Friday, February 29, 2008

“The Cunt Book”: Steamy Stories From the Vault

Lots of good story news for this week! I’m making an appearance on Marcy Sheiner’s blog today with a reprint of “The Cunt Book.”

“The Cunt Book” is one of the very first erotic stories I wrote and the very first to make a best-of anthology: Best Women’s Erotica 2005. I can still remember how I felt when Marcy, one of contemporary erotica’s founding mothers, emailed me to say she loved the story and wanted to include it in the anthology. I was—and I want to say literally, but that can’t be true—floating on air with a mile-wide smile on my face.

I wrote the story in just a few days, which was rare for me back then. My other favorite story from the early years, “Blinded,” took a year of revisions and hands-on research, not to mention I got lots of rejections (although admittedly many from “literary” venues) before it was finally published. “The Cunt Book” had better luck. I posted it on my online workshop (Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope) and Rachel Callahan of InPosse Review approached me with a publication offer—which, believe me, was an unexpected treat. I submitted it to Clean Sheets, where I’d always dreamed of being published, and the story caught the eye of Bill Noble, another icon of our genre.

And you know, even though it’s an “early” work, I still like the story a lot. I like the layers of it, the lies, the stories within stories, the old-fashioned naughty pictures before the Internet and digital photography made these things commonplace.

So, please stop by Marcy Sheiner’s blog, Dirty Laundry, to check out my story—and do leave a comment over there if you’re so inspired! Oh, and the photo is from Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party--a favorite of mine!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Book Review: Gwen Masters’ AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Gwen Masters is one of erotica’s star writers—and deservedly so. My pulse always quickens when I see her name in a table of contents of a new Cleis book or in the latest weekly issue of Clean Sheets, because I know her story is going to be smart, well-written, and sizzling hot. Of her many stories I love, a sentimental favorite is “Fifteen Minutes” from Best American Erotica 2006. The “sentiment” comes from the fact my own story was also selected for the anthology, because there’s little sentimentality in Gwen’s story. In fact, it’s a clear-eyed look at groupies and musicians on the road, which provides more than just fodder for some edgy sexual fantasy. It also gets your mind racing with questions about the nature of power and sex and self-destructiveness and callousness and how we armor ourselves against pain.

In pondering the effect of Gwen Masters’ work, I realized that her pieces are so powerful because the sex always occurs in an intriguing, and often tragic, context. Perhaps this is an obvious point but most sex scenes in what I’d define as porn or sloppy mainstream popular literature seems to occur in a vacuum. The sex scene is set apart from the story—generic bodies indulge in a formulaic coupling and then we get back to the story, as if sex were the same insertion of Tab A into Slot B for everyone. With Masters, the dynamics of a sexual encounter are shaped and fueled by the characters’ specific desires and demons. A brilliant example of this is her story “Indiana Jones, with Camera” published in The Erotic Woman. The story is about a very erotic woman who gives herself body and soul to a photojournalist lover whose past is as complex as his tastes in lovemaking. Wounded by his work in Baghdad and Afghanistan and other grim places both literally and figuratively, the photographer transforms pain into beauty and pleasure through his muse—I recommend the story highly.

But on to the review at hand. Thanks to a MySpace bulletin, I learned about Masters’ recently published novella After All These Years. She mentioned it was a story she was especially proud of and I knew I’d have to read it. And as I started to read, I immediately sensed I was in the hands of a master storyteller.

“You are a gift,” the stranger murmured.

I didn’t feel like a gift. I was a forty-something mother of three children who hadn’t flown the nest so much as they had fallen from it. I had too much gray in my hair, an aching back and a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant that always left me with a rabid distaste of anything fried. It was the dead of winter in Chicago, the snow was piled up in high drifts everywhere, and my train was more than fashionably late.

The novella starts in just the right place with just the right line because those words mark a radical change in the narrator’s life past, present and future. The mysterious stranger will give the narrator a precious gift as well: a new sense of connection to her husband who was one of the victims of a suicide bomber’s attack on a US Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983.

Now I face a challenge in talking more about After All These Years. Masters takes the reader on a carefully orchestrated emotional journey and I don’t want to give too much away. I can say that she offers a rare glimpse at the human story behind the TV reports and the politicians’ rhetoric. She shows us the true cost to a family who has lost a husband and father. It’s a serious and moving piece of fiction—and it’s incredibly sexy, too. That’s because Masters gives us a sexual encounter that is so rich with context and history, it takes your breath away.

When Marilyn makes love to the mysterious stranger, she must confront the history of the war in his body. It’s sex as healing on a level that puts Marvin Gaye’s famous song to shame.

In the light of day, the scars weren’t nearly as bad as they had seemed in last night’s shadows. But they were everywhere, evidence of the hellish time he had gone through on the other side of the world. I reached up to touch his chest and he sucked in a breath as my hand started to explore. Once I started touching him, all my fear disappeared. I was more curious than anything else.

“Can you feel that?” I asked.

William let out a shaky breath. “Yes, but not like you would. It’s more like pressure. Almost a tickle in some places.

“What about here?” I asked and pressed my hand flat against his throat. The pulse there raced under my palm.

“That feels the same,” he whispered.

“What about here?” My hand slipped down and pressed against the tattoo on his arm.

William’s eyes closed. “Yes.”

I trailed my fingertips down his arm and touched each finger. He didn’t move as my fingers explored their way back up, followed the line of his shoulder, then ran both hands down his chest. He sucked in his stomach as I touched it. He lay back on the bed as my hands went lower. I stopped at the buttons of his jeans. He was hard behind them. The pulse in his throat jumped with his heartbeat.

“Does this feel the same?” I asked as I ran my fingertips along the waistline of his jeans. The denim was hot, warmed by his skin.

Beyond words, William nodded.

There’s more…and it’s hot, but again I don’t want to give too much away, except to say much more than body parts are involved here. Profound questions about the betrayal of a memory, forgiveness and self-forgiveness will haunt you long after you finish the novella.

After All These Years is the perfect illustration of my contention that the most powerful literary erotica involves sex that matters. Gwen Masters is not afraid to explore intense and often troubling situations but, like her Indiana Jones photographer, she has the artist’s knack of transforming the darker side of human nature into erotic and aesthetic pleasure. I was sorry when the novella ended, but it certainly lingered in my thoughts for a long time afterwards. Fortunately, I know Gwen has a story in the forthcoming anthology Dirty Girls, so I’m looking forward to enjoying some Masterful magic again very soon!

Who’s Superstitious?

Well, I am. Just a little. I always start a new story as a “save as” file of a story that did well, for example. And maybe it’s a writer’s thing—magical thinking would be, right?--because Alison Tyler admits she’s superstitious, too.

One of my superstitions is that I don’t talk publicly about a story acceptance until I hold the published book in my hands. (A novel is different because you have to promote it starting like years before you write it--honest!) Now, given the vicissitudes of publishing, this is probably more just a matter of prudence. Alison told me she’s the same way and she mentioned something about lots of rejections and as she says in her blog I did in fact write back: “Rejected? You?”

I mean come on, what crazy loon would pass up the chance to publish an Alison Tyler story? She’s like the Goddess of Erotica!

But, of course, rejection is part of this business, so much a part of it. I stopped counting but I know I’ve piled up hundreds of rejections (some nice, most impersonal, a few quite gratuitously nasty and I haven't forgotten you, you jerks, yes, some day you'll be sorry!) and for stories that later went on to fame. It all has to do with taste and editorial needs and other factors beyond our control. I guess there is a part of me that likes to fantasize that some writers never face rejection or they work their way up the ladder to a shining and glorious land of eternal acceptance. Rather like those erotica stories where complete strangers have sex and they're so perfect together, they come ten times in two minutes.

But Alison’s acknowledgment that even she gets a “no” now and then reminded me that rejections are also a badge of courage. We take the risk of baring our soul on the page, sending our masterpieces out into the world and subjecting them to the callous scrutiny of all-too practical publishers, agents, editors. And often enough the bastards say “no.” But we keep on with our work anyway. If that’s not courage, I don’t know what else is!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Slow, Sweet Seduction

Did you know that Sex and Candy has its very own blog with lots of mouth-watering photos of sweet things to get you in the mood?

In today's you'll find a photo of my famous Venetian cookies along with the recipe, if you'd like to seduce your sweetie with the six-layer test Laura used on her boy toy. It worked for her, it works for me, and I'm pretty sure it will work for you, too!

So put the butter out to soften and get ready for some slow, sweet seduction.

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Absolutely Divine Milk Chocolate

I tasted some chocolate yesterday that totally deserves a Foodie Friday rave and--hold on to your bonbon—it’s a milk chocolate. Divine Hazelnut Milk Chocolate. And it’s truly divine.

Now, just as I prefer red wine, before yesterday I would have told you I’m no longer a milk chocolate fan, in spite of a childhood love affair with Russell Stover pecan turtles. With the availability of all sorts of gourmet dark chocolates, the taste of most milk chocolate seems adulterated, not to mention too sweet, to my palate. But one bite of this gets you plenty of fresh, crunchy hazelnuts and the creamiest chocolate base with a wonderful finish. No, it’s not as good for you as dark chocolate, but everyone deserves a naughty splurge now and then. The Divine dark chocolate is pretty good, too, with lots of coconut flavor. One of our dinner guests last week, who knows a lot about German-made chocolate, said it tends to fall into two main types--those with hints of coffee or those with hints of coconut. We were tasting six different dark chocolates and just happened to get one of each from the German makers. I'm a tropical girl, so Divine wins my vote there, too.

You can get your naughty, but Divine, treat at King Arthur Flour online or at stores that sell fancy chocolate bars.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Get Ready to Drool with Sex and Candy

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s timely that I’ve just finished reading Sex and Candy: 22 Succulent Stories, one of the latest luscious anthologies edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. It is indeed a double scoop of sweetness (to paraphrase Sage Vivant’s “Two Scoops of Gelato”)--delicious sex and luscious food porn to make both of your mouths water!

The lineup of writers is impressive. Some are familiar favorites like Sage, Shanna Germain, Catherine Lundoff and R. Gay. Some I’m keeping company with for the first time in an anthology like Jen Dziura, Jolene Hui and BAE regular Tsaurah Litzky. All are well known for hot erotica, but I was deliciously surprised at how well they write about sweets. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. As a regular reader of foodie magazines, I’m well aware of the power of the word as well as the image to provoke hungers of all kinds—and indeed it seems the talent translates across the appetites.

The book gives you plenty of sex and lots of food, but you’ll also get some wonderful writing as well. Some of my favorites include SekouWrites’ “Time Release Dessert,” which was smart and lyrical and mesmerizing. Here’s a sampling from a favorite passage:

“When his lips first touch her shoulder, she moans and he experiences a jolt of pleasure. He has always been partial to moans, the first moan in particular. To him, even more than the first hug or the first kiss, the first moan is a signal and a warning—it is the sound of the heavy door that protects a woman’s passion easing itself open at his bidding. And the thrill of unearthing this particular woman’s passionate nature runs deep fro some reason he doesn’t quite understand yet.

“He continues down her arm with soft kisses and slow licks. Remarkably, her flavor is even better than her scent—powerful and sugary, and he finds himself fantasizing about eating her as both his meal and his dessert at the beginning and end of every day….”

This passage struck me because the first moan really is a very important moment in a relationship and it’s gotten such short shrift in our discussion of romance. Thank you SW for the epiphany—the first moan is to be celebrated!

I also enjoyed Salome Wilde’s “Forbidden Fruit and Honey” for its historical setting, the simmering tension throughout, and the sexual-political twist of an ending. In Sex and Candy, sweet things can sometimes be very bad for your health....

Other favorites that offer as much well-crafted story as sensual delight are R. Gay’s “Other Girls,” (who knew cotton candy could get so creative?) Shanna Germain’s “Kneading,” (tiered tiramisu and bittersweet lovers!) Catherine Lundoff’s “Phone, Sex, Chocolate,” (not what you think) and Sacchi Green’s “Sugar on Snow” (can I stay at that cabin and eat those meals?) and Sage’s “Two Scoops of Gelato” (the perfect treat for gelato lovers and Italian carnival mask collectors like me). Wait, there’s more on my list, but it looks like I’ll be mentioning every story in the book. Still—I’m wondering if Jolene Hui will give me that banana cupcake recipe and I thank Dominic Santi and Michelle Houston for introducing interesting things to do with candy canes.

Jeez, I’m getting so worked up, I think it’s time to go make some homemade fudge—I’ll blame you, Tsaurah, for the extra pounds. And hey, if I had a maid, I might try out the tricks in Rachel’s “Sugar Mama” or Stan Kent’s “Cupcake.” Oh, and do check out my story “Six Layers of Sweetness” for an introduction to my signature homemade cookie and its power to seduce even the most reserved suitor… and if you're really nice, I'll make you a batch someday!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cleis' Naughty Spelling Contest

They say readers love contests and give-aways. Well, Cleis Press has come up with a good one for this Valentine's Day--a creative spelling contest. You make up a word or words based on the covers for the twelve existing volumes in the fabulous "Erotic Alphabet" series of anthologies edited by Alison Tyler. To enter, you have to line up the covers to spell a word, take a picture, and send that in, for which you'll win volumes A-L.

I'm in "E is for Exotic," "I is for Indecent" and "K is for Kinky." Let's see K-I-E? E-K-I? That means "train station" in Japanese--very sexy places, train stations.... I-K-E? Eisenhower was pretty sexy or at least Kay Summersby thought so. Hmm, I may have to do a little book shopping to win big here.

I'm looking forward to the poster of all 26 letters myself!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Surrounded by Sensational Smut!

The writer’s life is a difficult and stony path of lonely toil (how’s that for a fresh metaphor?), but sometimes you have a week of sweet sunshine when the fruits of your labors seem to fall into your lap, or at least your mailbox. Last week I got two lovely packages of contributor’s copies and they are ripe and juicy treats indeed.

The first contained my copies of The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 7 and I have to say, this one is the best yet. I’ve just started reading it, but I’m mightily impressed. Tara Alton’s opening story, “The Dire Consequences of My Libido,” is brilliant and hilarious. Susan DiPlacido’s “Coyote Blues” is one of the HOTTEST and smartest stories I’ve read in a loooong time and more treats await me from Ashley Lister, Shanna Germain, Lisabet Sarai, Sage Vivant…well, I’m not going to copy down the whole table of contents. Suffice to say, it’s sure to please erotica fans and convert the doubtful to the wonders of libidinous literature.

Then on Friday I got my copies of the latest books in Alison Tyler’s naughty Erotic Alphabet series I is for Indecent and K is for Kinky. As always, the covers are fabulous and I get to sit next to Saskia Walker in the “Kinky” line-upwhich always makes me happy!

It’s a lovely way to start off the month of Love. Now back to the stony toil!

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Seduction of Words: Don Capone’s Into the Sunset

Don Capone’s Into the Sunset is entertaining comedy at its best. Even the madcap premise makes you laugh. Thirty-year-old Wayne Benson is tired of his stressed-out New York City life, so he ages himself with a wig and theatrical make-up and moves into a retirement community in Westchester to enjoy the easy life. Of course, he still has to commute into the city to work as a journalist at Silver Citizen magazine, but his new living situation only serves as a valuable source of stories for his work—at first. Soon enough the complications set in: a romantic relationship with a lovely widow, the suspicious glances of the security guards and administrators, a growing realization that adding forty years from a jar is a lot more work than he bargained for. Hey, I’m not going to give the plot away, but although it’s a bumpy ride for Wayne, the pages seemed to glide right by as I followed him on his adventure into premature maturity.

Reading as a writer—and I always do—I admired Capone’s plot, which is Chekhovian in its design. Each puzzle piece fits together perfectly by the novel’s end and I know that’s almost as hard to pull off as pretending to be old! I was even more impressed--or perhaps I should say, beguiled?--by the narrator. Wayne is, from an objective standpoint, a bit of a Peter Pan, not to mention a man who’s comfortable with living a rather significant lie. Ironically, his voice is refreshingly honest. I felt I was getting a glimpse into a real man’s view of sex, relationships, and the meaning of life. No doubt the humor and down-to-earth quality of the voice made for this immediate intimacy. I was reminded just a bit of the most compelling section of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity where the protagonist relates his sexual and romantic history (fortunately Capone spares us Hornby’s name-dropping and relentless pursuit of faux “cool”) which also gave me a fascinating glimpse into the minds of those unfathomable creatures called guys.

A clever plot and a likeable narrator make Into the Sunset a perfect subject for the “writing” part of my blog. But the novel has plenty of food and sex, too. For Wayne one of the big draws of The Sunset are the three delicious meals a day, lovingly prepared by a “Dutch gentleman named Jan” and served either in dining room or delivered to one’s apartment. I came to anticipate the daily menus as much as he did—how I’d love to try a piece of the carrot cake and maybe just a taste of Lemon Zinger cake, too! There’s a sweet romantic scene involving ice cream cones which was so vivid, it took me right back to the days when I used to visit my college boyfriend in his hometown of Katonah. He was an awful boyfriend, but there was a nice ice cream parlor he’d take me to now and then that sounded just like the one in the novel…but I digress.

It’s time to move on to the sex. Wayne’s sexual desires play a big part in the story, which probably has a lot to do with why I liked it. The flashbacks to bedroom scenes with his ex-girlfriend Cindy are especially entertaining. My favorite is when Cindy wakes up mad because she had a dream that Wayne was flirting with someone else. Wayne’s efforts to sweet-talk her into a good mood—he of course has woken up with a boner he’d like to use—had me laughing. There’s also a flirtation with a hot number named Kim and a fling with Cindy’s roommate, all spicy enough to put you in the mood if you’re so inclined, but not explicit enough to be erotica per se.

But there is a controversial love interest at the heart of the story—Wayne’s involvement with sixty-four year old Eleanor, another resident at The Sunset. I’ll admit when I first read about the much-older-woman-younger-man relationship on the cover blurb, I thought of Harold and Maude—who wouldn’t? But there’s really no comparison at all. Eleanor is presented as youthful, genuinely attractive, and very comfortable with her sexuality. I know from my own mother, that women in their sixties can be lovely, radiantly sexual and happily involved with younger men (her boyfriend was only four years younger, but still). Rather than being a turn-off or a joke, the relationship with Eleanor is ultimately moving and thought-provoking for the reader as well as the narrator. I found myself thinking a lot about aging and sex and the real meaning of maturity. When you’re older, sex is more than hormones and smooth flesh (except of course for old geezers like Rupert Murdoch who marry babes half their age). It’s about connecting with another human being for who they are inside, which didn’t strike me as the main motivation for most people back when I was on the dating scene. By the novel’s end, I get the feeling Wayne would definitely agree with me.

One of my favorite erotic scenes in the book is when Wayne and Eleanor get into his “new” car, a clunker with broken air-conditioning, for their first real date outside of the retirement community:

“She swept her long hair up into a bun on top of her head and pinned it tight. One long strand escaped, and my eyes followed it down the nape of her neck to her bare shoulder. Her neck was soft and white and vulnerable. Her ear looked delicious. I wanted to put whip cream on it and lick it off. I considered inviting her to try out the backseat like a couple of randy teenagers. I’d get on top and slide her dress up and remove her panties with my teeth. Or she could be on top and I would cup her breasts after freeing them from the cotton and lycra that imprisoned them. Between the hot vinyl seats, the blaring August sun, and the heat generated by our naked thrusting bodies, the Corolla would be as hot and humid as a Costa Rican rain forest. We would create our own little green-house effect. Mushrooms would sprout from the carpet. The windows would fog as the car rocked back and forth, straining its old suspension system. Afterward, a sudden thunderstorm within the interior of the car would cool our steaming naked bodies, as we lay there spent.”

Does it get any steamier than that?

Now that I’m a published novelist myself, my idea of what constitutes high praise for a book has changed radically. Back in my college days, the compliment I hoped to earn for my yet-to-be-written novel would have been something like: “this is a timeless classic comparable to Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf.” Now, with my busy grown-up’s life, I know better. I’d much rather have someone tell me my novel is a “page-turner,” “witty,” “a story that made me think and touched my heart.” I found Into the Sunset to be all of these things. It’s also a novel I’m glad I read—and that’s the highest praise of all.

The Creamiest Chocolate Body Paint for Valentine's Day

My February column is up at the Erotic Readers and Writers Association--The Smut-Writer’s Holiday: In Praise of Sexier Valentines, Custom-made Customs, and the Creamiest Chocolate Body Paint in the World. As you might guess, this month I discuss Valentine’s Day customs here and in Japan, plus I share my fabulous chocolate sauce recipe that is thick and smooth and perfect for painting on body parts when lukewarm or pouring on ice cream or cake when it’s hot and slippery. I also review the wonderful anthology Best Lesbian Erotica 2008, which has some seductively strong stories by strong, sexy women writers and not a single mango-sucking scene! I like mangos a lot, especially with sticky Thai rice and coconut milk, but read my review and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Happy February, everyone!