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.

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