Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Great Zebra Lesson

Texarkana Arkansas April 1980

The team captain said he’d be back in an hour. As I turn away from the county road, the tail lights of the Dodge van wink around a bend and vanish. An hour is plenty time. It’s dark enough now that the movie on the other side of the meadow is well under way.

I’m chewing gum because I’m nervous. Gum calms me, like giving the mind a rubber ball to bounce, a kind of sink for nervous energy. Like fear, a bad case of nerves goes unappreciated. Nerves are good, if you can ride your personal chaos it can push you beyond your limits and tonight I have to get beyond my limit or die. I check the cardboard box I tossed into the grass just before I jumped out of the van, and its all there, mostly Peanut Brittle and Peco Pies. Peco Pies are this kind of Southern thing, esssntially a rock hard kind of peanut brittle made with coconut. Some of them are pink, some are white. Then there several boxes of Old Dominion peanut brittle.

We call it MFT, which means “Mobile Fundraising Team”, but we like to say it means “More Fun Today”. I don’t know if the next forty minutues will be fun or not, but it will be seriously weird. This is the second time I’ve done this. The first time was a disaster, because I was so clueless and it was something no one had done or figured out. I was just tossed in there to figure it out on my own. Which is what I'm usually good at, but not that time. But I’ve had time to think. Now I have an plan. Now I have a clue.

I pick up the box and make my way through the dried up weeds and high switchgrass. it occurs to me that rattlesnakes come out at night in Arkansas to hunt for mice in the high weeds just like these, and I feel a little scared. So I move slow to give the venomous a chance to see me coming. An old farmer with snake skins hanging off his porch told me – after buying some candles I was selling for my church – that rattlesnakes are basically peaceful and shy. Animals in general are practical creatures because they live in a world of sudden violence. Rattlesnakes are practical animals. It takes two weeks to build up a charge of poison they could be using to catch their food. Biting someone out of fear is a waste of juice, it’s a last resort because they’ll go hungry for two weeks. That’s why they rattle at you, they don’t want to bite you.

I shuffle my feet, and freeze when I hear a loud buzz in the grass and something moving away. I don’t know if it’s a bug or a snake. I just move slow, making a lot of noise with my feet until I reach the barb wire fence.

I take a little keychain flashlight off my belt and shine it along the ground under the fence. I know its going to be here someplace. After a few minutes I find it, a hole where the fence has been lifted up because the local kids are always sneaking into the drive in movie to turn on a speaker and smoke and make out and drink, whatever these small town kids do at night. I can see the back most row of cars, and yes, many of them have steamed windows rolled up. One of them has a girl’s bare feet and calves sticking out the rear window. The girl is curling and uncurling her toes.

I kneel down and push the case of peanut brittle and peco pies through and then get down on my back and scoot under. I glance at my watch. Forty minutes to go, minus ten minutes to leave and get to the road. And that’s if nothing bad happens. Here we go.

I skip the back row of cars completely, that was one lesson I learned from last Friday night. If they’re engaged in embarrassing activities, if they’re irritated and suspicious, they’re not likely to buy.

So I move straight to the second row and go right at the first car I see.

I’ve learned not to plan or to think past this moment. That’s what killed me mentally last time and had the manager looking for me in the dark with a big steel railroad flashlight. You can’t think about this. I go into automatic mode. Some things are too weird to contemplate. If you think about what you’re doing, what can go wrong, you’ll lose your nerve. You’ll turn sensible. Sensible gets you killed. That’s what I’ve figured out from last week’s debacle.

What I learned is this -

When you do something that’s totally weird, totally inappropriate and most of all unprecedented, people won’t know what they’re supposed to think. So, since you’re the guy doing the weird thing – people look for their cues from you. That’s an amazing thing. If you think you’re doing something weird, they think so too. If you think what you’re doing is totally normal, they think so too. It must be normal, or why wouldn’t this guy be embarrassed? When confronted with something new, people want to be told how to respond to it. People want to be told what to feel.

So I go up to the first car, but I don’t want to startle them, so I go “Hi! How’s the movie?” in a big cheery voice from about fifteen feet away so they have plenty of time to see me coming, just like the rattlesnakes. The man in the driver’s seat turns to look, worried at first, but he sees the big happy grin on my mug and the candy case under my arm. “Hi!” he says, like we’re old friends. Maybe for two seconds he even figures we might be. At this moment there’s a rolodex of faces scrolling in his head and coming up empty.

“Listen, my church is fund raising in the drive in movie tonight? And guess what we got? Peanut Brittle! Wow!” I grab a box and hold it up. He has to squint to see it, but yes, sonuvagun, it sure is peanut brittle all right.

“Your church is selling stuff in a drive in movie?”

“Yup! We sure are! Wow! You can get one box for two dollars, or three boxes for five!”

He turns to the young woman in the passenger seat who is slouching down and it looks like she’s quickly fiddling with the buttons of her blouse. “What do you think darlin’?”

She nods. “Yeah, okay. Peanut Brittle’s okay.”

"Is it good with beer?"

"Sure is! Wow! Peanut brittle!"

The man fishes out his wallet. “Five?”

He hands me a five. I give him three boxes. God bless you, enjoy your movie, and I move right along to the next car.

There’s not a big crowd tonight. I work through most of the middle and do well on the front row because that’s where most of the families with little kids are, near the playground area under the big screen. By the time I gotten through 25 minutes, most of the candy is gone. One person was definitely annoyed and I’ve kept on eye on his car. He’s heading for the snack stand. Maybe popcorn. Maybe a complaint. Time to go back to the fence anyway. Once I get to the fence, I check my watch again, and hunker down in the weeds and watch part of the movie. After a few minutes a squadron of mosquitoes radios in my position and dives in.

That’s not the weirdest thing I’ve ever done by a ways, but its one of the weirdest things I’ll tell you.

That was a long time ago. I was a different person. I couldn’t do that today. I wouldn't have the guts. I wouldn’t know how. The mechanics of it are simple, a chimpanzee could do it better. What I couldn’t get back is the mental position, the correct state of mind, and the state of mind is absolutely necessary. Here’s the rule of fund raising in a drive in movie – if you believe it, they believe it. If you think its weird, they think its weird. When confronted with something unprecedented, if you’re the man in the spotlight, people around you will take their attitudes by picking up their cues from you. Suspension of disbelief.

When you hear hoof beats coming at you, you expect to see a horse. The one time in a million it turns out to be a zebra you don’t know what to do. So you look to see what the other guy is doing. That’s how 9/11 happened. The first three planes were zebras. By the time the fourth zebra, United 93, came along, the passengers on board that flight had stopped believing in horses and began dealing in zebras.

I think about the drive in, and there were many of them back then, when I watch politicians on TV these days. Its all about the confidence. If you look like you believe something, people believe it. People want to believe it. People want to believe something. If you doubt yourself, even if you’re right, people will doubt you. That makes for so much mischief in this world.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ohio, As Seen Through Rear View Mirror

By Kathleen Bradean

You could say I'm jaded by now, but even trying to look at my life through more innocent eyes, there isn't much there that qualifies as wild. This really dismays me. I seem like the kind of person who would have done some really stupid, crazy shit over the years, but I didn't. What the hell was I thinking? Why didn't I have the foresight to plan my life out so that it would be fodder for a bestselling memoir? But no. I always had to think about the consequences. What a putz.

Once in high school, I was pulled over by a cop after visiting a drive-thru known for selling beer to minors. I'd bought a six pack of 7Up. The cop was apologetic after he searched the entire car and found nothing. I had a stress attack and couldn't stop shaking enough to drive for another twenty minutes. Clearly, I wasn't cut out for life on the edge.

Every morning during home room at my Ohio high school, they announced the names of every kid who had to report to the principal's office. The usual suspects got no reaction, but if it was someone unusual, everyone hooted as they did the walk of shame out of the room. My senior year, a group of parents sued the school board for discrimination. From then on, the kids of those parents, including me, were regularly summoned to the principal's office. We'd gather in the school office and wait through most of our first class until the secretary released us. We never saw the principal. It was pure harassment. Even though I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, the humiliation was crushing. Finally it got to the point where my name was called so often that no one in my home room made a sound when I shuffled out of the class, books clutched to my chest like protective armor. But did I make the most of that bad girl reputation I'd earned? No. Again, what was I thinking? I should have sashayed my ass down the aisle between desks like a saucy minx. I should have paused at the door and winked at someone, someone like one of the real delinquents. I totally had cred and didn't use it. What a waste!

It wasn't until after my eighteen birthday that I decided to do something mildly wild. College was a nightmare. My parents forced me to leave a small college I liked to go to Ohio State. I was not a good fit for that place. Back then, schools didn't have to report crimes on campus, but we knew about a rape a week in those huge parks in the center of the campus. This was way back in the dawn of PCs, so I had to go to the computer center to do my programming homework. Since I was a lowly sophomore, the only time block I could schedule was from eleven PM to one in the morning. Then I'd have to walk across both those parks, in the dark, alone, to my dorm. Campus police refused to escort, and the only group of guys willing to help out wouldn't escort girls who weren't in sororities. So I was on my own. I walked with my keys clutched through my fingers in one hand and a massive Ronson cigarette lighter with the flame turned up eight inches in the other. As you can imagine, this constant state of siege did a number on me.

I knew that I couldn't continue in the college major my parents had picked for me, and I knew if I changed majors, they'd quit paying my tuition. I also didn't think I could get a loan to pay for my tuition. So at that point, I figured college was over for me. (I eventually returned and got my degree, graduating at with honors) SO I started planning my escape. Every week, I'd pack a box with things that I felt I had to keep and mail them to my boy friend in California.

The last day of school, I drove home and spent a week hanging out with the family. In my father's eyes, that was six and a half days too long to not be gainfully employed -something he reminded me of every morning at about 6AM when he told me to get my lazy ass out of bed and go look for a job. In the entire five years I lived in Ohio, I never once saw a help wanted sign. It seemed every factory in town was shuttered. A Red Lobster opened up and had 700 applicants for jobs. I cleaned houses back in Columbus for spending money, but I couldn't find a local housekeeping firm that needed another maid. My parents were oblivious to this reality. On day eight, I told my parents that I'd found a job. I just neglected to tell them that it was in California.

After breakfast, I hugged the dog goodbye, tossed my suitcase into the trunk of my car, filled my gas tank, got on the highway, and drove west. Maybe I should have been scared, because I knew my parents would be furious when they found out I'd dropped out of college and left without asking for permission, but I knew they couldn't drag me back because I was eighteen and no longer their property. Besides, I didn't foresee talking to them again any time soon. They'd said plenty to me over the years and I'd had enough.

Perfectly calm - okay, a bit exhilarated - I rolled down my window, let my hand ride the heated thermals rushing past, and cranked up the radio as I passed over the border into Indiana.

Even now, Ohio looks best in a rear view mirror. I keep my eyes on the road ahead.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wild Wedding

By Lisabet Sarai

His name was Kevin - or maybe Keith - anyway, I'm moderately certain it began with a 'K', and I guarantee that I did know his name at the time. After all, this was nearly thirty five years ago. He was the bride's kid brother, a skinny but surprisingly self-confident nineteen year old with messy dark hair and glasses. As for me, I was twenty four, an experienced woman of the world, I suppose, from his perspective, though most of the time I felt confused and awkward.

His sister was marrying my ex-housemate, the smooth-talking, golden-haired business student who'd flirted with me until I couldn't bear the sexual tension any longer, until I climbed into his bed one night while my steady boyfriend (also a housemate) was away. (I wrote about this encounter for another Grip post, on the topic of bad decisions!). Of course, that boyfriend (or rather, ex-boyfriend) was also among the guests at the posh wedding, held in the manicured garden of his parent's home in an upmarket Connecticut coastal community. The rest of the former occupants of that crazy group house attended, too. The whole absurd scene would have been hilarious in a film, but this was my life.

The groom graced me with a smug smile when I arrived, then ignored me. My bitter ex-lover wouldn't even say hello. My other housemates offered embarrassed greetings then moved on, clearly uncomfortable at being caught in the middle of a romantic divide.

So there I was, more or less alone near the edge of the tent, drinking wine and trying to look like I belonged, a middle class Jewish girl in the midst of wealthy W.A.S.P. guests I didn't know. Then Kevin sauntered over.

He wasn't the sleek, muscled teenage boy of a romance reader's dreams. I would have labeled him a nerd, if that term had been been invented yet. Still, he had a certain charm. He leaned against the tent-pole, engaging me in clever banter with a powerful undercurrent of innuendo. In ten minutes, he had me laughing. In twenty minutes, he'd suggested we adjourn to the motel where he and his family were staying. And I'd agreed.

I can't help blushing in retrospect, but at the time, there was no way I was going to refuse. So what if he was five years younger than I was? Who cared that he was a member of the wedding party and likely to be missed? He wanted me, I wanted him, and nobody else there seemed to give a damn about me or what I did.

That afternoon burns in my memory as one of the most perfectly entertaining sexual encounters of my life. It was pure fun. I doubt he was a virgin, but he was certainly less experienced that I was, young enough to be impressed by my boldness and grateful for my attentions. I recall giving him a blow job, probably his first, and the gleeful pride that added an extra sheen to my arousal. I saw myself through his eyes, mature, sexy, a daring woman of the world. His horniness turned me on as much as his lively intelligence.

He was no slouch, though. He surprised me by asking if I'd pose for him to take photographs. With an exhibitionist streak a mile wide, I was only too happy to oblige. I would really love to see those shots now!

By the time we returned to the reception, many of the guests had left, among them my old lover. I'm sure I got some strange looks, but honestly, I didn't care. Kevin grinned like the cat who'd devoured the canary. Nevertheless, he was unfailingly polite and solicitous as he drove me to the station so I could catch a bus home.

Of course I never saw or heard from him again. That doesn't matter. In fact, I suspect that any further contact would only have diminished the pleasure we both derived from our impromptu encounter.

I've done quite a few wild things in my life. I've visited sex clubs and gone to swinger's parties. I've had sex on the floor of a church, in a Greyhound bus, in a parking lot. Still, I'm not sure any of those experiences can compare to my slipping away from a wedding to fuck the bride's teenage brother.

Sounds like the premise for a wonderful erotic story, doesn't it? But now if I write it, everyone will know it's not fiction.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Writing Outside the Box

Stephanie Beck

I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.

Wait, no I don’t. I’m a female romance writer who lives in the Midwest. When I’m not writing romance I’m chasing my kids, knitting, driving to and from school, running errands for my husband, and baking some wicked yummy cupcakes.

I admit to writing a few characters who do some of the above. They are some of my favorite characters because I feel like I really got to know them and if we met at a coffee shop we’d totally be best friends. However, if I wrote those kinds of characters all the time the fun wouldn’t last.

To be completely honest, I bore the pants off myself at times. I couldn’t subject my awesome readers to that sort of dish washing and dog walking torture.

Writing outside the box can be a daunting task. I’ve heard writers lament about not being able to get into the opposite sex’s head. Or maybe they’ve tackled a story with a heavy sexual kink and can’t quite get the motivations right. Then there is the sexual orientation question and how to write something sexy when the writer personally doesn’t find the situation sexy.

Every writer is different and each tackles this issue differently with varying levels of effectiveness. Two mistakes I’ve witnessed: Muscling and Stereotyping.

Examples of Muscling: when a woman wants to write a tough, standoffish man, she can’t have him thinking constantly about his feelings just because it’s easier. Just as women are not little men who misplaced their penises, men are not big women who lost their boobies. Men, for the most part, show more through action than talk. That’s not to say a man can’t have moments of deep thought, affection and emotion, but men and women approach problems and emotions differently. If a writer forgets that, they run the risk of putting their big strong alpha male in a preverbial tutu. The same can be said for male writers who write women. Women can be super badass and tough, absolutely, but there are still feminine aspects that need to come through if you want a feminine character.

Example of stereotype trouble: while writing a gay character, if a writer relies only on Lifetime reruns and porn, the character runs the risk of never really getting past a few one liners. There’s nothing more disappointing than a thrilling plot with a character who never makes it to life.

To avoid the dreaded flatness that comes with honestly not knowing the ins and outs of a character, I’ve come up with a few tricks:

**Research: Ask questions and pay attention to people, mannerisms and habits. Sure, it sounds a little stalkerish, but how are you going to learn if you don’t ask? Finding people who are open and comfortable with questions is key. Asking the perfectly nice lesbian mom at story time about her sex life is rude (please don’t do that). Posing questions in a forum devoted to lesbian fiction and picking up lesbian fiction is the safer route. You wouldn’t try to write about a doctor without brushing up on medical terminology. Setting out to write a BDSM story without a basic knowledge of doms, subs and what drives a person to choose that sexual path will only lead to frustration later.

** Layering: If the character’s occupation is something I’m unfamiliar with, I give them a hobby I know well. If the character’s sexuality is one I can only appreciate in pictures that make me wiggly, I give them the kind of sheets and blankets I love. If their romantic relationship is intense and out of my realm of comfort, I add another relationship (friend, parent, sibling) that I understand really well. This works great no matter what sex or orientation a writer wants to try. Balance what you know with what you learn.

**Details: Just because the character is not one I identify with, doesn’t make them any less human (you know, unless they are a werewolf or cyborg—that presents another layer). They need to have the details a reader needs to get to know the character. How do they like their coffee? What kind of shoes do they wear? Do they like cats or dogs? The devil is in the details. It’s easy to fall into stereotypes with this…and some people are stereotypical, it’s just the way it is. However, to avoid making your character the token anything, give the character details, make the details match and support each other, but let them have surprises too. Example: Scott, from my story, Unraveling Midnight, is a badass werewolf. He’s the sole supporter of his three kids, works as a security guard/thug and has the shaved head, scarred face of an ass kicker. However, he willingly picks up a set of knitting needles for his daughter. He bakes oatmeal raison cookies. He drinks his beer in bottles. Rounding him out gives him features readers can identify with.

Writing in a completely different point of view can be daunting. I think with practice and attention to detail, most writers can push out of their comfort zone and write a really interesting, engaging character. Remembering that every character needs a purpose and drive and a reason to rock is the first step in writing outside the box.

Stephanie Beck
Even before she understood what all the thrusting meant, Stephanie Beck loved reading romance. When the stories didn’t end the way she wanted, writing her own was the perfect solution. From ridiculous humor to erotica, Stephanie loves being transported within a story. Her latest, Unraveling Midnight brings together a werewolf single father and a knitting extraordinaire—combining love in unexpected places. When she’s not elbow deep in words, her husband and three beautiful command her attention. After they are sleeping she knits or bakes cookies...or squeezes in more writing.

Visit Stephanie Beck at http://www.stephaniebeck.net

Friday, January 27, 2012

Authenticity and the Writer

There is a difference between writing "other" for the other and writing other for those like you. I was considering this notion of writing other-- writing from the perspective of someone who is not like me-- and realized I haven't done it all that often when the audience is able to authenticate my writing. Regardless of the topic, it's scary to have an expert say, "You got it wrong." Being told that I got it wrong by someone who lives and breathes the life I'm writing is not only scary, it's embarrassing and shameful. It's an insult to the "other" that I am writing about. So perhaps that's why I don't do it very often.

I have written from the male perspective dozens of times, but I have written it for women. In romance and erotic romance, the audience is primarily women. Writing alpha males comes from a place in me that likes the idea of alpha males but would likely run screaming if I were in a relationship with one. On the page, my male characters are written with an audience in mind-- and that audience is me, not a guy who served twenty years in the army and rides a motorcycle, like the character I'm writing. That guy--reading about the fictionalized version of himself--might laugh at my portrayal. I'm too scared to ask, to be honest.

Which brings me to the point of writing "other"--for me, at least: bringing the reader a fantasy she can enjoy. My "other" writing skews to the female fantasy side of fiction-- male characters as women fantasize about them and otherworldly creatures as perceived by me with no one to suggest my portrayals are inaccurate. I have also written lesbian fiction from the perspective of a bisexual woman with some experience, though I sometimes feel distanced from the experiences of those characters.

I have occasionally tackled a character of a different race, tapping into my own experiences as a minority in various communities. Yet I'm always wary of stereotyping, of being a voice for someone whose life is so far removed from my own. I have not yet written a transgendered character because I don't feel I could do the experience and emotions justice. I believe I have written only one story from a gay male perspective and while I was honored it was published in Ultimate Gay Erotica (from the defunct Alyson Publishing), the story was very much tongue-in-cheek with a fantasy theme and a level of humor to suggest erotic satire. In other words, it wasn't written to be taken seriously as the gay male experience.

I am an advocate for writers writing anything they choose, from any perspective they choose. If an author is comfortable writing the other--and can do it with a level of authenticity--I wish them all the best. But as a woman who has encountered her share of inaccurate and insulting stereotypes written by men who didn't have a clue about the female experience (or even the female anatomy, in some cases), the key word there is authenticity. Like every other aspect of writing, research is paramount when you are not completely familiar with the subject at hand. Never is that more true than when it comes to writing about people who are different than us. I may write fantasies for women with male characters who are too good to be true, but if my audience were men I think I'd have a couple of those men authenticate my work before I sent it out into the world. It's embarrassing to have someone say that you didn't get their experience right-- but it's a hell of a compliment when they say that you did.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Identity Wars

No one who was present at the sites of battle could forget either the Feminist Sex Wars or the wars over appropriation, variously defined (Appropriation of Voice or of Culture), especially among women writers of the 1980s. The dust hasn’t completely settled yet.

I still think of Toronto, Canada, as Ground Zero for the conflict between freedom of expression (as defined by its advocates) and cultural authenticity in literature. In 1988, the collective that ran The Women’s Press of Toronto broke into open warfare when the “Front of the Bus Caucus” locked the other collective members out of the building. The locked-out members filed suit. This was the climax of several years of tension, during which three white women writers who had signed contracts with the press were told that their work was not acceptable because they had “appropriated” (written about) the cultures or identities of “people of colour.”

The lawsuit was extensively covered by Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. Eventually, the locked-out collective members formed Second Story Press, which advertised itself as a feminist, anti-racist press. Its ads and list of titles actually looked much like those of The Women’s Press, IMO.

Meanwhile, at the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal in 1988, Anne Cameron was singled out for public humiliation. To understand this, you need to know that she was (still is) a West Coast writer with a cult following among feminists and lesbians, especially in western Canada. Her book-length version of a West Coast First Nations creation story, Daughters of Copper Woman, was passed around and read until its covers fell off. We all wanted to identify as daughters of the First Woman rather than of Eve, the afterthought formed from Adam’s rib.

According to her various bios, Anne Cameron had grown up in the mountainous interior of British Columbia where her closest companions included local indigenous people. ( I also pictured her hanging out with the odd Saskwatch, ogopogo or talking raven -- mythical animals said to live in the mountains, the lakes and the trees). She had children and grandchildren of First Nations descent. She was contributing her proceeds from Daughters of Copper Woman to a First Nations land-rights case. She seemed like the very model of a self-reliant, politically-correct, earth-loving lesbian-feminist.

But she was undeniably white. At the book fair, she was publicly confronted by a First Nations writer, Lee Maracle (also a woman from B.C.), who claimed that the time had come for white women writers to “move over.” Anne Cameron apologized for her writing and promised to stop appropriating a culture that wasn’t hers. This exchange was the talk of the book fair.

Soon afterward, a manifesto appeared from a white lesbian poet, Betsy Warland (blonde, healthy-looking, originally from California) who had given readings and a workshop at the book fair. Her piece took up two pages in the centre of Broadside, a feminist newsletter from Toronto. She described her internal struggle, as a white writer wanting to write about “the other,” and her realization that she could never “get it right” when writing about life-experience that wasn’t hers, in the context of a culture that wasn’t hers. She apologized to those who had been hurt by literary colonization. She promised to go forth and sin no more.

To say that I was disconcerted by all this would be an understatement. I had enjoyed writing first-person short stories about characters whose religious backgrounds (Jewish, Catholic) were different from mine, whose physical characteristics (including skin colour and hair texture) were different from mine, and whose social class was debatably different from mine. I had written a few first-person stories in a male voice, but I sensed that no male reader was likely to accuse me of harming him by “appropriating” the consciousness of a person with facial hair and balls. I sensed that this had a lot to do with who has more power and who has less.

So far, no one had torn a strip off me. This was probably because I was still below the general radar, a writer without a following.

Maybe fantasy literature could be a welcoming closet for a writer who wanted to achieve cult status without being told off. Or maybe not, since elaborate sagas involving supernatural beings or other planets are thinly-disguised versions of events on this earth. Ever since the blockbuster film Avatar hit the big screen, we all know that any plot about “primitive” tribespeople (even with blue skin) and their natural environment is guaranteed to spark a political debate.

My writing output slowed. In the long run, I didn’t stop writing about “the other.” By definition, writing fiction seems to require going beyond factual first-person testimony. This is one of the reasons why writing is dangerous. Every time I describe a character with a different identity or cultural affiliation from mine, I run the risk that someone from that community will accuse me of stereotyping or exploiting them. Yet no one can explain how any writer could fight bigotry by writing only about middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (of which I’m not a pure example). In any case, expressions of extreme WASPness could look even more politically incorrect than "appropriation."

And I haven’t even touched on the ever more complex list of current sexual identities: gay, straight, bi-dyke, boi, High Femme, transmasculine, gender-queer, Dom, sub, switch, et al.

There have been skirmishes over literary “appropriation” since the 1980s, notably within self-defined anti-oppressive collectives. I think it’s fair that the representation of oppressed or marginalized people in works of art should be analyzed and discussed.

But a debate can now escalate and go viral almost instantly. (Showdowns in the 1980s generally had to take place in real space and real time.) Complexity gets lost, and hatred prevails, at least until a new fight breaks out somewhere else.

Lynching – the spontaneous execution of a presumed culprit by an enraged mob – has always seemed to me to be one of the worst grassroots traditions ever. And not only because it was so often based on racism.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Becoming an Incubus as a Spiritual Discipline

A long time ago Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called “The April Witch” about a love sick teenage girl named Cecy. Cecy has been born into a “remarkable” family as they call themselves. They are witches, Cecy is specifically an “April Witch”. She has the ability to leave her body and travel the night “like a black kite on the wind” and invade and occupy the consciousness of anyone or anything, a bug, a bird, a boy or a girl. In another girl’s body she falls in love vicariously with a muggle, but Harry Potter is still a good 60 years away and it cannot be. Poor Cecy.

I’ve read that story many times, and it only recently occurred to me what the story is actually about. The interior metaphor of the story is Ray Bradbury himself, the fantasy writer jumping into the consciousness of a young woman who jumps into the consciousness of the young man she fancies. The writer as incubus. The incubus as succubus. What fun!

I think the hardest, and most awkward stretch for a male writer is to inhabit the other gender well enough for the reader to see herself there. This is the soul of erotica and romance literature, the crossing of the abyss between lovers and trying to imagine what pleasures them. Usually male writers create deciding characters that are male, and women writers create deciding characters that are female, because, as they say, write what you know. But sooner or later you have to step off into the dark and challenge the world of the story through the eyes of someone you will never be. In my case a very disenfranchised young woman.

For instance, before I go on, here is a longish fragment of one scene of a story I’m working on, one which is pulling in all my creative attention like a black hole. This is only the opening movements of a much longer scene and the story may not be ready for months. When I have a big one on the hook, there’s nothing I love more than working with a slow hand:

“ . . . . . Nixie opened the little Bible in the middle and ran her fingertips down the thin onionskin pages, lips moving, guessing at the sounds the stately ink marks would speak, picturing herself speaking as Father Ambremelin would, preaching a stern homily to the cannibals. Without knowing the words, only knowing the sweat scented leather and the paper and the tiny marks of ink, even the nostalgic little sigh of blood on the inside of the back cover, Father Ambremelin’s gift was a thing of beauty and kindness. Once she was in the convent, a bride of Jesus with the Augustinian sisters, they would teach her to read this book. She would be an educated woman.

There were people in the hallway outside the closed door. She stood still and listened, feeling them through the door, irritated, wishing they would go away. A soft, almost apologetic tapping and then silence. Thrown out like a prayer, waiting for an answer. Nixie waited too, gathering stillness around herself like a wall. She waited for the person to go away. Another soft, diffident rapping. Another silence.

The air seemed heavy with anticipation. At last, defeated, she closed the little book and pushed it away, got to her feet and crossed over to the door. “Jah?” She waited on her side of the door.

The tapping came again, more insistent now. They wouldn’t go away, knowing now she was awake at this late hour. Maybe it’s important. Something bad has happened. She turned the knob, opened the door and Wloji was there. Nixie sensed someone else, maybe Papa, behind her further down the hall, also waiting. “Yes?”

Wloji stood firm and waited.


“Are you fine, goose girl?” said the African. “Dinner good?”

Nixie felt bewildered. She thought of the battered pocket Bible on the desk, with its blood stain from far away lands, Father Ambremelin’s blood. She thought of the Cameroons. “Come in.” She stepped aside and Wloji entered.

“So nice now, yes?” said Wloji. “A fire? Sitting late?” Wloji stood next to the desk and planted herself there. “Nice time, yes?”

Nixie closed the door. “Wloji,” she said. “Is everything all right?”

“Fine, fine.”

“I want to ask you, what my Uncle Snorri said. Are you a slave?”

Wloji stood a little straighter. The room had become disturbing with the African filling it, her exotic skin and being of menacing ironic deference hinted of a merciless and alien way of life.

“Are you Uncle Snorri’s slave woman? He says you’re just monkeys, not people.”

Wloji turned her back and opened the window. She lifted the frame to let in a little more of the air and closed the curtains. “It’s nice tonight. Sorry, goose girl.” She went to the little desk, gently opened a drawer and took out a small wooden hairbrush.

“Nixie, that’s my name. Please.”

Wloji drew the chair away from the desk and set it next to the big bed. “Sit, now. Nixie girl.” She patted the back of the chair and waited. A cuckoo bird was calling in the dark, and the wood fire gave a rosy spiciness. As the night air lifted the curtains the world seemed so perfect and mysterious for a moment that it seemed a shame to leave it for a stuffy cloister. She came over and sat in the chair. The tall African stood behind the chair and bent close, whispering in her ear. “Fire nice. Evening nice. What is not fine, Nixie girl?” The fingers behind her were lifting her hair in a bunch, caressing and straightening it. The hair brush bristles slipped delicately against the strands and began to move. She closed her eyes. “Slave,” said the voice behind her. “In the Cameroons, we have moth, yes. This moth she come only night time, like Wloji. She so big because she have so much food, yes. She drink tear. Tear from elephant, she cry. Tear from bird, she cry. All tear. But she moth, she most like tear from woman. So sad womans in my Cameroons, many slave womans, you ask me. She big fat moth from drinking so much cry tear. At night she come, knock on you door, knock on you soul so she come inside. Inside you sad dream, she stay. Too much tear, my land.”

Behind the strokes of the brush it seemed the woman was smiling or laughing, maybe at her. Just like everybody.

“Once upon a time,” says the woman to the little girl, “There was a tortoise.”

The little girl is seated on a little stool next to a butter churn, before a fire in a stone hearth. On a hook over the fire an iron pot of soup is boiling, rattling softly against the lid. The farm woman’s calloused and knobby fingers scoop up a handful of the girl’s cornsilk soft white hair, pick at a lump of mud and begin stroking it with a silver hairbrush, a wedding gift from her husband’s wayward brother Snorri. The brush rises and falls, rises and falls. The pot bubbles. The girl ducks her head like a kitten under the easeful petting.

“This was a very happy tortoise, who had many good things. He lived in the forest near a lake, and he ate lots of mushrooms and flowers and caterpillars and no one treated him badly and so you see, he had a very good life.”

The girl wipes her nose on her arm. She had come home crying again. The tears have dried and crusted on her cheeks.

“But the tortoise crawled on the ground, as he does, and he saw the small birds that could fly very fast and the butterflies in the meadow who float on the air like sailboats. And the tortoise thought – why can’t I fly? Why can’t I be like them instead of a slow clumsy tortoise? If someone would teach me to fly, I would fly so fast, faster than any of them.”

The fire snaps sharply on a knot and the girl ducks her head a little more. Her mouth feels suddenly very dry and she wants water. She looks at her hands.

“There was an eagle who lived in the forest and fished on the lake, and the eagle was so strong and so beautiful and the tortoise thought of the eagle, soaring high over all on his big wings, and diving down to the lake and snatching up fish in his fierce claws. Das Experten! said the tortoise. He should be my teacher, because he is the very best of all. So he went to the eagle and begged him, every day, to teach him to fly. Soon the eagle became worn out because the tortoise, you see, was very stubborn. So the eagle said ‘yes tortoise, I’ll bring you up high and you can practice flying with me.’ So the eagle picked him up in his big strong claws and together they flew high, high, very high in the sky.”

“Mama.” The little girl is holding out her arms and feet, like a kitten being carried.

The woman smoothes her hands soothingly over the girls head and together they sigh with pleasure. “And the tortoise, well, he was very happy as the eagle carried him in the clouds, in his pride of place, and far below the forest and the lake, they were so beautiful. And the tortoise began to flap his little feet and little legs like the eagle does and said ‘I’m surely flying now!’ but the poor eagle was so tired, because the tortoise he was very heavy, you see, and he said ‘Tortoise, I have to let you go now. You must fly by yourself.’ And he let the tortoise go.

“Mama.” The little girl is clenching her hands into fists and holding out her fingers. She blinks at the fire and her eyes grow wide. “Mama.”

“The tortoise fell down, down, down from the sky and landed on the rocks and was broken all to pieces. And as soon as he was dead, well, seeing there was nothing to help it, the eagle came down and gobbled the poor tortoise all up and away he went.”

The little girl is shaking violently. She blinks her puffy eyes and looks again and a golden aura is expanding brightly around her hands. Her ears feel wooly and big and hot. She turns suddenly and looks at the woman’s face and the golden aura is glowing there too. “Mama,” she says, softly. “The angels are coming.”

Nixie pushed Wloji’s hand away and began to weep. She felt the warm weight of the woman’s palms pressing on her shoulders as the tears burst. “Aie, mein gott,” she whispered. “I’m so alone!”

A shadow moved behind her. The woman’s perfumed hair was next to her nose. Cool large lips kissed the edge of her eye, and then the wet of her cheek.

Rough Draft fragment from
“The Tortoise and the Eagle” by C. Sanchez-Garcia

Aristotle said that fiction is good for you. It’s good for your soul. It’s good to write it. It’s good to read it. A good love story makes you kinder and better. A good love story stretches the heart even as it gives love a bad name. Aristotle believed that stories were essential for the emotional education of a person. The vicarious suffering or difficulties of a fictional character were an exercise in compassion and awareness of humanity.

I’ve become more and more convinced that the most important thing, even more important than the love of God is compassion. Passionate love of God is so often about being in love with an idol, an image of God we’ve constructed for ourselves or more likely allowed authorities to construct for us. Idolatry leads to cruelty and spiritual pride. Compassion is what you have in common with other people, and other people will defeat the idols you make of them every time.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Other Worldly

I don't write about the "other". I never have, and never particularly want to - not because it doesn't interest me, but because I worry too much about getting it wrong. I don't even want to use the term "other" in all honesty - unless it specifically means just something besides myself. The term is too loaded to me, too full of memories of university and tales of marginalisation and disenfranchisement.

Which is precisely why I steer clear of writing MM fiction. Though I want to stress - it's not because I think women shouldn't write MM. Far from it. Men have been writing about us (sometimes very successfully, I might add) for centuries without so much as a by your leave, so I don't see why not. And as my fellow Grippers have already pointed out: you don't need to be a serial killer or a rocket scientist or what have you to write about being a serial killer or a rocket scientist.

So I think it's perfectly possble for a woman to write a gay man, or vice versa.

I just don't want to do it myself. I don't feel qualified enough, I don't think I know enough, I'm not confident enough in my own abilities.

But I am confident in my own abilities to write about one sort of "other". It's the one I spent the most amount of time at university studying, the one the term other was most often applied to: women. I even thought of writing a book called Other based on this studying and all my own experiences of Gothic novels and how Victorian society viewed differences, pitching the strangeness of an otherwordly creature against the perceived strangeness of a woman with otherly desires.

So I suppose in that sense, there's another layer of otherness I'm willing to explore - that of the paranormal creature. It's probably why I like horror and sci-fi so much, because it gives me a chance to look at all of these issues - of difference, of marginalisation etc, without the terror of getting it wrong. I can create my own boundaries, and cross them.

And that's something I'm always willing to do.

My new novella, a steamy hot twin menage, is out now! You can get it here:




Monday, January 23, 2012

Getting It Right

Kathleen Bradean

I doubt Tolstoy bothered to ask permission to write a female character when he wrote Anna Karenina. J.K Rowlings obviously couldn't have asked the wizarding world if she had permission to write about their teenage boy hero. Ah yes, you might think, but a man can write a convincing female character and fantasy characters don't count. It isn't the same thing. But it is. If Stephen Hawkings can say that women are the greatest mystery (I'm convinced that he was teasing the reporter), and he's arguably the smartest human on the planet right now, then how could a mere writer ever hope to know what a real woman thinks and feels? And Harry Potter is at his core a teenage boy, which J.K. Rowlings is obviously not. Yet no one challenges their right to create those characters.

So why do people get so worked up about straight women writing slash or white writers writing African-American characters? Part of it is economic. The few bookstores that remain have limited shelf space that they're willing to give over to books about minorities. A queer writer writing queer characters is competing for a tiny available space on that bookstore shelf and the last thing they want is to be muscled out by a book written by a straight person. Worst case scenario: every book on that shelf is written by a writer who is "other." Now readers are left with only inauthentic stories. That brings us to the other part of the problem: identity. Who are the other to tell us who we are?

This might change in the future, but so many people I know first found themselves in a book. They all talk about their sense of relief when they found out that there was someone else out there like them. That person wasn't real, but that didn't matter. If there was one in a book, there had to be more in real life. No longer alone, they took their first step toward finding a community. But as long as the story is positive and relatable, does it matter how authentic it is? I can't answer that.

I consider myself more of a "straight" supporter than a member of the queer community. Yes, I spent most of my teenage years trying to kill myself because I hated (and still loathe) being female. But I'm not sure that qualifies me as trans. I've had sexual experiences with women, and am still drawn to women more than men, but I'm not sure if that makes me bisexual. I know many queer folk and recognize the huge gap between my life experiences and theirs, so I'm more comfortable hovering on the edge of the community than trying to claim to be part of it. But that doesn't stop me from writing queer characters. The way I see it, if I get it terribly wrong, my stories deserve to be mocked, ignored, and forgotten.

My current work is set on an alien world. If she lived on this world, my main character would be a Pacific islander. Her home has been colonized by a country that's a mixture of the city/state of Venice and an Asian superpower. While writing it, I was strongly aware of the two dominant western stereotypes of Asian women: perfect submissives and the dragon lady. The dragon lady stereotype bothered me most because my main character is enigmatic, devious, cruel, and at times inscrutable. Ack! But even if she were a white gal from Scranton, she'd still be all those things. Or would she? My character wasn't born that way, no matter what Lady Gaga might say. My character is shaped very much by the world around her. Scranton isn't under colonial rule. Most of Scranton's population probably doesn’t live in tin shack slums.

I hope that being hyper-aware of the stereotype was enough. I didn't try to refute it by having her do things out of character. What I did was make her a complete person with depth beyond the stereotype. When it comes down to it, that's what we truly want from writers. That's what makes a character authentic. A writer's gender, sexuality, and skin color shouldn't matter when it comes to the heart of human matters. But, of course, the writer has to get the world that character inhabits right too. That's where most of the real mistakes happen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Deja Vu

By Lisabet Sarai

When I heard Kathleen's proposed topic for this week, “Writing the 'Other'”, I experienced an eerie sense of familiarity. Surely I'd composed an article on this very topic, sometime in the past... Combing through my files, I discovered that indeed, I'd discussed my struggles to create characters distinctly different from my self right here at the Grip, almost three years ago. Of course, that was before Kathleen's tenure here (or any of the other current Oh Get a Grip contributors). How time flies!

Given the volatility of the web, I thought it was likely that none of my esteemed colleagues had read that post, and was tempted simply to recycle it. After all, did I have anything new to say on the subject? I couldn't bring myself to that point, though. I want to keep our readers coming back, and nothing discourages a visitor (at least based on my personal experience) like rehashed content.

So here I am, starting at the same realization as three years ago. Pretty much every one of my characters is similar to me in some ways.

It's not as transparent as it was when I began publishing. Kate O'Neill is my fantasy self – younger, sexier, with the green eyes and red hair I've always wanted. Like me, she's a dancer, software engineer, and born submissive. Raw Silk isn't autobiographical but it borrows a great deal from my own experiences. Anyone who knew the real me would find Kate distinctly familiar.

My more recent heroines are less similar to my real world self. Ruby Jones in Wild About That Thing is a black single mother from Chicago. Not a lot of factual connections there! Nevertheless, I share her determination to be independent of the men who want to take care of her, and her openness to sexual experience. Perhaps the most notable similarity is the way she has internalized the voice of her bossy, critical mother. It has taken me decades to mute the mental harangues of my own mom.

What about male characters, though? Kyle McLaughlin in Necessary Madness is an orphan and outcast, driven to the brink of madness by his devastating visions of the future. Given that I had a fairly happy childhood with two loving parents, and only very occasional brushes with the paranormal, you might consider Kyle a prime example of the “other”. Yet Kyle is my psychic twin. Like him, I know what how it feels to be temporarily insane – the terror, the darkness, the sense that the world is crumbling to dust. I've spent time in the same state psychiatric facility where he is a patient in the novel.

Actually, Kyle's lover Rob Murphy is more of a stretch – a thirty-something, divorced city cop who enjoys sports, pizza and beer. What do Rob and I have in common? Stubbornness and a possibly over-blown sense of morality, to start with. Rob tries to push Kyle away even though he's attracted to the tortured younger man, because of Kyle's fragile emotional state as well the age discrepancy between them. I can imagine myself doing just that – being tempted, but sticking to a determination to do “what's right”.

Possibly the most “other” character to spring from my pen is Rafe Cowell, one of the heroes of my forthcoming scifi novel Quarantine. Unlike me, and most of my characters, Rafe has very little formal education. He's a twenty eight year old black man from the notorious ghettos of Ellay, a gang member and convicted murderer (though in fact he's innocent of that particular crime). He's also a foul-mouthed, homophobic, jingoistic bigot, at least at the start of book. Not much resemblance to his white, middle-class, Jewish, bisexual, bleeding-heart liberal creator!

Look deeper, though, and you'll see the strands of commonality. Despite his rough history, Rafe loves to read – quite a distinction in a society where the majority of the population are functionally illiterate. He's a fundamentally decent guy who's confused by the way reality conflicts with his prejudices. He's also something of a slave to his passions. He strives to be rational but his sympathy and desire for the plague rat Dylan overcome his common sense. His decisions are driven more by emotion than reason.

I can identify. I like to think of myself as a deliberate, careful person who weighs all the factors before making a choice. Sometimes I do in fact behave this way. On the other hand, I set off on with my husband on a three week coast-to-coast voyage across the U.S. when I barely knew him. I quit my job and moved to Thailand for two years with barely any reflection on the possible consequences. I sent off a manuscript to a publisher even though I knew the odds were heavily against it being accepted. Not exactly the behaviors of a rational woman.

I sometimes wish I did a better job creating truly original people in my fiction, but I have to face the fact that when I look into the hearts and minds of any of my characters, I see myself. Perhaps that's inevitable. Certainly, it appears I haven't progressed much in three years. Peer carefully enough at the people in my tales and like me, you'll get a sense of deja vu.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Back in the olden days...

I am old enough (ahem) to remember research before the internet. Before Google. Before Wikipedia. We did get a taste of life without Wikipedia on Wednesday, a reminder of what it was like before that global encyclopedia of information (most of it accurate...) existed. But even then, there was still the vastness of the web to inform us. In the past decade or so, I have said more times than I can count, "What did I do before the internet?"

Well, I went to the library. A lot.

I remember the days of research in my high school library or the neighborhood public library or the local university library. I remember card catalogs with neatly typed information about each and every book in the collection. Unless someone had torn the card from the catalog. It happened a lot in my high school. Annoying.

I remember discovering books that hadn't been opened in years, the smell of their musty pages, the crinkle of yellowed paper beneath my fingers. I remember the little slip of paper in the back, stamped with the book's due date. I remember marveling at being the first person to check out a book in 10 years. Or 20 years, even.

Libraries still exist, of course. And kids actually still do research the old fashioned way--using books. (Though the card catalog is now a computer in most instances.) I started working in the children's room of the public library in 2001 and in the nearly five years I was there, I helped many students find information in books. More times than I can count, I heard them say, "Why do I have to look it up in a book when I can find it on the internet?"

Why, indeed.

As a writer, editor, avid reader and perpetual student who would love to get another degree (or two), I love research. (Usually.) I also love books. But I have found myself wondering a lot in the past several years if doing research the old fashioned way has become obsolete. The last time I did library research--including checking out books and periodicals--was when I was finishing my Masters program in 2007. All of my writing research since then has been on the internet.

I miss the library, I really do. I miss the experience of discovering old books or stumbling over new topics in the quest for information on something else entirely. I miss the adventure of that kind of research, for lack of a better word. That moment of "Yes!" when I find something that is exactly what I need.

And yet...

Google is god, isn't it? The entire world at my fingertips. Everything. Anything. Wikipedia covers nearly every subject. Snopes covers nearly everything that's ever been rumored, even those things that happened pre-internet. (Spiders in cacti, tiny dogs that turn out to be rats). The Erotica Readers and Writers Association provides information about nearly everything that relates to my genre of choice. WebMD, Baby Center, Publishers Marketplace, Amazon, CNN, BBC-- they're all in my recent history. Research, research, research. Every newspaper, every magazine and yes, nearly every book, can be found on the internet. I don't have to leave home, I don't have to leave my bed. Hell, I don't even need a computer anymore--my smartphone is an instant tool for the research that used to take hours or days.

I still miss the library. It's a part of my history, my identity. I don't think the current generation has the same connection to the library, because libraries are now multi-media centers with banks of computers front and center and books relegated to the back shelves. But the books are still there, growing older and mustier (until they're taken out of circulation), still available, still full of information. Still an adventure waiting to happen.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Truth Is Out There

1. When were contractions (don’t, can’t, even ain’t) first used in speech?

2. Is “picnic” really a racist term?

3. Who is buried in Grant’s (or Shakespeare’s, or Mary Magdalene’s) tomb?

4. Where is Queen Street West, and why should we (readers) care?

5. Why do writers of historical erotica so often ignore biological facts (e.g. if a young woman has random, unprotected sex with one male or several, she is likely to become pregnant)?

These are questions that haunt writers as well as readers. Who, what, when, where, why and how?

As a reader, I want to know. As a writer, I need to know. As a teacher, I am expected to know.

Google is my friend – sometimes. At least it provides me with a starting-point in the quest for knowledge.

Re contractions, I still don’t (or do not) have a clear answer for this. I would like to know.

Re “picnic,” I was surprised to learn that some folks believe it is a reference to the grosser-than-fiction but absolutely factual tradition of lynching: torturing and killing someone accused of a crime but not tried in court by the usual methods. Lynch mobs of the 1700s/1800s sometimes enjoyed an outdoor meal after leaving the body of a victim prominently displayed as an example to others. However, I haven’t found any evidence that “picnic” is short for “pick a nigger” or “pickaninny” or any such term.

Re supposedly racist terms, apparently “blackmail” was originally distinguished from “whitemail” in Scotland in a time when cattle-stealing was a popular sport. Payment of rent (“mail” after the bag it was carried in) could be in silver coins (whitemail) or in cattle, particularly Black Angus (blackmail), which was actually under-the-table protection money to the outlaws who would steal more of your cattle if you didn’t sacrifice a few. “Extortion” is the current legal term, and it’s more accurate.

Re who is buried where, it’s hard to know without doing a forensic investigation. In past centuries, graves were often used more than once. In Dan Brown’s books, it’s possible to locate the body of Mary Magdalene, the widow of Christ and source of the “sang real” (holy bloodline). In the real world, this would probably be harder to do.

Queen Street West is in the city of Toronto, and the use of terms like this in fiction and journalism is one of my pet peeves. The population of North America has become increasingly urban for at least two generations (“How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Broadway?” Apparently you can’t.) The general migration from small towns to Gotham City is reflected in modern literature in all genres. Stories, novels and articles take place in particular neighbourhoods with particular landmarks that the reader is expected to recognize. The current Comedy of Manners deals with street names as coded references to cultures and lifestyles (“Queen Street West/East,” “Park Avenue,” “The Castro”), usually without footnotes for the ignorati in the wilderness.

On the other hand, few readers in the Western Hemisphere are expected to know how to spell or pronounce “Saskatchewan,” or even recognize the postal abbreviation, SK. I’m just saying.

Biological omissions are just annoying. Dealing with biology at all (which all sex-writers must do) should involve carnal knowledge in the most literal sense.

Sometimes a crucial piece of information will drop into one’s lap without warning, as though the universe at large wanted to encourage us all to be researchers.

Years ago, I met and then married a Nigerian who claimed to have been born in 1944, but he was always strangely vague or momentarily confused about his present age. I was 22 at the time we met (born in 1951), so could he have wanted to appear younger than he really was so as not to seem like a pedophile, relatively speaking? He claimed that all his official ID disappeared during the Nigerian civil war, which seemed possible. Wars destroy all sorts of evidence. On arriving in London, England, he went to a notary public and had a full set of identification papers produced that showed his birth date as August 17, 1944.

After our separation (1978) and divorce (1981), my mother told me that while sorting through some of our laundry, she found an old passport for my then-husband, showing his year of birth as 1935. She kept this information to herself, not wanting to open a can of worms.

After my ex-husband’s death in 2006, his niece found me on-line. And one of the first things she sent me by email was the scanned photo of the family patriarch, Karibi Ikiriko, husband of five wives including my ex-husband’s mother. Notice the chief’s date of death. (Dr. Sagbe Karibi Ikiriko is the brother of my ex and the father of his niece.)

So there it is. Either my late ex-husband was not the son of Chief Karibi Ikiriko, or (more likely) he was born earlier than he claimed.

There is something inexpressibly sad about discovering information long after it could have been most useful, but – to use a current buzz-word – such a discovery provides closure. The answer has been found.

Whether research is a trivial pursuit or something bigger depends on whether one would rather know or not know. Me, I would rather know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Billion Wicked Lopamudras

Stephanie’s neck was jacked back ferociously as the giant male vampire king in the black wool Giorgio Armani suit and wrap around Rayban sunglasses bared his enormous fangs and she felt a thrill of pure and undiluted lust rocket through her moist loins. For the first time in her life she felt pure mind blowing, incredibly lustfully hot lustfulness for Wrathebone Lebodeux, the Internationally famous opera star, multi media magnate and Nobel prize winning poet with the widest shoulders and narrowest waist and most prominently muscular butt she had ever gazed upon.

Stephanie had a svelte figure and small mink like face with firm round melon shaped breasts, wide hips and a narrow waist, long legs and blonde hair, While wearing a Krizia cream silk blouse and matching Krizia cream tweed skirt, she kicked at Wrathbone with her small delicate feet in d’ Orsay silk satin pumps.

A young man, a beta male dressed in poor clothes with pants cuffs that didn’t reach to the tops of his shoes tried to interfere. “Mr. Wrathbone, I beg you please don’t harm the girl. There’s no reason we can’t all get along and be friends.”

“Away with you!” Wrathbone snapped the man’s spine in a deeply sensitive manner that soaked Stephanie’s panties with animal need and maternal yearning for Wrathbone’s obviously wounded inner child and yet appropriately offended her womanly sensitivities. Moaning with wild desire as her orgasm blasted her senses, she went limp in protest as his hungry animal lustfully dominating claspings groped her deepest being.

He tore her clothes assertively as her aggressively erect nipples jutted helplessly outward to the yearning stars. “I must have you for my queen!” He tore his clothes and his massive, engorged organ entered

Organ entered organ played organ penetrated
Cock penis joint
His massive joint. No.
Wrathbone’s exploding boner. No.
His tumescent penis. No

I take a swing from my coffee at Barnes and Noble, and push down the lid of my scuffed up IBM Thinkpad to chew on a pencil. Organ. Dick. Prick. Ding. Dong. Prong. Wong. Wang. Weenie. Meatloaf. Johnny. Johnson. His hot throbbing meatloaf. No. Wrathbone’s overweening weenie. No.

Without letting my laptop quite out of my sight I go down to the reference book shelves and skim through the titles holding my head sideways. Not a lot of slang books for this kind of thing. Here’s one by Cosmopolitan, called “The Penis Name Book”. I bring it back to my little table, slouch down and pull my jacket collar up over my face and start thumbing through it.

Meat thermometer.
Tickle Pickle.
Boomerang (boomerang?)
He thrust his burning boomerang into her –

Magic Stick
Lincoln Log
Beaver Cleaver (like it)
Energizer Bunny
One Eyed Monster
Trouser snake.
Pipe Cleaner
Sea Biscuit
Pleasure Pump
Dildo Baggers

I dunno. This isn’t helping, although I do like Beaver Cleaver which conjures up images of sex starved suburban housewives in perms and pearl necklaces. I’ve been studying a book called “A Billion Wicked Thoughts” to try to figure out how to write the perfect sex scene and populate it with the most technically alluring participants formula can calculate. According to the author’s research, there are universal male cues and universal female cues in successful erotic literature which I’m assured are archetypically derived from reproductive evolution.

The ideal fantasy woman would be statuesque, but roughly six inches shorter than the given male, with long legs, wide hips, round ass, full calves, big eyes, small feet, firm tits and upturned erectile nipples. Her disposition should be sexually ravenous though otherwise acquiescent and submissive, easily conquered but not quite servile. Intelligence is optional, if it doesn’t get in the way of more practical things. If upon being undressed, the lady is discovered to possess a hermaphroditic penis some guys have a thing for that too. What ever.

The ideal fantasy male would be a man of world class wealth and social status, with a glamorous creative profession which generates a lot of money while proving his vulnerable character, a hidden side that will only be revealed to the right woman. He should also be a good dancer, maybe with colorful feathers. His penis doesn’t have to be especially big, but involuntarily, and even painfully hard in her presence as a display of his uniquely urgent desire inspired by her alone. He should be physically strong with large muscular buttocks, very broad shoulders and narrow hips and fierce expressive eyes and a chiseled face, poetic and witty, dangerous, competent and confident, endearingly but not habitually an asshole, and clearly the man in charge wherever he goes. Also protective, hence having supernatural powers is a plus.

Sneer if you dare. For those of us in high school who watched the bad boys from auto shop class nail all the hot girls this shit isn’t funny. We know its true.

Why does a Wrathbone appeal to women? Why do such women appeal to men? It might be evolution, but I think because they represent something not available in nature, because such characters are so much less disappointing compared to the mundane realities of dealing with men folk who spend a lot of time on the couch watching sports or come home from dull jobs and we just want to crawl into our shells and not come out for hours. It might also be because they are so disposable in the end, compared to the people who actually live in our space with all that they need and give to us.

In Indian mythology one of the authors of the Rig Veda was a scholar named Sage Agastya. One day he went into a cave and found his ancestors hanging upside down from the ceiling like bats. Of course, he asked them why. One told him that because Agastya had no offspring to carry on the lineage they had no one to perform the correct funeral ceremonies and launch them off into the after life. They needed him to have offspring. So he decided to create an ideal woman for himself, composed of the most desirable parts of domesticated animals, called a “Lopamudra”. The idea of sitting down and custom designing myself an ideal sexual partner and magically bringing her into the world makes my imagination boil, but I have to admit composing her from the selected components of common barnyard animals isn’t the sort of thing that would occur to me. Maybe guys like Agastya need to put the books down for a while and get out in the world and meet some nice girls. But it raises a question that writers run into. How do you construct a fantasy lover that is better than the real thing? The only way is to make them simple, much simpler and easier to get along with than a real woman with all of her emotional, you know, stuff. A kind of Stepford Wife.

Is that what guys want? Is it what women want?

I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Monday, January 16, 2012

Writer's Library

by Kathleen Bradean

I've been away from my computer, so I had to write this before the topic was posted. Sorry that it's off topic.

On Face Book, I recently commented that I'd be hard pressed to explain my collection of reference books in court. It doesn't matter how innocent you are, if an attorney mentions that you have The Poisoner's Handbook and Deadly Doses within easy reach of your computer, the jury is going to sit up and take notice. If he also mentions The Poison Master, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, Wisconsin Death Trip, The Medical Detectives, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, In Cold Blood, Forensic Detection, twelve issues of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, three of Chew, Gorky Park, half a dozen Agatha Christie novels and everything ever written by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, juror number nine is going to tut-tut while making notes on her court-supplied pad of paper and you can be sure she'll bring that up during deliberations if no one else does.

No less incriminating are The Grifters, Rip-Off - Crimes of Deception, Famous First Bubbles, and The Flimflam Man.

I can only imagine the raised eyebrows if they passed around exhibits a) Everything that Creeps, b) The Dark Erotic Visions of John Santerineross, and c) Visions From Within the Mechanism: The Industrial Surrealism of Jeffrey Scott (1019). As art books go, they're a bit, well, disturbing. But the imagery works for me.

If the passed around the more interesting titles on my shelves, The Art of Seduction might disappear into one of those huge purses women use nowadays to tote around half the cosmetics department of Macys, one tissue (slightly used), a mint (which is mating with the fuzz collected at the bottom of her purse), three nickels, and a small refugee camp. Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice for all Creation would probably get pawed half a dozen times between the evidence locker and the court room. For various reasons with would lead to a rant so we'll just leave them at reasons (thank you, Charlotte), none of the pages of 101 Best Sex Scenes Ever Written will be stuck together. In fact, anyone who steals that deserves it.

I have no idea what they'd make of my Russian Fairytales (with the sales slip from the Hermitage used as a bookmark), The Winter Child, Vampires Burials and Death, A Midsummer Night's Fairy Tale, and A Fire in My Heart: Kurdish Tales. I can't imagine not having them on hand for reference. There's a lot of subtext going on in folk tales, and the closer we get to original sources rather than the castrated versions we were given to read when we were kids, the better we understand the people who shared those tales. But let people think it's just whimsical of me. In their Disnified world, things like The Red Shoes don't exist.

The only books on my shelves that a non-writer would consider actual writer's reference books are Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, On Writing by Stephen King, The Browser's Dictionary of Foreign Words and Phrases, The First Five Pages, a thesaurus, A Story is a Promise, Plots, 101 Best Beginnings Ever Written (much better than the sex scenes book), and possibly the autobiography of Mark Twain, volume 1. Although it would be wise to withhold the Mark Twain from them. I think they'd be terribly insulted by his observations on juries, judges, and trials.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Favorite Kind of Research

By Lisabet Sarai

When it comes to research, I'm a bit lazy. Occasionally I'll get bitten by the research bug and spend a bunch of money on books – I dropped nearly a hundred bucks on material about Mayan mythology and culture when I was working on Serpent's Kiss – but usually I'm content with relatively superficial visits to Google or Wikipedia to answer my factual questions. It helps that I don't tend to write much historical fiction. My few attempts in that genre have confirmed my expectations that it's a huge amount of work! No, I have to admit, I'll coast if I can, trusting my imagination and my intuitions when a more scrupulous author would be hitting the reference department.

There's one area, though, where I'm willing to do almost unlimited explorations in the interest of verisimilitude – preferably going to the original source – and that's my settings.

Anyone who's read much of my fiction (all three of you!) knows I often set my stories in foreign destinations. That's merely a symptom of the fact that travel is quite my literally passion. I've probably already shared the story of how my husband seduced me with tales of his adventures in Paris, Instanbul and Bali. Sex, love and travel totally intermix in my mind and my memories. So perhaps it's not surprising that I get story ideas when I'm on one of our international jaunts.

My very first published short story, “Glass House”, draws heavily on my experiences in Prague a few years before I wrote it. Even now, a decade later, rereading it brings back the weird, almost absurd beauty of that venerable city, the edgy, offbeat magic that infects its cobblestone streets and stone bridges, soaring cathedrals and basement pubs.


“Let us walk down to the river,” he says, bringing me back to the present. “It is nearly sunset. And there is something that I would like to show you.”

We make our way westward toward the Vltava, in companionable silence. I am struck by the fact that, after all, I do trust Lukaš. For all his swaggering and sexual innuendo, he has treated me with respect. I know how easily he could have taken advantage of me; he probably knows it, too. Somehow, though I have told him nothing, he also senses my conflicts. He knows without being told that I am not free.

Clouds stained by the sunset heap high over the water, which flows gray and smooth like molten lead. Vermilion, ocher, coral, azure: ordinary color names do not apply to these flowing, burning shapes.

Against this multicolored background the spires and towers of Prague Castle on its crag across the river are fairytale silhouettes. For a long time, I simply stare, as the forms merge and change in the dying light. When I finally remember Lukaš, I see he is grinning again, as if he could take credit for this spectacular display.

“Is this what you wanted to show me? It is wonderful!”

“Not exactly. Look across the street.”

The first thing I see is a massive rococo building of yellow stucco, dripping with ornamentation and topped by an onion dome. Then I see the building beside it, and stop short.

It is totally fantastic, whimsical, and bizarre. It began as an ordinary, modern office building, with square windows and a flat roof, facing the river across Smetanova Street. But grafted onto this edifice is a second building, all of glass, shaped like an asymmetric egg timer and leaning at a crazy angle against the staid office block. The sunset colors reflect in its multifaceted façade, so that the building seems to shift and move.


Then there's Amsterdam. I've been there several times, but six or seven years ago we spent an entire week in a tiny guesthouse just around the corner from the train station. Something kept drawing me back to the red light district – maybe the fact my previous visits were prior to my rebirth as an erotica author. I found myself fascinated by the women in the narrow, rose-lit windows, wondering what their lives might be like. The experience ultimately produced my BDSM tale “Shades of Red”.


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.


I remember those church bells, ringing through the damp, mostly deserted Amsterdam streets. I just had to capture them in a story.

Then of course there's Bangkok, familiar and yet ever strange after two years of living there and many visits since. I was there not long ago. The city's changing – there are more skyscrapers now, and everyone including the beggars has a cell phone – but the description I wrote nearly a decade ago, in “Butterfly” is still pretty accurate. Except for their piercings and tattoos, the bar girls haven't changed much...


One of my mates, Charlie, knew the city well. He checked us into a comfortable, ridiculously cheap hotel in the middle of the tourist district. Bewildered and dazzled, I followed him along sidewalks crammed with vendors hawking watches, tee shirts and toys, trying to avoid tripping on the broken pavement.

Beggars with shriveled limbs extended their bowls in silent entreaty. Blond, ragged-haired tourists in shorts and sandals, slender Thai women in tight jeans and silk blouses, monks draped in saffron, policemen standing stiffly at corners, their revolvers prominently displayed: it seemed that the whole of the Bangkok was here on this one street. Meanwhile, an endless line of vehicles crawled by us: tint-windowed Mercedes, sooty trucks, and rickety buses with people hanging out the doors. The air was heavy with diesel fumes, frying garlic, and jasmine. We dined at a quiet restaurant on a side lane, where the young waitress giggled every time we spoke to her. Then Charlie took me off to see what he called "the real Bangkok" - the go-go bars and sex clubs.

We sauntered into the "entertainment plaza". Three stories of indoor bars and clubs surrounded a central court, which was crowded with open-air bars and stalls selling skewers of grilled chicken, fresh fruit, and fried locusts. As we walked along the second-level balcony, bikini-clad girls tried to lure us inside their establishments.

<"Come inside," they crooned. "One beer fifty baht. No cover charge." Briefly, the woman would hold back the dark cloth draping the door, offering a tantalizing glimpse of flickering lights and bare flesh. "Take a look, no charge, come inside."

The more energetic of these young marketeers would grab us by the hand, and laughing the whole while, try to pull us in. It was all good-natured, though. We'd extricate ourselves from her strong fingers and thank her. "Not now," we'd say. "Maybe later."

"Why not now?" she'd say, stamping her foot in mock anger. "Don't you like me?"


I've been lots of places I haven't written yet. There are stories inside me set in Instanbul, in Tokyo, in Lisbon. I'm sure they'll find their way out eventually. Of course, sometimes I'll want to set one of my tales somewhere I haven't traveled (at least not yet). Then I do have to do some research – but it's a pleasure.

A few months ago I wrote a short story that takes place in Varanasi (Benares), India. My one trip to India didn't take me anywhere near that ancient, sacred center. I spent delightful hours pouring over websites, gazing at maps, trying to grasp a sense of the place. I don't know if I succeeded (I haven't heard yet whether the tale has been accepted), but I'll tell you one thing: I've added the place to my (all too long) travel wish list!

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I need to say, before I write anything on the topic of resolutions, it’s an absolute pleasure to be a guest blogger here at OGAG. I have fond memories of my time writing with you folk and there are not many days go past when I don’t think about you all. Perhaps I should be making a resolution to stay in touch?

On another blog, on the last day of last year, I made a few small promises for 2012.

I’m going to carry on being brilliant.

I’m going to carry on being wonderful.

I’m going to write more poetry.

They weren’t the most earth-shattering resolutions I’ve ever made but I intend to abide by these.

The first two should be easy. I should be able to carry on being brilliant and wonderful without any major problems. I don’t need to quit smoking as I gave that up back in 2010. I don’t have any other vices in large enough quantities that they merit the onerous weight of a New Year resolution.

But I do want to write more poetry. Over the past few years I’ve developed a growing interest in reading, writing and performing poetry. It’s absorbing.
I suppose I’ve always been interested in reading poetry. It’s one of those things we learn when we begin to appreciate the musical cadence of a nursery rhyme that’s sung to us from the lips of a parent or protector.

Similarly, writing poetry has always entertained me. It takes a different set of skills for writing a poem than is needed to write an essay, an article, a short story or a novel. As a writer, I find it’s exciting to use words in such a different way. I’m still using the same computer and the same fingers to type the same words. But I’m putting those words together in such a different way it’s completely unlike anything else I’ve produced.

Performing poetry is another aspect to the delivery of writing that demands a whole new set of skills. When I chose a word for a line of poetry, I find myself shaping it with my mouth, rather than simply thinking it as a thought. I might change the word if it doesn’t feel right as I’m speaking my way through the poem. I might add a line just because one word lends itself to another.
The whole process is exhilarating and fun and it’s presenting me with new and exciting challenges on a daily basis.

One of those challenges is that readers and poetry audiences find it very difficult to disassociate themselves from the poet and the content of the poem. Consequently, I wrote this poem to address that issue.

I Am Not the Poem

By Ashley Lister

Perhaps the biggest problem with my poems
A problem plaguing all of poetry
Regardless of what my poem is about
You think the content is all about me.

So if I write about cross-dressing,
Half of you are second-guessing
How I’m scoping out cheap deals,
On suzzie belts or patent heels
And all of you suppress your snickers,
As you picture me in frilly knickers
Not one of you cites inspiration.
Or says: that’s from his imagination.
And any word I care to chant,
adds further proof I’m deviant.
And I have to say I’m wounded: hurt.
You all think I’m just a pervert.

Or if I dare to broach a subject,
That applies to many men
If I talk about small winkies:
You think the problem’s mine (again).

You’re sitting there with a smug grin.
Convinced my parts are short and thin
And gloating in your own smug thrall.
Assured my bits are wee and small
And whispering that in a pinch.
I’d barely measure a full inch.
And once again I have to say,
You’re only hearing poetry
The difference should be crystal clear:
‘tween who I am and what you hear.

How can I drive this message home?
I am the poet: I’m not the poem

And so I share a risqué rhyme,
about a man whose bedroom time
Is hurried to a point that’s swift
And causes him marital rift
And plunges him to the darkest depths
Of the cruellest emasculation.
You place a hand across your smile:
Let’s laugh at premature ejaculation.
And you turn to me, your grin a flicker
And you joke: the punchline could come quicker
And someone, acting like a tool,
Asks about the three minute rule.

And I have to say:
Writing poems is my profession
There’s not a word that’s self-confession.
Please remember that as I say goodnight
From me: the tiny-togered swift transvestite.

Ashley Lister

Friday, January 13, 2012

Better Late Than Never

As I write this, I am twelve days past due to turn in my latest anthology. If you know anything about me, you should know I have a work ethic that does not include missing deadlines. This is only the second time I've been late submitting a book-- the other time, I was 2 days late because the deadline fell on a weekend. This time, my excuses are holidays and illness, but the truth is that this book has been a challenge since the beginning. I received very few submissions and extended the deadline twice. Many of the stories I received were too similar, too dark or simply didn't fit the guidelines. I begged and pleaded for more stories. I was promised stories that I received long after any reasonable hope I would make my deadline-- and I never received a few stories I was promised from authors who had never let me down before. Ultimately, though, it was my responsibility to wrangle this book into shape by the January 1 deadline and I failed. I spent a number of days beating myself up over it up until Christmas and then I got sick and decided I wasn't going to spend the week between Christmas and New Year's driving myself into the ground physically or missing out on the holiday fun with my family and friends. I asked for, and got, an extension. The book is nearly done, I'm pleased with how it's shaping up and I'm ready to move on to a new project.

What does this have to do with resolutions, you ask? Everything.

Every year, I make resolutions (or goals or a To Do list or whatever you want to call it) and I blog about it--twice. I put my goals down at the beginning of the year and then I reevaluate them at the end of the year to measure how successful (or not) I was. For awhile, my resolutions were based on the year-- 7 in 2007, 8 in 2008. That started to become unwieldy so I stopped. My resolutions have ranged from the very specific (finish my Masters degree, finish my NaNoWriMo novel, etc.) to the vague (do something important, go on a trip, etc.). I didn't make any resolutions for 2011 because on December 30, 2010 I found out I was pregnant with my second baby and it seemed unwise to put anything in writing other than "survive." So I vowed to "roll with the punches" (I believe that was even the title of my resolution blog post) and I did. Boy, did I roll with the punches. And 2011 turned out to be a mostly amazing (if exhausting) year.

I was a week in 2012 before I realized that, despite talking about it, I hadn't made any resolutions. I blame the holidays, illness and the Book That Would Not Be Finished for my forgetfulness. (You could probably add babies and lack of sleep to my list of excuses, if you like.) And then I saw that this week's topic on OGG was "resolutions" and my first thought was, "Oh shit, I'd better think of something."

But I haven't really thought of anything.

Oh sure, I could fall back on some old favorites. "Learn something new." "Take care of my physical and emotional well-being." "Write more." All resolutions I have made numerous times. All I have succeeded at to varying degrees. All pretty damned boring, right?

I could adopt a motto or mantra for the new year, like some people I know. 2012 is Shanna Germain's Year of Yes, for instance. That's a good one. I think I resolved to say "yes" to more things a few years back. I'm not sure I did. Some things, and some people, deserve a resounding, "NO!" after all. I'd love a new tagline or theme song or cover picture or whatever the newest thingy is to convey a change in image or attitude. But I probably should've been working on that for the past few months. Maybe I should start now for 2013, huh?

I've been thinking about author branding a lot in the last few months and how my "brand" is essentially who I really am-- pretty boring again, right? Real name, real life. This is me, for better or worse. But I need outside help with that branding thing, otherwise I'll be inviting y'all over to go through my underwear drawer and it won't be nearly as sexy a chore as it should be for an erotica writer. I could resolve to be... more what other people think I am. That could be good or bad. Some people think I'm fabulous and talented and inspiring and beautiful (and they receive a monthly stipend from me for announcing these thoughts in various venues) and some people think I'm a cold-hearted bitch or, at the very least, not a very nice person. I am probably both, at times. But only when it's deserved, I promise.

If you're waiting for some great revelation of my resolutions, I'm afraid you're going to be horribly disappointed. For one thing, I have 15 minutes before I need to be home and now my mind has drifted away from work (and this is work, no matter how much I enjoy it) and is on its way home to my babies. For another thing, if I learned anything in 2010, otherwise known as the Hardest Year of My Life, it's that you can't possibly know what the universe has in store for you. One year is hell, the next is heaven. Well, not entirely true. Even in the midst of hell there are moments of pure joy and happiness and even while basking in the glow of happiness and success there are difficult days and experiences that make you weep. Life is like that.

And here we are midway through January 2012 and I've already dealt with a couple of major challenges and had some good days and some rough days and been depressed and happy and exhausted and at peace. And I imagine the rest of the year will follow suit. I am hoping it will be as good a year overall as 2011. I am hoping it won't be as physically draining and emotionally difficult as 2010. But these are hopes, not resolutions. I need resolutions since the theme is resolutions!

So... my resolutions: To write. To laugh. To honor all of my commitments and say yes to as many things as I possibly can-- but not be afraid to say "NO!" if it's in my best interest mentally, emotionally and physically. To balance fun and work, but not feel guilty for leaning more toward fun. (Which isn't so hard, since I do love 95% of my work.) To take a few trips. To make a few new friends. To be happy, but most importantly to remember what happy feels like when I'm feeling sad, angry, hurt, lonely, depressed or misunderstood. To roll with the punches, even the sneaky, unexpected, where-the-hell-did-that-come-from punches. To be kind--to children and animals and strangers and those who don't necessarily deserve my kindness... and to myself.

Hopefully sometime before my 45th birthday in May, I will come up with some tangible goals to see me through the second half of my 40s. Until then, Happy New Year! Make the most of it, won't you? I resolve that I will.