Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sarah Palin Erotica?!

Yes, it can be done, and I did it! Check out the latest issue of Clean Sheets for my gender-bending erotic dreamland tale about vice-presidential candidate "hottie," Sarah Palin. The story's called "Chasing Sarah," and it's teeming with action, suspense and innuendo of every kind.

Believe me, she's winkin' for a reason!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Learn My Sexiest Secrets--for Free--on 10/30!

One of the reasons I haven’t yet started blogging about NYC is that I’m preparing for my last big “in the flesh” Amorous Woman event right in my own back yard! Here’s the blurb from the flyer I’ve been posting all over town:

Spice Up Your Life! Free Sensual Writing Workshop

Join award-winning Berkeley erotica writer Donna George Storey for a free sensual writing workshop. Whether you’re an experienced writer who’d like to heat up your work or a newcomer who longs to try the passionate pen, you’ll find plenty to light your fire during this provocative evening of prose and pleasure.

We’ll talk about elements of a good sex scene, pitfalls to avoid, and the difference between erotica and porn. A sexy “lips-on” writing exercise will get your juices flowing (warning: chocolate is involved)! And of course, Donna will read from Amorous Woman, her sizzling new novel about an American woman’s love affair with the real Japan.

When: Thursday, October 30 at 7 pm

Where: A Great Good Place for Books
6120 LaSalle Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611
Tel: (510) 339-8210

If you can make it, I’d love to see you there. I’ll be offering Ghirardelli chocolate, my famous adult fortune cookies, and lots of extra-delicious excerpts from my novel.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Key to Happiness

Look no farther than the Princeton Alumni Weekly for the answer to all the big questions in life. Browsing through the class notes in the October 8 issue, I happened upon a sidebar on the work of Martin Seligman '64. Unlike most psychologists, Seligman doesn't study what makes up miserable, he researches what makes us happy.

In summary, if you want to be happy you: "Put aside the toys. Figure out what you're good at. And then apply your strengths to a greater purpose." Seligman has written a bestseller called Authentic Happiness in which he describes three levels of happiness. Pleasure is the first, the delight you get from good food and sex. Engagement is the second, the feeling of flow when you're doing something you're good at (like writing, perchance?). Most evolved is meaning, the fulfillment you get from being engaged in an effort greater than yourself.

Sounds good to me. Maybe I'm kidding myself, but I have to say all the effort I've put into promoting Amorous Woman has made me very happy because I feel I'm in it for something greater than myself--namely, I hope to connect with readers to present a more nuanced view of Japan to the Western world and show that our erotic lives can be celebrated and treated thoughtfully in fiction. That made my New York book tour pretty meaningful. Then again, there was a whole lot of good food and sexy doings and just all around pleasure involved as well.

As soon as I get my photos uploaded, I'll fill you in on all the juicy details!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Sizzling Midnight Talk with Dr. Susan Block

Good news! I finally have a link to my scandalous midnight discussion with Dr. Susan Block on September 27. You've heard about the Speakeasy, you've heard about my night-time ride through darkest LA, and now you can hear Dr. Suzy and I talk very frankly about Amorous Woman, its autobiographical elements, its sexiest scenes and how to pick up older Japanese women!

If you have an hour or so (preferably around midnight with some interesting rocking chairs nearby for your "comfort") lean back and get ready for some sizzle right here!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Amorous Woman Jets to Manhattan

As those of you who've read Amorous Woman know, Lydia is a restless soul, and the moment she got back from Hollywood, she was getting ready for another adventure to the other coast, where she--and I--were born and raised.

Yes, we're going to New York, New York and I've got plenty of fun things planned, both formal and informal, but if you happen to be in the city next week, you can catch me reading from my steamy novel at the following venues:

Thursday, October 16, 8:00 PM
In the Flesh Erotica Reading Series
Happy Ending Lounge
302 Broome Street, NYC

Friday, October 17, 7:00 PM
Amorous Women in the Big Apple with Robin Slick
Bluestockings Book Store
172 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington

Sunday, October 19 at 6:00 pm
Kinokuniya Book Store
1073 Avenue of the Americas between 40th and 41st Streets

Be there or be square, baby!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Last Hollywood Hustle: Amorous Adventures, final episode

Yeah, I know, the last blog entry sounded like a finale, but every good show has an encore. Today I’m going to tell you about the last and most exhausting day of my LA book tour. In many ways it was the most educational, too. That’s been the real profit in my Amorous Woman adventure—learning more about what I’m capable of doing.

Who’d ever thought I could be such a whore?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Sunday, September 28 was the day of the West Hollywood Book Fair in Plummer Park and it was, in fact, the original reason I went to LA at all. As I mentioned, the wonderful Eden Bradley (with me in the picture above) suggested I join her and some of her Phaze colleagues at their booth this year. I’m not one to turn down an interesting opportunity, so I signed up, bought my tickets, and then later managed to include the Hustler Hollywood reading and Dr. Susan Block interview. Eden had warned me it would be hot, exhausting and fun. She also suggested I bring some freebies to give away as the fairgoers liked that sort of thing. Since we were doing an Asian/Exotic theme thanks to Eden’s new book Exotica: Seven Days of Kama Sutra, Nine Days of Arabian Nights as well as my Japan book and Christine London’s books set in England, I thought maybe fortune cookies with grown-up, sexy fortunes might be appropriate. I found a place that sold fresh cookies with up to 17 custom fortunes, made from a classic recipe called Good Fortunes, Inc. (There are lots of “creative” places with weird flavors like blueberry that allow only three fortunes and are more expensive, but I’d definitely recommend these guys).

Several people have mentioned, very kindly, that my book tour diary has made them feel they’ve traveled right along with me, so just to keep you all in the loop, these are the fortunes I wrote up:

Sip hot tea; swallow. French kiss your lover’s most sensitive spot.

Blindfold your lover; order him/her to remain still. Do things to make this difficult.

Caress your lover’s body with silk; try velvet, then your tongue.

Have your lover pick a number from 1 to 10. Caress his/her secret pleasure spot for that number of minutes.

FOR HIM: Sip crème de menthe; spread it over his member with your tongue. Blow gently.

Your lover’s been naughty. Maybe s/he needs a gentle spanking?

Give your lover an erotic book; mark your favorite passages first.

FOR HER: Don’t take off your lingerie tonight—make him (or her) “work around it.”

Have phone sex—even if you live together.

Make love anywhere but the bedroom. Be creative with the furniture.

If you have suggestions for others, do let me know for next time!

Anyway, on Sunday morning I was up early to fortify myself with the complimentary breakfast at the Magic Castle Hotel by the pool you see here. I really liked this hotel (my son wants to come back because of the endless free drinks, candy and cookies they offer at the front desk in lieu of a mini-bar). In a way it was a come-down from the Beverly Hills Hotel, rather like a star’s career in reverse. This was more like Marilyn Monroe’s first apartment in Hollywood, which we’d passed on the Starline Tour. It’s the kind of garden apartment complex you might expect an aspiring actor to live in if they have some subsidy from mom and dad. It cost me about $130 a night though and with the convenient location, and the access to their famous magic club—which is usually members only—it’s a great bargain.

Not to mention the art in the room was very cool—old tyme posters of magician’s acts which are just the kind of ephemera I love!

Okay, so I was up early, had my breakfast, packed up 20 copies of Amorous Woman and a few hundred fortune cookies, plus a kimono and dancer’s fan for decoration and was waiting for Eden in front of the hotel. She showed up in her van which was packed with all the necessities for our “harem” themed booth—a potted plant, cushions, a fur rug and sexy scarves. The book fair was not far from my hotel and we soon arrived, pulling into the area near our booth, E44, to unload. It didn’t take long to set up with four of us working and my kimono definitely added a touch of the exotic as our main wall décor.

You’ll note our sign read “California Erotica Writers” which included Eden, Christine London and Will Belegon, as well as yours truly, the Bay Area ringer.

We were all set up by opening time, and, as I mentioned before, I tend to avoid facing the facts of book promotion until they are staring me in the face. The fair was open and harsh reality was glaring at me, close enough to smell its foul breath. I was here to sell my book, but how the hell was I going to get people to come over to the booth? Then it occurred to me why Eden had suggested freebies. I had to lure these unsuspecting folk over and give them a sales job, face to face.

This is not something I’m good at. Never was, never will be.

But Amorous Woman has tested my limits before. I’d spent a nice chunk of dough to come to the fair, it was my duty to do my best for my baby. None of it came easy, but by the time the sun was sinking in the west, and shining right in my eyes, I’d hit on a strategy. Here’s what worked that day, more or less.

First, I stood behind the table and called out, “Would you like to try a grown up fortune cookie?” Standing out in the path of strollers just alienated them, I had to give them the space to say no and then more said yes. Although plenty said no, either expecting they needed to pay or watching their West Hollywood figures. Het couples were the easiest marks (West Hollywood is mainly a gay town), but singletons sometimes took the bait. The fortune cookies were generally a hit. Most people smiled, many shared what they got with us and thought it was a good idea, although the “give your lover an erotic book” seemed more mercenary than I’d originally intended. (For the record, I do think it’s a good idea—it doesn’t have to be my book, but it could be!)

Once I’d gotten them over to my book, I launched into my pitch. In this case, I went for the historical hook, mentioning that Amorous Woman was based on a 17th century Japanese erotic classic. This always got a look of curiosity. Then I’d say how it was based on my own experiences living in Japan. If that put a twinkle in their eye, I knew I might have a sale. And I did sell to a handful of wonderful people, strangers all--hey, you know who you are and I hope you enjoy the book!

In the meantime, I did have some nice chats with people, my potential reading public. Some who’d lived in Japan or traveled there. Some who wanted to talk about the fortunes or erotica. There were a few unpleasant folk. The drunk lady who talked and talked forever and just wouldn’t go away. The old guy who chatted for some time, then said “thanks,” pressed his crushed fortune cookie in my hand for me to throw away, and walked off empty-handed.

In the end, I only sold a modest amount of copies, but gave away tons of bookmarks, brought smiles to many faces and had a great time with my boothmates. Truly the most satisfying part of promotion is doing something for the good of the book. If it only sells a few copies, that matters less than if I had fun. Really.

In fact, the most satisfying and exotic part of the day was that I proved I could do something so very foreign to me. Here I am with Will and Christine, looking tired, but happy and ready to come home to rest up for the next part of my book tour.

Start spreading the news—I’m leaving next week for New York, New York, baby!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Night to Remember: Amorous Travels in Time and Space, episode 4

Cliffhangers—yeah, they keep the pages turning, but there is a downside. Sometimes all the suspense leads to a disappointing denouement—a ho-hum crash at the bottom of the drop--which is just what I’m afraid will happen in my penultimate LA Book Tour blog entry. Because now I am actually getting to the “climax” of the trip I’ve promised for so long, the part you’d definitely have to write home about if you had understanding parents…. But no more mystery, gentle readers, it’s time to tell all about my visit to Dr. Susan Block’s Speakeasy.

Dr. Suzy is a sex therapist, TV and radio show host and all around “peace through pleasure” personality. She’s running for Vice President and would definitely make America a better place than Sarah Palin! She’s also a Yale graduate and a good friend of the awesome LA-based erotica writer, Stan Kent, who has often enjoyed Dr. Suzy’s firm hand when he appears on her show. It was Stan who introduced me to Dr. Suzy and helped me get an invitation to talk about Amorous Woman on her radio show. I’m trying to get a link to the show, which aired through Blog Talk Radio, but it hasn’t been posted yet. I’ll let you know when I get that information!

But the show itself is only half of the story. The drama and darkness around it is what got my heart pounding, but then I am easily aroused. What am I talking about? Well, I’d briefly considered renting a car to have my own transportation after my sister returned to New York on Saturday, but ultimately decided I’d be much less stressed out if I relied on cabs—I probably did end up saving money that way as well. However, that meant I’d need a cab back from downtown LA after midnight on Saturday, which was also a bit stressful to contemplate. All this to say, there were some question marks on how I’d get home that night. However, I handled this the way I’ve dealt with most of my book promotion activities—I didn’t really think about it until the time arrived.

I did gather a few phone numbers of cab companies and felt all ready to go when my brother-in-law pulled up in front of the Speakeasy address on a deserted warehouse district street at 10 pm. I innocently pulled out my cell phone to call in to the official number to have someone let me in through the gated door--only to have my first shock of the evening. For some reason, my cell phone had gone wacko and was only showing letters when I tried to punch in the proper phone number. Now, I’m barely able to manage the basics of a cell phone and this really threw me for a loop. My sister wanted to get back to her hotel to get some sleep before a fiendishly early flight, Dr. Suzy was waiting, and I needed some way to get in touch with a cab to get home because I sure wasn’t walking the fifteen dark and scary miles! After about twenty frantic minutes, we rebooted the phone and it was back to normal, but I was already sweating, although I no longer had to worry about showing up early.

We were let in by a smiling woman with a Dalai Lama pendant and led upstairs in an old-fashioned elevator. Or maybe I should call it a time machine, because as the creaking doors opened, I was inside Dr. Susan Block’s world—there’s no other word to describe it really, because it certainly wasn’t the LA of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Starline Tours and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The Speakeasy was altogether different, a cavernous loft space that seemed to exist in another dimension—New York City in 1969 perhaps? The smells and sights were straight from the flower child era, the vast, funky eclecticism reminded me very much of the Bowery loft where my sister first lived in 1983 with a collection of bohemian artist friends.

The Speakeasy is many things all at once: part museum, part art gallery, part party space, part living quarters for Dr. Suzy’s laid-back and wonderfully friendly group of pleasure-loving peace-niks. I was cordially welcomed and given a tour of the place by Mar, who also assured me he could call a cab after the show and it wouldn’t require reserving an hour in advance as the Magic Castle-recommended cab company had warned (whew!). In fact, none of Dr. Suzy’s crew drove a car, which confirmed my suspicion that the place was in fact located in some alternate version of NYC.

I was definitely not in a familiar world and yet it was very familiar, too. In many ways, Hollywood and Beverly Hills were “dreams come true” in that places existing only in my imagination were suddenly real. Dr. Suzy’s headquarters was similar in that regard—it was the kind of place we all imagine erotica writers live in or at least frequent for the wild sex parties they shamelessly lift for their next not-so-fictional story. The walls were hung with huge paintings with erotic themes. Glass cases housing arty dildoes were arranged here and there. Countless tapes of past shows with provocative titles were filed on shelves. Superannuated video cameras hung from the ceiling like Christmas ornaments. In fact, it’s always holiday time at Dr. Suzy’s—the bar area has a Christmas tree year round, and of course there’s a bondage cross, a necessity for any happening get-together (I don’t seem to have a picture although I thought I took one—perhaps the spirits wouldn’t allow it?).

In the back was a huge kitchen, obviously equipped to cook for a crowd, and only from here were the lights of LA visible. Huge, old-fashioned meat grinders were fixed to a butcher block table, an entire library of spices filled one wall. Back in the timeless, windowless darkness, I saw some samples of the special pleasure chairs Dr. Suzy designed and sells on her web site. Believe me, they’re even more interesting in motion!

And of course there was Dr. Suzy’s famous bed where she interviews guests for the TV show. I was amused to see the Yalie memorabilia—for God, for country and for Yale, indeed!

The tour was compelling enough that I pretty much forgot I was nervous about being on the radio and before I knew it, I was hooked up with my headphones and microphone and Dr. Suzy was introducing me as tonight’s guest on the show. I have to say this part was the true highlight of the day. First of all, Dr. Suzy has the sexiest voice ever and it was a pleasure to listen to her. Secondly, she clearly had read my book and seemed to have genuinely enjoyed it---which I understand is not very common with hosts (I love Jon Stewart, but would bet he’d only read one of the books by the people he’s interviewed in all the shows I’ve seen). Her intelligence, curiosity and generosity were so very obvious throughout and she made me feel relaxed and interesting (which is key as a host, even if it’s not true). I may not have had the easiest path of book promotion ever, but my radio show hosts have been amazing women!

We got only one caller, a man who was interested in hooking up with an older Japanese woman, and again I was impressed with how Dr. Suzy handled his questions with acceptance and humor. It turns out the show went for 90 minutes, but the time certainly went by fast. Before I knew it, we were off the air and taking our commemorative photos—it would truly be a night to remember!

Mar called the cab, which arrived within ten minutes as promised, and he led me down the back way to the street, flashlight in hand. The unlit stairway felt like another jolt in time and place—now we were in a tenement in 1870s New York or perhaps the set of the movie Scrooge. I kept waiting for a ghostly hearse to drive past us, the driver called “Merry Christmas, Guv’ner.” Once on the street, we spied the cab waiting and I dashed inside with a final thank you. An older Asian man with an expressionless face sat in the driver’s seat. He looked friendly enough, but never smiled. The windows were all wide open and at 1 in the morning, the desert air was moist and cool. After a few blocks, the driver stopped his car in the deserted street and got out. Okay, I was a little bit…concerned. Why were we stopping? But he only meant to raise the windows for my comfort—apparently this could only be done by pulling the window pane up by grabbing the edge with his hand and pulling!

We rolled on through the night, passing lumps of bodies lying on the sidewalks, streetwalkers in mini-skirts posing on the street corners. To be honest, this real and gritty Bladerunner part of LA was just a little too close for my liking, but soon enough we were back on the freeway, racing toward familiar neon-lit Hollywood. The driver pulled up in front of the Magic Castle Hotel and I handed him two twenties, this time my generous tip was from the heart. The night clerk cheerfully handed me my complimentary bottle of chilled water and, still talky, I mentioned I’d been on a radio show. He acted mildly impressed, but didn’t ask more.

I walked past the pool, up to my second floor room, passing through a group of other guests huddled on the stairway smoking and drinking in their own impromptu celebration of life's sensual indulgences. I let myself back into my room and nibbled on the Andes mint that had been left by the turn-down service. Never had I been so glad to be “home.” There’ve been a few times in my life when I’ve been alone in threatening places after dark and I remember them all very clearly—I’ll remember this one, too. But it will be mixed in with a traveler’s wonder at glimpsing another place and in this case another time as well. I do think every erotica writer has a Speakeasy loft inside her head waiting to stage the next edgy adventure. I had the opportunity to step right into it in the flesh and be part of it for a few hours, if only on my own safely voyeuristic terms.

It was a journey I I never thought I’d take—but I’m glad I did. Thanks again, Lydia!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Pleasures of the Dark Side

For those of you who were hoping for the next installment of my Hollywood story, it's coming, oh yes, it's coming. But lots of other fun things have been happening in the past few weeks, and I wanted to make sure you all knew about my latest column over at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. This month I talk about the Pleasures of the Dark Side: Naughty Schoolgirls, Saintly Pumpkin and the Seductive Shadows Within.

Halloween really is the erotica writer's holiday in my opinion. We all love to dress up and play make believe in the dark, but wouldn't you say erotica writers make it a year-round indulgence? I also talk all about costume play--note the offerings at Hustler Hollywood--and I offer a low-fat, but delicious pumpkin pudding recipe to tease your taste buds in a seasonal manner. Since pumpkin filling usually makes for a gluey bottom crust of a pie, why not save the calories and have your pumpkin in a parfait glass with just a touch of whipped cream and chopped crystallized ginger?

Mmm, I might just have to go and stir up a batch. Except we are still working on my husband's homemade German chocolate brownie birthday cake. Maybe after my New York book tour?

Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Celebrity Revealed: Amorous Hollywood, episode 3

I’ve been mulling over the concept of celebrity recently—when you visit Hollywood, the topic is unavoidable. And so I got to thinking, what is the allure of movie stars after all? What do they really offer us? From one perspective, they are nothing more than attractive people who are good at reading a script someone else wrote and making us believe that a made-up story is real. Isn’t that just a form of lying or selling or both? I always found it sad and laughable that people would write to Robert Young of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” for help with their medical problems. There’s something wrong with this—why are we spectators so gullible, so needy?

But going to Hollywood itself and wandering around some of the places the celebrities live and work gave me a slightly different perspective, partially because I found myself getting caught up in the “Deanna Durbin stuck her feet in this cement—cool—and who is she anyway?” madness as well. And then, well, I am meandering here, but this past Friday night we were watching an episode of “Love American Style” from November 1969 and who should make a brief appearance as “the boyfriend” than Harrison Ford before he was famous. My husband and I started screaming once we figured out who he was, then pushed replay so we could see his scene again. Harrison did a fine job with his lines, but there was little to suggest this bit-player would be a superstar. And yet, it was oddly thrilling to see him at his humble beginnings.

For the same reason, it is strangely compelling to drive past Jackie Chan’s gated house or Cher’s condo, or wander among the graves at Hollywood Forever, or press my shoe over Olivia de Havilland’s footprint at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and see how small her foot was. I am seeing the ordinary humanity of people who’ve been made larger than life by the entertainment industry. And in some cases the excesses as well—you should see dead billionaire Merv Griffin’s space colony mansion perched in the mountains above Hollywood or John Travolta’s absurdly large castle rearing above the trees. “Welcome Back Kotter” led to this? There’s also the thrill of peeking behind the scenes, seeing something we aren’t supposed to see, the workings of the illusion industry, like Toto uncovering the tricks of the Wizard of Oz.

Why do we love celebrities so much? Why do we care? Is it because they’ve become part of our imaginations? The vehicles for our own desires and lusts and longings? Are we in fact worshipping part of ourselves that could be anything and do anything? Am I getting too damn intellectual here? Probably, but if you have any thoughts on the matter, please leave a comment. I love to penetrate mysteries and this is definitely a mystery to me.

Okay, it’s time to get back to the travelogue. After all, I have to get through Friday and Saturday before I tell you about the “climax” of my adventure.

On Friday morning, my sister had booked us on the VIP tour at Warner Brothers (all the tours are VIP) which is reportedly the best studio tour offered. I’d give it very high marks except for the stupid introductory movie, which was just a bombardment of 4-second clips of famous Warner Brothers movies and shows. But then we got to divide up into our groups of about 15 and board a large golf-cart like vehicle—after we turned over our purses and cameras to be kept in a locked compartment. No photos, remember! I liked our guide, Jessica, who gave us lots of information in a matter-of-fact way—she knew her stuff, but wasn’t under any illusions. The tour is very much a demystification—you learn how basic sets are remade for different shows, how “roof-top” scenes are usually shot at ground level, how a four second shot of a TV star entering a building takes an hour to shoot.

For example, we stopped by a working set to watch them film random cars driving down a street while the star walked into a shop. We stood by the line of extras waiting in the electric cars (that make no extra noise) reading the papers until “Action” was called, then they drove at random intervals through the set while about eight ordinary-looking people walked across the street in irregular groupings. A choreographed reality. Then “Cut” was called and it was over. I forget the name of the show—does it matter? But I did have a better understanding of what hard, unglamorous work it is to film a TV show. We also learned that dramas require much longer hours than comedies, which only take four short days of rehearsal and filming per episode. Most have live audiences which are purposely offered candy and sugared soft drinks so they are hyper and laugh more. Makes sense, huh?

We were allowed to take photos in one section of the tour, a sort of car museum which held the latest Batmobile, the car from the second Harry Potter movie and another car from the Matrix. Here I play Agent Smith—hard to tell the difference, isn’t it?

After the tour, we had lunch at Frank and Musso Grill, Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, established in 1919. It was once the power restaurant of choice, an honor now given to The Ivy, but Frank and Musso is still worth a visit. The menu is timeless—I love looking at old menus and this one has all the standard American fare, although the prices have changed over the decades. Jello costs four dollars, chicken ala king is twenty five! I had an omelette with fresh tomato, and I have to admit it was very tasty. The tomatoes were roasted and had a lovely smoky flavor.

Better still was the setting, a wood-paneled room where history lingered. I couldn’t help thinking of the lunch scenes from my current favorite TV show, “Mad Men.” This is definitely the sort of place where Don Draper would have a three-martini lunch with the braised short ribs special. Afterwards we asked the waiter, who was friendly in a surly way, to take our picture—my sister claims it is the first time she’s ever done this in her life, but that’s Hollywood for you, brings out the tourist in us all. The waiter pretended to be annoyed, but when I quipped that we hadn’t tipped him yet, so he should be nice, he laughed.

Dinner Friday was at a Joachim Splichal seafood restaurant called Paperfish. The food was excellent, but the setting was a rather residential area and I wouldn’t say the place was jammed. Too bad, because it was the best food of the trip—I loved my halibut with greens and the olive rolls.

A celebrity’s life is busy if nothing else, but Saturday morning we paid a visit to some celebrities who have a lot of time on their hands at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Peter Lorre, Jayne Mansfield, Don Adams, Nelson Riddle and Art Pepper are buried here, but we didn’t have a map, so our discoveries were hit and miss. We did see the gravestone of Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and countless other Warner Brothers cartoon characters. We also saw the impressive grave of Cecil B. DeMille. More interesting however, were the marble chapels where the bodies are stacked in rows and columns. Most are from the 1920s and I couldn’t help imagining mourning ladies in cloche hats gathered around to say goodbye to “our dear aunt Frances.”

But as I said, my trip was full of surprises and Hollywood Forever held one of the most amusing. Some of the memorials we saw were not just names carved on marble, but a sort of shadow box of collected items that were important to the departed along with an urn of their ashes. One man’s shadow box had labels from wine wines he’d drunk, another had marathon medals. And then I saw it…the highlight of the cemetery visit.

I was standing in the presence of the memorial to Larry Tate from “Bewitched”! You remember him, the venal ad man, predecessor to “Mad Men’s” Roger Sterling. Larry has a “real” name—David White—but I always like to think of him as Larry Tate. Now, you may not believe this, but getting so close to Larry Tate like this was a sweet surprise. Funny and absurd, too, but somehow more moving than happening upon a more obviously famous dead actor.

After the cemetery, my sister dropped me off at my new hotel, the Magic Castle right in the middle of Hollywood, while she went off to have lunch with a TV star friend of hers (probably best not to mention the name here, but I saw lots of billboards in the neighborhood for the show). My room wasn’t ready and I had a few hours to kill, so I strolled down to Grauman’s Chinese theatre to get one of the famous Starline Tours of the stars’ homes.

The man at the ticket counter was very charming and commented that I had an interesting name. I told him it was even more appropriate because I was a writer. “What do you write?” he asked. I leveled my gaze at him. “Erotic novels.” He smiled. “Wow, my girlfriend and I would be interested in that. Where can I get your book?” I handed him my card, which he admired, and told him the story was set in Japan. It turns out he studies karate and loves Japanese art. Was this another sale? One copy at a time….

I then boarded my air-conditioned mini-bus for a two-hour tour of stars’ homes in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air. My one bit of advice—try to sit on the right hand side of the bus, as I did. You get a better shot at the good photos. Now, this blog is going on too long, so I won’t list all of the homes I saw. But highlights for me were Jackie Chan’s house—actually we could see nothing more than his fancy gates—the white mansion used in Gone with the Wind for Tara, and, to keep with the “Bewitched” theme, the houses of Agnes Moorehead and Elizabeth Montgomery.

There was also the Reagan complex, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis living across the street from each other, a funky arty type who had an interesting mail box and George Harrison’s house. And then of course, my very favorite, the home of the Skipper in “Gilligan’s Island.” I don’t even know his name, but that is the one house I’ll remember best—it looks rather like something one of my friends might live in. Maybe that’s why it sticks?

After the tour, I checked into my room at the Magic Castle Hotel—I was in 209 again, which must mean something, I’m not sure what. Is 209 my lucky number, unknown until this day? More on my room and the hotel later. Celebrity doesn’t have much to do with that part of the trip!

Anyway, at around seven thirty, I met my sister for dinner. We were going to do something in Hollywood, but on a Saturday night, the place was packed with partiers, so we decided to drive over to the Farmer’s Market, which was also packed. I had an appointment to be on the Dr. Susan Block radio show that night and my sister would be dropping me off there, then heading back to her hotel to get a few hours of sleep before her return flight to New York early the next morning.

Over dinner in a French bistro, she asked me what the most surprising part of my visit had been. I didn’t have a quick answer, although what I should have said is that I was surprised I was having so much fun. But instead I said that I was surprised the stars of old Hollywood had such small feet. Even I sensed this was not the real answer, but I’m used to inadequate first drafts.

What I would answer now, after time has sharpened my editor’s eye, is that the biggest surprise was my experience with Dr. Suzy and her entourage in deepest, darkest L.A. at midnight that Saturday, a mere hour after the question was posed. Amorous Woman really has taken me to some places I never, ever thought I would go. And for a brief moment there, I wasn’t sure if I would ever make it back home.

Next time: time travel, bondage crosses, and letting it all hang out on blog talk radio

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Am I the next Oprah?

Okay, I lifted this title from Maryanne Stahl, but imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? Anyway, I’m taking a short break from all the fluffy talk of Tinseltown to tell you about another happy thing that’s happened this month. An interview I did with Xujun Eberlein, author of the wonderful short story collection about the Cultural Revolution, Apologies Forthcoming, appears in this month’s issue of Eclectica.

I wrote about Xujun’s collection on my blog a few months ago—it’s an impressive and moving work that reminded me why I read fiction. It was fascinating to hear more about the author’s writing process and the social and cultural background of the book. I do love asking nosy questions. Check it out--you'll feel internationally-minded and well-informed, unlike some of our current political leaders!

Friday, October 03, 2008

My Lips are Sealed: Amorous Adventures in Hollywood, episode two

Between the Hustler Hollywood reading and my radio interview at Dr. Susan Block’s LA hideaway, I had forty-eight hours of “me” time to explore and experience Hollywood and environs. I’d say I took fairly good advantage of the opportunity, notebook and camera always in hand for story ideas! This part won’t exactly be a blow-by-blow as that would test your attention span beyond reasonable limits, so I’ll try to confine myself to a few highlights and a few pithy observations about life in the fantasy factory.

First, morning at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Breakfast was included with my room, but I wasn’t sure if room service was covered (my preference, as I could pretend I was having a tryst and wanted to remain discreet—more on that soon). When I checked out my copy of the L.A. Times, I discovered has the most interesting real estate section around with reports stars’ homes up for sale. This week’s featured offerings were Britney Spears’ famous abode and Leeza Gibbons and her “estranged” husband’s manor. Kind of sad to have the dirty laundry so public, but such are the wages of fame.

Both mornings I met my relatives for breakfast at the Fountain Coffee Shop one flight down from the lobby—we ate early as they were on East Coast time (I’m naturally on East Coast time, too). My guidebook recommended this as a cheap way to experience the BHH because “you never know who might be sitting on the stool next to you slurping a chocolate malt.” I found the place interesting for slightly different reasons. First of all, everyone does look up when you arrive at this diminutive place with a single counter seating about 15. They clearly are hoping you’ll be famous and even when the eyes register “don’t know her,” you can see them wondering if you’re a stealth important person, like an agent or a spouse or a mistress or something. One morning we did sit close to a James Dean-esque fellow from the UK who responded to the waitress’s queries about his wife in a rather suggestive way. He said wife had a bad night and he was required to “sleep elsewhere.” I thought Brits were generally more close-mouthed about such things, but I was glad for the teasing revelation. She was clearly the alpha-dog in the relationship, but of course, her pretty boy had no need to mention her Name, so that’s left to my imagination.

One point that came home to me again and again at the BHH was the homey, human quality of the place tucked inside all the glamour and pedigree. For example, the food at the Fountain Coffee Shop was reminiscent of the Greek diners in New Jersey. Mile-high cakes were displayed in a small case next to sliced bread in plastic (see above). The silver dollar pancakes were squeezed from a mustard-style bottle and the hash browns were fried en masse and kept warm at the back of the grill.

I had their oatmeal with raisin compote (dipped from a stainless steal cylinder with a ladle) and a bottomless cup of decaf, both of which were superior to the usual diner fare but not spectacular. But the quantity was generous--a rather old-fashioned combination. I drink coffee once or twice a week in my ordinary life, but on vacation I down the stuff greedily, as long as they keep pouring! To be honest, the food at the legendary Polo Lounge was nothing to blog about either. It’s as if the chefs don’t need to bother with organic, gourmet, clever food. What was good enough for Elizabeth Taylor in 1960 is good enough for today’s guests, right? The inflated price is for history, not flavor.

Speaking of famous folk, my brother-in-law spotted a producer of very popular show as he entered one of the more discreetly located elevators, which went up to the fourth floor (not all of them do) where the suites are located. Said producer was in the company of a lovely young lady who didn’t seem to be his daughter—in fact, the couple looked rather annoyed to be joined by another guest. Rumor has it, the BHH is second only to Chateau Marmont as an assignation palace. My instincts about my room were apparently correct, although mine might have been more in the price-range for a screenwriter and a minor actress/actor. Now, I’m not going to mention the name of this producer on my blog (although I might spill the beans in private, if you pour me a nice wine or Kirsten Monroe whips up one of her lovely meals for me), because as a guest of the Beverly Hills Hotel, you are required to sign a pledge that you will honor the secrets of other guests as you’d hope they honor yours—or they’ll divulge the contents of your wastebaskets to the National Enquirer. Not really, but it seems the right thing to keep mum, if I want to go back some day with my head held high. (Btw, Susan DiPlacido, who knows fancy, show-biz hotels, tells me I should’ve tipped Brendan. Sorry, Brendan—I was in my “kept woman” mode at the time!)

Of course, I’m already in trouble with the staff. One afternoon I headed down to check out the “famous” pool (what isn’t untouched by celebrity there?) and was snapping a few photos for this blog, including one of an empty private cabana which you can rent for some hundreds of dollars a day, when a pink-shirted blond pool boy approached me and scolded that no photography was allowed at the hotel. This was a surprise, because I’d been merrily snapping away in my room, as you know. I half-expected my camera to be confiscated, like in a movie of a hapless tourist trapped behind the Iron Curtain, but apparently it was enough to retreat from the area with a cease and desist. Later I realized the policy was meant to protect famous people from the paparazzi who were after some look-at-that-cellulite pics of stars and deal-makers. Clearly I was not a savvy insider, but I’m trying to learn! Anyway, since I did get away with it in the end, check out the bare legs for any familiar famous appendages—the producer and his companion, perhaps? (Though they've probably washed up and gone back to work long ago ;-)

Okay, this is getting too long already, plus I'm feeling naughty enough showing off my contraband photos. I’ll stop here for today and talk more about Frank and Musso’s, Hollywood Forever, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and other Hollywood sites next time. And then on to the most surprising part of my trip by far. I'm still not sure I've recovered.... See you then!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

This Place Was Made For Sex: My LA Book Tour, episode one

I’m back from my Amorous book tour to Hollywood, and I have to say that while I certainly cooked up quite an eventful journey for my sexually curious protagonist, Lydia, thanks to her, I’ve enjoyed some very interesting adventures of my own! The Amorous Woman has taken me to some places I never dreamed I’d go.

Last Thursday, September 25, I packed up some copies of Amorous Woman, my blue satin cheong sam and a big box of naughty fortune cookies and jetted off to the Bob Hope/Burbank airport for my whirlwind visit to America’s grand illusion factory. My first impression when I got off the plane was that it was much hotter than foggy Oakland—in the 90s in fact—so I quickly shed my businesswoman’s jacket and slipped on my sunglasses. I found my van service and sat in the sweltering heat for about fifteen minutes while the driver waited for potential customers who never materialized. Then we headed off towards the Beverly Hills Hotel—a two-night stay was an early holiday gift from my older sister who knows how to get good deals on that sort of thing.

The journey was rather like a trip through America’s class system. First came Mexican strip malls, then modest ranch homes. Gradually the road ascended into some real hills and that’s when I began to see the mansions, some perched precariously on platforms jutting out into thin air. By the time we got to Beverly Hills, the houses were more along the lines of the upper middle class houses I knew from my Washington D.C. youth, but I’m sure they cost millions. Many had for-sale signs—a sign of economic hard times, no doubt. Before I knew it, however, we were pulling up a wooded driveway to the low-key entrance to the historic Beverly Hills Hotel. Several fresh-faced young men in pink polo shirts greeted me and took my luggage and I was ushered into the lobby, which again was well-appointed but homey rather than grand in scale. I was waved over to the reception desk, the lone guest to require attention.

Another good-looking young man (all failed actors, I wondered?) welcomed me to the hotel and told me his name was “Brendan,” just like the kid in “Beverly Hills 90210.” Or was that Brandon? Anyway, the young man noted that my paperwork had been taken care of by someone else, and asked when I wanted maid and turn-down service and which papers I wanted to be delivered in the morning. I had a choice of four, but took only the L.A. Times so as not to seem greedy (that vice would rear its head later when I stuffed my luggage with the toiletries, slippers, laundry bags and fruit). Then the reception clerk asked if this was my first time at the hotel, I said yes, and he offered to guide me to my room and show me around. This seemed part of the custom, so I said yes and followed him to the elevator and up to the second floor. We chatted a bit—I was determined to seem as if I “belonged” in a low-key, I went to Princeton kind of way—and he mentioned my room was one of the best in its price range. I wasn’t sure how to reply to that—I should hope so? Goody? I’ll tell my sister she’s getting her money’s worth?—so I just nodded and smiled.

We walked down a very air-conditioned corridor with white wainscoating and a leafy wallpaper in the pink-and-green color scheme of the hotel. My room was 209 and my guide instructed me on which way to turn the old-fashioned key. I did not gasp out loud when I stepped inside, but secretly I did whisper a “wow.” The room was HUGE with an entry hall, complete with a sconce vase with fresh lilies and a walk in dressing room closet.

To the left was…what should I call it? A living room and bedroom combined. The bed was a grand, romantic affair, a four-poster draped in white gauzy fabric, and not for the last time did I think: this room was made for sex. The rest of the room was filled with a sofa and coffee table, upon which a footed plate of fresh fruit beckoned, a desk, flat screen TV and plenty of windows overlooking the bungalow area.

The check-in clerk led me over to the large bathroom, clearly built for two, to show me how to raise the vulvular curtains over the tub remotely and manage the various light switches.
I was preparing to tip the bellman, but I wasn’t sure if it would be an insult to tip this guy, so I merely said my thanks and he disappeared with a cordial smile. If anyone knows if you’re supposed to tip in this case, let me know. I hope I have a chance like this again some day!

Wow, this is getting long and I’m about thirty minutes into my trip. Soon afterwards, I met my sister and her husband for lunch in West Hollywood. We had grilled scallop salads at a place called Petite Four on Sunset. It was delicious, plus I was hungry. Then we went to the Hollywood Museum in the old Max Factor building where we had to turn in our cameras first before we could wander through the rooms Max himself had designed to judge the complexions of redheads (green), blondes (pale blue), brownettes (pink, I think) and brunettes. Each was filled with vintage make up and a scary looking beauty appraiser which used metal probes to determine the location of your features and how make-up should be used to nudge them toward the ideal.

The other floors held actual costumes and props from some of Hollywood’s classic films. The basement had a Halloween feel, including Hannibal Lecter’s cell and some mummy movie paraphernalia. I’d recommend the place, although it was not exactly cheap—except perhaps by Beverly Hills Hotel standards.

Afterwards, we all retired to our rooms and I was determined to get my money’s worth. I took a bath to shave my legs since I knew I’d be wearing shorts, then took a shower to wash my hair so I’d look nice for the reading at Hustler Hollywood that night. I even put on make-up I’d bought at the Shiseido counter a few weeks before—the specially lighted makeup mirror at the hotel came in quite handy. I met my sister at 7:30 for the short ride up Sunset to Hustler Hollywood, where I would be reading at In the Flesh LA, hosted by Carly Milne, author of Sexography, a moving and funny memoir I could not put down!

Hustler Hollywood—it sounds like it might be sticky and sleazy, but actually the atmosphere was more like a Barnes and Noble. There were lots of role-playing costumes and more whimsical items out front. The back held the sex toys and adult videos in bright packaging. Their motto on the glossy shopping bags is “Relax…it’s just sex,” which I kind of like, given the sexophobic nature of our culture. The reading took place in the spacious, well-lit café and Carly had brought delicious mini red velvet cupcakes. Free coffee and pumpkin pie squares were also passed around throughout the evening. In the Flesh on both coasts aims to appease every sensual appetite!

Carly was a warm and gracious hostess and it was a thrill to meet her in person. I also saw the wonderfully generous Eden Bradley again who would be another of the six readers that night (I'm standing right next to her in the photo). We’d met through Robin Slick and had dinner in San Francisco this past spring and met up again at RWA. I also met in person the wonderful writer, Stan Kent, who’d just flown back from Europe and often hosted the event when Carly was away.

I’ll admit I was nervous as I waited—the reading went in alphabetical order and I was last, making me wish I’d kept my maiden name, at least for the event. The theme was adolescence and each reader had her own gift to offer, humor and pathos in equal measure in keeping with the topic. Eden’s sneak preview of her forthcoming novel Twenty-first Century Courtesan was definitely spicy and had me wanting more and soon!

Finally it was my turn. As I approached the microphone, I noted that the crowd was quite generous—maybe forty people. Not just friends, but others had wandered in from the store. Frankly I didn’t really see them as I gave my little introduction to set the scene. When I read I tend to focus on a few friendly faces for my eye contact and leave the rest to their own devices. My passage was definitely one of the dirtiest of the evening—I read the hairbrush scene and the actual defloration with Mike--because my heroine was over eighteen! My sister said the whole audience was quiet, which could be good or bad, I suppose. However, one wonderful person named Valerie came up to me afterwards with a newly-purchased copy of my book to sign (it’s one copy at a time in this business, let me tell you). She told me I was wonderful, so let’s believe her!

Still jazzed from the performance, we stopped by the world-famous Polo Lounge for a fashionably late dinner. There you can dine on $39 Wagyu beef hamburgers and hope to eavesdrop on some Hollywood power brokers making a deal. I didn’t see any that night, but frankly, I didn’t care. I was feeling pretty cool myself!

I went back to my room to discover the turn-down service fairy had done her work. A tiny plate of pecan-cinnamon cookies sat by the bed along with pink laundry service bags, which I tucked into my suitcase along with the hotel logo pens and notepads (the pens look cool, but don’t work so well). I slipped on my plush bathrobe, wiggled my toes into my complimentary matching slippers and surveyed my room like the temporary celebrity I was. This room was definitely made for sex. When I travel I like to muse about who stayed in my room and what they did there. I know exactly what most of the guests did in this room. I could hear the ghosts of Hollywood whispering their naughty secrets.

I expect there will be a story or two to come out of this. Stay tuned.

Coming next on Donna’s Amorous Book Tour Report: no-tell hotel, getting busted by the boys in pink, a Mad Men lunch and other yummy Hollywood adventures….