Friday, June 29, 2018

Buffy, Anita and Vampire Love

K D Grace

It all started with Frank Langella’s 1979 film version of Draculaand the scene of the seduction of Lucy.  I was a university student at the time with libido through the roof and an imagination to match. Oh, the fantasies! I couldn’t keep from wondering, even back then, just why those vampire seductions, those “turnings,” which were quite often so outrageously sexy, had to end with the turnee becoming the turner’s mindless minion and hideous restaurant. I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the exchange was a little more equitable. 

The first vampire stories I ever read were Anne Rice’s Lestat novels. I always found it disappointing that, in her books, while those turnings, those makings of fledgling vampires, were often little more than a disturbingly sexy rape, the vampires themselves, once turned, were very sensual but specifically not sexual. I wanted it all. I wanted the turnees fucked, turned and then fucked some more. But finally! halleluiah! Buffy and Anita happened.

“Seriously? Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” That was my initial response when I first saw the film at my sister-in-law’s house a hundred years ago. But I her teenage girls were watching it on cable, so what could I do but watch along … with bated breath. 

“Really? They actually made a television series out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” That was my first reaction when I was bored-channel-surfing one evening a year of so later and came across an early episode. “Are they that hard up for subject matter,” I groused. And then I watched it … all seven seasons of it … some more than once. 

“Oh you have got to be kidding? Derivative much?” That was what I thought the first time I saw one of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels. “Another vampire slayer? Haven’t vampires been done to death?” No pun intended. But I read them… well not all, but a good eight or ten or so...

With Buffy and Anita, at last we had arrived! The vampire slayers were now seducing the vampires, and making them tow the line. While the sex in Buffy had to be soft enough for evening television, not so the sex in the Anita Blake stories. Though in the early novels, the main character is celibate with a tendency toward ‘heavy petting.’ But in both cases, seduction was always only a breath away. That sexy pull of the dark is what we live for, right? The cost for Buffy was devastating. For Anita the sexy vampire was just the beginning of a kinky, steamy and very neurotic paranormal journey. I felt like I had come home. 

I never thought I’d write vampires. In fact, I balked at writing paranormal in general until I realized that it was the perfect place to explore the darker side of the erotic without all the rules and regulations that restrict contemporary erotic fiction. But even so it was witches, demons and ghosts for me. I wasn’t brave enough to tackle vampires. And then Alonso Darlington burst on to the scene in Landscapes, which was not only my first M/M story written for the Brit Boys on Boysboxed set, but Alonso was my first vampire. Back then I never dreamed he’d become so dear to my heart, and that he’s worm his way into being a key player in my Medusa’s Consortiumseries. 

I’ve learned a great deal from vampires. Paranormal in general is a great way to explore the dark side of human nature. But I think vampires are the best way of all because they once were human, and they either tend to despise that which they used to be or yearn for what they’ve lost. Both responses are so utterly human and both are equally fascinating. Vampires provide the perfect place to contemplate that age-old question: Who are the realmonsters? Quite often, they’re not who I think. Quite often the worst of them live down deep inside me. Oh Freud, where are you when we need you?

Once I started writing paranormal stories, I found them particularly freeing. No one insists on vampires and shifters and other scary dudes wearing condoms. It's pretty much a given that there is nothing safe about fucking a vampire or a demon, and if the whole idea doesn’t scare the reader as much as it turns her on, then what’s the point?

From long before Frank Langella to Buffy to Anita and to everything since, there has always been a very close relationship between fear and arousal, which in my humble opinion makes the arousal even more arousing. The iconic sex scenes between the young and beautiful couple in a horror movie is always followed by the ghoul, serial killer or other baddie murdering the lovers in a horrible way. A part of what is so arousing about paranormal sex is the breaking of so many taboos, the attraction to something that the world says should horrify us. Oh we’re no less horrified for our attraction, if anything we’re more so. That combination of attraction and repulsion makes us doubt ourselves for feeling things we shouldn’t. Sound familiar? 

In paranormal stories that boundary between what arouses us and what terrifies us is so deliciously permeable that crossing it can get us into all kinds of trouble and then some. But crossing that boundary also brings with it the possibility of gifts and powers and abilities as well as a tumble into sex raised to something both divine and diabolical. 

What is forbidden in erotica by most publishers doesn’t apply to paranormal. Some of the most erotic scenes I’ve ever read are of vampires taking blood from or giving blood to their lovers. In fact in some novels the sharing of blood enhances the pleasure exponentially. Blood holds within it life and identity. It contains the magic of who we are as individuals. We don’t have to lose a whole lot if it before we die. It also is the transport for horrific diseases, a river of both life and contagion that terrifies us as much as it fascinates us. That it’s all contained in such a fragile sensitive vessel as the human body only amplifies its preciousness and its power. 

Vampire stories are the perfect place to explore dubious consent and loss of control. When dealing with vampires, demons, witches and magic, is consent ever less than dubious? Is there any better place to explore safely that total loss of control that comes from giving oneself over to the forbidden? Isn’t that really what the archetypal stories of seduction by the gods is all about? In the arms of a monster, with all our human frailties, there’s no guarantee of survival. And then there’s the terrifying thought of what we will become if we survive. How can we not be forever changed – for good or for ill. How can the resulting story not be intriguing?

The truth is that while we might be happy to dabble in the darker side of our sexuality, on a fundamental level, the very act of sex is frightening. It is the losing of self in the other, the opening to the unknown. It is the allowing ourselves to be more vulnerable than we are in any other act. It is the giving up of control. All of these elements are, by nature, a part of sex -- sex that carries at its core both the possibility of conception and of death. The vampire’s tale is an augmentation of all of those
elements, a sharpening of their edges to take us into unexplored territory beyond la petit mort.

That all we fear and all we desire in sex can be raise to the nth degree when placed in a paranormal setting and examined from the intimately terrifying safety of a book or a film or a television series allows us to vicariously experience the darker side of our desires. I would suggest that there are few better ways to explore our humanity than taking an erotic journey with the monsters in the dark who are more like us, and far closer to us, than we can easily admit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Admit it -- you like this stuff!

By Tim Smith

Cult classic confessions? Wow - what a subject! Where do I begin? So many cult classics, so many genres…do I start with books? Movies? Music? The mind reels with anticipation.

I suppose the obvious place to begin is with pulp fiction novels. I grew up reading the works of Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain and Micky Spillane, among others who toiled in this genre. When I was a teen, Spillane was a definite guilty pleasure, the sort of read-under-the-blanket-with-a-flashlight stuff reserved for adults. Then I discovered Harold Robbins. Enough said about that.

We have a wonderful used bookstore in town, which I only visit once a year because I could easily drop a week’s pay. I picked up some vintage paperbacks, the kind that used to sell for a quarter on rotating wire racks in the drugstore. The titles alone were lurid enough to tease you into buying them – “Strip the Town Naked,” “Hitch-hike Hussy,” “Nude in the Mirror,” “Nude in the Sand” (probably a sequel), “Night of Shame,” “Station Wagon Wives,” “Summer Resort Women,” and “The Lady is a Lush.” That last one sounds like an old Sinatra song, doesn’t it?

All of these came out in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and the writing reflects the era. If there was a woman’s point of view in any of them, I missed it. Some of the log lines are just as sleazy as the books—“She showed men the way--the wrong way!” “A man, a woman, and a bottle. A tale of sexual excess.” “The intimate story of Ruth Gordon, who made a sin resort out of a fashionable country club.” “Sex and savagery in the advertising agency jungle!” You get the idea.

Along the way, I became a classic film buff, and gravitated toward pulp noir B movies of the 40’s and 50’s. Some of them are among my favorites. In the genre of femme fatale films from this era, one of the all-time best has to be “Detour,” featuring a couple of unknowns who never made the big time in Hollywood. Mostly known for its fourteen-day shooting schedule and sub-zero budget, it’s about a hapless hitchhiker who gets involved with a scheming blonde, only to become her unwilling slave. She convinces the guy that he’s responsible for another man’s death, and blackmails him into doing her bidding. You’ll have to catch this one on the classic film channel to find out what happens.

Ifound a DVD collection of these types of films from the 1970’s, called “Drive-in Cult Classics.” These were ultra-cheap flicks that were typically shown as the third feature at the drive-in, or at college midnight movie fests. The casts were comprised of C-list actors, the kind that popped up as supporting players on TV shows, usually in crowd scenes. These were what we used to call sexploitation movies, the ones that took advantage of the recently-abolished censorship code, giving moviemakers free reign to put out just about anything.

The plots are laughable, the dialogue even more so, the acting isn’t good enough for community theater, and the sex scenes are ridiculous. One featured an intimate bedroom encounter between a husband and wife, but the guy never took off his pants or shoes while wriggling atop his naked spouse. How realistic is that?  

And those titles and tag lines! “Pick-up,” “The Sister-in-law,” “The Teacher,” “The Stepmother,” “Trip with the Teacher,” and “Malibu High Hookers,” to name a few. Check out these poster teaser lines:

“She destroyed her husband’s brother by the most immoral act imaginable!”

“She corrupted the youthful morality of an entire school.”

“She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!”

“This high school senior worked her way through the faculty lounge.”

An earlier post mentioned the cult classic “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” A local theater hosts a late evening screening of this one every year as part of their summer film series. I’ve seen people showing up in costume and reciting the dialogue along with the actors, so this is no longer surprising.

What did surprise me last year was when we attended a Sunday afternoon showing of “The Wizard of Oz.” I didn’t expect to see so many kids dressed in calico dresses, ruby red slippers and pigtails, accompanied by their mothers decked out as the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with broom.

I guess you can’t define what makes a cult classic and what doesn’t. 


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Gay Cult Classic

I’ve not read The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren, a gay novel so successful that there are LGBT running groups around the world who call themselves Front Runners. It’s taken on an almost cult classic like status, I’ve found, among gay men. Almost everyone knows about it, though almost no one I know has read it.

Last week, a colleague sent along an article that lamented the closing of LGBT bookstores and the closing of LGBT imprints at publishers. As LGBT literature becomes more mainstream, are we losing something of our collective LGBT culture? The Front Runner is considered the first commercially successful gay fiction book — so it could be considered the front runner for mainstreaming LGBT lit.

I probably didn’t have the reaction to that article lamenting bookstore closures that my colleague expected to hear from me. Having the role of author, editor, and publisher, I have a perspective that may be different than that of a book buyer.

While LGBT bookstores are closing, and LGBT imprints at publishers are disappearing, I don’t think the LGBT book industry is suffering for it.

We all write because we have an innate need to tell stories. Most writers have secondary and tertiary motivations, too. In the end, no matter what motivation we have as writers, we want to get paid for our work. LGBT bookstores are not as much help to LGBT fiction as an industry outsider might believe.

With LGBT imprints and LGBT bookstores, we unfortunately ghettoize ourselves if that’s what we pursue. Yeah, we want to support our community and we want to get our messages out to those who need to hear them, but aiming for such a path limits one’s reach, and thus limit’s one’s earning potential.

When’s the last time you went in an LGBT bookstore? When’s the last time you went into a general bookstore? For me, I’ve never been in an LGBT bookstore — and it’s been several months since I’ve set foot in either Chapters or Indigo. But I do buy books online (but not from Amazon) … and most LGBT bookstores don’t have an online presence (or if they do, it’s a minimal one with no online store attached) so I couldn’t support them even if I wanted to.

And with imprints from large publishers, those come and go all the time — and to house LGBT lit under a specific imprint … well … what happens when that imprint is closed? In a non-LGBT context, Harlequin used to have the Kimani imprint for writers of colour — and when they closed that imprint, they apparently refused to allow the former Kimani authors to write for other Harlequin imprints. Closing imprints is always a business decision — and if an imprint is closing, that means it’s not selling.

By lamenting the loss of LGBT imprints, what are we actually lamenting? They were places to publish LGBT lit, yes, but if it closed, that means it wasn’t making money, which means readers weren’t buying the books. But is it the books’ fault? Or is it the imprint’s fault?

At brick-and-mortar bookstores, book buyers decide what to stock the shelves with. Imprints are part of that decision — they know to trust certain imprints and may decide that other imprints “just don’t sell”. And if an imprint is deemed to be a non-seller, they won’t stock the books, which means they won’t sell as well as they could — which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And in this changing book industry, where authors are more likely to self-publish and small publishers are more likely to use POD services like Createspace — which unfortunately means their print books are very unlikely to get in physical bookstores — it’s suddenly very hard to have a bookstore presence. A lot of LGBT books are self-published or published through small presses. If a giant national chain bookstore won’t carry indie paperbacks, then a near-bankrupt LGBT bookstore certainly won’t either.

Mainstreaming is good. It’s good for business. And it’s good for getting your message out. (Indeed, I happened to see on Twitter that an LGBT author received an email from someone who accidentally bought their LGBT book, read it, and had their mind and heart opened. Mainstreaming was not only good for that author’s business, but helped spread positive messages — something that would have been impossible if LGBT lit hadn’t been so mainstreamed.)

Writing an LGBT book that becomes a cult classic is certainly a nice thing. It gets known, it gets sales, and it gets a following … but it’s all kind of limited. I don’t want to write a cult classic. I want to write a book — actually, many, many, many books — that captivate hearts and minds and reach across audiences and communities.

I want to build a career out of writing LGBT lit — and I can’t do that by relying on LGBT bookstores, LGBT imprints, or cult classics statuses.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Silent Hearts. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, member of the Indie Erotica Collective, and hosts two podcasts, Deep Desires Podcast and Sex For Money.

Monday, June 25, 2018

If I Only Had a Cult

Sacchi Green

Insofar as a cult is assumed to be something shared by a group of self-styled insiders, I’ve tended to be an outsider. I mean, you can’t have a cult with just one member, can you? Even if a fairly large number of people share your tastes, it’s not a cult unless you form a group, is it? Or maybe these days it is.

I think the closest I’ve come to feeling cultish about a TV show would be with The West Wing. There’s even a name used among aficionados, Wingnuts. I’ve been seeing some comments online lately about binge-watching The West Wing looking for comfort in these days of government gone bonkers, and evil bonkers at that. But for some, and I’ve decided that I’m one of them, even though I haven’t commented, re-watching the show would be too painful, knowing how different our reality has become.

But isn’t that sort of thing more fandom than cult? Don’t TV and movie cults need to be built around productions that didn’t have wide appeal, but intense appeal to a smallish in-group? Come to think of it, The West Wing may fit that description after all. Looking much farther back, If cult can be associated with addictive viewing, I may have been a lonely cultist of two different Sherlock Holmes productions many decades apart (and, of course, of the books most of all.) In my teens I had a ritual for watching Sherlock Holmes on TV that involved soda crackers and kosher dill pickles. Surely that ritual made it a cult! The recent modernized TV version of Sherlock Holmes became a more widespread cult, although more a cult of Benedict Cumberbatch than of Holmes. I was interested, too, but less so as time went on.

I can’t escape my knee-jerk impression, though, of a cult being a drink-the-kool-aide affair. I know that our topic here is supposed to deal with the world of entertainment, not politics, but these days entertainment and politics have become painfully entangled. Tweets get more attention than plays or books or even movies. Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh just a couple of days ago published a tour-de-force satire that wasn’t really a satire at all, titled, “Under Trump, the GOP Has Become a Cult.” What he goes on to say is written in a humorously snarky tone, but it’s also true beneath the witticisms. Cultism, in fact, is taking over the tribalism that was bad enough in itself.

So I don’t even want to think about cults, unless I can have back the innocent enjoyment of my Sherlock Holmes shows, or the kinds of movies that always nab me if I happen to glimpse them on TV, like The Lord of the Rings (no matter how classist I know it is) or Harry Potter, or Star Wars: the Force Awakens (ah, the moment when the light saber goes to her, not to him!)

I could use some warm, passionate, snarky, sometimes naughty, entertainment cults that take you out of this daily clash of cults bound for mutual destruction and into a group of like-minded people just enjoying themselves. But, mea culpa, I wouldn’t have time to pay attention to entertainment like that. I’m too busy keeping up with all the latest outrages and insanities. I guess I’m in the worst kind of cult after all.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Led Astray

by Jean Roberta

As far as my father was concerned, rock-and-roll was a fad that couldn’t disappear fast enough. My mother had acquired a Master’s degree in English in 1944, and as far as she was concerned, fantasy stories were for children.

Some time in the 1960s, someone gave me The Hobbit for Christmas, and then I discovered The Lord of the Rings novels. And I loved reading with Beatles music as a soundtrack. I read a review of their music by a critic who admired their “Anglo-Saxon melodies” (reminiscent of the Angles and the Saxons who invaded Britannia in the fifth century of the Christian Era?). I convinced myself that their version of rock was medieval enough to accompany a multi-volume quest saga. (See footnote at end.)

Some background: After The Hobbit was published in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien worked on the long sequel which was to become The Lord of the Rings until 1949, but apparently the concept had been brewing in his mind since 1917, when he returned home from the Great War.

After numerous disagreements and negotiations with publishers, the whole saga was published in three volumes between summer 1954 and autumn 1955. The books were hardcover, and they didn’t attract a lot of attention at the time.

In 1965, Ace Publications of the U.S. republished the books in paperback with no legal permission from the author or the British publisher. Ace claimed that the existing copyright did not extend to the U.S., and therefore they were not breaking any laws. Tolkien complained, so Ace gave him some money in compensation. Tolkien then signed a deal with Ballantine to bring out the “legitimate” American paperback version.

I ended up with two paperback volumes with matching cover art, and one that looks like part of a different series, the Ace version. By that time, university students had discovered The Lord of the Rings, and the characters entered the counterculture. Although the convoluted plot could be seen to defend the grim necessity of war (especially if an evil wizard is trying to retrieve a ring that corrupts almost everyone who tries it on), it was somehow interpreted as a disguised protest against American military involvement in Vietnam. (Never mind that none of the political events of the 1960s were thought of in 1917.)

The whole panorama of imaginary races, cultures, cities, countryside, and thrilling battles could be made relevant to the life of any reader. As a high school student, I thought institutional oppression was the bane of my own time, and Tolkien took me away to a milieu in which individual heroism could save the day. And the little people called hobbits could discover their heroic potential.

Speaking of panorama, I had no idea what kind of landscape had originally inspired The Shire, homeland of the hobbits. So I gazed out the window of my family home at the mountains of southern Idaho, and imagined this sagebrush-studded terrain populated by characters from the novels. Chinx Peak, at the other side of a valley that was about two miles wide, could be made to substitute for Mount Doom, especially if I imagined smoke and lava spewing from its top.

[The Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho]

In vain, my parents tried to interest me in “better” reading and listening-matter. My father once asked me to write a book review that would explain why I liked Tolkien’s work, but that sounded like an exercise in frustration, since he could always say I hadn’t convinced him that the books were worth reading. My mother suggested that in due course, I would “mature” enough to prefer realistic fiction.

My father probably would have forbidden me from playing Beatles records if my mother hadn’t liked them too. So he (a die-hard philistine who couldn’t sing a note or play a musical instrument) played Bach, Brahms and Beethoven on the stereo when my Beatles records weren’t offending his ears. He would then ask me pointedly if I liked the symphony du jour. I usually did, and I told him so. I just didn’t see why I had to choose between musical genres

Like other parents of teenagers, mine were clearly afraid that my interest in fantasy could warp my mind so much that I wouldn’t be able to function in the real world. As for what rock music could inspire me to do, that didn’t bear thinking about. The words and the music both seemed like a Ring of Power that my parents wished I hadn’t picked up.

Was I completely corrupted by the culture of my youth? You be the judge.

This passage is from the Wikipedia article on The Lord of the Rings:

“Following J.R.R. Tolkien’s sale of the film rights for The Lord of the Rings to United Artists in 1969, rock band The Beatles considered a corresponding film project and approached Stanley Kubrick as a potential director; however, Kubrick turned down the offer, explaining to John Lennon that he thought the novel could not be adapted into a film due to its immensity. The eventual director of the film adaptation, Peter Jackson, further explained that a major hindrance to the project's progression was Tolkien's opposition to the involvement of the Beatles.”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

MSTie-eyed and fancy-free

by Giselle Renarde

My girlfriend has changed my life for the better in oh-so-many ways. For instance, she introduced me to a show I like to call Mystery Science Theater 3000. I call it that because that's its name. We were at HMV before it closed its doors forever when she held up a DVD box set and asked "Have you ever seen this?"

She had, but not on TV. I have no idea whether Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired in Canada. I never got any 'a them fancy networks. Sweet said she used to rent it on VHS from the video store.

In case you've gone your whole life without ever hearing about MST3K (like me until a couple years ago), here's what all the hubbub's about:

A human test subject—first Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson), then Mike Nelson (Michael J. Nelson), and most recently Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray)—has been imprisoned aboard the spacecraft Satellite of Love by mad scientists and their henchmen (collectively called "the Mads") and is forced to watch a series of bad movies in order to find one that will drive the test subject insane.

To keep his sanity, Joel built himself a series of sentient robots (the "'bots") from parts aboard the Satellite, and who subsequently remain aboard with the other test subjects. The 'bots include Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy and Cambot. Crow and Servo join the human as they watch the film in the Satellite's theater. The trio frequently comment and wisecrack atop it, a process known as "riffing". At regular intervals throughout the movie, the hosts leave the theater and return to the bridge of the Satellite to perform sketches ("host segments") that satirize the film being watched.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn't have come into my life at a more perfect time. I was hit by a bad bout of depression (which tends to happen when you're chronically depressed), and one thing I've learned about myself is that comedy helps.

Big-time helps.

Helps more than anything else I can think of.

At least, it helps for me personally. My girlfriend tells me that, when she's down, comedy is the last thing she wants. She feels like it's mocking her, or making light of everything that's bad in the world.

But comedy is my go-to, so I'm immensely grateful that my girlfriend introduced it to me at just the right time.

MST3K is silly and smart. I thought that's why I loved it. (I don't think any one human could get all the jokes. One minute they're making references to Michel Foucault, the next they're referring to some regional Minnesota cable commercial. It helps if you watch with pop-up video style annotations on their YouTube channel.) But, upon reflection, I realize the reason I watched 3-4 hours of MST3k every day when I was really depressed is the sense of community it fosters. I guess anything with a cult following makes you feel sort of special (yay! I'm part of a cult), but more than that...

Oh god I'm going to sound like such a loser...

Am I really going to say this out loud?

Yes, I am.

When I watched all those hours of MST3K, I felt like I had friends.

Robot friends.

And Joel.

Do I sound like a lonely, miserable person or what? But that's what depression does to me. Makes me not want to reach out. Not to real people. But to robots? Yes, that's acceptable. If I could pal around with Servo and Crow (and also Data because every comedy team needs a straight man or an android), I would be in heaven.

The riffing also reminds me of watching "Mom Shows" with my siblings (and my mom, of course, otherwise we'd be watching something else).

Mom Shows are terrible dramas, usually CanCon about FBI agents or any show where a couple of the characters are angels. Not Charlie's Angels--the heavenly variety. Whenever my mom watched her Mom Shows, my siblings and I would rip those fuckers to shreds.

Those were the days! Sitting around the TV riffing on Mom Shows with my sibs. You know, my mom didn't even tell us to stop making fun. She'd join in! Her jokes were... not the greatest... but it's the effort that counts. I think she just loved that all her kids were in one room, all focused on the same activity: riffing on Touched by an Angel.

Reading over everything I've just written, I can sort of imagine people wondering why I don't just go out and buy some real friends, or at least spend more time with my family. All possibilities. And maybe one day I will. But at two in the morning, when I'm alone with my cats, there will always be Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Reader (Why I love the Pulps)

Walking down Fenwick Street in my town, I pass the old Enterprise mill, which in my lifetime had once employed hundreds of people, spanning generations of fathers and son, mothers and daughters, weaving cotton into textiles.  I always wondered why General Sherman in his march to the sea spared Augusta, which was home to the Confederate Army’s gunpowder works, armory, arsenal, cannon casting facility, and virtually all of its textiles, all of which were easily stashed on a steamboat to the Savannah river and down to the sea, or on a fast train to Atlanta.  If any place in the south needed burning down it was this place.

The mill is closed now.  It is in what Tibetan’s would call a “bardo”, an in-between place between incarnations.  Sometimes almost a colony of hipster condos, then no, maybe a trendy office building.  Still a mill a hundred years old on the outside, inside undecided.
 I pass the old shotgun houses, now mostly inhabited by poor black families.  A shotgun house is a distinctly southern architecture, before the invention of air conditioners, or even electric fans.  It’s a long narrow, almost barracks like structure, with doors on either end opening onto a hallway that transfixs the house, so that when both doors are opened a strong cross breeze provides a little coolness.  Many of them have inviting little porches.  The hipsters have not yet discovered and gentrified these houses, though someday that will probably happen.
 The shotgun houses were built by the mills for the mill workers.  My maternal grandfather was a cotton mill worker, who later died of lung disease as so many did.  If you worked for a mill, you could get in the door with a grade school education, be trained to do one or two things, might be offered a house within hiking distance, or an electric street trolley ride to the mill and you were pretty much set for life.  Generations passed this way.

In the junk shops around here, on a lucky day you might find a box full of pulp magazines.  Most of them are dated back to the 1950s and 1940s.  They are among the ghosts of these little houses.

The pulp magazines I love were written for these people.  They weren’t for the snooty Harpers or Atlantic Monthly crowd. They were pure escapism, solely to take you someplace else. They were cheap and disposable, like the readers who loved them.  Meant to be rolled up in a jacket pocket, read on a lunch break with an RC Cola and a Moon Pie, or read on a porch in a rocking chair with Charlie McCarthy or the Shadow or a boxing match on the radio along with a sweating glass of ice tea, in the cool of the evening, maybe accompanied by a pipe, and clouds of bugs circling the porch light.  You might lift your head to Halloo to someone passing on the sidewalk, invite them up for a glass and a chat by the radio.  And when they disappeared again down the sidewalk into the urban dark, back to the world of the story.
This is what reading is like when you’re a kid.  Falling into the world of the story.  Books and pulps gave you worlds to be lost in.  People would call your name, call you to supper or a scolding, and you just wouldn’t hear them.  Because you were over there, where you rightly belonged except for a cruel trick of birth; smashing swords on the plains of Mars, swinging an axe into somebody's face in Cimmeria, or bedding a Pirate Queen on Venus. This is where I began, my literary heroes are names to conjure with; Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and others.  They may not have won Nobel prizes, but they knew storycraft.  My short story structure was built on theirs, and the one and only commandment of the great pulp writers was “Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Reader”.  

 The opening scene of the pilot episode of Breaking Bad began with Walter White in only his underwear and a gas mask, flat footing a Winnebago filled with dead bodies, chased by police sirens – that’s the legacy of the pulps.  The Star Wars saga began with a starship being boarded by storm troopers and a towering caped figure in black, a samurai from Hell, with a sword of light and deep-sea diver wheeze – that’s the legacy of the pulps.  Jurassic Park began with an ominous crate furtively unpacked at night with cranes and spotlights and an unseen beast inside that snatches a screaming workman as a park ranger with a bazooka yells “Shoot her!  Shoot her!”  that’s the legacy of the pulps.  Drop the reader in the middle of the action and never let go.  Vincent Gill, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, these are the grown-up children of the pulps.

With the advent of Television, the pulps began to die.  In the late 60's they were revived by fly-by-night paperback publishers looking for public domain stories that didn't require royalties.  John Carter of Mars, Conan, Tarzan and the others were given a new lease on life.  Edgar Rice Burroughs was briefly resurrected by Ace Paperbacks in tiny pocket-sized editions with timeless covers by Frank Frazetta.  Turned out there was gold in them thar pulps. The success of these stories was quickly followed up by pretty much every character ever invented by Robert E Howard.   These were all formula romance novels but written for guys.  And I loved them.
   Don't let any literary Academic types ever talk you into giving up the sword fights, panting maidens in distress (and undress) and zap guns on distant planets.  Love is where you find it.
My advice to aspiring writers isn't so much "write what you know", but rather "write what you love".  I love the pulps.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.... #CultClassicConfessional

For my entire adult life I’ve been an atheist. Indeed, I remember the precise moment I arrived at the conclusion that God doesn’t exist. I was driving back from somewhere, mulling over, as you do, the mysteries of the universe and I got to wondering what it might be like to be dead. Would it be dark, cold, lonely? Or, if I got lucky, maybe all about me would be filled with celestial light. Well, you never know…

Except you do, really. I sort of realised that being dead would be just not existing. Would it be unpleasant at all? No, because it would be exactly like all the aeons of not existing I did before I was born and that wasn’t a painful experience in the least. It was just… nothing.

So, if not existing was all there was outside of my actual lifespan, and if that was the same for all of us which is the logical conclusion, what purpose would there be in clinging to the illusion of an afterlife? Surely the point of all that would be to offer comfort that there is something nice and bearable beyond where we are now, a sort of reward for toeing the line. But if being dead is just the same as not having been born yet, well, I can face the eventuality without needing props and pretty fantasies to soften the blow.

All of the above would have come as something of a surprise to my mother who was convinced I was a most devout little thing. She had no idea where this godliness had come from. It wasn’t a family trait. Throughout my childhood I cruised from one Sunday School to another, trying out Methodism, the United Reformed Church and the local Gospel Hall as I went. I sang jolly little songs about Jesus and sunbeams, did Bible quizzes, went carol singing and learned verses from the New Testament off by heart.

My older sister thought I was quite deluded and told me so often enough. My younger brother preferred to spend his weekends playing football. Me, I put on my best clothes and trotted off to Sunday School. My mother was quite concerned that I might get in with the wrong sort of people and join a cult. I might be brainwashed, might suddenly decide to run off and join a commune in Israel or give all my money to the poor. I was only eleven. I’d barely heard of Israel let alone developed a yearning to relocate there and I had no money, however deserving the poor might appear.

What none of my critics seemed to grasp, though, were the bits of added value that came with all the singing and jubilant praying. Above all else, the things Sunday Schools were best at, in my view, were trips. Especially the annual jaunt to the seaside, usually free to those who attended religiously (sic) all year. Those were pretty damn good, and believe me, I knew what I was talking about. I was a connoisseur of Sunday School trips. The parties and social life generally were also well worth having. What was a spot of Bible-reading when compared to a free Christmas shindig, trips to the cinema, and a chance to hang out with my mates who had also cottoned on to this? My and my best friend, Annette, even started smoking on the Sunday School trip when one of the leaders left twenty Woodbines lying about. Oh, happy days…

I daresay my mother was relieved when, eventually, I outgrew seaside excursions and found other things to do on Sunday afternoons. Puberty, studying for my O levels, a weekend job to fund my growing interest in clothes and alcohol. The Gospel Hall could no longer compete. God and I went our separate ways. 

The last I heard the Gospel Hall had been demolished and they built a branch of Starbucks on the site so I suppose young people still flock there, though for an entirely different sort of spiritual experience.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Time Warp - #RockyHorror #SexualInitiation #CultClassic

Rocky Horror poster

By Lisabet Sarai

Do you think I’m twisted? A polymorphously-perverse seeker of erotic thrills, fascinated by novel and forbidden conjunctions of continuously fluid gender? Do you ever wonder why my characters have so few limits, why they’re always open to sexual experimentation, why they usually allow their salacious fantasies free rein?

Blame it on Dr. Frank N. Furter.

I was twenty four or twenty five years old, a relentlessly over-achieving grad student, when I first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The first night, I went with my then-boyfriend and his best friend. We returned the night after that, with more friends. When we shelled out a dollar fifty for the third night in a row, to watch Tim Curry purse his painted lips and prance around the screen and to participate in the audience rituals that had grown up around the film, I knew I was hooked.

Let’s do the time warp again...

Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh...

Don’t dream it. Be it.

For those of you too young to remember, The Rocky Horror Picture is a musical, originally a play, then a cult classic movie released in 1975, that parodies the science fiction and horror films of the thirties and later. It’s clever and funny, irreverent and outrageous, occasionally touching. What resonated most for me, though, were its sexual themes.

The plot follows a newly engaged, virginal couple, Janet and Brad, apparently not long out of high school, who suffer a flat tire on a lonely back road in the Midwest. Through the streaming rain of the dark November night, they glimpse the lights of a Gothic-style mansion which turns out to be inhabited by transvestite mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry) and his peculiar compatriots. Invited in, Brad and Janet are soon enmeshed in Frank’s schemes to create a horny male body builder (Rocky) for his own entertainment (“he’s good for relieving my tension”).

Frank is deliciously androgynous (“I’m not much of a man/by the light of day/but by night I’m one hell of a lover.”) In separate scenes, he seduces both Brad and Janet, who react in very different ways. Brad retreats into terrified infantilism (“Help me, Mommy!”), while Janet embraces her new-found sexual confidence.

The game has been disbanded.
My mind has been expanded.
It’s a gas that Frankie’s landed.
His lust is so sincere.

Frank turns out to be an alien from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania. His minions revolt, killing him and his Creature, ejecting the human couple, and blasting off in the mansion-cum-spaceship for their home planet. The ending is actually very dark (unlike most of the horror flicks on which Rocky Horror is based). Brad and Janet are left crawling in the dirt; it’s not clear what will happen to them, but one suspects they’ll never be the same.

I really don’t know why this film had such a strong effect on me, but I can’t deny that it did. I found Brad’s and Janet’s sexual initiations incredibly erotic.

Brad (alarmed): I’ve never....
Frank: Yes... But isn’t it nice?

Despite the camp accent and exaggerated make-up, Tim Curry manages to be sexy in his corset, garter belt and high heels. I didn’t find it difficult to believe he’d be “one hell of a lover”. In some sense, he’s the villain, but I couldn’t help but appreciate his “sincere lust”.

Erotic nightmares beyond any measure
And sensual daydreams to treasure forever.

I strongly identified with Janet. My own sexuality was blossoming at that point. I was in a supposedly monogamous relationship with my boyfriend, but often found myself attracted to other men, and women, in my circle. I was constantly aroused. (Honestly, I don’t know how I managed to finish my PhD.) Within a year or so after first seeing Rocky Horror, my boyfriend and I had broken up and I’d entered what I sometimes call my “sex goddess phase”, when I had many lovers and indulged in many experiments.

I think the gender-fluid themes in the movie had a special impact. I hadn’t had any same-sex experiences at that point, but I knew I desired women as well as men. Rocky Horror thoroughly blurs gender lines in a way that felt comfortable and right to me.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the film (though I have not watched it for a while). I do know the entire score by heart. And I know Frank has left his mark on many of my stories.

Speaking of stories, in recent years I’ve thought about writing one featuring Janet. I’ve never done any fan fiction, and strictly speaking I don’t think this would qualify, but I’d love to explore what her life was like after that fateful night in the mansion. Having been touched by alien lust, would she ever be able to find satisfaction? Would she wander the world, burning through partners, perhaps kindling in them the same unquenchable longing she feels herself?

I have too many other projects on my plate to work on this idea right now, but here’s a flasher to give you a taste of my imaginings.

Floor Show
By Lisabet Sarai

Another city. Another bar. Another crowd of beautiful young people, ripe for the picking. She crosses one shapely leg over the other, baring some thigh above her seamed hold-ups (the classic look, still). That cute couple in the corner —her mouth waters. He resembles Brad, though. Better find someone else.

She’s sixty but looks thirty, thanks to that night’s immersion in alien lust—the night that corrupted her, defined her, sent her off on this endless quest through the party capitals of the world.

The band plays timeless rock from her youth. Kids gyrate to the beat, randiness palpable. The atmosphere crackles with sexual energy. She could have any of them. Though she yearns, premonitions of disappointment hold her back.

Let’s dance.” The girl—or is it a boy?—extends a hand. Lightning bridges the gap to Janet’s fingers. Wild black curls, exaggerated make-up, scarlet lips made for kisses. The brazen creature pulls her into a lewd embrace on the dance floor. Soft breasts, hardness below—Janet melts, eager, hopeful.

Where...?” she gasps, humping his (her?) leg.

Red, red mouth. White teeth. Clever fingers opening her, freeing her, turning her inside out. At last.

If I told you, baby, you wouldn’t believe me.”

* * * *

With a bit of a mind flip
You’re into the time slip,
And nothing
Will ever be the same...

Janet and me—both changed forever.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Tyranny of Above and Beyond

by Annabeth Leong

I can think of so many ways I grew up with the idea that unless I'm going above and beyond I'm not doing enough.

For my entire school career, anything short of an A was a failure. The A thereby possessed no particular meaning or cause for celebration. That, indeed, set a pattern for me. There was no achievement to be happy about, only ways to fall short.

When I became a writer, I read so much about polishing stories to within an inch of their lives. It felt as if I shouldn't dare to bother an editor with my efforts unless I knew I'd already gone far above and beyond. I see the good intention in this advice, but I can also tell you that it utterly paralyzed me and prevented me from getting my work out there.

I remember a lover I had early on who would get angry at me for "selfishness" if I relaxed and soaked pleasure in. In his view, I was supposed to keep my lips, tongue, and hands moving at all times, providing pleasure to him no matter what else was going on.

And later, when I started publishing erotica professionally, there was no amount of promotional effort that felt like enough. If I wasn't on every social network known to man, networking constantly, posting on blogs all over the world, then I deserved any poor sales I might have had.

I don't think I need to describe how destructive this type of thinking can get when it becomes deeply ingrained. While it's certainly a good thing to make an effort, I can't live when I'm overwhelmed by paralysis, guilt, and anxiety. When there aren't any ways to succeed, only ways to fall short, it starts to make sense to avoid trying at all.

Obviously, I haven't been going above and beyond as a writer on this blog lately. I'm appreciative that you've all stuck with me as I flail.

But this is why I'm posting today, on the weekend after missing my scheduled day.

When I can't get that A, my desire is to hide in shame. But I've learned over time that there's a lot of power, not in going above and beyond all the time, but in doing the best I can and letting people see that this is flawed but also beautiful.

So here I am. I don't have the resources at the moment to go above and beyond, but here I am, doing this because you and this writing matter to me. I'll see you in two weeks, still doing the best I can. Fingers crossed that it'll be my scheduled day next time.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Fame as "Recovery"

by Jean Roberta

Most women artists (including sculptors, writers, musicians, dancers, actors, etc.) whose names have come down to us from the past were faced with obstacles that men of the same race and class generally didn’t have to “overcome.” As Canadian politician Charlotte Whitton once famously said: “Women have to be twice as good to go half as far. Luckily, that isn’t difficult.”

Reading the lives of women and other “minority” or “disadvantaged” creators could give the reader the impression that there are two types of talented people: those who just give up and find something else to do, and those who transcend their circumstances. And supposedly, this amazing second group can be considered timeless and studied apart from their era and culture because, after all, they didn’t let any negative thing affect them.

The more I read this type of evaluation, the more I smell the manure.

Let's consider a woman artist of the Renaissance who was mentioned in social media recently.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652?), who lived in Italy in the time of Caravaggio and Galileo, and painted for King Charles I of England, was briefly famous in her lifetime, then largely forgotten until Second Wave Feminism “rediscovered” her work in the 1970s. Since then, art historians have been finding and cataloguing her paintings, many of which were formerly attributed to her father, Orazio Gentileschi, or her various mentors.

Unfortunately, the best known event in her life is a rape trial of 1612, because the whole transcript has been preserved.

Here are the facts of her life, as far as I could find out from various biographical summaries: Artemisia was born in Rome to the painter Orazio and his wife, Prudentia Montone. Apparently no one knows much about Prudentia, except that she died when her only daughter, Artemisia, was twelve.

Young Artemisia showed considerable talent as a visual artist, and her father encouraged her in this, even though she was not taught how to read and write when she was a child. (Apparently she learned these things as an adult.)

At age 17, Artemisia produced her first signed painting, Susanna and the Elders. This is based on a Biblical story about a beautiful young woman who is sexually harassed and slandered after she refuses the male “elders” of her community. Notice the body language, which surely didn’t come only from Biblical sources.

No art academy of the time would accept a female student, so Orazio arranged for Artemisia to study landscape painting under his friend, Agostino Tassi. This turned out to be a mistake.

After 18-year-old Artemisia had managed to avoid being alone with her mentor for some time, he cornered her in her bedroom and raped her. Apparently he continued “demanding her favours” and promised to marry her.

Artemisia told her father, Orazio, and he either charged Agostino with “rape” or with “breach of contract” because Agostino had deflowered Artemisia but hadn’t married her. As far as I could tell, this was a private lawsuit, not a criminal case (and I’m not familiar with secular law in Renaissance Italy.)

What seems crystal-clear is that the trial lasted for seven months and was probably more traumatic for Artemisia than the rape(s) itself. The judge ordered her to be examined by midwives and then tortured to make sure she was telling the truth. Agostino Tassi’s supporters testified in court that she was a “voracious whore,” or whatever words in Italian mean the same thing. Orazio responded by launching a separate suit for libel.

Agostino claimed he had not had sex with that woman, but his own associates testified that he had bragged about his “conquest” of Artemisia. He was actually convicted, and this might have had something to do with his track record. (He had formerly been charged with “incest” for getting his wife’s sister pregnant, and also for arranging the murder of his wife.) According to various sources, Agostino spent less than a year in prison and was banned from Rome, but came back a short time later.

During the trial, Artemisia was pregnant. One month after the conviction, she was married to a “family friend,” another painter named Pietro Antonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi, who was conveniently from the city of Florence, where both of them lived for awhile. (Clearly, Artemisia needed to get out of town.) In Florence, she gave birth to a daughter. A few years later, Artemisia was living apart from her husband, and was listed as “head” of a household that included her daughter and two servants. In 1616, she became an official member of the Academy of Design, which meant that a professional body must have changed its rules to accept a woman.

Artemisia lived in a time when painters could only survive through the patronage of rich and/or aristocratic buyers. In Florence, her patron was Grand Duke Cosimo II, who commissioned enough paintings from her that she could survive until his death in 1621.

Artemisia then moved to Genoa with her father. There, she gave birth to another daughter.

Some time between 1626 and 1630, she moved to Naples, probably because it was a larger city where she could more easily find patrons. In 1637, Artemisia was apparently trying to accumulate money for her older daughter’s wedding (and dowry?). She accepted a commission from King Charles of England to produce several paintings for the residence of his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. Artemisia lived in England until 1641, when the English Civil War broke out. She returned to Naples, where she lived until her death in 1652 or 53.

There is no evidence of the cause of Artemisia’s death. Art historian Charles Moffat believes that she might have committed suicide, which could explain this lack of information.

According to several other art historians, the style of painting she preferred didn’t usually coincide with her patrons' taste, and this is a problem that has plagued artists for all time. (Now artists are under pressure to cater to current fashion as distinct from the taste of an individual.)

What stands out for me in this sketchy biography is that Agostino Tassi’s abuse and the resulting public scandal affected the rest of Artemisia’s life, although she was able to find powerful male patrons who admired her talent enough to pay her for her work. Did they also expect other services? If so, we’ll probably never know. Her first daughter seems to have been conceived in rape, and there is no evidence that Agostino Tassi ever provided financial support. So in some sense, Artemisia literally paid for what was done to her at age 18 for many years after that.

Why did she separate from her husband, Pietro Stiattesi? Wives rarely left their husbands in that time. Was she understandably reluctant to have sex with the man she had married for the sake of “appearances,” and did her refusal make him feel cheated? Or did he accuse her of being a “voracious whore?” Did he despise her baby by another man? Did she escape, or did he kick her out?

In what circumstances did she have her second daughter? Apparently she wasn’t married, so her pregnancy probably wasn’t planned. Was the father one of her patrons?

She was undeniably brilliant at what she did, and she did achieve recognition for it, but none of this shows that she “moved on” or “overcame” the long-term aftermath of being violated by a teacher she had reason to trust. Fame doesn’t erase trauma, nor have all famous women been considered respectable. Au contraire.

After her death, some raunchy little anonymous epitaphs surfaced. In one of these, Artemisia is accused of “putting horns” on her husband’s head (i.e. cheating on him). This is how someone remembered her when she was no longer alive to defend herself, not that anything she could say would have changed the minds of those who thought of her as a dirty joke.

Artemisia created some great paintings. In that sense, I would say she went above and beyond expectations. However, it doesn’t follow that she was less vulnerable to the values of her culture than any other woman of the time.