Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Woman in the Other Room

I'm going to tell you the most erotic thing I ever read.

Around 1998 in Panama the Internet was barely emerging from a rumor into a kind of awkward existence. I had been using the Internet as far back as 1994 when I lived in New York but most communications were still being done by BBS ("Bulletin Boards") which were like personally owned web domains.

I was learning to surf the web, and magazines were emerging dedicated to web surfing because it was still such a novelty. Needless to say most of those magazines are extinct, but they were handy at the time. A magazine had a URL for a site called "Bianca's Smut Shack". In spite of the name, this was not a pornographic site, it was a chat room. According to Wikipedia, it was founded in 1994 by an Italian transsexual when he/she was only ten years old, and was in fact the world's very first chat room. And I was there.

It was called the Smut Shack because of it's defiant stance on free speech. You could talk about anything there in a series of "rooms" which tended to be loosely organized by topic. After rewiring my mother-in-laws wall phone to accept a modem, I began tuning into the Smut Shack regularly. One night there was a brief post from a young man who said he was 16 years old and had just lost his virginity about an hour or so ago to a woman nearly 60. He had just staggered home shaken, guilty, and a little defiled. And of course - he was a guy - so he was also Today I Am A Man proud and bursting to tell someone about it.

The woman was his mother's best friend. They had known each other since he was in Kindergarten and he had been going over to her house next door a couple of nights a week since forever. On these nights they'd sit together on an old sofa, eat popcorn and watch old re runs. They were fixtures in each other's lives and could talk about anything.

This night the shows were pretty dull and somehow the conversation turned to birth marks. "I have a birth mark on my arm," said the woman and showed him her birth mark. "I have one on my arm too." and he showed her his arm. "I have one on my thigh," said the woman. She opened her robe a little and showed him her thigh. He reached over and shocked them both by kissing her birthmark. He showed her another birth mark and she reached over and kissed his. Soon they were running out of birth marks in all the socially acceptable places and were busy working their way down; the last few being near his now stiffening penis which she kissed and next to the nipple of her bare breast which she removed from beneath her bath robe for him to kiss. By that time, no one was watching TV anymore and the room was beginning to feel very small.

"I think we need to stop," said the woman. According to his chat. "What if we don't?" he said. "What do you want to do then?" she said. "I don’t know," he said. "I think we’d better stop," she said. For awhile they just sat, with her breasts out and his cock out. And then she said "That is . . .  I don't know. Unless you want to go to the other room."

She left the sofa and padded off in her slippers to the other room alone. He sat on the old sofa for a while, as the idiot TV chattered and laughed to itself, and then he got up to see what she was doing. Her robe and underwear were on the floor next to the bed. The room was dark. The table lamp was on. She lay covered, holding the bed spread tightly up to her chin.

"You can put it inside," she said softly. "If you’d maybe like to see how it feels, it would be okay."

Ten minutes later he was standing at the bathroom sink splashing water on himself, deeply shook up. She called to him from the bed "How do you feel?" He called back "I feel like I just fucked my grandma."

This made her giggle loud and nervous, he said, and she called back teasing "You fucked your grandma! You fucked your grandma!"

That was his story, this bewildered boy, author unknown. People in the chat room verbally slapped him on the back and Attaboys! all around and asked what his plans were. Go back for more of course. And he dropped out. I always wondered how things played out for him and his mother's friend.

Coming to this confession from a rather sheltered religious life, sexual frankness itself was a novelty for me. To hear another human being speak so plainly of sex and then in such a profoundly human way, unplanned, by accident. Two people who liked each other playing around and then suddenly – what did we just do? What just happened to us?

No doubt this doesn’t especially move you. I don’t expect that. That’s not the point. Years later, just thinking about those two wipes me out – why?

What makes something erotic?

Erotic is not sex. Sex is incidental, the consequence of eroticism expressed. Erotic is the arousal and the source of the arousal, the way that sex takes on its power and meaning. Animals have sex. Humans are erotic.

Sexual fantasies are the maps of our darker deeper currents, the dreams we make for ourselves and our pleasure. Fantasy, especially your darker fantasies can reveal yourself without masks. They can be a path of introspection.

According to Jack Morin, author of “The Erotic Mind”, our sexual fantasies are derived from three basic scripts

1. Cultural Script

2. Interpersonal Script and

3. Intrapsychic script.

Cultural scripts are about violating cultural or religious taboos, such as rape fantasies. Interpersonal refers to the rules by which we grow up that are second nature to us, such as the taboos against incest. Intrapsychic is the most interesting, being about the interior themes that run through all of your fantasies and reveal something of the darker currents underneath your consciousness.

Jack Morin names four elements that eroticism is built around. Almost all of these elements are present in some form in this episode and the subsequent fantasies it conjures for me.

1. Anticipation: What is it like to be that boy sitting on the sofa as though sitting on the edge of a precipice, the front door there, the bedroom door just over there? Beyond the front door the safety of conventional morality and the validation of himself as a “good boy”. Beyond the bedroom door the mysteries of woman, the terrors of his own body and its exhilarating discoveries. Are you good? Or are you bold?  How must it have been for that young man, who may never has kissed a girl between the instant the thought occurred to him until that moment he reached down and touched his lips to the skin of her thigh? To send out that daring message, not knowing how it would be received; his very first entry into manhood? And for the woman, how confident is she he will follow her seduction and arrive at her bed? What could be more humiliating for an aging beauty to lay there naked under the covers to be taken by a young lover who then rejects your offer? What a lonely fall that is.

2. Violating prohibitions: The obvious of course is the socially unacceptable (for 1998) seduction of a young man by an older woman, though in past cultures father’s often brought their sons to a trusted older woman, sometimes a courtesan, for initiation into sex. And what will she do if her friend, his mother, finds out? No wonder she asks him how he feels (don’t rat us out!).

3. Searching for Power: That moment of her offering (“Unless you’d like to go to the other room. . .”) of sweeping out the net and bringing the male to her, because he must come to her bed by himself drawn by her sexual power over him.  He must show her his phallus, his response to her power.  And then his discovery by the sink that he has been seduced, and the realization that this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to him.

The eroticism for me dwells in that gap where the information drops out briefly, between the moment the woman invites him under the covers "if he wants to see how it feels" and the moment he's discovering her sensual power over him and wailing "I feel like I just fucked my grandma!"

What went on in that room?

Did she throw aside the blanket and present her sagging breasts and wrinkled belly defiantly, daring for him to be a man right now and mount her? Did he sit on the bed with shaking hands and draw back the cover to reveal her? How did it feel for him to take up the awkward masculine posture while she opened to him, to feel under him the wetness welcoming his penis, to feel it sinking deep into the void of this old woman he watches TV with, who baby sat him, made him chicken soup when he was sick, cookies when he was sad, feeling it pierce all the way inside this first of all the women he will do this act with, this cherished old friend turned suddenly strange, squeezing her eyes, making excited little throat gasps with each unsure thrust to cheer him on, hard humping together against the squeaking bed springs with a frantic guilty rhythm as though his mother and maybe Jesus Christ might burst in on their paradise screaming with outrage? Did they look into each other’s eyes? Did they whisper things? Am I doing this right? You're doing fine. Is this really what people do? Yes, it is but, but - but how did I end up with you on top of me, this is insane, we were watching TV, goddamnit. Do you want me to stop? No! Don't you stop till I tell you!

Every time I think of it, I want to be that boy so bad.


Your sexual fantasies have a general theme, that “intrapsychic script” that runs through them all, things they have in common. If you search those themes you’ll surprise yourself. My fantasies since adolescence have almost invariably been about non-violent dominance over sexually assertive women. Dominance through kindness, through the willing surrender and conquest of the woman. They are also in scenarios where there were no other men, an absence of male sexual competition. These themes characterize almost unfailingly nearly all of my sexual fantasies. They show me as a man who loves women, fears them, and is not confident of his ability to attract them over other men. Goodness, but weakness.

I told you that story partly so I could tell you this next one.

I had a very interesting dream many years ago, which takes on a new meaning when viewed this way. In this dream one night, there was a war between humans and vampires. The vampire hordes were lead by a couple, a King and Queen vampire who were determined to wipe out human beings. I did not want to fight, but the vampires overwhelmed and killed my wife and child and filled me with a terrible hate. I became the violent leader of the army of men who set upon the vampires and fought them without mercy until all were slain except the Queen and King. Men feared me and my berserker  ferocity was a legend. In a courtyard, where the king and queen were bound, she wept blood tears because she loved him and begged for his life. I killed him in front of her. I threw down my bloody sword and ordered my men to strip her naked and tie her down. I violated her in the worst way to show her how thoroughly she was defeated and then finished her. Because of this harrowing dream I understood the true nature of rape, that it was not an act of desire but of pure rage.

This dream is a very powerful image, just as the boy and his woman are a powerful image to me. They are extreme opposites, as though the dream personage were a cry of protest against the person I actually am.  Taken together they are light and darkness and I contain both within me.  These conflicting images are a powerful thing, the sources of my secret eroticism. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Not a Thing

By Lisabet Sarai

Our topic for the next two weeks here at Oh Get a Grip is “The Most Erotic Thing”.

I'm really not sure where to start. Superlatives make me uncomfortable. Having spent nearly sixty years on the planet, written scores of erotic stories and read hundreds, had more lovers than I care to count, I can't even begin to decide what's the most erotic thing I've read, or done or imagined.

To start with, my memory is far too hazy to recall the details of some of my most arousing experiences. Then there's the problem I have sorting out which of the adventures I do recall actually took place and which are partially or completely fictional. I'm serious. Often my stories are rooted in personal experience,  but  then they bolt toward the skies like Jack's beanstalk, shooting out arousing tendrils, erupting into lush blooms far distant from the events that seeded them. It's surprisingly difficult for me, at this point in my life, to distinguish between my realities and my dreams.   

The topic also implies that eroticism is a single continuum, so that one could line up stories (or lovers) in an unambiguous ordering from deadly dull to exquisitely exciting. I'm certain this oversimplifies the domain of sexual experience. Was that tender kiss as we parted for the summer any less erotic than the rough fuck up against the alley wall? How does the sublime satisfaction of a world-shaking orgasm  measure up against weeks of teasing and temptation? Was I more excited by the men I've had sex with, or the women? What strikes us as erotic depends on time, place, circumstance, and past experience. How can I pick a single point in such a hyper-dimensional web of relationships?

I can make at least one definite statement, though. For me, the most erotic thing – would not be a thing. Words, and the ideas they suggest, arouse me far more than anything physical.

The red strap of a high-heeled sandal, encircling a slender ankle. A glimpse of sun-browned cleavage. A five o'clock shadow framing a plump, pouting mouth. A whiff of clean sweat from the guy pressed close to me on the subway.  The scent of well-oiled leather. The passionate moan filtering through the wall from the next room. The brush of velvet against bare skin. Feathers. Honey. Cum.

Most people have erotic triggers, sensations that never fail to arouse them. I'm not immune to such stimuli, but there's nothing that will affect me as quickly as the right words, spoken in the right tone of voice – that tone that makes the speaker's intentions deliciously clear.

“Let's eat dinner fashionably late,” he told me with that quirky smile of his, and I melted into a puddle of lust. Of course I knew what he intended – the anticipation was at least as thrilling as the acts themselves.

“It never occurred to me that you'd refuse anything I asked.” That line was delivered in an early letter from my master, before we'd had any physical interaction at all. The implications – that he'd already claimed me – that he knew I'd surrender, before I was sure myself – that he had plans for me, pleasures to bestow and ordeals to inflict, far beyond anything I'd experienced – kept me in a haze of lust for days.

“What makes you think this is my first time?” This quote from the recent James Bond movie Skyfall has a remarkably visceral effect on me whenever I call the scene to mind. The villain (a camp but still very sexy Javier Bardem) has made a homoerotic proposition to the bound secret agent, clearly expecting Bond to be shocked, disgusted, embarrassed or angry. The ever-suave 007, though, ups the ante, stepping from the role of victim into that of seducer. Nothing further happens, but that single sentence invites the audience to imagine what could happen and indeed, what might have happened in the past. Anyone who grew up in the sixties and seventies as I did knows what Bond does with his women. (Indeed, Ian Fleming's novels were my first exposure to any kind of erotic literature. We'd pass the paperbacks around in high school study hall, with the “good parts” marked.) How thrilling and transgressive it is, though – well, for me, at least – to imagine the dynamics if the irresistible spy bedded another man.

The actor, writer, and director have all denied, of course, that this scene indicates Bond is bisexual. That doesn't matter in the least. That brief interchange was enough to make me wet when I saw the film, and I haven't gotten over it yet.

The most erotic thing? Well, that's the most erotic thing that comes to mind at the moment. In my opinion, though, desire is too complex a phenomenon to be captured and labeled this way. And for me, it's more likely to be kindled by words than by touch, taste, sound or smell.

My tagline is my personal truth. Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Past is a Foreign Country

There have been so many good posts on this subject so far!

Despite the risks, I love writing historical fiction and the necessary fact-checking spadework. What I don’t love (or can’t bring myself to write) is heterosexual romance set in a time when women had no rights, but which implies that this is really not a problem as long as the Hero and Heroine are in love. Since I wouldn’t want to make an unbreakable commitment to a man who would have the legal right to “correct” me through beatings (and confinement and starvation, all the standard methods of torture), rape me over and over, get me pregnant without my consent, and prevent me from initiating any action, I wouldn’t wish that on any woman – even an imaginary one.

And to anyone who claims that Good Men have never done these things to women, I would ask: then why have laws and social customs allowed such drastic inequality? And under such circumstances, what is “good” and who defines it?

Cultures that deprived most women of the rights of citizenship generally did the same to men of the “lower orders,” however these were defined. And anyone who was defined as a lunatic or an outlaw could expect even worse treatment. Feh.

Yet there have been interesting loopholes and inconsistencies in every social system. However you define historical “progress,” it is never a smooth highway to nirvana.

Visiting the past is like visiting a locale that seems exotic because it is different from where you live. Having to learn what your characters ate, what their houses or dwelling-places were like, how they spoke, what they wore, how they travelled, what they did for entertainment, how they earned money, and how they worshipped their Deity(ies) and then work all that information into a story without interrupting the plot with long info-dumps is not only an interesting writing challenge. Becoming aware of the texture of a past era, like visiting another country, is a way of becoming aware of the texture of your own everyday life. This is guaranteed to help the writing, regardless of when or where the story takes place.

Changing technology and passing fashions enable all writers – if we survive long enough – to recognize our own early work as “historical.” Consider a one-act play I wrote in high school in the late 1960s. Two girls (one painfully shy, bookish, self-conscious, and one aggressive, determined to survive in the teenage jungle) compete for the attention of an easy-going boy who is mildly attracted to Shy Girl but bewildered by the intensity of both girls. There is a portable record-player and stack of vinyl records in an empty classroom. The boy puts on a record and dances with Shy Girl until Sassy Girl (in fashionable psychedelic-print miniskirt) pulls him away. Shy Girl has bangs (fringe) that almost cover her eyes.

My motive for looking up this piece, typed on paper that has yellowed over the years, was to decide whether I could make it “relevant” (1960s term) to current times. I was dismayed. OMG! (Not a 1960s expression.)

The vinyl records (usually with scratches on them that altered the sound), the classroom with blackboard and chalk (no computers, no cell phones, no i-whatevers), the clothing, the hairstyles, the assumption by all three young characters that they are living in a culture so “advanced” that their old-fogey parents and teachers have no grasp of the current zeitgeist – I would have to update all the physical details and several of the unspoken premises to bring this dinosaur back to life. And I probably wouldn’t succeed.

On the other hand, if I ever want to write a longer play, story or novel set in the 1960s, I have a primary document which could be adapted to my current plan.

Historical fiction that works always has to involve sleight-of-hand because some of the assumptions of yesteryear don’t seem to travel well into the present. For example, the basic plot of Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, circa 1890s, about sexual exploitation and its aftermath, is still gripping enough to have inspired more than one movie and a television mini-series when the novel was a century old. But who remembers
the theological debates in the novel?

On that note, I know that one of the conflicts that divided my mother’s family during her childhood in the 1920s was between Baptist and Methodist theology. (My mom, then little Jane, was taken to church by her Methodist aunt while her father, a Baptist convert, thundered about the evils of alcohol, dancing and card-playing. And Jane’s mother wrung her hands but went to church with her husband.) Do I care? Not really.

The question of whether my scandalous party behaviour (dancing and drinking wine) could send me to Hell has never kept me awake at night. Yet if I ever write a realistic piece about the flavour of little Jane’s upbringing, I will have to find a way to make this conflict interesting to the reader or viewer.

Any piece set in English-speaking culture before approximately 1450 AD either requires subtitles or “archaic” language that a current audience can still understand. The writer has to function as an interpreter who can make the past intelligible to his or her contemporaries. It really isn’t that different from what we all strive to do: show the story in our minds to our readers, and hope they understand.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Grounded in the Here and Now

by Kristina Wright

I haven't read a lot of historical fiction and what I've written of it probably amounts to less than 1% of my total lifetime word count. I've certainly gone through stages of reading Regency romances, medieval "bodice-rippers," the Austen and Bronte classics, etc., but it's a stage that always fades and I return to contemporary fiction. 

While I can appreciate the research that goes into historical fiction, I have no desire to write it. I have written my share of college research papers and there is something particularly rewarding about research, the quest for information to satisfy a particular thesis. And yet, the feeling of success doesn't translate when I contemplate writing historically based fiction.

I suppose it has something to do with limits. Writing from a historical perspective requires an author to respect the conventions of the era-- and so often that meant women were limited in what they could do, say and be. Yes, yes, historical fiction doesn't have to be historically accurate-- I've read enough of it to know that-- but I find it annoying when an author plays fast and loose with the rules of sex, relationships and social conventions while towing the line with regard to everything from the vernacular to the underwear. 

To ignore the expectations of a woman's role in a particular era is to rewrite history and while I enjoy alternate history, I find myself rebelling against a fictional historical account that could never happen. (I should probably point out that I'm not a big science fiction, either. I don't think that's a coincidence.) I like my fiction grounded in reality and the "good old days" of history were rarely good for the women. And so, while I will lose myself in a book or film set in an era where I would've been considered little more than property, I don't find myself drawn to writing it.

There are some historical time frames, however, that don't appeal to me at all-- to read or to write. The Oscar nominated Lincoln was filmed practically in my backyard, yet I have no particular desire to see it. I know the story, I know the history, I know that many, many people died in the fight to overturn the status quo. I respect the history behind the film, but as far as finding it entertaining? No. Of course, I know I'm in the minority.

I think writing contemporary fiction appeals to me because it allows me to have a voice. I don't have to assume the voice of a woman with fewer choices and limited roles, I don't have to struggle against the constraints of an era to craft a story, I don't have to break the rules and create what amounts to an historical fantasy in order to tell the story I want to tell. I can still spend as much time researching a contemporary setting as an historical one-- I certainly don't know everything there is to know about living in the world I live now and often find myself writing something and wondering, "How does that work?" So, the research is still there, regardless of setting. But I feel less encumbered by the weight of the truth when I'm writing about the here and now.

Something I haven't yet written, but find incredibly appealing, is time travel. To take my modern sensibilities and drop them into a past era? Ah-- now that's historical fiction I might enjoy! Of course, it is still historical fantasy, right? But then, at least, I could break the rules without muddying the historical genre. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lips Like Cherries

by Kathleen Bradean

Steven Saylor writes a wonderful detective series set in ancient Rome. His hero Gordianus the Finder treads carefully through politics and intrigue in pursuit of truth. Years ago at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, Steven talked about the pitfalls of writing historical fiction. This is recall, so forgive me if I have the story wrong, but he mentioned that in one of his stories, he compared the lips of Gordianus’ lover to cherries, which prompted a reader to inform him that his story was clearly set several years before cherries were introduced to the Romans. Horrors!  Steven mentioned that in the reprint he changed the comparison to pomegranates. But his point was that no matter how much research you do, there’s someone out there whose entire life revolves around fruit in ancient Rome, chariot wheels, or armor, and if you make an error on their obsession, they will hunt you down and mock you.
Put me off writing historicals.
 Oh, I can see someone complaining that a character couldn’t have walked from Bath to London in two days during the Regency period or when a sycophantic courtier says that a Ming Dynasty emperor has the wisdom of Solomon, but I’m not going to drag a writer to the public pillory for cherry lips. I’ll forgive a lot when reading a ripping yarn.
But my concern, both as a reader and a writer, is how can we ever know we got it right? I’m not as concerned about details of cherries and chariot wheels as I am about how we assume people felt about issues. The things we ‘know’ about the past are often a lot of nonsense. For example, the way we’ve been taught to view the Victorians. We think of them a puritanical zealots who covered the arms and legs of their furniture to stop lustful thoughts. Sure, maybe someone did that, but some people in this current time believe that the Grand Canyon was created during Noah’s Flood. I wouldn't want someone two hundred years from now thinking I believed that about the Grand Canyon. Maybe the reason we know about the furniture modesty thing was that someone thought it was so stupid that they wrote about it assuming the audience would get how absurd it was, not that they'd take it as a widespread practice.

What we forget about the Victorians, if we ever knew it, was that they were incredibly forward thinking people. Women’s suffrage, the Humane Society, public sanitation, spiritualism, vegetarianism, public police forces, free-love communes… You name it, they got into it. The best part was that they stopped looking to their rulers to fix problems, rolled up their sleeves, applied scientific methods, and got it done with their committees and teas and societies at the public level. Yeah, some things didn’t work out so well, but at least they tried to make life better for everyone. Bunch of radicals!
So I’m afraid when I read that people didn't know about sex when they probably watched their livestock or neighbors or parents getting it on all the time that we’re not giving our predecessors much credit for common sense. I think plenty people knew the earth was a sphere long before it became the official doctrine. I think most cultures fostered explorers who traveled as well as homebodies who made sure they had a hearth to return to. I don’t believe in the noble savage or that anyone ever properly revered the earth. There were no real saints and everyone was (is) capable of savagery as well as deep compassion, often applied simultaneously, because humans are weird that way. I think a lot of people paid (pay) lip service to the local religion but did (do) what they damn well pleased, because no matter what era, continent, race or religion people were born to, people are, and always were, people. My favorite historical novels have a way of pointing that out.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Out Of Nappies

I don't know if this counts as something to do with history and/or historical fiction, but it's been on my mind so I'm hoping it's okay. Basically, I've been reading the Call The Midwife books - and watching the TV show - and loving both despite how Sunday evening twee that is of me. I know what people think of this TV show, but I don't care.

There's just something incredibly fun, warm and delightful about it. In part, it's due to Miranda Hart being totally orsum as Chummy in it - seriously, the woman is not only fooking hilarious and my twin in nearly every way, but she's also a damned good actress. However, there's another reason why Call The Midwives is on my mind.

The books are even better than the show. Oh my God, are the books good. They are the book version of Armie Hammer's other words, totally glorious and utterly addictive. And it's not because they're fantastically written or packed full of amazing character arcs or any of the usual stuff that gets my juices flowing.

It's because they're crammed with history. They're bursting at the seams with detail about this world I had no prior knowledge of, and which no one really talks about - the world of childbirth, prior to 1965. And believe me, it is not a world any person would want to visit, any time soon. I mean, I knew that childbirth was a dangerous business before certain advancements were made. Hell, it's a dangerous business now.

But I had no idea HOW dangerous. I didn't realise the true extent of some of the horrors. Like the doctors who rallied against the practice of midwifery, because they feared losing the guinea they got for delivering a child. Even though most of the women in the East End couldn't afford a guinea, and often died in childbirth because there simply wasn't anyone there who knew what they were doing. There were handywomen, who claimed to know how to deliver a baby. But no training for midwives, no establishments to help them, no maternity wards...nothing.

It's beyond belief what some of these women went through. How advanced most of medicine was becoming...and yet how stridently it refused to accept the process of childbirth as something that even needed any attention at all. It was like some dirty woman's secret. It amazed me, reading it, that women ever gave birth at all. It's a miracle the human race continued.

The ingratitude for the amazing thing women were bringing staggered me, even though I kind of knew in the abstract that this was the case.

And then there's the issue of poverty. And the workhouse. And all of this not so long ago, at all. We think we're civilised, but we're barely out of nappies, in terms of doing right by each other. Women selling their teeth and hair, women separated from their children, surgical rape and seventeen babies in a one room flat...the threat of death over your head all the time just because your husband hates wearing a condom and doctors want their guinea...

Scary stuff. But damn, it was a gripping, fascinating read.

P.S. My new book, Addicted, is out on the 24th - so I thought I'd just give it a little mention here. It's got a big, hot, sex addicted hero, and a rather more timid librarian heroine. You can pre-order it, here:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ancestral Roots

By Adriana Kraft (Guest Blogger)

Do you love history? I do – as far back as I can remember. I devoured books about far away times as a child. In my teens I loved Gone With The Wind, all of Jane Austen’s books, biographies of Elizabeth the First, the other Tudors, Mary Queen of Scots, and on and on. My husband (who co-writes with me under our pen name, Adriana Kraft) shares this tradition. His early years were also populated with biographies, as well as with Zane Grey Westerns, Sandberg’s biography of Lincoln, and Willa Cather.

He and I have been writing romantic fiction together for over a decade, and have been published in erotic romance since 2006. We have yet to publish a historical novel – but it’s not for lack of interest.

Part of what’s so daunting is the need to get things exactly right. We’ve dabbled in a little time travel here and there (okay, in our books, not personally...), but when you send characters back in time you can afford to be a little vague about precisely where you’ve sent them or when they’ve landed, leaving a lot of wiggle room for imaginative detail. Setting a full novel in a historical period we haven’t experienced means a LOT of research.

So today I thought I’d share a little about the historical periods that have drawn us, what we’re learning, and what we’re working on.

There are two: on the American continent, Native American history, and across the ocean, Celtic history. Do you detect a theme? We continue to feel drawn to cultures that respected the earth, honored the cycles of the seasons, and experienced the sacred as integral in everyday life. More: these two cultures reflect our ancestral roots. Hubs has a dollop of Native blood from his mother’s side, and both of us share UK roots that likely went back to the Celtic era, especially in Wales.

We turned to Native American history first. Because we also like to set novels in places we’ve lived or travelled, we chose western Wyoming and the Wind River Range – a landscape that reached out and grabbed us when we first encountered it. A western University library afforded us ample personal accounts of the period just after the civil war, when the Shoshone were moved to the Wind River reservation and white settlers first arrived and brought cattle into western Wyoming. We threw ourselves into a plot that spanned four decades and traced a civil war veteran from central Pennsylvania (my grandmother’s long lost uncle, we love to imagine) who moved west, established a ranch in the remote Wind River Valley, saved a Shoshone’s life and was given a Shoshone bride in gratitude. Perhaps you can tell we also love working with a clash of cultures.

We do have a completed draft of that work. It’s not a romance, exactly – more of a straightforward historical novel. But we have pulled it back out for another look and hope to release it, broken into two shorter works, later this year.

Delving into our Celtic roots has come more recently. Partly in response to what we were learning about Native American spirituality, we took training in energy healing practices, drumming, and shamanic journeying. We then decided to explore the cultures on the British Isles just preceding and during the Roman occupation. As with Native American history, our original impetus was personal – an effort to ground some of what we experienced in our training with cultures that are in our bloodlines. We focused especially on Wales, because of our shared ancestral roots.

It didn’t take long for us to get excited about setting a fictional series in that time and place. We now have the broad strokes outline for a four book series that opens in Wales during the Roman occupation. A young native woman is captured and made to become slave to a Roman officer and his wife, who eventually take her back to Rome with them. She leaves behind an infant daughter. In Rome, she gives birth to a son. With her mystical practices, she is able to stay in communication with her daughter, and across the ensuing centuries…

Well, if I keep going, I’ll give away too much of the plot! We do have the first book in this series drafted, and plan to have the series completed sometime in 2013. We’ll keep our favorite paranormal features of time travel, telecommunication and telekinesis, but the historical intervals will be carefully grounded in substantial research.

Meanwhile, if you’d like a sample of our erotic romance with time travel features, I’d recommend our very first sale, Colors of the Night, and its sequel, Aria Returns, forthcoming this spring at Extasy Books. We like to think we invented the timeless love goddess Aria; some days it seems more likely she found us, from whatever plane it is she exists in. Deeply spiritual but equally playful, she travels time and space seeking couples who need a little jump start to their relationship, in and out of bed, and she brings them ancient sacred sexual wisdom through direct practice.

We hope you love history as much as we do. It’s so easy to lose ourselves in the research, which each of us finds incredibly absorbing. We are never bored – we hope we can deliver our excitement to our readers as we expand our output in this fascinating genre.

Adriana Kraft
Erotic Romance for Two, Three, or More
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013


The Twilight of the Cats


Once long ago, dearly beloved, in the ancient days of the Northern Gods of Storm and Sky, in the waters of  the high flowing  Father river, The Rhine, a lone catfish swam and played over a trash pile. The cat fish swam faster and faster and suddenly jumped into the air from exuberant joy singing in a radiant mezzo- soprano, not common for a catfish -

"Weia! Waga!

Woge du welle!

wander you waters

waving my whiskers!"

Another soprano cat fish appeared, waving its long whiskers and singing -

"Fliegerfisch, watching alone?"

"If Flugelfisch joined, we were two."

"Let's see how you watch - !"

" - Safely from you!"

and the second cat fish gleefully dashed at the first. They chased each other in leaping circles as the rising dawn pinked the horizon.

A third, bigger cat fish appeared and sang –

“Weiaha hia –

Careless sisters!”

The second catfish sang -
“Katzheilde swim! Fliegerfisch flies,

help me to catch her.”

“You should be guarding

the enchanted flea collar

it waits for your care

Something bad might happen.”

If you don’t get back there, I swear.”

Fliegerfisch splashed her and soon they were all laughing and chasing each other.

Old Possum, a lonely, lumpy, homeless cat slouched up to the river bank and watched the catfish play. He splashed his paw in the water and sang -

“Heh, Heh! You nymphs

From Nibelheim’s night gladly

I’d join in if you let me.”

The catfish stopped playing at the sound. “Who’s that?” “Someone in the dark?” “Quick! To the flea collar –Father warned us someone might come.”

They swam up and saw the old cat. “Phui! He’s horrible!” “Guard the collar!”

The three fish darted down to the bottom and circled the trash pile.

“Hello down there – “

“What do you want up there?”

“What are you doing around that little trash pile? Come back up and play. What is that, an old flea collar?”

“Have you been living in a cave?” sang Fliegerfisch. “Haven’t you heard of the Enchanted Flea Collar of the Gods? We have to guard it because who ever wears it will have power to rule the whole world!”

“The whole world?” sang the old cat.

“I really don’t think you should be telling him this,” sang Katzhilde.

“The whole world?” sang the old cat.

“That’s right,” sang Flugelfisch, “The whole world!”

“Ix-nay on the Orld-way . . . “

“But to do that you have to curse and renounce love. Everybody wants love, so you don’t want that flea collar – “

The cat plunged in and snatched up the flea collar in his paws 

“Oh for cripes . . .”

Old Possum brandished the flea collar and sang -

“Unloved, unwanted.

Dread ye not now

Spawn of this stream

this cruel world?

I wrest from the trash the collar,

Hear me oh flood

Thus the old cat curses love!”

He pulled the flea collar over his neck - leaped from the water into the weeds– “HAH! Ha hahaha ha haaaaa . . .” and was gone.

“What do they expect,” sighed Katzfisch, “putting a bunch of fish in charge of something like that. . .”

As the run rose over the mountains of the Rhine, Wotan the one eyed All Father of the Gods stretched and yawned. The great gleaming hall of Valhalla, new and fresh shone before him. He would fill it with lady cats. The Cat House of the Gods. He raised his spear and sang:

“The great work is ended

Towering to Heaven

See it shine!

What in dreams I viewed

My will has created

The Cat House!

And it’s mine!”

The great fortress had been made for him by the two giant hounds, Huckleberry and Assholt. They demanded their promised payment – Gutepussy, the cat goddess of love. “We need to talk about that,” said Wotan. “Nothing to talk about,” said the fearsome Huckleberry. “A deal’s a deal. Gutepussy’s like totally hot, time to hand her over.” “Not so fast,” said Wotan. “You can’t trade off people for construction work, even if you’re a god king.”

Just then Gutepussy came in the room and Assholt grabbed her and sniffed her butt. Things are going badly, thought Wotan. There must be something else I can offer.

He stamped his spear on the ground and Teaser the Fire Cat appeared. Teaser always had an idea, and one of his worst ideas had been trading off Gutepussy who had recently dumped him. “Where the hell have you been?” said Wotan. “Do you know what a jam I’ve got here?”

“Thankless ever is Teaser’s lot!

For your sake alone

Roamed I the world and not

One did I see who wanted gold

More than love.

And now I can see

There’s nothing so great as lady’s love

Nothing so great as cat would ransom be

For lady’s love.”

“Yes,” said Wotan, “That’s the problem I have here now. Can you help?”

“I have an idea,” said Teaser.

“I was hoping you’d say that and I hope it’s better than your last idea,” said Wotan.

“I’ve been talking with the Rhine Maidens, do you remember that enchanted flea collar?”

“What enchanted flea collar?”

“Das Flohhalsband!” sang Assholt.

“Yes, Old Possum has it and he’s definitely going to come after this place for himself with the power of Das Flohhalsband. Why not take it and return it to the Rhine Maidens where it’ll be safe?”

“Is that the flea collar that rules the world?” sang Huckleberry.

“Why does everybody know about this but me?” sang Wotan

They descended to Nibelheim to find Old Possum. There they found him ruling with a cruel hand. When he saw the two he changed himself into a fearsome dragon to frighten them away. But Teaser, who was after all the cat-god of fire, was unimpressed. “Anybody can do dragons. How small can you go?” asked Teaser. “Can you change to Mickey Mouse, or is that beyond you? It’s okay if you can’t do it, just say so.”

“Eff you, little cat. Watch this shit –“ and Old Possum changed to a little mouse in shorts and white gloves. They jumped him instantly and tied him and hauled him off to Valhalla..

“If you want your freedom you'll have to give me the flea collar,” said Wotan.

“I paid for this ring by my own curse

And you think you can just take it

without a curse yourself?

My sin on myself doth fall

But on all that was, is and will be

Will fall my curse if you strip me

Of Das Flohhalsband!”

Wotan grabbed the collar and yanked it from the old cat’s neck. “Just give up the goddamn thing and pack off.”

Crushed and bitter, the old cat bit his paw and held up his bloody claw –

“Then hear me now

Accurst to me it came

Accurst be it now

Its magic now murder who wears it

Envy devour who sees it

No joy to who owns it

Thus the Old Possum blesses his collar!”

Wotan slipped the collar around his neck. “Blow it out your ass. You can go. Scat. Shoo.”

As Old Possum slunk away, suddenly Bast, the most ancient Cat Goddess of all appeared and sang –

“Wisely Wotan wisely

Flee the fateful collar!

Ruthless the ruin

The curse must follow.

All that hath been and will be I know

The Twilight of the Cats

Will follow if the collar returned it goes

To the children of the Rhine!”

And then as smartly as a soap bubble she vanished.

“Jeepers, that old bitch gives me the willies,” muttered Teaser.

“Give me Gutepussy, and you can have the collar,” said Wotan reluctantly and showed it to Assholt. Gutepussy ran to Wotan’s arms and spit at Teaser. “You’re still a jerk,” she said. Teaser shrugged.

Assholt put on the collar. “How do I look – NAH!” Huckleberry socked his brother with a club. Assholt fell stone dead and Huckleberry took the collar.

Whoa, thought Wotan. That was quick.

Now that’s what I call a serious curse, thought Teaser.

Huckleberry withdrew to a forest where he became a dragon with the rings power and killed anyone who came near. Meanwhile the cat gods became comfortable in their new home and Wotan filled it with lady cats.


But Wotan lusted for the ring and made a plan. He went tom-catting around in the world and bore two mortal kittens with a lady cat he met, Siegmittens and Siegbooties. The young little kit Siegmittens was out hunting when he returned and found his den was burned, his mother dead and his little sister had vanished. The years passed and trouble followed him everywhere.

One night, as he was being chased by hounds during a storm he threw himself into a hut in the forest The lady of the hut found him faint by the fire. She was a beautiful and gentle kitty who was married to a hound, a predictably dysfunctional match. She gave him water and they fell passionately in love. In the afterglow of their passionate love making a disturbing thought came to Siegmittens. “Hey – I think I know you from somewhere.”

“Oh my god, are you my brother?”

“I think so.”

“Ewww! I can’t believe I just screwed my brother. Are you kidding?”

“Hey, its better than letting a dog hump you all these years. As least we’re the same species.”

“Is it karma? Why do I keep getting in this screwed up kinky relationships? Is it me? Hooking up with a dog? And then I find out I’m hooking up with my brother? What’s wrong with me?”

“Just go with it.”

They ran away into the night as her husband swore to sniff them out and kill them both.

In the Cat House of Valhalla, Wotan summoned his favorite daughter, the Valkitty warrior cat Fluffhilde. He ordered her to save Siegmittens from Hunding the Hound. Then Gutepussy reminded him Siegmittens and Siegbooties were brother and sister, and Wotan ordered Fluffhilde to bring Siegmittens back to the Cat House alone, which means dead, because this whole thing needed a course correction.

No warrior who looks on the Valkitty may live. Fluffhilde confronted Seigmittens and told him he must die at the sword of Hunding the Hound. On the other hand he would go with her to the Cat House which was a very sweet deal. Siegmittens sang –

“And will I find there

Walse my father?”

“yes, you will,” sang Fluffhilde.

“And are there lady cats

To greet me

In Valhalla?”

“Oh baby,” said Fluffhilde.

“You call me Siegmittens

But will Siegbooties

Be there too?”

“You’ll have to leave her here,” sang Fluffhilde. “Anyway, she’s your sister, you know that, right? Nobody wants to see that kind of thing and really there’re plenty of nice girls you can meet there.”

“Then greet for me Valhalla

And greet for me Walse my father

And greet for me the ladies

Of the Cat House.

Without Siegbooties

Sigmittens will not go.”

Fluffhilde was stunned. “Are you crazy?”

“Hell will be Heaven

If Siegbooties is there with me.”

Deeply moved Fluffhilde defended him in the fight with Hunding, but Wotan appeared and let Hunding kill him as Flufflhide fled with Siegbooties who was pregnant. She hid Siegbooties in the forest where Huckleberry the dragon lived, because she knew Wotan would never go there.

Wotan was seriously pissed. Fluffhilde had never disobeyed him before and he had just found a joint in her room on top of everything else and said enough is enough with this girl.

For punishment Wotan had to put Fluffhilde down. She would be put to sleep. As she sank in his arms he sang to her –

“Farewell my valiant

glorious child

you were the holiest

pride of my heart

Farewell Farewell Farewell

Though I abandon you

whom I love so

the laughing delight of my eye

a radiant bridal fire

will surround you

so that no coward will approach

or unworthy cat to awake you.”

He laid her out in her Valkitty armor and stamped his spear three times on the rock.

Teaser! Bam. Teaser! Bam! Teaser! Bam!

The Cat-God of fire appeared and circled her in a ring of magic fire as Wotan wept and abandoned her there.


Siegbooties died giving birth to a hero who was absolutely without fear; in part because he wasn’t all that bright. He grew up and forged for himself a sword and killed the dragon Huckleberry without trying especially hard and took the flea collar for a souvenir because he liked it.

Wotan met him in the wood.

“Ho! Ho! So you’d stop me!” sang Siegpuff

“I am the rock’s defender,” sang Wotan,

And mine’s the spell that enfolds

The slumbering maid.”

“What slumbering maid?” sang Siegpuff.

“Oops,” sang Wotan. “Cat’s out of the bag.”

“There where the flames are I will go!” sang Siegpuff.

“If you’ve no fear of the fire,

If you’re that dumb at least

The shaft of my spear bars your way!”

“Stretch out your spear!

See it break on my sword!

“Glorious Vengeance!”

As Wotan thrust his spear, Siegpuff’s sword shattered it.

“Sonuvabitch,” sang Wotan. “Cheap Chinese made crap. Pass on, I cannot prevent you.” And Wotan vanished in the darkness.

Siegpuff came across Fluffhilde still in a coma encircled with fire. It did not occur to him not to try to walk through fire so he just did. It was the first time he had seen a lady cat and for the first time he knew fear. He knelt and kissed her and she awoke.

He gave her the flea collar for an engagement gift.


On the banks of the Rhine, near Fluffhilde’s rock, three strange lady cats, the mysterious Norns, the daughters of Bast, were weaving the rope of fate. In the future they saw the Twilight of the Cats approaching and Valhalla burning and the gods perishing. From their ashes and the ashes of the great cosmological tree Yggdrasil would be born a new world n which cats would no longer rule by law, but instead a world where men ruled by law unless –

- and then the damn rope broke.

“Cheap Chinese made crap . . .”

Old Possum used his wealth to buy the services of a lady cat to bear him a son he named Burntoast. He sent Burntoast to find the enchanted flea collar. There he met Siegpuff tom catting around looking for adventures to impress Fluffhilde for when he returned. Burntoast tried to set him up with his half sister Boobshilde. Things were going in that direction until Fluffhilde arrived. Though mortal now, even a former Valkitty isforever bad news when she’s mad. She told Burntoast the secret to killing Siegpuff was to stab him in the back. During a hunt with his new friend Burntoast, Siegpuff was killed by a wild boar who accidently stabbed him in the back with a spear. So Burntoast said.

But Fluffhilde realized her love had been deceived for the sake of the flea collar and defiantly refused to give it up. She arranged for a great funeral fire on the banks of the eternally flowing Rhine and sang –

“sturdy branches of the Rhine

Bright and clear

Kindle the flame

Of love again

Let the hero blaze

In splendor and radiance

I must join him!

I shall share that pure holy flame

With my love

We will both blaze in the fire!

Let all that is impure be burned to ash

And only love remain!”

As the flames leapt up Fluffhilde threw herself for the last time on top of Siegpuff and snuggled and purred as the flames engulfed the pair.

Seeing the flea collar intact on her neck, Burntoast reached into the smoldering ashes to take the flea collar from Fluffhilde’s charred corpse. Suddenly the Rhine crested in a gigantic wave and he heard –

“Heialihia! Weia la Waga!

Wandering waters!

Get your paws off the collar!

Heialalalal! Flea collar! Flea collar!”

“Mine!”cried Burntoast as he lunged for the collar

Fliegerfisch and Flugelfisch grabbed Burntoast by the ears, dragged him straight to the bottom and sat on him. Katzfisch seized the flea collar in her mouth.

“Grabby little bastard,” she muttered as she saw his last flight of bubbles rise. Katzfisch glanced to the sky and the clouds were in flames. Valhalla, Cat House of Wotan and the gods was blazing from the sparks of Fluffhildes fire.

So soon the gods were hidden by flame.

So soon they were gone.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Past Lives

By Lisabet Sarai

Ever since I began reading (which was not long after I got out of diapers), I've loved historical fiction. As a child, I couldn't get enough of ancient Egypt or imperial Rome. Give me a tale set in medieval France or colonial America, Moorish Spain or Druidic Britain, and I would disappear into that other world for hours or even days. My mother would despair of getting me to do my chores or persuading me to go outside and play. The historical realms that I visited seemed far more real than my family's three bedroom ranch house or our grassy back yard.

I still enjoy a well-crafted tale centered in another time and place. In fact, I think I appreciate historical fiction more deeply now that I understand how difficult it is to write it well. A successful historical novel should transport you back to the past. You should see the sights, smell the smells, experience the sensual delights and the painful inconveniences of the time in which it occurs.

Of course, you've also got to get the details right. However obscure the period that you've chosen, there's bound to be some reader who will be an expert on that time, that dreaded critic who will throw the book at you (literally!) when your characters in twelfth century England drink tea, or your Aztec prince wears robes of silk. I remember long rants on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association, because a well-known romance author mentioned a spinning wheel in a period before they'd been invented. (The ranter was an individual with extensive knowledge about textiles.)  

Immersive description and obsessive accuracy are not enough, though. To write convincingly about another historical period, you need to have a sense of how people thought, what they believed, how they behaved - the unspoken rules and assumptions of their society. In medieval times, for instance, God and religion loomed very large in most people's consciousness. Meanwhile, life was short and fraught with danger, even for members of the upper classes. Throughout much of history, in many societies, women have been relegated to the status of children or even property, with little or no personal freedom. I've read some so-called historical  erotica set in eighteenth century Europe in which the characters acted, and interacted, in ways that were far too modern to be believable (particularly in the area of sexual expression). These books might be entertaining, but they didn't really deliver on the promise of a genuine historical experience.

To be effective, a historical novel must also capture the cadences and vocabulary of speech in the period. It helps if the prose also adopts the grammatical structures used during that time. Short declarative sentences are a relatively modern development in fiction. Multiple dependent clauses, subjunctive mood, passive voice, and lengthy description were common and approved structures in the English up until the middle of the twentieth century.

The most engaging erotic historical fiction that I've read in a very long time is Erastes' homoerotic Regency novel, Standish. I could almost believe that the story really had been penned by an author of the period, rather than a modern writer. Even though the book is a romance and thus fated to end happily, the author really made me believe that one of the heroes might be executed for his homosexual behavior.

Another author who excels at bringing the past to life is Sarah Waters. I'll never forget the “aha” experience of reading Tipping the Velvet. Given the novel's rather unusual setting (the world of music hall performers), I can't guarantee the book is realistic, but it certainly felt real. Ms. Waters manages the same feat in The Night Watch, evoking London during World War II with astonishing vividness.

Most of my own work thus far is contemporary, though I have taken a few stabs at history -- with great trepidation! I have a story that unfolds in Shakespeare's time (Shortest Night) – and indeed which includes the Bard as a minor character -  and another set on a tea plantation in British India just a few years after the first World War (Monsoon Fever). One of my earliest published shorts, Communion, takes place in a convent in thirteenth century France. In general, though, I've avoided writing historical tales, out of a combination of fear and laziness.

There's one time period that is an exception, however: the Victorian era. Sometimes I believe that I had a past life during Victoria's reign. Even as a child, I was attracted to the period's architecture (my siblings use to tease me about my fondness for “gingerbread houses”) and styles of dress (in high school, I often wore high-necked blouses with cameos at the throat and long, full skirts). I remember visiting the Tampa Bay Hotel, a classic example of the Victorian fascination with all things “Oriental”, and having the distinct impression that I'd walked those dark, high-ceiling corridors before. And during the eighteen months that I lived in Boston's Beacon Hill (where the buildings mostly date from earlier in the nineteenth century, but which had its heydey during the Victorian era), I felt as though I'd come home.

Meanwhile, writing Victorian fiction is easy for me – well, as easy as writing ever is. I can hear the language of the times in my mind. I can picture the settings, smell the coal smoke, hear the clip clop of horse's hooves on the cobblestone streets and the cries of the market hawkers. I imagine the whale bones of my corset, biting into my flesh. I fear the social and economic ruin that would ensue if my true, sensual nature became known.

I've written a variety of shorter works set in the Victorian period, including a couple of steam punk stories. My longest literary sojourn in the era, though, is in Incognito.  The novel includes has a subplot, revealed in an antique journal, which takes place in Boston in the 1880's and involves the wife of a wealthy merchant who, like my heroine Miranda, has a secret life of sexual excess. At least a quarter of the book takes place in the nineteenth century.

That part simply flowed from my metaphoric pen, with little conscious effort. If you want to read an example, just click here.  I did some research, particularly in the area of costume, but the character of Beatrice came to me full-fleshed, complete with her forbidden hungers and her knowledge that her adventures might well destroy her life and livelihood.

Do I really believe I'm the reincarnation of some carnally-curious society woman from Victoria's time – or perhaps even the author of one of the many “anonymous” erotic tomes the period produced? Maybe my sense of familiarity with the linguistic structures and the social intricacies of the time derives from all the nineteenth century fiction I've read, starting with Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens as a child and moving on to The Pearl and My Secret Life. I was first exposed to Gilbert and Sullivan at the age of five; did that play a role?

Even if there's a logical explanation, I like to pretend that in a previous life I was someone like Beatrice. Maybe in the future, I'll try to write the story of that past life.

Friday, January 11, 2013

To My Fourteen-Year-Old Self

by Jean Roberta

Dear Jeanie,

I’m old enough to be your grandmother, and I know how you feel about old people who give you lectures. Please don’t tune me out. I haven’t forgotten being you.

I’ll start with some good news:

Your acne will go away. Seriously. I know you’re not happy with your body, but you will never gain more than 30 pounds beyond your current weight. That’s not much of a physical change over 47 years.

Consider this: you are not defined by the way you look. No one is. If you can’t find an inner core that feels like your true self, you will be as vulnerable to every passing influence as a weathervane.

The biggest challenges of your life will not be the ones you imagine now.

Bill, your current boyfriend, is a preview of the rogues’ gallery in your future. Remember what he told you about the value of the necklace he gave you? You don’t really believe it’s worth hundreds of dollars, do you? (By the way, I still have it. I’m sure an appraisal would reveal it to be the best bling from Woolworth’s, circa 1965.) And when he told you the words for “I love you” in the language of the Eskimos (which he calls “Eskimalian”), after telling you what a world traveller he is, you knew that was all hot air, didn’t you?

Yet even when your father found out Bill has never been registered as a student at the state college, as he claimed, you clung to hope that maybe there had been some mistake. You still hope, with all your wild energy, that clashing versions of the truth can be made compatible, that all the pieces can be cleverly aligned like the parts of the “Chinese puzzles” you love getting in your stocking on Christmas morning.

You are terrified of trusting your own common sense, let alone your deepest instincts. You know what guys like Bill say about girls who “can’t trust.” He’s right, in a way. Trust is good. Give it to yourself before you give it to anyone else.

Please remember that anyone can say anything. You can be lied to and lied about. (You know how that goes. When you hear Sandy Posey sing it on the radio next year, you'll be singing along.) You can be told you are crazy, and you will be.

I wish I could spare you from the worst experiences ahead, but then you would probably miss some of the good stuff too.

You know the dreams you’ve had about a beautiful baby girl with a brown skin? She’s real and she’s ours, by blood.

You know how much you would like to become a published writer? You will be. You’ll be surprised at how easily the words flow when you have enough time to think and a room of your own, just as Virginia Woolf explained it. Nothing in the world is really new. It’s just new to you.

Here is a paradox that you need to learn: truth and imagination are related. You need a flexible imagination to begin to glimpse the complexity of what is under your nose. Never try to shut down your fantasies in order to see things clearly, or close your eyes in order to find what you seek.

Your desire for sex is not a sign that you deserve to be locked up somewhere. Your confusing crush on Katie is not the symptom of a mental illness. Right now, you can’t imagine how much easier it will be for women to love each other in the next century.

Looking at photos of you, I see a glow in your eyes that you can’t see in the mirror. You have no idea how much I love you, just as I love the woman I gave birth to, and her children. I know you feel my love from time to time. It’s like a tingle in your skin when no one else seems to be touching you. Love is a moving current that needs to be passed on.

You know what you need to do to survive. Have faith.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

To Myself, at 63

from Kristina Wright

Hey there. I bet you hardly remember me, huh? The you of eighteen years ago, when your kids were still little. Sure, I'm middle-aged now-- and I feel it some days more than others-- but I'm guessing I probably seem young to you. Younger, certainly. Do you miss me? Don't. Your body has done some pretty amazing things so far and it's a good one. Not perfect, not even beautiful, but strong and resilient. Even at 63, I'm guessing.

Why am I writing this when you're 63? Oh, it seemed like a good age. At 21 and 19, the boys are mostly grown and they should be enjoying their college lives-- lives of their own that likely have little to do with you. Does that make you sad? Or do you feel liberated? I feel mixed emotions as I write it, but of course right now they're only 3 and 1-- such sweet little boys who need me. They won't always need me, will they? (It's okay, you can lie to me and say they will.)

Sixty-three is the age I imagine where I'll feel like I did pre-children, more free, more... me. I hope that's true. Is that true? Are your days built around your own needs and interests the way they were until you were 42? I'm planning trips now for you when you're at an age where you can go wherever you want and do whatever you want and not worry (too much) about the boys. I hope you'll go on some of those trips. Sure, the boys can come if they want. I'm planning some trips like that between now and then, of course. I want to show them the world. But I want to see more of it myself, too.

Forty years of marriage this year, right? Wow. Forty. Of course, sitting on this side of the screen, it's already been 22 years and some days that seems like forever and some days it seems like a few years that flew by in a blink. Forty years sounds like forever, but I know it won't seem that way when I'm sitting where you are. It was meant to be, it was the best decision you ever made. You two have always been so perfect together. Right. Forever is really all that makes sense for you.

I envision a writing career that is still consuming your time in the best possible way. I hear of writers who quit-- who wake up one day and don't ever write another word. That won't be me-- us, I mean. It's what I was born to do, and I know you know it, too. Maybe more than ever, now that the boys are grown and you've been married for nearly two-thirds of your life. Marriage, motherhood, a sense of family and belonging... they're wonderful, aren't they? But the writing... that's what sustains me. That's what will always be there.

I wish you could write me back and tell me what you're doing. What direction your life has taken, what you're passionate about in this current moment eighteen years from now. But half the fun in this life is the anticipation of finding out what's around the bend in the road. How the children will turn out, how your relationships will ebb and flow, where life will take you emotionally and spiritually (and certainly physically, as I haven't been unscathed by health issues)-- it's all a part of the mystery of this life. It's wonderful, isn't it?

I hope you're happy. I feel that you are, in this weird in-between place where past, present and future connect. I feel that you will always be happy, some days (and years) more than others, but consistently so. Stay happy. For me.

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's Like this

by Kathleen Bradean

We're writing letters of support to our younger selves. Hmm. I'd rather get a letter from future me, but let me take a stab at this.

Dear High School me:

Although you strike folks as very strange - a fact that's mentioned to you almost daily - you're not going to stay in touch with any of your classmates once you graduate high school. Or college. Not a single one. I'm sure they're lovely people when they're not being assholes, but don't bother giving them chance to prove it because it only frustrates you. There are other friends out there waiting to be met. They'll still think you're odd, but they'll also think that's wonderful. 

I don't need to tell you to write because you'll do it anyway. Heads up: no matter how weird or artsy you look and act, no one is ever going to walk up to you and ask if you're a writer. No one is ever going to ask to read your work. Stop hoping for the miracle and start working on what you'll eventually call 'making your own luck.' Don't let anyone intimidate you. You have as much right to tell stories as anyone. There's no law that says you have to be published or that you ever have to let people read what you've written, but try anyway. Failure isn't fatal, and sometimes (groan because you won't want to hear this) it's better for you than success.

You may be one of only a thousand people in the U.S. addicted to Star Blazers right now. Some day, watching anime will be mainstream. Don't be afraid to discuss your addiction. Come clean about your enduring love for Dune, Asimov, Star Trek, Avengers, and all things science fiction. That's how you'll find people you click with. Also, watch Doctor Who now so you're not so many seasons behind in the future. I'll thank you later.

I could tip you off to investments that might make current me very wealthy, but years of struggling will teach you a good lesson about happiness as a choice. You, and I, have clean water, a roof over our heads, and food, which puts us far ahead of half the people on this earth right now. Plus, we have time to write. Doesn't get much better than that.

Oh.The guy. THE GUY. Don't worry. You'll know him when you meet him. He'll recognize you too.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Little Me

Dear Little Me,

I have something terrible to confess. Something so awful you’re not going to be able to believe it. It’s incredibly traumatic, and to be honest I don’t even know if I should share it with you. Brace yourself, okay?

We’re not married to Steve Guttenberg.

Please…please don’t throw yourself off that cliff. I did warn you it was bad! I feel awful that I had to tell you at all, but I did, and now you know, and it’s time to start coming to terms with the fact that you never become Ms. Stein-Guttenberg. You must grieve for the Scottish castle from the movie High Spirits that you will never live inside with him. Have a good cry and let go of the boat from Cocoon that you will never sail around the world on, while he wanders around wearing tiny shorts that make you go funny in your tummy and some parts of you bum.

But take heart, dear one. You’ll also never have to ask him to shave his massively hairy chest that vaguely scares you, because a) if you did that now you’d be arrested for breaking into Steve Guttenberg’s house with a razor and b) you actually grow up to love hairy chests.

So it all turns out okay in the end.

Or at least, it all turns out okay in the end if the one hope for your life was to come to love hairy chests. Which I’m not sure it was. But before we get too bogged down in why I’m not all the things you had hoped for—like a billionaire actress model singer writer with a string of lovers that reads like a who’s who of human crap when I look back on it now, including but not limited to: Scott Valentine, Chris Sarandon, Val Kilmer and that weird poppy-eyed guy from Critters—let us have a little peek at the things I am, shall we?

I’m a writer.

No, really. I am. Not a billionaire one, and not a celebrity one, and certainly not one who once dated a guy who hasn’t been famous since 1985. But still, a real and honest to goodness writer, who gets paid to write books for a living. You know what I did all day today? I wrote a chapter of a book I’m getting money to write, and then I read two novels about what happens to a teenage girl when the moon almost crashes into earth.

Yeah, you heard that right.

I spent today reading books you would have taken two buses to buy from Waterstones, with money you’d saved up for a month. And you know how I got those books? I pressed a button. I pressed a button and they came to me on a datapad from Star Trek, immediately.

I’m not even making that last bit up. The thing in my hand stores all my books—thousands of them—and it looks EXACTLY like a datapad. I know, I know. Calm down, okay? There aren’t any hoverboards and we aren’t being saved from rubble by Kyle Reese and no one is living on Mars.

But who gives a shit, because you press a button and books come.

Same thing with music, and movies. Remember how you used to beg Dad to take you to Barker’s Video? Now, you go downstairs, turn on your Nintendo console, press a button and there’s a movie right there. You can just search the name of any actor you fancy, and all his films come up, and a lot of them you can just watch right away.

I can’t even imagine what a change that would have made to your life, Little Me. How happy it would have made you to have these things. You don’t have to will the BBC to show Dana Carvey’s TV show. You have it on DVD.

And you paid for it with money you earned from writing books.

In fact you pay for most things, now, with money you earned from writing books. You’re paying for you and your husband to go on holiday this year. Your husband thinks you’re amazing for actually making all of this happen.

Because oh yeah, did I not mention that?

You’re also married. You, who never had boyfriends like everyone else. You, who I know feels desperately unloved, and not just because you feel plain and plump and bookish, when everyone else is primped and pretty and thin. You feel it because your biological Father walked out on you. Part of you suspects that all men—except the imaginary ones—are cruel and careless and awful, the way your biological Father was, and the way the boys at school are.

But I promise you, Little Me, that this isn’t the case. He might not be Steve Guttenberg, but you marry the man of your dreams. He is kind, and loyal, and good, and loves you best of all. He talks to you when you are lonely; you are never lonely when he is there. He does things to make you happy, because you being happy matters to him. And eventually, you forget what it was like to believe that all men are awful.

Because he is there to prove you wrong.

Take care, my Little Me. You don’t have long to wait, now.

All my love,

Charlotte Stein
(Yeah, that’s right. I named myself after the billionaire model actress singer writer with a string of lovers that you always wanted to be. Chew on that, for a while.)

P.S. Hope nobody minds me posting this outside my day. I meant to post it yesterday, but lapsed into a coma. If it's not all right, I'm fine for someone to remove it!