Friday, January 25, 2008

The Seduction of Words: Rusty Barnes' Breaking It Down

There’s no doubt Rusty Barnes’ short-short story collection, Breaking It Down, belongs in the literary section of the bookstore. It has all the qualities we expect in literary fiction: fresh, often stunning images, an unflinching look at the truth of human character, spare and elegant prose. Add to that the author’s mastery of the short-short or flash form and his ability to evoke a lifetime of yearning or regret in a few brief pages and it’s no wonder it got rave blurbs from the likes of Ploughshares’ DeWitt Henry and Edward Falco. But before you’re thinking my review will be labeled as an all “writing” entry, I have to let you know there’s plenty of sex in Breaking It Down—after all, Steve Almond liked it, too.

Don’t go moving the book to the erotica section quite yet! Let me assure you I’m talking about literary sex. Yes, I suppose it’s time for me to lay my definitions out on the table, bare naked, for all to see. There’s been a long, sometimes heated, debate about the differences between porn, erotica and the serious treatment of sexuality that might even get you on a college syllabus, like D.H. Lawrence. Many claim it’s all in the eye of the beholder—what I like is literary, what you like is erotica, what a person neither of us like likes is porn. However, I believe there is a somewhat more objective way to analyze the difference.

Porn is bodies having sex, no complications, no questions asked, no real plot necessary. The intent is to arouse with descriptions or photographs of sex acts and the copious use of “obscene” words. This is reptile brain stuff, not that it can’t be highly effective and often enjoyable when the mood is right.

Erotica adds brains and hearts to the bodies. Its pages are populated by complex human beings, with dreams, desires and even disappointments in their lives. These people need reasons to have sex and they usually need a specific reason to have sex with the partner or partners of the moment. Often assumed to be aimed at women, erotica offers plot, character, motivation, poetic language and even humor. However, for the most part it does aim to arouse the libido as well as the mind. (That’s what I try to do in my work anyway).

A literary sex scene adds one more layer--a higher artistic purpose. It can arouse, but it doesn’t have to, the only “must” is that it serve to reveal character. Therefore here’s where you find an honest and often darkly complex view of human sexuality. Now we’re back to Breaking It Down. Barnes’ stories are often brutally honest. Sex has consequences, it’s an urge that ruins lives. It can also be a way for inarticulate characters to assert some power or seek a fragile moment of connection in a lonely life. Adultery, spouse-swapping, disappointed housewives taking out their frustration in the arms of visiting handymen--Barnes pierces through the clichés to touch the tender, wounded heart of erotic desire. Frankly, I found it all wonderfully refreshing. I enjoyed every one of the eighteen stories, but I’ll talk about a few favorites (yes, they have more sex) to illustrate my “definition.”

“What Needs to Be Done,” the first story in the collection, grabbed me right away with its sensual, resonant images--green beans in a silver bowl, tobacco juice spattered over the mums. Many of Barnes’ stories are clearly set in Appalachia and in this case issues of class are highlighted with a city-girl narrator, Derry, who is trapped in a disappointing marriage to an alcoholic country boy. One of the ways she endures is to have literal rolls in the hay with her nineteen-year-old brother-in-law. This passage is one of my favorites in the book:

“Purl had laid the blanket out already, wisps of hay stuck to his hairless chest. As I loosened his jeans, it wagged at me like a finger, an accusation I could never answer to anyone’s satisfaction but my own.”

An erection as a finger of blame—it’s funny, it’s indelibly memorable and it’s a classic example of sex-reveals-character. Plus, literature changes the way you look at the world and truth be told, I will probably never look at hard-ons in the same way again.

“Certitude” shows us a family in turmoil. A father facing his own mid-life crisis throws his teenage daughter out of the house for smoking marijuana and hanging out with boys. The mother, Mathilde, understands that the violence of his reaction is a reflection of his own desires and thus her reason for seducing her husband on the sofa in the TV room is very different from Derry’s need for some small way to indulge herself. Here we have sex as salvation and yet the connection is still fragile and momentary, rather like a work of flash fiction itself.

“Pretty” made me laugh out loud. Kathleen gamely agrees to a BDSM scene with her partner, Brady, but resents his perverse choice of a safeword—Pretty. Definitely literary irony at its best. I happen to know that BDSM-themed anthologies are selling briskly at one of my regular publishers, Cleis, and I often wondered who’s fueling this best-seller phenomenon—people who do it? People who want to do it and are afraid to mention it to their partners? But “Pretty” shows us the not-so-pretty reality of BDSM in an average American bedroom, where power play can’t gloss over the real emotions that course through a relationship. I must confess the ending was very satisfying.

“Mister Fixit” takes on a dumb porn movie cliché and makes it touching and wise. A sexually frustrated wife has a “hole that needs fixing” and she turns to a visiting handyman for sympathy. The two actually do end up in each other’s arms, but again the connection is not what we might expect. At the risk of giving it away, I’d like to quote this lovely passage, another of my favorites:

“He puts the tool down and opens his arms, and I go to him as the script directs. As he holds me in his smell of body odor and gas, putty and rank man, I can feel myself begin to disappear—it’s good. He squeezes tighter, a comfort hug, tighter and tighter. I am smaller and smaller in his arms. I am a wet spot on the shoulder of his grubby shirt, and then I am gone.”

Mmmm, nice, huh? I love the last story, “The Way It Is Scripted, the Way It Goes.” It’s about partner-swapping at an “adult party”, two couples getting naked in a shower. Standard fare for porn and even erotica, but here, for the male narrator, “the sight of Sarita’s bouncing breasts and brown nipples, her frizz of hair hung over into my golf buddy Paul’s face is raw and immutable fact, one I didn’t prepare for.” It’s sad, but it’s also sexy, too, in the way real bodies and real people arouse us, for example, when the narrator and a neighbor “[rub] Jasper’s thighs and behind with our wondrous, wonder-bound hands.” Literary sex is the reality, even when you follow the script, and Barnes’ collection ends with another penis, wagging its accusation and the epiphanous plip-plop of water on porcelain drowning out a woman’s cries of release.

Porn? Erotica? Literary sex? The boundaries are not always clear, even by my definition, but I’d say in general the more “literary” end of the spectrum involves care and insight on the part of the author and complexity of thought and emotion for the reader. As I read Rusty Barnes’ collection of flash fiction—or more accurately, devoured it, because it’s actually a real page-turner—I couldn’t help thinking of an exquisite Japanese Buddhist meal with its a tray of tiny dishes, each serving up a austere, perfectly-crafted tidbit. The fare is not especially sweet, and never rich, but it is ultimately satisfying and enlightening. Treat yourself to Breaking It Down for a taste of the same. Besides which, there’s an added bonus—by the end, you’ll realize that erections have a whole language of their own.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Want Your Own Amorous Woman?

Okay, it’s up and live, Shanna Germain’s interview with me on the fabulous erotica writers’ blog Lust Bites. I spill lots of secrets about sex and writing and my novel. Best of all you can win your own copy of Amorous Woman just by posting a quick comment. I’d say it’s worth the gamble!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dirty Pictures: A Time-Honored Tradition

I’d guess a lot of visitors to my blog come in the hope of finding pictures of naked women or people having sex. I mean, much of my published work offers just that: pictures, albeit in words, of erotic activities. Some bloggers do offer lots of sexy images to spice up their words--just check out the “Sex” section of my blog roll!

I usually stick with words, but today, I decided to join the dirty picture bloggers in my own historical, Japan-tinted way in honor of my upcoming interview on the super-sexy and very visually satisfying UK blog Lust Bites. In my interview I talk a bit about Japanese shunga, literally “spring pictures.” Spring picture scrolls and prints were the racier cousin of the famous ukiyo-e of the Edo period (which lasted from the early seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries). Most of the famous woodblock artists also did a little shunga-drawing on the side, and their reputations didn’t seem to suffer at all. If only our society was so open-minded!

I’ve always been intrigued by Japanese erotica, but I must admit the huge, magnified genitals in most of the prints made them more of a curiosity than a turn-on. Then I read Sex and the Floating World by Timon Screech. If you’re at all into art history, I highly recommend this book, a witty and enlightening exploration of erotic images in Edo-period Japan (it's currently available at a terribly inflated price on Amazon, but maybe you can find a reasonably-priced copy somewhere or check your university library?). I learned for example, that shunga were known as “laughing pictures” because one of the slang terms for masturbation was “laughing.” Now isn’t that more merry than “self-abuse”?

I was also introduced to the erotic images of Suzuki Harunobu and suddenly shunga took on a whole new dimension for me. I’d found my artist. Harunobu does not enlarge the genitals of his lovers to absurd proportions (although, to be my own devil’s advocate, I have suggested that the large genitals symbolize how you feel during sex—like one big, throbbing cunt or cock). They are real and tinted in pale, appealing colors. The faces of his lovers are as much a focus and the expressions are fascinating and complex. He is nothing if not elegant and his images are rich with suggestion, although certainly explicit enough. The image you see above, “Autumn Moon of the Mirror Stand” has inspired several of my stories, including “Spring Pictures,” “Courtesan with a Lover” and a scene in my novel, Amorous Woman, where Lydia and her wealthy company-president lover act out scenes from Harunobu’s work. The mirrors, the focus on female pleasure, the touch of melancholy to the scene, the samurai's knowing touch--something about the combination fires my imagination again and again. Now that’s a dirty picture that has spawned many thousands of words!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Press Kit--Comments and Suggestions Welcome

By Donna George Storey

Neon/Orion Publishing
Category: Erotica
Pages: 352
Book Type: Paper
Size: 4 1/2 x 7
ISBN: 1905619170
ISBN13: 9781905619177

Take an exotic, erotic journey to a Japan few tourists ever see….

Amorous Woman is the story of an American woman’s love affair with Japan and her sensual encounters with the sexy men and women she meets along the way. First-time novelist Donna George Storey, a widely published erotica writer who holds a Ph.D. in Japanese literature, challenges the boundaries of culture and genre in this modern remake of Ihara Saikaku’s classic 17th century novel of the pleasure quarters. Lusty, wise-cracking Lydia—the modern Amorous Woman--experiences every flavor of erotic pleasure Japan has to offer from illicit encounters in hot spring baths to fantasy orgies straight from manga porn. Described by critics as “rich with sensual detail, humor, and emotional complexity,” “hard to put down,” and “literary erotica at its best,” the novel will change your image of Japan—and erotica—forever.

Bookstore ordering:
Currently available in the UK at Amazon, Blackwell and LoveHoney; the official US release is May 28, 2008, but it can be ordered for delivery in 6 to 8 weeks from:

Independent Publishers Group
814 North Franklin St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: 312-337-0747
FAX: 312-337-5985
Orders Only: 800-888-4741


Donna George Storey has taught English in Japan and Japanese at Stanford and U.C. Berkeley. She holds a Ph.D. in Japanese literature from Stanford and has published over sixty literary and/or erotic stories and essays in Prairie Schooner, Gettysburg Review, Fourth Genre, Wine Spectator, Best American Erotica 2006, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 4, 5, 6, and 7, Best Women’s Erotica 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and elsewhere. Her work also received special mention in Pushcart Prize Stories 2004. Amorous Woman is her first novel. Read more of her work at

SYNOPSIS of Amorous Woman by Donna George Storey:

The day Lydia Evans Yoshikawa left Osaka, she promised herself she would never have sex with anyone ever again for the rest of her life. This might seem a tall order given her past, for although she didn’t manage to seduce every able-bodied man in Japan, it wasn’t for lack of trying. She’s donned the gorgeous kimono of a Japanese bride, lured a handsome stranger into an “everything but” tryst in a steamy hot spring bath, and lost herself in an affair with a modern “feudal lord” who would stop at nothing to satisfy her sexual whims. Yet only when she tells the story of her shocking adventures to her two handsome American students does Lydia finally see beyond her fantasies to understand the real meaning of her connection with the men and women who shared their deepest desires with her. Inspired by Ihara Saikaku’s 17th century satiric novel of the pleasure quarters, Amorous Woman gives the reader a humorous and intimate view of Japan few Westerners ever see.

REVIEWS of Amorous Woman by Donna George Storey

“In turns funny, insightful, and always erotic, this novel follows the sexual adventures of beautiful blonde Lydia through a modern Japanese male landscape. Donna Storey's eye and nose for the redolent detail is a treat for all the senses as she spins her tale into a savory concoction not unlike the "cooked-to-your-liking" pancake of cabbage, egg, and smoky fish sauce called okonomiyaki that serves as the heroine's comfort food. An Amorous Woman is literary erotica at its best.”

Liza Dalby, author of Geisha and The Tale of Murasaki

“The cover of Amorous Woman promises a sexy read. The book is that, and so much more. Donna George Storey is a gifted storyteller. Her voice is both lyrical and immediate. When I met the protagonist, Lydia, and her affair with all things Japanese began, I knew I wasn't going to be able to put this book down. I never had a clue where she was taking me next but I was right there with her, every step of the way. Rich with sensual detail, humour, and emotional complexity, Amorous Woman is both a sensual and cultural journey. Highly recommended!”

Saskia Walker, author of Along for the Ride, Double Dare, and Reckless

Amorous Woman is definitely arousing but it is much more than a light-hearted bedroom romp through Japan. It is a believable and moving tale of one woman's journey of sexual self-discovery… I enjoyed Amorous Woman more than any erotic novel I've read in a long while. Ms. Storey writes with insight and humor. She vividly conveys the sensual experiences of living in a new land.”

Lisabet Sarai, author of Raw Silk and Incognito, reviewed for The Erotica Readers and Writers Association

“If your knowledge of Japanese culture could do with a little stretching, or
if you simply enjoy well-written erotica, you won’t go far wrong with
meeting this Amorous Woman... it's a bloody good read."

Ashley Lister, author of Swingers, reviewed for Erotica Revealed

“Focusing on sex in Japan is a great departure from the more usual erotic scenes and I certainly enjoyed getting a peek into such a different culture. Storey clearly has a love for and an interest in this land, and that comes through with her writing. A piece of erotica that works equally well story-wise and for an insight into a whole other life makes this a great addition to your erotic bookshelf. I have no doubt I'll be rereading this in the future.”

LoveHoney, the UK’s premier online adult store

“The scope of this story is tremendous, and the settings are palpable in their completeness. It's clear the author has a strong understanding of Japanese culture. Vivid sexual scenes abound, encompassing a vast range of pleasures… this book is hard to put down.”

Romantic Times Book Review Magazine

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ancient Chinese Secret for Silky Soup

It’s Foodie Friday again and I thought I’d share two modest, but tasty discoveries I made this week. The first is a recipe for a simple, but delicious Chinese Egg Drop Soup. I found a recipe in the latest February issue of Cooking Light and did some further research online to come up with my own variation. The main thing is, this is so quick and simple, but it adds nice variety to your menu. You could serve it with fried rice, Chinese leftovers, or the way I did, with whole wheat rolls and aged Gouda and steamed Brussels sprouts with chestnuts on the side.

To serve two generously, bring 4 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable) to a simmer. Beat two eggs with a whisk for about 30 seconds. When the broth is ready, turn off the heat. Pour the eggs into a wire strainer. Hold the strainer about a foot over the pan with your right hand and stir the broth with a large spoon with your left. The egg will drop in fine ribbons and turn into silky, tender “flowers” in the hot broth. When you’ve used up all the egg, add 2 chopped scallions and a dash or two of sesame oil. You can add 1/2 cup of cooked green peas as well.

Another tasty recipe I found this week was from February’s Bon Appetit issue in “Eat Your Veggies.” I also adapted this for my own lower-fat tastes—I usually cut the cooking fat by 2/3 with fine results. Take 1 1/2 pounds fresh Brussels sprouts and trip the ends, pull off as many leaves as you can and quarter the remaining core. Heat 1 Tablespoon grapeseed oil in a sauté pan. Add 1 minced shallot, then the Brussels sprouts and 1/2 cup unsalted natural pistachios. Saute about a minute, cover and steam about 2-3 minutes, until tender but still bright green. Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. This will make a Brussels sprouts lover out of anyone. Honest.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Looking for a New Erogenous Zone?

It sounds like the title of one of those women’s magazine come-on articles at the checkout stand. The ten hottest sex positions. Five things sure to turn women on. Somehow the actual article never really delivers on the promise. I hope I can do a little better.

Sure we all know about the obvious erogenous zones—genitals, nipples (for most women and a few lucky guys), mouths and hands. Maybe the backs of the knees, the crease of the elbow. And don’t forget the brain ;-)

But what about the less obvious candidates? Ears, for example. (For more on this possibility, read my story “Virgin Ear” in Sage Vivant and M. Christian's Garden of the Perverse).

And feet.

Well, maybe feet belong in the obvious category. We’ve all heard of foot fetishists. Men who slaver over women in five-inch stiletto heels. Women who slaver over expensive designer shoes. Passions I never really quite understood, although I do appreciate how the crease between the big and second toe resembles cleavage. And there is something visually pleasing about a smooth female foot with painted toenails. Okay, now that I’m thinking about it, I did have a few moments of shoe love in my teens. When I was in high school I saw a pair of high-heeled maroon suede boots in the store that looked an awful lot like Victorian-style button-up shoes. About as Masterpiece Theatre as you could get in the local mall, and I convinced my mother to buy them for me. The only problem was, they were unwearable. After about ten steps, my feet were throbbing. It took hours and sometimes days to recover. The few nights I wore them out, I could barely walk back home. Most of the time I ending up taking them off and going barefoot. Once I convinced my boyfriend to carry me (talk about Victorian). He rowed heavyweight crew and he managed the burden just fine.

What I really want to talk about is my latest publication, a reprint of my story "Magic" on Clean Sheets, one of my very favorite places to be published! (I like the picture they chose for it, too.) The story originally appeared in Sexiest Soles: Erotic Stories about Feet and Shoes, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and Christopher Pierce. You might be interested a little background on my story, “Magic.” You see, some time ago, I discovered I had a very sensitive spot that I was never aware of before. My husband and I were lying on the sofa one evening and he was massaging my feet in a lazy, affectionate way. Nothing too extraordinary there. But suddenly, as he pressed and kneaded my left instep, I started getting…you know…feelings. Very nice feelings. Feelings so nice I thought maybe the foot massage alone would…you know…do the trick. Well, the kids were around and we didn’t feel right taking this new possibility to its conclusion right then and there, but our little discovery was a welcome addition to our repertoire. Not to mention, it provided the inspiration for "Magic."

A happy ending all around.

So, enough about me. Why not try finding your own hidden hot spot someday soon? You might be surprised what you discover.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Do YOU Like Sexually Insatiable Sluts?

My latest review of Amorous Woman is out in the January issue of Romantic Times Book Review Magazine (which unfortunately only lists availability through Amazon US and not my Web site where you can actually buy it now). I’m generally happy with this review—four stars out of five, which means they liked it—plus I think the reviewer “gets” a lot of what the book is about. Here's the review text:

“Storey chronicles 30 years in a woman's life, from the hopes of matrimony to the shame of prostitution, from America to Japan and back again. The scope of this story is tremendous, and the settings are palpable in their completeness. It's clear the author has a strong understanding of Japanese culture. Vivid sexual scenes abound, encompassing a vast range of pleasures. But some readers may not like the lead character, who is ruled so completely by her lust that she's a bad friend and an unfaithful lover. Even so, this book is hard to put down.”

So, yes, I can’t complain at all about such observations as “the scope of the story is tremendous,” “the settings are palpable in their completeness,” vivid sex scenes, authorial expertise in Japanese culture. And of course, the reaction I love best: “this book is hard to put down.”

Maybe it’s a romance genre thing, but a few readers—just two, actually—have told me Lydia’s high-wattage sexual desire was a turn-off. Of course, the Japanese model for her, the original Amorous Woman, was a real slut, so maybe by comparison Lydia seems thoughtful and reserved to me! Fortunately, the majority of people say they do like her, especially her humor, her self-insight and her honesty about sex. Not to mention, she does learn a few things in the end and makes an admirable sacrifice as a friend and a lover.

I’m wondering, though, if I should have my next heroine save a child from a burning building and help lost animals find good homes? Nah, I think I like naughty girls a little too much to go there….

Friday, January 04, 2008

How to get the VIP Treatment at your next Napa Winetasting

It’s a brand new year and time to launch Foodie Friday 2008! Actually this is more of a wino Friday entry, but still, I hope it adds to your sensual enjoyment.

My husband and I love drinking good wine (not necessarily expensive wine, but tasty, interesting wine) and we have an annual custom of going up to Napa Valley in February to taste the good stuff they’re pouring at Heitz. It’s the only time of year you can taste their lovely Martha’s Vineyard and Bella Oaks Cabs and tasting is always free! We try to go up to the Wine Country a few other times during the year as well, but February is quiet and the guys at the tasting bars are especially talkative, so you learn a lot.

Over the past few years, we’ve learned something else, too. If you do one simple thing, you’re very likely to have the winery pourers pull out a special bottle and give you an extra wine to taste, often a top-of-the-line treat, and always on the house.

Here’s what you do: spit.

Not in his face. You spit out the wines you taste. First stick your nose in the glass and breathe in long and deep. Then roll a sip around in your mouth, get all the flavor and spit. Either into the spit jar, or we take our own plastic cups (not clear, you can see the icky saliva-bubbly rejected wine) which is more discreet than shooting a fountain of liquid across the table into the communal spittoon. If you find a wine you really like, you can swallow a bit of that. I always allow myself that indulgence!

So, the guys at the bar see you doing this and they know you’re at least semi-serious about wine, a step above the bus tours. You chat with them a bit. Ask with genuine interest about the recent harvest and the current wines on sale and when the optimum time is to drink them. Confess you’re one of those crazy people who keep wine for a number of years and don’t just drink it all right away. Then watch them reach behind the counter for a little something special they’d like you to try.

It doesn’t happen at every winery, but at least once or twice on every visit. It's fun and you get to taste some nice stuff. Plus, if you spit, you don’t have to worry about driving and you can always buy a bottle of your favorite, drinkable-today wine to have back at the B&B. Not a bad way to sample the VIP treatment--and it's free.

Happy Quaffing!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Amorous Woman is Erotically Revealed!

Well, I have to say 2008 has started off exceptionally well for my novel, Amorous Woman with a fabulous review posted by Ashley Lister at Erotica Revealed in the January issue.

I’ve been in many Cleis anthologies with Ashley (who often writes under a pseudonym although his best-selling expose on Swingers was published under his own name) and have followed his columns on ERWA for years. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of his prose, fiction or non, without laughing out loud at his cleverness and wit, not to mention that I always know immediately I am in the hands of a master of the craft. He KNOWS his stuff.

So, it is especially thrilling that Ashley liked my novel. It’s hard to stop smiling about this, which is not a bad way to start the new year. And it’s hard to pick my favorite excerpts, although I’ll have to settle on something for my promo materials, but I can think of worse problems. In keeping with the more “intellectual” quality of Erotica Revealed (which you could argue is The New Yorker of erotica reviews), Ashley highlights the literary precedents of my novel—my direct model, Ihara Saikaku’s The Life of an Amorous Woman as well as the more amorphous inspirations of Japanese literary style.

“The first thing that struck me about this book is the fact that the author is maddeningly clever. The eloquence of Donna’s writing matches the elegant style of Japanese culture (as it is probably perceived by those who aren’t boorish bukake/karaoke/Godzilla louts). As I mentioned before, I’ve previously encountered Donna’s work in her wonderful short stories. Amorous Woman is similarly presented in a series of short and manageable chapters which, despite their brevity, are each exciting, arousing and carry the narrative along with startling swiftness.”

Clever, elegant, page-turner—this is good, right? Or perhaps it’s best to go with haiku-like brevity as in the following?

“…it’s a bloody good read.”

The review is a good read, too, so head on over to Erotica Revealed and help me toast the new year!