Friday, November 10, 2006

Sizzling Stories Coming Out in 2007

I know I haven’t written an entry in some time. I’m still recovering from novel writing in more ways than one! But I did want to announce some great news—two of my stories will be appearing in super sexy Cleis anthologies next February just in time for Valentine’s Day. “Suit and Tie,” the tale of a temp receptionist who takes the upper hand with her boss, will appear in She’s On Top: Erotic Stories of Female Dominance and Male Submission, and I have to admit this one is a personal favorite. “Yes” made it into He’s On Top: Erotic Stories of Male Dominance and Female Submission, and I’m especially thrilled because I attempted a male POV, which is always a challenge for me, and I guess it worked! I’d say my protagonist is rather romantic for a bossy dude—I kind of like him even though he makes his girlfriend do some pretty wild things. Rachel Kramer Bussel edited both and she is so totally cool to work with, I sometimes start thinking this writing schtick can actually be fun! As always, the Cleis covers are luscious and the table of contents shimmers with stars of erotic writing. I am in amazing company!

I am pondering one interesting question arising from the dual publication—which of the anthologies will sell better? I’m expecting She’s On Top will get more sales just because we all get a little thrill out of overturning the usual hierarchy. Or maybe it’s that since most of us were raised by women, the dominatrix figure lurks in the shadowy depths of all of our souls? I would certainly bet real money (and I am NOT a betting woman) that more men will buy She’s On Top. I’ll be checking the Amazon ratings and let you know.

More soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Adventures in Novel Writing

What have I been doing for the past several months? Not writing in my blog, no--I’ve been writing my Japan novel! And what an experience it’s been! My manuscript is due on September 30 and I finally have a breather while my almost-last-draft is out with my readers for their comments.

When I first started writing in 1997, I wanted to try a novel, but figured I just couldn’t manage such a big project with a one-year-old to take care of. I decided to focus on short stories as a first step toward the "real thing." I don’t think this is uncommon, but of course, most beginners don’t realize that short stories are not very short novels. I’d even say short stories and novels are as closely related as poems and short stories. That is, they are very different indeed. Anyway, I got caught up in the short story as an art form of its own, sold a few, got in a groove, and decided maybe I was made to be a short story writer, like Alice Munro (one of my literary heroes).

Still, in my heart, I always wanted to try a novel. Back in 2000 I started thinking about writing something based on my experiences living in Japan. I settled on the idea of doing a modern interpretation of Ihara Saikaku’s Life of an Amorous Woman about a lusty lady who experiences all the possible roles seventeenth century Japan offered a female, while having tons of sex along the way (10,000 lovers--egads!--that's like Wilt Chamberlain). Mine would be a foreigner’s odyssey, of course, but I liked the structural support of riffing from a classic. I wrote drafts of five chapters and got discouraged. This is very common, I hear, that you run out of steam after the first few chapters. Then, last summer, I heard about a publisher who was soliciting work for new series of erotica novels. I wrote a proposal based on my original idea—this time with even more sex—and it got accepted. Now, we’ll see if they accept my actual manuscript, but at least I was given a chance to pursue my dream.

But could I do it in six months with two kids and all the other things going on in my life?

It didn’t look promising at first. It took me a few months to really find my rhythm—and this I hear is not uncommon either. But once I did, some very interesting things happened, and yes, I’ve heard about this part of the process from books and hearsay as well. First of all the story took on its own momentum. It was less that I was creating it than being dictated to by some higher voice. Well, that’s when the going was good, but there was definitely a flow to the process. Secondly—and I guess this is related--my characters started talking back to me and complaining about some of the things I wanted them to do. One guy just refused to do what I said because it was too sleazy. And it worked out fine, I think. The scene was more tantalizing and interesting than it would otherwise have been.

I also worked through one of my many fears about writing, at least temporarily. That is, I worried that I'd drop dead of despair if I spent like days or weeks writing a scene and then it ended up getting cut? What a horrible waste of time and a huge failure! Well, this happened a few times with the novel, but the cutting and trashing actually felt good because I knew the material didn’t belong and the work would be better without it. Now, I’m not sure how I’d feel if a whole novel was trashed. On the other hand, the very process of writing one was so educational, I wouldn’t want to miss it no matter what the outcome.

So, since I’m in an advice-giving mood, I’d say to all you would-be novelists out there—DO IT! And push yourself past that third-chapter slump and don’t worry if you write a lot that needs to be cut and have a great time arguing with your characters, ‘cause they still love you and need you underneath it all!

Okay, back to polishing up some old short stories.

Hope you had a good summer!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sexy Feet and "Magic"

I seem to use the word "magic" a lot in my headers, but hey, it's a blog about sex and food and making up stories, so it sort of makes sense, doesn't it?

In fact, the title of my latest published story is "Magic" and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel has excerpted my story on her blog. Read it here, then buy the book and read the rest! Or maybe you'd rather take your honey out for a nice dinner instead ;-)?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sex Meets Magic: “Garden of the Perverse” Rocks!

I always like an erotic story that does more than turn me on, although of course, the “wet test” is of crucial importance as well. I just finished the latest anthology in which my work appears—Garden of the Perverse: Fairy Tales for Twisted Adults, edited by Sage Vivant and M. Christian (if you know erotica, these are two big names)—and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s full of surprises, delights, magic and laughs. Each story does have something more to entertain and provoke thought as well as other more carnal reactions.

As someone who’s been on both sides of the anthology, as reader and contributor, I have to say that the limits of the fairy tale frame actually did encourage a playfulness that makes these stories richer, and it was fascinating to see how other writers tackled this. Of course, there is the naughty element of bringing adult sexuality into the type of story we associate with childhood, but most authors also have some fun with the form itself, the idea that fairy tales are supposed to teach correct behavior (or correct sexual technique), reward the good and punish the wicked (the definition of “wicked” is sometimes overturned), and enable the reader to project her own psychological trials and hope for transformation onto the magical world of make believe.

The book starts strong with Hilary Jaye’s “How Taiki Found His Wings” with its valuable lesson for us all--that it’s not always bad to be a cock tease! The momentum keeps going with Jason Rubis’ “Beauty Thrasher,” one of my favorite pieces in the book and exactly what you’d expect from an erotic fairy tale, ogresses and serving maids and mysterious doings in bedrooms at midnight with wandering princes and a magic flail that “thrashes out ugliness and leaves beauty” and an ending that makes you laugh but also leaves a sweet reminder of what really matters in the end. Who knew a spanking story could be so edifying?

Another favorite is Sharon Wachsler’s “Sappenschwester,” a very witty look at a young lesbian’s initiation by a series of teachers at a Women’s Collective house. I have to say I learned a few things myself. It also reminded me of an interesting tidbit from Timon Screech’s Sex and the Floating World, that masturbation in old Japan was also referred to as “laughing” and pornography was also dubbed “laughing pictures.” Combining two forms of amusement—sexual arousal and humorous pokes at society—is truly a double delight. “The Real Story of Strong John and Pretty Sue” by Bryn Haniver is another piece that offers good fun, good writing and irreverence. And of course, it’s no surprise that M. Christian’s riff on A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be both hilarious and hot. The encounter between Titania and Oberon’s downtrodden attorney, Sol, is probably the best sex scene in the book, although the competition is tough here.

While wit abounds, there were also plenty of stories with that dreamy, mysterious and definitely dangerous quality we all associate with fairy tales. “Cat’s Eye” by Lisabet Sarai explores the nature of the animal urge and the very human conflict between individual desire and social conformity, all in the loveliest prose you could ask for. “Pipe of Thorns” by Remittance Girl takes you on a journey to an opium den where you not only get a taste of a forbidden and dangerous world, you see justice served to a man who takes desire too far. Ouch.

The anthology ends strongly and ultimately happily, with Sage Vivant’s “The Maiden of Grand Proportions.” This one lingered with me, perhaps because it touches a universal chord in all women. Why indeed are we all afraid of the real over media-created artifice and fantasy? And how interesting that a fairy tale would bring this question home so effectively….

So, yes, I have a story in this anthology, and I don’t claim to be objective, but it’s also true that I rarely feel so transported, entertained and stimulated in body and mind by a work of fiction. I definitely recommend this book. And I’d recommend you tally up your favorites and ask yourself why. That would be another journey worth taking in itself.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Pure-Gold Double Vanilla Cupcakes: Second Childhood is Better than the First

Since I don’t get HBO, I didn’t see Sex and the City on TV, but given my general interest in American sexual mores, it was almost required viewing on DVD. It hasn’t been that long since I saw the famous scene of Carrie and Samantha licking pink frosting from Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes, but I know most of America got there years before me. Could it be that those ten seconds of indulgence sparked a national obsession—or perhaps rediscovery—of the cupcake? Surely it tapped a deeper reservoir of baby boomer lust for the indulgences of childhood, that magical single portion of sweet cake piled with buttercream frosting, the mainstay of classroom birthday celebrations and bake sales?

Well, I’ll get to the recipe now and leave the musings for later. This recipe, officially named “Golden Vanilla Cupcakes,” really makes an awesomely excellent cupcake, tons better than the cake mix versions you had as a kid. Tender and moist—if you eat them the same day—and bursting with a “crème brulot” double vanilla flavor, these are worth every calorie.

This recipe comes from Ceri Hadda’s Cupcakes, and I don’t usually put other people’s recipes on my blog, but this book is sadly out of print. You can get used copies, though, and I highly recommend it. I’m still looking for an excuse to try the Cannoli Filling/Topping and the Rum Raisin Cupcakes, both versions…. Oh, and if you’re certain you’re using salmonella-free eggs, make sure you lick the beaters. I find cake batter less compelling than cookie dough, but this truly does taste like a rich French custard!

Golden Vanilla Cupcakes
(Makes 12, actually about 13)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I like Penzey’s)
1/2 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy with an electric mixer on high speed. Gradually beat in the sugar until very light and fluffy. Lower the mixer speed to medium. Beat in the eggs one at a time, the egg yolk and the vanilla. Lower the mixer speed to low. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, just until blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins.

Bake until the tops of the cupcakes are springy when lightly pressed with a fingertip, but not quite golden, about 20-22 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes in the muffin tin on a wire rack.

Frost with swirls of vanilla buttercream frosting. I like to decorate them with M&M “flowers,” that is, an M&M of one color for the center and six of another circling it. These are irresistible to kids at bake sales.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

“The Cunt Book”: Are Erotica Writers Exhibitionists?

Since I had such a good time writing about blindfolds, I thought I’d talk about another one of my early stories, and a particular favorite called “The Cunt Book.”

C-book (as you have to call it on Amazon) was one of those stories I was “writing” in my head for many years. Once I finally sat down at the computer, the whole thing poured out in one week of morning writing sessions.

One of the inspirations for the story was the bizarre and unsolved murder of Bob Crane, an actor known best as the genial and supposedly-irresistible-to-women Colonel Hogan. Masterpiece Theatre made me an Anglophile as a child, so I always preferred Richard Dawson (reportedly another womanizer) but I was still creeped out that a fixture of my after-school T.V. rerun viewing had met such a bloody end. Surely the murder had some connection with the stacks of photo albums documenting Crane’s many sex partners? The movie Auto Focus has its own explanation for what happened—it certainly does a good job of portraying sex addiction.

What intrigued me most, however, was Crane’s particular version, not to say perversion, of humanity’s urge to collect. In fact, anyone who’s ever made a list of his/her sex partners is doing something similar—but the fixation with pictorial evidence mixes it all up with Playboy and other broader cultural issues. This gave me the idea for “The Cunt Book,” in which the female protagonist hears a possibly apocryphal story from her married lover about his “uncle” who had his lovers pose for formal portraits and then cajoled them into providing close-ups of their naked vulvas.

The protagonist doubts that truth of the story, because she knows the guy is a storyteller (that is, a liar), but she feels a compulsion to make it true, at least for them as a couple. This leads to the “climactic” scene where she nudges him into making a cunt book of and for her. Hey, I’m not really giving anything away because you won’t really reading it for the plot.

This story found particular favor with Baby Boomers, those of us who came of sexual age before the Internet. For us old fogies, there is still a certain forbidden quality to “dirty” pictures and nude photo sessions that has probably been busted wide open by the easy access to trillions of such images today. The three editors who liked the story enough to publish it (in fact they were all gratifyingly enthusiastic) were all vanguard Baby Boomers. Rachel Callaghan of InPosse Review, Bill Noble of Clean Sheets, and Marcy Sheiner of Best Women’s Erotica 2005. Maxim Jakubowski also wanted it for Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, but BWE wouldn’t allow the double exposure. The story has also gotten me the most fan mail. How I wish all my stories were so beloved! But hey, when it happens, it’s nice.

But on to exhibitionism. The central scene of “The Cunt Book” deals with a woman revealing her most private self by her own choice. The protagonist is no dupe of an unscrupulous sweet-talker or any of the usual scenarios of dirty picture portraiture. She wants him to see what she has to show. I must confess that as I write, I often amuse myself with a “meta” approach to my story. So, yes, “The Cunt Book” is also about writing, about revealing yourself through art. Every writer reveals something about the workings of her mind and sensibility. Fiction writers, however, can hide behind veils of make-believe at the same time. I can say that no fictional piece I’ve written is ever “true.” But there is truth in all of it, and in “The Cunt Book” and all my stories, I am revealing the truth about my experience of female sexuality as well as whatever part of our society’s myths and fantasies I’ve breathed in from the media. In that sense, I think all writers are exhibitionists. Erotica writers just veer a little closer towards actually undressing in front of the window.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Blindfold Erotica

The internet is full of amusing ways to waste time and one of them, of course, is to google yourself every few weeks and see what comes up. The usual impetus to do this is a sudden upswing in the number of people who visit my website and/or blog. I can often trace this to some new mention of me and my work online. Oddly enough, it does make me feel “connected” in a kind of cold, impersonal way!

It’s also amusing what sorts of links show up. For example, my story which is most often poached for other sites is one of the very first erotic stories I ever wrote—the second to be exact—called “The Blindfold.” It first appeared in print in the literary journal Rain Crow and was reprinted in the sex and death issue of The Absinthe Literary Review. A more sexually explicit revision called “Blinded” appeared last year on Clean Sheets. Apparently that very word “blindfold” has enough zing to merit its own fetish category, or at least lots of websites devoted to it, and someone is always looking for new entries.

“The Blindfold” is not my most accomplished story, but I do have a special fondness for it. It was the first time I found myself balancing erotic heat with a cooler intellectual curiosity. Even as I dreamed up steamy sex games, the underlying momentum was an idea—that sex has to get “better” and that this somehow involves pushing the boundaries, which would lead in the end to the ultimate boundary. Death.

I realize now that I was also grappling with the boundary between literary and erotic writing which was more problematic for me back then. It is still an issue—should I tone down a more complex story and try to send it to “serious” magazines or stick with the explicit sex and go for erotica venues? As I wrote “The Blindfold,” I found myself constantly reigning in the sexuality, which I later tried to fix with the revised version for Clean Sheets.

Of course, explicit sex is not necessarily the sexiest. Suggestion can be very arousing to me. Certain scenes or lines in “literary” fiction--“the good parts”—are burned far more deeply into my memory than much of the erotica I’ve read, perhaps because I read them at a more impressionable age, or using my own imagination to fill in the details is more vivid, or a sex scene just stands out more memorably in a mainstream story.

But back to “The Blindfold.” It was also one of the first stories I actively researched, from tracking down an old college friend who was a fencer for some technical advice, to making my husband put on a leather glove to caress my neck. And yes, we did try out a few of the games, and they “worked” just fine! Even if you don’t feel ready for the edgier sorts of role playing or sexual power games, I’d recommend trying a blindfold. Use a scarf, one of those sleep masks the airlines give out, or a special furry one they sell at the enlightened sex stores that cater to woman. It’s not so kinky a nice, middle-class suburban couple can’t easily use it to spice up the marital repertory. Its simple power lies in forcing you to focus on the other senses we usually shortchange in our culture--touch, sound, taste and smell. And, as you might expect, even a mild injection of novelty tends to return huge dividends in excitement.

Okay, so I’ve done my bit to encourage America to spice up its sex life, back to the dramas of the writing life. Sending the story out to editors was not quite as much fun as researching and writing it. With high hopes and some trepidation, I sent it to the “top” erotica places I knew—Yellow Silk and Libido, both defunct now. Naturally I fantasized they would snap the story up and immediately recognize my talent as a rising star on the erotica scene. Both rejected me with tiny form letters, but hey, it’s part of a writer’s life to be battered and toughened up at the beginning. I then went to my hard copy of Writer’s Market and scanned the entries for any that said they accepted erotica, slim pickings at about a dozen. Ah, but yes, I forgot, with the sort of bravado only a beginning writer can muster, I also sent it to C. Michael Curtis at The Atlantic and Playboy! Curtis actually sent me one of his “personal” notes offering encouragement. Alice Turner at Playboy wrote, coldly, that “it’s not for us.”

I eventually did end up writing two erotica pieces for their website under a pseudonym, but that’s another story.

In retrospect, the editorial response to “The Blindfold” was pretty encouraging, considering it was “naughty.” I got a respectable amount of ink (writer speak for personal comments from editors), much of it saying the story was too sexual, but they liked my writing. And then, just as I’d given up hope, I was contacted by Michael Manley of 33 Pages, which had changed in the interim to Rain Crow. Manley wanted to publish the story! He was even going to pay me money for it!

I wonder if every writer remembers those first acceptances so keenly. Later ones from more prestigious places are certainly cause for great celebration, but they don’t quite have the same thrill as that first dip in the rollercoaster of the publishing game. I will always be absurdly grateful to Michael Manley for seeing the “literary” qualities of the story for his literary (not erotic) magazine—also, sadly, no longer published. The second thrill came when I held the journal in my hands and read my own story in print. It wasn’t my first publication, but somehow the story felt more revealing, more of me was on that page than ever before.

Btw, my first published fiction was “Questions” in Stanford Magazine, quite respectable for a debut. I got $300, the magazine reached tens of thousands of alums, and many I knew told me they read it and liked it. I also got some nasty letters slamming me for introducing the specter of real sex into the newly impersonal merging that fertility technology allows (the woman carrying a donor egg imagines her husband and the egg donor having sex in a motel), but hey, we want to get a reaction from readers, and bad is better than none. When I first read that story in its published form, complete with an original illustration—it’s also cool to see how another artist interprets my work--I got teary at the end. More because of the theme of mother love, but still. Is it a form of masturbation to be moved by your own work in some form or another?

Maybe, but like masturbation, it’s still a heck of a lot of fun.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Shari Goldhagen’s Inspiring Debut Novel

This is a “writing” entry, although there are certainly plenty of well-written sex scenes in Shari Goldhagen’s debut novel/linked short stories, Family and Other Accidents. (Not much food though—only Asian takeout and salmonella.) This is a sort of embarrassing admission, but I haven’t been reading that many novels in the past few years, probably because I write short stories and focus on that genre, plus these days memoirs and other nonfiction just grab my attention more. But I was intrigued by Rachel Kramer Bussel’s review of Family on her blog and her interview with Goldhagen in The Gothamist. And, since I am writing a novel now, the question of what makes a good one is more personally pressing than ever before.

Well, I was totally blown away by this novel! Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. It has so many qualities I hope for in my own writing: very real characters who stay with you long after you stop reading; sharp, witty insights into the human condition; clean, lovely, I-wanna-write-that-way prose; and an enviable balance of page-turning drama with literary attention to detail and language that makes this worth a second or a third read to appreciate Goldhagen’s skills. I just know I’m going to be picking this up when I’m in a writing funk for some inspiration to get back on track.

I’m not sure why Jack and Connor and Mona and Laine and the rest seem to have moved into my brain so that I can analyze them and love them and hate them like members of my own family, but they have and that’s the magic of good fiction. Some of it might be the insight into the Midwest—I’m a neurotic East Coaster who married a guy from Chicago and the culture is definitely different in America’s heartland. Some of it might be that I have a controlling older sibling like Jack and my father died when I was young and a lot of that part rings true. Certainly part of it is that I’ve always found love and sex and all the silly things they make us do mysterious (I know I’m definitely not alone in that) and this novel tackles those issues with intelligence and humor.

Style-wise there was a lot to learn, too. I knew I’d like this book when I saw the chapter titles: “stealing condoms from joe jr.’s room,” “the only pregnant girlfriend he ever married,” “the way he said ‘putz.’” The shifting POV’s allowed for so many “aha” moments—Ah hah, that’s what he was really thinking in the last chapter—which is somehow very satisfying for a reader. I also admired the way Goldhagen brought her themes full circle in the last chapter to create a satisfying ending without tying the story into a contrived conclusion. It was also cool to learn a bit about the genesis of the novel from Rachel’s interview I’ve linked to above. The first story Goldhagen wrote with some of the characters became chapter four, not a standout chapter on first reading, but that is how things work sometimes in the creative process. I recently wrote a story that I can feel wants to become a novel and now I’m letting the characters and images simmer away in my mind on my early morning walks, which is the longest and probably most enjoyable part of the creative process for me.

I can only hope any novel I write will be half as good as Family and Other Accidents.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Kulich and Paskha: A Quick Jaunt to Russia

With two young kids and a limited budget, I’m not likely to find myself heading off on an overseas vacation any time soon. But I’ve discovered a substitute that seems to work almost as well for my body and spirit—a trip to one of the Bay Area’s many wonderful ethnic bakery/restaurants. On this Easter weekend, I dragged my family into San Francisco to the Cinderella Bakery on Balboa St. Yeah, I know the real Russian Easter is next week, but we’re all caught up in dyeing eggs and decorating the German Easter tree, so it seemed like the right time to buy some kulich (Russian fruit bread, like pannetone) and paskha (a mixture of sweetened farmer cheese mixed with candied fruit). I also picked up a delicious, over-sized honey poppyseed roll and a sweet cheese roll for breakfast. This kids had butter cookies, which got rave reviews. As my husband and I savored our morning pastries, we both observed that some subtle flavoring made us feel like we were suddenly in a foreign land. It really did bring back those European vacations of our DINK lives, when each day would find us at a café or patisserie sampling the local sweet. I’m not sure if it’s the yeast, the egg coating, a spice or just plain baker’s magic, but there was some sorcery at work on the taste buds. This morning we had the official Easter breakfast. Cinderella Bakery’s kulich is not as rich and fruity as some of the less authentic versions I’ve tried at local bakeries, but it was nice, especially topped with the sweet cheese. This may become an annual spring ritual, along with the vegetarian matzo soup and the various charosets (classic apple walnut plus nouveau pistachio and dried cranberry) and the chocolate eggs.

I first got the hankering for kulich and paskha at Easter from Catherine Cheremeteff’s food memoir, A Year of Russian Feasts. Her description of the monastery where they prepare these Easter treats by the thousands really stayed with me—plus I know the proper way to eat a kulich is to slice off the decorated top, then slice rounds to pass around, then replace the top when you are finished for the next round.

Food memoirs are definitely my favorite form of travel these days—they’re quick and low-calorie, unless thinking about food puts on the pounds, and sometimes it seems that way. Other favorite food writers include Ruth Reichl, whose books are about so much more than food. Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires are the two I’ve read so far. I reread Jane and Michael Stern’s cleverly amusing histories of American eating about once a year, Square Meals and American Gourmet. The latter has a great chapter on food for lovers, mid-century style! The combination of humor, history and recipes is right up my alley. The Stern’s have come out with a memoir, Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food, which looks interesting. Sometimes on their travels, they’d eat TEN meals a day. Better to read about than do….

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Is Real Sex Really Sexy?

I’m about to embark on an exciting and hopefully not too painful experience—I’m writing an erotic novel under contract with the UK publisher, Orion, who is launching a series of “literary” dirty books dubbed “Neon.” (I hope my cover has a nice neon sign in Japanese characters.) Yes, it’s scary, although I’ve been mulling over my material for many years now and it feels ripe. It’ll have a lot of exotic information about Japan and my main character is an insatiably horny woman who has sex with lots and lots of men. How can I go wrong?

Well, you never quite know what makes a piece of writing soar, even though the raw material seems promising. So, in my typical fashion, I’ve turned to books for the answer. Other erotica as examples and a few writing how-to’s for advice. I picked up a very helpful tip from Scott Edelstein in his book, 100 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. On page 22 Edelstein advises: “To get the most out of writing, write what you would enjoy reading.” Later he elaborates: “The more interested you are in what you’re writing, the more interested your reader will be.” And since repetition is always good when you lecture, he concludes: “Write something you yourself would want to read.” And that is exactly what I’m going to try to do. At the very least, it makes the writing process more fun if I myself am laughing and crying and getting turned on. Plus, this seems like the kind of basic common sense that will help me through some sticky or slow times in the process.

So, what exactly do I want to read? I actually know the answer to this question--for a change. I want to read a dirty story that feels real to me. A lot of sex stories out there (and there are many, many exceptions of course, especially in the anthologies my stories are in!) strike me pure fantasy, which may be what some readers want, but it keeps me from getting truly involved in the flow of it. Everyone in these books has an orgasm, or two or three, in the abundant sexual encounters that happen every few pages like clockwork. No one ever has doubts or regrets. No one hesitates to jump into bed with the next absurdly attractive stranger of whichever sex who bounces down the road. There’s no jealousy. No new sex trick ever hurts or falls flat. It all just happens, effortlessly, in an ever-ascending arc of outrageous acts, each which proves more fulfilling than the next. Again, I can understand the appeal of this fantasy of nonstop thrills with no consequences, but it doesn’t really do it for me. What I like—and I’m not saying I can pull this off—is a glimpse into the real experience of sexual intimacy. And maybe some would think what happens in real life is exactly what you’re trying to escape when you read erotica. But I’m more of a voyeur. I want to know what sex is really like for other people and I have a companion urge to tell other people what it’s like for me. Some criticize Susie Bright’s BAE series for being too dark, but I’d argue that the stories always touch on something real. And I can’t lose myself in a story unless it has something that resonates deeply as truth. But here’s the thing—real sex can be magic and that magic is much more powerful than any predictable genre fantasy I’ve ever rolled my eyes over.

So, I’m going to go for real and true in my erotic novel, although I’ll throw in lots of luscious descriptions of food and men’s bodies and wild sex. And while I hope lots and lots of people want to read it, I don’t have much control over that. What this will be is an experiment, a test as to whether Mr. Edelstein is right with his suggestion #12. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Junk Food Porn and Mom’s Homemade Erotica

The question seems to pop up everywhere—how do we determine if something is porn or erotica? One of the more common answers it to divide the categories by gender. Porn is usually made for and purchased by men, it tends to be visual, or if it’s written material, solely focused on the sexual act. Erotica is for ladies, it’s rarely pictorial and focuses on feelings and story, although these days steamy sex is part of the package as well.

There’s some truth to these divisions, generally speaking, but I tend to resist this view, if only because I find certain visual representations of sexuality very sexy. And I don’t always want my sex dressed up in a peignoir of emotion. The bare stuff can be just what I need—exactly the sort of raw, explicit depictions that are supposedly aimed at men.

I was recently reading Ian Kerner’s books, She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman and He Comes Next: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Pleasuring a Man (erotica writers need to fill the well with information and inspiration, too!) and happened upon an approach to the porn vs. erotica issue that makes more sense to me. Kerner compares porn to junk food (a “fast-food fantasy fix”), readily available, mass produced, targeted at the lowest common denominator, ultimately unfulfilling. He didn’t mention erotica, but I would say that erotica by my definition (and it could be a photograph or video as well as an artfully written story) is rooted in an individual’s vision. It is unique imaginative work that requires care and attention on the part of both creator and audience. Not that erotica collections all fall into this category or that you can't find a story or photo that arouses both body and mind in a mainstream "men's" magazine, but by my definition, erotica does tend to challenge and question, while porn soothes, even while the details (woman with horse, etc) may shock at first.

Although I picked up Kerner’s books as story research for tips on technique, I found myself far more interested in what he has to say about sexuality in our culture. Particularly interesting was his discussion of love maps—“the sexual template expressed in every individual’s erotic fantasies and practices” and how they are formed. “Ironically,” he writes, “we often don’t know our own love maps, which is why the expression of fantasy, especial via internal triggers that spring from our imagination is all the more crucial: It’s our only real way of knowing and sharing our sexual fingerprint.” (p. 82) Kerner is troubled by the way porn overrides this internal search. For example, a young man masturbates to Playboy and finds himself attracted to busty, cute blondes in a kind of Pavlovian connection. Even more detrimental, he becomes dependent on “external triggers that can both obscure and override the organic development of the love map.”

Of course, I can’t speak for my audience’s experiences of my stories, but I do know that I have learned a lot about my “love map” since I began writing stories with a sexual theme. (This is one reason why I recommend EVERYONE write erotica, even if you don’t intend to publish it!) I would argue that a person looking to truly understand more about female sexuality and about what women really want, will find more satisfying answers in Best Women’s Erotica than mass-market porn.

My reaction to a lot of porn may not just be a feminist resistance to what I perceive is a false depiction of female sexuality. It may be a resistance to an imposed set of standards and truths about such a deeply personal issue—this would be true for men or women. This brings us to Hugh Hefner, who has always fascinated me in his role as national tastemaker, as a man who imposed his own sexual preferences on a generation—or maybe more—of American males. Clearly he tapped into something that was there, and I believe there is a powerful collective imagination at work in our sexuality, but to what extent has Hefner distorted the individual’s true desires with his Playmates and the Playboy Philosophy and made men into passive receptacles for his vision?

I think it’s a lot more interesting to create my own fantasies. Like chocolate chip cookies, rice mousse pudding and sweet yellow cake with fudge frosting, homemade treats are far better than the things you buy. And wouldn’t you rather discover your own sexual fingerprint than study Hugh Hefner’s month after month?

I might be fooling myself, though, in my perhaps adolescent insistence of making my own taste. So, I refuse to swoon over Brad Pitt and Leonardo di Caprio on principle and prefer to focus on the ordinary, but no less powerful magic of people I actually know or more typically, people I make up in my head. I’m as much a slave to our culture as anyone, no doubt. But I do like the idea of exploring my inner landscape rather than using the prefab symbols and scenarios the media provides.

I would recommend Kerner’s books, less for the step-by-step cunnilingus program, although I could see how that may be helpful for beginners (I’d probably refer to it before a fantasy date with a hot lady myself). However, my personal preferences don’t completely coincide with Mrs. Kerner’s, although the book made my husband and me pay more attention to what we do, which is always valuable. Still, it’s Kerner’s intelligent questioning of the “givens” in our society’s view of sexuality—the opening of the mind rather than the legs--that makes these books worth reading.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Poem in a Glass: 1989 Penfold’s Grange Hermitage Bin 95

Our special indulgence this weekend was to break out one of the older wines from our cellar—bought way back in the early 90’s when we had disposable income (ah, those were the days). At the time, laying out $80 for a bottle of wine was thrillingly extravagant, and I felt quite naughty with my purchases. Today a new release Penfold’s Grange Hermitage goes for over $200, a price increase much higher than inflation, so it turns out to have been a good investment in the opportunity to taste one of the world’s premier wines.

I was trawling the internet for reviews of the 1989 and came upon a write-up of a vertical tasting of the wine from ten years ago. The 1989 was singled out as an unfortunate departure from the usual, too jammy as if the winemakers had poured in an equal amount of Chambord. Maybe ten years has softened the wine or maybe I just feel grateful to be able to taste it at all, but I really enjoyed the 1989.

Okay, now the wine porn begins. From the first whiff, you could tell you were dealing with a very fine wine with so much complexity and depth. It felt like velvet in the mouth, rich and smooth and compelling in its presence. I’d have to agree it was strong on the raspberry jam flavors, but it also had spice and the layers of brightness I associate with sunlight captured in a bottle. Then came the long finish, something you never get with a middle-range wine, no matter how charming. But with a first-growth wine, you can feel the flavors develop and change on your palate, unfolding over a minute’s time or more. Like a poem, it is more than what it seems at first taste. You take another sip not to get drunk but to learn more about the subtle pleasures it offers. And of course, it keeps getting better. I'd say the 1989 was at its peak; we drank it neither too early nor too late.

This is the first premier Australian wine I’ve had and it was notably different from French wines which always have a certain austerity—earthy undertones in Burgundy or Bordeaux, pepper in the Rhone Valley. This had more of a Napa-style roundness and sweetness to it. The fruit rather than the earth predominated.

Again I must contradict my advice for dinners of seduction. If you happen to have a 17-year-old bottle of fine red wine lying around, your dinner guest will most likely be very, very appreciative indeed.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

More Thoughts on Food for Sex

I was reading Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Lusty Lady column from last May in the Village Voice called “Eating for Arousal,” and thought I’d add a few thoughts about the sex-food relationship and meals for seduction.

In my last post, I suggested that there were no “magic bullet” foods to make a reluctant partner into a “fuck-me-now” lust bunny, and maybe I’m still right. But the way Rachel describes the effect of a cupcake on her state of mind and body makes me wonder! Not that a cupcake, or a dish of excellent rice pudding, would make me leap on the bones of someone I hated. It might tip the balance if I were on the fence, though, by taking me to a place where the senses are engaged and ready for more action. Still, there’s no way to make generalizations about what this magic potion would be for any given person. Women do seem more likely to be moved to passion by a sweet luscious dessert than men. Or at least they’re willing to admit it. For one it might be chocolate, though, for another something creamy. Finding out what this is involves getting to know the person—and I would still argue that the process of gaining intimate knowledge is itself the aphrodisiac.

I especially related to this quote from the article: “They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but what about the way to his cock, or to a girl's tender bits? Is it possible to get someone in the mood with a well-cooked, sexy meal? According to Jacqui Malouf, author of Booty Food (Bloomsbury, 2004), it certainly is. ‘Good, bad, or burnt, there's something erotic about being nurtured with goodies made by a lover. When a new special someone in your life shares their favorite dishes, you really see who they are, and that kind of naked authenticity is truly sexy to me.’"

Sharing your favorite foods, especially ones you make, with someone is an act of intimacy, a way to let them see and be you, by experiencing the same sensual pleasure. And, this might even be too obvious, but our bodies and minds do not divide sensual enjoyment into discreet categories, though our society might insist that sexual joy is completely separate from culinary delights or appreciating a lovely sunset. (I also think reading a book or story that someone really loves is an exciting way to get to know them!) Maybe because food has so many connotations of maternal nurturing, it feels naughty to link it with sex? But it’s definitely not unnatural to do so.

Okay, really, next time, junk food porn and homemade erotica and why I have this bizarre fascination with Hugh Hefner and a few other things….

Friday, March 24, 2006

Seduction Dinners: The Best Food for an Evening of Good Sex

Any blogger who claims to have something to say about “Sex, Food, and Writing” should probably address the all-important issue of what to feed your lover, or prospective lover, before the evening’s entertainment moves on to more intimate activities. The topic is of personal importance to me as well because my husband and I took our relationship to the next level--and you know just what I mean--the night he first invited me to his apartment for dinner. Did what happened at the dining room table convince me to find out if his bed was a fun place to be, too? You betcha. There is something particularly alluring, and reassuring, about a man who will make the effort to please your palate. It bodes well for his willingness to look out for your pleasure in other ways as well.

My advice has its limitations—I can really only speak in general terms about a meal designed to seduce a woman. This may be an outdated stereotype, but I’d think men would want something heartier, such as slabs of red meat, to stoke the testosterone. But for a woman, a lighter menu will be far more likely to put her in the mood for love. First of all, it’s usually difficult for a woman to display her appetites in front of a man she is trying to impress—and let’s assume if she agrees to have dinner at your place, she likes you and wants to impress you. Give her the opportunity to be healthy and somewhat restrained at the dinner table, and she’s more likely to let loose in bed. More importantly, healthy, high-veggie, low-fat food really does make you feel good about your body, lighter in spirit, and more inclined to celebrate life. Really. The other day I had some Japanese vegetarian temple food for lunch at a restaurant in San Francisco called Medicine Eat Station. Steamed vegetables with sesame sauce, fresh tofu with ginger, miso soup and brown rice with plum topping—it was delicious AND better still, it made me feel wonderful and glad to be alive all day. Kind of like a natural high. This is a good frame of mind to be in to enjoy a new lover.

So, what sorts of things should be on a menu designed to seduce? First you have to know if she has food allergies, eats meat or just fish or is vegetarian, prefers white wine or red. (If you know her well enough to invite her for dinner, usually you know these things, but if you don't, make sure to ask.) For flesh eaters, I’d recommend grilled chicken breast or fish with a fresh salsa or low-fat pesto. To accompany this—a salad or steamed vegetables and rice or good French bread. For vegetarians, the same salad and vegetables and perhaps a risotto or stir-fry. Fresh, high-quality ingredients are key, of course. And it’s probably best to find recipes that allow for a lot of advance preparation so you can focus on her and not overly fussy cooking procedures.

Serve a decent wine, although she’ll be more comfortable with a mid-range, good quality for the money selection rather than something really expensive, which might be overwhelming until you get to know each other better. If you can pick up an interesting story about the wine from the wine merchant (it comes from a small domaine in Gigondas, etc) it will make for good dinner conversation. Oh, and don’t pour too much—maybe some ladies can handle their liquor better than I, but while one glass will lubricate the fellowship, more than two will dull the senses, which is not the point at all!

Okay, on to dessert. Here is where you will want to splurge a bit because it marks the transition from civilized restraint to hedonistic indulgence, which is definitely how you want the evening to end. Have some fresh fruit in season available, but also some bite-sized treats. She’ll be very impressed if you actually bake some fudgy brownies made with high-quality dark chocolate and a dash of Grand Marnier or framboise (no boxed mixes PLEASE—she deserves better, no?). Or buy some small pastries from a good local bakery, cut them into small pieces and share. Sharing food is always very sexy and a good way to soften the barriers in preparation for more serious bonding.

Two more tips from personal experience. One thing that definitely got my attention was watching my husband slice up the vegetables for the cashew chicken stir-fry he was making (I ate meat back then). I loved those deft hand movements—very promising indeed for the future practice of his manual skills on me. And when it came time for that delicate move from dinner to something else, whatever else that might be—hot sex or thank you and good night?—what assured the former was a good laugh together. Over a book of “man-bites-dog” type headlines of all things. For you it might be a good comedy DVD or some stand-up on cable or something else altogether. But if you can laugh together, you can most assuredly make good love, too.

Some people might be looking for recommendations for a specific food to turn a woman from a cautious lady to a raging sex machine. Oysters, chocolate, whatever. I don’t really know of any magic potion like that. A man’s careful and considerate attention works more wonders, in my experience. You can definitely do that by spoiling her with a good meal. Hope this helps all you folks who got here from a Google search for “good food for sex” ;-)

Next time: my thoughts on junk food porn and mom’s homemade erotica.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

World’s Best Chocolate Frosting for Cupcakes, Sundaes and Sex

For those who might be interesting in sweetening your life, here’s the recipe for chocolate fudge frosting/sauce/body paint I spoke of in my interview on All Cupcakes, All the Time.

Combine in a heavy-bottomed saucepan:
1 cup sugar
1 6oz (3/4 cup) can evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
Dash salt

Cook over moderate heat until mixture thickens and begins to boil, stirring frequently, about five minutes.

Add and stir to blend:
1 or 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped**
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cool thoroughly before spreading on cake, use immediately as sundae sauce. Cool to lukewarm for use as a body paint.

**Since this is a recipe from childhood, it tastes "right" to me with less chocolate, maybe 1 1/2 ounces, although with our modern appreciation of dark chocolate, the higher amount might suit the current taste better.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

All Cupcakes, All the Time

I'm not sure if this entry relates to food, sex or writing...but the experience definitely got my juices flowing. Rachel Kramer Bussel, a great erotica writer and spicy sex columnist, also runs a drool-inducing blog called "All Cupcakes, All the Time." I actually go there for the pictures, not the articles--okay, it's a lie, I'm always on the lookout for pointers to new and exciting cupcake experiences the world over so I devour the reviews, interviews and recipes as well--but I also recently participated in the thoroughly enjoyable Cupcake Interview (mine is posted on March 11, 2006). It stirred up a lot of sweet memories for me, so you know, cupcakes can be more than just diet-breaking indulgence. Self-knowledge through cupcakes--don't knock it until you've sampled a few from the premier purveyors!

A Friday Night Three-way with E. Guittard

On Friday night my guys and I watched Wayne’s World and did another dark chocolate tasting to celebrate my older son’s acceptance into the middle school of his choice. The search was a simmering stressor all fall and winter and now we finally have a happy ending!

What better way to celebrate a happy ending than with a chocolate monoawase, this time with three different E. Guittard single origin chocolates? The first player was a repeat performer, the Chucuri Bittersweet in the dark green wrapper, country of origin Columbia. The official copy characterizes it as: “Long, deep, slow chocolate flavors are accented by pleasant hints of spice.” (I think you need to be over eighteen to read these descriptions). Next we tried Ambanja Bittersweet in the purple wrapper from Madagascar which “mingles tart essences with deep, rich chocolate flavor.” The third entry was Sur del Lago Bittersweet from Venezuela in which “complex chocolate flavors underlie subtle hints of red berry fruit.”

I actually enjoyed this tasting more than the previous one, probably because it seemed easier to focus on the flavors, given they were all the same 65% cacao and all from the same producer. This time we did not have a generation war, interestingly enough. My younger son stayed true to his first choice in the earlier tasting, the Chucuri, but the Dauphin switched his allegiance to the Sur del Lago. That came in first for my husband and me as well. It was definitely the most complex of the three—I tasted green tea undertones, my husband described it as hints of coffee. My husband thought the Ambanja and Chucuri tied for second place, with a slight edge to the Ambanja, if pressed. My older son and I put the Chucuri in second place and the Ambanja third. They were all quite nice, but the Madagascar chocolate was less distinctive and sweeter than the others, rather like good-quality chocolate I use for glazes. The Chucuri was still very earthy and forward, but in comparison to the Ambanja, it definitely had more depth, so I gained a new appreciation for the character of the “green one.”

Friday night chocolate tastings are getting to be a ritual around our house. They are definitely educational—a good way to practice the fine art of translating sensation into words. I hope my sons' wives/lovers appreciate this early training in talking about feelings!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

So You Want to Write Erotica?

When I first started writing seriously, oh, about nine years ago come April, I didn’t set out to specialize in erotic fiction, although sex and relationships were always of great interest to me—and I never seemed to be able to write a story without at least one sex scene! I often heard otherwise accomplished writers say they were afraid to write sex or they couldn’t do it well and I assumed I would face those same obstacles because sex was somehow inherently difficult to translate onto the page. And it is, of course. But somehow I ended up publishing more erotic fiction than the “serious” stuff, perhaps because I find sex so much fun to write. A heck of a lot more fun than a dissertation or an essay on a parent’s death, that’s for sure. These days, although I still consider myself a beginning writer, people occasionally ask me for “advice” on how to write erotica. I don’t really have advice, but the other day on my morning two-mile walk, I was mulling over a few writer-to-writer ideas I thought I’d share on my blog. After all, it has been a while since I’ve done a writing-focused entry and I want to stay true to my title.

The first thing that occurred to me is that if you WANT to write erotica or good hot and/or honest sex scenes, then you’re more than halfway there. That desire will carry you far in terms of imagining the scenes and learning the tricks and finally doing the hardest work of all--edit, edit, edit. Plus, beyond the usual blocks to writing, sex brings along a lot of psychic baggage. Nice girls don’t have thoughts like this. Men are all sex-obsessed porn-addicts who think of nothing else but fucking anything that comes along. What will your mother think if you write about sex like you’ve actually had some, even if you’re forty and have been married for fifteen years and have three kids? Stuff like that. There will be moments when you’re sitting at the computer totally shocked and amazed that such images are coming from your fingers and that some day someone else might read them, even if it’s under a pseudonym. But the desire to do it and do it right will carry you through those moments of doubt. Telling the truth about sex is truly a noble endeavor, and one that’s not often attempted. Certainly not in the popular media which is where most of us get our messages.

Okay, on to more practical writing tips. In my early morning musings, I realized that I automatically do something now that wasn’t so automatic at the beginning. I put myself in a safe space to write sex, a place where I’m free to explore the shadows of my imagination. Many of the scenes and images I write do not end up in print, and I think it was all the more crucial in the beginning to feel safe in my experimentation. So, yes, lock yourself away from mom and the cops and your third-grade teacher and see what you discover. In the end, no matter how many stories you publish, no matter how many millions of dollars and fans you collect (more likely hundreds or dozens of both if we’re talking reality), the real treasure you’ll gain is a clearer vision of what turns you on and what sex means to you. And that’s something worth doing right there.

Wow, I’m such a cheerleader. You’d hardly know that I get depressed about writing at least every five minutes! But when the blues hit, it’s time to turn back to your erotica collection (you want to write it because you enjoy reading it, no?) and start reading it all over again. But this time you do it for work, not pleasure. You reread your favorite stories with the goal of learning all the tricks that make it soar. You can also read to learn what you don’t want to do. Long, poetic descriptions bore you? Cut them out of your work if you wander there. Dialogue turns you on? Put in a lot of hot, nasty repartee. All of the writing books I’ve read (and you’ll know from an earlier entry that I’m a how-to-write-book addict) say the best writing teacher is a great story. The same works for erotica, too.

Not that there aren’t special techniques that make for a successful (that is, published) erotic story. Some of the best advice I’ve read can be found in Susie Bright’s How to Write a Dirty Story. In particular, her discussion of writing orgasm was an eye-opener for me. While orgasm may be the climax of an actual sexual encounter, it seldom works that way in fiction. Who knew? I’d also add that a good erotic story does not fly from sex alone. Above all, you need freshness is language and scene, and the easiest and perhaps only way to do that is to have a good story as a foundation. You know, a plot with conflict, characters with personalities, a little mystery, a little something that goes wider and deeper than the story itself. It’s not always necessary to get your reader hot, but it doesn’t hurt. And editors seem to love it.

But there’s one other thing Susie said in her book that sticks in my memory and that is, it’s worth writing erotica even if you’re never published, even if you never intend to be published. Doing what you need to do to write hot erotica—which above all means paying attention to the sensations, scents, sounds and sights of sex—will enrich your life immeasurably. I wish you the best with the writing and the research!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Dark Chocolate Taste Test Reveals The Generation Gap is Alive and Well

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—we were in Tahoe for winter break doing a little winter sporting, but mostly dealing with strep throat and its complications. We’re all glad to be back home and healthy and to celebrate, we put on a dark chocolate tasting last night. My younger son just learned that dark chocolate is a Super Food and he thought it would be a good idea to do a comparative tasting.

The four chocolate bars we tasted were a fair-trade organic chocolate we bought through our progressive, socially-conscious Berkeley school and three from our local over-priced grocery store: Isis Luxury Belgian Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa); E. Guittard Chucuri Bittersweet (65%); and Lindt Excellence (70%).

The boys’ unanimous favorite was the Guittard because it was “more like milk chocolate” and “didn’t have a funny aftertaste.” (The extra 5% of milk and sugar apparently does make a difference). My younger son ranked the Isis next for its lighter taste and thought the fair trade and Lindt tied for third. My older son preferred the Lindt with a “fruity aftertaste,” followed by the Isis, with the fair trade coming in last.

My husband and I had just shared a bottle of 2003 Domaine Les Pallieres Gigondas, a lush, peppery Rhone treat from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, so perhaps it influenced our choices—unanimous for the older set on all four counts. Our favorite was the Isis because it seemed the most balanced and complex. The Lindt came second—smooth and multi-layered. The Guittard was our third choice because it seemed unbalanced and rather one-dimensional and overly forward in flavor, not surprising since the cocoa is from one region rather than a blend like the other two. The fair trade chocolate, which had seemed yummy enough when tasted alone, came out at the bottom with a rather harsh, earthy flavor. But we do appreciate that the small farmer got more of the profit out of this one. Really.

I’m thinking we might want to do a tasting with milk and semi-sweet chocolate, or perhaps an array of Guittard single region bars in the near future, because I suspect the bitterness of the 70% cocoa bars threw the results for the kids. Nothing like a good reason to taste more chocolate!

Soon to come, my thoughts on getting started writing sex scenes and erotica. It’s not as “hard” as it might seem.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Monoawase: Food, Sex and the Magic of Comparison

Sex is no different from any other sensual pleasure--such as eating—the more we pay attention, the greater the reward. That may be why first times are so powerful; newness always captures our senses. But, being a person who believes depth and sustained focus provides greater rewards than broad, but superficial interaction (or in layman’s terms, fucking one person well beats out fucking many without true connection and intimacy), you can’t rely on newness alone. That’s where an ancient Japanese game called monoawase can help.

I just finished a memoir entitled Untangling my Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto which was very nostalgic for me, as I too was in Kyoto around the same time as the author. I’m not sure if the book would work such magic with a reader who’d never been to Japan. In this case a taste is worth a thousand words. For me however, Victoria Abbott Riccardi’s description of her first okonomiyaki (a cabbage pancake with a rich, smoky sauce—much better than it sounds) brought my own initiation rushing back. Riccardi went to Japan to study tea kaiseki, the spare but artistic cuisine that accompanies the tea ceremony (a great example of how attention can transform something mundane and simple into something exquisite), and the memoir is packed full of fascinating tea lore and history. She really knows her stuff. I did sense, however, that she was holding back both in writing the memoir and while she was in Kyoto twenty years ago. Part of it was certainly due to the fact that she had a serious boyfriend waiting in the States. I understand the sentiment, because during my second stay, I had a husband waiting in California, and it really does mean your heart is not as open to the foreign experience (of course, I was, in general, a much happier person the second time around because of my marriage). But there was something else, too. Riccardi is always describing how she labors for hours making elaborate and magical feasts, but she never chooses to eat them once they are done, even when she has the opportunity. Perhaps it is that in-grained American/Puritan fear of sensual pleasure?

I also wish there’d been more sex, but I feel that way about almost everything.

But on to monoawase and it’s relation to sex and food. Riccardi mentions this Japanese pastime of comparing like things in a ritualistic setting. Courtiers of a thousand years ago would compare incense or sake or tea or poetry, trying to guess the origin from the sensual qualities of the object. The tradition continues today among the artistic aristocracy. Even rice was the focus of monoawase, hard for Americans to believe perhaps, but if you go to Japan, you will come to realize that rice has a terroir just like wine and there are indeed subtle differences in flavor (the best I’ve ever had was in a minshuku, or family run inn, in Tsumago, a village on the old interior post road from Osaka to Edo). As I read Riccardi’s description, I realized how much I am drawn to American-style monoawase, or taste-tests as my kids like to call them. We’ve done monoawase with chocolate chip cookies, white chocolate, dark chocolate, German Christmas stollen, coffee, chocolate croissants and cinnamon twists from five different Berkeley bakeries, and of course wine.

Why can’t it work for sex, too? Of course, one obvious conclusion is that one would compare different lovers, and I’m sure many people do. But I’m more interested in the subtleties of lovemaking between monogamous partners, and I think it works there, too. The differences in scent, taste and response would be more subtle, but no less fascinating—plus there is the ego boost of proving one’s high connoisseurship of one’s lover, no? Is the temperature of his skin different tonight? Is his hard-on harder or fuller? Are her nipples more sensitive (sensitivity does fluctuate throughout the month)? Does she come faster if she shaves down there? How about the respective heat of different positions or fantasies (I’ve heard, and I believe, that an active fantasy life is key to a satisfying monogamous relationship)?

I think the Japanese aristocracy was on to something.

Friday, February 17, 2006

My Latest Pub: Garden of the Perverse!

I just got some great news from the editors of The Garden of the Perverse: Fairy Tales for Twisted Adults. The publication date has been moved up from the fall to April 2006, so my story "Virgin Ear" will hit the stores six months sooner. You can pre-order the book at Amazon now (it has a great cover). It has been so cool to work with Sage Vivant and M. Christian, both of whom played key roles in the erotica revolution, the worthy cause of elevating dirty stories to the realm of literary art. If you think about it, erotica really has come a long way in the past decade or so, thanks to the skill and imagination of writers like these. Sure, it sounds hokey, but because of them, and many of the other editors and writers I've worked with (see Jolie du Pre's list below), sexy and smart are no longer necessarily mutually exclusive.

So anyway, my twisted fairy tale contribution to the anthology is actually based on a real event from my college days. Yes, I do have only one virgin ear--my right one. But I won't give away the story yet!

The World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies a.k.a. Magic Urban Legend Cookies

I’ve stopped counting the compliments I get from these cookies, but according to my kids, they’ve earned me a place on the roster of good mothers for the rest of my natural life. For the magic part, put down a plate of them at the next school party, turn your back for a minute, and they’ll all disappear!

Cream together:

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar


1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (sometimes I make it 1 teaspoon and it’s good!)

Mix together in a separate bowl, then add about half to wet ingredients. Mix on low speed until mostly blended than add the rest and fold in by hand for a more tender cookie.

1 cup flour
1 1/4 cups oatmeal ground to flour in a food processor or blender
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Stir in:

1 cup chocolate chips or M&Ms (kids love holiday theme colors)
2 oz Hershey bar, grated on the large holes of a box grater
3/4 cup chopped nuts (if your kids will let you—mine don’t)

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 for about 9-10 minutes. Cookies should be slightly soft; they firm up as they cool and even then they are best chewy rather than crisp.

This recipe makes 30 cookies or enough to take for a party and to keep a few for the family to sample, just to make sure they taste okay. You can easily double or quadruple it. The cookies are absolutely fabulous a few minutes out of the oven, excellent later that day, and really, really good the next day, but they start to go downhill by the second day--—if they last that long.

I got this recipe from a friend from my college days, on what was clearly a tenth generation Xerox copy. On the top of the page, we’re told that someone who works with “Jean’s mother at the American Bar Association” called Mrs. Field’s Cookies and asked for their recipe. They said, sure, it’s two-fifty, we’ll charge it to our credit card. The lady agreed, thinking it was $2.50, but of course when she got her bill it was a whopping $250. To get back at the chiselers, she’s sharing the recipe with everyone she knows.

Of course, a similar type of story has been circulating since the late nineteenth century when the Waldorf Hotel supposedly overcharged someone for their cake recipe—in other words this is a classic urban legend. I doubt they are lifted from Mrs. Field's. These cookies aren’t as greasy as her real chocolate chippers, in fact they’re more of a cross between Debra’s Special and chocolate chip. (Better than both imo).

While I’m on the topic of delicious kid-pleasing cookies, I have two more recipes that get many requests and compliments. The first is the grand-prize-winning Double Chocolate Chip Cookies from 101 Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, a bible for chocolate chip cookie lovers, with lots of tips and a great variety of recipes. A few years ago I made four different recipes for a taste test—a popular activity with all involved (each person takes notes and shares impressions, then afterwards you get to eat your fill of the favorites). The Double Chocolate Chips are made with cocoa and chips and they are just SO GOOD.

To really get the compliments for your artistic flair, I suggest the recipe for Half and Half Cookies from A Baker’s Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies, which is another fabulous resource for cookie recipes (it has an even greater variety than the above). After you mix the classic brown sugar dough, you divide it in half, add cocoa to one and a bit more flour to the other, fold in white chocolate chips to the first and semi-sweet to the later, form each into small balls and squish them together. I mold the balls into commas and form yin-yang shapes (the line between the two doughs usually gets wiggly anyway and this makes it less noticeable and more New Age). I also love the Amaretto Almond White Chocolate Squares and the Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Brownies with Coconut Pecan Frosting, which is just like German Chocolate Cake, but more accessible somehow.

So preheat the oven, brings those eggs to room temperature first, and get a big, cold glass of milk ready for the feast!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dirty Jokes from a Clean Source

All right, I think I am getting comfortable with blogging, because I'm not going to muse thoughtfully about some deep subject this time, I'm just going to post some jokes that come from the internet via the Clean Sheets weekly newsletter. I get the CS newsletter because it's my favorite erotica webzine and they've been good to me there. And under the guidance of editor-in-chief Susannah Indigo, the sex is always sprinkled with a sense of humor. These definitely made me giggle:

A man bumps into a woman in a hotel lobby and as he does,
his elbow goes into her breast. They are both quite
startled. The man turns to her and says, "Ma'am, if your
heart is as soft as your breast, I know you'll forgive me."
She replies, "If your penis is as hard as your elbow, I'm in
room 221."


One night, as a couple lays down for bed, the husband starts
rubbing his wife's arm. The wife turns over and says "I'm
sorry honey, I've got a gynecologist appointment tomorrow
and I want to stay fresh." The husband, rejected, turns
over. A few minutes later, he rolls back over and taps his
wife again. "So when is your next dentist appointment?"


Bill worked in a pickle factory. He had been employed
there for a number of years when he came home one day to
confess to his wife that he had a terrible compulsion:
He had an urge to stick his penis into the pickle
slicer. His wife suggested that he should see a sex
therapist to talk about it, but Bill said he would be
too embarrassed. He vowed to overcome the compulsion on
his own.

One day a few weeks later, Bill came home and his wife
could see at once that something was seriously wrong.
"What's wrong, Bill?" she asked. "Do you remember that
I told you how I had this tremendous urge to put my
penis into the pickle slicer?"

"Oh, Bill, you didn't!" she exclaimed. "Yes, I did," he
replied. "My God, Bill, what happened?" "I got fired."
"No, Bill. I mean, what happened with the pickle
slicer?" "Oh...she got fired too."

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Best? American? Erotica?

I’ve been reading the Best American Erotica series for over ten years now, long enough to feel that I “knew” it well, knew enough to expect certain things, including the unexpected. I did note that the kinds of authors and publications changed somewhat over the years. More New Yorker/Granta names were included, Dani Shapiro’s being the first to catch my attention, as well as a wider variety of contributing publications, such as the literary journal Missouri Review.

Having my work be part of it this year, however, made me look at BAE more carefully. You might say I was considering its makeup from a broader perspective, an editor’s point of view, although I don’t feel qualified to be an editor (they remain very much Other for me!). The task of assembling the “best American erotica” seems to be more complex than choosing the best short stories or essays. Certainly all of these involve politics and editorial decisions that are to some extent arbitrary, but the “erotica” part adds a necessity to consider the broad range of the erotic life of “Americans.” Susie Bright does come through for us in this regard. BAE always has a skillful mix of orientations: vanilla het, lesbian, and gay, authors divided among female, male and everything in-between. There is always a range of tone from romantic to humorous, wistful to downright scary (though I would say wit edges out the others slightly). I get the impression the editors of Best American Short Stories need not be so inclusive beyond what moves them personally, although perhaps they do try to balance experimental and classic, suburban angst with rural/urban underclass experiences.

I also became more keenly aware of a trend toward a broader definition of erotica since the days of being swept off my feet by BAE 1997. A look at the list of authors reveals that we have two main classes. The first is work by some of American’s most prominent writers such as John Updike, Steve Almond, and David Sedaris—that is, the best American writers take on erotic themes. The other group consists of people like me, who aren’t at all famous on the national scene (although many, like Gwen Masters and Rachel Kramer Bussel are renowned in erotica circles), but who caught the editor’s eye with a story that appeared in a publication devoted specifically to erotica. As a contributor, I don’t feel I have the perspective to determine if there are significant differences between the two, even something as simple-minded as the first group writes better and provokes more thought and the second group is hotter and nastier and provokes more zipper action. This may become clearer on later readings, if indeed the question still seems worth asking.

Another question I ponder is how the typical reader takes in his/her recently purchased copy of BAE. Does s/he go straight for the Names or read from start to finish? Does s/he pick and choose from similar orientations or go for a stretch? I personally began at the beginning with “Coyote Woman Discovers Email,” amusing, clever, certainly thought-provoking in its juxtaposition of an ancient myth with modern technology. Without challenging editorial decisions, I moved right on to the second piece, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favors,” which is a witty and multilayered spanking story if there ever was one. Then I got a little rebellious and skipped to my first Name, Lynn Freed, who teaches creative writing at nearby U.C. Davis and is known as a tough critic, especially on those of us fledging writers unfortunate enough to be perceived as slim on talent. Perhaps because I’ve never encountered her withering gaze in person, I liked the excerpt from her novel a lot and I see why Susie was expecting some fallout because it concerns a sexual encounter between a curious underage white girl in South Africa and a dark-skinned working man. Those of us in the erotica field must be super careful to avoid these topics—every character must be at least eighteen and one second old—but “real” literature allows the probing of these sensitive and shocking issues. What impressed me about Freed’s piece is her willingness to allow the girl sexual feelings (of a complex nature of course, along the lines of the protagonist in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina).

I then jumped to Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “The End” which is one of those stories you climb onto and let it take you for a ride. The momentum of the piece is lyrical magic, and I hope I don't ruin it by quoting a favorite portion of the poetry: "The end is like what they say about death, when your whole life flashes before your eyes. I see moments, fragments—my hand up her skirt on the street, taking her in the doorway of a friend’s apartment, so fiercely she can barely sink down to the ground, her on her knees in my bathroom, surprising me as she buries her face into me, no room to protest, grinding the edge of a knife along her back, slapping her tits until they are raw and red—but they seem so far away right now, like a movie, like someone else’s pornographic memories. They don’t make me smile, and I don’t want them anymore. I want to bury myself in her and never let go, hold on to that something that has just fluttered away in the wind, fine as the glittering sparkles she wears on her eyes, miniscule and almost opaque, too minute to ever recapture." The a love story as much as erotica, and a good example of the range of the book, especially when you compare it to Mr. Sleep’s terse “Beatings R Me” for example.

Gwen Masters’ “Fifteen Minutes,” a clear-eyed look at groupies and musicians on the road, stayed with me for a while as I pondered the nature of power and sex and self-destructiveness and callousness and how we armor ourselves against pain. (Aw, man, am I deep or what?) Not that there aren’t wild and provocative sex scenes in the story that would provide productive fantasy fodder, just that the lingering feeling was sadness. And Susie Bright is not afraid to show us this face of the erotic as well.

Then I went on to the famous people. I remember the John Updike selection from the New Yorker a while back, and as always, beyond the exquisitely elegant writing, I feel Updike is opening a door into the past for me, showing me the sexual mores and longings of my parents’ generation. Ah, sex in the forties and fifties, I am for the most part glad it’s gone—The girdles! The guilt!—but I’m also fascinated to see how it lingers still in our Puritanical American sensibilities. (As an aside, I can never listen to the “Hokey Pokey” without thinking of a Couples’-like spouse swapping party, where ladies with beehives and men with slicked hair put their right feet out and their back sides in….) But yes, the writing: “Often afterwards he would remember details of this hour…her gleaming eye-whites; his sense of her slithering into the space above his head like a silken kite, like an angel crammed into an upper corner of a Sienese Nativity….” Yum.

It was getting late and I knew I had time for one more story on my first sitting. I skipped to the finale, Steve Almond’s “The Nasty Kind Always Are.” Along with Updike, Steve Almond is yet another of that rare breed of straight white male who is able to write about sex in an interesting way. I was certainly drawn into the clever social critique of the L.A. scene, such as the protagonist making a living as a “Mood Consultant” or "High Priest Headshrinker to the Neurotic Autocrat"—what thinking person wouldn’t be? My favorite writerly passage is his description of changing fashions in pubic hair: “They all trimmed themselves today, like the porn stars. In his youth, women hadn’t thought to do more than a little pruning at the edges. To do more was considered suspect. The vagina remained, even in nakedness, something mysterious, veiled, pleasingly inconvenient: the coarse hairs that tickled the throat, the rash that pebbled the groin, the powerful funk of genuine muff. It was all gone today, shaved or waxed or singed off with chemicals, leaving the labial folds exposed, a kind of glistening origami.” Hmm, so although his character’s attitude toward women doesn’t exactly give me hope for the future of improved gender relations, I do feel like I’m inside a man’s head, feeling his truth, and that’s always interesting, if not consoling. “Nasty Kind” ends with a bang…or should I say “splat”? It took my breath away for a moment. And that’s what a good ending should do.

More later on the other stories—in the meantime, maybe you can read them for yourselves? ;-)

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Dirty Little Secret

Hey, the advertisers and magazine editors do it all the time—lure you into reading something with a juicy headline and then let you down when you learn that the “one surefire thing that really turns men on” is truly caring about him or some such commonplace thing.

I do actually feel like I’m revealing something about myself I’m not totally proud of, although if you come to my house and check out a certain bookshelf, you’ll get the message loud and clear. The thing is, well, I have an addiction of sorts. I haven’t bankrupted my family yet in pursuit of my craving—it seems fairly under control most of the time. But just when I think I’m cured, I find myself doing it again, against my better judgment, against the voices that cry—it won’t be different this time, once the thrill is gone, you’ll just be left with a broken dream and an ashy morning-after taste in your mouth!

The addiction of which I speak is—sit down and prepare to be disappointed—a compulsion to read, and all too often buy, books about writing. Why do I find this habit slightly-somewhat-darn right shameful? Well, this might be disordered thinking, too, but part of me feels like a writer should just sit down and write. And read, too, but actual stories, not books on how to write stories, which, no matter how wise, can never really capture the magic quality that makes a decently written story into a masterpiece that is worth reading and remembering. Another part of me feels like a dupe because publishers know wannabe writers are also readers and bookbuyers, and in fact many writers have made more money from their how-to books than their novels or story collections. So, by purchasing the latest tome on how to overcome writers’ block or meditate my way to a saleable book or finish my novel within a certain amount of time, I am really just confirming the market research of the very publishing houses that would throw my efforts in the recycle bin the moment they arrived over the transom. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Now, I do try to curb this habit by getting my fix from the library or borrowing from friends, but almost half the time I find myself wanting to own the book anyway, so I buy it in the end. I also should add that writing books are not all fluff. Certainly at the beginning it’s good to get a sense of the “insider’s” rules. For example, no matter how clever or deeply-felt your story is, editors won’t get past the first paragraph if you don’t start with a bang, go sparing on the adverbs, and avoid at all costs opening with your protagonists turning off his alarm clock or looking out over a large body of water and thinking something profound. (Like all rules, these can be broken, but you have to have won several major literary prizes first if you hope for publication). And, okay, now I’m rationalizing here, but writing is lonely work, and these folks who write books for writers do often seem like friends who understand the terror of confronting a blank computer screen, the discouragement of getting yet another fortune-cookie-size rejection, especially following nice ink from the same journal last time, and the absurd joy of getting an “encouraging” rejection. (Non-writers always look really confused when I’m thrilled by a rejection—usually kind words from a top-tier journal. The thing is, anything that makes you feel as if you’ve been heard and respected is rare and wonderful in this business).

That being said, I thought I’d use my new Amazon linking skill to mention a few of my very favorite books on writing, which I would recommend to anyone and which I’m proud to own. This is only the tip of the iceberg. I own many others which have provided comfort, inspiration and good advice, but I wouldn’t want to play pusher and get anyone else started on down the dangerous path I have taken.

The first on my list is The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. This book really did change my relationship to my creativity. (I wouldn’t really recommend her follow-up books, although, of course, I own them, too). I read it when I first started writing and it brought home to me what a consuming activity any creative passion is, how it penetrates into every part of life. Or rather, how other parts of my life inform my work. A lot of these noisy editorial voices are pretty mean and discouraging. The inside editors are even crueler than the outside ones, I’d say! But Cameron’s 12-week program helped me identify the source of much of this anxiety, if not exactly conquer it completely. A few things that stand out in my memory are the exercise of identifying voices from the past that are enemies of one’s creative self-worth (any creative writer needs to deal with all of them, nit-picky teachers, parents who worry art isn’t practical, envious writing workshop colleagues, and so on), her suggestion to fill the well with good self-care and artist dates, and her generally wonderful affirmations about the power of creativity, like a river which flows through the universe from which we can drink and be nourished (I’ve messed with her image a little, but I do like this idea of creativity as force greater than one ego). Although I didn’t do any of the collages she suggested, I did do most of the other exercises by myself and with a friend and I think it really helped me at a vulnerable time in my rediscovery of writing.

Another book I’d put at the top of my list is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Lamott’s humor is what makes this a cut above most writing books. Things I still remember are the concept of the shitty first draft (all first drafts are shitty, she assures us, and it sure helps you just sit down and write something), the scene where she’s trying to convey the spiritual elements of a writer’s journey and all her students want is to know how to get an agent (that always makes me smile wryly because parts of me play both roles), and her wrenching experience of writing a novel she thought was good and being told by her agent—see, having an agent doesn’t mean all life’s problems go away—that it was no good and that she had to rewrite it. Ouch. But these things even happen to writers who have “made it.” How nice to know we don’t have to worry about losing our humanity if we manage a bestseller!

The last entry in my top three is a writing book about a different genre, screenplays. I know that screenplay writing is what the coolest and richest writers do. You’ll certainly reach many more people with your work, if you consider what is left of your ideas after the producers, directors, and random studio bigwigs mess with it your work. Maybe I’m just chicken or more likely I don’t know or like movies well enough to even attempt to imagine I could write a screenplay. So, that is not why I got myself a copy of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee, a well-known and “award-winning” film consultant and teacher of “story structure” in Hollywood. I was prepared not to like him at all, but I was totally inspired by his book. Part of it was the freshness of approach for me. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but an effective structure is an essential element of all story-telling genres, and it was fascinating to see that and compare screenwriting and short story writing. Plus, McKee’s analysis of Chinatown and other films enriched my understanding of the spectator’s role and my ability to appreciate well-made movies, when they happen to come along, which of course is not too often. Film making is the media that matters in our society, and this book also helped me see its inevitable influence on my own imagination.

I have a few dozen more on the shelf, but this is probably enough for now! It was also interesting to see that all three of these books are still selling quite well on Amazon, though none are particularly new. I guess they have passed the ultimate test in the art world--they've endured. But I also remember that they did something else for me: they all made me feel like sitting down and writing with enthusiasm and hope and a sense of mission, for lack of a better word. No morning after regrets...which is another test altogether.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Floating World 101

Now that I’ve finally figured out how to add links to Amazon (I am, shall we say, technologically challenged), I thought I’d mention a few favorite books about Japanese nightlife and geisha and courtesans, etc. as a background to my story in Best American Erotica, “Ukiyo.”

The best nonfiction book about geisha to my mind is still Liza Dalby’s Geisha, and I’m glad the book had a second release in the wake of Memoirs of a Geisha’s huge success. Dalby “became” a geisha in Kyoto’s Pontocho district as part of her research for her doctoral dissertation, and the book is very sensitive and engaging and makes you feel like you are part of that world, albeit as a foreign visitor. Other books I’ve enjoyed are Anne Allison’s Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club, which is also based on an anthropologist’s direct experience of the hostess culture. Hostesses are really a modern form of geisha—in spite of the stripper-like naked female legs on the cover, hostesses mainly sell attention and conversation. Jodi Cobb’s Geisha provides a gorgeous photographic glimpse into the “forbidden” world of the geisha. (Hey, would you even be interested if it wasn’t “forbidden”?) Cecilia Segawa Siegle’s Yoshiwara: The Glittering World of the Japanese Courtesan is a fascinating study of the queen of the floating world in its heyday a couple of hundred years ago, although it is more scholarly than titillating. It was an invaluable reference for my story “Courtesan with a Lover,” which appeared in The Gettysburg Review. Another inspiration for that story was Timon Screech’s Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan, 1700-1820. This is an art history book, but you learn so much about classical erotic prints, it will add to your knowledge and enjoyment of “spring pictures” immeasurably. Plus the pictures themselves are fascinating.

Finally, I have a soft spot in my heart for the sometimes-sexist study of Japanese sexuality by Nicholas Bornoff, Pink Samurai: Love, Marriage and Sex in Contemporary Japan. An Amazon review notes that the book is no longer contemporary as it was published in 1991 and I have to agree. If you’re looking for tips on where to go to experience the latest sex trade fad, you’re better off looking elsewhere. Given the Japanese love of the latest thing, the shinhatsubai (“new release”) mentality, this book is very last century. But the truth is, most of us floating world junkies are interested in what has lasted over time, in Japan’s enduring charms, and Bornoff takes you right into this world, to the point of undoing his own zipper on occasion. (Plus, a used copy is $0.43, semen stains optional).

But what about the Japanese view of geisha and the floating world? Mineko Iwasaki’s Geisha: A Life, is a true-to-life memoir of a geisha, which provides an interesting perspective on Arthur Golden’s bestselling tale. I’ve spent too many hours reading Japanese literature to miss a chance to plug some of my favorite stories and novels from the great masters. The granddaddy of them all is Ihara Saikaku and his masterpiece is Life of an Amorous Woman, a humorous tale of a woman in 17th century Japan whose libido takes her on some interesting adventures. It was banned in Japan during World War II (as were parts of the Tale of Genji) and you won’t have any trouble figuring out why. It’s not just the sex. The Amorous Woman is a true iconoclast.

Proceeding roughly in chronological order, I can’t recommend Higuchi Ichiyo’s story “Child’s Play” highly enough. Higuchi lived on the edge of the Yoshiwara and her tale of a fledgling prostitute and a priest-in-training gradually accepting their fate is touching and haunting and oddly contemporary in its sensitivity. If you want to get a sense of the roue’s side of the floating world experience, you can’t go wrong with Nagai Kafu or Tanizaki Jun’ichiro. The Ohisa character from “Ukiyo” is lifted from Tanizaki’s Some Prefer Nettles. And don’t forget Nobel-Prize-winning Kawabata Yasunari’s great novel Snow Country. The first few times I read it, I found it almost irritating in its preciousness, but I’ve grown to love it and even understand it—to a degree. At any rate, it’s stayed with me and Komako is one of the most appealing—and saddest--geisha I’ve encountered. Okay, this is my last recommendation (aren’t you glad you didn’t take my Introduction to Japanese Literature course?), but I must include Enchi Fumiko’s Masks. It’s not really about the floating world, although it does contain an illicit encounter in Atami, one of Japan’s favorite places to commit adultery, but it’s worth a read. If you’re a feminist, you won’t be disappointed! And it has plenty of beautiful, mysterious and passionate Japanese women in it to please the rest of you.

Happy reading! And don’t worry, your ten page paper isn’t due until after the break ;-)