Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Back Door" Eroticism and a Night to Remember

Thursday October 16 at the Happy Ending Lounge. The bar was packed, the erotic words were flowing sweetly as was the wine and spirits. Best of all I was surrounded by friends, some of my very favorite erotic writers and wonderful people—Heidi Champa, Jeremy Edwards, Emerald, and EllaRegina. Yes, it was a longtime dream come true, I was in the flesh at Rachel Kramer Bussel’s renowned erotica reading series “In the Flesh.”

The theme was oral sex in honor of the release of Tasting Her and Tasting Him, two juicy anthologies from Cleis. I have a story in each, but I was on tour for my novel, Amorous Woman, so I took that topic with a twist, reading from the infamously steamy hot spring scene where the protagonist of Amorous Woman learns all about a new—and forbidden!--erogenous zone thanks to the skillful tongue of an anthropology professor. (God, I love professor sex!)

I know, you wish you could have been there, but if you couldn’t make it or just want to relive a memorable evening, check out the video of my performance below. Rate it and leave a comment if you’re inspired, but ignore the jumpy editing at the beginning (my novel plug was excised!) Then, when you’ve (re)discovered your own new erogenous zone, head on over to hear the lovely Emerald read about an explosively satisfying tryst in the park and talented newcomer Heidi Champa take sex at the workplace to new and titillating heights.

It was definitely a night to remember!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gratitude and "Writing That Touches"

Yes, I've been away from blogging for more than two weeks now, and I've definitely missed it. Family visitors and holiday preparations kept me pleasantly busy, but now I'm back with a lot of things to talk about!

Thanksgiving was especially sweet and relaxing this year. I discovered a recipe for a moist, tasty and healthy breakfast bread made with pumpkin, dried cranberries, ground flax seed, applesauce, spices and other things that will very likely become a Thanksgiving breakfast tradition for us. Dinner was simple--Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, my sister's famous salad and roasted halibut with almond cake for dessert, plus lots of good wine! At our candle-lit dinner we went around the table saying what we felt grateful for and I realized there was so, so much to be grateful for this year, including my blog-o-sphere buddies, so thank you all!

And today I have a special reason for giving thanks because I'm featured on Nikki Magennis' "Writing That Touches" blog series. I've have the pleasure to be in a number of anthologies with Nikki and she is truly one of my favorite erotica writers. One lovely sentence by Nikki can turn me on--on many levels--more than pages of steamy prose by lesser talents (present company excepted of course). And I'm finding her interview series to be very provocative and enlightening about other artists' creative process. That's my favorite kind of voyeurism!

So, check out Nikki's blog and while you're there, pop over to the interview with my friend, Jeremy Edwards, too!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Amorous Chat with Denny Smithson on KPFA

Yesterday brought another very enjoyable highlight of my Amorous Woman book tour when I was interviewed on Denny Smithson’s weekly show on books called “Cover to Cover” on my local radio station, KPFA (94.1 Berkeley). Of course, I was a little nervous beforehand as I always am, but excited, too, to be part of the historic Free Speech radio station, a Berkeley institution.

Unlike my midnight taxi adventure for Dr. Susan Block’s show, transportation was a breeze this time as I only had to park near my son’s school and stroll over to the station. Denny was there to greet me and I have to say he was totally charming from the start and immediately put me at ease. I could have talked with him for hours, and we did have a nice warm-up conversation about writing and sexuality and our own personal Berkeley histories as we were getting ready for the show. Denny has been in Berkeley since 1960, having been raised in the south and in France, while I’ve been living here since 1986, an East Coast kid. However, we both agree Berkeley is the home of our hearts and sensibilities.

Soon I was seated at the guest’s microphone with my water and my copy of Amorous Woman open to the place where I would read a teaser excerpt. The naughty parts were duly excised to avoid any on-air legal complications, but I hope the poetry of my language came through anyway! Denny opened the show with some celebratory comments about the election of Barack Obama, while I nodded—mutely—in hearty agreement.

We then went on to talk about erotica writing, Japan and sexuality, sources for my novel, the problems I face promoting a literary erotic book, our society’s focus on the superficial elements of sexuality over the quality of experience, and other juicy, but intellectual topics. It all went by so fast. Denny had read and enjoyed the book and was clearly supportive of my work. It truly was a pleasure to talk with him and I felt very enriched by the experience. At the end of the interview, I was the opposite of nervous—I felt I understood my own work better for having shared ideas with a smart, insightful reader.

And I guess practice does pay off—there were fewer “um’s” this time, a novice’s habit I’m working to improve.

If you’d like to hear my interview, you can listen from KPFA’s archives here.

And remember, make time to read a good book this week—preferably from Cover to Cover!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Great Good Place for a Reading

My Amorous Woman book events continue—including a radio appearance on Berkeley’s famous “Free Speech” radio, KPFA, this coming Monday—but I wanted to let you all know about my last in the flesh appearance last Thursday, October 30 at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland’s charming Montclair neighborhood.

A Great Good Place for Books came well recommended by many writer friends as a place that is open-minded and supportive of local writers, and sure enough, the reports were all true! I’d been to a few readings there before and knew it would be a cozy, intimate venue, just perfect for my free “lips-on” erotica writing workshop and reading from my dirty novel.

The coordinator for books events, the very charming Jake, welcomed me, my two escorts and my tray of tasting chocolate and adult fortune cookies with news that she’d received more queries about my event by phone than any in a long time. This was perhaps due to the interview with me in The East Bay Monthly—and indeed four complete strangers did attend the reading because of the article, which is a record for this type of thing. Most attendees are either friends or friends of friends, so strangers to me, but with a referral.

While I waited, I browsed around the store, which truly impressed me with its thoughtful and intelligent selection of books. The fiction section was especially strong. I could just tell the books were chosen with love and care, and as you know, this is key for me. Jake gave me some more happy news—as thanks for reading at the store, I was allowed to choose one book to take home with me as a gift. This alone makes A Great Good Place for Books one of the Greatest, Best Places to Give a Reading. I urge Bay Area residents to make a stop there and check it out! And pick up a copy of Amorous Woman for the favorite people on your holiday shopping list while you’re there.

Anyway, I was rather giddy from Jake’s wonderful offer and as I looked around the store I was sure it would be impossible to pick one. But then, as if by magic, my eye was drawn to a book right in front of me on the shelf. The author’s name was “Sheila Munro.” I pulled the book out and discovered that Alice Munro’s daughter had written a memoir: Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing up with Alice Munro. I adore Alice Munro and long wondered whether someone would write a good biography of her. This was the answer to my longing! In the end, it took no time at all to decide on my prize, and I can’t wait to dig in and read about all the quotidian secrets of my idol and the way she balanced writing and motherhood.

But first I had an erotic-writing workshop to present. A little after 7 pm, I took my seat at the “head of the class” and began my introductory remarks for my workshop. It’s pretty hard to cover all the basics for sensual writing in twenty minutes, so I decided to focus on a few key ideas. And since the class was free, there’s no reason why I shouldn't share them here on my blog!

So, here are some of the highlights of my talk:

“A lot of people ask me why I write erotica. All of my writing is inspired by a question, a mystery—what’s really going on in this situation, inside this stranger’s head. When I was growing up, sex was definitely an unspeakable act in most polite books and movies, and I’ve always wondered what happens when the scene fades to the candle flame. There was a lot of writing about sex out there, but to me it was either too simplistic or somehow moralistic. There was very little sensual, not to mention intellectual, celebration of sex.

It seems to me that in spite of our culture’s obsession with sex, it is very limited in the way it is presented. The focus is all on appearances, how things look. The media is always quantifying the experience—how many lovers we’ve had, how often we do it, how many variations have we tried? What we really want to know is what it feels like for other people—that’s the connection we really want when we talk about sex. And erotica is a very good way to make that connection.

When you write, you try to capture experience from the inside. Transforming experience into words is a challenge that requires you to pay very close attention to what’s happening with all of your senses. You need to ask a lot of new questions. You may have eaten chocolate hundreds of times, but it’s going to be totally different when you mean to write about it. For me this very empowering and exciting, like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy goes from black and white Kansas to Technicolor Oz.

I think wherever you are in the continuum of the writing life--whether you’re an established writer or someone who’s just started journaling—taking on the challenge of putting “forbidden” sensual experience into words is worth doing. It will definitely change your life for the better.”

Okay, that’s from my notes, which I won’t quote in full (you’ll have to attend my next workshop to hear everything), but then I went on to read from my novel, then read a passage which I wrote for Don Capone’s interview with me on June 7 this year on how NOT to write a sex scene. Based on that passage I advised my “students” to avoid clichés, make the sex believable and frame the sex scenes in a story with strong conflict, interesting characters and fresh images. Easy, right?

I ended my lecture with the following advice for writing no-holds barred hot and sensual scenes:

“Create a safe space where you can celebrate your senses. No one is watching—not your parents, your teachers, church ladies, Fox News or God. Gather them all up and send them over to Starbucks (I'm sure God will set Sean Hannity back on the right--or should I say left?--course). You are protected from the moral majority. Remember that you’re dealing with some strong forces that are going to try to shut you up or at least ghettoize you, the idea is to be in a place where you can celebrate your sensuality. But there’s another group you need protection from—the editors, the people who tell you what a bad writer you are and how stupid your metaphors are and so on. This safe space is where you’re going to nurture the raw material of your writing. In this sense writing is like cooking. If you start with fresh, exciting ingredients, the finished dish is going to taste much better!”

By the way, this is advice I need to remember for myself every time I sit down to write.

Anyway, after I finished pontificating, I passed around a tray of three different kinds of Ghirardelli chocolate so my participants could do a focused taste-test—white chocolate, intense dark chocolate and the pleasantly subtle mint wafer. I guided the students through the process, suggesting they use all of their senses and take their time. The room was quiet except for the soft sound of mindful savoring and chewing and the scratching of pencils on paper as they jotted down notes. After a civilized time for meditation, I invited everyone to share responses to the exercise. I have to say I was very pleased with the answers, which reminded me again that teaching a class is more of a learning experience for the supposed expert than vice versa.

One person said she noticed her first reaction was to rate the chocolates rather than enjoy them on their own terms, showing how our “rational” judgment can get in the way of an immediate engagement with sensual experience. Another man said he noticed how the first taste of the chocolate was much more intense than succeeding ones, something I’ve found to be true. Someone said the smell of the chocolate brought back strong memories of a recent trip to Africa, and indeed our sense of smell provides a direct link to the past faster than any other sense. One man wrote an entire poem—it was pretty good—and another woman found herself making each chocolate into a character in a story. One was stronger, the other sweeter and more yielding.

Wow! The creative energy in the room was very inspiring. I tend to think of myself as a loner when it comes to my creative work, but there might be something to these writing workshops after all?

Afterward the formal discussion, we broke up and chatted a bit, I sold a copy of the book and left many more behind with Jake (remember, Amorous Woman is a low-cost trip to Japan for everyone on your gift list!) and headed out into the damp October night feeling very good about how far I’d come along the path of book promotion from the frightened and clueless newbie I once was. I know I’ll be much better prepared for my next novel--and I hope A Great Good Place for Books has a free night on their schedule for another workshop.

Speaking of which, I better get started writing that thing!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


It's been twelve long years since I've felt good the day after a presidential election, but boy do I feel good today! I have to say for the past eight years, the course our political leaders have followed has given me great pain. I've dealt with it by going numb to a certain degree, as if I were in deep freeze.

With Barack Obama's decisive victory, I'm suddenly back in the sunshine. As I listen to the post-election analysis on public radio (I wasn't able to stomach the news much during the "dark years"), I find myself tearing up again and again. Most of it is "good" tears of pride in my country for proving again it is the land of opportunity and hope, joy that a leader of intelligence, judgment and genuine caring will be taking over as president, and profound relief that we can begin moving forward again under the energy and vision of a leader in the prime of his life. But I also realize that some of the tears are due to the inevitable pain at the thawing of my protective armor. Hope does take courage. In some ways it is safe and easy to be cynical about politics, but I do care, and I've always cared what happens to this country for my children and for reasons beyond my own limited self-interest. I realized when I visited Ellis Island a few weeks ago, that America really was the land of hope, freedom and higher ideals for millions of immigrants. And that magic at the heart of the American dream is still there today as yesterday's results prove!

BUT, when I'm not crying, I am definitely smiling! And I thank all of my friends for their hard work in making this possible. Jeremy Edwards and Craig Sorensen helped us win Pennsylvania. My sister worked for Obama in Virginia. To everyone who voted, everyone who cared--THANK YOU! And to President-elect Obama--I know you'll show everyone that intelligence, an understanding of complexity, and the wise planning you learned from community organizing (I'll bet you're not snickering now Guiliani and Palin) make for a great presidency.

Whew this hope thing feels good!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Smarter Sex—or What Will the Neighbors Think?

My Amorous Woman national tour may be over, but my book promotion blitz marches on. This month I make perhaps my biggest splash with a profile in the “Up Front” section of The East Bay Monthly, the magazine with the largest circulation in the Bay Area. (I'm the "sex scribe" on the front cover!)

Renowned writer Autumn Stephens, author of the Wild Women series and editor of the essay collections Roar Softly and Carry a Great Lipstick and The Secret Lives of Lawfully Wedded Wives skillfully plied me with herbal tea and got me to spill my secrets about my shady past that inspired Amorous Woman, my higher goals in writing erotica, my thoughts on BDSM, and how I combine my day job as a cupcake-baking mom with my avocation as writer of very adult fiction.

Thanks to Autumn’s witty prose and incisive observations, my neighbors will never look at me in the same way again. I have to admit being interviewed by such a talented journalist—the Adam Gopnik of the West Coast--who makes me sound so interesting is a long-standing fantasy of mine. Who says (erotic) dreams can’t come true?