Monday, February 29, 2016


By Lisabet Sarai

She should throw them away. After all, she’s married now, and a mother twice over. It’s crazy —unhealthy, even—to hold on to those tattered remnants of her past. If Ben ever found them, she knows he’d be deeply hurt.

Not that there are secrets between them, not really. She’s told Ben about her all-too-brief exploration of her submissive nature, at least in general terms. He doesn’t want to know more. The notion that she ever enjoyed being beaten or bound or “forced” into lewd actions makes him terribly uncomfortable. To be faced with evidence of her joyful depravity would not only disgust him, but also make him feel inadequate. Even after a dozen years together, her husband worries that he’s too vanilla to satisfy her. The nugget of truth in that worry is her private shame.

So she hides the letters between the pages of the New Testament her born-again mother gave her as a gift so many years before. Atheist that he is, Ben won’t touch that volume. She tells herself she’s protecting him from pain. The irony of this strategy isn’t lost on her. She remembers her mother’s shrill voice, naming her as “spawn of the Devil” because of her sexual adventures—the ones Mom somehow found out about, that didn’t include any kink.

Those well-worn epistles wait for her, stashed among St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the Romans. She might not take them out for weeks, but she’s always aware of their existence, a sweet temptation calling to her from the bookshelf. Just a quick look. What harm could it do?

She works from home, transcribing medical records for an insurance company. It’s deadly dull, but pays pretty well. She can make her own schedule, and be there when the boys return from school. Mornings, though, after the kids are on the bus and Ben has left for the office—those are the hardest times. She strikes bargains with her conscience. Three more cases, then she’ll take ten minutes. Reread one letter, or at most two.

An hour later she finds herself on the floor, surrounded by dog-eared envelopes and sheets of paper dense with his firm script, her eyes and her sex both moist.

At this point, she doesn’t really read the letters so much as caress them. She knows every word by heart. Still, some of them leap from the page, echoing in that rich, dark voice he employed with such skill.





He’d used these letters to seduce her, months before they’d even touched. Somehow he knew—he always knew—what she craved. After he’d dropped out of grad school and moved across the country, she’d been the first to write, a chatty, chummy letter with only the barest hint of flirtation. How had they progressed to discussing spanking, hot wax and nipple clamps? Had she been seeking that all along?

After their first incandescent encounters, the correspondence had continued, bridging the miles between them, more thrilling and raw than ever.

It never occurred to me that you’d refuse anything I asked.

The letters rekindle that wondrous, terrifying yearning. Once again she’s the innocent, eager creature he’d somehow recognized, pliant and brave, hungry to taste his power. He’d shaped her sexual self like some sculptor of the flesh. Malleable, he’d called her. Back then, his mocking superiority annoyed her slightly. Now it makes her proud. She misses that woman, wonders if any trace of her still exists.

After all these years, she doesn’t really remember the physical pleasure, but she can summon the breathless excitement of surrender simply by opening an envelope, without reading a single line. She’s never been more alive than when she lay beneath him or knelt before him, ready to accept whatever he felt inclined to bestow. That was reality, sparking into existence once again as she scans the pages. It’s her current existence, full of mundane domestic joys and ordinary comforts, that feels like a dream.

He’s married as well at this point, to a kinky girl a dozen years younger whom he met at a munch. They exchange vanilla birthday and Christmas cards, two old friends with a secret history. She’s glad he’s not her husband. He’s critical and difficult, a perfectionist. She’s not sure she could give him what he needs now. But she did, back then. She never doubts that.

With a sigh, she slips the brittle pages back into their envelopes. A few are torn already. How many years will it be before they finally crumble to dust? Will she still be re-reading his words, re-living their past connection, when she’s a grandmother? It’s possible. She’s not ready to relinquish the letters yet, though her lack of total honesty gnaws at her. They are all that remains of the gloriously liberated, utterly devoted slave she once was.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Phantom Careers

by Jean Roberta

I was going to brag that I’m good at organizing the stuff in my house and my office, but when I looked for the drawings I made in ink and coloured pencil in the 1960s and 70s, I couldn’t find them, and couldn’t remember where I put them. I know I stashed them in a safe place the last time I organized everything in the house, and filled eight garbage bags with junk to be given away/recycled. Unfortunately, I didn’t make a list (like a card catalogue) for myself, as I did several years ago when I organized all the paper in the house (articles, clippings, pamphlets, newsletters, minutes of organizations).

I may have the instincts of a librarian or museum curator, but my systems eventually slide back into chaos.

About those drawings: I was hoping I could scan one and post it here. It would have to be one of the simpler ones, because many of them are full of curved, branching lines that don’t reproduce well. As a teenager, I was influenced by the Art Nouveau Revival style of so much visual art in the 1960s. (Think of posters for Grateful Dead concerts, covers of albums by almost any rock band of the period, magazines of the counterculture.)

For awhile, I thought seriously about enrolling in art school and producing “real” art that could be sold. When I met my friend Joan in university in the 1970s, she encouraged my ambition. (She was double-majoring in English and visual art.) When I complained that I had trouble making realistic sketches like hers, because I usually got the proportions wrong, she assured me that practice would help me with that. She encouraged me to focus on what was in front of me (not necessarily what I expected to see) and transferring it to paper.

Why did I stop? Well, I didn’t major in art because English seemed more practical, and literature fascinated me just as much. I gave up hope of becoming a “real” artist, but I’ve always produced doodles or cartoons in printed material (the recipe book I put together as a fundraising project when I was an elected “block rep” in a co-op for low-income single parents in the 1980s) and on blackboards in classrooms to illustrate metaphors and grammatical concepts.

I still remember my frustration when I would show my latest piece to some older person (parent, teacher) or even another Flaming Youth who responded by asking whether I was on drugs when I made that. I could honestly say I was sober as a judge. Apparently it didn’t occur to the philistines in my life that anyone could copy a hallucinogenic style which might, at some point, have been fuelled by someone else’s acid trip.

I’ve never designed my own book covers because that process now involves computers, and I haven’t had time to learn those new skills. I could take a jump at it after July 1, when my sabbatical begins.

Another career I once fantasized about was that of clothing designer. As a teenager, I spent much time crawling about my bedroom floor on my hands and knees, cutting pattern pieces out of a few yards of fabric so I could sew them together on the vintage sewing machine (circa 1916) that my grandmother gave me. Making my own clothes was my passion in those days, and whatever my machine couldn’t do (anything other than a straight seam), I did by hand.

Like my phantom art career, my dressmaking career eventually faded into the mist. Making clothes not only takes up time, it takes up space. Any home seamstress (or seamster?) who can’t afford to spread fabric out on the dining-room table must spread it out on a floor where it won’t be stepped on. Anyone who wants to sew on a regular basis really needs a sewing room.

In the 1990s, opportunity showed up in the form of a real designer whom I probably wouldn’t have met if AIDS had not ripped a big hole in the gay male/creative community of North America. He was a local gay boy who went to Hollywood and became a successful designer of costumes for movies and rock star weddings, but then, on a trip home to Canada, he was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS and was not allowed to re-enter the U.S. For months, he was prepared to die, but he responded well to the drugs provided by the Canadian health-care system, and started to venture out of his mother’s house. I met him as a fellow-performer in skits put on by the local AIDS-awareness organization (more about this later).

This designer, “Robert Dean,” told the rest of us performers that he was planning to re-start his career as a custom clothing designer, and he needed an assistant who knew how to sew. He said he couldn’t offer a salary at first, but he would provide mentorship and a chance to share in his future.

I was living partly on welfare at the time. What would I have to lose? But then I had a chance to teach first-year English in the university, and I made what seemed like the more sensible choice. I haven’t regretted it, but occasionally I wonder, “What if?”

(“Robert Dean” has indeed become a local success. Largely due to his efforts, this town now has Fashion Week every spring, and his latest designs can be seen in the display window of his downtown shop. And he himself looks fabulous, dahling, wherever he goes.)

My sewing mostly takes the form of alterations, which can be done in front of the TV. From time to time, I buy an item of clothing that attracts me beyond reason, despite its less-likable features, and I reconstruct it to fit me and my current taste.

I’ve also had phantom careers as an actor/performer. Whenever I’ve acted in an amateur play (such as the ones that were produced every year by the English Students Association at the university, and then by the AIDS organization), I’ve dreamed about treading the boards more often. Even when I was much younger, I was aware of the siren call of show biz, and of the wrecked lives of most people who fool themselves into thinking they have a shot at stardom.

However, I still cherish a secret fantasy of putting on my own one-woman show in a fringe festival somewhere, some time. I might attract interest if I’m the oldest performer there, a kind of living artifact. I could collaborate with my spouse, who has had an even more interesting life than mine (at least in terms of her involvement in big historical events), but she wants her own show. :)

I can’t honestly say I ever had a phantom career as a lead singer or operatic diva. I recognized my limitations as a singer even when I was young and full of dreams, but I loved to sing, and looked for opportunities to sing with other people, so the whole world wouldn’t know when I hit a wrong note. My desire to sing in my early teens even propelled me into the junior choir of the local Episcopal (Anglican) Church, despite my lack of faith. (I was too honest to fake it, and that led to my departure.)

As an adult, I loved singing alto in the local queer choir, which unfortunately shrank to five people and then disbanded after our most talented director left us to do other things. (In the meanwhile, though, the suite of songs our director composed for us were recorded on a CD by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, so I can say my voice has been recorded.)

Now that karaoke has spread across the world, I can usually be persuaded to impersonate some real recording artist, usually in the local queer bar. The people I know are too polite to throw tomatoes at me.

I have an open mind about reincarnation, and I really hope I get a chance to live again after my time in this body is over. I can see now that I need at least one more lifetime to complete my bucket list.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Things I'm Not Good At That I Love

By Annabeth Leong

I've never been good at physical activities in general, but I really enjoy them. They're a big part of my life. This threw me off for a long time.

The narrative of tomboys that I was familiar with when I was growing up was about a girl who was "good enough" to "play with the boys." There wasn't a lot of space for a girl who wanted to spend recess running around, but didn't run particularly fast. I learned to throw a football so it spiraled, but throwing that football far? Or where I wanted it to go? Not so much.

So with our topic being "other skills," I questioned myself for a while. I wanted to write about rock climbing, but I'm not very good at it...

On the other hand, it's the activity besides writing that I'm most devoted to. I go to the climbing gym about three times a week. I'm belay certified. I organized and captained a team for the gym's first climbing league (and, while we did not place well overall, we did win the spirit award!). I've read books about climbing techniques and ways of protecting your body and training antagonist muscles to stave off elbow problems. I have taught several people the basics of climbing (and sometimes watched them surpass me over the following months).

So I think this counts as a skill. I know how to tie the knots. I know all sorts of things about what muscles a person engages while climbing, how to train them, and ways to avoid injury. I know how to read a route—I can often see the moves necessary even when I can't make them myself. I've climbed both inside and outside, and I've practiced bouldering in both settings, as well.

I am always looking for things that will give me relief from the constant flow of words and thoughts in my brain. That's the only real path to relaxation for me. There's nothing like hanging by your fingers from a couple of tiny rocks to get that done... And that's a big part of the motivation to learn this skill. I also enjoy the puzzle elements, the feeling of strength, and the chance to face and overcome fears.

Other than just telling you that this is another skill I've developed and like to spend time practicing, I can also tell you that it's been a source of realizations for me about my character, sometimes in ways that apply to my writing. I think that's common for "other skills."

In my case, I've noticed that I chronically underachieve. I have the strength and knowledge to climb much harder than I do, but I don't have the boldness. Rock climbing moves can be called "static" or "dynamic." For a static move, you get yourself into position and reach for the next hold. If you don't find it, you're still fine and anchored where you were before. For a dynamic move, you go for the next hold in a way that gives up the previous holds. If you miss a dynamic move, you're going to fall off the wall. This isn't really a big deal—because of safety gear, you're unlikely to get hurt—but it still feels scary.

Early on, one of my teachers commented on my incredible strength in the context of a bad habit. I have a way of going for dynamic moves without committing to them, catching and holding myself in awkward midair positions that take, he pointed out, way more muscle and skill than just going all in for the next hold. I've worked hard to break that habit, but it's still a real problem for me. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten to the almost-top of a bouldering route and just... not taken the last move. I've heard people groan in disappointment when I jumped off without even taking a shot.

And I can't help but feel that this says something about my approach to life. As a writer, it's hard for me to try for things that I don't think I'm going to get. I'm incredibly risk-averse.

I hope that, if I can overcome this habit as a rock climber, the boldness I learn will transfer beyond that to other parts of my life.

In the meantime, you can find me clinging to walls around New England, probably not climbing as hard as I should, but still showing up regularly to climb.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Flipping Coins and Burgers

By Daddy X

It’s not like I planned life to turn out this way. Jobs were simply a factor of desperation to get by, stumbling from gig to gig.

Believe me, most people wouldn’t choose to drive a paint truck for a living. Or work in a steel mill. But where I grew up, a kid out of high school had few choices. I’d tried higher education, which I have already elaborated on in these pages. The pool halls of South Philly were more engaging than business school. Overcut in every class within a month. I wasn’t the best model for an accountant.

So, my early jobs weren’t of the highest caliber, but I’d learned a few things along the way.

I drove the paint truck for two years in New Jersey, working for a national company (you’d know the name). The manager actually owned the building, registered to a holding company. The parent company didn’t know that. So the manager wrote himself a check for rent every month. 

Kaching! Money can be made on the side when an opportunity presents itself.

I applied to the mill because they paid better. Two-fifty an hour. And they were union. United Steelworkers. That’s where I learned I didn’t want to work in a steel mill the rest of my life. Even at twenty years old, one could see what happened to men who’d been there a while. Thirty-five, pot-bellied, permanently bent from crouching, banding bundles of rebar eight hours a day. Drunk at work and off. Chance of crushing, burning, whipped with hot steel bars. Impalings were a danger in my department.

Down in the basements and sub-basements of the mill, some three and four levels down.  From controlled  “Clean rooms” to vast areas buried with accumulated steel scale, water rushing through flumes to flush the filth away. Rats the size of rabbits. Emphysema. Cancer. Grease pits chest deep need to be periodically cleaned out.

Nowhere to go except …wow… crane operator. Maybe some day…

When Momma and I moved to California, I took a job repairing small appliances. I was fast. I’d finish all my work by noon, then spend the rest of the day in the bar next door. Or the one down the block. Over a number of years I worked for several employers, learning what goes on behind the scenes in downtown San Francisco. Momma X was quite ill at the time, so we didn’t have much coming in. One income at that job level was just enough for us to squeak by.

I hustled where I could. Mostly made the best of the situation. Sold weed so we didn’t have to pay for it. As long as there was a dependable check coming in, we learned to adjust our lifestyle to suit.

At one point, we needed side income and decided to start a catering business. The Visiting Chef. I was, and still am a pretty good cook. Had business cards printed up. Did a few jobs, met a guy who had just opened a restaurant in Mendocino. We moved to the wilds of the coast for a few years, coming back to the city for money-making trips every now and then.

 “There’s cash in that city. Gonna go get me some…”

In time, somebody offered a better job in San Francisco, working in two restaurants for a noted entrepreneur. As chef (and sometimes bartender) in North Beach, my food earned over a dozen favorable reviews in four years. The only less-than-positive comment was that my chicken curry wasn’t up to Gaylord’s, back in the 70’s, the best Indian restaurant in town. At three times our price.


Around this time, Momma’s health situation finally stabilized, such as it is. There were hills and valleys, which still occupy a special place in our respective psyches. Bottom line was that she could now work, and that we’d have two incomes. We began doing better. Her job at the publishing house was reliable, and I could go out and do what I do best.


I moved from the kitchen to a bar at a bowling alley in a dubious neighborhood. Learned a lot there, too.

Became interested in Ancient Greek and Roman coins along the way. Began collecting affordable examples, learning as I made modest purchases. At coin shows, I hung around the ancients dealers. After a while, those U.S. Silver Dollars from the 1800’s all look the same.

From coins, I learned about ancient art. Coins are among the most affordable examples of ancient sculpture. They represent an identifiable, state-of-the-art advertisement that spread from a country or city-state out into the world. It said: “Look at us. This is the quality of our art. We are a sophisticated lot.”  Much like our postage stamps in modern times.

Once you get into the coins, you’ll start meeting people who have ancient objects. Terracotta oil lamps. Bronze fibulas, once used for holding a toga together. Fibulas work like the basic safety pin. Inexpensive stuff, considering they’re 2000 years old. I could sell you a lamp today for $75. I used to buy them by the dozen. Of course, a well-preserved erotic themed lamp could cost thousands. (Read “Light My Fire” in “Brand X”, my new collection coming out through Excessica in April, edited by our own Lisabet Sarai. Cover by blogmate Willsin Rowe.)

With experience, I became more confident about my judgment, making fewer and fewer mistakes. Buying bigger and better antiquities and tribal art from all over the world.


Was asked to serve on the vetting committee at San Francisco’s Fall Antique Show, one of the city’s more prestigious society events. Asked to speak at the Commonwealth Club. The American Association of University Women. The Rotary Club. At local grade schools for show-and-tell. I taught adult education workshops.

I had made it. I felt like an expert.

Though I also felt like a fraud. I was rubbing elbows with and commanding respect from the real experts. I’ve often wondered if they were all faking it too.

Now, if this sounds like a smooth transition from poverty to something like success, it wasn’t. I finally realize how lucky I am that it worked out so well. Through much of my life, though I could flirt with the upper echelons of a particular field, I never reached the stratosphere. Not in the restaurant business. Not in the antiques business. Not in any of my other hustles. (There is one I’m still involved with…ahem…@ mid level… but won’t mention for propriety.)

I was privileged to be a part of both scenes. I got to know the big players and walk the same turf. I got to experience both careers on a fairly high level. That’s success—if not in the monetary sense—certainly on the self-fulfillment scale. Like a George Plimpton. Or a Baron von Munchausen who really did what they said he did. The Great Pretenders.

Why is it that we have to struggle so much to make a go of life? It took cancer, near death and a liver transplant for me to see the world in proper perspective. I look at things a bit differently now. There were times I lamented my number of shit jobs, my mediocre successes. Why I could never knock it out of the park. 

Of course, that could have required doing just one thing my entire life.

I understand now that it has translated to being proficient in more things than the average bear. That I have lived a rich and varied life. Maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Would I recommend such a path for everyone?

Not quite.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Not an Artist, Suz deMello

Creativity can take many forms.

I majored in art while in college. I had desire, but, alas, not much talent. What abilities I had I didn't know how to cultivate or, to put it more crudely with a 21st century term, monetize. I created experimental works which were considered "conceptual art" at the time, but then, filming events I created was expensive and so, with my budget, all but impossible, So some of my most interesting works have disappeared--they were sculptures with a finite existence in time, just as most sculptures have a finite existence in space.

But a few drawings are still around:

The middle one is actually my fave.

I also refinish furniture, but I tend to give that sort of thing away and haven't kept pix :(. I gave my niece an old black trunk I painted with zebra stripes. I gave my boyfriend an small chest of drawers I'd painted white and also had replaced the old drawer pulls with old-fashioned glass ones. I painted a desk red with zebra striped top and drawers with a matching chair, and gave that to a friend who was hosting a young relative--the kid needed a place for schoolwork.

So, yes, I do have other skills but don't exercise them enough. But now that winter is giving way to warmer weather, perhaps I'll refinish a chair or two.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Necessity Is the Mother of All Skills

Sacchi Green

Skills? What skills? I’ve been going around muttering to myself, wondering what skills I can claim. Arts and crafts fascinate me, but I’m not coordinated enough to be skilled at any of them. Although, well, many years ago I joined and helped to run The People’s Craft Co-op in Amherst, and made candles in my basement to sell. It didn’t take much dexterity beyond not spilling too much hot wax—at least not too often—and through trial and error I developed some pretty good designs: chunky cubes with moon and star shapes imbedded in them, revealed by melting the surface with a propane torch; cylinders and cones and bowl shapes with multicolored streaks made by letting little bits of concentrated color melt and run down inside the molds; mushroom shapes with the tops made interesting in an earthy-crunchy way by being molded in damp sand which was then partially torched off. And I made macramé holders for the bowl shapes, and eventually made macramé jewelry with fine nylon string I dyed myself. Good times! I’d almost forgotten all that, even though I still have about 150 pounds of high quality wax down in my basement.

But that was another time, another world. I doubt that I’ll ever do any of that again.

So what can I claim as a skill now? Hmm. Mutter…mutter…and as I’m muttering, I’m filling square plastic containers, the ones grocery store mushrooms come in, with fine potting soil, wetting it, carefully spacing tiny seeds on top of the soil, spraying them to make sure the tops are damp, covering them with plastic wrap, and setting them on an electrified heating mat made for that purpose (a decided improvement on my old method of grouping them between jugs of hot water that needed periodic replenishment, but it did work pretty well for many years.)

Then I look up—and see the light! Not just the light from the sets of four-foot fluorescent bulbs above each of the three shelves installed at the end of my kitchen, where the seedlings go to grow after they’ve germinated, and keep on growing in trays of individual pots until the weather is warm enough to set them outside. Not just those lights, but The Light! A skill, of sorts! My passion for growing flower and vegetable plants isn’t really a skill, just dumb perseverance, with setbacks and frustrations, but it’s something, and the best part is that I have pictures to illustrate the results! I can go graphic! Here are some views of a seedling shelf and the decks and yard and porch my flowers inhabit. Many of them also go to the decks and porches of a friend and of my sister-in law, and for years I've supplied most of the flowers for several family cemeteries, even more meaningful in the last three years, now that it's the only way I can take my flowers to my mother.

I do seem to have concentrated on the flowers, and neglected to immortalize the vegetables.  I guarantee that besides the petunias and impatiens and coleus and browallia and lobelia and dahlias and cosmos and marigolds and tithonia I grow from seed, I raise eggplants, and so many tomato plants I have to scrabble to find homes for the extras. And I plant beans and snap peas and squash outside when the time is right. Some inner instinct tries to tell me that raising vegetables is a survival skill, even though I know that we couldn’t live long at all with just the food I raise. The only things I preserve for the winter are frozen ratatouille and stewed tomatoes, and frozen blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries (mostly in jam form) from my bushes. Sometimes, though, I ponder whether we could live on wild turkey jerky or turkey pemmican if technology collapsed and we really had to scrounge for food. (This flock are half-grown youngsters, but they do grow to an impressive size.)

Don’t worry. The turkeys are safe for now. Although, if they keep eating all the blackberries on the lower branches as they did last summer, all bets are off. Plucking and cleaning turkeys is not a skill I currently possess, but I’m not too old to learn. Necessity is the mother of all skills.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Many Strings

I had to debate a little with myself about how to approach this topic. I have a few skills outside of writing, and wasn't sure which one to highlight. There's an obvious choice, which is cover art... but anecdotal evidence suggests I'm known far more AS a cover artist than as a writer, which could arguably suggest writing is one of my "other skills".

So instead, I thought I'd do a little "grab bag". The various other fields in which I flex my creative muscles.

Photo-realistic sketching
While I've not done this for many years, and was essentially untrained (beyond basic high-school art classes), I gained quite a bit of praise for my ability to draw lifelike images from a visual source. Drawing from within my head? Nope. But show me a pic and ask me to draw it and the results tended to be pretty passable. This here is a pic I drew in 1986, of my favorite band, Big Country.

At a reasonably early age I showed a smidgeon of ability on the old electric organ we had in the house. I started out using the light-up method that came built in to the organ, but started experimenting and semi-writing tunes from around the age of 10. Nothing truly came of that, but I started teaching myself guitar at the age of 16, and then began classical guitar lessons at age 17. But it was only when I started playing bass guitar in 1988 that I truly felt I'd come home, and though I've taken breaks in the meantime, and have picked up a couple of other instruments along the way, bass is still the instrument I consider "mine".

Here's a little music video of my band, The Medicine Show, from when we supported Wolfmother back in 2010.

Video Clips / Book Trailers
That previous topic segues beautifully into this one. The video of my band there... I made that! In fact, we have seven music videos, all of which I've made. The first one was back in 2008, and is rather rough-and-ready. I believe the final products have become more polished along the way... in part because I've switched to using stock footage rather than video of our roughed-up heads!

And I've also worked in a field which nicely incorporates pretty much all my skills: book trailers. At first I made simple quickie ones for myself, using supremely basic software and primitive animation. After a short time I bought myself an iMac for cover art, and with it was a piece of software called iMovie, which was far more powerful and flexible than what I'd been limited to.

When I made book trailers, I did the lot in almost every case. The author would supply me some information and I'd write the script for the trailer, source imagery, create frame-by-frame animations in Photoshop, and write and arrange the music. On rare occasions I'd even provide a voice-over, as I did on this trailer. I still feel it's conceptually the strongest trailer I made.

All my other book trailers (including those for now-unpublished books!) can be viewed here, if interested.

Side note... I also made a very silly trailer for Virginia Wade's "Cum For Bigfoot" series. Youtube took the trailer down, which is why it's not there in my body of work, but Virginia herself uploaded it. It really is very silly, and not safe for work. Also, the voice-over recording is quite basic. Illustrations were done by...wait for it... Virginia's mother!

Oh, and I'm a reasonably good maker of cryptic crossword puzzles. Y'know, it's just one more thing...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

As Long as the Topic isn't "Other Talents"

by Giselle Renarde

My grandmother is terribly proud of the new kitchen light my uncle installed for her. "He's such a perfectionist," she told me. "But he takes his time. He enjoys the work."

"He could make some extra money as a handyman now that he's retired," my mother said.

"No, no. He'd never do that. If this was a real job with pay and clients, then it would feel like work and he wouldn't want to do it anymore."

Same thing with me and graphic design.

I've mentioned before that cover art was, in my mind, a barrier to entry to the world of self-publishing. I knew I couldn't afford to commission quality cover art, but I also didn't know how to create it myself.

That was a big hurdle, but the less I earned in royalties from small presses, the more I realized I needed to make a change--and self-publishing was the best change for me.

I'm a self-taught cover designer. It's a skill I've acquired by trial and error. I won't say it's a "talent" necessarily, because I know some spectacular graphic designers and my covers really don't stack up.

From time to time, I do commission covers from people I consider "real" graphic designers, but the truth is that I've grown to love playing with my design program. Even after four years using it, I learn something new with every cover I create.

I was an artist, as a kid. Teachers told me I'd grow up to be a writer but I never believed them. I only wrote stories so I could draw pictures to go along with them. Maybe cover art is my adult version of book illustrations.

But there's a reason I don't offer up my skills for cash. There's a reason I gave premade covers away for free in December. And it's the same reason my uncle will only do handiwork around my grandmother's house and his own: once you're working for pay, working for clients, it's a job rather than a pleasure.

I want to retain graphic design as my pleasure. I want to keep learning and keep enjoying.

And I'll tell you one thing: when my lesbian novel The Other Side of Ruth came out in the fall, readers (and writers) came out of the woodwork to tell me how much they loved the cover--a cover I'd designed myself. It made me almost as proud of the cover art as I was of the book itself.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

In Other Words

This last year was a difficult year for me as far as writing.  Things happened that caused my mojo to collapse altogether so there was a while here I had to drop out for a few weeks.  I couldn’t write.  Couldn’t think of anything, and when I could I couldn’t follow through.  As a writer, things had simply crunched to a halt.

Life went on like this for quite awhile and then it began to come back.  But its changed.  I haven’t written anything actually erotic for quite a while, and though I miss that writing form I’m still active as a writer.  As a language artist I’ve changed my sound but become more public. I’ve begun writing plays and found an outlet in the local theater where they’ve become, little by little, in demand. I’ve also begun giving sermons at the Unitarian church where I’m active.  So I’ve done what I’ve so often done - I’ve reinvented myself.

Last year the play was “Fidelis”, which I posted here, about a married couple in trouble.  The husband has prostate cancer.  This year I offered two plays and both were accepted.  One - “Petrichor” - in its very first incarnation appeared here as a post on the week when the theme was “Sex and Food” as the story “Miss Mercy”.  The other play was based on an unpublished short story of my vampire girl Nixie, originally titled “The Dying Light”, and in its theater version “From Your Lips to God’s Ear”.

I would never have seen myself as writing short plays or giving sermons, I always saw myself only as a short story writer, specializing in erotic stories.  Then circumstances take a twist and everything changes.  Life is so unpredictable I wonder how anybody can make a living with ceative work since the whole business seems so fragile to me now.  You can lose the magic in an instant and you don't know if you'll get it back.  I think to be a pro you have to treat it like a pro.  Be out there everyday at the keyboard, don't just wait for inspiration to find you.  You have to make it your job as much as your art.  For dabblers like me, other things are allowed to get in the way so easily that the thread of an idea or a story slips away from us.   We haven’t made it into a proper job which I think to some extent it has to be.

There was a time, when I was kid, I had hoped, maybe naively, I could earn a living as a writer.  Circumstances took me into another direction towards other dreams.  I think to earn a living as a writer would have been a hard and unpredictable and insecure thing.  A person would have to be willing to live with uncertainty and also find a way to keep that fountain flowing.  The most popular writers, like Stephen King or J K Rowling, are maybe most amazing not just for their writing, but for their ability to have a life outside of writing and yet still find the ability to keep the lightning moving along for them and still be consistent.  I suppose having a lot of money in the bank helps, but that would also be a temptation to laziness.  What makes them special is their ability to be so successful and yet resist laziness.

Even though I’m a frog in a very small pond here, it was a great thrill to see players on the stage, under the lights, in front of an audience, speaking the words I gave them, and even more to hear the rising applause of the crowd afterwards.  Writing prose is a joy when the magic is working, and even more if someone buys what you have and puts it in a book you can hold in your hands or see on a screen with your byline.  But in my case short stories have always been these rocks you toss into a lake.  They fly, they go out like little prayers, they fall and there is no answer.  You never know if anyone reads them.  Plays are instant gratification, you see your creature rise from the lab table smoking of the lightning storm that just passed, or lie inert and dead in the presence of your fellow man in real time.

Sermons are like that too.  There’s a little more pressure because you’re speaking in front of people you know.  You know these people as though they were an extension of your family and yet it still scares you to talk in front of them.  You wonder if you sound pompous.  You know you’re expected to speak with some spiritual authority as a given, and to give a sermon not a lecture, but its so easy to sound full of yourself up there.  You wonder what people will really say about you after you go home.

Of course the hardest thing for a shy person speaking to a congregation of any kind is stage fright.  I had coffee with the actress who played Fiona in ”Fidelis” and asked her if she gets stage fright.  Oh yes, every time, she said.  What do you do about it?  She said you don’t resist the energy of fear, you step into it.  You ride the lightning and make it work for you.  I’ve found this is true for sermons, maybe life in general.  You don’t resist fear, step into it.  Use that energy like a resource to push you forward.  I think writing is like that too.  When you’re close to the bone,you feel it.  But that bone, that little bit of your own blood is what you want to give your monster life.  This is when writing crosses over into meditation because you’re calling on a different part of yourself which is usually out of your reach unless you set up this way of going to look for it.

There is this flow to life as we get older, which I don’t know how to write about yet.  Where the magic doesn’t come cheaply anymore and you have to reach into different corners of your damage to find it, corners you never knew were there.  Then writing becomes a spiritual path.  A kind of zen.  My zen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Other Skills?

The theme of this fortnight is "other skills" and, well, I have to admit I'm kind of reaching here.  I guess I have some skills, like your standard skills, because I'm good at my day-job, I'm a good listener, I'm a decent cook, I generally rock at Dr. Mario and Yoshi's Story on the original Nintendo, but... like... do I really have skills so good they're worth dedicating a whole blog post about?  I dunno.

It's not that I'm being defeatist or self-deprecating.  I think it's me recognizing where my strengths lie.  And, I believe, my main strength is in writing.  I don't just write erotica under the name Cameron D. James -- I actually have multiple pen names and I write more than one genre.

Last year, I wrote almost 370,000 words.  That's about the equivalent of four full-length novels.  And I really wasn't taking writing too seriously until the late summer.  (Until the summer, I had only my one pen name, this one, and in the summer I expanded to two, and later in the year I picked up a couple more.)  So, most of those 370,000 happened in the latter half of 2015.

Am I perfect?  No, of course not.  Like any writer, I look back at some of my older stuff and I cringe. Sometimes with something I'm working on right now, I just can't get the story right, I can't get it to have the right tone or the right feel or whatever.  But it's a skill, it's not a gift.  If it were a gift, it would be effortless and it would be perfect.  Skills need to be honed and improved, they need to be exercised and expressed.  Writing is a skill of mine -- I'm constantly striving to do better and I'm continually working on doing more and more of it.

So, do I have other skills?  Not any worth really sharing here, but since that is the topic for this fortnight... Let's say another skills is an ability to learn.  I love taking on a new challenge and trying to figure it out and then get better at it.  Really, the ability to learn helps me hone other skills, like my writing.

I was able to go from completely clueless about self-publishing a few years ago to being a sort-of expert at it.  I've had a couple other authors turn to me for help when faced with a self-publishing challenge -- and it was always something that just took a few moments of my time.  My ability to learn allows me to try new adventures.  I'm currently learning the violin.  It's not going well. However, I'm willing to learn, to be patient, to ride out the scratchy weeks until I can get a solid note. I know a lot of adult learners of music give up pretty quickly because we put such pressure on ourselves as adults to learn something right away.  Learning is a process, it's not instantaneous.

Anyway, yeah, I guess writing is my main skill.  None of the others are really worth writing home about.  Unless you're a fan of Dr. Mario.  I kick ass at Dr. Mario.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Seduced by My Best Friend’s Dad (co-written with Sandra Claire). He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit

Monday, February 15, 2016

Pantry Pantser

By Lisabet Sarai

The topic calendar tells me that the next two weeks here at the Grip will be devoted to discussing “Other Skills”. This wasn’t my topic suggestion, but I assume that given we’re all authors, this means “skills other than writing”

We actually had a similar topic back in 2009 (yes, I’ve been posting here at the Grip that long...!). I wrote about my talent for throwing parties. The skill I want to talk about today is a bit more prosaic, namely, my ability to cook.

My mom let me help her cook from the time I was about six. My skills were honed when she was incapacitated for a month by severe pneumonia, a few years later. As the eldest child, I took on the responsibility of putting meals (albeit simple) on the table. I continued cooking, for myself and friends, through high school, college and grad school. Paradoxically, I used to concoct Chinese or Italian dinners even when I was still battling anorexia. I guess I got some sort of vicarious satisfaction out of feeding others.

When I met my DH, I learned that he also enjoyed cooking. His library of cookbooks was larger than mine. I recall the first time he made breakfast for me (after the first full night we spent together): scrambled eggs with tofu and smoked cheddar. Yum!

We pruned our cookbook collection when we moved to Asia. Nevertheless, it still fills a long shelf in our kitchen. I have to admit, though, that I rarely follow a recipe. I’ll skim some of our volumes for ideas, but then I tend to wing it. Even when I’m more or less adhering to someone else’s directions, I’ll almost always make some substitutions or throw in some unusual ingredient.

(Does this sound at all like my writing?)

I call myself an “improvisational cook”. Though I try to keep some fundamental supplies on hand (fresh veggies, lots of garlic, sharp cheddar, almonds, raisins, olives, capers, pasta) and a well-stocked spice rack, I mostly decide what to cook based on what I have in my refrigerator. These days I live a ten minute walk from a 24 hour supermarket, but even when I lived in a rural area and could only shop for groceries once a week, I didn’t do meal plans. Instead, I’d buy a bunch of raw materials, knowing I’d figure out what to do with them later.

Despite my lack of—discipline? Formality? Respect for tradition?— almost everything I cook turns out well. Honestly, I think there must be a cooking gene. My mom was a wonderful cook, as was her mother. Meanwhile, I know people who diligently follow the instructions, who measure everything twice, who would never dare alter the ingredients in a dish, whose results just don’t taste all that good.

There are exceptions, of course. Occasionally my creative disregard for recipes backfires. A few months ago I made Mexican Chile Colorado for a dinner party. Since I couldn’t get the dried Ancho chillies called for by my cookbook, I substituted dried Asian chillies. Bad idea! Even my DH, who can tolerate spicier food than anyone I know, found the results difficult to eat! (The next day, though, with some of the sauce washed off, the meat was delicious.)

At one point, before I’d published any fiction, I contemplated publishing a cookbook called The Improvisational Cook. It was to be part cookbook, part manifesto. Recipe-oppressed women of the world, unite!

That project never got off the ground, but I do have a cookbook I created a few years ago as a holiday gift to readers. Recipes from an International Kitchen was my attempt to actually write down directions for creating some of my favorite (invented) dishes, most of which have some sort of international flavor: Provencal Smoked Salmon Pasta, Bangalore Cauliflower Curry, Heidelburg Hamburg Stroganoff, and so on. I augmented the recipes with photos from my travels. Click the link above to download a copy in PDF.

Given my love of concocting scrumptious food, it may not be surprising that some of my characters also show cooking competence. In particular, I like to give my heroes some cooking ability. Here’s a bit from my recent release The Gazillionaire and the Virgin in which Theo is throwing together a quick dinner—very much the way I would:

When I wake up, it’s dark and I’m starving. The mattress rocks as I stand up, but Rachel doesn’t budge. Her succulent breasts rise and fall with her even breathing. I notice the marks from my belt are already fading. I don’t know whether I’m relieved or disappointed.

I pull on a tee shirt and a pair of gym shorts and head for the kitchen. I know I’ve got some chicken breasts in the freezer. With some couscous and a salad, they’ll make a decent supper. Probably not up to Rachel’s standards, but she’ll just have to make allowances.

The damp, rumpled quilt on the dining room table and the ropes scattered over the floor give me a slightly queasy sense of satisfaction. I can hardly believe it happened, but here’s the evidence. I—no, we—actually did it. Can’t tell Dr. Hopkins about this, of course. Although he’s pretty laid back, I suspect there may be limits to his tolerance. No, this will have to be our secret—mine and Rachel’s. My smile’s so broad my cheeks hurt as I coil up the lengths of cord and stash them in a drawer. The emergency release process shortened them, but they still might be useful in the future.

The future. I ponder the possibilities as I putter around the kitchen, putting the chicken into the microwave to thaw, whisking together olive oil, lemon juice, basil and tarragon for the marinade, tearing romaine leaves and slicing vine-ripened tomatoes. Did Rachel and I have a future? Was there any way I could fit into her high-flying, super-charged, billionaire executive life?

We connect sexually. I have no doubts about that, not anymore. Despite her position, or maybe even because of it, she has a natural desire to submit, a desire that I can apparently satisfy. And make no mistake, I’m happy to oblige—to push her to her limits, and beyond. I’ve never felt the kind of power and certainty I felt this afternoon. And that was just the beginning. There are so many things I want to do to her—with her. I’m getting hard again as a parade of X-rated images runs through my mind.

But sex is not enough. Entertaining as it might be to fantasize about a life with Rachel as my 24/7 slave, I know that’s ridiculous. We come from different worlds. We have different values. Rachel measures everything in dollars and cents.

That’s not fair. I arrange the chicken in a baking dish, dump in the marinade, sprinkle chopped garlic over the top, and leave it to sit for ten minutes. From what I’ve seen so far, she also values creativity, innovation and hard work, just like I do. She’s super-smart, energetic, funny. And brave. It took guts for her to take me to Home Depot. I’m sure she realized I might have had a total melt-down. Hey, I almost did.

She’s a lot braver than I am. Would I ever have admitted my interest in kink if she hadn’t found my stash?

Vinegar, oil and Grey Poupon make a quick, tasty salad dressing. Too early to pour it over the greens, though. I put the chicken in the oven, setting the timer for half an hour.

Now the cat’s out of the bag. And she didn’t run away screaming—quite the contrary! It’s pretty likely she’s going to want more.

So now what? She lives almost an hour away, even if there’s no traffic. She runs a billion dollar company. She’s glamorous and self-confident, with a taste for luxury. And me? I’m just a nerdy computer scientist with a touch of Asperger’s and a penchant for bondage. People scare me. Change terrifies me. There’s no way I belong in her universe.

Even if she wants you there? A startling notion. Dr. Rachel Zelinsky always gets what she wants.

The rich aroma of roasting chicken makes my mouth water and my belly clench. The water for the couscous is boiling, so I dump the yellow grains into the pot, cover it and take it off the stove. Time to set the table, then I’ll go wake my guest. I like that notion, actually. I’ve never had a guest for dinner before.

God, that’s smells incredible!”

I jump, almost dropping the glass salad bowl. “Jeez! Don’t sneak up on me like that.”

Sorry.” Rachel extracts the bowl from my grip and places it on the counter, then wraps her arms around me. She’s warm and rumpled and smells of sex. “You must have been lost in thought.” She lands a quick kiss on my lips and gives me a squeeze. “I didn’t know you could cook.”

Okay, so there’s some sex in there, too. Sorry!

I also have a novella (Her Secret Ingredient) and a novel (The Ingredients of Bliss) where the heroine is an ambitious Cordon Bleu chef. Despite Emily Wong’s traditional training, she tends to get creative with classic dishes, much to the chagrin of her French boss:

Ginger? Do I taste ginger?”

Uh—yes, that’s right, sir…”

Ginger in coq au vin? That’s practically sacrilege, Ms Wong.”

Etienne Duvalier fixed me with a look that would have withered spinach. I straightened my spine, smoothed my apron and attempted a placating smile.

It’s good, though—isn’t it? One of my signature dishes at Le Belvedere.” It had come out perfectly, the succulent meat melting off the bone at the first touch of a fork. I held out another portion, my own mouth watering at the rich, complex aroma. I wasn’t about to mention the hint of cloves to a traditionalist like Etienne.

Actually, I had great fun with these two books, especially the novel. It’s set mostly in France, and features lots of the amazing food I enjoyed on my last trip to that ultimate gastronomic paradise.

This has gone on much longer than I’d intended. Food is always a favorite topic! I like to fantasize that someday I might be able to host all the Grip contributors at a dinner party. Then you’d understand that I’m not just bragging.