Friday, January 29, 2016

Hustling Through the Ages

by Jean Roberta

The concept of sex workers (people, mostly women, paid to provide sexual services for customers) as “hustlers” has always filled me with mixed feelings. If a “hustle” is a con game, are whores/harlots/call girls/courtesans offering something bogus or overpriced? Is this because women are expected to provide unlimited sex for men without expecting anything in exchange?

In my experience, most heterosexual men are willing and eager to have sex with women, so why would women have to make a great effort to tempt them into it?

This line of thought reminds me of double-bind conversations I’ve had with men who disapprove of 1) women who manipulate men into marrying them and supporting them financially, and 2) women who boldly go into the paid workforce to steal “men’s” jobs. Men who don’t think women should try to survive in any material sense also tend to disapprove of: 1) “frigid” women who say no, and 2) sluts who don’t say no. These seem to be the dudes who resent the female “hustlers” who fascinate them and who supposedly spirit men’s money right out of their wallets.

Disapproval of women who offer sex as part of a “hustle” is often blended with disapproval of women who outwit men in various ways, often during a war. Behold “Rahab the Harlot” of ancient Hebrew times, as imagined by a nineteenth-century French painter, Jacques Tissot:

Supposedly she helped the Israelites conquer the city of Jericho by hiding two Israelite spies from the men who were searching for them. From a non-Israelite viewpoint, this made Rahab seem untrustworthy.

Here is a Greek image of a sex-worker plying her trade. For some reason, this has been associated with Rahab.

Part of the problem of morally evaluating the likes of Rahab is that the sex trade has often been conflated with other careers (such as tavern-keeping), and the cultures of the ancient Middle East were distinctly different from the later Christian cultures of Europe and Britain.
For example, this woman would look like a “hustler” to most puritans:

They would suspect her of being a follower of this guy:

According to traditional Christian theology, a wedding ceremony neutralizes the evil inherent in sex, so that married couples can procreate without committing sin, but women who couple with men who are not their husbands are doing something illicit, which is akin to other sins such as blasphemy, lying and stealing.

In 1660, when Puritan rule ended in England, and King Charles II brought back the monarchy, Christmas revels and the theatre as a popular place for hanky-panky, he had already fathered his first child on an early mistress. (Eventually, he fathered between 12 & 19 of them, none born to his legal wife.) One of his favourite playmates was Nell Gwyn, who worked in her mother’s bawdy house in her early teens, progressed to selling oranges in the theatre, then to performing onstage, and then to the King’s bed. Apparently, when he was on his deathbed in 1685, he told his advisors: “Let not poor Nelly starve.” How generous of him.

The Victorian Age brought about stricter morals in theory, since the reigning Queen and her husband the Prince were role-models of proper domesticity. In real life, the sexual double standard created a thriving “underworld,” some of which was surprisingly above-ground. Here are two relatively well-known courtesans of the time:

[Catherine Walters]
[Cora Pearl]

By the Edwardian Age (early 1900s), naughty postcards like this were popular. Undoubtedly, the women who modelled nude for photographers and painters were thought of as “hustlers” who earned a dishonest living.

Despite what I’ve sometimes claimed, this is not an image of me in my distant youth.

I haven’t actually sold sex since the early 1980s. Here is a very recent photo of me, taken this week for the university website. Am I still a "hustler" in any sense? I honestly don't know.

If women in general have an illicit relationship with a money economy, then yes, I am still "hustling," since I not only support myself, but help to support my spouse & stepsons. I do this by introducing impressionable young adults to the mysteries of grammar, and of literature. Heh. There are so many ways to corrupt the righteously ignorant.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Heights and Crashes

by Annabeth Leong

My childhood was shaped by hustling, which is maybe why I feel some resistance to this topic, and to the entire concept of the word.

I grew up with no clear idea of how money worked or where it came from. For a living, my parents did… nothing that I could see. A lot of times we were poor. I heard them fighting about money. I remember them screaming over sums like two dollars.

On the other hand, they both knew how to come up with cash when they really needed to.

My mother had a wealthy husband before she met my father, and I saw her occasionally selling items of jewelry from before, then buying things like a new crib for my baby sister.

Mostly, though, my dad was the one who would mysteriously show up with money. It was always burning a hole in his pocket. There’s a kind of money that you have to spend fast. So, I’d be yanked out of a life of living on spam and ramen noodles and suddenly spend a week at the Sheraton Makaha resort, eating every meal in the lavish hotel restaurant and getting horseback riding lessons every day.

I think a key thing about the hustling lifestyle is the awareness of that gap, that transition. One day, you’re in clothes from the Salvation Army, and the next you’re buying Armani. I recognize this mentality in a lot of hiphop music videos.

For example, look at the structure here, in TI’s “Go Get It”:

The video shows the rapper in two distinct settings: one at home in the neighborhood, and the other in a lavish mansion. The two visions inform each other. In the neighborhood, he dreams of the mansion. And the life of the mansion is given meaning by the memory of the neighborhood, and the specific contrasts between the two situations.

I’ve never seen this in people who are just wealthy or well-off. They don’t seem to have that constant outlook of having one foot on each side of the river. I think hiphop gets criticized for being materialistic (for example, in songs such as Lorde’s “Royals”) partly because people don’t understand that this fantasizing about material possessions has to do with a certain experience of poverty and need.

My dad seemed to enjoy those weeks at the Sheraton Makaha in a simple, uncomplicated way. He wanted as much of that as he could have. He did everything he could to make them as frequent as possible. He had no impulse to stash things away and live a modest and more stable life. For him, it was all or nothing, another mindset I associate with hustling.

For me, though, it was all incredibly uncomfortable. The sacrifices we made when we were poor stung but also felt false. The luxuries we enjoyed tasted strange to me. Nothing ever seemed to fit on my body. I did not live for the fat life. I didn’t know what I was. It was hard to know the truth of our situation.

So I have weird feelings about the idea that hustling is good or virtuous. To me, there’s something distorted about the constant drive it requires, the feeling that you’ve got to put, as TI says, “hustle over all.” I don’t like bouncing between feast and famine. I don’t have the ability to sustain the energy hustling requires, and I can’t handle the heights and crashes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Opportunity Hustle

by Daddy X

In 1969 I found myself repairing electric shavers at a major retailer’s central warehouse in San Francisco. To get the job, I’d said I wore long hair and a beard because I was Amish. That I was on my “Rumspringa” –a time when young Amish males go out into the world before committing to a life of simplicity. It worked! They couldn’t risk not hiring me because of religion, even though the beard was counterintuitive to a shaver repairman.

Part of their sales promotion was to give customers a trade-in discount for their used shaver. Consequently we had barrels of old shavers around. We were supposed to cannibalize them for usable parts and throw the rest away. 

But I had a better idea. When I’d finished repairing all my shavers on a particular day, I’d refurbish some of the better-looking trade-ins to sell at the flea market.  My boss Carlos happened to be an accomplished crook (more on Carlos below). For a small percentage of the take, he’d get the shavers out of the warehouse for me. Perfect set-up. I didn’t pay a dime for anything. I got paid for making shavers up from used parts. Anything I sold would be pure profit. Ten dollars or two dollars per shaver, it didn’t fucking matter. As long as the sale was made. Nobody lost. We gained. Plus, I was doing a good deed. Disadvantaged folks could now afford an electric shaver.  Power to the People!


So one Sunday, Momma X and I were working the flea market, tending our table of refurbished shavers. I was laying out a sales pitch to a potential customer when I looked up. Uh-oh!  Here comes the head security guard from Macy’s warehouse—headed up the aisle toward us. I bolted, mid-conversation.

Momma’s yelling after me, “Where you going? What’s wrong?” 

I hustled my ass off to where I could watch but not likely be seen. Waiting until the guard passed my booth before I headed back, feeling very cloak-and-dagger. Needless to say, the abandoned customer was gone. Close call.

That prick guard always had a hard-on for our department. He knew we were up to something but couldn’t figure out what. One time, Carlos, another coworker and I were hauled into the office. Seems the guard had been on the warehouse roof with binoculars when he saw the three of us in a car “splitting something up” after work, implying we were sharing a pile of money. We were probably passing a joint around.

We never did get caught on that caper, but not far down the line, I had to drive Carlos across the state line because the cops were getting too close on some other shit. Something about a shipment of watches.

As much of a crook as Carlos was, I couldn’t help but learn some angles. After all, he’d come up in the streets of Juarez, a tough Mexican border town and had to make his own way. He had several aliases, mostly designed to be ambiguous as to race or ethnic origin. I never knew his real name.

He once told me: “Keep your eyes open, man. Watch for every opportunity. Make your own opportunities. … Don’t get caught.”

Thinking back, I had already been doing pretty much what he’d suggested, albeit without as much legal ambiguity. When a kid, during a bad snowstorm, we’d get a “snow day” off from school. I saw that as an opportunity to get out and shovel walks for spending money, which was scarce around our house. Several posts ago, I mentioned as a teenager, “noodling” for hibernating snapping turtles in winter to sell to a fancy restaurant. I also worked in a drug store at night. Hah! Talk about the fox and henhouse.

After Carlos split California, another friend called from back east to say he’d rented an old stone farmhouse in rural Buck’s County Pa. Since my job was becoming tenuous, (what with my boss having disappeared) I was laid off in a cloud of suspicion.

That made me eligible for unemployment. Which, BTW I could switch to Pennsylvania. Groovy or what?

Not long after arriving in Pa, and nearly unemployable (being Amish country, I didn’t try to press the beard issue) I saw a ’48 Chevy three-quarter ton pickup for sale. Good shape. Rebuilt engine. Five-window cab. White. 17-inch wheels. I named it: “The Great White Whale” (also the title of a previous post on these pages). I put an ad in the local paper for ‘light hauling’, initiating what was soon to become “Willy-Nilly Construction, Instruction and Destruction Company.”

We also started doing flea markets, selling better items we’d found cleaning out attics and basements. I got the flea market idea because of my … Well… my experience. Kept us going until the first big snowfall when Momma and I decided we’d be better off in California.

Off we went. Those were the days.

And I remained observant. I expanded on what I’d learned in the flea markets (and from Carlos). I learned what was quality and what wasn’t worth diddly. Sure, I made some mistakes, but that’s how one learns. Through opportunity. To discern a good prospect from a losing proposition. That’s the genesis of not only my antiques business, but this writing hobby that has become so dear (if not as profitable in the financial sense). That eye for opportunity has honed skills of observation that are precious on many levels.

Now to get it on the page. Maybe do a memoir? These OGG posts are mounting up, and perhaps I can put ‘em together somehow. Best get it pubbed and hustle up lots of money while I can still spend.

I may never get another opportunity.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Let's Do the Hustle! by Suz deMello

Remember this?

The Hustle is an immortal from the disco era. I can now picture all of you muttering, "Gee, thanks, Suz, for the lovely earworm."

And there was this movie with Paul Newman:

A TV series with Robert Vaughn:

And there's this magazine by Larry Flynt:

Why do we celebrate and condemn hustling? What is hustling?

It has a couple of definitions, the simplest of which is hurrying. But to hustle someone has a negative connotation of trickery.

But we have a long history of admiring tricksters.

Shakespeare, in the guise of Puck, tells us:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

I guess we all love a joke, even when it's on us.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Reluctant Hustler

Sacchi Green

“Hustler” generally has a pejorative connotation, with the sense of swindling someone, or at least tricking them for profit. A pool hustler may or may not be cheating—is it even possible to cheat at pool? (Obviously I’ve never played it.) In any case he’s likely to conceal just how expert he is until his “mark” has agreed to big stakes. But the hustler has to work for his money, and the most positive definition of the term is something like “an enterprising person determined to succeed; go-getter.” This would apply as readily to a pool player as to a business executive or politician clawing his way to the top, and we may even have a spark of admiration for those who make it.

Then there are those who try, but don’t make it. And those who pretend to try.  That last is my category.  As with all writers, our “hustle” isn’t an attempt to swindle anybody, but just to get them to for god’s sake buy our freaking books! We, of course, think our books are supremely worth reading, and even paying for, so we’re not trying to deceive anyone, or not exactly. We’re just trying to convince them. Or at least get them to notice the existence of our books!

The rise of “social media” has held out hope for ways to do this, which of course leads to publishers urging authors to get out there and hustle, to have web sites, write blogs, get reviews, make “book trailer” videos, flog the titles and covers of their books on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc., etc. If you’re not doing those things, you’re not doing your part to sell your books, and if your books don’t sell, you don’t continue to get published. It’s not personal, it’s business, and, in fact, I understand, and don’t hold it against them. But I also understand, at this point, that the best I can do is make the motions of hustling.

I’m on Facebook, and enjoy it, but well over half of my “friends” are other writers rather than book-purchasing readers. I have a blog, and when I began it I posted essays about writing and various other themes that I found interesting, besides news about my books. I never figured out how to attract readers to it, or even tried much to figure that out, but I’d get comments from time to time, especially when I posted free stories. Eventually comments became rare, even when my stats indicated a modest number of readers, and I fell into mostly just posting about my new books coming out, with occasionally a review or reference to someone else’s book. At this point I get more “hits” than I used to, sometimes inexplicably, as when, fairly often, my stats cite a one-day flood of hits from Russia, but there’s no indication that many people are actually reading my posts (although the free stories do pretty well.) The most hits for specific pages are for my Calls for Submission for new anthologies, and I’m still getting an amazing number looking for my CFS for Best Lesbian Erotica 16—renamed, this year, Best Lesbian Erotica 20th Anniversary Edition—routed through my publisher’s web site. The deadline for submissions is long, long past, of course—in fact I just got my box of the new books from the publisher, and the official release date is February 9th—so I guess the folks come to my blog to see if I’m taking submissions for the next one. I have no idea whether I’ll be editing the next one, and I expect the publisher (new to me because the business was sold last year) won’t decide on that until they see how this one sells.

The new publisher, or rather the new owner of the old publisher, has its own new publicity people, with their not exactly new ideas, so I make an attempt to cooperate. I’m already out ahead of them in some areas, like doing readings; I’ve done those for years because I enjoy them, and so do my writers, but I only do them in places I can get to fairly easily, and where at least three or four of my writers are close enough to join me.  Fortunately those places include New York and New England; unfortunately they don’t include the west coast. I’m already in the habit of doing book give-aways on Goodreads and on a site or two where potential readers gather, although it’s getting harder and harder to get any takers when I offer free books on Facebook for potential reviews. I did a blog tour for my last book, with my writers participating, and I’m organizing one for this new book, too, more to give the writers some attention than to promote sales. Do any of these activities actually sell books? Probably not, with the possible exception of readings in New York, and even then I think the people who buy them would have bought them anyway. But at least I can tell the eager staff at my publisher that I’m doing things.

And there are things that I don’t, as yet, do. I got an e-mail from an enthusiastic young intern at my publisher’s office who had the great “new” idea of short book videos, so I said I’d try, but it hasn’t worked out yet. I don’t have the tech chops, but I thought I might do a voice-over montage of all the BLE covers since the first one in 1996, so I asked her to get me good files of the covers to use—and haven’t heard back. I did check out the link she gave me to the ones already done by my fellow editors, and I’ve done it again recently. In two months Rachel Kramer Bussel’s video has had 48 viewers. In one month, Sinclair Sexsmith’s video has had 6 viewers. Somehow I don’t think the absence of one by me is a big loss to anyone, but I may still try.

So here I am, a reluctant hustler. You might say that I’m hustling my publisher by appearing to do things but not in a big enough way. I don’t know. When it comes to the positive kind of hustling, the go-getter kind, what I’m good at is getting good writers together, and sometimes helping potentially good writers be really good ones. As far as selling the books goes, all I can really do is make sure they’re worth reading. If there’s any way to hustle or swindle anyone into buying books, I don’t know what it is, which is just as well; this way I don’t have to decide whether to take the high road or the low. But if anyone does happen to know a trick that works…        

Friday, January 22, 2016

Personal Gain

For all its various definitions, “hustling” appears to have no truly positive meaning. In the sense of “hurrying” it’s at best neutral to my way of thinking. Hurrying isn’t automatically either good or bad–that would depend entirely on what it is one is hurrying toward or away from.
When paired with “bustle” it’s again neither positive nor negative. It’s only within the context of a sentence or paragraph that we gain insight as to the emotional weight of that particular phrase. The country boy forced to visit the big city for the first time in order to receive life-saving medical treatment might be overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle. The ambitious young actress might sup on it as if it were food.
Mostly, though, “hustling” is a word which conveys various senses of brusqueness, coercion, pressure and even chicanery. It’s so often about personal gain without allowing for thought of the consequences on others.
Essentially, “hustling” is what seems to have elevated many folks to their exalted positions today. People who display no discernible skills somehow garner attention. So-called news websites cater to this by producing click-bait “stories”, almost all of which refer to breasts in either a subtle or conspicuous way. Usually conspicuously.
The thing is, we’re all feeding that monster. Okay, not all of us, but enough to make it worthwhile for those websites to keep pumping out the utter non-events, with headlines worded to somehow draws folks into following links. Stop clicking the links, people!
The publishing industry certainly hasn’t escaped similar treatment. Plenty of non-authors have jumped into self-publishing without actually having a product to sell. Assemble the minimum words, throw a cover on it, toss it out onto websites. I’m not being cynical here, either. There are literally people—let’s call them awfurz—who are publishing word assemblies in English which not only make no sense, it’s essentially unreadable. Yet some of those awfurz are doing fairly well financially because… well, I admit, I don’t know the answer to that.
The hustling side of things is a two-way street these days also, with the advent of several new options. The policy some distributors have to allow customers to return books they’ve finished, but without giving them any hoops to jump through, is a tad disheartening from the author side of things. Personally I’ve never returned a book, but while I hate seeing returns in my sales figures, I try to take them in my stride. Perhaps people genuinely disliked the product, and I’d rather they not resent the author for having to keep something they hated.
Of course, there are folks out there who abuse that option. Hustling for free books by simply exercising the options presented to them.
I was informed a couple of years back about a particular book-related website where folks would give books 1-star ratings without reviewing them. Again, this is rather disheartening for an author. Often times we can accept a 1-star review (hell, it’s not like we have a choice!) if only it offers some insight as to what the reader hated. With no review to read, you kind of want to sit and rock in the corner with your thumb in your mouth. Or maybe that’s just me.
It turns out, however, that many folks were using this as a method to mark the books they’d like to read. 1-star ratings as a search tool, essentially. Of course, they could have considered something wildly radical like making a document in Word and typing the titles in, but wouldn’t that mean more work? And wouldn’t that fly in the face of the hustling philosophy? Personal gain. No allowance for consequences on others.
And don’t get me started on trolls.
So why do we do it? Not just authors, but why does anyone continue in a creative field, or a manufacturing field, or any other field? Why, when there are barriers at every turn?
Because there’s one other definition of “hustling”. To strive. To endeavour. To pull out all the stops. Not writing our stories—not trying, not pushing, not hustling—would be awful.
I won’t speak for others, but I feel my view would be shared by many; the thrill I get when I stack words together in just the right way is amazing. It can be akin to finishing a 30,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
For authors, finishing a novel pushes the same buttons as finishing a marathon does for runners. And I guess that’s a form of hustling too. We write for our own pleasure, without allowing for the consequences on others. If we did that—wrote purely what the market told us we should—then we would never write what’s in our hearts.
And then, we might as well join the ranks of the awfurz.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Trust In Me

by Giselle Renarde

The other night, I had dinner with my mom, my sister, and a family friend. They all live in the same neighbourhood and they all go to the same mechanic. Apparently, he's the best. Okay, so his prices are a little on the high side and his hours of operation are ridiculous, but they're all willing to shuffle things around in their schedules to get their cars in after he opens and pick their cars up before he closes. Because he's the best.

I'm thinking... if he charges more than other garages and his hours are truly craptacular, what makes him the best?

He doesn't recommend work your car doesn't need, and if he fixes something that only takes two seconds, chances are he won't charge you for it.  He's the best because they trust him.  Not an easy quality to find in a mechanic. Not just that, but they've trusted him for years. My mom and her friend have been raving about this guy for as long as I can remember.

I don't know how they found him, initially.  Proximity, I imagine.  They could drop their cars off at the garage and simply walk home.  But they wouldn't have stuck by him for thirty-plus years if not for consistently superior service.

This fortnight's theme is hustling. What that brings to mind, for me, as far as the business of writing is concerned, involves working your butt off:
  • telling everyone you know about your new release, 
  • giving your book to all your friends as birthday gifts, 
  • maintaining at least twelve active social media accounts, 
  • calling up every bookstore in the country to sell them on the idea of stocking your book so they'll have plenty of copies when you stop by for a signing event, 
  • flying to every conference on the planet to meet readers and network with other authors
...and that's just Monday.

I do none of those things.  I'm tired just thinking about a life like that.

The life I want is my mom's mechanic's.  Work when I want, close up shop if I'd rather be somewhere else, charge more than my competitors, and still hear my customers shouting, "Shut up and take my money!"

I am so not into the hustle. I'm just too lazy.  Or... is lazy the right word?  I'm always saying I'm lazy, but I spend pretty much every waking hour working.  I definitely work more hours now than I did doing the 9-5 thing.

Most writers want to write.  I want to write.  But all writers, whether we're traditionally published or self-published or anything in between, need to hustle our asses off.

What if we don't?  What if we just write and we don't hustle at all?

On the one hand, it's hard to answer that question because I've never done the hustle--not the big-time hustle, like attending conferences and buying expensive advertising and giving away Kindles. I know people who do these things and they seem successful to me, but I'm not them so I can't really say.

All I know is that in the 10 years I've been selling my work, some books have sold well and some books have sold 3 copies and I've never felt like I had the slightest bit of control over any of that.  If a book taps into the zeitgeist of a reader group, it takes off.  If it doesn't, no amount of hustle's going to make that baby a bestseller.

I didn't enter this business to get rich quick, or even get rich slowly.  I'm here to do the best work I can for as long as I'm able. 

Maybe in another 25 years I'll have readers beating down my door for the next new book. And it won't matter how long they have to wait. And it won't matter what I charge. If that's how my career plays out, they'll want it because they trust me.   

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Vampire Lesbian Girl Scout Nymphos From Venus in Bondage" : A Well Hustled Story

(Originally posted on Oh Get a Grip March 17, 2010)

The old lady's voice is buzzing in my ear giving me information I should be writing down.

The little cell phone beeps. Low battery.

It’s getting late and I'm pulled over to the side of the Raceway Gas station on the exit ramp for Gordon Highway near where I work and my heart is pounding.

Its Tuesday, March 8, 3:45 in the afternoon, rain is running down the window of the driver’s seat which I'm staring out of as the traffic whizzes by and something is seriously happening.

"Yeah . . . okay . . ." I nod my head vigorously, even though the voice on the other end of the cell phone can't see me. "No kidding . . . shit - I mean - sorry! I mean wow. . . yeah. "


I’m hearing something impossible this afternoon, something I absolutely never thought I'd hear in a million years.

""Thursday. Room 27. . . Is that. . . wait, no . . . Is that across from the little coffee shop? Yeah . . . I think I know. That's on the hall to the Jabed's Auditorium, right? Okay. . . I was scared I was going to do the auditorium. I'm not . . . No, I can't fill an auditorium. . . . Thanks, but I really doubt that. . . okay. . . "


"yeah . . . Well, that's true. . . No, I'm really excited. I'll be ready. I'll bring some of my stuff to read.   Say the title again . . .  no, maybe not that one.  Unless you think its okay, I don't know. . . .  I think so.  Okay.  Seven thirty. Okey-dokey."


"Looking forward to it. Okay, bye."


The phone dies just as she hangs up.  Holy fuck.

I'm going to give a book reading at the Columbia Fucking County Library. Room 27. Thursday. Seven thirty PM and don't be late.

Holy Moley.

This stuff just doesn't happen to me. No way is this stuff supposed to happen to me ever. This is not life as I know it. I sit looking out the window for a long time, not thinking. Just breathing. I want to tell somebody – but wait a minute. They probably have me mixed up with someone. I need to keep this under wraps until it happens.

Sweet Jesus Kittens.

Me. A fucking book reading.

How did the Columbia County Arts Board even find out I write stuff?

What if nobody shows up? I think the librarians will show up anyway. I think they have to or something. It must be them. It must be them, they're always seeing me check out writing craft books and short story collections. I know who it is! Jesus - I know! It's that librarian, the one with the tits and the British accent and the tight sweaters. I started showing off to her one afternoon when she was talking about local writers with me. I told her about meeting Dacre Stoker. I gave her my pen name and I’ll bet she looked it up. That's what happened. She looked up my damn pen name. How many writers can there be in Augusta? They were scrounging the very bottom of the barrel and sonuvabitch – that’s where they found me.

Jesus H Christ on a tricycle.

I get to read my stuff in front of people!

Thank you god . . . thank you for every blessing.

On Thursday night I shuffle in a side door and it’s raining again. There’s nobody milling around in the hallway. When Charlaine Harris was here, the hallway was packed to the walls. Now I know for sure nobody's going to show up for me, especially if it’s raining. I won't be able to get a big enough crowd for a card game much less a book reading. As I come down the marble hallway, with my print outs in a plastic Kroger’s grocery bag - I'm such a class act - the librarian with the dazzling double Ds and her signature tight sweater is there by the door to the auditorium watching for me.

" 'ello!" she chirps up and smiles.

I remember from my street preaching days in Milwaukee, when I would stand on a plastic milk crate on a corner and get up a crowd. It’s not that hard. You look for that one face. That's how you do it. You have to know your first sentence, and look for The Face. One friendly face and you sort of preach to that person. If Double Dee’s in the crowd I'll read to her until I get up to speed. That’s how I'll do it.

Garce, you’re so full of shit. There’s nobody here. You’re going to speak from a podium like some pompous doofus to one person? And try not to stare at her chest?  Really, real world, I know she’s here which makes one person, maybe there’ll be one more library worker, some hapless high school kid who can’t get out of it, and if I’m lucky there could be two, maybe three people tops who came across my stuff somewhere, god knows how. We'll all circle our chairs together for coffee and cookies and have a few laughs and go home.

Goddamn I'm nervous! Was it like this for Charlaine Harris? Is it like this for Ashley when he reads his poetry in front of people? I’ll have to ask him.

She jiggles buoyantly along side me and I try not to stare, as she leads me to a glass door down the hall from the auditorium.

She opens the door and holds it for me. “After you.”

I go into the bright room and freeze in the doorway so suddenly her chest crashes nicely into my back.

The room is full. The room is packed goddamn full. People standing by the walls in back.  No way!

She turns towards me and I whisper to her "Who else is speaking tonight?"

"Just you."

I shake my head, I can’t believe I heard her right. I should have brought a camera. Nobody at OGG is going to believe what I'm seeing without a picture. They need to see this. This is my time. This is my moment in the sun. Lisabet! I wish Lisabet could see me! I count twelve rows of ten plush chairs. That makes one hundred twenty people sitting. And people squashed against the wall. Where the hell did they get all these people?

I'm overcome and I can’t speak. My eyes water and I'm trying not to choke up. I look down at my pants to make sure this isn’t one of those goofy dreams where you give a lecture and discover you’re naked. No, I'm not naked. But this is one of the great moments of my life.

Wait a minute.

Oh no. Oh hell no.

I suddenly realise what's going on and my life passes in front of my eyes.

These people, there’re not here to be nice to me. This is going to be some nutty fundo Christian group, some happy horseshit Baptist Bible Camp thing come here to lynch the pornographer, get the guy who writes naughty stories and hang the cringing little bastard high as a lesson to American youth.

I look at Double Dees for help but she looks truly happy for me. As far as she’s concerned she shares my joy.


I take a step towards the podium and the plastic grocery bag tips over and dumps my stuff all over the floor.

Okay. Good. Very good.

Now we're back in the Universe the way that I know it.

A young woman with an odd pale complexion jumps up and helps me gather my papers up in a pathetic wad, as if I'd dropped a baby on its head and there're whispers and snickers. I bring my pile up to the podium which has a little desk light and a little microphone. Who knew I’d need a microphone? Who knew there would be a crowd? Some of the printouts have gotten rainwater off the bag and the ink is running on my fingertips.

While people cough and wait, I wade frantically through the mess and gather up the kick off scene from Father Delmar's diary that starts "The Dying Light".

“Good evening.” A soft feedback whine. “Thank you for coming here tonight. My name is C. Sanchez-Garcia. I’m a writer.”

Applause. Oh my god. Oh my god. They like me.

I say some polite words, a couple of self deprecating jokes. The crowd is getting a little restless. Then I notice - there aren't any men here. These are all women. Now I know I'm dreaming. It’s a lucid dream. Hey -

If it’s a lucid dream I can have sex with every woman in this room.

I know how to find out. I put my stuff down and raise my arms up and lift up on my toes. If it’s a lucid dream I can will myself to rise to the ceiling. Nothing happens. People are looking at me funny. I'm not naked and I can’t fly. Probably not a dream. Not yet a nightmare at least. C'mon Garce, pull your shit together.

"How many of you here have read my stuff?"

Almost everybody's hands go up. No way. Even the really beautiful women. No fucking way.

Standing against the wall are some young ladies in prim looking green clothes. They're the only women wearing skirts. Their skin has an odd pallor I can’t seem to place. Foreign students. One has a sort of Aunt Jemima checkered head scarf and the others have baseball caps. They raise their hands.

"Yes?" I point at one because I want to hear if she has an accent. I think they're going to be from the Middle East.

"We read your book, the 'Mortal Engines' when we were at Girl Scout camp. The leader thought it was a car repair. We didn’t tell her it was a dirty book.'

Now that is rude. To hear it said right out loud like that. That's what we're going to talk about tonight. I won’t embarrass this girl with the funny accent, but I'm going to steer this thing towards some elevated conversation about the difference between cheap pornography and erotic literature. There is a difference. They need to know that.

"I'm going to read a scene none of you will have read yet, it’s from a vampire novel in progress. This scene is from a chapter called "The Dying Light". Ahem “I like writing with a fountain pen best. A fountain pen like this one suits me. . .' I go on with that for a while. Then a couple of poems.

The rest of my stuff is a mess. The pages are out of order. I'll do a question and answer now and wrap this up and shoot an email to Lisabet to celebrate my triumph. I want to get back to that dirty book question somehow. "We'll take some questions now. Who wants to go first? First question?"

The librarian raises her arm and I gaze as her breasts shift and elevate heavenward. Now I know why romance writers like to use that stupid word "gaze" all over the place. Brother, I am gazing. "Yes?"

"Where do you get your ideas from?"

Ah ha ha, modest me chuckles. "I get them from different things. Some of the stories I don’t even remember where the ideas came from. You start out with a scene sometimes and build up."

A young woman, maybe a college girl raises her arm. "No – she means where do you get your ideas for fuck scenes from?"

She's being crude to shock me, or maybe show me that she's on my side. I can’t tell which. She talks like I think. "What do you mean?"

“They get me off. They sound like the way people really fuck. Is that from your real life?"

Maybe these people really have read my stuff, God knows how. Now, O Friends of The Inner Sanctum, my pathetic real world sex life wouldn’t fill up a tea cup, much less a novel. I open my mouth to confess this with thrilling and noble frankness but what comes out is "Oh yes. All of its real."

There's this feeling - you know this feeling - you get it when you’re walking across a grassy lawn barefoot and your toes come down hard on something in the grass which is warm and gooey and pungent and very, very natural and it squishes right between your toes.

A moan goes over the room. Dozens of female hands shoot up into the air waving furiously. I pick one at random. "What about vampires? You fucked a vampire?"

"I sure did. In her coffin.  All night. It was fantastic."

I'm hoping this sarcasm will make people laugh, but instead a Goth girl dressed in black I hadn’t noticed before jumps up, and throws her head back defiantly. "I'm a vampire."

Whoa. I glance over at the librarian but she is looking at me with something like feral heat in her eyes. She runs her tongue over her lips. I can make out the nubs of her nipples poking against her sweater.

"Well," I stammer, "I mean figuratively. Not literally. The vampire is a poetic metaphor for relationships that -"

"Fuck metaphors! I'm a vampire goddammit!"

Another woman jumps up. "Me too!"

What the fuck - "Listen, there isn't any - "

A third woman jumps up. "My name is Natalie - and I'm a sex addict." Everybody claps supportively. "And I'm a vampire. I pick up strangers and take them home. I fuck them and then suck out all their psychic energy from their chakras when they come. That's how I steal my life energy."

I look over at the librarian again, the one I was reading my Father Delmar stuff to over the heads of the crowd. She's got her sweater off. What's she doing with her blouse? Can she do that here?

"Wait!" I yell, shaking my head like a baby rattle. "How can you be a sex addict vampire?" There could be a story here someplace. I should be writing this down. I start fumbling in my shirt pocket for a pen.

The librarian is coming towards me. Her blouse is gone and the bra is on its way off. She steps up to the sex addict vampire girl who sucks people’s life energy out of their chakras by jiminy- and shoves her down on to her chair. Her British Working Class breasts are out and they're even bigger than I imagined. She straddles the poor girl who stares up at her long brown nipples in fascination and terror.

"You little ghost whispering tart -" yells the librarian "I'm a lesbian vampire sex addict!" She shoves the girls face between her breasts and for an instant every human being in that room including me wishes we were that girl. Then she fastens on the girl’s neck and the poor thing sags in her chair.

I start getting my papers but I’m shaking and a pile of them fall on the floor. I kick them away from me. Screw this, I'm getting the hell out of here.

The four foreign looking women standing against the wall - all of them like some weird chorus line - tear off their blouses and their underwear. They're nude. Their skin is a strange bluish color I hadn’t noticed before. They tear off their baseball caps and big phallic antennae pop out. "We're lesbian vampire sex addicts from the planet Venus! And you are all our human sex slaves!"

"Get them!" screams the librarian, spitting drops of blood into the air. The crowd mobs the four women, tearing the bunting from the wall and tying their arms behind their backs. "Bring me an encyclopedia!"

Girls dash out and come back with a couple of encyclopedias, and a big coffee table book of Ansel Adams photos. The topless librarian swats a Venusian Girl Scout on the ass with the Ansel Adams book and the girl whimpers and begs for more. The girls line up and begin spanking the Venusians asses with the heavy books. Their erect antennae waggle with pleasure as they scream their defiance for all earthlings.

I throw down my stuff on the floor and run like a rabbit.

Outside the rain has stopped and distant sirens are approaching. There is a girl under the street lamp in a denim jacket waiting for me on the sidewalk. She's short with a bright mane of silver hair glistening with rain and her hard blue eyes for the moment are smiling. "There you are," she says with that big northern German accent I know so well. "So then ('zo zen') how was it?"

"We need to go. We need to go now."

"These Girls Scouts I met, they were there, jah?"

"They were from Venus."

"Did they have cookies? Those nice little chocolate ones with the coconut?"

"There's a Kroger’s down the road. I'll get you any cookies you want. Or a Mounds bar. But we have to go now,"

She laces her arm in mine. "Let's go, stud."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fire Sale

By Lisabet Sarai

(July, 1975)

bargain basement baby--
don't you know that's me?
special sale, easy terms--
            a couple of arms
instant credit--
            ready lips
all you need (I need...)
        so cheap
               I'd like
               to sell
a sidewalk hawker:
almost any
lie will buy
an hour's ease -

no money down,
prices slashed--
all I ask
is skin on skin,
and someone else's
breathing in
my aching ears
and someone else's
mouth on mine,
and someone else's
pleasured moan,
coming home --
          and knotted rest,
          head on my breast.
just one centered second's sense
of swallowing all other sparks
that light his mind.

fire sale--
some superficial sympathy
plus wanting me
will quite suffice
slightly sullied merchandise,
still a buy--
        I'm drastically
        and desperately

Friday, January 15, 2016


by Jean Roberta

Strangely enough, no one here has recommended – or at least described -- a masturbation marathon as a way of consoling oneself after a breakup. (Cough) I thought this was a traditional remedy, somewhat like chicken soup for a cold.

During a long winter, life outdoors, in the dating scene (heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bi) can be harsh. Sometimes a person just wants to spend a few months in a warm bed, with herself.

Here is a quickie that I wrote long ago, when I still had fresh memories of being freshly-dumped and forlorn. I sent it in for the Do It Yourself contest run by Torquere Press in 2004, and it won first prize.


The moon is full tonight. I can’t see it shining on the billows of snow outdoors, but I know they look like the curves of a voluptuous woman, sparkling like a queen's jewels. I want to remember all the words of that French song: my country is winter. Je suis une citoyenne de l’hiver.

I can’t sleep, even though my comforter is as warm and soft as the sympathy of an old friend. Tara’s last words are like an annoying song in my head: “You’re not really my type. You can’t meet my needs. Let’s face it. I’m not putting you down, but you have to admit it.” Her canned speech was meant to justify her escape, so she could rush into the arms of Bo the jock, heartthrob of the under-thirty crowd. I wonder how long the new couple will last.

If the three of us were stranded in the northern woods, I wonder who would survive. My womanly body can withstand the cold, and I have good instincts. Weightlifter’s muscles and cuteness don’t catch fish or muskrats or rabbits. Political correctness and popularity don’t count in a life-or-death situation. Some women have lived such trendy urban lives that they never get to meet their true selves.

A warm heart behind warm breasts always counts, or it should. I would appreciate a woman with my qualities. I would hold a woman like that with all my strength, and not let her go. I could live in a cave with a woman like me, exploring her body like an old-time voyageur ranging over the True North. Pressed against her in our bed, I would start with her breasts.

Tits like mine deserve hands like mine: knowing hands that can support them, making them feel weightless but generous. The homage of those hands would send tingles from the flash-points of my hard nipples through my warm flesh, over my ribs and all up and down the central power line of my spine. My belly would flutter, and my clit would turn on like a lightbulb.

In the short days and long nights of winter, I could spend months in bed with a woman like me. We would not give a damn about the world outside, and we wouldn't lose interest in each other like bored children looking for new toys.

My old, favorite toys would give us endless pleasure. I wouldn't even mind getting out of bed to look through my sock drawer for my thick purple candle with the undulating shape that looks like a Coke bottle on speed. A woman like me would love to be stroked with a thing like that, and she wouldn't care what it was made for. Women like me are household witches who can make magic out of anything that comes to hand.

Wax grows warmer and softer when you play with it, almost like human flesh. My candle is more responsive than some women. More reliable too. Rubbing it between my lower lips makes me feel as if I'm melting and changing shape inside.

I want to be filled to bursting by someone like me. I can smell my own heat, and it warms the space between my sheets like some essential oil. My candle absorbs more of me each time. Someday it will smell more like me than I do, and then I can share it with a woman who will appreciate it whenever I can't be with her.

I am the butch and the femme, the doer and the done-to. The right woman would value my versatility. I am persistent. I'm almost there. Just a little more -- oh! Yes! I am so good for me.
How I wish I could hibernate in my cozy suite until spring. I'm not sure the rest of the world is ready for me yet.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Searching for Answers

by Annabeth Leong

When I first started masturbating, I thought I was supposed to simulate sex. I remember setting my alarm clock for a time early, early in the morning when I thought I wouldn't be discovered, and then going through a long, narrative process that often involved whispering lines of dialogue to my imaginary lover. (Perhaps this was a precursor to what I do now). In the books I'd read, sex was penetration, so that was what I did. This method worked, but it was long and inefficient. It took literally hours.

Then, as I've written before, I discovered The Hite Report and learned the role of the clitoris and how to find it. It's sort of weird to me that I didn't figure this out on my own, but I remember the amazing revelation of touching myself there, no penetration required, and discovering that orgasm had suddenly become effortless. This was an important early lesson for me about the difference between what I thought sex was and what actually felt good to me.

Once I discovered masturbation in earnest, I couldn't stop. I thought everyone masturbated all the time the way I did, and refused to believe people who told me otherwise. I thought girls who claimed they never masturbated were full of shit, just trying to look like "nice girls." I'd given up that image before I ever even had it, so my contempt knew no bounds.

I don't know where I got the idea that masturbation was wrong—my mother tells me she never wanted me to feel that way—but get it I did. I remember resolving to quit as a teenager, but being unable to cut down to less than five times a day. It was too easy to start, and once I started, I felt too compelled to finish.

Then there were the fantasies. For as long as I can remember, what worked best for me to think about was violent, disturbing stuff that sometimes made me feel awful afterward. To be clear, I am not talking about "nice" rape fantasies (like the one described by Sarah in the show Transparent, about a rapist who's going to force you but isn't going to hurt you too much and wants to make you come). I'm talking about blood and torture. This may be part of where I got the idea that doing this was wrong. It was always a disorienting feeling to disturb myself in the process of orgasm.

I never masturbated about specific people. That always seemed wrong to me, violating. Maybe part of it was that I didn't want to taint anyone I knew with the violence I imagined. It also felt wrong to me to use people that way without their consent.

I was always troubled by my fantasies and tried to find ways to think about other things. I remember a therapist telling me to picture people being kind to me instead. Unsurprisingly, whatever that might have done for my self-esteem, it didn't get anywhere close to making me come. It seems obvious to me now that this was a ridiculous suggestion.

Masturbating for hours was always a shameful secret. During my first marriage, I looked forward to the times when my ex-husband worked on days I didn't. That meant I could spend the day on the couch, masturbating over and over, without fear of discovery.

I sometimes masturbated in places I shouldn't have, such as the student lounge for my grad school program or the bathroom at work.

I once masturbated in a motel in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and got caught by some people peering in the window. I heard them crowing about it outside, stopped what I was doing, and hid in the bathroom for the rest of the day and night, sleepless and afraid. When four a.m. came, I snuck into the parking lot, afraid they might still be out there, and checked out hurriedly. I have probably never driven as fast as I did leaving that town.

The revelation of my adult life was meeting a partner to whom masturbation was not shameful. When I told him that story about Spartanburg, South Carolina, he got an erection. I got used to being able to say, "I'm going to go masturbate. Care to join me, or would you just like to overhear it?" I can't overstate how much that affected me. When he asks, "What did you do yesterday?" and I say, "I masturbated for six hours," and that's a good answer to him, it heals so many things I have carried in my soul for so many years.

I have long felt that masturbation is the cornerstone of my sex life, the most important part because it's where I learn everything I know about myself. A few years ago, I started having lots of trouble with what I call "the oil-slick fantasies," the things that leave me sick to my stomach after I've come. I started looking for other things I could think about—aware that a simple reversal of the script was not going to work for me.

I'm not going to lie. Those things have always made me come. And when I do find a really sick, violent piece of porn, it's hard to resist it. But I can't always deal with the fallout afterwards.

Somewhere around then was when I really started having issues with my sexual orientation. Without thinking of the violence, I couldn't feel anything. I didn't know how to keep having a sex life without it. To some degree I could accept it, but to some degree I couldn't. And in the deafening silence left in its wake, I started to notice how much I felt for women, how I could be aroused by them without that darkness.

For a while, I thought I was kinky and twisted in such a way that a sweet kiss would do nothing for me. But then I watched a lesbian movie (I Can't Think Straight) and found myself breathless and wet during the (hot but very vanilla) sex scene.

I started to experiment with masturbating about women. But this was not easy, not even in the privacy of my own mind. No matter what I started out thinking about, my mind would drift to my first girlfriend, to things we said and did together in secret in the small Florida town where we lived, and it would turn me on but it would also make me cry. I still cry when I look at her picture, unable to bear having lost what we found together.

For the first time in my life, I went weeks and months without orgasm. I just couldn't find a place where my mind could land.

I want to conclude this post neatly, with a well-packaged resolution, but the truth is, I don't have it.

There are things I've found. Over recent years, I have nursed a foot and shoe fetish. That is lovely for me. It turns me on, and it's also (at least the way I do it) playful and sweet and fun. It has been a refuge when I feel caught between violence and unresolved feelings. So sometimes I can turn to that. I can summon the memory of the taste of shoe leather, of the feeling of my stomach on the floor, of the moans of the woman above me.

I have also healed a bit from the feelings I have about my first girlfriend. But when I think about women, I find that my emotions affect my masturbation more. If I don't feel good about something in real life, my thoughts drift to my relationship situation rather than the orgasm I'm trying to have.

I have toyed with masturbation that isn't about coming. I obtained a couple of vibrators that definitely won't make me come, and it's fun sometimes to play with them with that expectation removed.

But this is all a work in progress. A while back, I changed my bio to say, "Annabeth Leong is frequently confused about her sexuality, but enjoys looking for answers." That's one of the truest things I know to say about myself.