Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Jolie du Pre's Iridescence: Do Judge a Book by its Cover

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Everyone’s heard that bit of wisdom and yet, well, I do generally judge a book by its cover, at least on the first go-round. Even though I know now the editor and/or author has little say in the matter (unless s/he’s famous and powerful). Sometimes it’s a mistake to do this. Fortunately, with Jolie du Pre’s Iridescence: Sensuous Shades of Lesbian Erotica the cover and what’s inside are a perfect match.

And my, oh my, do I love that cover. The background blue is strangely mesmerizing. I happen to like dark shades of blue anyway, but this one is so rich and deep, drawing me into it. Somehow the hue shifts just a bit with each blink. Now it’s a bit more violet, now blacker, now with a touch of bright peacock. Then there’s the gorgeous sinuous line of that dark-skinned female torso, the graceful, yet powerful-looking hand, the delicious contrast of the skin with the white cloth wrapped around her hips. (Is Jolie the model? Could be….) After staring for far too long—remember, my house is a mess and I should be vacuuming, not enraptured by book covers—it strikes me that the cover is a perfect preview of what the stories inside provide.

And that is something more than just hot, sexy stories. They are hot and sexy and juicy and if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed. But as I read, I realized there was something else going on for me which sort of confused me at first because it was new. I was actually caring about the characters as women, as people. I REALLY wanted them to get together with their new lovers or find solace with their long-time partners. I haven’t read a lot of erotic romance—that new gold-mine of a genre—but this struck me as a very romantic collection of stories. I’ve been into looking up words in the dictionary recently, words I thought I understood, but I’m going to refrain this time, because my personal definition is what matters here as a reader. For me romance isn’t necessarily roses and chocolates or gorgeous lovers sweeping down to save me. All it really means is that it makes a difference who you have sex with and it matters to them that they’re having sex with you. Perhaps that is a female thing, but I think this was the case for every character in Iridescence and that’s what made me relate so closely.

I’ll mention a few favorite stories, the ones that stayed with me for days after I read them. Starting off the anthology with Fiona Zedde’s “Night Music” was a wise choice, I think, for immediately all of the reader’s senses are engaged. The narrator, Rhiannon, is drawn to a striking-looked and very talented violinist named Zoya. After the concert, Zoya invites Rhiannon to her dressing room for a delicious meal in which chilled fruit and curried chicken salad are followed by a most luscious dessert involving leather bonds and knowing tongues and a concert of lovely sounds of pleasure. As I reread the story, I admired again the sensuality vibrating in the prose as well as the action. It’s a great story.

We move on to CB Potts’ “Test Your Luck,” stepping from the polished world of the concert hall to a gritty, downbeat Native American Casino. After a rough night on the beat as a Tribal Policewoman, Sesi comes home to her lover Marlee. Again, the sex is hot, but it’s not just that. There’s such deep feeling here in a single kiss—“all the anger, all the fear, all the sorrow and all the terror”—that someone feels when her lover in danger every time she goes off to work. The sex that follows is more than just sex. It’s always more than just sex in a good piece of fiction.

“Grease” by Isabelle Gray is the third story, and this is where I realized this was a special book. Often when I’m reading erotica, I’m like—okay this intro stuff is fine, but when are they going to have sex? Here I enjoyed every minute of the build-up. The narrator and her girlfriend Tia were just so likeable and human, I wanted them to get together and dine on homemade tamales and have sizzling sex. It was as if I were there with them, wanting what they wanted. And getting what they got!

Another standout for me was Teresa Noelle Roberts’ “Special Delivery.” I myself frequent a few Indian restaurants in the neighborhood and there are a few hostesses who are lovely and intriguing and seem to harbor mysterious secrets. Thus is was refreshing and gratifying to get to know the real woman, Amy, behind the sari and the Kama Sutra fantasy, in this case “a special delivery of a hot American dyke.” Bring on the sag paneer, baby!

Last but not least, Jolie du Pre’s “Monisha” is another story that tugs on my heart as well as my groin. Is there anything more depressing than spending Christmas alone? Worse still, the protagonist, Gladys, is cut off from her family because she’s been honest about her sexuality and they can’t handle it. Fortunately, she’s invited for Christmas dinner by a sexy woman who works in her favorite coffee shop, but of course the turkey isn’t the most memorable part of the evening. The ending is warm and bittersweet, and it lingers, just as a memory does in real life.

I could go on and on about Dylynn DeSaint’s dressing room tryst in “Shopping in New York” or Cheyenne Blue’s “Glory B.”—but in short, this is a collection worth reading and thinking about. Recently I’ve started corresponding with a guy who saw my ERWA Circle of Friends bio and he asked me about the goals I’m reaching for in my writing. For better or worse I think I’ve moved beyond “finding my voice,” or avoiding the pitfalls of a beginning writer like using passive voice or whatever. What I want to do is write stories that touch people and change their lives in some small way. It sounds simple perhaps, but it is in fact very, very difficult. In Iridescence, I have some very good examples to study.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sensuous Japan #2: Ready for a Kabuki Dance Lesson?

The first stop on your journey to Donna’s Japan is a kabuki dance lesson with Fujima Kansome at her traditional home high in the hills of eastern Kyoto. I was introduced to Kansome Sensei by one of the administrative assistants at “Voice of Kyoto,” the English conversation school at the intersection of Shijo Karasuma where I got my first job. The job sucked, but the Nihon buyo lessons and concert performances were highlights of my stay in Japan. Here’s a description of a lesson from an earlier draft of Amorous Woman, written back in 2001 before the novel took on its erotic focus. Lydia does mention to her charming dentist in chapter three that she takes Japanese dance lessons, but the following scenes never made it to the novel—and for good reason. It’s pure description with not a shred of juicy conflict. It’s clearly better suited to a leisurely personal essay or travel memoir, but I hope it gives you a good sense of how and why I love Japan. So, have a sip of that cold barley tea and read on.

My dance teacher lived in a traditional Japanese villa set halfway up a mountain in the eastern part of Kyoto. The house was over a hundred years old, I’d guess, the posts of the front gate well-weathered. Two huge maple trees crossed hoary arms over the stone path, a canopy of green lace against the summer sky. The garden was always a few degrees cooler than the city streets below. I paused to dab my forehead with a handkerchief, a Japanese custom I'd adopted in the past few weeks. In August Kyoto was, true to its reputation, a steam bath.

I didn't bother knocking. The whine of shamisen music within was answer enough. I slid the wooden-slatted door open far enough to slip through, then closed it behind me as quietly as I could. Leaving my sandals at the entryway in neat alignment with a pair of black lacquer geta, I stepped up into the anteroom.

Sensei was at her usual post at the entrance to the zashiki, the spacious formal tatami room where we practiced our lessons. A small figure wrapped in a pale green summer kimono, she was barely larger than the hulking boom box at her side. I bowed. She nodded back. The student on “stage” inclined her head a cordial centimeter in my direction without breaking her pose. With another bow, I hurried into the changing room, one tatami mat wide, pulling the sliding door of translucent paper closed behind me.

I took my kimono bag from the wardrobe and replaced it with my own sweat-dampened dress, neatly folded. Through the glass doors overlooking the city, I could see part of Nyoigatake mountain where a great bonfire would be lit in a few weeks to light the dead back to the underworld after their annual mid-August visit to the land of the living. I’d seen pictures of the Daimonji, the huge Chinese character for “great,” glowing orange against the darkness. To me it looked like a human figure, one horizontal stroke for the arms, one sweeping diagonal forming the head and leg, then a second stroke curving out from the arms as if poised to step over the mountainside. But this close, in the clear afternoon light, I saw only a swath of bare earth gouged from the surrounding forest like a wound.

I quickly fastened the metal clips of my tabi, socks of snow-white cotton split between the first and second toes to accommodate the strap of a sandal. With their thick soles, designed to both grip and glide, they were the slippers of the Japanese dancer. Then I put on my yukata of dark blue cotton, securing it around my waist with a single cotton sash. Dressing was easier in the summer. When I first started my lessons six months before, I had to struggle with two layers of underkimono bound up with numerous cords and belts, followed by a wool kimono. The practice obi was the same all year, a narrow yellow sash which needed no pads or scarves like the formal version. I’d finally mastered the technique of tying a simple bow in front and tugging it around to its proper position in the back, a source of some pride, although I’d heard a graduate of a kimono dressing school was required to tie an obi in an elaborate butterfly shape behind her back without a mirror.

The shamisen music stopped. Through the paper door I heard the other student murmur her thanks to the teacher above the hum of the air-conditioner. I quickly pulled my hair back into a ponytail and took my dancing fan from its case of orange brocade.

My legs bound in a column of cotton cloth, my back erect in the obi’s steady embrace, I left the changing room much differently than I entered. A Japanese girl glides, toes pointed inward, rooted to the earth, yet supple like a willow or a flower. It is the Japanese way--in dance and in life--to transform constriction into art.

The practice room was empty. The other student must have gone home in her yukata, wearing those geta in the entryway. I waited, breathing in the incense riding the chilly currents of air. The dusty fragrance originated, I assumed, from the Buddhist altar in the far corner of the room, a large cabinet of glossy wood trimmed in gold, with mysterious little shelves and drawers, and a small bell resting on a cushion before it.

The door to the right of the practice room slid open. Sensei excused herself for her absence with a smile. I caught a glimpse of a TV in the corner, the edge of a low table. Once, from a different angle of the room, I'd seen a white-haired old woman huddled at that table. I knew little about my teacher’s other, ordinary life, only that she spent half of each month in Tokyo, performing, studying with her own teacher, the head of this school of kabuki dance, and, she once intimated, attending to the pleasures of a wealthy patron.

"Shall we begin?" she said in Japanese.

"Hai," I replied, dipping my head. After nine months in Japan, this constant bowing seemed almost natural to me. I moved to the center of the room, turned to face the teacher and sank down into the formal seated posture. Laying the dancing fan before me, I placed my hands on the tatami so my thumbs and forefingers formed a triangle and bowed low, my forehead grazing my hands.

"Onegai itashimasu." It is the most humble form of "please" used in the presence of teachers and other superiors. "Give me the favor of your instruction" is understood.

"From the beginning."

I arranged my body in the opening pose of the dance I would perform for the recital the following month: crouching, one knee touching the floor, the open fan shielding my bowed head. Thanks to my practice at home, I no longer wobbled as I waited for the music to begin.

The hiss of the tape gave way to the trill of a bamboo flute--a cool, lonely sound--then the harsh strum of plecturn on cat-gut shamisen strings. My cue was the singer's nasal voice, warbling words I only half understood:

The most famous place for cherry blossoms is Yoshino,
For maple leaves, the Tatsuta River,
For tea it is the village of Uji.

Lowering my fan, I was the Tea Maiden, rising to her feet like a new leaf unfurling. I held the fan over my head, a bamboo hat shielding the maiden from the sun as she went to pick the first and finest tea leaves of spring. With a flourish and a quick change of grip, the fan was a basket. The tea maiden picked three leaves in pantomime, then bent, tired from her labor. She took three steps, turned, slipped her left hand into her sleeve, then posed for three beats, closed her fan and sank to her knees again to perform a tea ceremony, the trusty fan now serving as a tea scoop. Before the dance was through I would dally with a lover, parade as a high courtesan and mime an old crone finding solace in a brew of well-cured leaves as a temple gong signaled the end of the illusions of this mortal world.

Sensei watched from the front of the room, mirroring the more difficult movements of the hands, her face set in the customary expression of the Japanese dancer, detached but slightly pained as if she were pretending not to overhear some unpleasant gossip about herself. I was about to move on to the next section of the dance where the maiden flirts and quarrels with her lover, when she clapped her hands, switched off the tape and joined me on "stage."

A Japanese doll from afar, up close my teacher’s face had a vaguely Mediterranean look. I sometimes wondered if her patience with my awkwardness wasn’t a result of a dash of foreign blood in her family tree.

"Now, Donna-san moves like this." She stepped forward, toe-heel, toe-heel, bobbing like a marionette in the hand of an unskilled puppeteer. She paused, then tilted her head toward me with a playful smile. I laughed and blushed.

"But the Tea Maiden moves like this." Her body suddenly took on new gravity as she glided across the floor and turned with a smooth dip and swivel of the hips.

I fixed my eyes on her lower body, wishing I could part her kimono to observe the movements of her legs. We never discussed technique. In Japanese dance, the student was to learn karada de--with the body--not words.

Eyes twinkling, Sensei positioned herself in front of me, slightly to my right, so I could watch her as we practiced this passage of the dance together.

“Again,” she said, and we stepped and turned, stepped and turned over and over. At first my feet resisted, as if I were pushing through thick mud, but with each repetition they grew lighter, the tatami smoother. At last, I felt it, the barest glimmer of what it would be like to know in my muscles and bones the secrets of her grace.

Sensei nodded, satisfied with my efforts for the moment. I was not. I knew her criticism was a sign she thought I was ready to move one step further in my study, one step further toward perfection. I silently vowed to practice at home until I got it right, until I could dance the Tea Maiden just like a Japanese girl.

Back in the garden, I picked my way gingerly over the mossy stepping stones. Ribbons of soreness rippled along my outer thighs. I always seemed to discover a new muscle after my dance lesson. In spite of the freedom of my Western dress, I still hobbled a little.

I paused under the maples. The deep, water-rich green leaves tapered into points like fingers, set off perfectly by the wooden fence, the mossy earth below. Today’s lushness was only a precursor to the dazzling crimson of October. I thought of the courtyard of Akikonomu, the lady in The Tale of Genji who loved autumn. The beauty of this place gave me a strange, hollow ache as if I were already missing it and the young woman I once was. I’d been told it’s a Japanese feeling, as if the land itself brought out this sweet melancholy from the human soul.

But I had an appointment to keep, a private English lesson in the western part of the city. Passing through the wooden gate into the twentieth century, I hurried down the narrow, tree-lined street to the bus stop. Halfway down the hill I recognized a slender, sleepy-looking young woman ascending the path. Her name was Chieko, another dance student whose parents owned the kimono store at the foot of the mountain where I had my winter dance kimono made at a special discount. I learned then, over tea and sweets, that their daughter was an English major at a prestigious private university in the city.

Chieko nodded, but I felt my stomach tighten as she crossed to my side of the street. The first time she approached me I thought she was after English lessons, but it soon became clear that she had been assigned the role of go-between to explain the many financial obligations of the dance student. Every time I talked with her, I ended up at least ten thousand yen poorer. Sensei herself never mentioned money. At the beginning of each month a low table appeared in the anteroom with wallets of white paper calligraphed with our names, into which we quietly slipped a crisp ten thousand-yen bill. Over the past months, Chieko had informed me that I had to buy a package of tickets every time the teacher appeared in a concert and include an additional month’s fee in July and December as the customary seasonal gifts.

Today, after a cursory greeting, she explained in careful English that my portion of the fee to rent the hall and print up the programs for our concert was eighty thousand yen, due with the next month's tuition. I would also have to pay the special kimono-dresser ten thousand yen and give the teacher an extra ten-thousand yen gift on the day of the concert.

I felt my eyes widen, but I had enough presence of mind to stop my jaw mid-drop.

Chieko’s eyes flickered uncertainly.

"This is our Japanese custom," she said, smile of apology playing over her full, round lips. "I have been studying longer and must pay much more."

After a moment of panicked arithmetic—a hundred thousand yen was a half a month’s salary and I had about eighty thousand in the bank to last until next month--I forced my lips into a weak smile. "Yes, I understand."

Chieko rewarded me with a grin. "Thank you."

We both bowed quick goodbyes, she no doubt relieved to have discharged an unpleasant duty, me anxious another moment in her presence would bring more unwelcome news for my bank account.

I reached the bus stop just as the light green city bus came into view. Forfeiting more coins into the fare box, I sank into an empty seat beside the exit door, leaned back and closed my eyes. One hundred thousand yen! I realized now that serious expression Japanese dancers wore was not Buddhist detachment, but worry about how much it was all going to cost.

Sensual, Sensuous Japan: The Journey Begins

Okay, so my novel is coming out this week and it’s time to get interesting here on my blog. Amorous Woman is the story of a Western woman’s love affair with Japan and it’s appropriate, I think, to let you all know more about my own yearnings for the country and its culture. I plan to introduce you to my favorite places in Kyoto and Tokyo, take you to the rustic, but elegant hot spring inn that is the setting for many of my stories, tell you about some of the parts of Amorous Woman that are based on my life, talk about Japanese porn comics and delicious blowfish dinners and even my favorite Japanese restaurants in Berkeley for a mini-trip to Nippon. Plus, now that I know how to download pictures, there’ll be some gorgeous eye candy as well.

I wasn’t sure how to title this series because I was a little confused about the exact meaning of the words “sensual” and “sensuous.” Webster’s College Dictionary has this to say about the matter: “both refer to experience through the senses. ‘Sensual’ refers to the enjoyments derived from the senses, especially to the gratification or indulgence of physical appetites. ‘Sensuous’ refers to that which is aesthetically pleasing to the senses.” The examples they give are “sensual pleasure” and “sensuous poetry,” which sort of divides them into low and high culture in a way. Both apply in this case, however, and I may switch back and forth depending on the topic. I realized that “sensuous” will forever be a dirty word for me because of The Sensuous Woman, which is the first dirty book most girls of my generation ever read--hurriedly at recess in a hidden corner of the school yard. But it turns out Webster’s thinks “sensual” is worse!

So wipe your hands on that hot oshibori towel, tear off the wrapper of your chopsticks and get ready for the feast to begin….

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sexy Cover, huh?

Ha, well, my house is still a mess, but I did get the photo tutorial from my technical advisor. You may note a few upgraded book reviews with book covers added below. Visuals really do add an important element to a blog. Maybe I'll start posting dirty pictures and some of my visitors will stay more than three seconds!

Why not start with the cover of my novel, Amorous Woman? When I first saw it, I was a bit confused, because the novel is about an American woman's experiences so I thought a cross-cultural image would capture the theme better, but in the past weeks the image has been growing on me. Now I've decided I love it. I love the golden lighting, the way the viewer looks up at the woman, her mesmerizingly willowy torso. It definitely captures the "enchanted by the East" feeling. What do you think? And hey, who is her Pilates instructor?

I've decided I'm going to do a few more book reviews before I launch into my pre-publication entries on "Sensual Japan." Here and on Amazon, I only review books I really like. It seems bad karma to me to say critical things about other another writer's work in public. I am glad there are critics who make it their business to separate the wheat from the chaff, but I'm going to indulge myself and just scoop up the good stuff to make some homemade bread to share with you. Next up is Jolie du Pre's Iridescence. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Good Day for a Writer

I've been feeling overwhelmed recently--overwhelmed by my messy house. (Why clean it? It'll just get messed up again in five minutes.) Overwhelmed by the list of stories I want to write but can't seem to find the time to work on. Overwhelmed by life, ya know?

But now and then nice things happen that bring a smile to your face. A few days ago I posted a review here and on Amazon of Sage Vivant's Your Erotic Personality. I really enjoyed reading it and once I got past the selfish mode of trying to identify my own erotic leanings, I realized I was holding a great reference for my writing as well! So, two books for the price of one--and I always like a bargain. Anyway, Sage was cool enough to acknowledge me on her blog, and although I'm blushing, I'll give you a link to her entry right here. It's August 13, 2007, in case you're reading this some time in the future.

She has the cover of Amorous Woman there and damn if I don't have to learn how to download photos on this blog. I'm such a techno-feeb, it's frankly a miracle I can blog at all and do email, but this is getting ridiculous. It's like I really AM 98 years old like my MySpace profile says! So, I'll have to bribe my engineer hubbie into a tutorial this weekend. I mean we live in such a visual culture. I just KNOW all of those guys who click here from Violet Blue's podcast are expecting...visuals. Ah, well, they'll just have to settle for words.

In the meantime today I'm going to designate a room--maybe the front hall, it's small--and clean it today so I get some sense of accomplishment.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Your Erotic Personality: Identifying and Understanding Your Sexual Self

Okay, this shouldn’t be a surprise given the fact I write erotica, but the truth is I not only spend a lot of time writing about sex, I like to think about it and read about it, too. The reading part, of course, is also research for the writing, but it tends to be enjoyable as well as educational. I was expecting a good read when I picked up Sage Vivant’s Your Erotic Personality: Identifying and Understanding Your Sexual Self. After all, it’s Sage’s business to translate her clients’ fantasies into stories at Custom Erotica Source. That means she’s heard a lot of secrets from a lot of different people, and it’s not surprising she’s discovered “distinct personality trends” in the erotica she is asked to create. I’ll admit, too, there is a bit of the thrill of the voyeur (or Watcher as Sage calls it) in stepping inside the fantasies of so many people who’ve whispered in her ear over the years. Don’t we all want to know more about what goes on in other people’s minds and bedrooms?

Well, I was not disappointed. I got my good read and more. Your Erotic Personality is hard to put down. It breezes along with smooth prose and laugh-out-loud wit, especially the quizzes that open each chapter profile. I can only imagine how much fun it was to think up those! But this isn’t just a sit-back-and-let-it-wash-over-you sort of book. By the second chapter, you’ve become an active participant with a quiz that makes you think seriously about your own erotic yearnings. Not that I expected to be “found out” as early as chapter three. Yes, Sage has us erotica writers pegged. There is definitely a lot of the Escapist in me—wild flights of fancy combined with a need for security. Are we that easy to read? But it didn’t stop there. As I read on, I recognized other aspects of my psyche in the chapters to follow. Apparently I’m also a bit of a Wanderer and have clear Show-Off tendencies, as well as a healthy dash of the Student’s scientific curiosity.

Gee, I’m more interesting than I thought!

Sage writes that for her clients, the very process of articulating their desires--yearnings we are rarely if ever encouraged to talk about--brings self-knowledge. Knowledge, of course, is power, in this case, the power to accept, explore and enjoy who you are. The pang of recognition I felt not only made me feel less alone, which is always good, it also made me realize how my erotic imagination offers me so many flavors, so many options to explore.

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe exploring your own erotic map is an immensely valuable thing, whether through reading this book, articulating your fantasies with a partner or writing your own erotica. Perhaps the only erotic type Sage profiled that made me sad was the Name-Dropper, a person who allows media images to define what is desirable. Okay, we’re all vulnerable to this to some degree, especially as teenagers, but how much happier would we all be if we could break free of junk-food, ready-made, overly-processed porn and find out what really turns us and our partners on? (See my earlier blog entry on Junk-Food Porn and Mom’s Homemade Erotica).

Throughout the book, Sage speaks with authority and a generous, nonjudgmental spirit. I found I not only understood myself and my partner better, but I got some intelligent insights into other lifestyles, for example BDSM and sex with multiple partners (at the same time, that's the Partier). In fact, I quickly realized that when I finished the book I would not put it on the shelf with my other erotic books and guides (of which I have a considerable collection). Where it really belongs is with the writing references, because I know this will be a very useful aid for my own writing. If I have a character in a story who gets off watching his wife have sex with other men, I’ll turn to the Cuckold chapter for some clues into what makes him tick—his dreams, his vulnerabilities, the range of behaviors this might involve. And because every human being is motivated by her/his sexual desires to some degree, the book could be a gold mine for all writers.

Smart, witty, fun and educational. What more can I say? Your Erotic Personality is a great book and I hear there’s a sequel in the works. I can’t wait!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Elvis Seals the Deal

Okay, this is what you've all been waiting for--photos straight from the Graceland Chapel in Las Vegas where my husband and I renewed our vows on our twentieth wedding anniversary in June. To tell the truth, I wasn't expecting much. We weren't allowed to request our Elvis "type," so we could well have gotten one of the fat ones of questionable singing talent. But our Elvis was "larger than life" in the best way. He was charming, funny (leading us through the infamous "Elvis vows" in which we promised not to treat each other like hound dogs or step on the other's blue suede shoes) and could sing very well indeed. Along with our renewal-of-vows certificate, we received a copy of Elvis and Priscilla's marriage certificate. I pointed out that it was a rather strange gesture, since that pair divorced, but my ever-glib and diplomatic husband replied that since 50% of marriages reportedly end in divorce, we get to be the lucky half! All in all a highly recommended way to tie the knot or pull your existing knot a little tighter!

Thumbs up with Elvis

"I'll never leave you at Heartbreak Hotel."

"E" is for Excellent, Sexy Stories

Good things do come in small packages. I just got my contributor’s copies of E is for Exotic, the latest volume in Alison Tyler’s erotic alphabet series and I’m REALLY impressed with it! It’s a bit smaller than Cleis’ usual format and thus perfect to hold in one hand. Ahem. The cover art is awesome, with a 1930s vamp in a harem-esque green outfit casting her sultry spell over the viewer.

It worked for me.

Inside is even better. My story “Spider” starts off the show, which is a real honor—more background about my story later. Next comes the luscious “Native Tongue” from Shanna Germain--you can always rely on her for stories that arouse the body and the mind. This time she takes on the power of language to lubricate a relationship in its presence or absence. Not speaking the same language definitely adds a charge to an encounter—I will attest to that from experience!—but reading “Native Tongue” is a good way to find out if you haven’t had the chance in your own travels.

The third story is by Michael Hemmingson, who has been a favorite author since I read his “Naughty Yard” in Maxim Jakubowski’s Mammoth Book of International Erotica over ten years ago. I usually have some trouble with the way men write sex scenes, especially in mainstream fiction, but Hemmingson’s voice is absolutely mesmerizing. He’s so witty and cool, I find myself liking these guys in spite of their, well, maleness. Like this line: “We checked in, walked up to the room, and attacked each other. Seriously, we ripped each other’s clothes off, threw each other around the room like POWs being interrogated.” The scene continues with details (I don’t want to ruin it—read the book!) but I just loved the strange images those words create. Those bodies are still bouncing and banging around in erotic abandon in my head days later.

Another favorite was Kis Lee’s “Bus Ride.” And it’s not just because my husband and I just renewed our vows at the Graceland Chapel in Vegas. The story was hotter than a Las Vegas afternoon (104 degrees, anyone?) and reminded me how words can be the sexiest things. This one is definitely staying with me. Who thought Barstow could be the beginning of all good things?

Saskia Walker takes you to Greece in “The Things that Go on at Siesta Time,” where a maid with a “practical” turn of mind, the lovely young daughter of the house and a dark and handsome gardener don’t get much rest at naptime. I’ve been fortunate to appear in several anthologies alongside Ms. Walker and her work is always so sensual and seductive. I loved that scene in the closet….

The anthology ends with a bang—how else?—with Alison Tyler’s “Un, Deux, Trois." As promised in the first line, the story transforms and transports the reader as well as the narrator as you glide into a sex club for Parisian sophisticates. Every detail is provocative: the elegant clothes, the rooms designed for decadent pleasures, the unexpected softness of the stranger’s kiss each time the narrator’s boyfriend spanks her with his belt in front of a transfixed crowd. How could any real-life adult play club be any better than this? I literally could not put this story down, even when less fictional good times were proffered—just ask my husband!

The other stories linger, too, the special corset in Teresa Noelle Roberts’ “Learning His Ropes,” the smells and sounds of Bangkok (not to mention those of some gorgeous Thai men) in Lisabet Sarai’s “Mad Dogs,” the very dirty antics of a married couple in Mathilde Madden’s “Wet,” the delicious, haunting obsession of Nikki Magennis' "Essence." Sex and travel do seem to be a magical combination in life and in writing—E is for Exotic is proof aplently.

So, a bit of background about my story. Yes, it is based on a real event. While I was studying Japanese as a graduate student in Yokohama in 1987—88, I was living in a very cheap, tiny apartment in the suburb of Konan Chuo. My cold water-only washing machine was outside the front door and one day as I was hosing off the dirt from the lid, a HUGE spider jumped out from behind the machine. No, I’m not really that scared of spiders. It wasn’t just a daddy-longlegs. It was literally as big as my outstretched hand, with thick brown legs and a huge body. It was a tarantula. Honest. I screamed and turned the hose on the spider and it jumped across the path and disappeared in the weeds. When I looked up I saw a cute young man staring down at me from the apartments on the floor above. He asked me what was wrong in Japanese and when I told him I’d just seen a huge spider, he did not come charging down to rescue me by finding and killing the spider. He just laughed at me indulgently. The bastard. For the next few weeks I was terrified the monster would come back and attack me, but I never saw it again. And I was happily married at the time, so I didn’t start anything up with the cute neighbor. The scene, however, did come back to me all these years later. I took a character from my novel, Amorous Woman, put him in the place of the sexy neighbor and “Spider” was born. Another truth from the story--I don’t look at spiders in the same way at all. Read my story and see why!