Saturday, April 30, 2016

Hands On Experience

Obviously, with a subject like tools, there is the obvious “sex toys” option I could take, especially in relation to BDSM. Thing is, I don’t really write much in that style. Toys are awesome and all, but what I love most is flesh-on-flesh contact, and that’s what I tend to write.
So what other tack could I take, I wonder?
Well, as one of history’s great indoorsmen, I admit I’m a tad useless with talking about tools in the most literal sense. Sure I could snigger away with the schoolboy definition but of course as a 46-year-old man I grew out of that kind of thing hours ago.
Having said that, I’m in the early stages of branching out into other genres of writing. Genres which will require me to have a passable understanding of many tools, from screwdrivers to semi-automatic weaponry. There’s no doubt this information would also be handy if I were to write Sucked Off by the Sub-Contractor or some such smutty tale as well.
I was actually born into a tool-friendly family. My father began the journey to being a carpenter when he was only 15 years old, and he picked up a metric butt load of other skills in his time working in the building industry. Even in his 70s now, he will pretty much work with anything but plumbing and electrical—both of which he can do with more than a little aplomb but for reasons of safety chooses not to.
My problem is, by my estimation, the amount of skill which passed on to me is approximately 7%. So, while I’ve seen building-style tools in use, and have used them, I have no affinity with them. A theoretical understanding is all well and good, but human beings tend to develop a physical and verbal shorthand for anything they understand intimately. A worker and their tools can have a relationship much like two people can. And none of that comes from reading the instruction manual. Heck, I understand what a surgeon does—makes a hole in you, rummages around, patches shit up—but would you want me taking out your gall bladder?
My lack of affinity is kind of a shame, really, because any tool which can be used for building can also be theoretically used for destroying. And both of those aspects would be pretty handy for the stories I’m starting on.
More than all of those, though, I need to gain some working knowledge of firearms. I have some basics in place, like “this is the bit whut fits in yer mitt” and “that there’s the part whut makes a big loud noise”. I understand that, for example, you can’t put a .303 rifle cartridge into a .22 pistol and hope for anything good to happen. But that’s a matter of logic and mathematics. It would be too thick for the hole (which is something I’ve been tempted to write a few times in my erotic stories, fnarr, fnarr…oh, wait… I outgrew that kind of thing hours ago. Damn.)
Why this particular aspect gives me the willies (fnarr, fn– er, never mind) is because there are so many people out there who are, indeed, firearms enthusiasts, and a lot of those folks read the kind of stories I’m talking about. And I get the feeling they’re not backward about pointing out errors.
So I guess I can pick my dad’s brains about the construction/destruction tool side of things. But it might be that I need to contact my local gun club (and this being Australia, they’re actually a tad thin on the ground here) to see if I can download some info directly from someone’s head. Or even… actually fire some weapons.
If the idea of Willsin plus weapon doesn’t scare you… well, I assure you, you’ve never seen me try to screw.
I meant with a screwdriver!

God, you people are immature.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Substitute for Love

by Giselle Renarde

My latest release is an anthology of literary fetish erotica. Don't be fooled by the darkness of the cover art--it's actually full of fun and quirky fiction. (It's also absolutely FREE this week from most ebook retailers, as a thank you to readers and in celebration of my tenth anniversary as a writer. I'll provide links and stuff at the end of this post.)

I vaguely recall studying fetishes at university. If I flip through the Cultural Anthropology text on my bookshelf, I'm sure I'll find the photograph of one virile young man seated on the shoulders of another virile young man. The one man's head becomes a substitute for the other man's penis. That's what a fetish object is: a substitute for something else.

(At least, that's what I learned in school.)

Consequently, I find my book of fetish erotica full of... things.  Tools of pleasure.

Vanilla sex gets a bad rap, and you won't find any in this book (even though I happen to think vanilla can be very spicy), but it occurred to me just tonight that most vanilla is just sex without tools.  Add a tool or two (okay, or a body or two) and you've got kink.

The stories in Giselle's Best Fetish Erotica were selected from among hundreds I've written for various anthologies over the past ten years. On top of those, there are a handful of originals.

In my story Night Nurse, the tool of our couple's arousal is a kinky costume.  The wife convinces her husband to get all dolled up as a naughty nurse. The fetish wear is a tool of their arousal. They don't NEED it to get turned on together, but if something as simple as a nurse uniform can take their sex to the next level, why the hell not?

Actually, this anthology contains a disproportionate number of stories about happily married people and loving couples. You know me--I usually write a lot of adultery and deceit. There's very little of that in here. These characters trust each other.  Maybe that's why they're so comfortable treading into fetish territory together.

One of my favourites is a fairly recent story called Must Love Dolls, which I wrote for a Rachel Kramer Bussel sex toy anthology. I watched a documentary about love dolls during the submission period, and I was instantly fascinated. The idea of putting a "normal" married couple together with a gorgeous sex doll was just too tempting. Somehow inviting the doll into their bedroom as a third in a menage made a fetish that many people can't wrap their heads around seem more approachable.

Other tools of sexual pleasure that pop up in this book include sex toys, panties, heels, ropes, food... the list goes on. Fourteen stories in total. Introductory price of FREE.* Really no reason not to grab a copy! That's a lot of tools for no money. ;-)

Find Giselle's Best Fetish Erotica free at:


All Romance Ebooks:


*except at Amazon and Google Play, where it's super-cheap.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"A Place to Stand": A Toolish Story

She knew by the tone and timbre of the rap on the wooden door, that this visitor had come for her father.  The sharp, seeming reproachful sound, three strikes, evenly spaced, like the tolling of a warning  bell filled with a quiet dread.  She felt sure this would only be the first of many, ending in some terminal knock from the Church.

If not already.

She straightened her apron and lifted the latch.

The man at the door was older than her father's age, old enough to be going to seed but more fragile.  A man with the black stain of feather quill ink on his right hand's fingers.  "Signore Crinimoni," she said.  "Good evening to you."  She held the door and stood aside.

"And how is your father tonight?  In good health I hope."

"He doesn’t sleep much.  Mostly in the day."

"I've come to see him."  He lifted his thick cloak, folded it on his arm and looked for a place to lay it.  She took it from him.

"Shall I call to him?"

"Yes, please."

"Will you have a cup of small sack?"

"Yes, please."

She disappeared with the cloak.  Crinimoni looked down at his boots and sighed.  He felt a quiet thrill as though visiting a mistress.  It was rare that he was invited to see his old friend the mathematician anymore.  The old boy had become a recluse since returning from the Netherlands.  No one had seen him, certainly not at church mass which was the usual place to look for someone.  A night breeze lifted the curtain bringing the scent of the jasmine vines that covered the tall old house, with its timbers and garden trees that seemed to reach to heaven.

"There you are," said a voice.

The man in the door of the kitchen had a windblown look, and a flush to his thickly bearded face as though he had been burned by many suns.  There was a patch over his eye.

"What happened to you, old friend?"  Crinimoni pointed at his own eye.

"I was looking at the sun."

"Should know better," said Crinimoni.

"Yes," he said.  "I couldn't resist."

The young woman returned with two pewter cups and passed one to each of the men.   She did a small curtsy and made as if to leave when Crinimoni said "How is it your Celeste is not married?"


"I've seen suitors gather like flies."

The other man and the girl looked at each other.  "I've been helping my father.  I think it’s more exciting than marriage."

"Really?" Said Crinimoni.  "What a way for a maid to speak.  You'll be one of those dried up old nuns anyway, soon.  So."  He sipped the honey wine in the cup and smacked his lips.  "What is this work?  
May I know it?"

"You’re the first," said the man.  "I want to get your opinion on it before I publish."

They sipped their drinks quietly as the girl stood by.

"So what am I about to see, then?"

"The eye of God," said the man.

The way up to the roof was a simple barn ladder, used to bring wet laundry mostly to dry in the Italian sun.  The man went up first, followed by the springy legged girl, and then Crinimoni, puffing and struggling.

The night air was warm and steamy, filled with flower scent and the sound of night birds.  "On nights like these poetry is made," said Crinimoni.

"Or history," said the girl.

Crinimoni snorted.  "She certainly has a high opinion of your eye of God."

The man turned away, reached down in the dark of the starry night and lifted something that gleamed faintly in the moonlight.  He held it up.  "The eye of God," he said.

Crinimoni was disappointed.  "What?  In there?  A common length of plumber’s pipe?"

The man passed it to him.  It was light and delicate as a clock work.  A length of brass tube, like a pipe organ piece but adjustable at one end.  Crinimoni held the end to his lips to blow through it when the moonlight winked on a disc of glass.  He turned it in the weak light and there was a larger, thicker glass disc on the other end.  "How do you play it?"

"Do you know your Archimedes?"

"My Archimedes, and my Aristotle too."

"Archimedes invented the lever.  He said, give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.  This is my lever.  This is where I stand." He spread his hands wide.  "Here, I will move the earth."

Crinimoni ignored him, held the glass to his eye and looked down at his feet.  There was only dark.  "I don't understand, Signore Galilei.  Is it something modern?"

"You're looking through the wrong direction," said the girl.  She pointed to the sky.  "Look at the moon.  There."

He lifted it and slowly moved it back and forth.  The girl came up behind him and he felt her heady scent in the air with the jasmine.  Oh, to be twenty again, he thought.  She took the brass pipe from his hand sited it on the moon and held it steady as he approached.  He put his eye to it.

"Devils!" He cried.  He took his eye away as if he had been poked, looked up, looked at the man.  Saw the girl's white teeth in the moonlight and dark. 

"Look again," she said.  "Isn't it marvelous?"

Crinimoni looked again.  "You've brought the moon down, Galileo" he said.

"Come see," said Galileo.  He took the brass piece and brought it to the edge of the roof.  He placed it on a frame made of wood, adjusted it, tipped it. Looked again, silently panting, looked again and sighed with pleasure.  "Come see," he said.  "You will be the second and only man besides me who has seen this since the beginning of the world."

Crinimoni came over, quietly shuffling his feet, feeling his way along in the dark.  "Don’t touch it, just look." Said Galileo.

In the piece of glass was a white disk with two cup handles, one on each side.  A closer look showed tiny white spots spread around it.

"That is the planet Saturn," said Galileo.  "The way it really looks."

"It looks like a tea pot," said Crinimoni.  "They'll burn you for this."

"Why?" Snapped the girl.

“I didn’t invent this.  A foreigner in Padua brought one which I studied. I’ve made mine stronger. I ground the lenses myself.  There’s no limit to how strong you can make this.”

"Where does it say in the Bible or in Aristotle Saturn should have horns?"

"I'm not sure what they are yet," said Galileo.  "But I believe they’ll be rings of some kind.  If Mars had risen I would show you that.  A red light with some green.  I don't know why.
"Why will he burn for this?" Said the girl. 

"The glory of science has been built for two millennia on Aristotle and the shifting influences of the stars and planets.  That dammed Copernicus with his loud theories that the earth rides round the sun, and the sun may be one of many worlds and stars.  Man is the Lord and jewel of creation and you mean to up end this?"

"But if it isn't true, it has to go!" 

"And aren’t you your father’s daughter.  This is not the eye of God," said Crinimoni, “This is the eye of destruction.  This is the tool that will burn civilization.  You cannot, you must not, speak in public of this."

"You cannot stay knowledge," said Galileo, "you cannot remove it once found, any more than you can uproot the trees of the Garden of Eden.  What is true remains.  I made this tool.  I ground the lenses with my hands.  I fixed them in the tube.  What I did, you can do or pay someone to do.  And somewhere, someone is already trying to make a better one.”

"No!  Listen Signore Galilei – listen for your own sake. Science, beautiful science, is built on tradition.  On Aristotle.  And the church, the beautiful church.  The belief – no – the fact – that man is the noblest jewel of creation, the Lord of the earth.  If you do this, someday someone will prove that man is only a forked beast among many beasts.  Our planet is only a planet among many planets, our sun only a miserable star among many stars.  And then what will there be left to dream for?  What will man be capable of when he is reduced to a beast instead of God’s favorite birth?  What weapons will he conceive that kill from a distance without pity, killing thousands only with science and without honor?  Then death will become easy.  This is not a lever to move the world, Galileo.  This is Pandora’s cursed box.  And where you stand, is at the gate of Hell.  Would you fling open that gate?’

“The gate is already opened, my friend.  There is nothing you or I can do to shut it.  If not me then someone.”

“Then hold off your hand!  I beg you, wait a little.  I’m old.  I’m not long.  Man’s greatest minds have made this structure of learning and I have lived my life in service to it.  Don’t take it away so quickly.  Stay your hand until I’m gone. Don’t poison these last few years of my life by proving that everything I’ve lived for is false.”

“If there is poison in truth, it’s already inside you.  You’ve looked.  You’ve seen.  If there is sin here, you have tasted it.  Look again.”

Galileo, lifted the tube and held it out to him.  Crinimoni took it, held it lightly.  “I could smash this fragile egg, right on that ledge.  Break it.  But you would only build another.  I would have to kill you too.”

“Me or someone.  If you murder me, my daughter Celeste here would build a dozen just to avenge me.  It’s done.  Aristotle has lost.  He will go on losing to the ages.  It’s begun.  Look again.”

The old man hesitated in the dark, breathing hard.

"Knowledge is no sin," said Galileo.  "What is a sin is denying truth.  You have found a secret of God and the heavens, and all you did to earn it was to dare to take a peek.”  He held out the tube.  

Crinimoni took it and put it to his eye.

He moved like a child in the moonlight with a toy, finding the moon, looking away with silent shame.  A light came on in the house next door.  Movement in the upstairs window.  Crinimoni could not bear to look at the sky.  He pointed it at the window instead.

A woman.  A man.  A bed. They were naked.

The young woman, round bellied, full breasted as a milk maid, her nipples in the glass eye of the tube visible distinct and clear, peaked.  More beautiful than the mountains and pock marks of the moon.  The man’s stiffened phallus more brazen than the ringed handles of Saturn.

How old he felt.  How the years slipped away to his wedding night and his wife, Belinda, long passed away.  How like her this woman was as she reclined on the bed, her arms raised over her head to lift up her breasts to her lover’s pleasure.

The wonder of how the candlelight fell on her dark and wooly framed treasure as her thighs fell open to welcome him.  How much like an oyster it looked.  He could see it distinctly, almost each hair of her cunt.   And to look and see what he had only dimly remembered as a much younger man.  What wondrous magic woman is, he thought.

The man was not handsome; his chest was thick and his shoulders wide.  He turned his back to the window, the light on his buttocks as he hovered over her, taking up the masculine posture between her thighs, somehow ridiculous and primal. The man descended.  She adjusted herself to take him in. 

The young man settled over her, slipping his arms under her, hugging her tight, pressing his face into her neck, his strong body tensing.  His hips began their long slow undulation.  Her lips moving as she said something only he could hear.  Her fingers on his back, digging in, spurring a frantic sauce of pain into his efforts.

A cloud passed over the lens, blurring the act.  He pulled it from his eye with a thrill of shame.  The hot steam of his breath had clouded the lens.

He knew that Galileo and his daughter were watching him, had somehow caught him in the act of an old man’s lust.  “What a discovery.”  He passed the tube back to his friend.  He sighed in defeat. 

“Now it begins,” he said.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Tools of Twitter

Like pretty much every present-day author, I market my books through social media.  And, like many erotica authors, I have multiple pen names.  I currently have three pen names and for marketing I have one Facebook page, one Mailchimp newsletter, one Pinterest account, three Tumblr accounts, and three Twitter accounts (plus two more Twitter accounts for other things).  It’s gotten to be a bit much and is overtaking my writing time.

To be 100% honest, I actually have an assistant I hire once a week to do some of these things for me. Primarily, I have him going through my Tumblr accounts and finding smutty pictures to reblog, and then I let him go crazy on my Pinterest account.  I used to have him also manage my Twitter accounts, but it was becoming unwieldy for him.

So… here are the tools I use for Twitter. Some are free and some cost money, so some may be of use to people reading this and others might not be applicable.


This is my main go-to for Twitter management.  Tweetdeck is made by Twitter, so it’s an official app and it’s free and safe to use.  From this, I can create columns for all the things I want to track — my newsfeed, notifications, direct messages, lists, my pen name’s Twitter feed, and various hashtags — allowing me to see everything all at once.  (Whereas on Twitter this requires clicking through to different pages to see everything.)  You can also install multiple accounts on Tweetdeck, allowing me to manage everything in one place.

What I like most about Tweetdeck is that I can schedule tweets to appear at a certain day and time.  So, what I was originally doing was having my assistant take all my promo tweets and scheduling them to appear at certain times throughout the week.  Peak times tend to be before work, after work, and late evening.  This requires a lot of effort, but in setting it up, I can then not worry about Twitter for the rest of the week.  (I used to do this on a day-to-day basis, logging in first thing in the morning and setting up tweets for the day.)

It doesn’t allow you to schedule identical tweets, though.  So if you’ve got a new release and you want to tweet about it several times on your release day, each tweet needs to be slightly different or it will reject all the repeated tweets.  (And “different” can simply be changing a hashtag or a punctuation mark — changes that don’t take much thinking.)

Tweet Jukebox

This is one of my newer Twitter toys.  When having my assistant schedule tweets became unwieldy, I investigated apps that would take care of Tweets for me.  With Tweet Jukebox — which has a free plan with limited ability (but I find it does exactly what I need) — I throw all my promotional tweets in a “jukebox,” and then at pre-determined times, Tweet Jukebox posts a random tweet.  When it’s cycled through all of the tweets, it starts over again.

Unfortunately, you can’t set it to tweet at truly random times.  The scheduling option allows you to set tweets to appear at certain intervals during certain times on certain days.  So, for the most part, I have tweets appearing roughly every three hours between before-work-time and midnight-ish.  By making each day's start time different and making it roughly, but not exactly, three hours between tweets, the timing appears somewhat random, rather than being at, say, 8:00, 11:00, 2:00, 5:00, 8:00, and 11:00 every day.


This is, admittedly, one of those apps that people dislike being on the receiving end of.  After someone follows you, Crowdfire sends them a direct message (DM) within a day.  You can set this DM to say whatever you want, and you can have multiple DMs set up and it will send a random one.

These automated DMs can direct new followers to your latest release, your catalogue on Amazon, your website, your Facebook page, your newsletter, or anywhere else you want your fans to go.  For one pen name, I direct them to my newsletter, and for another pen name, I direct them to my latest release on Amazon.  (In the picture attached to the TweetDeck section, you can see the direct messages that Crowdfire sent out to point people toward my newsletter.)

Automated DMs from Crowdfire are like pop-up ads on websites — everyone hates them, but they work.  I’ve had an increase in newsletter subscribers since I started using Crowdfire, and for the other pen name I’ve had people reply and tell me they’ve bought the book or they're checking out my website.


This is my newest tool, and I only use it for one pen name (not this one).  With that pen name, I’m experimenting on getting aggressive in following people, in the hopes that they will follow back.  This tool has a small cost associated with it, but one I’m willing to shell out.

Tweepi allows you to put in someone’s Twitter handle and it will show you a list of their followers.  From there, you’re able to sort the list using a ton of handy tools and filters.

I filter the results so that they have a followback ratio of 60% to 140% — this is a number that rates their likeliness of following you back.  (It’s just a calculation of their following divided by their followers, I think.)  I also filter out anyone who follows more than 1,000 people, with the reasoning that someone following thousands upon thousands of people will not see my tweets, as they’ll be buried amongst all the others.  And, finally, I filter out anyone that hasn’t tweeted in the last seven days, with the reasoning that if they’re tweeting, they’re online and active and likely to see my tweets.

Tweepi lets you follow 950 people every twenty-four hours — so I max it out every day.  I later follow it up with unfollowing anyone who hasn’t followed me back after seven days — and Tweepi lets you unfollow 500 people per day.  There are other limits imposed by Twitter, like you can’t follow more than 5,000 people unless your number of followers is within 10% of the number of people you’re following.  And Twitter may ask you to change your password when you start using a tool like this, as it assumes that a sudden change in your Twitter behaviour means you’ve been hacked.

I’ve been using Tweepi for a little over a week and have more than doubled the number of people following that account. Have I seen a huge increase in sales?  Not yet, but I have had some new followers tell me they’re going to check out my stuff or say that they just went and bought my newest book.

Marketing through social media is one of those things that everyone says is necessary and successful, but in reality, it's difficult to do it effectively.  It's been a process of a few years to figure out my Twitter strategy, and while it hasn't led to a stellar increase in sales, it has absolutely led to somewhat of an increase and has led to wider engagement with and following from readers.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Much Maligned Adverb

By Lisabet Sarai

The adverb is not your friend.”

This pronouncement, by Stephen King in his influential little volume On Writing, has inspired floods of red ink. Adverbs—especially those ending in -lyarouse the irrational ire of critics and editors. “Weak!” they exclaim. “Verbose!” “Unnecessary!” “Outdated!” Some of the more poorly educated even claim that adverbs violate the rules of grammar.


I’m a writer. That means words are my tools. All words. I’m not about to countenance some pundit (or even a best-selling, highly skilled author) telling me I should jettison an entire class of words just because they’ve become unfashionable.

I understand the logic behind King’s critique. Novice authors frequently overuse this part of speech, describing the manner in which a generic action is performed rather than finding a stronger or more specific verb. Excessive use of adverbs can be a sign of laziness. Certainly, they’re not the best tool for every occasion. A rich repertoire of evocative verbs can be far more effective than a bustling stable of adverbs.

That’s no argument for banning them outright.

Editors argue that adverbs slow prose down, making it less potent and direct. That’s probably true. However, sometimes I want to slow the pace of a paragraph. My personal style differs from the spare, unadorned prose King creates. I learned to write in a less hurried era, when an author could afford to explore her scenes and her characters in a more leisurely manner.

I had the notion that I’d post a few paragraphs from my current work in progress, then strip out the adverbs to show the effects of this edit. What I discovered is that my most recent stories use far fewer adverbs than I expected. I guess the unfashionable status of this part of speech has in fact influenced my writing as well. I also realized that these days I tend to use adverbs to modify adjectives or participles rather than verbs—to qualify or limit descriptions.

In any case, I think removing these adverbs would make the prose less effective. In some cases, it would even change the meaning. Here’s a snippet to illustrate what I mean.

Would you like to see my drawing, Dr. Gardner?” Alisha offers me a sheet of paper, presumably the picture that so thoroughly captured her attention yesterday. Color explodes off the page, garnet red, cerulean blue, shockingly bright purple. In contrast with its violent hues, the lines of the drawing are delicate and precise. Meticulously rendered gardens and palaces fill the every inch of the paper—arched gates curtained with ivy, marble fountains spilling silvery cascades over velvet green lawns, onion-domed towers soaring toward feathery clouds. I'm reminded of the jewel-toned miniatures painted by the eighteenth century Ottoman masters, until I look more closely. Then it is Hieronymous Bosch that comes to mind. For in the shadowy corners formed by vine-draped walls, and on the lushly carpeted floors of the pavilions, I see tiny beings—not people, no, not with those swollen heads, sharp-taloned limbs and tooth-lined maws— engaged in the most perverse couplings imaginable. Here an enormous penis splits a dripping orifice. There, a long, tri-forked tongue penetrates multiple bodies simultaneously. A fat-assed creature squats and strains above a gaping mouth. A head literally disappears between splayed female thighs while smaller beings perch on the woman's abdomen to gnaw on her pendulous breasts.

My stomach turns. My cunt melts. Both reactions are completely inappropriate in a therapist. I swallow the disgust rising in my throat, ignore the desire smoldering in my sex, and hand the sheet back to Alisha.

~ From “Countertransference” by Lisabet Sarai, unpublished work in progress

Let’s strip out the adverbs:

Would you like to see my drawing, Dr. Gardner?” Alisha offers me a sheet of paper, presumably the picture that captured her attention yesterday. Color explodes off the page, garnet red, cerulean blue, bright purple. In contrast with its violent hues, the lines of the drawing are delicate and precise. Rendered gardens and palaces fill the every inch of the paper—arched gates curtained with ivy, marble fountains spilling silvery cascades over velvet green lawns, onion-domed towers soaring toward feathery clouds. I'm reminded of the jewel-toned miniatures painted by the eighteenth century Ottoman masters, until I look more. Then it is Hieronymous Bosch that comes to mind. For in the shadowy corners formed by vine-draped walls, and on the carpeted floors of the pavilions, I see tiny beings—not people, no, not with those swollen heads, sharp-taloned limbs and tooth-lined maws— engaged in the most perverse couplings imaginable. Here an enormous penis splits a dripping orifice. There, a long, tri-forked tongue penetrates multiple bodies. A fat-assed creature squats and strains above a gaping mouth. A head disappears between splayed female thighs while smaller beings perch on the woman's abdomen to gnaw on her pendulous breasts.

My stomach turns. My cunt melts. Both reactions are inappropriate in a therapist. I swallow the disgust rising in my throat, ignore the desire smoldering in my sex, and hand the sheet back to Alisha.

In my opinion, this snippet is less dynamic than the original. It feels flat. I use adverbs for emphasis here, and to convey nuances of excess.

Your mileage may vary, of course. Each of us uses our verbal tools in different ways. You may strive for the lean, muscular prose of Stephen King and Elmore Leonard and personally eschew adverbs as unnecessary ornamentation.

Do not presume, however, to banish them outright. I want them in my tool box, along with all the other delightful and varied structures in the English language. If that makes me a curmudgeon, so be it.

Don’t get me started on the subject of the universally condemned passive voice!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Second Whirlwind Tour

by Jean Roberta

I was invited to write a blurb. This in itself is not really surprising, but it happened in a surprisingly random way.

After I returned home from Saints & Sinners in New Orleans (April 1-3), and worked my way through a backlog of student essays, I dropped in on LiveJournal, a site I used to visit more often. I feel I’ve been neglecting it, so I posted a brief explanation about my lack of recent posts. In my friends’ feed, I saw an announcement by Cecilia Tan that her BDSM m/m erotic romance, The Prince’s Boy, Volumes 1 and 2, will be published in the next few months. The chapters first appeared on the Circlet Press site, where I might have seen them before. (I’m still not sure.)

I commented that I liked the cover art (shown here), and that I loved the novels. Apparently I have fits of insanity. I really thought the title looked familiar, and that I had written a review of at least the first volume.

Cecilia immediately asked if I would write a blurb for the two volumes. No problem, I replied. I said I would find some suitable comments in my review, which I then searched for in my Documents.

While I scrolled through files called “Review” (like watching the credits at the end of a blockbuster movie), reality hit me. I’ve reviewed other work by C. Tan, but not The Prince’s Boy. And as I found out, there are 60 chapters.

I asked for the 2 volumes in an email, and Cecilia graciously offered them in any format that would work best. (The two PDFs downloaded nicely.)

I then binge-read an epic narrative of a widowed king, a motherless prince, political skullduggery involving mages and enemy kingdoms, sex magic (including some excruciating scenes of anal rape, but all in the service of the plot), and a love that transcends social class. The two volumes really have to be read together, unless a reader doesn’t care how the plot unfolds, which would be a shame.

Here is my first attempt at a blurb:

As a child, Prince Kenet chose his whipping boy, the one who would be punished in his place whenever the stern king was displeased with his son. In their hearts, the two boys are soulmates, and their love only grows stronger with time. Yet coming of age exposes the prince and his Jorin to every kind of danger. While exiled Jorin learns the ways of fighting men, Prince Kenet must overcome the powerful Night Magic that can turn pretty boys into whoreslaves. The fate of a kingdom depends on the greatest bond of all: a love that cannot be forced.

Here is part of the introduction by the author:

I must give you a warning, dear reader, before you begin. No, not the warning about the intensity of the bondage and sadomasochism scenes herein, not about the dubious consent, eroticized
violence, or situations of sexual jeopardy in these pages (though they are assuredly there). I must warn you that what you are about to read is a serial.

A serial? “How is that different from a novel?” you might well ask. It looks like a novel. It has chapters. It has an overarching fantasy plot that pits good versus evil. It is even a Romance with a capital R. Why isn't it a novel?

Well, common wisdom says a novel wouldn't have a sex scene in every chapter. That would be Too Much Sex for the reader, who would fall into fatigue--or worse, boredom. Sex should not be tedious! But The Prince's Boy was not written as a novel, with the sexy bits paced out here and there, but as a serial intended to be read one chapter per week. The serial began running on the Circlet Press website in July 2009 and wraps up in June 2011. My goal was to deliver a delicious meal each week to the hungry reader who had waited so patiently for it. I tried to get a sex scene into each chapter, or at the very least a torture or fight scene (and indeed, all these types of scenes somewhat blur together in this book).


Considering that m/m romance is not the first genre I reach for, I really did fall under the spell of this book. So apparently I was not lying when I praised it prematurely. After the prince and his “boy” are separated, and each leaves the relative safety of the castle, the reader is taken on a tour of the kingdom at war which replicates the honeymoon tour of King Korl (Prince Kenet’s father) and his bride in a happier time. Important secondary male characters appear, and they all have distinct personalities, talents, and motivations.

In Volume 1, Prince Kenet wonders how he, as the heir to the throne, could possibly keep his beloved Jorin by his side while fulfilling the royal obligation to marry and produce an heir of his own. Or how he could avoid that obligation without creating worse political turmoil than already exists. As things turn out, a long-lost brother solves the dilemma: he will not try to usurp the throne, but his children will be Kenet’s heirs.

Before this resolution is presented, the two lovers take turns narrating chapters while they are apart from each other, and they each learn things they could not have learned at court. The villain, who can take over the dreams of anyone he chooses to torment, is a collector of cocks, as well as of souls. (Like the witches described in the witchfinders’ manual, the Malleus Malificarum of the 1480s, he can spirit them away from their owners.) His evil will seems unbeatable, down to the last scene of the last chapter, but royal blood has a power of its own, and true loyalty trumps the kind that results from magical brainwashing.

Cecilia Tan is now experienced at writing short pieces that are posted free on-line as enticements for readers, and which eventually add up to coherent novels. I don’t know how she does it. I’ve regretfully had to avoid keeping up with Darron’s Guitar Chronicles (posted on LiveJournal) and an earlier saga by another Circlet Press author.

But apparently what had seemed to be lost can be rediscovered. I might still have a chance to binge-read what I skimmed past before.

First Whirlwind Tour

by Jean Roberta

Sometimes I binge-read a thick novel or a series because I promised someone to beta-read their manuscript, or to review their published work, or I am scheduled to meet a relatively famous author, and I’m aghast to realize I haven’t read any of his/her work.

Despite having two heavy classes to teach (both first-semester English classes with large cohorts of non-English-speaking students and locally-raised students who don’t seem fluent in any language), I’ve read some big books lately.

The first was The Book of Lies (1999) by Felice Picano, whom I was invited to join in a panel discussion (with Sally Bellerose) at Saints & Sinners, the annual LGBTQ literature con in New Orleans. After I discreetly asked another gay-male writer how to pronounce Mr. Picano’s first name, the song “Feliz Navidad” kept running through my head. He has a lengthy writeup on Wikipedia, as well as several other places, so I rushed to my local university library to see if I could find his work there. I borrowed two of his hardcover novels, The Book of Lies and Onyx, and made good use of my time before the panel by reading The Book of Lies on the plane and in the hotel.

It’s a labyrinth of a book, part intellectual mystery, part satirical poke at academia, part roman a clef (undoubtedly caricaturing real writers whom I don’t know well enough to recognize, which might be just as well). A fairly na├»ve Ph.D. student named Ross, who aims to make a name for himself in Gay Studies, is allowed to spend a summer in a fabulous house in Los Angeles that belongs to a successful member of a legendary group of writers called the Purple Circle (based on the real-life Lavender Quill crowd). The house itself was built in the 1920s for a kind of quasi-courtesan, and prostitution in various forms (“selling out” for fame, money, sex, or survival) is a theme of the book.

Later, when Felice himself explained that he originally planned a career in art history, I could see the connection between his keen eye for visual detail and his writing style. The Book of Lies calls out for illustrations as the narrative follows Ross all over the U.S. on his quest to interview the surviving members of the Purple Circle, which was decimated by AIDs in the 1980s. The excessive qualities of the house in L.A., with its hidden panels, gardens and outdoor pool, contrasts nicely with the bone-white light and the slush of a winter day in New York in the early 1970s, as described in the letters of the Purple Circle. And then there is the woodsy life of the New England survivor who has almost become a hermit.

Ross thinks he has discovered an unknown, unpublished member of the Purple Circle, and he obsessively tries to track him down. As it turns out, the older gay-male writers who gently flirt with Ross are playing an elaborate joke on him, while the author plays mind-games with the reader by dropping conflicting hints about Ross’ sexuality. By the last scene, Ross is punished beyond his deserts (IMO) when he is abruptly kicked out of his teaching position, the Ph.D. program, and the house in L.A. He loses access to the Purple Circle, who are all men he genuinely respected. (I can’t help being reminded of Truman Capote, who apparently lost all his society friends after he wrote about them in his books.)

A quick look at the reviews of this novel shows that readers either love it or hate it. I love the lush writing style as well as the literary plot premise, but I was jarred by the downfall of the apparent hero. Ross’ story turns out to be tragic, but the way Fate (in the form of several other people) throws him off a cliff doesn’t seem to fit the general mood up to that point.

And while I’m being critical, I would like to say a few words about something I think of as Christopher Rice Syndrome, although other gay-male writers indulge in it too. In The Book of Lies, one talented member of the Purple Circle, cut down in his prime by AIDS, has left behind a “widow,” a heterosexual woman who developed a crush on him in university, became his non-sexual groupie, and eventually inherited custody of all his papers. Ross must make her acquaintance while researching the dead writer, and he notes that she has no fashion sense. (She is a stocky middle-aged woman who is described looking like a toddler in faded overalls.) She has never married nor had any children. Her life has revolved around a man who was never that interested in her.

Please. I realize that there must a few real-life examples of such devoted handmaidens in the world, but why do they appear so frequently in otherwise-plausible plots by gay men? This novel, like others I’ve read, fails the Bechdel Test, invented by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel. To pass the test, a work (novel, story, play or film) has to include at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men.

I’ve known women who might fairly be described as Fag Hags (including my late mother, who had a very close, formative friendship with a gay man when both were teenagers in 1930s New York), but who also have other friendships and satisfying sexual relationships with men or women. Just to clarify, if (for the sake of argument) someone like Felice Picano had a strange whim on his deathbed to leave all his papers to me, I would gladly accept them. But I would still have a life.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my reading adventures.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

On Marriage, Italian, Detectives, and the Internet of Trees

by Annabeth Leong

Here are some of the books I've read recently that I've liked best. Apologies to those who follow me on Goodreads, since I've lifted the descriptions I wrote there.

Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships, and Identity
Edited by Carter Sickels

I wanted a book like this to exist so badly, and I was so excited to find it. This is a collection of essays that seeks to go beyond the simplistic "Love Wins" message that I've seen all over the place since marriage equality was instated throughout the U.S. I knew from the first line that this would discuss and engage with a lot of the discomfort I feel about how the marriage equality movement has played out in popular culture.

I have had a number of conversations with people who think that civil rights for queer people have been achieved because of that Supreme Court decision, so I know there are at least some people who have that impression. If so, they should read this book and get a fuller view of the landscape. For those who already know that marriage doesn't solve everything, who may have questions about marriage as an institution, who may want to think more about trans issues, race issues, class issues, bi issues, polyamory, and so on, this is also a great book to read.

I thought the collection splendidly avoided the echo chamber effect that can come about in collections of political works. All the authors are thinking beyond the obvious implications of same sex marriage, but they don't agree with each other, and their viewpoints are very diverse. That made this a compelling read throughout.

The editor notes in the introduction that trans women and people of color are underrepresented in the collection... and then I found myself pleasantly surprised by how many essays were written by trans women and people of color. It probably says something sad about the state of anthologies in general that what could be called underrepresented by the editor actually felt like rich diversity compared to what I'm used to reading.

I found myself constantly checking the contributor's notes to see if the authors had written other work or longer work, and I have a long list of books I now want to read. This book has introduced me to a lot of interesting thinkers and lyrical writers. While some pieces are dry, nonfiction takes on the subject, for the most part each piece is deeply poetic, which very much enhances the philosophical and political points being made.

I really needed this book.

All the Birds in the Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky is full of an exhilarating weirdness that constantly blew me away. The creative details of this weird world are vividly drawn, just askew enough from the world I know that it injects a sense of magic into my everyday life. But anchoring all that weirdness is one of the tightest, loveliest, Love Conquers All metastories that I've seen. I'd read a review that said there was something scattered about the book but that it's so cool you sort of won't care. I disagree with that review, though. To me, there was a beautifully simple underlying structure that anchored all the world's wild details and the story's far-ranging explorations.

The writing is absolutely lovely. Sometimes I felt so much for the characters that I was afraid I wouldn't be able to read on, but every part of the story was so worthwhile that I quickly learned to trust the author. The sex scenes were full of a pleasing, quirky emotion that made the romance feel real, personal, and intimate.

I stayed up late reading this one. I would instantly buy any book with this author's name on it in the future.

(Also, go look up the Internet of trees after you read this one. Articles about that came out at an oddly appropriate time.)

The Tattered Heiress
by Debra Hyde

Debra Hyde has produced a really satisfying lesbian historical. In Charlotte Olmes, we have the mind and obsession of Sherlock Holmes, with attention to the political and social realities of the times. In The Tattered Heiress, the central mystery is intercut with a narrative about how Charlotte and her partner Joanna were able to break free of society and be together, and that story is as perilous and suspenseful as the twisted gothic tale they're investigating.

Hyde obviously loves the New York setting, and peppers the story with rich detail that feels authentic. She hits all the beats of a classic mystery story, and provides a generous amount of scorching lesbian sex at the same time.

The only thing that mars my happiness is that the book really needed copy editing. It is rife with distracting errors—repeated words, spelling problems, and so on. A blurb on the cover claims that the series contains the hottest lesbian sex since "Nina" Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, and that bothered me every time I picked up the book. I don't want to hold the author responsible for that, but it made me sad to see it. I couldn't help wondering what this book could have been if it had been given the strong, careful edit it deserved.

In Other Words
by Jhumpa Lahiri

I think this might be the book I spend the whole year talking about. It fascinates me in multiple ways, for multiple reasons, and it's so well-written on top of that.

I picked it up as a language geek, because I'm really interested in the question of what fluency is, how one gets there, and what it feels like to function in another language. I was also attracted to the randomness of Jhumpa Lahiri's love of Italian. I'm currently studying Danish, which has a similar inexplicability, and I really liked her description of how it feels to be drawn to a language that one has no obvious connection to.

As a writer myself, I was fascinated by the fact that Lahiri wrote this book in her non-native language. That's an undertaking that awes me. I loved her descriptions of the process of writing and how it changed as she took it on in Italian rather than English.

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book contains a lot of discussion of living between worlds and cultures. Lahiri talks about how loaded language has always been for her—what does it mean at a given moment if she's speaking Bengali or English. Italian gives her an escape from being caught between cultures, and I felt that deeply. It really fascinates me that she notes that her writing is more abstract and universal in Italian, that she finds she gives her characters less cultural detail. I'll be thinking about that for a while.

At the same time, I was moved by the pain she describes of always being seen as a foreigner in Italy because of her looks, despite her love and devotion for the language.

This book is a complex and thoughtful discussion of language and all that comes with it. It's framed around a premise that seems quirky on the surface but that gets deep with examination. I relate to it in a very personal way, but I have the feeling that this is one of those magical books that's universal at the same time and open to giving a lot of readers that feeling.

I couldn't have been more interested in this, or more absorbed by it.

I'm embarrassed to say I've never read Lahiri before, but I'm definitely going to look for more of her work now, whatever language it's in.

(And I'll have comments coming to others later today. I saw your request, Suz!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fates, Furies, Farrell and a Fridge

by Daddy X

Fates and Furies
by Lauren Groff

Aptly titled novel that received a lot of attention in 2015. “Fates and Furies” wound up as a NYT notable book, Amazon Best Book, and a finalist for the National Book Award.

What begins admittedly slow, offers many delights. If you aspire to be a unique stylist, you may envy how Groff spins her craft. Reminiscent of Donleavy, perhaps. But don’t be fooled by the slow start. There is a point in this novel where everything you thought you knew about the main characters and their relationship is turned on its end. The stylist disappears from one’s perception; the story rivets the reader.

The Girl On the Fridge
by Etgar Keret

One of the coolest damn covers I’ve ever seen. Just bent enough to catch my attention in a used book store. I don’t usually buy short stories (Though I just bought a collection of T. Coraghessan Boyle) but this one looked like something I’d be interested in. Some of you know I’ve done several stints as flasher editor at ERWA, so flash fiction is kinda steeped in my bones. I don’t think there’s a story here over three and a half pages. Forty-six of them.

Keret, an Israeli author, is much better known in his home country. A few stories depict the trying political and social life, where danger and hatred are a daily fact. If this were the thrust of this collection, I probably wouldn’t like it as much. Fact is that it’s just one of the myriad subjects he covers, approaching them without preconceived illusion.

Though decidedly not erotica, Keret doesn’t shy away from sex. Or from violence for that matter. What he does quite well is pack a whole lot of punch into very few words.

Reminiscent of both Kafka and our own Garceus, Keret will enlighten, shock, bewilder and enchant.  Some stories will make a reader uncomfortable, but I don’t think that would bother anyone here. ;>)

For flash fiction writers, it’s always a case of “Now that I have all these flashers, WTF do I do with them?” Finally, we have our answer. Here’s a guy who has taken flash fiction, and its presentation, to an art form.

Obviously I can’t say enough about this author. In fact, I just bought another of his books. I only hope it’s as good as, “The Girl on the Fridge”.

Studs Lonigan
by James T. Farrell

Yes, the old classic trilogy: “Young Lonigan”, “The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan”, and “Judgment Day”.

Farrell presents, often in Proustian detail, the depressing and squalid Chicago of the early twentieth century. Predecessor to Steinbeck, Algren and Selby Jr. in approach, written in 1932 about life in the ‘teens and twenties. A long work. Again. :>) 900 pages. I do get wrapped up in those long ones.  

What comes across immediately is the blatant bigotry and racism of the times, related in the grittiest but frequently dated vernacular. The European country your relatives came from determined your place in life, where you lived, where you went to school. What jobs were available to you and your family. Where you dared to walk, and how often you got beat up if you happened around the wrong corner.

Although we have a long way to go in the bigotry realm, it’s amazing to see how the attitudes of a hundred years ago have translated to the present, and in essence haven’t changed that much. In his stark way, Farrell accomplishes what could be a timeless novel. Certainly we can relate, here in the twenty-first century.

This is a piece I’m truly reading at the moment, about halfway through the second part. If there’s much to add, maybe I’ll review the rest in another ‘What I’m Reading’ fortnight.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Reading Relationships and Relationship Reading by Suz deMello

A few days ago my personal life had the potential to blow up in my face, but I didn't let it. Because of what I'm reading.

To explain: I have been in a fantastic relationship with a pretty cool guy for the last ten months or so. We connected in so many different ways, and also, our differences made the interactions spicier and more interesting. Best, there was absolutely no drama. We had both been through a lot in our relationships and wouldn't allow that.

Like me, he's kinky, but more of a sadist than I like. Happy to please me, he modified his style for my enjoyment, and I worked on gradually accepting more pain as part of our play. However, he's also poly, and I had thought we'd figured out how he could be poly so I would be comfortable--we'd find a play partner (or partners) we both liked. We often talked with happiness and joy about how lucky we were to be on the same page about this sticky subject and how much we enjoyed our pleasure-filled, drama-free relationship, which he characterized as a "committed couple in a long-term relationship."

Then I felt the relationship changing.  I didn't feel quite so connected. I talked with him about it, and he gave the usual reasons men give--kids and work. I was good with that. I extracted a commitment to spend more time together when his work schedule and the kids' soccer schedule allowed.

That I had to "extract a commitment" wasn't a good sign.

A few days after that, he told me he was going to a play party without me. I was, like, WTF??

Three days after that, he told me he wanted an open relationship.

I have no moral judgment of open relationships and those who enjoy them, but am aware that I am not among them. Too much stress and drama for me.

Of course--being me--my first plan was to send his house key back with a simple note: "You're a great guy, but this isn't working out for me. Sorry! Best of luck!" It's a simple, undramatic exit strategy.

Sorry, but not right now.
Image from to alter and
use commercially
But I really like and admire this man. I know I'd miss him terribly if I cut him out of my life, which is what I usually do after breaking up--it's just easier that way. We did a lot outside of sex, I reasoned, so if sex presented the issue in our relationship, I'd cut sex out of the relationship rather than cutting him out of my life.

That way, I can enjoy the aspects of our relationship I love--the conversation, cuddling while binge-watching Archer, sleeping together--without having to endure the tension and uncertainty of wondering if and when my lover was banging another woman. That just doesn't sit well with me. And I wouldn't get caught in the shit storm that would surely ensue when one of his other relationships tanked. 'Cause, let's face it--this will happen. I know a little bit about a couple of past relationships of his, and they ended badly. What's the common denominator? Yep, you guessed right.

We have yet to discuss it--that will happen tonight--that is, the night this post goes live. Yikes!!

I expect it to be a very interesting conversation. 

So what did I read that made all the difference?

A column in a small local paper really helped. Joey Garcia, who writes a column called "Ask Joey," said this:

There’s a spiritual practice called witnessing which invites an individual to observe what is unfolding in front of them without any comment or resistance. There’s no stress, just awareness of what is.

It’s helpful to practice this skill regularly, so that in a crisis it rolls into place. Witnessing feels like there’s no barrier between the interior world of thoughts, emotions or motivations and the exterior world of other people, the environment or situations. This awareness of being one transforms everything(I'm sure this is copyrighted by Joey Garcia and/or the Sacramento News and Review, so here's a shout-out to them. Great paper, great column.)

Here's a little something else that helped a lot--a little book by a relationship adviser, Michael Fiore. Many relationship advisers tell women to be more self-confident, and he's no exception. But he goes into developing self-confidence in his readers by creating exercises that assist women to honestly assess themselves, their strong and weak points. That was great because, ya know, I'm pretty damn amazing. I'm 61 years old and look at least ten years younger. In fact, I got carded today :) I have a rockin' bod, a great mind, plus accomplishments and experiences few can match. I try to be aware, focus on my personal growth, and constantly strive to be a better, more loving, more compassionate and empathic person. Hope that doesn't come off as conceited or narcissistic, but hey. Just sayin'.

Fiore wrote: "You're awesome. You're beautiful. You're a woman any man would kill to be with and any 'random bitch' he's hanging out with can't compare to you." (also sure this is copyrighted by Michael Fiore. Thanks, Mike, for helping me out!)

True, that.

I also recommend for relationship advice and for, well, just about anything that Mark Manson wants to write about. He has a different and interesting take on things.

So yeah, along with rereading the Fever urban fantasy series by Karen Marie Moning, so I can read the sequels, and diving into more Regency romance, I'm reading a lot of (cheesy but worthwhile) self-help material online. 

Wish me luck on Tuesday evening.