Thursday, May 30, 2013


by Giselle Renarde

I didn't renew my opera subscription.  I'm just too poor this year.

An opera subscription sounds too decadent for a poor writer, and that's probably why I'm such an apologist  ("My seats are in the nosebleed section. When you break it down, I'm only paying like $20 per ticket.  You spend nearly that much to see a movie.") but I'm glad I had the opportunity, this season, to catch the COC's production of Salome directed by Atom Egoyan.

When I first started writing, I wanted to create work that felt... Egoyanesque?  Work that evoked that striking carnivalesque dreamscape of an Atom Egoyan film.

Like Lisabet, I came into the world of erotic fiction very naively.  And romance?  What's that?  I've still never read a heterosexual romance novel.  I tried once, just to get a feel for the form, but gave up pretty quickly.  I read a few lesbian romance novels, but they didn't speak to me either.  It seemed like lesbian couples were just superimposed on the tried-and-true form.

But I'm not a romantic, and I've already admitted that to you.  For a story to appeal to me, it's got to be pretty fucked up.  Have you seen Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter," wherein Sarah Polley's character is sleeping with her father?  Or "Exotica," about a father seeking solace in a stripper following the murder of his child?  There's a special fucked-up-edness that is distinct to Egoyan's work.  I love it.  I perv on that brand of Canadian weirdness, and I wanted to replicate it in my own little way.

Amanda's post last week did a great job of spelling out why weirdness doesn't work.  Basically, the fucked-up crazy-ass shit I'd most like to write (and I think some of you are with me on this) is deemed unacceptable by most publishers in the erotic fiction genre.  It's all well and good to be Egoyanesque if you're writing literature, but if you want to work in this town, kid, you'd better keep it clean.

Isn't it weird that we have to sanitize our sex books? Crikey...

The first novel I wrote was a bisexual ballerina book called "Ondine."  Nobody would touch that manuscript.  It was too lesbian.  It was too strange, too full of lies and deception.  It was too this-that-and-the-other.  Too unhappy-ever-after.

One editor who passed on the novel gave me a whole list of insights, and I put her advice to work.  I turned a hetero subplot into a leading lady.  I changed the book so it ended in a proposal.  Happy-for-now is about the farthest I can roam from my desire for pain and suffering.  I write it because I have to.  It's almost always forced.  The only exception I can think of is a trans lesbian novella I wrote called "Friday Night Lipstick."  That one ends in a wedding scene that makes me cry every time I read it.

But, for the most part, I'd rather see despair, or watch characters drive themselves crazy doing things they shouldn't.  Case in point: I've got a novella called Adam and Sheree's Family Vacation coming out next week with eXcessica.  It's brother/sister incest--something I never considered writing until the plot came to me in an Egoyanesque dream state and took over my mind.  I couldn't not write it.  And how could Adam and Sheree ever see a happy-ever-after together?  They couldn't marry, even if they wanted to.

Thank goodness I have a publisher who believes in freedom of speech, or Adam and Sheree would probably never see the light of day.

So, HEA?  I don't often write it.  Maybe if I did, I'd be able to afford that opera subscription.  Opera loves the delicious, the titillating, the wicked, and the heart-wrenching.  And so do I.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Old Friends

I hang up the phone and go outside to the little table in the backyard to eat my breakfast. I’m drinking coffee I roasted myself. Eating bread I made myself. Eating cheese I made myself. I feel so . . . medieval.

My wife is in Panama for a couple of weeks visiting family, and she’s been chatting with me long distance about an old friend she met by accident in a little restaurant over there. These were friends from the old days of my religious journey, who have remained faithful to the old beliefs and I can’t help thinking of them.

The peach tree in the back yard is doing well, lots of hard little peaches which may be ready in a month or two. The tomatoes in their flower pots are coming up. I’ve even got the grass looking halfway decent.

They’re still in poverty these people we knew during the hard times in Panama, hand to mouth, the way we were in the days we knew each other’s presence. Things, for the time being, are so much better for me and mine now.

A couple of months ago, Gladys died. Another friend from the old religious days, when we believed God watched over us. She was poor too and trapped in a difficult marriage. She died of a brain tumor. For years she was my wife’s best friend wildly exuberant and in love with God if not her husband. Gladys and my wife barely had a chance to say goodbye before she was gone.

A couple of weeks ago I was washing dishes when suddenly I heard the name Tony Ciccone from some schlocky celebrity news show on TV. He was a friend also from the old days in Manhattan in 1984, when Tony and I would hang around in the kitchen at 43rd St late at night talking about photography, drinking espresso from a moka coffee pot as the Japanese sisters shooed us around and cleaned up the kitchen, laughing together in their language, impenetrable to us. Young and full of ideas. Tony is an alcoholic these days according to the news interviewer and often lives under a bridge. It was always hard for him having Madonna as his younger sister.

I can go on and on.

It’s good that we don’t know the future when we’re young, or we might be terrified for ourselves.

The grass is looking good because I’ve learned to fertilize it and cut it tall. If you cut it tall it makes better roots. I’m getting good at this yard work stuff, so the yard doesn't look like its just been through an air raid.

There’s no difference between me and them, why things have so far turned out better for me I have no idea. When I think of the people in Oklahoma who had their homes and neighborhoods strip mined out from under them in a single hour, as well as loved ones, I know there’s no reason that can’t happen to me too. We’re not special. We’re all connected.

The neighbors yappy dogs are shrieking their hearts out at me through the fence as they always do when they find me out here, these obnoxious descendents of the great Dire Wolf, whom man has reduced into these nasty little beasts. Now there’s a sin for you.

I never thank god. I always reserve the right to grieve if someday it all falls apart. It helps me appreciate it more, knowing it can go away. To thank god would insult the ghosts of my friends who have died too soon, and the ghost of my young self who lived the life with them.

This afternoon my kid and I will go to the state park and have a cook out and go swimming and walk around a little. I’ve got BBQ spare ribs. It was a small revelation to me that I could make the ribs properly over charcoal on a closed grill, low and slow and then just heat them up over the little grill in the park instead of the usual hot dogs. I wish they were all here. I wish we could eat together and I could share my fragile bounty with them. I wish things had turned out better for them.

There’s no happily ever after that I believe in, though I think there’s an ever after of some kind. I wouldn’t want to go through eternity as myself anyway, I’d go crazy if I couldn’t be better than this.

Esoteric religion states simply “God is One,” like the old Jewish prayer, but it means something else. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worship idols. It means there is simply no other being or object in all reality except God. There is only God, there is no creation or creator. Only surface and deeper structure. Consequently the search for God, or heaven, is not a journey to go somewhere. It is an intensification of the moment. There is only this moment, the eternal fugue of Now. To be enlightened is to be anchored in the reality of the moment to feel everything without defense and to feel especially the eternal connection with others and what often connects us is our mutual experience of suffering and injustice. Happily ever after can only be the realization that we are never really alone; that happiness and suffering are always in motion and that it is the nature of evil to pass away.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


J.P. Bowie

When I started writing I don’t think I had HEA’s too much on my mind. Just finding an ending was the goal, and if it ended happily, that was okay. What I was mostly writing were mysteries, so of course no way was the story going to end happily for everyone. All those nasty villains had to come to a suitably nasty end.

Writing m/m romance, the standard ending more or less demanded by many publishers is invariably HEA or HFN, when in reality it probably should be SYS—see you sometime, or LDL—let’s do lunch. As we all know HEA is the ideal, but it’s not easy to achieve, and mostly doesn’t last—even Cinderella and Prince Charming’s marriage was beset by problems in the many Disney sequels, mostly due to the WSM—wicked stepmother.

Me? I’m a romantic, and a believer in happy endings, and even love at first sight.

I hear it so many times, or read it rather, in reviews, this horror of ‘instalove’ as it’s called. Okay, call it instalust if you must, because after all we men do tend to think with our nether regions rather quickly. Women, or so I like to think, are more likely to put substance before hotness, but a guy can get hot and heavy without so as much as swapping names. I don’t think at that particular moment there’s much thought of an HEA, maybe not even a SYL—see you later—but, in my books at least, there’s been a connection made. After all, my BFF met his LLP—life-long partner—in LSG—Leicester Square gents.

God, but these acronyms could go on forever. So, I think I’ll end here with, yes I’m in favour of a happy ending — be it just for now, or forever. Enjoy it, embrace it, live it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Optimist's Apology

By Lisabet Sarai

In 1999, I published my first erotic novel. I had no idea what I was doing, no literary context for either erotica or romance. I'd read The Story of O, Anne Rice's Beauty books, and some Victorian smut, plus the one Black Lace book that inspired me to write Raw Silk, but I'd never read any Romance with a capital R – my idea of romance was tragic tales like Wuthering Heights - and overall I was woefully innocent of such issues as genre conventions.

Raw Silk had a happy ending – that is, if you would assign the description “happy” to a sexual contest among the heroine's three lovers, which leads her to reject her wholesome but virile hometown guy and an omnisexual Thai prince for an emotionally-constipated Dom with attitude.

My second novel (Incognito) had an equally positive conclusion, in which the heroine commits to the bookish colleague who has proved to her that sex doesn't have to be anonymous to be hot – though there are intimations that their bound-to-be-exciting future relationship will include encounters with Mark's cousin Marla as well.

My third novel (Nasty Business)? Yup, you guessed it. A happy ending, in the sense that the business rivals acknowledge that their mutual attraction may be the basis for some sort of longer term relationship. The heroine does reject the hero's proposal of marriage - he proposes as she's tied to the mast of his sailing yacht, after he has screwed her with a champagne bottle... Needless to say, that is not why she refuses!

Not until my fourth novel, an erotic noir, did I fashion a more ambiguous conclusion. Exposure ends with a massive question mark. Stella has suffered violence and betrayal. She has lost her home, her family memories, and very nearly her life. Two lovers, one male and one female, both want her, but she's not at all certain which, if either, she'll choose. Mainly she needs to heal herself. There's a suggestion that the best way for her to do this is to distance herself from anyone associated with the events that have scarred her. However, I don't offer any answers.

Since then I've published four additional novels, all deliberately targeted at the erotic romance market, so of course they all end at least “happily for now”. Although I sometimes complain about the constraints of the romance genre, I have to admit that winding these books up in a manner acceptable to romance readers was not that difficult. Usually, I had the conclusion in mind when I began the tale; it was in some sense inevitable (because of the story, not because of the genre).

The thing is, I'm basically an optimist. I've lived a fortunate life, and I tend to expect good things to happen. To me, a happy ending doesn't necessarily seem forced or implausible (though I've certainly read plenty of stories where the sudden crumbling of every barrier to happiness really galled me). Happiness isn't necessarily assured, in my view, but it's certainly possible.

What's important to me is that the conclusion make sense – that it flow from the premise and the characters. Furthermore, the characters must change over the course of the tale, and often, this change will be triggered by trauma or loss. In Quarantine, for instance, one of the heroes is horrifically wounded – almost killed – in an anti-authority riot. He loses his hand and his entire face must be reconstructed. Quite literally, he becomes someone else, and this experience both matures and embitters him.

Although I often write happy endings, I'm definitely concerned about the “romancing” of erotica. I have no problem with love, you understand. I just worry because it seems to be getting harder and harder to find publishing venues for stories without it, stories with darker themes or less-than-rosy endings. Optimist though I am, I've written a few of those myself. “Trespass”, a science-fiction treatment of Romeo and Juliet, ends with the death of both protagonists. That story was rejected by three editors before I found a home for it.

I suspect I'd never have succeeded in publishing “Fleshpot” (in which the narrator perishes in the tentacled embrace of a seductive monster) if I'd tried to submit it to one of the mainstream erotic publishers like Cleis, Xcite or Mischief. (It appeared in Nobilis' charity anthology of tentacle porn, Coming Together Arm in Arm in Arm.) And I'd guess that nowadays I'd be hard pressed to get anyone to accept two of my earliest (and I think, among my best) stories, “Higher Power” and “Communion”. The former ends with the narrator/heroine paralyzed from a BDSM stunt gone wrong while in the latter, the narrator is burned at the stake as a witch.

Still, the vast majority of my fiction, even the tales that clearly deserve to be labeled erotica, have happy or at worst bittersweet endings. (I've a particular fondness for tales of transcendent chance encounters, after which the participants part, forever transformed.) And here at the Grip, surrounded by some authors (Amanda, Daddy, Garce and Jean, at least) who write gritty, serious, intense, even painful erotica, I sometimes feel moved to apologize for my sunny view of the world. Sorry – I'm not trying to make things worse! I really do believe the world needs all kinds of stories, with all kinds of endings.

My worry about the market trend toward ignoring anything without a HE is pushing me to write darker erotica, though that does not come naturally to an optimist like me. We need some balance, I think. I welcome the advent of Burning Book Press ( and Stiff Rain Press (, independent e-presses who emphasize the erotic rather than the romantic elements in their offerings, and who pull no punches when it comes to taboos and darkness. I'm working on a story for the recently announced Burning Book anthology Written on Skin, which will end with the hero's death and the heroine's flaying him. Not exactly HEA.

Of course, the past few years have seen the demise of several publishers, like Freaky Fountain and Republic Press, pioneers who bucked the happily-ever-after-everywhere trend. (Freaky Fountain's Bad Romance deserved to become a classic.) I only hope that these newcomers don't suffer the same fate.

Given my generally positive perspective, I'm hoping for the best and looking forward to a literary renaissance on the darker side of sex.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Rules & Consequences

by Jean Roberta

The following is a snippet from "Alpha Male," a story of mine which has never been exposed to a reader’s eyes before. Actually, it was recently rejected for a BDSM anthology, which didn’t surprise me. I think the editor was looking for a different focus, but what the call-for-submissions inspired in me was the following scene: two university grad students who were childhood friends, now both metaphorically rubbing each other raw because they seem to have clashing needs. He is into science, she is into the arts. He is annoyed, and she wants to find out what his annoyance could lead to.

So does he punish her? Does she punish herself? Has he been punishing himself? Was I punishing myself by trying to write from the viewpoint of a young heterosexual male? Nah. Experimental writing is a joy-ride, not house arrest.

If there is any punishment in this story, it serves the purpose of easing guilt and resentment, and allowing two characters to connect.

“Looking for this?” Kelly held my little baggie of prime weed as though it were a leftover sandwich that she was about to throw in the garbage.

She was wearing a retro black satin corset with garters that stretched sheer black stockings over her slim, winter-pale legs. She stood on tiptoes and tossed her streaked honey-blonde hair as she leaned against the frame of the door to my room as though she thought I would whip out my cell phone and take her photo.

I was in no mood to play with her. “Give me that,” I told her.

“Finders keepers,” she laughed.

I pushed my glasses back up to the bridge of my nose, the better to glare at her. “How old are you, girl?” The question was rhetorical.

I had known Kelly since we first met in Madame Cuvier’s Grade Ten French class in high school. Now we were two graduate students in a Canadian university, sharing an apartment like two frugal, responsible adults.

What hurt more than Kelly’s habit of leaving wet hair-towels on my comfortable armchair was the way some of her friends didn’t even ask if I was her boyfriend. They seemed to think I was too nerdy for that role.

“Bring it on, bitches,” I told them in my fantasies. “You greedy pussies go to the bar to get your needs met, but all you ever meet there are drunks who can’t get it up. There’s a synapse between what you want and what you know how to find. If you ever get a biologist like me to fuck you, you’ll never go back to the ignorati.”

Sometimes in my fantasies, I wore tights and a cape when I said this. In real life, I usually offered to hang up their coats and make a fresh pot of coffee.

Now I stood up. “Kelly,” I said, giving her my full attention. “If you want me to share it with you, you have to ask politely.”

She came up to me, wrapped an arm around my back and held the baggie as far away from me as her girlish arm could reach. “You’d just put me off. You’re no fun, Robbie.”

So the bitch is in heat, I thought, not that I would say that out loud. Several months before, we had had a crazy fuck after getting high together. I regarded this as an experiment that worked while it lasted, but it wasn’t worth repeating. I liked to think we had an understanding.

Actually, I wasn’t willing to play with Kelly as long as she was hooking up with other artsy types: actors like her, who brought the term “drama queen” to life, spoken-word poets, singer-songwriters, characters from other dimensions.
I often wondered if I could bring Kelly’s friends back down to earth by showing them a sexually-transmitted virus under a microscope. I choose to live in the real world.

I grabbed the baggie from Kelly’s hand and threw it onto the top of the corner bookcase. However, she stayed distractingly close, and her hair tickled my neck as her smell floated up from under her corset, which was undoubtedly making her sweaty and moist. She had deliberately wrecked my concentration. I knew I couldn’t work on my thesis until my smaller head had settled down.

“You’re a brat,” I said, lifting her off her nylon-covered feet. She should have known I was strong. My best experiment was my plan to pack thirty pounds of muscle onto my bony frame for self-protection. My sessions in the gym were paying off, not to mention the supplements I was getting from a guy named Mike.

“Brats are children,” she told me recklessly in her vulnerable position. “You never take me seriously.” Her large, blue-grey eyes looked as restless and troubled as an ocean. Kelly’s feelings always seemed close to the surface.

Against my better judgment, I sat down and held her on my lap, where she did nothing to discourage my rising boner. “Kelly.” I sighed. “You are such a pain in the ass that if we hadn’t known each other so long, I would ask you to move out. Is that serious enough for you?”

I honestly didn’t expect tears to fill her eyes and pour down her face. “You never tell me what you want!” she sniffed, wiping her face with both hands. “You could give me a list of rules, and I would follow them. Robert.”

Hmm. I reached for a kleenex, handed it to her, then casually groped her perky little breasts through the corset. “Could I spank you if you don’t?”

She looked hopeful, and the light in her eyes was like a glimpse of sunlight breaking through storm clouds. “Yes, really. Or tie me up. Or whatever you want.”


Robert can't resist the temptation. Who could? So who is being controlled when he spanks her? And who is more shaken up when she doesn't use her safeword as soon as he expects her to? Is the whole scene a lesson for him (Don't underestimate a woman or an artist) or for her (Be careful what you unleash in a man who seems quiet and practical)?
Or for both?

It's a philosophical pretzel. As Sacchi asked, how can it be punishment if someone wants it? Yet if punishment is really unwanted, can it be fair or effective in changing the attitude of the punished?

I give up. I just write what my characters tell me so they will let me sleep at night. :)


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sex as Literature's Bitch

by Amanda Earl

Why is sexual activity often associated with misfortune or dysfunction in mainstream literature?

Here are my half-baked theories (HBTs) on the subject with a little help from Alberto Manguel in his introduction to The Gates of Paradise

HBT # 1

According to religious doctrine, sex is supposed to be subordinate to the spirit. Sex is for procreation, with pleasure being a reward for such. Erotic fiction is subversive because it depicts sex as enjoyable, the achievement of desire as the ultimate goal. Western literature is still very much influenced by religion because its readers are still very much influenced by religion. Christianity is still a major world religion with one-third of the world's population as its adherents. Its doctrine continues to influence people. Part of that doctrine means that sex outside of marriage, sex with people of the same sex and sex with multiple partners is a sin. It's not a viewpoint that is going to go away quietly. The parts of the Bible, such as the Song of Solomon, which poetically rhapsodize about the pleasures of sexual union, are of course in conflict with such dogma, but Christians live with many paradoxes.

In fact, mainstream society is full of these paradoxes towards sex. We use underage children to sell us alluring clothing. We are fine with graphically explicit violence in films, but show a man's dick and the film has to have an X Rating. Priests take vows of celibacy, but many of them turn out to be buggering little boys. These paradoxes are reflected in literature, thanks to hard working writers trying to make sense of them and the existential angst of the modern world.

HBT #  2

Writers want to create fiction that includes a healthy dose of conflict in order to make the work compelling. [Segue: Not to say that fiction without conflict can't be compelling; see this post on kishōtenketsu.] Sex, especially shameful sex, is a pretty convenient and juicy little conflict creator. It is something most people have to deal with, one way or another. So all readers and writers can relate. Desire can be something that is difficult to reign in; it plays with one's emotions. Repression or frustration of desire can lead to out-of-control acts.  In other words, it's a pot of gold for any writer.

HBT # 3

In literary fiction, all subjects can serve as material for inspiration. Writers can write about incest, rape, abuse, bestiality,necrophilia…all manner of sexual dysfunction and criminality, with the understanding that they are not writing about such acts to titillate. These subjects are very juicy for writers and consequently they are ubiquitous in literature. Open up most Canadian literary fiction at random and you will happen upon
a) winter;
b) a character who has been the object of abuse or incest;
c) World War II;
d) lichen [more common in poetry than fiction];
e) cormorants [see d];
f) a grieving widow.

See Gail Anderson-Dargatz's The Cure for Death by Lightning; Lisa Moore's February; Timothy Findley's the Piano Man; Anne Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees, Barbara Gowdy's We So Seldom Look on Love

What self-respecting fiction writer wants to write about healthy, loving experiences, when they can immerse themselves in  the dark, nasty stuff, emotional baggage, the skeletons in our closets?

In erotic fiction, writers can't get published by legitimate publishers if their fiction includes such taboos for the sake of arousal. We also cannot write about underage characters, so coming of age stories, the ones that are so ubiquitous in mainstream literary fiction are also mostly off limits to us, unless we figure out a way to make their coming of age happen after they are eighteen (and sometimes even older), which comes off as a wee bit preposterous most of the time.

Meanwhile Tamara Faith Berger's excellent novel Maidenhead  about a sixteen year old girl whose first experience with sex involves a stranger who pisses on her, beats her and gets her involved in pornography has received rave reviews in the mainstream media, and justifiably so; however, reviewers are not allowed to get too explicit in their reviews.

The fact is, erotica writers are hamstrung. We want to portray sex positively, but we also want juicy stories with complex plots and characters. It's such fun to write villains. [I look forward to the next topic which discusses the happily ever after ending.]  We, too, want to take on the angst of human existence with all the sturm und drang [this video is NSFW] that such angst entails.

To me the best example of a contemporary writer who immerses herself in the paradoxes, who plays with the tensions of sex as pleasure/shame and whose landscapes are often bleak and exotic is Remittance Girl. Her characters are never perfect. She writes from deep psychological depths and her work doesn't just titillate body parts, it also provokes the mind. See for example her novels Beautiful Losers about a threesome made up of two gay men and a woman and the Waiting Room about Sophie-the-slut and Alexander, her tempter, lover, perhaps redeemer/corruptor. 

I do feel that such resplendent examples are still rare in contemporary erotica. I can think of a few others off the top of my head: M.Christian,  Mike Kimera (the latter no longer writing alas.) No doubt you, dear readers, can provide me with a few examples of such and I invite you to do so.

HBT # 4 [or rather, an extension of HBT # 3]

Take for instance BDSM, which is the current darling of the mainstream, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey. And I say darling of the mainstream because newspapers and magazines are suddenly full of articles on how handcuffs and floggers can spice up your marriage, etc. 

Compared to BDSM fiction's earlier incarnations, such as the Story of O where O is forced into service without prior consent and the men who use her aren't exactly paragons of virtue, or books by the Marquis de Sade, contemporary BDSM fiction has been replete with cool-headed perfect dominants and compliant submissives. Agreements are made ahead of time; scenes of abduction abound, but are prearranged by the spouse. Often contests and calls for submission for BDSM erotica include the proviso that the acts depicted must be SSC (Safe, Sane and Consensual) or RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink).

Is this because there is pressure by the BDSM community to portray BDSM that way, to avoid putting BDSM in a bad light because it is seen as reprehensible by mainstream society?

Just the other day I was watching a recent episode of Mad Men [SPOILER ALERT!] Out of the blue, Don became all dommy with his mistress, pathetically ordering her to crawl on the floor (she wouldn't) and then making her stay in a hotel room to be used for his pleasure (she did.) and then when she wanted to end it, begging her to stay. Begging!  No preamble, no prearranged agreements, because this is how the mainstream thinks BDSM works. And this is one of the reasons why BDSM erotica more than any other kind of erotic fiction is held up to a standard (SSC/RACK; robotodoms).

Because mainstreamers have these ludicrous ideas about BDSM, its practitioners and advocates worry that people wanting to experiment might take this fiction as truth and decide to try out the activities based on how they are portrayed in fiction. This is tantamount, in my opinion, to saying that readers are stark raving idiots. And perhaps some of them are, but if so, they have bigger problems in life than their inability to read beyond the literal.

Meanwhile there is a plethora of very educational, highly informative reference books that deal with the subject available for the curious to consult. See Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns; A Different Kind of Loving; SM 101. & take a look at this great list on the Submissive Loving site.

It's not to say that all contemporary BDSM erotica falls in line with SSC/RACK or has perfect characters, but when it includes dysfunctional characters, they are usually redeemed by the end of the story or the door is open for their redemption. My theory about why conventional society is actually reading and admitting to reading Fifty Shades of Grey is because the so-called dominant is a sociopath who is taking out past issues with his crack whore mama and redeemed by the love of a good woman. Such pleasant heteronormativity. Much more unpalatable to mainstreamers if he was just an ordinary man, a good man who was turned on by drawing out sexually repressed lovers and making them understand their true selves, who delighted in their punishment, their pain for his sake and their own but not because he is suffering from some kind of disorder or mania, simply because it's fun or mind-expanding.

Erotica writers have a tough challenge to write compelling fiction while still portraying sex in a positive light. These days you are pretty much obligated to include condoms in your descriptions of the sex act. I find this tiresome. I read erotica to fantasize, not to be brought back to reality with a sticky piece of latex on the page. See. Remittance Girl's recent blog post "Unsafe Sex and the Representation of Ideals." And while I don't mean to suggest that such restrictions are always in place, it does seem to be becoming more of a trend. I doubt works like Georges Bataille's the Story of the Eye or the Dead Man could never be published in print today. 

Nicholas Baker, author of the Fermata and Vox, recently published House of Holes, which received many reviews, including one by the NewYork Times. The work is described as not as pervy as his previous books; although the Globe and Mail says that it is just as graphic, but goofier. Is this less pervy more goofy style because Baker is trying to satisfy more pedestrian tastes, become more palatable to the mainstream? 

Faced with the way mainstream literature often uses sex as its bitch, many of us want to try to write sex positive fiction. But I'd rather just write good fiction myself, with all the tensions and possibilities available to mainstream literary writers. The problem is mainstream publishers would find my graphic descriptions of sex gratuitous instead of empowering and arousing, which are my goals when I use such language. Whereas at least graphic sex is still welcomed by erotica publishers. But even that is changing. I've seen a couple of calls for submission advising against the use of explicit language, more calls for heterosexual erotica than queer erotica and also for BDSM erotica, requests to add romance. I worry that erotica is trying to become part of the mainstream. I prefer to play in the margins.

In conclusion, I believe that mainstream literature writers continue to write sex as dysfunctional in order to generate conflict, but I also believe that erotica is becoming increasingly sanitized with pressure to clean up its act and be less filthy in order to be palatable to the mainstream. Take a look at Selena Kitt's article on Amazon's filtering and the steps erotica writers are having to take to get their work past the Amazon censors so that we pervs can find their books. 

Also I've noticed a few authors whose work used to be quite gritty writing sweeter tales. While variety is good, I have been told that the reason for the lovey dovey nature of at least one of the books is because of market demand. I hope I’m wrong, but if erotica is becoming less edgy and if writers are sweetening up their writing in order to suit mainstream demand, I am very concerned. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Abuse Cums In a Habit

By Daddy X

This is a true story as I remember it from over 55 years ago. Names of the innocent have been changed.

Mother Meriam Theresa, school principal, also taught my seventh grade class. She wasn’t one of those really mean nuns, at least not purposefully so. One day in religion period, she was expounding on the virtues of a scapular, a kind of Catholic ju-ju that drapes spaghetti-strap style over the shoulders. Flat paper or cloth pendants illustrating some religious importance hang between the ‘angel bones’ as well as on the chest.

A disturbance broke out in the back row--two boys laughing uncontrollably.

“Mister Farley? Mister Keane? Exactly what is so funny back there?”

I managed, “Nothin’ Sist… Sis- t-thhh-hahaha…”

Mister Keane? What do you have to say? I heard your voice.”

My buddy Roger sputtered, “Snikkk … ptsccchtcc ... Tgaaahhhahaha-“

“If you boys won’t tell me what you said, the entire class stays after school!”

A collective sigh settled over the room. It was now obvious to Roger and I what would happen. Hand smacks. More common infractions usually called for the regular light pine rulers that weren’t too bad. Not as awful as the triangular oak ones. But as it stood, Roger and I knew what he had blurted out was serious punishment material. We were both scared to tell, but we had also seen such transgressions in this class before, and how the good mother dealt with them.

The black clad nun’s florid features now bulged from their starched white frame. “So, Mister Keane, what was it you whispered? I know it was you,” she said.

Roger looked at me and burst out laughing again.

“What was it? Mister Farley, I’m addressing YOU! What did Roger say?” she asked, staring scarily into my eyes.

“I’m not ratting,” I said. “I’m not gonna rat on anybody. You know I won’t, sister.”

And she knew I wouldn’t. We’d had several challenges to my determination already. I had always prevailed in the past, on one occasion standing at the back of the class all day for an entire month in lieu of an apology.

Roger was a stand-up dude, so he finally told the nun that he’d thrown his scapular down the cesspool.

“Whhhaat?” she was livid.

“S-Sorry sister,” stammered Roger, head down, shaking from his incessant giggling.

We knew what would happen. She’d beat us. She’d beat us like the other nuns had done before. When an angry nun holds your fingers back and smacks your stretched-out palm with the ruler of her choice. I wonder if they used to talk about technique among themselves at night in the convent.

Mother Meriam would start slowly, each whack a little harder, until the sixty-something woman was hopping in place in time with the blows. Face flushed, getting increasingly out of breath, she’d become quite excited. After some arcane number of smacks, likely limited only by her stamina, she’d let up in sharp gasps of air.

The holy woman then shuffled back to her desk and sat down to catch her rather elusive breath with a sly grin growing slowly across her lips. A puddle would remain where she had delivered the beating. She’d smile deep into the victim’s eyes from her chair at the head of the room as her body shook from a silent chuckle. 

After a couple months in her class we knew what would happen if anybody misbehaved. Sometimes one of us would do something just to produce such a response. The spectacle of this highly regarded woman of god pissing (?) herself was right up the proverbial alley of eleven year-old boy-humor. Tough kids of that age are able to take a lot of pain, and are proud to demonstrate the trait. We knew nothing of D/s or S/M.  Squirters’ and other sexual determinations hadn’t been brought up yet in public. It really didn’t hold much for a boy’s imagination beyond the scatological, but we did know on some level that something was very amiss.

Of course, if Roger or I had told anybody about the beatings we’d received, we would’ve had to deal with it all over again with our parents. Such holy women wouldn’t hit a child (for Christ’s sake) that didn’t deserve it. They finally took me out of Catholic high school in tenth grade when I was brought home in an ambulance. Our high school teachers, of course were men… Priests. I found they hit much harder than the nuns, especially when you block their first punch.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Punishment: Pain or Pleasure

By Desiree Holt

She had one weekend to convince him she was made for him.
Micah Sheridan is a self-made billionaire who has the world at his fingertips. He can have any woman he wants but they all seem to leave him unfulfilled. What he really wants is a woman who can submit to him completely in the bedroom but who is a strong person out in the world. An equal match for him.
Enter Teri Choate who heads an executive search agency. She’s searching, too—for a man who can master her in bed yet allow her strong personality to flourish beyond the bedroom door. The chemistry between them is so explosive it should come with a warning. When a few nights together reveal she is as addicted to BDSM as he is, he has her flown to his secluded Maine island.
She has one weekend to prove to him she can be the perfect submissive in the bedroom and an equal beyond the bedroom doors. In short, a woman who is made for him.

“Impressive, Sir.”
“I would hope so. No one has ever been here more than once. They are well paid for their silence when they leave.” He came to stand directly in front of her, his thumb stroking her cheekbone. “But not you, sweet girl. If you please me this weekend there will never be anyone else here but you. Do you remember what we agreed on?”
She nodded, the thrill of a future together making her pussy throb and her heart leap. She prayed silently she wouldn’t fail this test because Micah had spoilt her for any other man. He held her heart in the palm of his hand and she wanted him to keep it, as well as giving her his.
“You will take me to the edge as often as possible, help me reaching the highest level of pleasure.” She licked her dry lips. “If it is rewarding in many ways to both of us then we move forward together.”
“Very good. And Teri?”
She blinked at his use of her name rather than ‘girl’.
“You may have taken off the executive personality with your clothes but your inner strength is still there. Submitting to whatever I have planned and taking pleasure from it shows me that your inner strength is always with you. You are my submissive, not my inferior. Are we clear on that?”
“Yes, Sir.” She couldn’t help the tiny grin that twitched her lips.
He smiled back at her, but there was no humour. There was heat and hunger and something dark simmering there that she’d never seen before. Maybe a hint of the secrets he carried deep inside.
“Very good.” He dropped his hand. “I want to reinforce that, however, by giving you a taste of what you’ll receive if you forget. You know the drill. Please go stand against the wall there”—he pointed—”and raise your arms.”
Yes! He’ll start with the paddle, bringing that sweet pain to my ass and thighs that I crave and creeping up to my pussy
She shivered in anticipation.
When she’d done as he asked, he reached over her head to two manacles hanging from chains, pulled them down and fastened one around each wrist.
“Now your feet. Apart.”
He nudged the inside of her ankles to achieve the space he desired. She heard him move away then he was back. Cold metal bracelets were now locked around each thigh with a bar between them to maintain her position. The spreader. It left her so defenceless that he could do with her as he wished. The thought send a fresh spate of liquid surging through her pussy. She’d tried to analyse her reaction to it and had come to a conclusion. She could make herself that vulnerable because it was obvious he needed it from her, and in giving him that she had a measure of control. It seemed only with Micah had she finally understood the meaning of power exchange.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Learning It At Her Knee

By Sacchi Green

How can something be punishment if the punishee wants it? Maybe it's a matter of nebulous guilt feelings left over from stressful toilet training, or the series of "noes!" and "naughties!"that are inevitable in the process of being a child. Maybe punishment can, for a while, be felt as expiation for those vaguely sensed guilts.  I can’t explain it any better that, but I do know that there are some people who don’t enjoy it unless they can convince themselves, on some level, that it is punishment. Even unfair punishment. The only “true” story I ever published about myself (in Rachel Kramer Bussel’s First-Timers anthology, several years ago,) involved just such a situation.

Learning It At Her Knee

     "Spanking," the girl in the scarlet shirt told me firmly. "Spanking, all spanking, and nothing but. That's what I'm interested in. Strictly spanking."
     "Very strict spanking, I presume?"
     "Very strict indeed," she agreed, laughing. Her wide mouth inspired considerable regret that her tastes were apparently so narrow, but her expressive face and sturdy, compact body appealed to me enough to make expanding my boundaries seem more than worthwhile, even with limitations.
       "And the more unfair and undeserved it is, the better," she added. "I'm not a submissive bottom; I just like to be punished and feel righteously angry about it."
     "A real connoisseur." I hoped my own knee-jerk aversion to displays of anger didn't show. Research, I told myself. Gotta research my smut-writing craft.
     The other members of the women's BDSM club had got well ahead of us on the way to the restaurant where they always convened after meetings. V and I were new here, both introduced to the group by friends met in other circumstances.
     In front of us a cluster of cute young baby-dykes and femmes thronged so thickly around my old friend Q's tall, impressive form that only her brush-cut steel gray head showed above them. V, to my delight, seemed happy enough to keep me company, though her gaze did stray toward Q from time to time. Well, hell, so did mine, and always would, no matter how completely I understood that the friendship she needed from me had nothing to do with sex.
     "I guess you could call me a connoisseur," V agreed. "It's not that I have a one-track mind, it's just that all the tracks seem to lead to the same place."
     I hung back a little to get a view of the seat of her jeans. "And a very nice place it is, too," I said--at least I might have, if the comment hadn't waited until a day later to occur to me, as they so often do.
     When Q e-mailed to ask how I'd liked the group and whether I'd seen anybody I was dying to play with, I was overjoyed to be able to report an intriguing prospect. I confided my doubts about being able to concentrate purely on sadism, and she tried to share the philosophical underpinnings of the attitude and role she'd mastered, but the fact remained that the masochistic girls lining up for punishment at her hands wanted those hands to thoroughly fuck them, as well. And I doubt that they felt much need to philosophize about it.
     V did need to. It made some sense, I knew, to "process" for a while, since she didn't know much about me except that I was Q's friend, a published writer, and very new to the BDSM scene. She needed to be sure that I was neither too crazy to be safe, nor too safe to be just crazy enough.

[a big chunk snipped, moving along to the BDSM group’s play party at a Fetish Fair in Boston]

The party had become so crowded that it seemed impossible to find anyone. I was both keyed up and cast down. The back of Q's familiar steel-gray head rose visibly across the room, so I edged my way toward her. Maybe she'd seen V.
     And then I saw V myself, gazing up at Q, face animated and lips moving quickly in a conversation that clearly went beyond asking where I might be. The red leotard rising out of black jeans accentuated her body in ways the cotton shirt had only hinted at. I knew very well how much Q was enjoying the view.
     Before I had time to work up a good head of jealous steam, though, V saw me and waved. "Guess what!" she said, when I was close enough to hear. "Q is willing to help us out with some spanking instruction, if that's okay with you."
     "Sort of a master class?" I asked. "Sure, that would be great." I meant it, too. Working with both of them would provide double the fuel for fantasy.
     "I can't do it quite yet, though," Q said, looking longingly toward the door where her girl waited. "I had something else planned just now. Maybe in an hour or so. You two could find some space and get in some practice."
     "Space is going to be a problem." V peered around through the crowd. "We need a good chair, at least, and a couch would be even better, but they're all occupied."
     That was an understatement. Two of the three couches supported activities that vied with the sling for the status of center ring in a kinky three-ring circus, while the third was packed with avid voyeurs.
     "My room is down the hall," I said, "and there's a couch in there just going to waste." V looked hesitant until I added, "the air conditioning is top-notch, too," which could no longer be said of the party suite. No system yet invented could cope with that many people breathing that heavily in a space that size.
     "I suppose I could leave my book bag in your room," V said a bit shyly, bending to pick up the heavy pack at her feet.
     "Books?" I asked, edging her toward the door. "I thought it must be your toy bag."
     "Well, there are a few toys, too," she confided as we went down the hall. "But it's mostly books I'd loaned to a friend and picked up on the way. That's why I was late."
     Once in my room, as she looked around with approval at the space and the couch, I asked her to show me the contents of her bag. Exploring toy bags was, I knew, a time-honored ice-breaker on occasions like this, and besides, I was genuinely curious about what books she was carrying.
     A hairbrush (of course), several wooden paddles, a braided leather belt--and half-a-dozen children's and YA fantasy books, some of them classics I had loved in my long-ago youth.
     "The books just happen to be there," V said, somewhat flustered, but it seemed to me that they were the perfect accessories for the age-play she had a taste for. I managed to infuse a mock-stern note into my voice.
     "'Just happen to be there'? That was careless, wasn't it! Seems to me that a girl who carries Jane Aiken Hodge and Madelaine L'Engle in the bag with her kinky toys deserves some pretty severe punishment!"
     She ducked her head, but couldn't conceal a grin. "Yes, Ma'am," she murmurred, stripping off her shoes and black pants with practiced speed. Her red leotard ended in a thong disappearing between her very available buttcheeks.
     I sat down heavily on the couch. "Come here," I ordered, patting my lap, and she obeyed immediately, wriggling herself into optimum position across my knees. I gave her ass an experimental slap, and then a harder one.
     "Go ahead, as hard as you want," she said, "just not too high, not too near the tailbone. You could damage something that way."
     So I hit harder, open-handed, over and over, not minding that my "authority" was necessarily somewhat diluted by the fact that she was the expert and I the beginner. "Hold me tight with your left hand," she panted after a while, "so I can't get away. It's okay to be rough!" So I gripped her right hip sharply and found that I gained the leverage to put more force into my spanking hand. A little rocking motion let me swing all the way from my shoulder and even put my back into it, besides intensifying the sensual pleasures of feeling her body writhing and pressing into my lap. I wondered whether the invisible thong was forced harder against her clit and lips as I spanked her.
     I'd worried about getting tired, but once I got into a rhythm that I could control and vary enough to startle V from time to time, it seemed like I could go on forever. She wasn't giving directions any more, just moaning and grunting and occasionally gasping sharply when I surprised her with a syncopation of the pace.
     Finally she began to murmur a few indistinguishable words. I remembered guiltily that I was supposed to be scolding her enough to arouse her righteous indignation at unfair punishment, but I was too immersed in physical sensations to think of words. Her voice strengthened, though, until I could clearly hear her chant, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" at every stroke.
     It was clearly a ritual familiar to her. I hoped it meant that I had taken her to the space she really wanted to find, even if it wasn't the one she had claimed to be looking for. I spanked even harder, tirelessly, until her ass glowed nearly as red as her leotard and she was clearly running out of breath. "Do you need a break?" I asked softly, not knowing where to go from there. My natural urge to progress toward other sensory stimulation was, I knew, forbidden. Strictly spanking. She had trusted me, and I wouldn't betray that trust.
     "Yes..." V said breathlessly, "we'd better rest some before going back to the party." Then, when she'd rolled sideways on my lap and I was gently stroking her inflamed thighs and buttocks, she added, "I had no idea you'd have so much endurance!"

[the rest snipped, including the actual spanking lesson from the expert, which is when it gets the most fun]

I’ve condensed the piece considerably, besides snipping out large chunks, and it still seems too long to include here, but what the heck. If you don’t like it, punish me.

If you can catch me.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Guess It Skips A Generation

by Giselle Renarde

I took my mother for a walk a few weeks ago.  She won't go on her own.

We walked through the neighbourhood where I grew up.  It's not the ritziest area.  According to the Rap Dictionary, it has "the dubious distinction of having the highest concentration of subsidized housing in all of Ontario."  Lots of gang violence--the kind that's not widely reported because, hell, it's just black people shooting each other so who really cares?

When I was growing up in the 80s, the community had its sights set on cleaning up one particularly noticeable aspect of my neighbourhood: the rampant street prostitution.

I was young back then, and my family had problems of its own, so I'm not sure street prostitution was something I really noticed.  Actually, I remember seeing many more anti-prostitution signs than actual prostitutes.

But, as I said, I was a kid.  Sometimes kids take things at face value because, if you see something every day, it seems normal.

Although, realistically, of everything that goes on in this world, I'd say prostitution is right up there with falling in love on the normalcy scale. It's always existed, and it always will.

When my mother and I were out for our recent walk, the topic of prostitution came up--kind of weird, in a family that NEVER talks about sex.  And it was my mother who brought it up, too.  We were talking about the controversial proposal of building a casino here in Toronto.  My mom was against the idea because "people get addicted to gambling, and a casino would probably attract prostitutes."

Huh.  Is that what casinos do?

Anyway, my mother's general opposition to prostitution surprised me, and not just because I believe so strongly that sex work is real work and should be widely recognized at such.  My maternal grandmother and I have talked at length about sex work and we're 100% on the same page:

We believe that sex work is a valid career choice.  It existed long before we did, and it's not going away any time soon.  We recognize that some people are forced into the trade or enter it for reasons related to poverty and systemic oppression, but we have hopes that decriminalizing prostitution would ease many of the dangers faced by sex workers by allowing them easier access to protection from the forces that now tyrannize and harrass them.  That said, the biggest shift is never a legal one.  Stigma and sin are so deeply attached to sex work that very little can be gained until those perceptions are dealth with.

My grandmother and I have spoken at length about sex work.  For her, it's a feminist issue.  She's been my feminist inspiration for as long as I can remember.  That's why it always boggled my mind that my mom, wedged between her own mother and me, held such brazenly different opinions.

Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised.  After all, isn't it normal for a kid to rebel against her mother's ways and beliefs?  My grandmother was (and is) an unapologetically strong woman.  I now realize my mother's got more strength than I gave her credit for when I was younger, but she's rather more on the Marge Simpson side of the scale.  And then along came me, and I rebelled again, swinging back in my grandmother's direction.

Prostitution, like pretty much everything else, is a divisive issue among feminists.  I'm starting to think there are as many feminisms as there are individuals.  But my grandmother laid a path for me, and I walk it whether I'm in my cozy neighbourhood or the rough but familiar one in which I grew up. 

I'll mention one more thing--a bit of a tangent to the conversation I had with my mother that day.  I'm not sure why, but I asked what her favourite song was.

She said, "These Boots Are Made For Walking."

"Really?"  I wondered if maybe she didn't understand the song.  I asked, "Why do you like it so much?"

She said, "It's about being a strong woman and standing on your own two feet."

Oh, mom.  I'd never have guessed.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Well: A Story of Sex and Punishment

The well was old and long dry and fairly deep. Leaning over the shallow rim of piled flat rocks you could never see to the bottom which only held water when it rained and then filled up to the top quickly. Woloji passed it with a basket of green plantains, her bare feet with wide toes and soles hard as horn, crunching over the rocks of the dry ground, when she heard the man’s voice for the first time.

“Hello?” it called, suspended in air like a forest spirit.

It was in the early heat of the afternoon, when the sun toasted the tall dry grasses of the savannah until they began to shimmer like a desert sand of waving brown tufts. The time of day when the dangerous and bad tempered black vipers hid from the sun and stayed out from underfoot and the larger cats and animals lounged in shade or near the watering hole. Of the beasts, man was the most dangerous and unreasonable. Even the doll eyed vipers were reasonable creatures if you respected their peace. A young woman alone, a man would hunt down.

She stopped and half turned, looking down. Silence. Something moved down below. An impatient gasp.

“Hello?” she said.

“Someone!” the man called back. “Hello Someone! I’m here.”

Woloji stood still at the edge of the flat rocks, feeling her youth, her thinness. The lonliness of the savannah. She looked up. The tall grass and the greener trees were filled with hidden animals, some of them dangerous, who all knew she was here, were watching and smelling her even now but had no malice towards her. She looked down again, thinking.

“Someone is there, I hear you up there. Help me, please,” called the man.

She opened her mouth to speak her name and stopped.

“I need help. Are you there?”

She shuffled her foot. Kicked a flat rock off the edge and watched it tumble down into darkness.

“Hey!” yelled the man. She heard the rock hit and the man moving around down there. “I need help. What’s your name?”

They always want to know your name, she thought. They always ask that.  They always want to know your name so they can say your name while they’re holding you down.

She did the cooking. She would cook these plantains. Her mother was in bed now, doubled over. It was like not having a mother.  At night she cried and hid from every night sound, fearing the soldiers had come back. In the day she would sleep if Woloji was there.

She opened her mouth, stopped, swallowed, spoke. “Why are you there?”

The well was silent, baffled. The darkness waited for her.

“Did you fall?”

She heard the man moving and short gasps. “Are you hurt?” She called down. “You sound hurt.”

“Yes,” he called. “Can you bring a rope or a ladder?”

She put down the basket and sat on the ground. “So, you’re hurt? Did you hurt your foot?”

“Yes, girl,” he called up. “Can you bring your mother or your father? Someone who can help?”

The word mother made her jaw tighten. She looked at the plantains, picked one up and turned it over. How much like a man’s thing it looked. When they hold you down, when they’re excited over you, it looks like that. “Are you a soldier?”

The darkness was silent. She listened, straining to hear what the man was doing.

“Are you a soldier?”

“What?” said the well.  “I need help.  Can you bring a rope, little girl?  What’s your name?”

She raised the plantain like a club and was about to throw it and stopped. “Are you a soldier?”

The dark was breathing. Then, “No. I’m not a soldier.”

She stood swaying at the edge of the well with the hard plantain held up in her hand. Sweat ran into her eyes, stinging. She shook her head and put the plantain in the basket, thinking.

“What do you want?” she called.

There was a sound like an angry sigh.

She looked around. “It’s getting dark,” she called down.

“Will it rain?” said the man in the well.

“I don’t know,” said the girl. She sat down again. “It might. What food do you like to eat? Maybe I’ll bring you some food.”

“Do you have water?”

“No. I have these plantains.”

“Can you bring help? Your mother or father or uncle?”

“Father, dead. My uncle, he’s run away.”

“Can you bring your mother? And a rope. With some water.”

“My mother, she can’t come.”

She felt the rage down below in the well.

“Who can you bring?”

“It might rain,” she said. She dangled her feet over the well’s edge.

“Yes, but who can you bring?”

“It’s very hot. I hope it rains soon. Do you like rain?”

“Little girl, I’m hurt. If you can bring a ladder or a rope, you will be a hero. What is your name?”

They hold your arms down. They hold your legs down so you can’t kick at them when they’re on top of you.

“Do you like plantains? Or bananas? Which do you like better?”

The darkness seethed. “A rope. I’ll give you money.”

She sat thinking.

“I have a lot of money. I’ll give you some, little girl.”

She sat thinking. “I’ll be back.” She stood up and called down, “Wait here.”

It was dozing on a rock, like a beautiful black rope with its big wide mouth and the arrowhead cheeks full of fast acting death. She had prepared herself with a dead frog, a big stick and a thick burlap bag from home. She put the frog inside the bag and prodded the snake gently with the stick. The big viper put its head in the bag, licking out its tongue at the frog. She poked it again, waited and when it slithered into the offered shade she gently scooped up the bag and closed the end in her fist. She felt it twisting and struggling and biting at the rough cloth.

She brought the bag to the well and stood swaying, holding the bag out over the edge.

“What’s that?” called the dark.  “Is it water?”

She stood swaying, holding the bag out at the end of her arm.

“Is that a rope? Hold one end and throw the other end down. That’s a good girl.”

She stood swaying in the heat, thinking of nothing as the bag flopped and moved angrily at the end of her arm.

She stepped back and tore a strip off the bag. She tied off the end of the bag and put it down and sat with her face in her hands. After a long time she said “I have to go. I have to make dinner. I’ll come back.”

“Don’t go!” yelled the voice. “Don’t leave me.”

“I’ll be back.”

“Can you bring someone?” The man was almost crying. “I need help.”

“I’ll come back,” she said. “Wait here.”

She came back in the morning with an aluminum cooking pot of kerosene and a box of matches.

She balanced the pot of kerosene on the edge of the flat rocks of the well rim and snatched up a fistful of dry brown grass. She held the grass near the bowl of kerosene and lit the grass with a wooden match. She watched the grass burn.

“Is there someone there? Hello? I’m down here? I need help. Please help me.”

She stood watching the smoke rise from the blazing grass and held the flame over the pot at the edge of the well.

“Please help me! I’m not a soldier. I swear.”

She watched the flame burn quickly to her fingers, looking down at her face staring back dully from the brown depths of the kerosene.

“I’m not a soldier.”

She looked at her face in the kerosene, threw down the smoldering grass and began to weep.

“Are you up there?” called the well. “Are you up there? I can hear someone up there.”

She sat at the edge of the well and cried.

“Is that you, little girl? I have money for you. What’s your name? Tell me your name and I’ll tell you my name. Okay? Is that okay? What’s your name?”

She sat and wept for a while longer and then picked up the pot of kerosene and brought it home.

She never went back to the well. Two nights later the clouds broke into a thick howling rain that made the dirt streets of the burned village run with mud. It would be the first of many heavy spring rains and soon it would be time for planting. She thought of the man in the well, all alone. She fed her mother boiled plantains and thought about the man as she held out the food to her. She herself was not hungry. She had never learned to like plantains at all.

It rained heavily and steadily all night and all the next day. The ground filled up with pools and deep gulleys of rushing water. When Woloji went outside for anything she was careful not to step barefoot in the pools of water because there would be worms in there that could dig under your skin and make you sick.