a dandelion here in my back yard as tall as a tree. I fight it out, getting the weed tool in deep almost to the handle – and sonuvabitch – the blade busts off.

I throw it down and flop over on my back. I just lay in the weeds that way watching the dark heavy clouds go by and wondering if I have tornado insurance. I have never seen a tornado. I have lived in Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Minnesota, Illinois, East Texas, West Texas, North Texas, South Texas, Louisiana, every state in Tornado Alley and have never seen a tornado.

Normally I don’t feel old. I feel pretty much the way I did in my thirties. But when I get down pulling weeds, I come away feeling my mortality all over, wondering how many years I’ve got left. I turn my head away from the clouds and look at my darling, my jewel. My little peach tree. It’s a tiny thing, sort of like a bonsai peach tree if there’s such a thing. But this little tree, it has guts. It has heart. I count about 47 blossoms and more on the way. It blossoms before it has leaves, which says something about sex in the scheme of things. I bought this tree when it was a skinny sapling and planted it the first year I lived here as a talisman against my karma. This is the first home I’ve ever owned, on paper at least. I will not pay the mortgage off during my lifetime. This the first tree I’ve ever planted. These are the first weeds that have offended me. The peach tree is my statement to God about my life. My living prayer to whoever is in charge here – please let me stay this time.

My very first memory is lying in a baby crib. Above my head was a mobile of bright little colored plastic birds. A red bird, which many years later I think must have been a little Cardinal. My pudgy hand reaches for it and in that moment my destiny and curse are set. My next memory is of moving. And the next. And the next. I have never lived more than five years in any one place in all my life because somebody in my family was always reaching out for something they couldn’t touch. In the more than half a century of my sojourn here on God’s foot stool I have never lived in a place more than five years. Ever.

The jobs for my father kept us moving up the ladder but they were always somewhere else. Then there were my religious years, the most intensely wandering period of my life. And then the after-religious years, where my job-career or whatever it is I should call it, that kept moving too. They make you this offer you can’t refuse. If you want to know where your family’s next meal is – it’s over that-away. 1995-2000; Panama. 2000-2003; Puerto Rico. 2003-2005; San Antonio Texas. 2005 – 2010; Augusta.

2010. Coming up against the mark. 2010 – the year Arthur C Clarke thought we would make contact with aliens. Two more years and the world is supposed to end. I see the bees having sex with my peach blossoms and think, this would be as a good a place for the world to end as any.

Got to get a weed digger.

I take off for the Green Thumb Nursery down the road and my kid comes with me. I love this place. I could get a weed digger cheaper at Wal-Mart but I want to go to Green Thumb just for the beano. Its where I got my tree. I buy carnivorous plants there when they come in. The green house has a silent serenity to it like a shrine to all living things. I see a tropical pitcher plant I covet, even though its expensive. It’s a Nepenthes Miranda, a monster native to Thailand, with pitchers as big as beer mugs. I leave the green house to stop thinking about it and go outside and stand by the water garden and my kid wanders off. I always visit the water garden. Water gardens are a kind of southern thing, because of the mild winters. This water garden is a small artificial pond about six by four feet. Its filled with plants. But it’s the big gold fish I come to see. I stand looking at the fish for a long time. The fish hang in the water like small orange zeppelins, at peace, not moving. A couple of fish browse on the surface, watching me without fear. They have everything they need. They have everything they want.

The ache in my muscles (why does my ass hurt too?) makes me count the years that may be left. I’m 56. My dad died at about 76. My uncles have mostly made it up to 80. We’ll say fifteen years. Anything after that is a bonus round. And then what? Oblivion? Heaven or hell? I squat down and watch the fish. I want to be the God who gave all that to those fish. Good water. Lots of food. Safety from predators. They could live longer than wild fish, in a simple and uneventful life that never changes. I would like to make a heaven where that would be possible where every blossom becomes a peach, where nothing is starved or lonely. Where the women come and go offering passion and intimacy and wisdom and there are no secrets between any of us.

Is that a good heaven to offer anyone? Would women, or anyone at all in such a peaceful and safe place even be capable of anything like intimacy or passion, the emotional rawness of all or nothing desire? I have lived so in many places where there was nothing safe or guaranteed.

The road years, everything changing and moving, intense, crazy, adventurous, beautiful, ugly, sacred, profane, obscene, sometimes mortally dangerous. People pulled guns on me. One guy pulled a knife. Men hunted for me in the dark, intending to kill me. Those were exciting years, but you can push your luck. Now Augusta.

I wave my hand over the water and the shadow passes over the fish below. They must see it, but they never move.

My kid comes up. “Whatcha doing?”

“Watching these fish.”

He’s instantly bored. “Are we going soon?”

“Yeah. I just want to watch these fish a minute. I wonder how they make it through the winter.”

Without Augusta there would be no writing. That is one of the things writers never talk about. Especially male writers. We want to be Hemingway, or Hunter Thompson or Bukowski some gruff voiced adventurer who has lived among cannibals, lived with beautiful women, slept till noon and screwed them all. But the dirty secret is you can’t write that way. The hardest thing about writing really is just getting your ass in the chair and keeping it there until you’re done. Every single day. It’s a job for married guys. Guys who aren’t going anywhere in particular. There’s nothing glamorous about it. It’s as solitary and just as lonely as masturbation. You go to that place where the chair and the keyboard are and you do those rituals that allow you to crawl as far into your head as you can before shouting women and children arrive to pull you out of it. For that you need stability. Its no coincidence I didn’t write anything during my road days or my moving around years. You have to stay put. Then you have the problem those goldfish have. A quiet life but not much to say. If the fish had to write only what they know – what would they write?

Augusta is that dull and stable little place that erupts once a year for the Masters Golf Tournament and then nothing ever happens again. But it’s a good place for me to patch my bones, tally up the check and try to make sense of where I’ve come from. Then to write. I do write what I know. What I know is the inside of my head and the many pathways that might have been. The Red Door.

“I’ve been talking to Daniel.” My kid says. Daniel is his cousin-birth brother in New York City.

“How’s he doing?”

“He says he’s going to NYU next year.”

“That’s great.”

“That’s where I want to go.”

“We don’t have the money. Its better if you go to Georgia State, you need to keep your grades up so you can get a scholarship for it.”

“But I really want to go to New York.”

“What’s so hot about New York?”

“I want to live in New York City.”

“I’ve lived in Manhattan, it’s not for everybody. It’s crazy. You feel like the whole world is made out of concrete.”

“That’s why I want to go there – it’s where everything is!”

“You want to get out of Augusta.”


I watch the fish, hanging there, lips moving. Nothing happening

I remember the road. 1983. Arkansas. I remember the Sheriff of Batesville dropping me and Eddie at the county line in the middle of the night, in the dark. He patted his gun holster. He said ‘Don’t come back, kid.” True story.

Down below, the fish don’t move. They never move. My kid is about seventeen. He’s just getting started.

“You’re right, you know? You need to get the hell out of this town.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

La Ciudad de Nuestra Senora, la Reina de los Angeles

The City of our Lady, Queen of Angels.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the name of the city now. It made a heck of a lot more sense than Los Angeles- The Angels- but I shouldn’t gripe. Whoever was in charge of the US takeover of these former Spanish colonies could have pulled an Ellis Island and anglicized her name to Ladysville. But I still feel as if someone decided to send a message and cut us down to size. Obviously, we didn’t take the hint.

Dorothy Parker is credited with saying that “Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city.” Dorothy was a witty woman, but that quote reeks of smug New York disdain, not knowledge. At least Raymond Chandler knew what he was talking about, even if he didn’t paint a flattering portrait. Walter Mosley got it right. So did James Ellroy. LA is huge. And it’s complex. Anyone who tells you “Los Angeles is” doesn’t get that Los Angeles are.

This year, writer James Buchanan and I both came out with novels titled Personal Demons. Both stories are set in LA. Both are contemporary gay erotica. Both feature a Caucasian main character and his Latino (talk about a loaded word to use here in LA)lover. Both have a main character with a drinking problem. Both mention the wildfires – a more consistent threat here than earthquakes. Both feature unconventional religions, gods, and magic. Yet if you read both novels, you’ll think we’re talking about different planets.

James writes about the cops, courts, and gangs; and the neighborhoods of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Inland Empire, and downtown (yes, there is actually a downtown LA, Miss Parker). A practicing lawyer, with family roots that run deep in firefighting and law enforcement, Buchanan writes police procedurals that reflect real LA, not the made for TV version.

My Los Angeles is not the one James Buchanan writes. Residents of the beach cities have a unique inflection that makes every statement sound like a question. Taking your dog to the coffee house is normal near the beach. Where James Buchanan’s LA reflects its Mexican heritage, the South Bay region is historically influenced by Japanese culture. Here, you take off your shoes before entering a friend’s house. If you go to an Asian market, you hand the money to the cashier with both hands. If I wrote about South Bay gangs, they wouldn’t be Crips, Bloods, or Mexican Mafia. They’d look a lot like model Asian high school students, because many of them are. While you may laugh at the idea, local police and teachers don’t. But you could live next door to me and never see these things, because this metro area isn’t just 4,580 square miles of uninterrupted humanity. It’s a collection of parallel universes sharing the same geographic space.

While James Buchanan and I write different versions of LA, we’re both right. History, culture, geography, and ethnic mix of the neighborhoods affect our characters, as they should. Our characters come from somewhere, and that somewhere is part of who they are. Getting place right isn’t about mentioning landmarks or the local cuisine. It’s capturing the little details of customs and speech that make a setting matter and the characters belong there.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Power of Place

By Lisabet Sarai

The roar of an unmuffled motor roused them from their embrace. A narrow boat with a high, sharp prow raced passed them, leaving the barge rocking gently in its wake. ‘A long-tail boat, as they are called,’ said Somtow. ‘A modern adaptation of the traditional dragon boats that plied the river in past centuries.’ He kissed her again, lightly. ‘Personally, I prefer a more leisurely pace.’

Katherine stood up and leaned on the gunwale, taking in the myriad sights of the river. Stretches of verdant jungle alternated with rickety-looking wooden houses, perched on stilts at the river's edge. Women in sarongs squatted on the porches of these shacks, doing laundry or cooking on charcoal braziers. The delicious smell of frying garlic came to her across the water.

She saw the slick heads of children, heard their shrill cries as they splashed each other. A flat-bottomed boat piled high with bananas passed their barge, propelled by a long pole in the hands of an elderly woman in a conical straw hat.

Then she caught sight of tiled roofs and gilded spires through the palm trees. It was a wat, a Buddhist temple, inaccessible except by water. A winding stairway led from the complex of buildings down to the shore. At water level sat a small pavilion, with the typical peaked roof and upturned eaves. Katherine saw a young man draped in orange robes seated there, pensively watching the river flow by. The monk looked up as they passed. Katherine felt an ache in her chest. His beautiful, serious face, lit by the late-morning sun, was too perfect.

Immersed in the scenes on the riverside, Katherine started when she felt Somtow's hands on her hips. She twisted around to look at him.

‘No,’ he said, ‘please, just stay the way you are.’ She obeyed, turning back the river and leaning her elbows on the railing. She felt her skirt being drawn up, until it was around her waist. Next, her knickers were pulled down until they were at her ankles.

From Raw Silk

My stories are about places almost as much as they are about people. In many cases, my settings act almost like additional characters. They establish the story context, generate conflicts and influence the action. Often, the characters only make sense in the place where I've put them.

Kate's odyssey of sexual self-discovery in Raw Silk could not have occurred anywhere else but in Thailand. Only in Bangkok could she have become entangled with a Dom who runs a go-go bar and a minor prince, or been seduced by the free-wheeling sensuality of the Thai culture.

Kathleen's topic for this week is “Writing Where You Know”. I know Thailand fairly well, having lived there for several years and visited frequently after we moved away. Bangkok is in my blood and spills out in many of my stories. I try to capture its contradictions and fascinations, and mirror them in my characters.

Places seduce me. I soak up their essence and then try to recreate them on the page. I was once lucky enough to live in Boston's historic Beacon Hill district for a year. The cobbled streets called to me. I walked them in a daze, drunk with history. I worked to capture this sense of past enduring into the present in Incognito, which has action set in Beacon Hill in both contemporary and Victorian times.

Miranda felt delightfully free as she strolled down Charles Street, enjoying the afternoon. It was only May, but already the trees were in full leaf, dappling the brick side walks with patterns of shadow. Girls passed her in tank tops and shorts, legs and arms bare and already burnished with sun. She felt warm in her long-sleeved pullover and overalls.

She loved this district, with its historic buildings and narrow lanes. Most of the town houses dated from the middle of the previous century. They offered a delightful jumble of architectural detail; wrought-iron balconies, fanlight transoms, stained glass, mullioned windows, Corinthian columns. Many of the brick-fronted buildings were draped with ivy. Some were traversed by aged trunks as thick as her wrist, twining around doors up to the many-chimneyed roofs. The tall windows offered glimpses of chandeliers, Oriental carpets, Siamese cats, and bookshelves that stretched floor to ceiling.

In Beacon Hill, gas lamps lined all the streets, burning day and night. Her own apartment looked out on a private alley, flanked by ivy-hung brick walls and lit by gas lights. Miranda appreciated the irony of her living in an environment that dated from the same period as her research. Perhaps, she sometimes thought playfully, I had a previous life as a Victorian matron.

Most of Beacon Hill was entirely residential, but Charles Street was lined with shops and caf├ęs. There were many vendors of books and antiquities; Miranda loved to rummage through the crowded, chaotic shops, savouring the atmosphere of the past, although she rarely made a purchase.

She entered one of these places now, a dim, comfortable space half below street level. She had to duck her head as she entered. A silvery bell tinkled to announce her arrival.

The proprietor, an energetic, fussy old man with wire spectacles, knew her by sight. “Hello, hello,” he said as he emerged from a back room. “Can I help you find anything today?”

Miranda smiled. “No, thank you. I’m just browsing at the moment.”

“Well, if I can be of any assistance, just let me know.”

Miranda wandered happily through the shop. It was much larger than it first appeared, with several rooms stretching backward into the building. The front room, near the street, was crowded with furniture of obsolete categories, armoires, commodes, carved dressing tables surmounted by triple mirrors. There were other rooms with porcelain, jewellery, cutlery, iron fittings, tarnished brass. Finally, Miranda found herself in the book room.

Books were piled everywhere, in boxes, on shelves, in pillars that reached up from the middle of the floor. Although most were in English, Miranda noticed volumes in French, Russian, and Arabic. The room was veiled in dust, but Miranda did not mind. She loved the rich smell of the leather bindings, the tarnished gold embossing, the fragile texture of the old paper.

-- From Incognito

The shop Miranda visits actually exists, or at least it did back when I lived on Charles Street. Miranda's apartment borrows a lot from the one we rented, with its windows filled with wavy glass and its rickety fire escape overlooking the brick-lined back court. It was easy for me to imagine Beacon Hill in Beatrice's time (the Victorian era). At night I could see her ghost tripping along the cobbles, veiled, on her way to an assignation with a stranger.

Of course, not every place that I've been is exotic. That doesn't stop me from using those locations in my tales. When I was in graduate school I had a boyfriend from Nebraska and spent quite a bit of time there. That flat state stretching across the middle of America has found its way into a number of my stories.

The tractor was acting up again. I was on my knees in the straw, surrounded by greasy parts, when Sally came running into the barn.

"There's a tornado coming, Joe. Heard it just now on the North Platte radio station."

I looked her over. Her hair had half-escaped from her barrette and was floating in red-brown wisps around her ears. Her apron was damp; she must have been washing the lunch dishes. She was breathing hard from her run, ample breasts rising and falling under her print dress. I saw worry in her eyes, justifiable worry.

Twisters are no joke. When one comes roaring across the corn fields, all you can do is hide. In '96 we lost a barn and two horses, while we shivered together in the crawl space, holding each other tight and listening to the wind scream. After that, I built a proper cellar. I might not be able to save our property, but our lives were a different story.

I nodded to her, already covering the parts with a tarp and weighting it down. "Open the house windows, lock the door, and meet me in the cellar. I'll just be a few minutes." Without another word she went to follow my instructions.

Already I could feel that weird electricity in the air, that heaviness that makes it hard to draw breath. The horses were restless. I opened their stalls, so that they would have a chance if the building collapsed. They huddled nervously in the corners. Leaving the upper windows open wide to equalize the pressure, I locked the doors and headed for the bulkhead.

The sky was a sickly green. A mass of inky thunderheads sat ominously on the horizon. It was perfectly still, no hint of a breeze stirring the July afternoon, as I swung open the doors and headed down the concrete stairs.

I was mighty proud of the storm cellar. It stood some distance from the house, just east of Sally's kitchen garden. I had heard of folks who survived a twister in their cellar but who were trapped when the house collapsed on top of it. My cellar was spacious, twelve feet by fourteen, with a ceiling high enough to accommodate my six foot frame.

It was well-equipped. It had a little refrigerator (which I kept stocked with beer) that ran off a car battery, a good supply of canned goods and fresh water, a comfortable double mattress and some directors chairs, plenty of battery-powered lights and candles. Not to mention the flogging bench and the bondage frame that I had built in my spare time, and a reasonable assortment of home-crafted floggers, paddles and dildos.

-- From “Twister”, in Rough Caress

I've been fortunate to have travelled more than most people. Foreign locales almost always stir up a story or two. Here's a snippet set in Amsterdam.

"You know me. The coolest of the cool."

But I'm not. In fact I've been obsessed ever since last night, when Jane and I wandered through the red light district, staring at the women who waited behind the glass in their rose-tinted rooms. We wove our way through clumps of nervous, intoxicated men who were all staring, too. I could smell their sweat, underneath the beer and the pot smoke. I could feel their lust. It infected me.

They barely noticed us, two teenagers in jeans, although the tight denim in my crotch was so wet, I half-expected they'd catch my scent and turn to me. They had eyes only for the bodies displayed in the rows of windows lining the canals.

Some of the women were ripe, blond, Slavic-looking, their breasts exploding out of their lace brassieres. Others were slight, deliberately child-like in Gidget-inspired bikinis or brief plaid kilts. There was a Brazilian beauty with golden skin and coffee-colored eyes; a voluptuous African princess with strings of ruby-hued beads dangling in her ebony cleavage; a serious-looking brunette wearing dark-framed glasses who sat, shapely legs crossed, like a secretary waiting to take dictation.

Some of the women posed. Others danced suggestively, or made lewd gestures at their prospective customers. There were masked women in leather, snapping riding crops against their boots. There were women whose pierced nipples and labia showed clearly through their translucent garments.

Men clustered around the dimly-lit windows like moths hovering by a candle. Mostly they'd just look, inflamed by the mere thought of all this available flesh. Sometimes I'd see a hushed conversation through a half open glass door. Such conversations might end with the man turning away, disappointed, rejected, or perhaps simply unwilling to pay the asking price. Other times the door would open wider, just enough to admit the supplicant. Then it would close and the red velvet curtains would be drawn, hiding the rest of the dance.

Those curtained windows drew me. I couldn't stop imagining what might be going on behind them. I knew it was a straight commercial transaction in most cases, a workman-like blowjob, or a quick, bored fuck. Still, I imagined occasional revelations, epiphanies, ecstasies -- meetings of strangers pre-destined to be lovers, brief but unbearably intense conflagrations of lust, lewd and mystical connections that would live in his memory, or hers, long after the curtains were flung open again.

I'm nineteen. I've had enjoyable but ultimately frustrating sex with two boys my age. I know that, practical as I am, I'm a bit of a romantic. Otherwise, I would not have continued to roam the red-lit alleys long after Jane gave up and went back to the hotel in disgust. As the Oude Kerk chimed two AM, I wandered up Molensteeg and down Monnikenstraat like some horny ghost. The crowds had thinned. The curtains were mostly drawn. Some of open windows were empty. Next to them were the signs: KAMERS TE HUUR. Windows for rent.

-- From “Shades of Red”, originally published in Yes, Ma'am: Erotic Stories of Female Dominance.

I've written stories set in London, Prague, Montego Bay, Luang Prabang, and Siem Riep – all of which have been destinations for my real world journeys. Much of what I write is contemporary. Occasionally, though, I'll visit a place where history calls to me. In 2000 my husband and I spent ten amazing days in Provence. We visited the ruined abbey of Thoronet not far from Avignon. Wandering through the vaulted stone chambers, I had a strangely vivid sense of what it would be like to have been a part of that community of devotion, back in the twelfth century.

When my brother’s life was spared by the wasting fever, my father consecrated me to the Church as his thanks for answered prayer. This was seven years ago, just after my first monthly bleeding. I did not mind being sent to the abbey; I was thus saved from the rough and grimy hands of the neighboring lord, to whom my father originally planned to wed me. “The claims of the Lord overrule the poor intentions of men,” he told me when he left me with the sisters at Thoronet. “May your virginity be a gift that forever glorifies God.”

As a girl, I found the simple, orderly life of the convent a comfort. The sisters were strict but never cruel. There was always work to do, but it was the sort of labor that satisfies: tilling the garden, tending the vineyard or the convent’s goats, baking bread. I slept well on my straw pallet, in the dormitory with the other novices.

Seven times daily, we knelt on the cold stone floor of the chapel and prayed. I loved the stark bareness of that sanctuary. The flickering light of the altar candles scarcely reached the shadows of the vaulted roof. The gold-encrusted crucifix on the altar shone as if lit from within. You are the light of the world, Christ had said, and there in the chapel I was suffused with that light.

I especially loved the Compline service, though sometimes it meant a rude awakening and a stumbling through midnight corridors. In the heart of night, the chapel was full of mystery. With the other women, I raised my voice to sing the hymns of praise. The soaring melodies made me ache with joy.

Our songs came, the superior told us, from Mother Hildegard, whose abbey on the Rhine was one of the centers of our Benedictine order and whose visions blessed us all. As I sang, I dreamed of mystic encounters, of being tested in my faith like the virgin saints.

-- From “Communion”, in Fire: Short Stories.

Of course, there are many places I haven't visited (yet!) I've set a few stories in locales where I don't have personal experience. My paranormal romance Serpent's Kiss takes place in a mountainous village in Guatemala. Getaway Girl works hard to capture the atmosphere of a real North Yorkshire village called Kirkby Malzeard. (Ashley Lister helped me a lot with that one!) And one of my favorite recent stories is set on a tea plantation in the Assam hills, in the waning days of the British Empire.

The rain drops are Lakshmi’s tears. That is what Lalida had said—tears of pity wept by Vishnu’s consort at the sad state of mankind. From the sheltered veranda, Priscilla watched sheets of rain sweep relentlessly across the land. The silver curtain alternately hid and revealed the shapes of the green hills rising in the distance.

Priscilla swallowed the last of her biscuit and leaned back in the rattan chair, drawing her shawl around her shoulders. She knew, from the past week’s experience, that the downpour would end in a few hours. The lush wet bushes would sparkle in the sun, as though someone had scattered handfuls of jewels over their leaves. For now, the muted hues of the landscape matched her mood.

“More tea, Madam?” Lalida stole up behind her on bare feet, her orange sari like a streak of fire in the grey morning.

“Not for me, but please bring a fresh pot for Mr. Archer.”

“Yes, Madam.” The maid hurried away, leaving Priscilla alone again with her reveries.

Had it really been only a month ago that they had arrived in India? It seemed like a lifetime. She could barely remember the streets of London, the bustle and the noise, the clatter of hooves on the pavement, the horns and the backfiring engines of the autos vying with the carriages for space. It was so quiet here on the plantation. All she could hear was the hiss of the rain sluicing down.

-- From Monsoon Fever

I've never visited Assam, though I have been to India. But after working for weeks on Priscilla's tale, seeing the world through her eyes, I feel as though I know the place. I see it. I smell it. Research, imagination and analogy help me to bridge the gaps in my experience.

Some authors don't seem to spend much time or effort defining a particular locale for their stories. For me, one of the first questions that I ask myself is “where?” Move the tale from one location to another and it often becomes a totally different story. That is the power of place.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

The reality within the fiction ...

As we discovered last week, and over the course of a few other posts, I am not that adventurous of a person.

So I kind of get a kick out of people's reactions when they find out what I write. Some people who have known me for years start to get a look in their eyes when they look at me after finding out. Almost like they expect me to have a closet full of leather and lace, and a toy chest full of B.O.B.s Others, those who actually stop and reflect over some of the conversations we have had, know that I haven't done all that I have written about.

The university I went to before moving to where I am now (I tranferred because the university sucked!) had a "guest author/lecturer" and my composition 2 professor and I used to sit and laugh about the man's lack of brains. Because the guest lecturer was a local author, and an alumni, he was treated like a veriable literary god. (His book, in short, was a wall banger of the first order!)

During our freshman orientation, we were given a copy of his book and instructed to read it. Our assignments were based around the book, from learning to use the library to find crap from the book, to other such piddle. (Um, it's no wonder he had such a good Amazon sales rank - with 250+ copies per semester being ordered by the campus).

One of our assignments was to write a review of his book, and since at the time I was doing prefessional reviews, I refused. I wasn't about to risk my grade by writing my true thoughts, and I wasn't about to lend any credibility to the pile of drivel that he passed off as a book.

But back to the point of this post ... my professor and I had a long talk one evening about truth in fiction. The guest author/lecturer actually made a point of saying in one of his lectures to write what you know, and not to push too much beyond that because you start to lose credibility. (Keep in mind, he was not talking about writing non-fiction).

Um ... WTF?!?!?!

Yeah, King is really a homicidal whatever (depending on the book), Patterson tracks down criminals for a living, and Rice used to dance with vampires. Oh, and let's not forget all those writers who have lived on other planets and battled in space! Yep ... they are writing what they know.

Then again, having read the book, which was set in the Appalachian Mts in a small town, and had tons of taboo issues as well as completely flat characters, I can see where he might have been writing from reality. Flat life = flat writing.

My professor and I laughed and laughed about that, because while some truth can and does often shine through in a true writer's stories, they are more vivid and real for their fantasy. Regardless of genre. Imagination sparks the truth of a writer more than life experience. Anyone can have grand adventures ... but not everyone can transport another into the moment.

So while there are some stories of mine that have kernels of truth in them, they are the exceptions, not the rule. But the reactions I get from people can be entertaining. : )

As for whether or not I have a toychest filled with B.O.B.s ... well, I guess that is for another topic.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Research Assistant Required – apply below

by Ashley Lister

“It’s better to stay silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

The above truism has been ascribed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein. Regardless of who originally said it, I think it’s without doubt one of the sagest pieces of advice that could ever be given.

The words came back to me a year ago when I was attending a university lecture. The guest lecturer was an eminent linguist and the author of more texts, journals and academic books than most of us have ever read. He discussed phonemics and phonetics and their relation to prosodic features (including phatic communion). He talked about the development of specialist areas of semantics and pragmatics in relation to the contemporary phenomena of text messages. I was particularly impressed to hear him talk about the identified differences and similarities noted in communication between British Sign Language (BSL), American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken language.

I mention all of this not just to make this blog full of long words or to make myself sound particularly clever. I’m sure everyone reading this already knows I’m as dumb as a sausage. I’m trying to impress here that it was a fairly heavy and intense lecture. By the time he asked if any of us had any questions I was not sure I could say anything that would be construed as sensible in the face of such a flood of high-level knowledge.

“I have a question.”

The raised hand was close to me. I recognised a colleague of mine sitting upright in her seat, snapping her fingers for the lecturer’s attention.

“I have a question,” she said again.

The lecturer smiled kindly in her direction. “Please,” he encouraged.

The room was momentarily silent as everyone strained to hear what was going to be asked. I sat more rigid in my chair, wondering if my colleague had spotted a flaw in the logical progression of the speaker’s argument. I was genuinely curious to find out what vital piece of information hadn’t been imparted in the extensive and exhaustive lecture we’d just enjoyed.

“My question,” she said proudly. “What’s your favourite book?”

I mention this because, when I think about the lecturer’s face following that question, I wonder if I wear a similar expression when people ask me, “Have you done all those things you write about?”

The lecturer was polite and struggled to answer the question, but it was obvious his thoughts were still tied up with the nuances of advanced linguistics. When someone else quickly chimed in with a question about contemporary studies throwing doubt on long-held theories of linguistic determinism, his relief was almost palpable.

As a writer of erotic fiction, I do get asked, “Have you done all those things you write about?” At times it does become predictable, but I’ve got no real issues with predictability. My wristwatch and calendar are both predictable and I never have issues with either of those useful accessories.

And, whenever I’m asked the question, it reminds me I’m talking to someone who has taken the time to read one of my books. Considering there are so many wonderful authors out there, it’s humbling to think that someone has spent time reading my meagre attempts at literature. I certainly don’t have such a sufficiently large readership so I can pretend to be bored with their questions.

As a writer, if a reader asks me a question about my writing, my head automatically goes into ‘technical mode.’ If we’re talking about characters my thoughts are involved with the way I constructed the individual and shaped them into the events of the narrative. A reader might be more concerned with why the character drove a convertible, or picked one brand of lubricating jelly over another.

Consequently, when my colleague asked the lecturer, “What’s your favourite book?” I could sympathise with what she was doing. She didn’t care what his favourite book was, just like no one cares whether or not I’ve done all those things I’ve written about. She was simply trying to instigate a conversation and show that she had a grasp on some of the things that had been said. He’d been talking about words in books.

I’m not saying this is the case every time. Some people are genuinely curious about the nocturnal habits of erotic fiction writers. Others are just too nosey for their own damned good. But, oftentimes, this familiar question is simply a convenient way for readers to approach their favourite writers and instigate a dialogue. So, if you are reading this and wondering, ‘Has he done all those things he’s written about?’ let me answer with another question: ‘Would you like to help me research my next erotic scene?’

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vampire Lesbian Girl Scout Nymphos From Venus in Bondage

The old lady's voice is buzzing in my ear giving me information I should be writing down.

The little cell phone beeps. Low battery.

It’s getting late and I'm pulled over to the side of the Raceway Gas station on the exit ramp for Gordon Highway near where I work and my heart is pounding.

Its Tuesday, March 8, 3:45 in the afternoon, rain is running down the window of the driver’s seat which I'm staring out of as the traffic whizzes by and something is seriously happening.

"Yeah . . . okay . . ." I nod my head vigorously, even though the voice on the other end of the cell phone can't see me. "No kidding . . . shit - I mean - sorry! I mean wow. . . yeah. "


I’m hearing something impossible this afternoon, something I absolutely never thought I'd hear in a million years.

""Thursday. Room 27. . . Is that. . . wait, no . . . Is that across from the little coffee shop? Yeah . . . I think I know. That's on the hall to the auditorium, right? Okay. . . I was scared I was going to do the auditorium. I'm not . . . No, I can't fill an auditorium. . . . Thanks, but I really doubt that. . . okay. . . "


"yeah . . . Well, that's true. . . No, I'm really excited. I'll be ready. Seven thirty. Okey-dokey."


"Looking forward to it. Okay, bye."


The phone dies just as she hangs up. In the old days I would have considered that very spiritual to have the phone last just until she says goodbye. The will of God or something. Now I think of it as batteries, held up maybe by interaction with air waves, or maybe Jungian synchronicity. Not so much god or angels or the Trumpet of Destiny calling my name.

Holy fuck.

I'm going to give a book reading at the Columbia Fucking County Library. Room 27. Thursday. Seven thirty PM and don't be late.

Holy Moley.

This stuff just doesn't happen to me. No way is this stuff supposed to happen to me ever. This is not life as I know it. I sit looking out the window for a long time, not thinking. Just breathing. I want to tell somebody – but wait a minute. They probably have me mixed up with someone. I need to keep this under wraps until it happens.

Holy fuck.

Me. A fucking book reading.

How did the Columbia County Arts Board even find out I write stuff?

What if nobody shows up? I think the librarians will show up anyway. I think they have to or something. It must be them. It must be them, they're always seeing me check out writing craft books and short story collections. I know who it is! Jesus - I know! It's that librarian, the one with the tits and the British accent and the tight sweaters. I started showing off to her one afternoon when she was talking about local writers with me. I told her about meeting Dacre Stoker. I gave her my pen name and I’ll bet she looked it up. That's what happened. She looked up my damn pen name. How many writers can there be in Augusta? They were scrounging the very bottom of the barrel and sonuvabitch – that’s where they found me.

Jesus H Christ on a tricycle.

I get to read my stuff in front of people!

Thank you god . . . thank you for every blessing.

On Thursday night I shuffle in a side door and it’s raining again. There’s nobody milling around in the hallway. When Charlaine Harris was here, the hallway was packed to the walls. Now I know for sure nobody's going to show up for me, especially if it’s raining. I won't be able to get a big enough crowd for a card game much less a book reading. As I come down the marble hallway, with my print outs in a plastic Kroger’s grocery bag - I'm such a class act - the librarian with the dazzling double Ds and her signature tight sweater is there by the door to the auditorium watching for me.

" 'ello!" she chirps up and smiles.

I remember from my street preaching days in Milwaukee, when I would stand on a plastic milk crate on a corner and get up a crowd. It’s not that hard. You look for that one face. That's how you do it. You have to know your first sentence, and look for The Face. One friendly face and you sort of preach to that person. If Double Dee’s in the crowd I'll read to her until I get up to speed. That’s how I'll do it.

Garce, you’re so full of shit. There’s nobody here. You’re going to speak from a podium like some pompous doofus to one person? Really, real world, I know she’s here which makes one person, maybe there’ll be one more library worker, some hapless high school kid who can’t get out of it, and if I’m lucky there could be two, maybe three people tops who came across my stuff somewhere, god knows how. We'll all circle our chairs together for coffee and cookies and have a few laughs and go home.

Goddamn I'm nervous! Was it like this for Charlaine Harris? Is it like this for Ashley when he reads his poetry in front of people? I’ll have to ask him.

She jiggles buoyantly along side me and I try not to stare, as she leads me to a glass door down the hall from the auditorium.

She opens the door and holds it for me. “After you.”

I go into the bright room and freeze in the doorway so suddenly her chest crashes pleasurably into my back.

The room is full. The room is fucking full. No way!

She turns towards me and I whisper to her "Who else is speaking tonight?"

"Just you."

I shake my head, I can’t believe I heard her right. I should have brought a camera. Nobody at OGG is going to believe what I'm seeing without a picture. They need to see this. This is my time. This is my moment in the sun. Lisabet! I wish Lisabet could see me! There's five rows of ten plush chairs. That makes fifty people sitting. And people standing against the wall. Where the hell did they get all these people?

I'm overcome and I can’t speak. My eyes water and I'm trying not to choke up. I look down at my pants to make sure this isn’t one of those goofy dreams where you give a lecture and discover you’re naked. No, I'm not naked. But this is one of the great moments of my life.

Wait a minute.

Oh no. Oh hell no.

I suddenly realise what's going on and my life passes in front of my eyes.

These people, there’re not here to be nice to me. This is going to be some nutty fundo Christian group, some happy horseshit Baptist Bible Camp thing come here to lynch the pornographer, get the guy who writes naughty stories and hang the cringing little bastard high as a lesson to American youth.

I look at Double Dees for help but she looks truly happy for me. As far as she’s concerned she shares my joy.


I take a step towards the podium and the plastic grocery bag tips over and dumps my stuff all over the floor.

Okay. Good. Very good.

Now we're back in the Universe the way that I know it.

A young woman with an odd pale complexion jumps up and helps me gather my papers up in a pathetic wad, as if I'd dropped a baby on its head and there're whispers and snickers. I bring my pile up to the podium which has a little desk light and a little microphone. Who knew I’d need a microphone? Who knew there would be a crowd? Some of the printouts have gotten rainwater off the bag and the ink is running on my fingertips.

While people cough and wait, I wade frantically through the mess and gather up the kick off scene from Father Delmar's diary that starts "The Dying Light".

“Good evening.” A soft feedback whine. “Thank you for coming here tonight. My name is C. Sanchez-Garcia. I’m a writer.”

Applause. Oh my god. Oh my god. They like me.

I say some polite words, a couple of self deprecating jokes. The crowd is getting a little restless. Then I notice - there aren't any men here. These are all women. Now I know I'm dreaming. It’s a lucid dream. Hey -

If it’s a lucid dream I can have sex with every woman in this room.

I know how to find out. I put my stuff down and raise my arms up and lift up on my toes. If it’s a lucid dream I can will myself to rise to the ceiling. Nothing happens. People are looking at me funny. I'm not naked and I can’t fly. Probably not a dream. Not yet a nightmare at least. C'mon Garce, pull your shit together.

"How many of you here have read my stuff?"

Almost everybody's hands go up. No way. Even the really beautiful women. No fucking way.

Standing against the wall are some young ladies in prim looking green clothes. They're the only women wearing skirts. Their skin has an odd pallor I can’t seem to place. Foreign students. One has a sort of Aunt Jemima checkered head scarf and the others have baseball caps. They raise their hands.

"Yes?" I point at one because I want to hear if she has an accent. I think they're going to be from the Middle East.

"We read your book, the 'Mortal Engines' when we were at Girl Scout camp. The leader thought it was a car repair. We didn’t tell her it was a dirty book.'

Now that is rude. To hear it said right out loud like that. That's what we're going to talk about tonight. I won’t embarrass this girl with the funny accent, but I'm going to steer this thing towards some elevated conversation about the difference between cheap pornography and erotic literature. There is a difference. They need to know that.

"I'm going to read a scene none of you will have read yet, it’s from a vampire novel in progress. This scene is from a chapter called "The Dying Light". Ahem “I like writing with a fountain pen best. A fountain pen like this one suits me. . .' I go on with that for a while. Then a couple of poems.

The rest of my stuff is a mess. The pages are out of order. I'll do a question and answer now and wrap this up and shoot an email to Lisabet to celebrate my triumph. I want to get back to that dirty book question somehow. "We'll take some questions now. Who wants to go first? First question?"

The librarian raises her arm and I gaze as her breasts shift and elevate heavenward. Now I know why romance writers like to use that stupid word "gaze" all over the place. Brother, I am gazing. "Yes?"

"Where do you get your ideas from?"

Ah ha ha, modest me chuckles. "I get them from different things. Some of the stories I don’t even remember where the ideas came from. You start out with a scene sometimes and build up."

A young woman, maybe a college girl raises her arm. "No – she means where do you get your ideas for fuck scenes from?"

She's being crude to shock me, or maybe show me that she's on my side. I can’t tell which. She talks like I think. "What do you mean?"

“They get me off. They sound like the way people really fuck. Is that from your real life?"

Maybe these people really have read my stuff, God knows how. Now, O Friends of The Inner Sanctum, my pathetic real world sex life wouldn’t fill up a tea cup, much less a novel. I open my mouth to confess this with thrilling and noble frankness but what comes out is "Oh yes. All of its real."

I get this feeling.

It’s this feeling you get when you’re walking across a grassy lawn barefoot and your toes come down hard on something in the grass which is warm and gooey and pungent and very, very natural and it squishes right between your toes.

A moan goes over the room. Dozens of female hands shoot up into the air waving furiously. I pick one at random. "What about vampires? You fucked a vampire?"

"Yes," I say to her. "I sure did. All night. It was fantastic."

I'm hoping this sarcasm will make people laugh, but instead a Goth girl dressed in black I hadn’t noticed before jumps up, and throws her head back defiantly. "I'm a vampire."

Whoa. I glance over at the librarian but she is looking at me with something like feral heat in her eyes. She runs her tongue over her lips. I can make out the nubs of her nipples poking against her sweater.

"Well," I stammer, "I mean figuratively. Not literally. The vampire is a poetic metaphor for relationships that -"

"Fuck metaphors! I'm a vampire goddammit!"

Another woman jumps up. "Me too!"

What the fuck - "Listen, there isn't any - "

A third woman jumps up. "My name is Natalie - and I'm a sex addict." Everybody claps supportively. "And I'm a vampire. I pick up strangers and take them home. I fuck them and then suck out all their psychic energy from their chakras when they come. That's how I steal my life energy."

I look over at the librarian again, the one I was reading my Father Delmar stuff to over the heads of the crowd. She's got her sweater off. What's she doing with her blouse? Can she do that here?

"Wait!" I yell, shaking my head like a baby rattle. "How can you be a sex addict vampire?" There could be a story here someplace. I should be writing this down. I start fumbling in my shirt pocket for a pen.

The librarian is coming towards me. Her blouse is gone and the bra is on its way off. She steps up to the sex addict vampire girl who sucks people’s life energy out of their chakras by jiminy- and shoves her down on to her chair. Her British Working Class breasts are out and they're even bigger than I imagined. She straddles the poor girl who stares up at her long brown nipples in fascination and terror.

"You little ghost whispering tart -" yells the librarian "I'm a lesbian vampire sex addict!" She shoves the girls face between her breasts and for an instant every human being in that room including me wishes we were that girl. Then she fastens on the girl’s neck and the poor thing sags in her chair.

I start getting my papers but I’m shaking and a pile of them fall on the floor. I kick them away from me. Screw this, I'm getting the hell out of here.

The four foreign looking women standing against the wall - all of them like some weird chorus line - tear off their blouses and their underwear. They're nude. Their skin is a strange bluish color I hadn’t noticed before. They tear off their baseball caps and big phallic antennae pop out. "We're lesbian vampire sex addicts from the planet Venus! And you are all our human sex slaves!"

"Get them!" screams the librarian, spitting drops of blood into the air. The crowd mobs the four women, tearing the bunting from the wall and tying their arms behind their backs. "Bring me an encyclopedia!"

Girls dash out and come back with a couple of encyclopedias, and a big coffee table book of Ansel Adams photos. The topless librarian swats a Venusian Girl Scout on the ass with the Ansel Adams book and the girl whimpers and begs for more. The girls line up and begin spanking the Venusians asses with the heavy books. Their erect antennae waggle with pleasure as they scream their defiance for all earthlings.

I throw down my stuff on the floor and run like a rabbit.

Outside the rain has stopped and distant sirens are approaching. There is a girl under the street lamp in a denim jacket waiting for me on the sidewalk. She's short with a bright mane of silver hair glistening with rain and her hard blue eyes for the moment are smiling. "There you are," she says with that big northern German accent I know so well. "So then ('zo zen') how was it?"

"We need to go. We need to go now."

"These Girls Scouts I met, they were there, jah?"

"They were from Venus."

"Did they have cookies? Those nice little chocolate ones with the coconut?"

"There's a Kroger’s down the road. I'll get you any cookies you want. Or a Mounds bar. But we have to go now,"

She laces her arm in mine. "Let's go, stud."