Sunday, July 31, 2011

Open Ended

By Lisabet Sarai

In my mid-twenties, I had my first sexual experience with another women. Clara was a dear friend, a plump, diminutive blonde a few years younger than I was, but, I suspected, more experienced in the realm of lesbian love. At very least, she knew more about F/F culture. While I hung out in the ivory tower of academia, taking courses and writing papers, she volunteered at the local women's center and listened to the music of Chris Williamson and Holly Near. Her free spirit and counterculture credentials sparked my imagination. Her hippie-chick beauty enchanted me. I wanted to know what it would be like to kiss her, to suckle her girlish breasts, stroke her fair skin and feel her moisture under my fingertips.

We were physically affectionate a long time before we became lovers. To be honest, I don't remember how we ended up together on my mattress, on the floor of my two room apartment. I do recall discovering that though I was incredibly excited by the notion of making love to her, the actual mechanics didn't work that well. I guess she wasn't all that more knowledgeable than I was.

After that night, what happened? Nothing. I'm really not sure why. I still desired her. Our friendship still flourished. We simply never repeated the clumsy intimacies of that watershed evening.

Clara and I are still in touch. We write and chat regularly. But we never talk about our brief experiment in physical love. She married a deeply religious man, and has become far more conservative herself. I suspect that she'd find the topic uncomfortable at best. So my affair with her remains unresolved, open ended, more than thirty years later.

Fiction differs from real life in a variety of ways, but one important distinction is that most fiction provides closure. If Clara and I were characters in a story, some sequence of events would likely take place that would tie up the loose ends of our sexual relationship. Perhaps she'd lose her husband and I'd fly to comfort her. We'd get together again and discover that our passion had grown with age (along with our practical skills). Or perhaps I'd confront her with evidence of our past lust, and she'd reject me, denying she'd ever had lesbian yearnings. Either alternative would make a decent story.

Every story needs an ending. That ending might not be happy, but it needs to leave the reader with a sense of completion. There's little that is as frustrating as a novel that simply breaks off in the midst of the action, leaving conflicts outstanding and questions unanswered - even though the world very often operates that way.

This week's topic got me thinking about closure in my own work. Five of my six novels end with the primary characters moving into a phase of greater commitment after a period of crisis or uncertainty. One (Necessary Madness) actually ends with a wedding and two other contain proposals of marriage. (I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, especially since several of these books were written before I started to officially write romance.)

Exposure is the one long work I've written that has a somewhat equivocal conclusion. At the end of the story, Stella has barely escaped death. Her home and her history have been consumed by a terrible fire. Her trust in both her lovers has been eroded by their lies. She can't decide which, if either, she'll take back into her life. Nevertheless, the novel offers closure in that Stella regains her sense of self, her confidence and delight in her work as a dancer. She moves past despair to a point where readers know she will survive and flourish, even if we don't know how or with whom.

In the real world, tragedy leaves indelible marks. One's life can be permanently diminished. My mother died of leukemia in her early fifties, younger than I am now. She never got to see me or my siblings marry. I loved her dearly. However, during the last ten years of her life, she and I could not spend much time together without doing mutual psychological damage.

I miss her now far more than I did immediately after her death. At that time, it was almost a relief to be free of the ongoing worry and guilt. I was with her when she died, but we never truly resolved the issues that had come between us. Would we have succeeded in doing so if she had lived? I'll never know.

Humans love stories. I believe that it's in our genes. Our prehistoric ancestors recited tales around the campfire. Perhaps one reason we're wired for fiction is the consolation of closure, the deep satisfaction we experience when the story draws to an end. The world is dark, dangerous, unpredictable, but in the realm of the imagination, we retain some element of control. Even if the ending is tragic, it has symmetry, structure, meaning. Stories may be our defense against a seemingly chaotic universe.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


It has long been a joke that my editors have to batten down the hatches for the "Brenna Barrage" of new submissions two to four times a year. One in particular spins an elaborate tale of sitting under her desk, her arms wrapped around her knees, rocking back and forth, and (in a Rain Man voice) chanting "No more Brenna books. No, no Brenna." While I hope that's an exaggeration, I don't think the editors fully appreciate that the barrage is no more comfortable for me, as the author, than it is for an editor. But...I'll get back to that.

To put this in perspective, for those who don't know me, here are a few facts about my writing.

In the last (nearly) nine years, I have been published well over 100 times in fiction and with almost 100 separate works, two dozen of which are novel-length. The bulk of writing I have published in that period of time has been written in the last decade; only the poetry predates it. I write in 21 series worlds plus stand-alones in an estimated 25 subgenres of work. I have between 8 and 25 releases every year and work with 7 publishing houses.

I write an estimated 50,000 words of new work in an average month. My high-water months were double that or more.

I have (currently) about 90 works in progress stored in binders and notebooks...and some directly in the computer. I work on up to 6 of them in a single week.

So, how can someone be that prolific and range that far and not go insane? My opinion is that all writers are a little unbalanced. Some of us...more than a little. For that reason, claiming to be sane is a sticky subject for any writer.

How do you not confuse that many characters and worlds? Technically speaking, each of my characters is unique in my mind. Much as the average person on the street wouldn't confuse his or her best friends, I don't confuse my characters. Since I know them inside and out...or soon's hard for me to get them confused.

That doesn't mean it's easy sailing with my characters. We argue, and they win. They have to win, because I have a character driven process, and the story flows from them to me...subconsciously, of course. If the characters aren't acting in character -- because I'm stubbornly trying to change the story as it comes out -- the words do not flow. A few examples of character roadblocks?

Brenna: “You CAN’T do that. You have to be alive for the next scene.”
Eric: “Bite me. This is what I do. I act this way. You know that.”
Brenna: “I’ve already written scenes for you. You don’t die here, and everyone in that room? They’re toast in ten pages, buddy.”
Eric: “Well, figure it out, WRITER. You’re supposed to be so smart.”

I could tell you the real-life scene this ended up creating, but it is a little ridiculous. It’s amazing my husband hasn’t had me carted off in a pretty, white coat. Like I said, authors have compromised sanity. You have to in order to do this job.

Second example?

Brenna: “You really shouldn’t do that.”
Curt: [the mental equivalent of a character flipping me off with a snarl]
Brenna: [sighs] “You know, the world rules say...”
Curt: “Do your worst. I don’t care what the consequences are.”
Brenna: “Okay. I will.”

I do have the ability to throw situations at the characters and let them react to them, which creates some incredibly lush scenes.

But what about when the words don't flow at all? To set the stage, I’d met about four of the other characters in TYGERS before I met Katie. Katie wouldn’t talk to me. I finally decided to have a sit-down with her.

Brenna: “So...what am I doing that you don’t like?”
Katie: [in a rather Taming of the Shrew tone] “My name is Katheryn and anyone with any SENSE calls me Katheryn. If you want this damned book written, YOU will call me Katheryn.”
Brenna: “But, no one else calls you Katheryn.” (They had to act in character, as well, and I couldn't compromise them any more than I could compromise her.)
Katie: “Who said they have any sense?”
Good point...

The only arguments I win, in any fashion, go something like...

Brenna: “We need this scene, so if you’d just answer this question --”
Alex: “Not interested. I know the answer. Why should I tell you?”
Brenna: “If you want this book written...ever, you will tell me the answer to this question in the next five minutes.”
Alex: “You wouldn’t dare.”
Brenna: “Wouldn’t I?”

Okay, so the price of prolific writing is that the author isn't in the driver's seat much? That's partially correct. One of my beta readers is fond of saying that it's not that I don't plan anything, though from the outside looking in, it appears that way. What is actually happening is that the storyline arcs and outlines and character studies that plotters do in the real world take place in my subconscious. Somewhere back there, entire books are written, rooms are full of spreadsheets and notes, and the clutter is something a hoarder would have lying around in the physical world. I just pull the stories out in pieces and weave them together.

That's an apt description of what I do, if I've ever heard one. I have no clue or only a vague clue of what might be coming next in the book or where it will end. Unless I've already written the end...or think I have, because there might be more to it I can't see. Plot twists just appear on the page, surprising even me. Sometimes, I'm stupid enough to argue with the characters about them. Usually, I'm not, these days. I just sigh, write it down, and move on, knowing it will weave into place eventually. Experience has taught me that arguing over plot twists is little more than a waste of time.

My beta reader has also described me as a functional schizophrenic. Considering discussions like the one below (that took place at 2 am or so during one writing spate), I can hardly blame her for saying so. I point to the fact that all writers have to be a little insane to do this as my defense.

Jole: "And this is how she HAS to find out about..."
Brenna: "Not now! I'm still on the scene where Alex meets Lyssa."
Jole: "But, Susan has to..."
Brenna: "Will you shut up for two minutes... Oh, all right" "give it to me quick so I can get back to Alex."
Alex: "Hey! We were in the middle of a good scene back here."
Jole: "Talk louder next time, buddy."
Alex: "Huh uh! I just met my mate. You are NOT allowed to--"
Brenna: "Everybody quiet or I will go to bed! Now, Jole talk. Alex, I'll be back to you in five..."
Alex: "Like we intend to let her sleep tonight?"
Lyssa: "Oh, just shut up and let her write so we can get back to the bathroom scene!"

Being a character-driven author means I literally write whichever character is screaming loudest at that time and whatever scene that character is focused on, even if I have no idea how it fits into the whole yet. If there is a block, a time when a character or book isn't talking to me, I turn to the one that is and work on that instead. Unless I buckle down and set myself a deadline or a barrage.

Back to the Brenna Barrage... Told you I'd get back to that eventually. I write blog posts about writing much in the same way I write anything but poetry. That means flitting from here to there and then attempting to tie it all together in the end.

In pulling these stories in pieces out of my subconscious, I amass a huge pile of partially-finished works. In some cases, I simply finish one naturally, but the truth is, I have to set a barrage once in a while, just to get a bunch of them off my desk.

Take this month, for instance. A little over a week ago, I evaluated what I had closest to finished and came up with eleven stories that I felt were barrage worthy. I reread what I had on each, tested the mind to see what I gauge is there on the book for me to draw from at this moment, and then set precedence of trying to finish six of those ten before doing any other work. Now, I admit that's a large number, even for me. Typically, I start with five or six and end up with about four.

Remember when I said the barrage isn't comfortable for me? Here's the reason.

My natural writing style is to let the characters scream when they have something to tell me, something that's percolated and aged to near-perfection. My style is not me rooting around in the junk pile and pulling out nuggets of storyline for whatever is open on my desktop and waiting for input, then actively thinking about polishing it to my usual shine. That's exhausting and frustrating for me, but if I want to get a barrage out of the way -- and by extension, set my release schedule for the next few quarters -- I have to knuckle down, round up the characters, and give them a speech not unlike the one I gave Alex.

So, can an author change gears and force that to happen? Of course I can. I've already finished one of the six and submitted it, in less than a week. It wasn't a small task, since that particular work needed an additional 6000 words and cleaning edits to make it ready for submission. I'm hip deep in the second, at the moment.

Fair warning to my editors... The barrage is in full gear. INCOMING!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Write On

By Kristina Wright

Prolific or not? Probably not. I guess it depends on how you quantify prolific. Number of words written? Number of hours spent writing? Number of stories tucked away in folders on the hard drive? Number of stories published? Number of genres published in? What is prolific?

Most of my real life friends are non-writers. Many will never read my erotica. So they wonder about what they do and phrase awkward questions that are meant to express interest in what I do without hearing any of the naughty details. They want to know how much I write, how often, where the ideas come from and, though few will ask outright, how much I make. Most people think they could be a writer if only they had the time.

I used to relate this anecdote: I once wrote a 5000 words story in under 3 hours and sold it in 2 days.

That sounds somewhat impressive, but it really doesn't say much about my writing ability or how prolific I am to relate an anecdote about one short story. What it does is lead people to believe that a) writing is easy (specifically, writing erotica or porn or smut, pick your word) and b) that yes, they could in fact be a writer, too.

I used to follow up that bragging anecdote with this far more humbling one: One year, I wrote 900 pages of fiction and didn't sell a single word.

That sounds... daunting. Scary. Terrifying. Even to me, and it's my story. But again, it doesn't say much about how prolific I am to only discuss one particular year without detailing what I was writing (novels and short fiction) and whether I was finishing those novels (I finished two) and whether I was submitting those 900 pages (I was) and whether every year is like that (some are, some aren't) and whether I learned anything from those writing experiences that helped me sell other words (I did). And even then... what does that tell you about my writing habits, other than I can handle rejection and I don't give up? Not much.

Garce wrote about Stephen King in his column this week. I've been crushing on Stephen King since I was 13 years old and I even thanked him in my introduction to my paranormal erotic romance anthology Dream Lover for inspiring my stories. Reading Stephen King taught me about writing through anything-- tragedy, illness, addiction, depression-- and putting my soul into my writing even if it means no one else gets it or buys it. (He also taught me about hooking the reader with cliffhangers-- few authors can write a cliffhanger like Stephen King.) But much as I adore Mr. King, I am nowhere near as prolific.

How prolific any author might be is subjective to the person considering the author's output. I might have added a dozen new writing credits to my name in the past couple of months, but look a little closer and you'll see several reprints, a couple of stories that had been languishing on editors' desks for over a year, a couple more pieces of writing that aren't more than flash fiction, etc. The bullets look nice on a resume, but they are little more than indicators that I am, in fact, a working writer.

And then there are those 900 page years-- years where I sit down at the laptop day in and day out, pass up opportunities to socialize with friends, stay up far later than I should, write through lunch, write on holidays, write on vacation, write while baby naps instead of napping myself... Those are the months and years that I feel most productive-- when the output exceeds even my own lofty goals. But who's to know how prolific I am if none of those words ever see the light of day? Are the words really written if they're never published? The MFAs among us might say, "Absolutely!", the full-time freelancers living on their writing will likely say, "Hell no!" I fall in between those two categories-- I revel in the days of high page counts and the feeling of creative accomplishment, but I also feel the compelling need to get those words in front of a reader, preferably a paying reader.

When I first saw the topic for this week-- "Prolific or Not?" I sarcastically muttered, "Not." I was even tempted to have that be my entire post. Just that word: Not. My life is in a state of chaos right now and finding the joy in writing has taken a backseat to meeting deadlines, editing anthologies, doing promotion and all the other stuff that goes along with a writing and editing career. And I mostly feel like I'm failing horribly at all of it, in addition to not being a very prolific writer. And knowing the whys of my lack of productivity and admitting that I have some very good reasons for not writing more only makes me feel better some of the time.

There was a time when writers wrote in a bubble. We didn't know what our peers were doing on a day to day basis unless we knew them in person. In the age of the internet, it only takes a few clicks on the keyboard to pull up dozens of my peers who are doing so much more than I am doing or could even hope to do right now. Writers who are blogging every day, writers who are starting their own magazine or e-book press, writers who are writing two books a year, writers who are doing more, more, more than me. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing every writer feels that way-- at least the ones who bother to look up from their computers to notice.

And maybe that's the key to being prolific-- not to measure words counts or publishing credits or Amazon sales numbers against any other writer. To simply write. And write some more. To write when the spirit moves me and even when it doesn't. To write today and tomorrow and the next day. To find the time or make the time or beg, borrow or steal the time to write. To forgive myself for not writing today or tomorrow or the next day, but to write the day after. To just keep writing. No matter what. Always. Forever. Until death us do part.

Maybe that's what being prolific means. I think maybe it's what it means to me. Write on. I will.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Winding Road

If only my life hadn’t included so many detours and distractions from writing. In that case – what? I would have written a critically-acclaimed bestseller? Probably not.

I’ve been told I look younger than I am. If only I could subtract twenty years from my age and still claim credit for every published piece of mine (including on-line posts), I could claim to be prolific. Sort of.

I have produced a body of work. All printed out, it would make a sizeable stack of paper, for what it’s worth.

Stephen King once claimed he made a do-or-die pact with his wife that if he didn’t succeed in getting a novel published while she was supporting him, he would rejoin the world of wage slavery. He was determined to launch a writing career because, as he said, he did not want to spend forty years explaining the difference between a gerund and a participle as an English teacher in the public school system.

I’ve never had a wife who could afford to support me. I have spent roughly thirty years explaining the difference between a gerund and a participle to first-year university students. Apparently I am the anti-Stephen King: his unsuccessful shadow side who is not male, not heterosexual, not completely white or American. I sound like a character in a Stephen King novel.

I’m not prolific, but I’m versatile. Or genre dysphoric. As a teenager I wrote structured poetry, and made pen-and-ink illustrations. What couldn’t be expressed in words could be expressed in visual form, and vice versa. I wrote my first villanelle in memory of an old family friend who died suddenly of cancer after sending my mother a letter saying she had “turned a corner” and was recovering. Old Friend had been a social activist who was willing to go to jail for her beliefs, and she had been like an aunt to me. At age seventeen, I wasn’t sure I would ever be willing to risk arrest in defense of exploited immigrant farm workers, but I could write a villanelle. I rhymed “earth” with “worth.”

Eventually, I got several poems published in magazines, and had half a book of poetry published by a local publisher. At that time, the Canada Council for the Arts (a national funding body) would subsidize the publishing of poetry, but not in the form of slim volumes by individuals. Therefore Canadian publishers would combine two or more unknown poets in one book to minimize the financial risk. This is why my poems appeared beside those of another woman in a paperback titled Double Visions. I had never met her. I think I was more thrilled than she was.

I continued to write poems while trying my hand at short stories. One of my stories won first prize in the short-fiction category in the annual writing contest of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. It was also published in an anthology by the same local press that had launched me as a poet.

However, my actual life seemed unspeakable. I had given birth, escaped from my husband, escaped from my parents and “come out” as a lesbian. I was raising my mulatto child in poverty, and well-meaning strangers kept offering to help me find her real mother. My life was full of raw material that I wanted to write about. I had no reason to believe this stuff could be published.

I produced a lesbian newsletter every other month, and sold subscriptions to cover my costs. I got a lesbian story accepted by the Women's Press (of Toronto, Canada, not to be confused with several other presses by the same name) just before the editorial collective was torn apart over the issue of "cultural appropriation" (long, messy story).

I became terrified of being ostracized by my community of choice for being "politically incorrect." I was also afraid of being ghettoized as a "minority" writer, or simply having all my work rejected by those who found it incomprehensible or inauthentic (if I wrote what I didn't believe).

I found a one-dyke publisher who published my collection of lesbian stories between slick, deep-pink covers. I was delighted to get a few glowing reviews in lesbian-feminist journals.

I wrote a long fantasy story about an all-female community which is increasingly divided by cultural/ethical differences among the four quarters of the village. Vesta, my narrator (elected governor of the East Quarter), is desperate to prevent a civil war which would make the women's village vulnerable to the male-dominated tribe nearby.

Vesta is secretly attracted to a leather dyke (governor of the hunter/warrior quarter) who wants to heat up her sex life. Most of the women who elected Vesta to office are against violence on principle, even in self-defense – and they define “violence” broadly. They refuse to acknowledge the protection the hunter/warriors are providing for the whole village. Most of the hunter/warriors think the vegetarian peaceniks are useless. Job chauvinism takes various forms. The construction workers think their skills are absolutely essential, and some of them matronize the cooks and seamstresses as hobbyists. The condescension is resented. And not everyone worships the same Goddess.

I wasn’t really making anything up.

I sent this piece to the one-dyke publisher, hoping she would recognize a core of reality in it. I also hoped she would like my characters as much as I did. She wrote back to say that the story needed a lot of work because the narrator was "very weak." She said she would be willing to read a completely revised version.

I didn't write another story for years. I learned to be genre-flexible. I was hired to write research-based articles for the journal of a government-funded feminist organization. For two years, I was a kind of unofficial, unpaid staff reviewer for a leftist magazine. The Globe and Mail ("Canada's national newspaper") ran a series of articles on small, grassroots journals across Canada. I was amazed to see my name mentioned in this series as a magazine writer to watch.

I read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. I wrote three, sent them off, got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went bust. The editors told me they were seeking another publisher. Then they stopped responding to my queries.

My partner and I bought a computer. I surfed the 'net for writers' groups and found the Erotic Readers Association. I posted my lesbian erotica, got some friendly critiques, and kept writing. I ventured into male-female sex stories, threesomes, and even male-male scenes. (I was proud when a clearly embarrassed gay-male friend told me that one of these stories had the intended effect on him.)

By now, I've had over eighty stories published in anthologies, not including print journals and websites. (I stopped counting at eighty.) Two collections of my diverse erotic stories have been published by different publishers. My local-colour erotic novel, Prairie Gothic, was available in e-form from a British publisher from 2002 until 2006, when the publisher went bust.

I'm not prolific. It has taken me over forty years to accomplish what some writers do in five. I rarely manage to bind and gag the Inner Critic. I doubt whether I'll ever be identified with a "brand," to use a current buzz-word. I continue to write rants, reviews and articles as well as stories, so I'm probably too much of a shapeshifter to become a household name. Sometimes I will put a rant or a poem into the mouth of a character in a story, or will stop writing a story to get a rant out of my system. And as long as other writers continue to inspire me, I might as well review their work.

I envy writers who earn enough in royalties to pay off the Greek or American national debts. There are days when I don't want to explain the mysteries of English grammar to young adults ever again. Yet I haven't been silenced as a writer, not even by myself. And I tell myself that my best years are still ahead. It gives me a reason to get up every morning.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Visit in the Boneyard

All the little bank signs I’ve passed on the way over here have different temperatures displayed on them, the only thing they agree on is the time. Most of the time and temperature signs peg it about 100 degrees, some a little higher, some merely in the 90’s. Like the debate on the debt ceiling. Some make it sound dire, some not so much. People don’t debate temperature here they way they do politics. Everybody just agrees it’s as “hot as the devil’s asshole.”

I’m not sure how long I should be inside Border’s Bookstore, because the rising temperature in my car might start slow roasting things, and I’ve got my laptop in there. Sometimes my elderly old IBM thinkpad shows signs of mental illness and memory lapses that for the old techie in me looks like motherboard capacitors over heated and popped like popcorn.

As I push open the glass doors, over head, hanging in the damp breezeless dog day air is a big black and yellow banner, which looks like a giant version of the police tape you see at a crime scene “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS”. A gaggle of girls in their summer clothes passes me by as I go in (“I do not think the mermaids will sing to me,” sighs J Alfred Prufrock) , and the cool washes over old fart me, mixed with the bright corporate scent of paper and plastics and signs everywhere – “10% off everything!” and “Some items 40% off Sale Price!”. It’s weird, but what I feel walking in the door of Borders more than anything else, is guilt. The forlorn shelves of books seem to say to me “You let this happen.” Me? How? Because I spend all my book money at the used book store? Or at Barnes and Noble? In the mall? But my wife works in the mall, I go there for coffee and to try to bench press my Daily Thousand Words while I’m waiting for her. I didn’t prefer it so much, I just adapted to it. Borders. . . I’m sorry.

The store is packed with people in a way it never was during better times. I wonder if this is how a vulture feels, picking over the bones of a fallen carcass. Well, the carcass is here. I want my piece.

The funny thing is I don’t know what I want. We live in privileged times where people like me actually get to experience choice. Choice is a luxury denied to most human beings through out history, except the most privileged. The common man had to always make due with what he could get, not only in terms of work and money but also love. Up until the beginning of the twentieth century, barely a hundred years ago, most marriages were like mine, arranged. If you got a wife at all, your parents brought you together with someone, or you might even order them from a mail order catalog along with some work tools if you lived in a remote place, some famous brides were won in poker games, and that was your lifetime companion, make it work. Until recently marriages were never intended to be about love, and a man or woman might go through the course of their life without ever experiencing the thrill of falling in love. People, including me, have always adapted through trauma. You played the cards you were dealt.

Walking into a bookstore gives me the giddy feeling of what I imagine it would be like to walk into an excellent brothel, or what the after life could be like. To be in a state of mind freed from the constraints of reality, what would you choose? Unlimited sex? Unrestrained passion? Scholarly curiosity? Conversation over coffee with wiser beings? Self improvement? Why choose anything at all if you’re not going anywhere for a long time?

Among the milling mob I wonder what books might be on sale that I might actually want. Books on writing craft, or poetry, erotica, spirituality. Overhead the music system is playing “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. It always seems to boil down to a choice between emotional indulgence or self improvement. Maybe that‘s what books really are.

After some aimless wandering, I head to the writing craft bookshelf first. They’re only 10% off, but one of the bookstore munchkins, who will be unemployed in a week, says they might get cheaper towards the end if any are left. Wait and see. It’s awful that even with a discount I still can’t afford the books I want. I pick out about a dozen books and arrange them at the end of the top shelf, sort of a personal wish list. If the price drops to 40% I’ll choose from them.

I pass the section of shelves marked “Sexuality” and stop and look. I always feel a little self conscious thumbing through them – and there I see it. Something I never thought I would find and all at once I’m having a moment.

I hold my breath and look around. The people are carrying armfuls of books to the check out line. People are picking through the CDs and DVDs. But the store looks very different to me now. I’ve found something and a small dream has come true.

On the shelf next to Anne Hooper’s Kama Sutra is “The Mammoth Book of Erotica 10”. There are a few copies. I don’t know if its selling well or not, but sonuvabitch –it’s here.

I pick it up and flip straight to the back and see my pen name and the title “The Lady and the Unicorn.” And I think “I’m standing in Borders Bookstore in the town where I live and a story that I wrote is printed on paper and I’m looking at it standing in the bookstore. And it’s a good story and I love this story and I’m so proud.” I want to wave this book over my head and yell out to people. I want to give a ponderous and wise speech about literature. I want to sign autographs. I want everybody to know, but this triumph in its way is so small. Would it mean anything to anyone but me? I close the book and look around, and I know I must look weepy and intense and probably a little creepy, and I know nobody’s read this thing, sure, I know all that shit, I know, but ah man. What a feeling. What a feeling to stand in a dying bookstore in my town and see something I wrote in print and hold it my hand. There’s nothing like it.

I go over to one of the leather easy chairs against the wall, and open my story to the part where Nixie is arguing with Daniel. I flip to the table of contents and Charlotte Stein is there, and Kristina Wright, and Lisabet is there and so many of the names there are people I gotten to know since I first stepped into this store five years ago. Its only been a few years, but I’m in Borders bookstore holding a book with something I wrote.

I glance to the right and see the shelf dedicated to Stephen King, a whole shelf, roughly four feet of real estate, all Stephen King. Does he ever still feel like this? This virgin’s first time feeling, as compared to the old jade? His first short stories were published in gentlemen’s entertainment magazines like “Juggs” and “Cavalier” and “Spanking Lesbians”, and I don’t suppose he could show off those stories to his family either, but it must have moved him the same way once just to see them on a page, somewhere anywhere.

He’s prolific. According to his book “On Writing” he writes everyday except Christmas and his birthday; that would be 363 days a year if you’re counting. Some writer’s are incredibly prolific but we all do it the same way. We set a daily goal and we try to keep it, whether we have anything to write about or not. We have a place, or maybe several places, marked out as sacred territory where we go to dream. We might type it out, we might go long hand, we might have coffee at hand, or maybe not. In the older generation we’d have had a pipe or a cigarette hanging off the lip, and maybe checked our look in the mirror. But we would have been lost in the world of the story just the same.

I don’t know how the magic works, but I know how the magic feels when its working right. That lightning, that feeling of not wanting to do anything else except stay in that world a little while longer. It doesn’t come easy that feeling, but Stephen King and other writers are very clear about how you get it. Writing is different from other art forms in that talent doesn’t count for so much. If you’re a graphic artist, you have to be able to draw before you learn how to draw and paint beautifully. If you’re a musician you have to master your scales, but you need the talent to string the notes together. But if you’re an apprentice writer you can read like mad and get a feel for it over a lifetime of reading. And when you start to get a feel for it, if you write like mad and stay faithful to your calling you can start to get the hang of what it sounds like when its done right. You can learn it. You may not ever be Tolstoy, or even Margaret Mitchell who never attended a writing class and still wrote “Gone With The Wind” on her very first try, but hell, you can be somebody. You can learn it by doing it faithfully, every day, in the same way, in the same place and just ignore the voice in your head that says your stuff sounds like horseshit, even if it does, and listen to the other voice, the one that knows what about to happen to next and can’t wait to tell you. No other art form is quite like that. More than anything, that’s what gives me hope.

Too late for this place though. On afternoons like this, bookstores are a sad place for me. These hot contentious days a book store is so often a place where books come to have their moment in the sun and die.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tortured Berets

I've been published now for about two years, and yet most of the time I still feel like a newbie. I still feel like I've got no books out, and nobody reads them, and I'm just this weirdo on the fringes with nothing to show for myself.

And then I make myself jump by looking at my blog sidebar, or the special bookshelf I've got for all of my own books. The bookshelf started out as one little shelf with a few books on it, and then our collection of Disney videos below it. But gradually the Disney videos have made way, and now I've got the entire three floors.

Which just seems remarkable, to me. I remember seeing Sommer Marsden's bookshelf, with all of her amazing books and antho contributions, and thinking: wow. Now THAT'S a career. That's what I want, one day, in the far and distant future when I'm half as fabulous as Sommer is.

And yet somehow I've kind of gotten a little bit of that. I've filled three narrow bookshelves. I am sort of prolific, or have been for most of those two years - before the night sweats set in.

Because lemme tell you, they did set in. For all those people out there who think being prolific isn't cool, and that you're only really a writer if you eke out one painful word a week while wearing a beret and sitting in a darkened room - it isn't cool. In fact, I'd give everything I have to go back to that time when I just wrote and wrote and wrote and didn't torture myself over it nightly.

Torture is not cool. Being able to write is. I see so many people now berating others over wordcounts - oh, you're bragging about writing 5k? Oh, how plebian, etc - as though actually having that joy of writing, of being able to do it, of being prolific is somehow such a crime.

It's not. You know who my heroines are? Sommer Marsden and Evangeline Anderson. Because they write and write and write and they work damned hard every day, because that's what being a writer is all about. There is no "cool". There are only words to be written every day, and whether you wrote 1k or 10, be proud.

Because 1k a day IS prolific. You know how many books a year 1k a day is? Three. Three is prolific. And that 1k a day, those three books a year, that level of prolificness - that's what being a writer is all about.

Readers want your books. They don't want your tortured berets. So I'm going to be prolific, or die in the attempt.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Oh Crap, It's Monday

By Kathleen Bradean

I mean, hello! It's Monday. My day to post. *Taps foot* *Looks around room* *Hopes something comes to me*

As I was driving in to work this morning, having a nice little chat with myself about one of my characters (interrupted by not so nice chats with the jerk who cut in front of me only to drive 15 MPH slower than the rest of traffic), it occurred to me that it's a good thing I don't take the train into work anymore. At the time, I was mumbling something along the lines of, "Okay, so she wakes up next to a dead hooker, and her worst enemy is trying to pull her to her feet and telling her that she has to leave before the cops get there. What's her first reaction? Freak about the dead hooker, or punch the guy slapping her awake?" I can imagine the invisible force field effect as I suddenly end up alone at my end of the train car while the rest of the passengers pack like sardines at the far end, their eyes wide open and wary. Or maybe the guy sitting next to me would nudge me with his elbow and say "If you need a place to bury that hooker, I know a spot out in Riverside."

Don't you hate it when other story ideas leap out at you like a cheap 3-D effect when you're trying to write something else?

So anyway - output.

My score, if you will, is eighty short stories, more or less, two novellas, and four novels published, and I just got a contract for my YA novel. That's more than some people and less than others. I don't remember this being a contest though. Sometimes, I don't write fiction for months. Sometimes, I'm up until an ungodly hour writing about waking up to dead hookers instead of writing my weekly non-fiction post, then waking up at another ungodly hour to drive to work and try to dash off an entry while my oatmeal is cooking in the microwave. Sometimes, I read, or go see the last Harry Potter movie or just hang around with the people I live with and talk about nonsense so that everyone is laughing. Yeah, I get jealous when I see the output of other writers, but when I stop thinking of it as a competition, it's amazing how quickly that goes away.

For the record: I decided she'd punch the dude first and then quietly freak about the body later.

Glad that's settled.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's All Relative

By Lisabet Sarai

A few days ago I put together my monthly newsletter. I normally have a section entitled "New and Upcoming Releases". I began the July version with an apology. "No new releases this month..." As I wrote that sentence, my spirits plummeted. Why was I even bothering with a newsletter, given the small number of books I produce on an annual basis?

My primary publisher these days is Total-E-Bound. They release an amazing six titles per week. (It's especially amazing because they seem to be keeping the quality high even with this level of volume.) Every Monday the CEO announces the week's authors and offers congratulations. And there are some authors whose names appear on that list again and again - week after week, month after month.

Measured against that level of productivity, my own publishing output looks pitiful. There's one TEB author who started publishing right around the time that TEB opened its doors four years ago. A few months ago, she celebrated the publication of her one hundredth book. Another romance author I like just marked fifty books published. And me? Well, you could count my major works on the fingers of two hands.

It's true that these women both write full time, whereas I'm lucky to get in one full day of writing per week. Also, most of these books are novella-length, in the 20-40 K word range. Still, it's sometimes difficult to avoid feeling inadequate.

When I get that sinking feeling, it's time for me to take a look at my publications history, which I try to update whenever I do my newsletter. (I didn't this month, though. I was feeling too depressed, and I really didn't have anything to add other than my monthly review at Erotica Revealed.) I don't publish something every month, but if you count short stories in anthologies, I probably average a least one publication every other month. Furthermore, I have to give myself credit - I haven't given up. My history stretches over twelve years, and I'm still writing and publishing - more frequently now, actually, then a few years ago.

I'm working now on a new novel, and it's taking what seems like forever, but I should cut myself some slack. Quarantine is science fiction, and that requires considerably more thought and effort than the contemporary stuff I've most written previously. Meanwhile, I do have a few pubs in the pipeline, a blues-themed ménage coming in a September anthology and a 15K stand-alone paranormal short due out in November.

I'm trying to convince myself that it is all relative, that making comparisons is just a waste of mental energy. I know that Garce, who mooted this week's topic, considers me to be very prolific, compared to his own output. I respond by telling him that his work is deeper, more creative and more original than mine, and thus that it requires more time and energy. But that's just comparing again, and in truth, comparing his writing methods to mine (not to mention the results) is like comparing apples to oranges.

At the best of times, I can write four or five thousand words a day. At the worst of times...well, I'd rather not talk about those times. I wrote my 8K Coming Together Taboo title, A Breed Apart, in about six hours. It was almost easy - possibly because I wasn't worrying about satisfying anyone but myself.

By some people's standards, I'm prolific. Others might consider me to be a lazy dilettante who can't publish enough to support a dedicated coterie of readers (though my tendency to experiment with multiple genres is also a factor here).

I guess what I'm saying is that the question Garce has asked may be meaningless. Prolific according to whom? To be honest, I don't want to think about it. I just want to write, without any concern about who will buy my stories. That's much more fun.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What River Is This?

by Alana Noël Voth

To xTx

My mother ran away from her father when she was seventeen. He did terrible things to her body, which had everything to do with her inability to love herself; which had everything to do with her inability to love me.

My mother escaped her father by marrying the man who’d become mine. Her past had everything to do with her inability to love him.

When my father was a boy, his father did terrible things to his body, which had everything to do with what he did to mine.

My mother was eighteen when I was born.

My face didn’t conjure any maternal instincts.

I was three when my mother ran away from us. No idea how it felt because I don’t remember her leaving. Mainly, I filled holes. I fell in love with my father. I trusted a babysitter’s husband too much. Later, I wrote dirty, violent stories in notebooks. Terrible shit that happened to bodies: car wrecks and knife fights and burnings. In my room, I listened to music.

No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man behind blue eyes.

That was a song by the Who. I also remembered “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin and “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues because my father played those records after my mother left us. He had long hair and blond sideburns then. Nights in white satin, never reaching an end. Letters I’ve written, never meaning to send.

I don’t know if my father wrote a suicide note. He came in my room one night and knelt by my bed then held my hand and cried into it. He wanted to run away that night. I stopped him.

What it was, my father worried I’d wake to the sound of a gunshot then have to see his brains all over the wall. That’s how I saved my father. But I wasn’t enough. I was a daughter. He needed a wife. Soon as my father married my stepmother, I felt dumped.

The father I had after he remarried was all oppression and control and anger.

I went from a child to puberty.

There was my father’s anger and its effect upon my body. He always focused on the negative.

“You look fat.”

“You look ridiculous.”

“I hate your hair.”

One day I told him, “I hate you,” and he beat me black-and-blue. Face down on my bed, my father held me by the back of my neck. Blow after blow after blow. I tried to breathe between them. Ever tried it? I was a desperate little bitch. Soon as I caught my breath I said, “I wish you were dead.” My father let go of me, and I clamored off the bed then crawled under it pulling up carpet with my nails like skin. I could see his feet, the belt hanging limp.

Neither of us cried; neither of us said anything. I went to gym the next day and had to undress in the locker room. I worried. Would the other girls say anything? Would anyone feel sorry for me? What would my gym teacher say? Nobody said anything. I didn’t want to tell on my father. Men beat their daughters. My friend Cheryl could tell you stories worse than mine. I undressed then got into my shorts and tee shirt. I walked through the locker room with my scarlet letter; my walk of shame. I loved my father. My father had beaten me. I’d asked for it.

Next day, I asked for it again. I got home from school nine minutes late.

My stepmother said, “Wait until your father finds out.”

When he did, he took my car keys. That was it; that was everything.

The most precious thing men take from us is freedom.

I climbed the stairs to my bedroom, went to my desk in a corner, took out a piece of paper then wrote, “Dear Daddy, I’m leaving and taking Boy George with me.”

That’s what I wrote. My father still has the letter. He loathed Boy George. I loved him.

One afternoon, my father rigged the cable box so I couldn’t watch the faggots on MTV anymore, but he didn’t rig out the Playboy Channel, so I got all the soft core heterosexual porn I could ask for: all those tits and ass. Maybe you wonder about the effect on me.

I packed a bag with clothes and all my Culture Club tapes. Then I took the Culture Club poster off my wall and rolled it up and tucked it under my arm.

I tiptoed down the stairs and out the front door, Boy George my spirit faggot.

When I got to my friend Kristine’s house her mother didn’t say a word. I showed Kristine the bruises, red welts, all up-and-down my legs. She said my father was bad. She said I’d done the right thing, but I was also eighteen. I wouldn’t have to go home ever; he couldn’t make me.

Here’s the thing: I was in love with Kristine. We used to ride in the back of her mother’s 1982 Ford Thunderbird holding hands. We slept in the same bed, watched all the faggots on MTV. Sometimes we went to school. I had five months of twelfth grade left.

One time Kristine said, “I wish you were a man so I could marry you.”

The first time I fucked a boy, he said I was too good at sex to have been a virgin.

I’d seen the Playboy Channel, read Harold Robbins, masturbated, fantasized, been molested. Was that what he’d meant?

I told Kristine I wanted to get out of town.

We drove her mother’s 1982 Ford Thunderbird eighty miles east to Glenwood Springs, and at the pool, met two boys, Dominick and Bryan. Dominick was dark. Bryan wore eye makeup. That’s why I liked him. Also, Kristine and I pretended we were French, no English, so I figured not having to talk to a boy put enough distance between us.

Eventually the four of us left the pool and went for pizza.

Kristine spoke to Dominick in fractured English, keeping up the French accent.

Bryan and I watched each other across the table.

Later we walked down to a river bank. Kristine stripped and got in the water with Dominick. Bryan’s eyeliner started to melt. Dominick and Kristine splashed each other, wrestled.

Bryan was girly enough I told him. “I’m not French.”

“I know.” He smiled.

We watched the water, watched them.

“What river is this?” I asked.

I have a photograph of my mother and me in a river somewhere. I was six months old and wearing a diaper. She’d dipped my feet in the water, and I’d clasped my hands together and opened my mouth in an “o,” either happiness or shock. Hard to tell.

“Let’s get in the water,” Bryan said.

“I don’t know.”

When my father called Kristine’s house, her mother handed me the phone.

I didn’t want to. Finally, “Hello?”

“Come home,” my father said.

“I don’t know.” My moment of power. And I wasn’t prepared for it.

My father sobbed in the phone.


“Please come home,” he said.

Bryan grabbed me by my arm and pulled me toward the water. We had this tug-of-war with my body. Into the water I went.

Friday, July 22, 2011

London Calling?

By Kristina Wright

The text message made my heart race. No, not in that way. In a different way-- a way that stirred the wanderlust in me.

"There is a two year tour to London that starts in February 2013..."


The text was from my husband, a naval officer. The tour would have us packing up and moving to London for two years. The logistics are a bit mind boggling at the moment, but the opportunity to live in London for two years seems worth it. Almost?

I have have had a love affair with London since 2003, but I've been in love with England since I was a little girl. The monarchy, the pageantry, the history... England was where a woman could be a powerful leader-- and a princess in a castle. At least, that's the way my young imagination interpreted it.

I read about Henry VIII and his wives-- I memorized their names and their stories. I got up early to watch Princess Diana get married and I watched her funeral with tears in my eyes. I didn't get up early to watch Prince William's nuptials, but I recorded it. When I was a teenager, a British accent would make me swoon. Not much has changed.

I'm not good at running away-- not in any real sense. I may have fantasized about running away when I was a kid, but I never attempted it. The price to be paid when I was dragged home was simply not worth the risk. I dreamed of running away to Europe, to travel the world, to study abroad, to be a photo journalist... but as deep as the wanderlust runs, there is also a need for comfort and consistency and a sense of place and identity.

I married a Navy man and that fed some of my wanderlust-- though we've somehow managed to stay on the east coast for our entire 21 year marriage. I guess it's not really running away when you take your spouse with you-- or when your spouse's career is the reason.

Ironically enough, I hate moving and have never moved within the same state. But there is that part of me, the small part that exists on some alternate plain of reality, that has fantasized about skipping the off ramp to my house and driving on... to wherever. Stopping when the mood hits me, starting over, changing my name, living a completely different life. Much like the fantasy of running away from my dysfunctional childhood home, it's just a daydream and never something I'd actually do. It's not even something I really want to do-- but it does hold a certain appeal.

I don't suppose moving to England would qualify as running away, though in some ways it feels like that's exactly what I'd be doing. Yes, I'd have a husband and two toddlers in tow, but it would be a major (if temporary) life change. And that's what running away is about, right? Changing your life by changing your location. It not only appeals to my creative side, it appeals to the little girl in me who dreamed of living in a castle and calling the shots.

I don't know if we'll make the big move. The logistics make my head hurt: a house here to rent or sell, housing to find in London, determining what to do with all of our belongings and vehicles, finding foster homes for our pets (or managing the red tape that would allow us to at least bring the cats with us), moving with two young children who won't understand any of what's going on, having to work out the details on everything from bank accounts to medical care, not to mention finding reliable, trustworthy childcare so that I can continue to write and edit on the other side of the pond. And that's just the practical stuff. There's also leaving everything familiar and saying goodbye to friends. It's realizing there would be a period of adjustment and days of wishing for X, which can only be found in the U.S., or in Virginia, or in Chesapeake. Moments of loneliness, isolation, homesickness... and certainly moments of adventure, excitement and opportunity. There's so much to think about.

I'm not good at running away, obviously. I have friends who would make a move like this without a thought. But my wanderlust is tempered with that need for familiarity and now-- when I'm 8 months pregnant and in full on nesting mode-- is not the time for me to be considering moving to another country. I told my husband I couldn't make such a big decision while my hormones are bouncing all over the place and my maternal instinct is in overdrive. I told him we'd talk about it again in a couple of months-- and yet I find myself mentioning it at least a couple of times a week. It's a nice little daydream, especially when I'm hugely pregnant and miserably uncomfortable in this crazy summer heat.

Maybe running away in my mind is good enough. Maybe. But there was one very important question I had to ask before I'd even entertain the idea of moving to England. My husband's response has kept the possibility alive:

"There's a Starbucks nearby."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Moving Target is Harder to Hit

“You can’t solve your problems by running away.”

“Everyone feels oppressed sometimes. Why don’t you talk to your boss/master/president/prime minister/parents/husband and work things out.”

Is this a joke?

Why are some Great Migrations considered heroic?

When I was growing up, my family had an illustrated coffee-table book of American folk songs. On special occasions, Mom would practice her keyboard-playing on the pump organ while the rest of us sang the words.

I fell in love with Sweet Betsy from Pike, travelling to California by covered wagon during the Gold Rush of 1849 with her lover Ike.

“The alkali desert was burning and bare,/ And Isaac’s soul shrank from the death that lurked there./
‘Dear old Pike County, I’ll go back to you.’/ Said Betsy, ‘You’ll go by yourself if you do.’”

I visited the alkali desert, briefly. I wondered if I would have had Betsy’s courage.

In the Case for Running Away and not going back, I call these witnesses.

Britannia, 60 AD:
We would rather be alive under Roman rule than killed by our Queen, ruler of the Iceni and sworn enemy of the Romans. The Romans think we’re savages, but their prejudice can work in our favour. They want to rule us from afar, not live among us. Our Queen wants to destroy every one of them and every one of us who lives in a Roman town. All able-bodied men who aren’t killed are forced into her army.

Our land is blessed with forests. My wife has been blessed with a child in the womb. Look for us tomorrow, and we will be gone.

If you’re still here when the soldiers come (hers or theirs, it hardly matters), tell them we were taken by evil spirits. Tell them the whole town is cursed. If you value your life, don’t tell them that war itself is the curse.

Maryland, 1855:
For three nights, I been dreaming about the General, sitting up real straight on the seat of a buckboard in a poke bonnet that pretty near hides her face. They call her Moses. That would make us the Children of Israel in Pharaoh’s land. Huh. What did they think we would learn from that story?

Uncle Bo says we can meet the General, but we have to sneak out at night and make our way to the safe house where some Quakers will take care of us until we move on. Some say there’s gonna be a war between North and South, but if there is, it won’t be about us. No sir. The men who write the laws up north are white men, same as the ones here. They all look after themselves.

They say there’s no slavery in Canada since 1830-somethin. That’s where I want to go. I don’t care if there’s so much ice and snow on the ground you can’t hardly plow a field. I can hunt what I can’t grow.

I ain’t scared of the cold. I rather feel that than the heat of a whipping on my back.

Saskatchewan, Canada, 1970:
I don’t really think I’m chickenshit, or Benedict Arnold or anything like that. I’d be willing to fight for my country if we were invaded, but I don’t see why I should go into a jungle in Vietnam to kill a bunch of people who aren’t threatening me.

I can’t walk into a bar and get a drink until I’m 21, but Uncle Sam could send me to war at 18. Just like that. The government could send me to jail for not showing up where my draft notice told me to go.

Yeah, my parents are pretty shaken up, but they’d rather keep me alive in some other country than send me off to kill or get killed. They got your name and phone number from the Johnsons. They know Jim Whatsisname who used to teach at the state college.

I have a girlfriend, and we were planning to get married someday. I guess I’ll never see her again. She’d have to come here, and I don’t think she would. Her parents wouldn’t let her if they could help it. I know what they say about draft-dodgers.

Thanks a lot for taking me in. I guess living here won’t be so bad if I can find a job. I miss everybody I left, but I really hope I won’t get sent back.

Saskatchewan, Canada, 1978:
Joan offered to pick us up and take us to the shelter. Her friend Geraldine was driving. Otherwise, I had just enough change to afford a taxi.

I hope neither of them ever regrets rescuing us. I know I had to get out of the house. He threatened to take the baby to his own country and give her to his relatives to raise, to get her away from the evil white woman who happens to be her mother. If he had smuggled her out of Canada, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get her back.

We missed him by minutes. When he phoned around to find out where we were, he admitted that he didn’t stay in class because he hadn’t had a drink that day. He needed his fix.

I know now that before the Charter of Rights became law in 1982, there was still a fugitive wife law on the books, left over from a past era. It hadn’t been applied for years, but in theory, he could have had the board and staff of the shelter charged for taking us in. And then my parents.

That night, Joan wouldn’t stay in her own apartment. She stayed with friends he didn’t know. I don’t think he ever met Geraldine. I hate to think of the weight of my guilt if I had put anyone else at risk.

“But he’s your husband.”

“He’s a nice guy. He was very concerned about your post-partum depression.”

“I’m sure he would never do anything to harm you or your daughter.”

But I know what I know. Sometimes you have to get out when you have the chance.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Straight Ahead Till Midnight

Ditch the kid, take a hike down the pike
around the bend we go
Come forth ye Ahab, Meshach and Abindego
Walking the earth to and fro
there's nothing new under the sun
its all been done, how come
you got nothing to show?

Achtung, Prince Charming
Talkin' to you, Magoo
Got me my samurai razor
now pass me the glue
gonna make a man out of you.
Till Mr. Perfect comes along, you'll have to do
then toodle loo.

Make out in the back of your 68 Malibu
park on the tracks, till the Midnight Special
blows a horn down our backs.

Look up Butterfly
Here's my Chinese tatoo
lick me there, Lao Tzu
Fly away Butterfly, life's a bitch and then you die
take what's left, get me to the brink
Can't cheat death, but I'll spit in His drink.

My hair out the window, yell my best Bible Belt Battle Yell
Come on Magoo
make me feel like ice water feels in Hell.

Bust out for the wild blue
off the rails, on a binge, lightin' out for the fringe
Gonna bail this town, light out for Tuscaloosa
then Baton Rouge and Bogaloosa
I'm a rick rack rat shack loser
with a belly full of shame
and some dues to do that got to do with you, Magoo
cause you're looking for love
but I'm out to give love a bad name.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Imaginary Me

I run away all the time. Not in the usual way, of course. Not in the literal, real, important way that everyone pays attention to. I don't pack a little checkered knapsack and put it on a stick, then sneak out in the dead of night to brave the wilderness - just me and my dog, Lucky.

And if I did, my knapsack sandwiches would be eaten in about an hour by wild bears, and Lucky would have run off to be with a much hardier and cooler Runaway, and I'd somehow end up wandering Highway 95 without pants and wearing only one sock after about a day. So you can see why that idea would be right out, for me. I don't want random drivers filming me wandering Highway 95 in my knickers with their camera phones. Simple math, really.

But in the metaphorical sense, I run away all the time. I run away in the middle of parties. Everyone is there, standing around, chatting to each other. Some people are dancing. Most look like they're having a really fabulous time.

And then there's me, in the corner, sipping juice while imagining what it would be like to get stranded on a desert island. I run away inside my head - sometimes with extreme results.

I mean, running away to a desert island isn't all that bad. Someone could still find me. I don't have to be on a desert island forever, and even if I did, people will probably travel through time to the seventies and try to blow me up, anyway. Plus I've got this whole Dharma mystery to never actually figure out even after being there for six years.

But running away to the zombie apocalypse? Yeah, that's pretty bad, I know. That means that I've run away to a place where 99% of the human race has just been made extinct. You couldn't get more of a run away if you tried - and believe me, I have tried.

I spent most of my formative years thinking about a story idea called "what if everyone else just disappeared one day". And yeah, sometimes Bill Murray was left behind and became my lov- friend. But I don't think the presence of Bill Murray necessarily excuses me. If anything, the presence of Bill Murray probably makes things worse.

He's so weary. The way I feel sometimes, when everyone around me starts talking about the club they went to last night. It was awesome, apparently. They imbibed fluids and moved their bodies rhythmically. While I dreamt of skateboarding through shopping malls and eating burgers at the President's desk, because thirty seconds ago everyone in the world simply vanished and left me to be as weird as I want to be.

Which probably all makes me sound like a terrible anti-social malcontent, I know. But I want to be clear: it's not because I hate other people. Well, some people I hate. But most people I like and want to get along with. It's just that sometimes, I find that getting along with part hard. I worry constantly about saying the wrong thing. I am hyper aware of my own weirdness, to the point where I'll start actually pretending I went to a club last night, too, just so I don't seem too insane.

Or at least, I used to. I spent most of high school doing that - and I was good at it, too. I was good at pretending to be a real person. But gradually, over time, I started to care less and less about being a real person. The more you prove that you're succeeding at being imaginary - at being different, in truth - the less you have to care.

My imaginariness has gotten me two degrees, a career in teaching, a career in writing. My weirdness has gotten me a husband, a family, a life that I love. I don't need to lie and say I know what to do at parties, and love going to clubs. I don't need to run away.

I'm fine right here, thanks.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Come Away WIth Me

by Kathleen Bradean

In grade school, my best friend and I imagined walking through a waterfall into a hidden land where we created our new Eden. We spent hours discussing the details of the world. Horses, yes. Parents, not so much. Since we were studying our state's history at the time, mostly the Trail of Tears and plains tribes, we had a lot of pseudo native American feel to our Eden.

As I grew older, I hiked and camped a lot. We'd come around a bend in the trail, and a hillside of bright yellow aspen would sweep below us in one of those grand vistas that only seem to happen in the Rocky Mountains. Far below, a mountain stream gushed over boulders. The sky, oh the sky. Why is it bigger outside cities? Why is the blue so intense that you can't look at it for more than a few moments? It made me wonder if there's a patch of earth no human foot has ever touched, some hidden waterfall that no one else has ever seen. I'm not sure I'd want to be the first though. Wouldn't it be nice if something could stay pristine and hidden forever?

Later, the lush forests of the Appalachians and the wide valleys of the Smokey Mountains added their siren's call to my soul. I'm almost afraid to hike into the mossy old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, because every picture I've seen of it makes me ache. It's the green, I think. Nothing humans create is ever that kind of spirit-cleansing green. Trees, mountains, streams - the combination is irresistible to me. I could lie on the ground so the scent of the soil fills my nose and pull the night sky over me like a blanket. Come Away With Me, Nora Jones croons, and I know where I'd head.

This is withdrawing from the world, finding it too much and deciding to give it up. But there's another side, because in all these fantasies, I've gathered my friends in this magical spot so that we can be community. Friends talk, half joking, half wistfully, about finding a retreat where we can just write and be creative and sit on the porch in the evening to talk. I even suggested buying a small town on EBay, pretending to be a weird religious cult (to draw tourists. We have to make a living after all. But not a real religious cult, because controlling other people cuts into my writing time.), opening a goat cheese store (among other handcrafts. We're using the Amish as our business model.), and wearing matching outfits (in the Star Trek "Everyone on this planet made their clothes from the same three bolts of cloth" tradition). Horse drawn carts are optional. I'd have to figure out how to disguise our WiFi and satellite TV though so we look convincingly old timey (or is that Olde Timey? Random Es on the ends of words are often good enough for tourists).

My "let's buy a town on EBay" thread was the longest one I ever started on FaceBook. Everyone wanted to come away with us, not just writers and artists. I'd welcome them all. Look at the sky, I'd invite them. Drink in the green until you can feel it in your cells. Smell the earth and the plants, the verdant growth and even the decay because they were never meant to be separate. Take my hand, run away with me. There's something I want to share with you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Just Isadora and Me

By Lisabet Sarai

Past seven PM, but the sun still hangs above the Pacific as though it will never set and the surfers still dance the waves. Two chicken legs crackle and blacken on my makeshift spit. The rich aroma makes my mouth water. Despair apparently has not suppressed my appetite. Or perhaps it is the proverbial salt air that makes me hungry.

Hunger makes me think of sex. Sex makes me think of him. I turn my gaze to the sea, focusing on the lithe silhouettes of the men among the breakers, willing my mind to empty.

It is my first weekend alone and I have run away from my one-bedroom apartment that still smells of his cherry pipe tobacco. Not far - Leo Carillo State Park is barely an hour north, though congestion on the PCH often makes the trip take longer. Today I flew here, or so it seems, windows cranked down, hot wind tangling my hair, in my blue Honda hatchback that I have christened Isadora after the legendary dancer.

I want to be free, as she was. Free of entanglements, careless of convention, going wherever my fancy leads, loving whom I choose, leaving them all with a laugh and a pirouette.

Last weekend, he disappeared. After we had spent every night for two months together, after I'd given him everything, made commitments, burned my bridges, he was suddenly gone without a word. My imagination painted grim pictures of maiming and murder. I called the local hospitals. I called his apartment, again and again. He might has well have dropped off the face of the earth.

I spent the weekend in an agony of worry. He phoned on Monday to tell me he'd been in Las Vegas, marrying his old girlfriend. He wanted to apologize.

Apologize! I blamed him more for the weekend of hellish anxiety than for the infidelity. How could I have believed he loved me?

Tuesday I had to work. Tuesday night I was drunk and high, trying to dull the pain, ready to fuck anyone who asked. Someone did. He crashed his car and I ended up in the emergency room, panty-less, still wet with his come. I hurt too much to be more than a little embarrassed.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday at home with the drapes pulled, bruised and sore. My now-married ex-lover showed up at my apartment door, full of regrets and sweet concern. It took every shred of will I could muster to send him away.

So here I am. I've never felt so alone. I'm three thousand miles from my family, here in this neon-and-plastic city for my first real job. I was ripe for the picking, I see now, new in town, a naive romantic who'd spent most of her life so far buried in books. I was ready to fall, and fall I did.

The pain is multi-pronged. I don't know which part is the worst. Rage at his blind, blithe cruelty? Shame at my eager susceptibility? Or the constant ache of want, the memories I can't keep at bay for long: his hands, his cock, the way we seemed to read each other's minds? Soul mates, he called us. I laugh and the wind carries the bitter sound away.

The chicken is smoky and succulent. Juices run down my chin. I wipe them away as I contemplate the waves. If I drowned myself, would he be sorry? Would I ruin his life? Do I want to?

I recognize my melodrama for what it is. I'm too sensible to commit suicide, even for the sake of a soul mate. Still, my future stretches before me, vast and empty of love. I know, rationally, that there will be someone else, but right now neither my heart nor my body believes this truth.

Think about the near future instead. The sun finally grazes the horizon. A chill breeze stirs my hair. Isadora waits in the parking lot above the beach, the tent I bought yesterday under the back flap. There are campgrounds here in the state park, I read, or I could drive on, headed north, to San Luis Obispo or even Big Sur. Isadora's gas tank is full and I have my credit card. I don't have to be back at work until Monday.

What do I want - besides him, of course, the man I can't have? Nothing. I find there's a kind of peace in that, as I sit with my back against a boulder on the now-quiet beach. The tide has receded. The surfers have gone home. My campfire has dwindled to warm ash. Purple and gold clouds streak the sky above the murmuring sea.

I could stay or go. It doesn't matter, not really. I'm free to make my own decisions. I feel the tiniest hint of elation. Perhaps I have something in common with the divine Miss Duncan after all.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bronwyn Green's Writing Day

When I was young and enamored with the idea of becoming a writer, my head was filled with images of elaborately carved writing desks, bay windows with cushioned seats overlooking a garden and leather bound journals where I’d lovingly craft my stories.

I can hear your laughter from here… It’s okay. I’m laughing too. I have no idea what prompted these romanticized images, but let me tell you about my real life where I do lovingly (most of the time) craft my stories.
My day…let me tell you about it.

5:15 AM: The alarm goes off at the buttcrack of dawn, and I beg my husband to hit the snooze.

5:30 AM: The alarm goes off again and I drag myself downstairs, turn on my laptop and check my email, answer anything pressing, make a pot of coffee and/or tea, take something out of the freezer for supper and take a shower.

6:20 AM: I wake up my two boys and coerce (threaten) them downstairs and into the shower.

6:50 – 7:45 AM: We leave to pick up another boy, drop two off at the high school and the youngest off at the elementary school.

8:15 – 9:30 AM Water aerobics with Brynn Paulin and Mia Watts. Hilarious fun!

9:30 – 2:00 PM: I check emails again, throw supper in the crockpot. Depending on the day, I’ll either write or work at my other job. When I’m not writing, I edit for an awesome publishing house. In addition to my group of authors, I oversee the proofreading program, the beta reading program and coordinate reviews. There are a lot of emails that go back and forth every day. When I’m not doing day job activities, I start writing as much as I can. Some days, I do really well – other days...not so much. One thing that helps is Twitter. (Don’t laugh – it’s not just for wasting time!) There’s a loose group of people who write at around the same time I do and we report our hourly totals to each other…and the web. The hashtag is #rpwordwar if anyone wants to join in.

2:00 – 4:00 PM: I pick up my oldest and my car pool kids, drop the car pool kids off at their houses, go to another high school and pick up a friend’s daughter, go to the elementary school and pick up my youngest and my friend’s youngest daughter, drop them off at their house come home, get my boys started on their homework and try to write a little more. During this time period I have awesome conversations with them about girls, zombies, music, life, girl island, Jedis, the apocalypse. World of Warcraft, books, movies, vampires and life in general. I LOVE this time of day. Not the driving, but the conversations I have with these amazing teenagers.

4:45 – 6:30 PM: Homework patrol and scrambling around for supper, if I was super clever and forgot to put something in the crockpot. There’s also more writing or working – depending on what I’m doing that day.

6:30 - 8:00 PM: Eat supper and hang out with hubby and the boys.

8:00 – 11:00+ PM: More multi-tasking – writing, blogging (trying to do it more at night) answering emails, working the day job (luckily, I have a flexible schedule) and more writing if family and day job allow. I will admit to taking a break on Tuesday nights to watch Glee with my sister and Supernatural on Fridays with Brynn.
Granted, it’s summertime now, so there’s a little less driving and I get to sleep past 5:30, but for nine months out of the year, this is my life.

So there it is. There’s no window seat overlooking a garden, certainly no fabulous period costumes or leather bound journals. There’s a lot of time spent in my car, there’s also a lot of time cleaning up cat puke. We have six rescue cats and well…sometimes, it’s messy. My life isn’t glamorous, but most of the time, it is fun. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Warning: This Won't Inspire You

By Kristina Wright

It's Thursday night, a little after 10 PM. I've known about this topic for a couple of weeks, known that this week I would be writing about the day in the life of a writer. That's me, the writer. Here I am, writing my piece about the day in the life of a writer. Hi. I hope you didn't get your hopes up. I hope you're not expecting much. I'm sure to disappoint.

I'm not sure which day I'm supposed to be writing about-- today? Any day this week? Any day in my writing life? I'd intended to write about my best writing day this week, or maybe to kind of combine them into a typical writing day. I had a few days to work with, Sunday through Thursday. Of course, Sunday is usually a day with the family and I don't usually have the babysitter on Wednesday (though I did this week, for 3 hours). But still, that left me Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. Three respectable work days chockfull of writing potential.

Want to know how much I wrote this week?

I wrote thousands of words. Yes, I swear I did. I wrote dozens of emails, many of them work related. Many of them have subject lines like "Anthology idea" and "review copies" and "Romance blog." All very writerly- like subjects, and I wrote many emails like that. I also wrote a couple of "Happy Birthday" emails and a couple of "hang in there, I know you'll be okay" emails. I fielded lots of questions from editors, writer friends, people who need something from me in an official writer/editor capacity. Thousands of words right there.

I also probably wrote several hundred words worth of text messages this week. (Am I the only one who proofreads texts before I send them? Please say I'm not.) Texts to my husband at work, to the babysitter inquiring how the baby was eating/sleeping, texts to friends to make plans or break plans or ask why they butt dialed me and left me a 5-minute voice mail of background noise. I might have even written a few texts in relation to writing.

Oh, and I wrote lists. Probably a couple hundred words, easy. Lists that began with "Pay bills" and ended with "Proofread galleys." Lists that were about errands I needed to run, household projects that must be completed before my due date, about thank you notes or birthday presents I need to buy this month. I love lists. Lists keep me organized, keep my forgetful pregnancy brain on track. Which reminds me that I'd intended to make a list of potential baby names, except I forgot. Oops. Maybe next week.

What else did I write? Hmm. Oh! Facebook status updates and responses to other people's updates. That's probably another couple hundred words, too. Those words add up, you know?

So, yeah, I've written thousands of words this week. None of them creative, none of them fiction. None of them marketable. Unless there's a market for a book of lists, as written by me.

I panicked yesterday afternoon while I was having coffee with another writer. A new writer, publishing wise, but one who has probably (certainly) written more words this week than this so-called professional writer before you. I panicked thinking I needed to cram in some real writing so I could write about the day in the life of a writer. Is that meta? I'm never quite sure what it means to be meta, but that feels meta.

I was going to come here and write some bullshit story about my typical writing day. It would have been fiction. I'm good at fiction (when I write); not so good at failure. I am, however, brilliant at honesty and to write anything less than the honest truth would make me feel not only like a failure, but a dishonest failure. So I'll just be a failure for this week. Or this day, at least.

So what was the typical day in the life of this writer? Might as well use today, I guess. I didn't make a list about the previous days this week and that pregnancy brain thing-- yeah, it's a real affliction. I can't remember much before this morning.

So, today. I fell asleep last night sometime before 2 AM. Woke up at 3:30 AM with the heartburn (my favorite pregnancy side effect). Popped 2 Tums, went back to bed. Woke up at 5 AM and was awake for a couple of hours. A serious writer would have gotten up and made use of those hours, but I'm a chronic insomniac and pregnant to boot, which means any rest is better than no rest at all. So I stayed in bed, daydreamed a little, rubbed the belly as the baby wriggled and stretched, wished for sleep and thanked the heavens (and the Baby Whisperer) that the toddler is a good sleeper.

Woke up at 9 AM and knew I needed to climb out of bed and get the baby up (whom I could just begin to hear stirring) and get going with the day. At 9:45 AM, I jolted awake and realized that I'd fallen back to sleep-- another pregnancy side effect-- and that the babysitter would arrive in 15 minutes. Got the baby up and his diaper changed, threw some clothes on him, then on myself, staggered downstairs (he weighs almost 28 pounds and I'm up 26 pounds so far this pregnancy, so staggering is accurate), plopped him in his fabulous Swedish designed high chair and got him started on breakfast.

The sitter arrived a couple of minutes after 10 (we are not ruled by the clock in this house), took over the breakfast feeding while I finished getting ready, made the bed, made the kid's bed, gathered my purse, computer and manuscript galleys. The kiddo pushed the garage door opener for me (as he does every babysitting morning) and gleefully waved goodbye. (He loves his babysitter and was with me all day yesterday, hence the glee.) I spent 30 seconds appreciating the cooler weather, climbed in the husband's truck and motored on down the road-- 4 miles to the Starbucks.

By 11 AM, I was settled in my usual spot (padded bench-- this pregnant mama can't sit on those hard wood chairs for long) with a blueberry scone, an iced black and white mocha, galleys for the manuscript I needed to proof and a pink pen (couldn't find my red one, probably left it at home). In a temporary moment of insanity, also known as discipline, I left my computer in its bag, knowing that if I so much as pulled it out I would be lost in the world of Facebook, blogs, email and ephemera and hours would be lost.

From 11 AM to 2 PM I finished proofing the galleys for my October book, taking frequent breaks to ball my fists up and press them in the small of my back for some pain relief. I ate my scone, drank half of my mocha and a bottle of water and by 2 PM, the galleys were finished. Good thing, they're due next week.

From 2 to 3 PM, I was online-- answering emails (mostly work related), downloading the contract for my new anthology and sending a note of gratitude to the publisher, responding to requests for review books and an interview, working out the details for a couple of ads for forthcoming anthologies, writing a couple of personal emails (though they were to writer friends, so maybe that's work related, too). I opened a new Word file and started drafting a call for submissions for the anthology I just contracted. I drifted over to Facebook and caught up on updates there, then I checked out a new market for fiction, read a couple of my favorite blogs (including this one) and took a much needed bathroom break. Oh, and there were texts to the husband and the babysitter and best friend and other friends.

Somewhere around 3 PM, I realized I was starving. I proceeded to surf the internet for another 15 minutes anyway, before packing up my stuff and walking down the strip mall to the Italian restaurant. I ordered a baked chicken salad and diet Coke, pulled out my ever present notebook and started making a list for the second half of July while I ate my late lunch. Prominent on the list were things about writing-- writing short stories for upcoming anthology deadlines, writing this column, writing next week's column, finishing writing that new call for submissions, and about a dozen words about a project I want to write.

I got home by 4:30 (the babysitter had left at 4, relieved by my husband), hung out with the boys for a little while, sat on the couch for a few minutes and contemplated just how tired I was, wrangled the kiddo back into his high chair for dinner while the husband heated up leftovers, picked at my dinner (the salad filled me up) while I helped the kiddo navigate the difficult task of feeding himself with a fork, talked about the day with my husband, talked about the weekend plans over squeals of delight from the toddler who was flinging food from his fork. Laughed. Laughed some more.

Dinner done, husband got the baby in the bathtub while I checked a few emails on my iPod Touch then joined them for a little pre-bedtime playtime. Kiddo went off to dreamland a little before 7 PM and I got a few minutes of alone time with the husband before he went off to Final Fantasy land and I climbed into my closet to continue an ongoing much needed purging in preparation for the carpet installers taking over the house next week.

An hour in at around 8:30 PM, exhaustion and allergies getting the best of me, I climbed out of the closet and took a long, cool shower. Then I laid on the bed long enough that I got uncomfortable (yet another pregnancy side effect) and decided it was either time to get up or time to call it a night. I remembered this piece I needed to write and also realized I was starving. I went down the hall and caught up with the husband for a few minutes before going downstairs. I microwaved a baked potato, threw everything in the refrigerator on it and scarfed it down while watching two episodes of Sex and the City on E!. Then I pulled out the laptop, made note of the battery life remaining (45%), decided that was my time limit for getting this piece written and got to work. Sitting on the couch, legs sprawled out to accommodate the expanding belly, laptop on a pillow on what's left of my lap, I started to write. This is the end result.

I told you not to get your hopes up. Have your eyes glazed over yet? Have I completely tarnished my reputation as a "real writer" forever? Are you bored? Are you shaking your head and mentally criticizing my laziness, my lack of focus, my utter failure to write a single word of fiction, not only today but any day this week? If you're doing any of those things, you're not alone. I'm doing them, too.

Obviously, this has not been a good week for Kristina Wright, writer. It's been a good week for Kristina Wright, everything else-- including Kristina Wright, editor, who signed the contract for her sixth anthology today. But Kristina Wright, the writer? She wasn't around this week. Maybe next week, when it's too late to write about a day in my writing life.

Today was typical, this week was even typical. I have days and weeks where I don't write a single word of fiction. I've had months of fiction-less writing, mostly post-partum or during bouts of depression. That's my writing life. I admire the authors who write every day, or even most days. I admire the writers who aren't distracted by text message pictures of baby cuteness or funny Facebook updates or thought-provoking blog posts by other brilliant writers. I'm in awe of the kind of focus and dedication that drives other writers from their beds at 4 AM or keeps them at their computer for 8 or 10 hour stretches, even though I know I'm fully capable of being that kind of writer because I have been that kind of writer. I will be that kind of writer again, maybe even next week. Certainly before month's end. There will be days of huge chunks of writing time and thousands of words written. It will happen. No matter how many days I have like today, where all the words stay bottled inside while I deal with other aspects of my writing and editing career-- not to mention my real life-- at some point the words have to come out. Always.

And so, disappointing though it is (more to me than to you, I'm sure), this is the only truly piece of creative writing I've done today or even this week-- and it's not even fiction. It is the blunt, boring, honest truth. Sorry. I wish I could've done better for you. But this is a real day in the life of a writer. A day in my life. No, I don't expect anyone will be clamoring to write the screenplay anytime soon.

And so, at 11:27 PM, with 9% battery life remaining, I'm going to finish out the rest of this day with a bowl of ice cream (it helps with the heartburn) and a few minutes daydreaming the plot of a story I want to write-- a story about a succubus who forces a man to choose between her and his ordinary life. Oh yeah, it's going to be a great story. Maybe I'll find time to write it this weekend. Maybe not. The only thing I know for sure is that I'm a writer and I will write. It's what I do. Just not this week.