The White Queen was not necessarily the best mentor for Alice, but she (or rather Lewis Carroll, or, all right, Charles Dodgson) knew a great deal about the importance of suspension of disbelief. His nonsense tales for children caught the imaginations of nineteenth century England at more or less the same time that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of an ultra-logical detective were all the rage. No one was expected to believe in either Alice in Wonderland or Sherlock Holmes, but most paid at east lip service to belief in one or another traditional form of religion, and some—Conan Doyle included, strange as it may seem in a man associated with deduction from hard facts—turned to the newly-fashionable belief in the kind of spiritualism that involved such rituals as séances.
Humans seem to have a deep need to believe in something beyond the daily evidence of their senses. Some of this may have evolved from prehistoric attempts to explain things we couldn’t understand, such as why crops (or the hunt) succeeded or failed, or why a tornado could demolish many homes but spare others. We also seem to have a need for stories that we can enjoy without believing in them (although as an adolescent I really, really wished that Sherlock Homes were real.) The imagination that lets us picture how things could happen enjoys the exercise of picturing things that haven’t actually happened, or even those that couldn’t possibly happen. We run into trouble when people have trouble telling the difference between belief and imagination, but there can’t be that many who think Harry Potter books are promoting Satanism (whatever they think that is.) Can there? Please, no!
Some kinds of suspension of disbelief are acquired tastes. Fans of science fiction and fantasy have no trouble enjoying wildly impossible stories as long as they’re written well enough, but some other readers just can’t get into them at all. When I started to write science fiction my parents admitted that they didn’t have the right frame of reference to enjoy them, but they did like the only historical mystery I wrote, a short piece set at a military carrier pigeon station on the south coast of England during WWII. (The title was “Cat Among the Pigeons” and it was published in a Barnes & Noble compendium called 100 Crafty Little Cat Stories. The editors had solicited work from SF writers because few mystery writers had the hang of writing short stories.)
In case you’re wondering, no, I never showed my parents my erotica writing, although they were vaguely aware that I did it. Much as I bristle at the stereotype of grandmothers as being especially shocked by mention of sex, and as amused as I am that my kids (one of them, anyway) gets very twitchy if I say anything about what I write, I really don’t want to know whether my parents had the right frame of reference to appreciate my erotica.
Reading sexually charged fiction has its own complications. The analytical part of our minds may suspend disbelief, but the part that responds to sensual stimuli really, really needs to go beyond suspension of disbelief into a state approaching actual belief. Any little erroneous detail that’s too blatant for the analytical mind to ignore throws the reader out of the story. Vicarious coitus interruptus is no laughing matter. Unless the erroneous detail is really, really funny, but even so, you don’t want to go there. Trust me.
Sex in fantasy and science fiction and “paranormal” romance (whatever that means, exactly) is a somewhat different matter, but only in that readers’ expectations already allow for some degree of unreality. Still, while magical (or futuristic) powers and influences are okay, getting confused about which appendages are where or whose parts are facing which direction is not.
Now that I’ve finally managed to work my way around to fantasy erotica, I can post an excerpt, if I can just remember which stories I’ve already used in previous posts.
Well, I’ve looked back as far as I can stand to, and I haven’t used this story in 2014, so I’ll go with it. This is from “Jessebel,” first published in Cecila Tan’s Women of the Bite, my only vampire story (so far) and possibly the only one that would qualify as paranormal romance, so I guess it fits here. Plenty of suspension of disbelief necessary, but the central character, a woman passing as a man after being a soldier in the Civil War is the most possible thing about it.
“See there, Cap’n, ain’t she somethin’? Jezebel, they calls ‘er, but most likely she’s just plain Mabel or Hildy underneath it all.”
I looked through the drifting cigar smoke and shifting bodies. Maybe three or four of those figures were recognizably female—for damned sure not counting my own well-concealed form—but there was no doubt as to which one had sparked the old stable hand’s enthusiasm. I couldn’t see much; her back was to the door, and a rancher’s burly arms enveloped her in a most unchaste fashion as they danced, but even so there seemed to be a glow about her that drew the eye. Chestnut curls tumbled across slender shoulders, and emerald silk clung to rounded, swaying hips that promised the uttermost in carnal delights without sacrificing the least degree of elegance.
“Sure is, Bill,” I agreed, “but what’s a fine piece like that doing in a place like this?”
“Plenty of business, that’s what.” Bill elbowed me in the ribs. I only just managed to pivot enough to keep my bound-up tender bits from taking the full impact. When I turned back the girl swung around so that for a moment, before her partner’s bulk blocked the view, I saw her face, beautiful in spite of all its paint, not because of it.
The room swirled around me. The floor tilted. I clutched at the back of a chair, muttered an apology to the card player occupying it, and lurched back out through the swinging doors.
The last time I’d kissed that face it had been ashen, dirt-smeared, streaked with blood and my tears. The last time I’d held that dear body in my arms, life and warmth had seeped away.
The last time I’d seen her, she’d been dead.
Great gulps of cool autumn air revived me a bit. The dizziness subsided, and common sense got a foothold. I’d been mistaken, addled by smoke and old grief and going far too long without the pleasures of the flesh. Maybe the name, as well, far too close to the one I remembered. That painted, seductive, brazen whore looked nothing like Jessebel. Not my Jess. My Jess, who was gone forever. I knew that.
I was only too well acquainted with death. I knew it when I saw it, and all the savage ways war could rip the soul out of the body. War, and its aftermath. Jess and I had been together since Vicksburg, when I’d found her huddling in a farmer’s root cellar, gray uniform in such tatters that it scarcely hid her private parts. She’d been running away not just from capture but from something else she could never bring herself to speak of. I’d scrounged her a blue uniform small enough to fit, and watched over her for the last two years of the War, only to lose her to a looter’s bullet before we could start west to make a real life for ourselves.
[Much snippage here, to cut to the chase, or at least the (least) chaste part.]
“I was sure enough right, wasn’t I just!” he said in parting. “That fancy filly is really somethin’! Somethin’ else!”
Oh God, yes, I thought. Something else, But what?
I had to know. And whatever the explanation, or whatever…whatever she’d become, I had to see Jess again.
In the narrow alley behind the saloon I moved along stealthily, listening, trying to make out which upper room held Jess and her customer. A forced giggle through the first window was clearly from one of the other girls. On the far end, though, sounds so urgent and guttural they made my innards clench struck me like a brutal blow. They were hard at it. Jess’s soft, high moans that I remembered so well could be heard in between the man’s deep grunts of extremity. When those finally tapered off I could still hear Jess, her cries oddly muted now, as if her mouth were pressed to him.
I was in such a state of heat that I could’ve rubbed myself off right there, but my need to get to Jess was even greater. The alley was so narrow here that the low shed in back was scarcely more than an arm’s reach from the window, so I hoisted myself onto its roof and looked across.
The light of an oil lamp showed Jess’s bowed head as she knelt beside the bed, and just a glimpse of the now-quiet man. By the tremor of her naked back and shoulders she seemed to be sobbing, whether in grief or pleasure, but at that moment I didn’t care which. I just hungered to feel her touch on me, her mouth crushing down hard where my pounding need was so intense it burned, her fingers squeezing into flesh demanding to be unbound, her rounded buttocks filling my hands.
Then she raised her head, and I saw her wipe a trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth. The brute had hit her! She saw me at just the same time, sprang up, and threw open the window. “Oh God, Lou…help me!”
I was through and into the room so fast I had no time to think about it. The man on the bed didn’t stir. What help did she need, whoever…whatever…she was now?
“Lou!” Jess’s eyes had a strange, glazed look, and she scrabbled at the lacings of the tight corset she still wore. “Lou, please!”
I got right at the garment, tearing and peeling, looking for injuries, but her body beneath was unmarked by anything beyond the normal lines and creases such fashionable instruments of torture impart. Before I could halfway finish Jess kept interfering, grasping at my hands, trying to press them to her breasts, her belly, and the hot sweet cleft below.
“Touch me, damn it! Fuck me!” Her voice was rough with urgency. “He was so…such hot blood…so full…”
I tried to stop her talk with a kiss, but her head jerked sideways, so I dropped my head to her breasts and sucked fiercely at one extended nipple and then the other. That did the trick, and I managed to finish stripping her, hard though it was with her demanding thrusts and whimpers and the swelling of her flesh against my tongue.
When I was finally free to get at all of her skin, she writhed and panted and seemed to demand everything at once, pulling my hands here and there and here again, grabbing at her own tender bits when I clutched at her elsewhere, until I tore off my shirt, yanked up the bindings of my breasts, and held her so tightly against me she could scarcely move.
“Hold still so’s I can get at you!” I was in a frenzy of lust myself by then, with her wriggles against my own nipples coming near to undoing me, but I pushed her back against the wall, got my fingers between us and right into the wet heat of her center, and gave her what she needed with the sure, hard strokes that had always driven her to glory. She got there right away, riding the peak hard and long, gasping and crying out until she had no breath left, but still clenching me inside her fit to bruise. I began to fear she’d faint from it.
She slumped finally enough for me to reclaim my hand. Then she rested her head against my breast, which of course kept my flesh perked right up. I figured she was too wrung out to give me a turn yet, and wasn’t sure how I could bear it. But after a moment she twisted out of my grip, dragged me toward the bed with a strength she’d never shown before, and heaved at the sheets until the man lying there tumbled to the floor on the other side. He still didn’t stir. I didn’t look close for fear of what I wasn’t prepared to see, not while Jess was pulling at my belt and pushing me onto the mattress.
I got my turn, right enough, but in snatches between Jess’s fits of renewed desire. She rubbed her body all over mine, took a goodly expanse of breast into her mouth, tweaked my imploring clit between her fingers, and then got distracted by the need to grind herself against my hip or belly or rump until she exploded again. And again. And again. I was streaked all over with her juices. She was insatiable, beyond thought or pleading. I was in such a fury of lust myself that it didn’t take much to set me off, and when she rode my thigh with her knee pressed tight into my crotch, or when I could hold her right over me so that her writhings hit in just the necessary spot, I went off like firecrackers too, more times than I’d ever done before.
Finally Jess slowed enough that I could hold her face steady down where I needed it most. Once her tongue got a taste of my flow she set to working me in steady strokes that got me riding a long, rolling wave of pleasure that ended only when my breath and voice gave out.
She hitched herself up beside me at last and clung tight, her face hidden between my neck and shoulder. “Lou,” she murmured, “I don’t want to hurt you. Don’t ever let me hurt you.”
I stroked her long tangled curls, new to me even though the texture and scent of her hair had been imprinted in my heart long ago. “I’ve never minded any hurt from you before.”
What it comes down is this: the main requirement of erotica is that you may not need to actually believe it, but you should damned sure be able to feel it. The White Queen could get away with “Jam every other day…The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day." But that was in a context of humor and sly satire. For erotica, that jam had better be served up today, served up hot, and the reader had better be able to taste it as well as believe it.