Thursday, June 30, 2016

Race, Gender, BDSM, and Office Politics

by Annabeth Leong

As usual, what I’m reading is an odd hodgepodge of things that have struck my recent fancy. Like Giselle, I’ve read some books that weren’t good but pulled me in for mysterious reasons. I don’t like to post publicly about stuff I don’t like, though, so I’ll give you a selection of stuff I’d recommend.

Delusions of Gender: the Real Science Behind Sex Differences
By Cordelia Fine

This is the sort of book that makes me want to buy extra copies and carry them around in my purse so that the next time I run into someone who wants to talk to me about how evolutionary psychology explains why women prefer to be “traditionally feminine” and do all the housework, I can just shove the book into their hands and make a quick escape. It is the sort of book that makes you irritate all your family and friends because you’re constantly trying to read things from it out loud to them. It is the sort of book that puts the world into shocking, clear perspective.

This book methodically, meticulously debunks junk science around supposedly inborn gender differences, but it also offers no easy answers for what gender is. Think of this more as a deconstruction, as an expose of how pervasively we are steered toward “proper” gendered behavior.

Lately, I’ve been exploding my brain by thinking a lot about gender, and this book was a valuable addition to that process. My only complaint is that it doesn’t go much into trans and genderqueer experience, which I think could really shed light on questions about what gender is, what it is to be “masculine” or “feminine,” and so on.

Like Twin Stars: Bisexual Erotic Stories
Edited by Cecilia Tan and Kelly Clark

This is really short, but it’s a real treat. It has an early story by N.K. Jemisin, who’s one of the most interesting speculative fiction writers working today. It also has a story by our own Giselle! I didn’t recognize the name of the third writer, Neil Hudson, but his story, which poignantly portrays the agony of a bisexual person who is asked to “choose” is quite moving as well.

I was impressed by how well Circlet’s commitment to speculative erotic fiction served the book’s theme. In Jemisin’s story, for example, the invented fantasy culture provides a positive, supportive space for the main character’s bisexuality that I have never experienced for myself in this world.

I was a bit sad that this book didn’t include any female viewpoint characters. I would have liked reading about some bisexual women. Maybe that’s an excuse for a sequel.

The Room
By Jonas Karlsson

I feel like I am always looking for this sort of book, but rarely find it. It is weird and fascinating, a fast read that stay with you, deceptively simple, strange but still satisfying at the end. The narrator of this book is an unlikeable jerk, and yet I want to know what he has to say.

The plot hinges around a mysterious room that the narrator finds in the office where he works. The room represents beauty, order, and tradition. It’s the only place he can concentrate, and he produces incredible work when he goes in there. The room also seems like it doesn’t exist.

I read this with urgency, though I don’t directly relate to it. I love its spare, clean style. I love the way the reader’s perception of the narrator shifts as the book progresses. I want to know who Jonas Karlsson is (a famous Swedish actor, apparently) and how he came up with this.

The Marketplace
By Laura Antoniou

I’ve met Laura Antoniou at a number of events, and have heard her read (she is hilarious!). The Killer Wore Leather is one of my favorite books ever. So I’ve felt weird for a while that I’d never read The Marketplace, which is definitely the work she’s best known for.

I had reasons for not reading it. Over the years, I’ve started to get weird feelings about power exchange. I like SM, but a lot of dominance and submission makes me uncomfortable. Master/slave relationships particularly bring up a lot of issues. The idea of a series all about BDSM all in the context of consensual slavery did not really appeal to me.

Well, I’m happy to report that I’ve now read The Marketplace, and I thought it was just as incredible as I’d always heard. Reading it was a delightful experience, and it was interesting to think about exactly how Antoniou managed that.

First and foremost, in my mind, is that her story is compelling and fascinating. I’ve been thinking a lot about what erotica would look like if we could get it back from always being coupled with romance. The Marketplace offers one very cool possibility. I would describe it as a classic school story, along the lines of Harry Potter. People have to make it through a training process, and the narrative is compelling because the reader is wondering who will succeed and who will fail, and how.

Because the story was so compelling, I never even cared whether the sex was arousing. (Though it often was.) Every sex scene was integral to the plot, entertaining on many axes, arousal being only one of them.

One of the main things I loved about this book was that it was so consistently funny. At other times, however, it brought me to tears.

Also, the characters! Each person is so distinct and well drawn that I think Antoniou could teach a master class in writing, for example, dialogue specific to individuals.

The book was long and took me a while, and I’m resistant to series. Still, I think I’ll eventually get through this one, even though Antoniou seems to be making each book longer as the series goes on. I’m taking a bit of a break, but I expect to dive into the next book, The Slave, within the next couple of months. If the books continue to be this good, I’ll even feel relief that there’s so much more to come.

Black Man in a White Coat: a Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine
By Damon Tweedy

I picked this up expecting a straight memoir, but got something much more interesting. Dr. Tweedy does talk about his own life, but he is the sort of person who takes his experiences into larger philosophical and societal explorations. So a chapter about his experiences treating patients with HIV becomes a chapter that also investigates how stigma around HIV may be encouraging its spread, and a chapter that explores racial disparities in HIV detection and treatment at the societal level.

The voice of the book is so humane and ethical at all times that it gave me a new respect for the medical profession. I can only hope that lots of doctors are asking questions as deeply as Dr. Tweedy, and coming from a place of such genuine desire for self-examination and altruism. Whenever something happens that disturbs him, his instinct seems to be to ask, “Is it my responsibility to change this for the better?” It is heartening to spend time in the company of such a decent man, especially when there is so much ugliness in the world.

I found Dr. Tweedy’s meditations on race particularly valuable because they don’t come to neat conclusions. He embraces uncertainties, exposes complexities, and eschews easy answers. He often made me uncomfortable—for example, a story about his ability to find common ground with a family of white supremacists made me feel queasy on his behalf rather than inspired by the resolution, as I believe the narrative intended. I think, however, that if a discussion of race doesn’t feel uncomfortable, it probably hasn’t gone deep enough.

There was a lot of talk about weight loss, which concerned me because I’ve read a lot about the dubious health benefits of trying to force people to lose weight (interventions often do more harm than whatever good comes from weight loss, and there’s little evidence that any weight loss program is lasting for anything more than a tiny minority of people—for more on this, see, for example, Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon). The weight loss stuff seems endemic to the medical profession, though, so I don’t fault this book too much for focusing on it.


That’s it for now! I’m about to go out of town for a long trip, so I might be scarce in the comment section. See you all soon! :)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Depression, Hunters, A Bus Driver, God, Salt and Cod

 By Daddy X

Wish I had better luck to report this time around. Seems most of the stuff I found fell flat, with a few exceptions.

Last time this topic came up, I was working on “The Studs Lonigan Trilogy” by James T. Farrell. I’m still reading the last volume, “Judgement Day,” but not as enthusiastically as the first two.

“Judgement Day” refers to the stock market crash and succeeding years, and has become even more depressing than the first two books of this sad, doomed trilogy. Perhaps I needed something new. I found a hardbound copy of “Hunter” in a thrift shop.

J.A. Hunter (you can’t make this stuff up!) operated as a ‘white hunter’ in Kenya and other locations in Africa in the early part of the last century, contracting with various government agencies and private ‘sportsmen’ to rid the fields, cattle ranges and indeed to protect the very human victims of so-called rogue animals over a period of several decades.

Hunter describes his childhood in Scotland as a quest for the great outdoors. He had little interest in school, sneaking off to poach fish and game on gentry-owned land more diligently than tending to his studies. Woods, streams and the local girls (poaching and pussy, apparently) drove him to distraction.

The father forges an opportunity for his son to stay with a distant relative who has a farm near Nairobi. When Hunter finds the uncle a drunken, ignorant, possibly murderous, definite woman abuser of abominable proportions, he contracts out his shooting prowess.

The memoir unfolds in vignettes much like Jim Corbett’s classic, “Man Eaters of Kumaon.” Hunter and his clients kill a lot of animals. Animals we now know to be at the brink of extinction. Elephants by the thousands. Rhinos by the hundreds. Lions, lions, lions. On one trip alone, he killed something like 167 rhinoceros. They would corner an animal or otherwise force it to charge, killing the creature at their feet, waiting until the last possible moment to pull the trigger, making sure to be close enough so as not to miss a deadly shot. Sheesh!

Hunter depicts a life no longer possible. But by his singular account, we get to experience that life, despite what we now grasp about survival of species and basic compassion. Not to mention the ‘colonialist’ mentality of the writing, a mentality long understood as a major stumbling block for indigenous peoples.

Throughout the book, the reader notes a tinge of sadness in Hunter’s memoir. The book was written in the early 50’s when game was already on the decline in Africa. The reader gets the sense that this book is an apologia of sorts, an attempt to justify and romanticize his part in it all.

Hunter, a contemporary of Isak Dinesen, was portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie version of Ms. Dinesen’s book, “Out of Africa.”

My thinking is that not many readers here will be interested in this book.  Just as well. The only place it appears to be available is on Abebooks. 


Last time we posted on this topic, I also raved about a short-short fiction writer, Etgar Keret, and his collection, “The Girl on the Fridge.” Well, I went out and bought another Keret collection, “The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God.”


Do check out Keret’s work. Surreal, sometimes dark and always imaginative, uncompromising tales related in flash fiction. One gets the sense that the prolific Keret could write 24 hours a day and still produce dependable quality material.

Toward the end of the collection, Keret plays out a warped heaven/hell story, relating it by serial flash fiction chapters—twenty-five of them, each with its own conflicts and resolutions. The serial episodes describe day-to-day doings in a dedicated afterlife. An afterlife reserved for people who have committed suicide. Characters retain the scars of the methods they’d used to take themselves down, parts of heads missing, necks and bodies broken and fused. They wend their way through one bizarre situation after another. Not as depressing as it sounds. Keret’s sense of humor, scope and irony are infectious.

Now I hear that he has yet anther collection out. I’ll be looking for it.


In “Salt” Mark Kurlansky relates the history of our most widespread condiment, the only rock we eat. How it made and unmade civilizations throughout history. How our modern roads evolved from animal trails leading to and from natural salt licks. How an occupying army would take over salt production once an area was secured. We in this modern day of refrigeration tend to forget that until the last century, salting was the most common method of food preservation. Everything from fish and meats, to olives, cabbage, cucumbers and turnips were grown then stored in salt, many preserved foods requiring soaking in several changes of fresh water before preparing.

“Salt” brings home the commonality of a substance essential to the human condition, and the ways salt could be obtained in climates that weren’t particularly suited to drying salt from the sea or from inland salt spring sources. If the sun and air couldn’t do the job, forests were sacrificed to supply fuel for boiling salt water until it crystalized. The first denuding of large forests likely occurred due to salt production.

“Salt” relates recipes from ancient times to relatively recently, satisfying a foodie’s need for something to… err… to chew on.

When compared with Kurlansky’s earlier work, “Cod” which describes the international economy that developed once Europeans realized the wealth of bounty from the newly discovered “Outer Banks” off Nova Scotia, “Salt” doesn’t quite hit the mark.

What Kurlansky works I’ve read do have in common is the element of ‘scope’ which I posted about in May, titled “Scope/Research/Logic.”


I recently found a super-collection from T.C. Boyle on a bookstore ‘sale’ table. Four separate collections in one volume, “Stories II.” A large volume, 915 pages for 59 stories. That should keep me occupied for a while, and perhaps liven up my reading to boot.

Will report impressions of Mister Boyle’s work in three months.

BTW- Had a minor stroke a few weeks ago. No lasting damage, but a scare. Momma X says I’m competing with cats for lives.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Series Reading and Unexpected Pleasures by Suz deMello

I don't often like to get involved in series (serieses?). I've noticed, in film, TV  and books, that when a series becomes popular, often the writer or producer will try to extend the series beyond its originally conceived length to make more money. For obvious reasons, these additional works will most often suck, and suck bigtime.

Take, for example, Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, which I believe was originally conceived as five books, but has, unfortunately, extended to eight. The last three, to put it mildly, range from not very good to really awful.

But it's an unexpected pleasure to find a series that's longer (and better!) than one thought. So it is with Dexter, the book series that the Showtime TV series was based on. I thought there were only three books. One day, while wandering through Amazon, I discovered that there are eight. 


Number Five just became available through my local library's ebook lending program. 

What's really cool is that the TV show didn't follow the books in many particulars. I don't want to give spoilers, but at least one major character in the TV series got killed off in the first book. Another lost significant body parts in the second. And so on.

If you're familiar with the characters of Astor and Cody, they reveal some major personality quirks, which Dexter finds quite...intriguing, even attractive. You have to read the books to find out (tee-hee-hee).


I occasionally bestir my mind to read non-fiction, instead of the pop fiction I prefer. But I do like to stretch my mental muscles, and so read Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness.

Gilbert's main thesis is that we fail to act in ways that make us happy because we misremember the past and misperceive the present, which makes it almost impossible to correctly figure out what will make us happy in the future.

The author does advise checking out others' reactions to the same stimuli, and discarding the notion that each of us in unique.

I would also imagine that journaling daily, and then rereading would be helpful.

I can't recommend this book enough. Gilbert writes in a witty, conversational style that sort-of disguises the pithy nature of the information he's transmitting--he describes and discusses the results of many, many experiments and tests. I highlighted so much in the digital copy I borrowed that I decided while transcribing all of Gilbert's fascinating conclusions, that it would be easier if I just bought the book. So I did.

And the information is precious. After all, we all want to be happy, right?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reeling and Writhing

Sacchi Green

I admit it. That title as wrong. Much as I’d like it, Lewis Carroll’s sly take on reading and writing in schools doesn’t fit this post. If I were reading (or writing) especially good erotica, I might get away with it, especially the writhing part, but I’m not.

Ahem. Let’s start over. What I’m actually discussing is reading and riding. In a car. And not reading so much as hearing. I’ve been in the habit for years of listening to books on tape, or more recently on disc—I finally got a car younger than twelve years old, with a CD player!--while I’m riding or driving. If I try listening with headphones at home, or even dawdle in a parking lot just to finish that one chapter before proceeding to work or shopping or whatever, I fall asleep. I need the eyes and reflexes to be occupied with the driving part while the ears transmit the stories to a different part of the brain.

I’m too cheap to actually buy the recorded books, so I keep track of what my local libraries have on hand, and search the state library online files to find books to request, if I know what I’m looking for.

Last week I finished an unexpectedly absorbing book called The House of Owls, written by Tony Angell, a naturalist who lived near, studied, and sometimes rescued and rehabilitated owls in the Northwest. Non-fiction books about nature or history often seem to be just the right things to read when you need distraction from the strains of your personal life and/or the chaos of world events.

Historical fiction also grabs me if the periods or characters are appealing, and right now I’m going back and forth between two excellent books, back and forth because one belongs to the local library and one I requested via inter-library loan. When the loaned one came through I returned the unfinished local one, since I can easily take that out again later.

The first book is Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, an award-winner widely praised by critics. She combines fiction and history to fill out the life of Thomas Cromwell, a low-born commoner who became the top legal aid to Henry VIII’s Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey. Then, instead of falling with Wolsey when the Cardinal couldn’t pull off the trick of getting the Pope’s approval for an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, Cromwell gradually ascended to the King’s right hand. He accomplished the King’s desires and, of much more importance, England’s schism with the Catholic Church and the beginnings of the Church of England. I’ve read a great deal about the period and the historical details, so I didn’t need to rush to finish the book to find out “what happens next” as far as the drama of Henry VIII and his wives goes—what a drama it is, as colorful and complex and engrossingly scandalous as any fiction! But Mantel has hooked me with her fine writing and the fascinating character she builds and extrapolates from what is and is not known about Thomas Cromwell. I’ll definitely return to Wolf Hall when I finish the book on loan .

That book is Hild, by Nicola Griffith, an outstanding writer who has been better known for writing books with more or less science fictional themes. Hild is fiction about an actual seventh-century Anglo-Saxon girl of noble family in England who becomes, eventually, St. Hilda of Whitby, although that part will be dealt with in a sequel. This is an era I don’t know a great deal about, so I’m interested in learning more about it, and the figure of Hild herself is complex and sympathetic. As a young girl she becomes the “seer” (considered by some a witch) for her pagan uncle, a king. Hild herself considers her ability to predict events more a matter of luck, keen observation, and attention to the details of interactions between men, than of magic, even when she has nightmarish dreams that portend future events. She knows, though, that her own survival and that of her family depend on her predictions being accurate. The book so far is a wealth of historical information about everything from battles and campaigns to everyday life, especially the lives of women. Griffith’s writing is, as always, beautiful, and her research here appears to be meticulous, so I’m hoping to have enough driving time to listen to the whole book before I run out of the permitted renewals. I may even resort to reading the actual, physical book if I have to.

Right now I’m at my retreat in the mountains of New Hampshire, with very limited wifi access, which is one reason I’m so late with this post. You’d think that the five hour drive each way to get here and get home would give me ample listening time, but as it happens I’m traveling with family members who have little interest in Hild, so what we’re actually listening to is a novelization by Alan Dean Foster of Star Wars: the Force Awakens. Yes, I’ve seen the movie, and liked it, and now I know that the story works much better as a movie than as a book. No surprise.

So there you have it. There are actually a few non-recorded books I’m dipping into and out of, such as How to Be  Victorian (for research) and a new anthology, Finding Ms. Write, that I won in a drawing for a comment on the blog of a friend who’s a contributor.

What’s the word I want? Eclectic. That’s the ticket. I’m an eclectic reader. Reader and writher.  Could be worse. I’m not reeling. Yet.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


In case the heading doesn't give it away, what I'm reading is zombies.

Not only zombies. It's the greater genre of post-apocalypse that I'm reading, but zombies are my weakness. I've been through a bunch of books lately. So many I'd struggle to list off most of them. My most recently completed zombie apocalypse book was "The Horde Rises" by T.W. Gallier. It's book one in a three-part series, and I really enjoyed it.

(Side note: there are other ones, many of which I picked up for free on Amazon, which have not been pleasing to me at all. Some of them rife with utter rule-breaking annoyances, like using ALL CAPS in prose, and even parentheses within speech... and not just using parentheses, but using them to direct a comment to the reader, while still having those words contained within the speech.)

So as I say, zombies have been pushing my buttons for a few years now, and lately more than ever. I've put some thought into why that might be, and haven't really come up with anything concrete.

I suppose it's the idea of a body still moving and craving, even after death. The way they're portrayed as mindless beasts holds a fascination for me... imagining an existence where everything that makes a person human is taken away, without the relief of death. Or at least, not any kind of lasting relief.

Probably my favorite zombie book of all time is The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell. I read it a few years back and found it achingly wonderful. Poignant and dark, but with an edge of hope running through it, too.

An honorable mention must go to The Road by Cormac McCarthy, as well. Though not zombies, it's very much post-apocalypse, and in the end, the zombies are very rarely the story when it comes to zombie fiction. They're more often a plot device than anything else. A force to reveal the nature of the human characters. So in The Road, many of the humans end up acting much as they would in a zombie apocalypse story.

I've come to realize one of the elements which makes any kind of post-apocalypse situation seem both attractive and compelling is the disenfranchisement so many of us feel with modern living. We're a society of specialists who rely on other specialists for the myriad things we never learned to do, or have since forgotten.

Post apocalypse breaks all that down. It pulls us down to the most visceral level of our abilities. Essentially, we all become stone age people. Pretty words or skillful book covers won't make a zombie stop biting my leg. The ability to wield a chunk of found wood has a much better chance.

I actually think in some ways zombie apocalypse stories touch on the same voyeuristic and self-serving parts of the human psyche as invisible man stories do. When we picture ourselves becoming invisible, one of the first ideas that seems to occur is to go hide in the changing rooms of your preferred gender for ogling. Or maybe heading into the bank and making off with stuff because you can't be seen.

Same thing in a post-apocalyptic world, really. Order has evaporated. Rules might as well never have existed. If Mikey Muscles wants to satisfy his greeds and hungers, well he's the biggest, strongest guy around... who's gonna stop him?

I'm also doing all this reading for a greater purpose. I intend to spread my wings and start publishing zombie apocalypse fiction, too. I have a bunch of stories under way, though they'll be under a different pen name. No sense in having people pick up a Willsin book only to find the characters eating brains instead of pussy...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Sky Is Falling

by Giselle Renarde

God help me, I love children's books. I'm not talking Young Adult fiction. I'm not talking picture books. I'm talking that slice in between. I think it's called Middle Grade fiction?

I just finished one such novel that I won't even name because it was so terrible. I guess you might classify it as a supernatural/paranormal or horror? It was a traditionally published book, but the writing was awful and it was full of typos. This book is 20 years old (can you believe 1996 was 20 years ago?!?), but the tone didn't feel contemporary enough. Sounded like it was written by some old lady who hadn't been around a child in 40 years.

AND YET... I couldn't put this book down. It was bad on so many levels, but I loved it. Maybe I loved it because it was bad. The story wasn't really compelling, but I still wanted to know what would happen next.

Maybe there's something consoling about reading a traditionally-published book and thinking... ‘another author just like me obviously whipped this thing up on a deadline.’ I suspect it was ghostwritten because the writer it's copyrighted to isn't the name on the cover. Somebody wrote this awful book to pay the bills. I can respect that.

But I actually want to tell you about the children's book I read before this one, because it was compelling and well-written and ticked so many boxes for me:

The Sky Is Falling by Kit Pearson is a WWII-era novel about a young girl and her brother who are sent to Canada from England as War Guests.

I'm a sucker for war stories, particularly non-battlefield ones. Give me Wartime Farm and Foyle's War, anything about the many people who joined he war effort without fighting on the front lines.

Before I picked up this book, I had no idea my country played host to English children. I knew kids from London were evacuated to the countryside, but being put on a ship without their parents and transported to another country to live out the war? I didn't learn that in school.

And, because the Canadian portion of the book was set in Toronto, I got the satisfaction of recognizing landmarks of my hometown. That's especially pleasing through the eyes of a child who's just arrived here from a small town and isn't used to big cities or our weird Canadian ways.

The Sky Is Falling is the first book in a trilogy and I enjoyed it enough that I'd be interested in seeking out the next two. The edition I had in hand was clearly children's fiction, but when I looked this book up on Amazon I noticed the cover looks like literary fiction. That’s… an interesting choice. I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as litfic, but I definitely enjoyed it as an adult reader.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Mating in Captivity" Ester Perel

I had this very erotic dream a while back.  During that half awake period when vivid dreams form themselves.

There was a bed, and on the bed was a woman I do actually know, older than me, laying on the bed, on her back, wearing a pajama top of some kind.  I felt a strong desire for her.  I wanted to make passionate love to her, to penetrate her and her mystery.  I hovered over her.  Without my doing, her top was open, in the way of dreams.  First it's this; then it's that.  Her bare chest was revealed to me, an older woman’s chest, but in a kind of half-half, like yin and yang.  One side was slack skinned and wrinkled. The other half was pink and smooth as a young woman’s.  I knelt over her,taking in the sight of her bare chest, with its odd mismatched halves.  Gently, fearfully I settled over her and laid my head on that maternal space between bare breast and bare shoulder where I could hear faintly her heart beating under my ear.  I was afraid.  With each second, more so.  Then suddenly she laid a gentle hand on my back, and pressed me to her.  Her breath rose and fell, and I breathed warmly and gently into her neck, feeling at peace.  I woke up.

And why was this erotic?

Mating in Captivity is about that vulnerable abyss, that fearful moment of anticipation and revelation whether we will be accepted in our need, or pushed away.  I haven't finished the book yet, I’m reading it slowly, finding in each page and case history a fascination with the nature of eroticism revealed.

Though this is a self help book for long married couples who have lost the spark of lust and maybe sex altogether - and though speaking for myself I think that's probably most of us -  it isn’t really about sex.  Erotica writers know, or should know, that sex is what you do, erotic is who you are.  Conventionality and eroticism don't go well together.  Eroticism is that which wants to get out.  To express.

The book makes the point, several times so far, that what kills the heat in married sex is this conventionality, this doing things by the rules of safety.  Married sex usually becomes what I’ve begun to think of glumly as “Mom and Dad” sex.  Its the last thing before bed.  Its quiet, hidden, because the kids might still be awake, just down the hall.   And then only if you have at all the time or energy.  Initiated by one partner, the other partner glances at the clock on the nightstand.  Then its on to some pattern of foreplay, one of four positions - man on top. Woman on top, side by side, and if one is feeling adventurous maybe a rear entry.  Maybe the lights are on, maybe not, then its a run to the bathroom to wash and off to sleep and up at six.  Getting up early in the morning.  Night after night for years.

The man looks for porn on the internet where he may find what he wishes he could have.  The woman maybe remembers those illicit and wonderful sticky fumblings in the back seat, parked in her parents driveway in early morning hours while her boyfriend labors frantically (”SHHHH!!  My dad will kill me if finds out we’re doing this!”)  And oh - that possibility of dad finding out, of looking up and seeing his shocked face at the rear window your legs are dangling out of, staring at you over your guy's bobbing shoulders - just makes a woman wants to ask - Honey?  What if we did this in the car tonight instead?  Wants to, somehow never does.

Ester Perel makes the case, over and over, that Erotic is about that abyss, that exposure and vulnerability, that leaping off into the unknown and unconventional.  Trying to get away from the Mom and Dad sex and finding out what used to, and maybe does, still turn you on.  Because we don’t covet what we have.  We covet what we observe and don’t have and are afraid to ask for.  Love has so much to do with trust, with tenderness and emotional caring. These are the things a loving relationship are made of.  But, she argues, too much of this can be a killer to the erotic energy of a committed relationship.  Not that the relationship needs to end, ot that there is no place for trust, but when did sex become so safe?

I found this book fascinating, not so much for her practical advice on married sex, but for her speculations and explorations on the question of what is Erotic.  It is as though Anais Nin had written a self help manual.

My dream, from which I woke up erect, was to me profoundly erotic even though no sex act had taken place.  The erotic was my abject need, my humbling, revealed vulnerability of reaching out to a woman, the animal laying of my head, almost begging for love, not knowing if I would be shoved off and scolded (this has also happened in dreams).

The warm touch of her hand on my back, holding me there was as deeply soothing a release as an orgasm.  Maybe better. None of that messy clean up after wards.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reading About Reading

I'm such a slow reader this year. At this time in 2015, I'd read about 30 books. My year-to-date count is about eight. Meh, at least I'm using my non-reading time productively and not just sitting around beating off. ;)

I'm presently reading two books. One of them, of course, is my standard indulgent of my Trekkie side. The Star Trek book I'm presently reading is Star Trek: Voyager: A Pocket Full of Lies by Kirsten Beyer. This is one of those books that takes place after the TV series, so it goes in a lot of unexpected places. However, I don't think there are many Star Trek fans reading this, so I'll move onto something a little more interesting.

The other book I've started is Pulp Friction, edited by Michael Bronski.

Here's the blurb:
Long before the rise of the modern gay movement, an unnoticed literary revolution was occurring, mostly between the covers of cheaply produced pulp. Cultural critic Michael Bronski collects a sampling of these now little-known gay erotic writings -- some by writers long forgotten, some never known, and a few now famous. Through them, Bronski challenges many long-held views of American postwar fiction and the rise of gay literature, as well as of the culture at large. Pulp Friction is a fun, entertaining anthology and an enlightening, groundbreaking work.

I've literally only read the introduction so far, which gives a general overview of Bronski's research in compiling this book. From here on in, it looks like it's broken into smaller thematic sections that each have their own mini-intro, and then there are sizeable excerpts from gay pulp novels.

However, I'm already fascinated.

In my day job, I work in an LGBT centre that has a large library of LGBT books.  I've been told by a few people in the know -- and it's something Bronski acknowledges -- that back in the day when gay and lesbian literature was considered obscene, writers were forced to give their books an unhappy ending. To make their books enticing and erotic to LGBT readers, the writers would write a romantic and erotic book exactly the way they wanted, then tack on an ending chapter where it all goes wrong and everything is destroyed. This would be acceptable for censorship laws, and LGBT readers would know to stop reading at a certain page (at the true ending, not the actual ending of the book) to get the story they wanted.

Bronski, in reading hundreds of books in researching for this anthology, found that to be actually an atypical practice. Yes, it happened, but it was nowhere near as common as we are led to believe. (That being said, he focussed much more on gay literature, and I've been told that bad ending thing is common in older lesbian literature. However, if I recall correctly, Bronski read some lesbian books and came to the same conclusion as he did with the gay books.)

So why do we have this perception that all gay and lesbian literature was forced to have a bad ending when, in fact, that's not true? As a writer, I found Bronski's explanation rather depressing. Bronski believes it's because most literature is forgotten shortly after it's out of print -- and, culturally, we just remember a few of the more significant books.

This isn't the case only with LGBT books, but also with general books. If you were to look at a bestseller list from ten years ago, how many of the books would you remember? What about a bestseller list from fifty years ago?

As a society, we have remembered a few pieces of literature and largely forgotten the rest. Thus, I assume, we have remembered the books that all had a bad ending because, presumably, they stick out more in our collective memory. (Are you more likely to remember the steamy read that was great from start to finish or the steamy read that is perfect if, and only if, you stop reading at page 237? Because of remembering the page number, that's probably the book you'll remember.)

I mentioned it's a bit of a depressing fact as a writer -- because this implies that after I pull my stuff from print, or perhaps even long before that, I'll be forgotten. Sure, they'll be a few people who remember my works (I have a super-fan on Twitter that probably won't forget me anytime soon), but for the most part, I'm forgettable. We all are.

At first that was super depressing, but then I realized why I write. I don't write to be remembered. I certainly don't write because I feel I have an important message that will be contemplated for generations to come. I write because I want to entertain. I write because I have stories in my head that will eat at me until I start to type them out.

I don't write for fame and fortune, though I would not refuse either if they were to come my way. I write to allow someone to dive into a story and escape their world, even if only for fifteen minutes a night. If I'm forgotten in ten or twenty years, that doesn't really change what I'm doing right now.

Maybe one day I'll turn up in an anthology like this one, exploring the best of forgotten erotic literature.


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, June 20, 2016

Literary Serendipity

By Lisabet Sarai

The last time I checked, my “Want to Read” shelf on Goodreads contained more than eighty titles. One reason I like Goodreads (as a reader, at least) is that it provides an easy way to keep track of books that I might want to acquire in the future.

Actually, though, it’s rare that I deliberately purchase a book I’ve flagged. Instead (not necessarily by design), I tend to rely on serendipity. Most of my print books come from second hand bookstores (not counting anthologies I’m in myself, for which I’ve received an author’s copy). I’ll set myself a upper spending limit for each visit, then browse the shelves for books that catch my fancy. Even if I’m looking for something specific, there’s no guarantee I’ll find it. Meanwhile, I might happen on some unexpected gem instead.

My e-reading tends to be books my friends or colleagues have sent me for review or critique or once again, books to which I’ve contributed.

Unfortunately the result of this process is that my want-to-read list gets longer and longer! (These “what are you reading” fortnights also contribute to that problem, since my fellow Grippers almost always talk about something of interest!)

So what books have I stumbled upon recently?

I spent several weeks reading Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House. Pamuk’s books are dense and difficult, but well worth the effort, if one measures this by those “aha” moments occasionally triggered by great literature.

Silent House is Pamuk’s second novel, first published in 1983. On the surface, it’s the story of a single family. In her second floor room, in the old house in a seaside village where she has spent her adult life, a frail ninety year old widow awaits the annual visit of her three grandchildren: overweight, alcoholic Faruk, a professor obsessed with history; his stylish, left-leaning younger sister Nilgün; and materialistic, self-absorbed college student Metin, who is saving his money to go to America and become a captain of industry. The dwarf Recep, now a faithful servant to the grandmother, is in fact her husband’s illegitimate son, crippled due to her treatment of him as a child. Teen-aged Hasan is the son of Recep’s bastard brother and a member of a thuggish nationalist gang. The overall mood is one of dissatisfaction, bitterness and decay.

Each chapter is an intimate, in many cases disturbing, peek into the mind of one of the charactersgrandmother Fatma, Faruk, Recep, Metin and Hasan (but not, interestingly, Nilgün). These first person narratives come close to stream of consciousness. They portray the ebb and flow of emotion, the irrationality of thought, the occasionally overwhelming physical sensation. The effect in each case is one of intense isolation, which becomes more oppressive as the book proceeds towards its shocking and violent conclusion.

I particularly appreciated the depiction of Fatma’s inner life. She is not suffering from dementia, but she experiences the objects in her environment and especially the passage of time in an almost hallucinatory manner. I found her mental wanderings totally convincing. It’s plausible to me that when one reaches such an advanced age, so-called reality might begin to waver.

However, these distinctive, vivid characters are not the author’s deepest concern. Fundamentally, I believe, Silent House is a book about perception, memory and history. The book was published on the eve of a nationalist coup. I don’t know enough about Turkish history to appreciate the specific references, but the messages are more universal. Pamuk’s characters share a loss of connection to the past, a distrust of the present, and a sense of inferiority that leads them to actions they know are wrong, but which they cannot resist.

I was surprised that this author’s early work shows none of the typical optimism of youth. Silent House turned out to be far darker than I expected. More than once I considered putting the book down without finishing it. I’m glad I didn’t yield to my discomfort. That’s part of the point of this novel.

Another second hand find I’ve recently enjoyed is Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The central character in this dark fantasy is a perceptive, bookish seven year old boy, but this is definitely a book for adults. It captures both the wonder and the terror of childhood, and reminded me that no matter how old I become, the child that I was still lurks inside me.

A middle aged man escapes a funeral and finds his way to an ancient farm near the house where he grew up. Sitting by the edge of a duck pond, he recovers a long lost childhood memory, of the time when he stepped over the edge of the familiar world into a place of heart-devouring monsters and magical illumination. The old farm houses generations of women who claim to be equally ancient, women who provide food and comfort but who ultimately cannot save him from his destiny.

Vividly imagined and gorgeously written, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a delight from start to finish. Plus it is full of truths that you’ll recognize immediately--even if you've never considered them before.

As Lettie Hempstock, who lives on the farm at the end of the lane and looks like an eleven year old girl, says:

I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside, either. Outside they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they are doing. Inside they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.’

I’m so glad I stumbled on this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes one of my all time favorites.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Preserve or Rebuild?

by Jean Roberta

Like Sacchi and Lisabet (and possibly others here), I’ve been writing erotica for long enough to notice that some of my earlier work could benefit from some revision.

Actually, some of my earlier work now looks like historical fiction, and when/if I give it a makeover, I’ll have to decide whether to bring it up to date or to preserve its period flavour.

Here is the opening scene from my out-of-print novel, Prairie Gothic, completed in 1998 and e-published in 2002:

The ugly concrete building in the warehouse district looked deserted, and it wore no sign of any kind. If Kelly hadn't seen glimmers of light from between the shutters at the windows and heard the bass thump of recorded music, she would have thought the address in the newspaper was a misprint.

In her second year of university, the fresh-faced young woman was developing a taste for research. She was learning that you could find out whatever you wanted to know if you looked in the right places. On this breezy spring night, the place she wanted to check out was the Den, more often called the club or the bar by the regulars. It was the only gay bar in town.

As Kelly pulled open the heavy front door, a blast of music hit her in the face, carrying the smell of beer and cigarettes. A spasm of anxiety made her breathe faster, and she wondered again how smart it was for her to come here alone. Bars didn't attract her as a rule. Booze and guys usually lost their appeal for her by the end of an evening, and hanging out with a horde of increasingly drunk and loud fellow students seemed like a waste of time to her.

However, the girl craved adventure. She hoped that this bar would be more like a decadent jazz club in Berlin in the 1930s than any of the hangouts she knew. She believed that she could best explore this exotic milieu without the burden of anyone else's fears or desires.

Kelly noticed the huge area in the wall of the entranceway where the plaster had been kicked in during a famous fight. Two months later, it had been badly fixed by a hung-over dyke who claimed to be a drywaller by trade. Since she had donated her time and was currently dating a woman on the board that ran the bar, no one complained openly about the look of the wall.

A very tall, very thin young man asked Kelly for ID, but he looked friendly. Besides, she told herself, she could never be intimidated by a man wearing lipstick and mascara, even if he did apply them better than she could.

The interior of the bar was so dark and smoky that it took a minute for the young woman to notice the eyes watching her. A young man in tight leather pants turned from the cigarette machine to look over the newcomer. Once his cool gaze had skimmed over her breasts, his narrow hips swivelled back toward the faded jeans of a much older, heavy-set man who stood beside him like a guard dog protecting his turf. Both men radiated a sensuality that Kelly had rarely noticed in males, and she felt strangely miffed by their indifference to her. She remembered wishing that guys would leave her alone. In this place, she thought, they just might.

A squarely-built woman with sand-coloured hair turning to grey watched Kelly without turning her head. She took in the young woman's short, shiny brown hair, her dark-framed glasses, the big shirt that couldn't hide her small, perky breasts, and the girlish hips under loose black pants. Pat, the older dyke, took another drag on her cigarette. Her blue eyes sparkled.

Kelly felt conspicuously tall, as she usually did in a new place. As she strode toward the bar, she noticed an adjoining room where two women of about her own age were playing pool. One was a graceful, fine-boned native woman with waist-length hair that twitched behind her like a tail. The other was a plump, joking blonde whose laughter sounded like gunfire. A slim girl with red hair watched the game and gave advice to the players. Feeling very alone, Kelly thought of approaching this group and asking to join their game, even though her pool-playing was far from impressive.

"Kelly!" squealed the tenor voice of a short boy with a lively face and mouse-coloured hair that fell in his eyes. "It's Neil." Kelly didn't need to be told who he was. The sight of her classmate looked to her like a sign from the Goddess.

Following Neil to his table, Kelly felt both disappointed and hopeful. She had come here to meet women, not men, but she hoped that little Neil, the class clown, could serve as her guide to this culture, like Beatrice guiding Dante through the underworld.

This scene was loosely based on my first venture into the local gay bar in 1982. So much has changed since then! Now, LGBT watering-holes are clearly marked with signs, and the regulars don’t feel like outlaws – unless they are smokers, in which case they have to practise their perverse habit outdoors, regardless of the weather.

I’m unreasonably fond of this novel, especially because it captures a moment in time that will never come again. If I don’t bring it up to date, though, I’ll have to play up its retro qualities. I don’t want to leave it mouldering in my "Documents."

So when my year-long break from teaching starts on July 1, I’ll have a look at all my orphan pieces, including this one, and decide what to do with them.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Literally, What Is the Next Sentence?

By Annabeth Leong

I want to get very specific with this prompt. When I am staring at a blank page, or at a blinking cursor, the question on my mind is quite literally, “What should I write next?”

That can feel so paralyzing, so I want to share some of my tricks for dealing with that.

The Sensual Solution

What does the viewpoint character see? Hear? Taste? Smell? Feel? I used to regularly do a combination writing exercise/meditation in which I took a walk and focused on describing what I was experiencing through each of my five senses. Then when I returned, I would take out a notebook, set a timer, and write out those impressions with the most accurate descriptions I could.

I later found that the practice calms me, and whenever I’m distressed or anxious, it can help me to take this sort of sensory inventory.

If I’m in the middle of a story, facing a blinking cursor, it never hurts me to consider and write down details of the character’s physical surroundings. Once I get going with description, that can sometimes get my writing moving more generally. I can go back later and cut the description, or move it to a more sensible place, or leave it in if it’s appropriate where it is.

If I’m starting a new story, it’s a good idea to set the scene anyway.

The Time Travel Solution

Maybe I don’t know what the character is going to do next, but I might know what they’re going to do at some time in the future. There’s no law that says I have to write each sentence consecutively, in the exact order the reader will encounter them.

When I worked as a reporter, I often felt a lot of fear when I sat down to write a story. I particularly froze up trying to come up with a lede (the “punchy” intro that’s supposed to grab a reader’s attention—I have punchy in quotes because I have never heard that word outside the context of journalism and it’s always seemed odd to me).

What I eventually discovered was that I tended to be much less nervous about writing paragraphs toward the end of the story, when I summarized the conclusions reached by what I had written about and quoted final commentary from my sources. I learned to start there, and then write toward the lede. So, most of my articles were written conclusion first, followed by quotes from secondary sources, followed by the technical description that made up the bulk of the body, followed by the lede. If, while I was writing the stuff that would come later, I thought of anything that might work as a lede, I tossed a quick note about that possibility up toward the top of my file.

That’s a description of a process of nonfiction writing, but similar principles can apply when writing fiction. I really don’t like for my endings to feel rushed. If I’m under deadline, I often write what I expect to be the last passage earlier in the process, and then work on the middle until time runs out.

And when I’m stuck and uncertain of what comes next, sometimes I jump to a later point in the story. Am I dying to get to the sex scene? Maybe I should just write it now and then work up to it.

An added benefit of this approach in fiction is that it can give me a clue about where my writing might be flagging. Is it possible to cut some of the material that bogged me down? Start the story later?

Alternatively, sometimes when I’m writing a scene that’s supposed to take place later in the story’s timeline, a character will say or do something that makes it clear what needs to have happened at the point where I got stuck.

What’s important is to write something next, rather than giving up and closing the file, or surfing away into the deep waters of the internet.

The Contemplative Solution

What is the viewpoint character thinking right now? A story might be a drag to read if it’s written with too much internal monologue, but writing about what’s going on inside the main character’s head can get the cursor moving and suggest what action might be taken next. Some internal monologue might be good to leave in, and sometimes, depending on the situation, writing about what the character is thinking can lead to an idea of what the character might say to whoever is in the scene with them.

Sometimes, I’ll freewrite on a notebook or in a separate file. Sometimes I’ll type in my main file with the idea that I can cut the passage of internal monologue if it becomes repetitive or superfluous.

The Slow Solution

Really, all any writer is doing at any given moment is trying to type a sentence. That can get lost, though, amid various word count goals or larger viewpoints. Sometimes, it helps me to slow way down and remember the sentence right in front of me.

Lana Fox taught me an exercise where you set a timer and just spend five minutes on one sentence. It’s a lovely feeling to take slow breaths and really sink into this one small picture you’re painting with words.

Sometimes, I do one round of that and it unlocks me. Sometimes I’ll write whole passages that way. What’s funny is, even if you’re spending five minutes on each sentence, they add up. And you still end up writing a lot more than if you let yourself give up or get distracted.

The Superlative Solution

I once wrote a trilogy of short stories by asking myself at each turn, “What would be the stupidest possible thing for the character to do next?” I’m not sure how successful those stories were, but the question was interesting and it got me moving. I would suggest trying out various questions and looking for the ones that grab your attention.

What would be the kindest possible thing for the character to do next? The bravest? The meanest? The most surprising? The most obvious?

What this technique does is get me out of worrying and back into telling a story, which I think is about being interested in getting to know these people you’re writing about and, yes, wondering what they’re going to do next.


I hope some of these tricks are helpful to someone. I’ve used them all at one time or another, but if there’s anything I know about writing, it’s that you have to stay on your toes all the time. I am always having to come up with new tricks to keep things moving, but that’s part of what I like about this thing we do.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Exotic Locales and Flash Daddy

Exotic Locales and Flash Daddy

After a time of not being able to write a story with any legs, in June I came up with an idea for a Bangkok scenario. I only wish I had Lisabet’s chops for exotic settings. I guess it’s well beyond a third done, and already up over 4k, clearly much higher than my recent average, which is probably hovering under 1k. Fun to get into a story with more than one scene. :>)

Now I’m realizing I have a whole sheistload of unpublished stories running under 1500 words—mostly under 200. Whatever to do with all that flash fiction? I can remember some involved discussions over at ERWA on the value of flash fiction. In these discussions, I always maintained that lessons we learn in economy of words would serve any form of literature, from short stories to poetry to novels. But what to do with all those flashers?

If anyone saw my “Fates, Furies, Farrell and a Fridge” post for April’s “What I’m Reading” topic, I mentioned a short-short story writer, Etgar Keret, and his marvelous collection, “The Girl on the Fridge”. Well, I went out and bought his other book of shorts, “The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God”.

Now here’s a guy who has mastered flash fiction to a level I’ve not seen before, even through three stints as ERWA’s flasher editor. Sure, some few pieces could compare, but Keret is consistently imaginative and lively in an inimitable surreal style. He can use three words where a less competent writer would need a dozen.

Moreover, Keret has figured out how to market such a unique gift. I wholeheartedly hope this further encourages you guys to investigate his work. You won’t be disappointed.

Now, here’s the rub: I need an editor for a project called “Flash Daddy”, (name bestowed by Adrienne Benedicks when I took over as Flasher editor at ERWA). I don’t need an editor who actually edits the work; Lisabet will be doing that. What I need is the equivalent of an ‘acquisitions’ editor to read and evaluate perhaps over 200 very short stories, and pull a coherent collection from a big, disassociated pile of stuff that I have a hard time being objective about. Of course, an additional editor would be credited in the book. Any takers? I’m paying!