Thursday, August 28, 2008

Erotic Encounters Under the Blossoms

The Amorous Woman blog tour has pulled into Grand Central Terminal, baby, with a toot-your-whistle visit to Susie Bright’s Journal. Join me for an illustrated journey through the Gion I described in my Best American Erotica 2006 story, “Ukiyo.” Some stops are familiar, some brand-new, and you definitely won’t want to miss the provocative manga showing misbehavior under the cherry blossoms in as lascivious detail as the Japanese censors allow (I’m sure you can fill in the blanks)!

Bon Voyage! And please leave a comment on Susie's blog if you have the chance....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

One of the Best Author Interviews I've Read

Before I published Amorous Woman, I'd never really been interviewed as a writer. I did manage to wander in the path of inquisitive journalists a few times with mostly amusing results. A Washington Post writer came up to Princeton my freshman year to see how the local kids were faring in the Ivy League. I said a lot to the guy, but somehow I came across as a physical education freak, which is so not me.

But let's get to the real reason for my blog post. I happened to be browsing through today's ERWA-Writers digest and I noticed Kathleen Bradean had a new interview up at the Circlet Press site. She mentioned she talked a lot about the writing process, plus I love her work, so I clicked right on over and started reading. I have to say this is one of the best writer interviews I've ever read--concise, smart, articulate, informative and true.

I really related to this answer about her writing process:

"So little of writing is actually typing it into the computer. I live in Los Angeles and spend a lot of time in the car. That’s my time to think about scene, plot, character, etc. I don’t write anything down because, well, I’m driving, but all I want to take away from those sessions is the essence of the scene, not exact words. The story is right when it feels like the truth."

I live in Berkeley and I walk more than drive, but it's the same for me--I work scenes over and over in my head many times before I actually write them down so that in a way it's almost like I'm taking dictation on something that really--truly--happened.

I was already enthralled with this interview and was enjoying Kathleen's descriptions of authors who've influenced her when suddenly I saw my name in a line of inarguably awesome writers: "...Donna George Storey, for proving that erotica novels can be so much more."

Okay, I've picked myself off the floor and dusted off--but clearly my day can't get any better, so I'm going back to bed. But you, on the other hand, should go read the interview. It's inspiring in so many ways!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Truth About Sailors

It’s the end of summer—the height of nature’s bounty at the Farmer’s Market—and I’m not doing too badly with a harvest of juicy publications, too. My latest is a short literary piece called "Everything They Say About Sailors Is True" which appears in the brand-new issue of the literary webzine Storyglossia. It’s a coming-of-age “play-let” set in Virginia Beach, edgy, a bit experimental. As you might expect, there’s a lot of sex in it, but definitely some bitter mixed in with the sweet. I’m also especially proud to be in this month’s Storyglossia line-up because it’s a pub I’ve had my eye on for a while!

I like to think of myself as a writer who straddles the literary and erotica genre (because, well, I like straddling things ;-) and I’d be curious how readers would compare this take on sex to my latest stories in such spicy Rachel Kramer Bussel anthologies as Tasting Him and Tasting Her. Of course, one of my main motivations in all of my writing is to capture a tiny little fragment of that elusive concept I'll call The Truth About Life. I hope with this story, at least I’ve closed my fingers around some gems of authenticity about sailors on shore leave…let me know if you think it’s true!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Slip Inside a Love Hotel with Scarlet Magazine

I just got my copy of the September issue of Scarlet Magazine, “the UK’s hottest women’s magazine,” and damn if it isn’t very spicy indeed. It certainly keeps me turning the pages, not to mention I love the photos of eye-candy guys and the advertisements: lots of lovely ladies in corsets and lingerie straight out of the Edwardian era and a bit for Ess & Emm, the UK’s premiere “bed, breakfast and dungeon.” There are the articles on ten steps to a spiritual orgasm, dating older men, a peek into Europe’s top adult resort and a report on belly-dancing leisure breaks. Oh, and the issue also has a story by yours truly entitled “Love Hotel Hill” about an American woman’s Sunday afternoon romps with a handsome salaryman in Tokyo. Problem is neither of them has their own apartment, so they have to try out all kinds of love hotel rooms from whimsical to kinky.

I absolutely love the accompanying photo by Kendo! There’s something wonderful about seeing another artist’s work that was inspired by a story of mine. And just to wet your appetite, here’s the PG-rated part of the text that goes with the illustration:

“International Love House.” Taka lets me choose the hotels and this one seems especially appropriate. Beyond the entryway curtain, the eerily empty “lobby” is a wall of computer screens advertising each of the forty rooms. I notice the deluxe units—the Louis XIV Room, the Rio Carnivale Room--are already taken. It’s a busy Sunday for sex in Tokyo.

“How about this one?” I point to a photo of a mocked-up underground carriage, the room number still illuminated to indicate a vacancy.

Taka laughs. He finds my taste in campy themes amusing. “There’s no bed, I think.”

“Who needs a bed?”

Taka touches the “rest” button on the corner of the screen. The image shifts to a welcome message directing us to follow the blinking red lights to our room. We hurry down the corridor together.

I push open the door, automatically unlocked for us by computer. Suddenly we actually are in a brightly lit underground carriage. Or a tiny slice of one, with mirrored windows and a static shot of an elevated railway track in the window behind the padded plastic bench. Clever touches add authenticity: an overhead rack for briefcases, posters warning us to ride safely, an emergency alarm. Taka fiddles with the console by the door. The click-clack of a moving train fills the room. A conductor calls out the next station. Ginza. We’re now approaching Ginza.

I giggle.

A strange smile plays over Taka’s lips. So, you want it so much, we have to do it on the train? In Japanese his voice is deeper, assured.

It makes me sopping wet in an instant.

He guides me over to the seat on the “train” and positions my hands in the two rings hanging from the bar overhead. The secret muscles in my belly clench like a fist.

With no further preliminaries, he sits down before me and lifts my skirt. His warm hands peel down my tights and knickers.

The spicy, fresh-bread scent of female arousal fills the room...."

And yes, things get even steamier as the afternoon wears on. So, join me in a glass of sake to celebrate love hotels and lazy Sunday afternoons the world over!

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Sweet Sip of Professional PR

Thanks to a tip from my friend, Kirsten Menger-Anderson on the Zoetrope writer's workshop, I signed up for an online class on Innovative Publicity Basics for Writers with Lauren Cerand, who is a well-regarded publicist (and friends with awesome editor Rachel Kramer Bussel as well). The class was very informative and at the end Lauren offered to do individualized consultations. I know I could never afford the full services of a publicist, but I decided to take my Winter Solstice gift early this year and give it a try.

I was really pleased with our discussion. We covered a lot in thirty minutes and I could tell I was dealing with a smart, savvy professional. Lauren gave me lots of great detailed advice, but the main big picture strategy was to embrace and celebrate my erotic interests holistically and not separate myself into a "literary" good girl and a "smutty" slut. After getting the snooty treatment from a number of booksellers because my dirty novel is beneath them, this was truly balm to me.

A good publicist should of course help you with the details, the bookings and the interviews and so forth, but my talk with Lauren made me realize it's important to have a strong overall vision as well.

As a cherry on the sundae, Lauren mentioned me on her blog, Lux Lotus: Art, Politics and Style Broadly Defined as a person she likes. I have to be honest and admit it--I like Lauren, too!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hear My "Passionate" KWMR Interview Anytime!

For those of you who didn’t catch the live show in July, a podcast of my appearance on Ellen Shehadeh’s View Point on KWMR Point Reyes Station is now available on my Web site.

As I mentioned earlier, Ellen talks with people who “have a passion for what they do” and I really enjoyed the chance to talk about my passions: Japan, erotica, food and my new novel, Amorous Woman.

So pour yourself a cup of green tea—or a glass of chilled sake—and join me in a little passion!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Why I Read: Apologies Forthcoming

I’m pretty picky when it comes to fiction—it seems to be one of the side effects of tackling the writer’s life myself. In my younger days, I used to finish every book I picked up. Perhaps this was a legacy of school assignments, but I did far more reading on my own than for classes. Now, however, I have no problem abandoning an uninspiring book with nothing more than a quick glance at the last few pages, which usually confirms the wisdom of my decision to bail early.

This might make me sound jaded, as if all the fun has gone out of reading, but actually the opposite is the case. Because when I find a work I really admire, the experience is electrifying. I recently finished a book that reminds me why I read fiction—a book that stretched my mind, charmed my sensibilities, and touched my heart.

I’m talking—or should I say raving?--about Xujun Eberlein's Apologies Forthcoming, winner of the 2007 Tartt Fiction Award. The eight stories in this collection, most previously published in prestigious literary journals, all deal with China’s Cultural Revolution and its legacy. This violent and tumultuous time in history has been an inspiration for many fine works of fiction and non-fiction, but Xujun Eberlein’s vision is distinctive in its emphasis on the common humanity of all the participants in this great drama—Red Guards as well as scholars, true believers as well as disillusioned intellectuals.

Eberlein’s low-key humor and eye for the perfect detail makes the book especially appealing and impressive. I was reminded of a comment Noah Lukeman made in The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying out the Rejection Pile (a great reference for writers ready to tackle the agent search or anyone looking for a good self-editing guide). I can’t seem to find the exact quote, but I remember Lukeman saying agents can actually determine the sensibility of a writer from the first five sentences! They know right away if this is a voice they want in their heads for a whole book. I feel the same way, and for me it was a pleasure to give myself up to the voices of these stories. The range of perspectives is especially satisfying in its complexity. In “Disciple of the Masses,” for example, when an idealistic young city woman is “inserted” in the countryside, we come to understand not only her plight, but those of her peasant hosts and her more cynical comrades and elders as well. These voices and images still linger—that to me is the ultimate sign of excellent writing.

I hesitate to say this—although only because we live in such an anti-intellectual society—but as I read this collection, I kept wishing I were reading if for a seminar so I could write a paper on it. There were so many fascinating themes, so many richly-layered passages to quote, the stories cried out for further discussion. I think this book would make a marvelous book group selection, perhaps accompanied by some historical reading about the Cultural Revolution.

I’m not sure exactly how I’d approach my paper, though, because there are so many choices. I might go with the theme of love in a society that is hostile to all personal expression, especially the ultimate in lawless self-indulgence: eros. “Pivot Point” and “The Randomness of Love” both introduce intellectual women who are unmarriageable because men see them as “too outstanding” and “too high to reach.” Nonetheless, they do find lovers, but the obstacles they face all but crush the relationships. And yet, the rare times the couples can be together heighten the poignancy. For someone like me, so immersed in erotica’s focus on sexual abundance (which I see as a reflection of the hyper-sexualized ethos of America as a whole), a society where ascetic endurance is the norm brings up fascinating questions about the relationship between culture and desire.

I was also struck by the way the author treats the figure of the artist at a time when creative expression was limited to mouthing Chairman Mao’s slogans. The collection opens with “Snow Line,” which examines the fate of a gifted poet in an environment that is not especially supportive to the arts, a story that foreshadows dilemmas all of the characters will face. “Feathers” was a particularly moving piece about a young girl who writes letters to her grandmother in her dead sister’s name to save the old lady from grief. These letters are, of course, a kind of fiction writing, an attempt to transform tragedy into art. Here a lie (read: fiction-making) becomes a form of love and healing transcendence—something the young girl cannot quite understand, although her sister’s friend who comes to visit, a writer herself, clearly recognizes their common bond. Another artist makes an appearance in “Watch the Thrill,” one of the most haunting and powerful stories in the collection. Told from the viewpoint of an aimless, essentially orphaned city boy, the piece portrays the psychological and aesthetic poverty of the times. The narrator remembers the old days, when a youth who has now been “inserted” into the countryside to be worked to death would tell ghost stories to the neighborhood children in the courtyard at night. The cleverly crafted, very dramatic stories would literally thrill the audience, but the Cultural Revolution has silenced the magic of storytelling and leaves only mundane, but no less horrifying, reality: the black, bottomless holes of his grieving mother’s eyes. In “Watch the Thrill,” the author’s skill is no less “thrilling”—this is truly storytelling at its best.

I could go on and on, and I know with material this meaty, I’d be bound to get a good grade (and then no one would ask me to dance because I’m too smart like the narrator in “The Randomness of Love”—believe me, I can relate). But perhaps it’s best to conclude with a final point about the power of fiction. These stories did indeed take me on a journey to a far-away place and time, and made me feel as if I’d slipped into other lives for a little while. Yet, what struck me most was that the protagonists’ dreams and disappointments, and the compromises they made to survive, were profoundly familiar. This apparently improbable sense of connection is why I read fiction—and I’m very glad indeed I read Apologies Forthcoming.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Sexy Threesome at ERWA

This month I am all over ERWA with lots of love and kisses. First there’s my August installment of Cooking up a Storey: I’m Easy, But I’m No Slut: Why I’m Hot for Passionate Plumbers, Vibrating Mixers, and Heirloom No-Fail Fudge. Do I have to say more?

Then I make an appearance in the charming Ashley Lister’s column, “Between the Sheets”…oops, I mean, "Between the Lines." I talk about getting past first base, passionate getaways at country inns, theft, adultery, secrets of novel-writing and other topics pertinent to the writing life.

Finally, I review a fascinating book about the notorious knife-wielding geisha, Abe Sada, made famous in the West by Nagisa Oshima’s art film, In the Realm of the Senses. Read my take on Geisha, Harlot, Strangler, Star: A Woman, Sex and Morality in Modern Japan by William Johnston right here.

A Happy—and Sizzling Hot—August to you all!