Thursday, December 31, 2009

Once In a Blue Moon

I woke up to a bouquet of birthday wishes in my in-box--thank you so much dear friends and readers and fellow writers who make my life so rich! I've always had mixed feelings about having a birthday on December 31. As a child it meant I could never have an ordinary party with my school friends because they were all away visiting Grandma. But things have gotten much better as an adult. I think I'm more suited to adulthood in many ways, but anyway, a New Year's Eve birthday means Herr Doktor can always take off work, and every one toasts my day in some form or another, and also that it's easier to figure out how old I am (forty-eight as of six a.m.).

This year's birthday is special for a celestial reason. It's a blue moon, which hasn't happened since 1990 and won't again until 2028. Somehow it feels like this should mean something. Then again, I suppose I spend most of my conscious awareness searching for meaning of some sort. So, I'll just keep being myself today! Plans include pannetone for breakfast, lunch in a Chinatown restaurant that piqued my interest last January, and a bottle of Taittinger this evening while I force my guys to watch documentaries, like 49-Up. I love documentaries, so I'm taking advantage of my "queen for the day" status!

Please join me in a glass of bubbly or beer to toast a New Year of creative exploration and sensual delights for us all!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More About Intercourse (and Food, Too)

So, there are a few more memories of Amish Country that I'd like to share before I buckle down to my new project for 2010. (By the way, I'm inviting you all to give me a spanking if I don't keep my promise to make progress on my second novel in the coming year).

Let's start with the buffets at the Hershey Farm Inn, where I had an epiphany about my culinary past. I have mixed feelings about buffets, because the quality of food is never the best, but you do get to taste little dabs of things you otherwise wouldn't order. I hear Miller's is the place for the best food in Pennsylvania Dutch country--it's also a buffet as are most restaurants--but we didn't get there on this visit. Our own meals at the breakfast and dinner buffets of our motel was more than just sustenance for a hungry tourist. As I strolled up and down the steam table line at dinner and wandered over to the dessert bar, I saw many familiar foods from childhood: chicken pot pie, red beet eggs, slices of cantaloupe otherwise known as "lopes," vats of applesauce and rice pudding in the "real food" area, gravy of all kinds, green beans boiled to death in ham broth. Breakfast was even more of a time warp: scrapple (pork scraps molded into a loaf), creamed chipped beef, blueberry pancakes, very wet sticky buns, plus shoo-fly pie and apple dumplings, cause you have to have dessert at breakfast! I remembered then that my mother called herself a "Pennsylvania Dutch cook," which I didn't really believe at the time. I mean, she didn't wear an Amish cap in the kitchen or anything like that. But now I see she was right. For us, a freshly baked apple dumpling in a bowl with some milk poured over was considered a fine breakfast, almost scandalous in these days of oat bran and fat-free Greek yogurt.

As you see from my plate above, I indulged in a number of local dishes for breakfast, including baked oatmeal (a very sweet dish) and the house shoo-fly pie. I was a bit disappointed in the latter, wondering perhaps if I wasn't fondly remembering "dry" shoo-fly pie rather than the "wet" bottomed version. But more on this below.

After a morning at the Christmas Center, we took a leisurely path to Intercourse, the rhetorical high point of our vacation. My son noticed that the town boasted an "Edged Weaponry Museum," swords and other phallic symbols, which seemed eminently appropriate . I wandered down to the building to snap a photo, dressed in khaki shorts and big California shades, and as I returned to my family waiting at the pretzel shop, a buggy full of Amish children passed me. Every one of the small faces turned to stare at me in sick fascination, a strange creature baring her spindly, white legs, with insect-like brown plastic discs over her eyes. This struck me as appropriate, too, that the Amish should return the relentless touristic gaze with such naked curiosity.

But let's get back to food again. The fragrance wafting from Immergut Pretzels was irresistible to all four of us, inveterate soft pretzel lovers that we are. And Immergut (meaning, I believe "always good" in German) was really excellent! Herr Doktor and I ordered a whole wheat version to share, and it was baked fresh for us. Believe me, nothing is as yummy as a piping hot, slightly sour whole wheat soft pretzel. If you find yourself in Intercourse, do order this treat from one of the porcelain-skinned Amish lasses at the counter, who'll twist you up a fresh one with impressive skill.

We continued on to the T-shirt shop, as I mentioned yesterday, plopped down a wad of cash for a huge bag of suggestive souvenirs, and then found ourselves hungry again for some more carbohydrates, because, hey, they do carbs very, very well in this part of the world. Shoo-fly pie bakeries abound, but I was intrigued by the description of the Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop in my guidebook. Perhaps the name "Bird-in-Hand" would seem perfectly innocent in another context, but after stops in Blue Ball and Intercourse, it inspired equally obscene images for me. I'm sure I don't have to elaborate for readers of this blog....

Anyway, this bake shop is off the beaten track a bit, a few minutes drive along winding country roads from the highway. In fact, you really feel like you've gone back in time--to my own childhood and beyond. The presentation of the baked goods was marred a bit by all the Saran Wrap, but our libidinous appetite for sweets helped us overlook all that and we gathered an impressive selection of local specialties: a slice of shoo-fly pie, a huge apple dumpling, and a bag of snickerdoodles.

My younger son focused on the cookies, which were very authentic, and I felt a special bond to the apple dumpling, but the real star of the show was the shoo-fly pie. I realized that this was what I'd been looking for, and what the gloppy version at the Hershey Farm Inn buffet had not offered my nostalgic taste buds. The Bird-in-Hand Bake Shop version (warning: there's a "Bird-in-Hand Bakery" on the main road I did not try) is simply a dream: flaky crust, seductive struesel and a miraculously light and flavorful molasses filling. This pie would rival any of the world's great desserts--or at least that's how I felt as I savored each heavenly bite. And it's delicious even when you eat it with a plastic fork! This is the shoo-fly pie to try.

You'll be relieved to know we had a saintly salad for dinner, but we still managed a stop at The Springerle House in nearby Strasburg. (As I mentioned before, the scene in Witness where Harrison Ford punches out the taunting tourist was filmed near where we parked.)

Springerle are molded German Christmas cookies, and I went to the shop more to appreciate the artful molds than to sample the fairly bland anise or vanilla flavored sugar cookies--although I did that, too. The shop also sells Christmas decorations shaped from Springerle molds and painted in pretty colors, and indeed a souvenir hangs on my tree as I write this.

That evening, we decided to drive past the hospital where I was born, forty-eight years ago tomorrow. In just a few minutes, the scenery slipped from our nation's rural nineteenth-century past, fragrant with manure, to all-t00-contemporary neon-lit strip malls, then back again to the early-twentieth-century charm of the city of Lancaster itself. Lancaster General Hospital had obviously been renovated since I made my way out of the womb and into the world--named by the doctor who preferred "Donna" to my mother's other choice, "Yvonne." By the way, the guy also admired my pink butt. Fortunately times have changed in the delivery room and newborn girls are spared premature sexualization. But I made a strange and fascinating discovery on this trip--my birthplace is situated on a street which shares a name with my husband! Makes you believe in fate, doesn't it? I mean, who would have ever thought I'd marry a guy named "Lime"? Or is it "Main"? Honey, what was your name again?

Anyway, my main man also pointed out that the hospital is conveniently located across the street from a cemetery, for easy disposal of any mistakes. Yes, it's a "harsh" world, even in charming Lancaster.

Next time--spying and eating in our nation's capital!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Pleasures of Intercourse...PA, that is!

My travelblog continues with a brief stop at the T-shirt shop in the tourist mall in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. There we stocked up on some of the jolliest souvenirs you can buy--all but guaranteed to make you smile.

As I gear up for my blue-moon birthday on Thursday, I'd like to offer you a selection of mottos to live by from Pennsylvania Dutch country, a place inhabited by folks who are, as my son put it, "either totally sick or totally clueless." What do you think? And which T-shirt would you pick to wear to bed? Come on, don't be shy!

Do you like collegiate?

Or a little geography lesson?

How about a nod to Vegas, Amish-style?

Or a little inter-state rivalry?

Or perhaps you are the type who sees the glass half-full? Intercourse was indeed more or less what we thought it would be. Food report coming soon!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Come to My House....

Yes, I can finally retire my cookie sheets for the season. My last holiday baking project was completed on Christmas Eve, with some decorating by the boys on Christmas Day (including Grant's message and Owen's yard design). Projected demolition date--New Year's Day--and the boys can hardly wait. Until then, come join us for some seasonal glow from those butterscotch windows and a few more cookies from the buffet. I also made a batch of my mother's coconut macaroons, a simple recipe with coconut, condensed milk, vanilla and salt. Hope you're all eating fun things and enjoying this lazy in-between year-end week!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Journeys in Paradise: My Travelblog Continues

Sometimes putting things off for a looong time can have fortunate results. For example, I stopped my travelblog about my summer vacation right before I got to the part about the National Christmas Center in Paradise, PA. If I'd been a dutiful girl, I would have shown you my pictures of this Christmas museum back in September. But because I was "bad" and took a lengthy break, I can show you my pictures on Little Christmas, just on the brink of Christmas Eve, when everyone is really in the mood. By the way, "Little Christmas" is the Swiss name for December 23 and apparently you are supposed to invite friends over and eat lots of Christmas cookies on this day. I plan to eat a few extra tonight in honor of that venerable Swiss custom.

I'd read about the National Christmas Center in the December issue of Victoria magazine a few years ago, and when we decided to go to Amish Country, I knew I'd have to drag my family there. I'm sure the place is crowded at this time of year, but back in August, we were pretty much the only people there. The outside is unassuming, a bland, white rectangle of a building. Inside, however, the lights of Christmas blaze their magic into a perpetual wintry twilight. The Christmas museum is the sort of place I dreamed of having in my basement as a child, Aladdin's cave filled with every Christmas present I wanted but never got. Sure, it's a bit more Disneyland than museum, while at the same time it also has that Germanic (over)abundance of carefully catalogued evidence displayed everywhere. (The Santa-themed tobacco ads were especially creepy). But I really enjoyed it, and now, as real Christmas draws near, I still remember wandering its paths and yielding to its charms with a hush of wonder.

The first tableau to greet the visitor is a Christmas parlor where Virginia of "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" pens her famous letter. The reply of the editor of the New York Sun from 1897 is reprinted, and I copied down this part which spoke to my fiction writer's heart: "The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see." Or women either. That, Charlie Brown, is really what the solstice festivals are all about.

The next highlight was the 1950's Woolworth's Christmas display, which was a whole room full of vintage Christmas decorations and gift wrap set up in a mock store you can walk right into. Many of it was still familiar to my eyes from my 1960s childhood, the candle figurines and toys, the styles of Christmas ornaments. There may have been a surveillance camera hidden among the stuff, but it felt like I was all alone and able to get intimate with these things, that I could actually browse and buy them once the ghostly clerk returned to man his ancient cash register. However, I settled for second best--a few irreverent photos to preserve my memories!

For some reason this crowd of Josephs and Marys made me laugh, perpetually posed in adoration of something that isn't there. Or maybe they're shocked by a spider or something?

I also liked the Kiss-L-Toe and would have bought some for my home and both cars, if I could have.

This magical tape claims to make gifts gay. Might it make you gay, too, if you wrap it around certain body parts? It might be an experiment worth trying....

I lingered at Woolworth's, so long my family went on far ahead, so I traveled the rest of the museum alone, indulging myself in my own return to childhood. There was a section on Christmas around the world, a visit to a lush, toy-crammed North Pole, and a trip through Tasha Tudor's story about Christmas critters waiting for Santa Claus, which took you along a winding path through a forest of glittering Christmas trees. Perhaps it was because I was all by myself, but I really felt I was on a mysterious journey into the darkness. Maybe that's what childhood is all about?

After the fanciful magic comes more serious, if no less pretty displays on the history of Christmas in Pennsylvania. Of course, I was drawn to the Christmas baking exhibit.

And did you know that Lancaster County has the earliest documented Christmas tree in the US? 1821 was when the county where I was born enjoyed this custom. I liked this local Christmas wish: "I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, a pretzel as big as a barn door and a sausage as thick as a stovepipe." In fact pretzels were a popular Christmas ornament in these parts. And sausages, well, erotica writers definitely need especially thick ones to sustain themselves through a long year of tale-spinning.

Well, that's all for Christmas in Paradise. My plan is to finish up the last few installments of my travel report this year, and my next topic is a seamless segway into pretzels and the food of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Now I'm off to assemble this year's gingerbread house, a new recipe made with anise, cardamom and honey that fills my dining room with the most luscious fragrance.

Happy Little Christmas and eat lots of cookies--it's required!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Did I Ever Show You....? dinosaur night shirt? I bought this at a department store in Nuremberg, Germany, about sixteen years ago. It was on sale, and I couldn't resist. It just seemed so perverse. All these years later, it's more "me" than ever! Gotta trust those instincts.

More photos to come--I'm doing my year-end cleaning!

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Donna Stories....

Now that my eight hundred cookies are baked and gifted, except for those in the "cookie buffet" tins in my dining room--come on over for dessert tonight and help yourself!--I wanted to mention a few places where you can hear/read some of my work that has not been available to the public before.

The first is a video of my reading at Good Vibrations on Sunday, October 18. Rachel Kramer Bussel took this footage on her phone! Just think of how cell phone cameras and video recorders have changed the way we enjoy our erotica.... Anyway, if you couldn't be there, this is definitely the next best thing. You can check out my "reader's theatre" style of looking in different directions to distinguish different speakers. Dumb or effective? You be the judge!

The other news is the publication of my story, "Spider" at the Erotic Woman. This story originally appeared in Alison Tyler's E is for Exotic and was reprinted in the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 8. But this is the first time it's available online, so be there or be... all tied up in a sticky web naked. Actually, I was just reading a book about Christmas in Ukraine and spiders are considered to be good luck because they wove their webs over the baby Jesus' manger and when he awoke, the first thing he saw was the light glistening on the drops of dew on the elaborate webs, so he smiled. Which ordinary babies do at six weeks or so, but what's another miracle or two in the Christmas story?

Speaking of Christmas, because I am a "finish up the job" type of person, I'm planning to post abridged entries for my summer vacation this week, including my trip to the Christmas Museum in Paradise, PA. Better late than never, eh? In the meantime, come on over to the buffet and have a cookie or eight!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cookie Madness!

Whew, I survived another year of my week-long cookie baking orgy and all involved seem exhausted, if well satisfied with the experience. I thought I'd share a few photos of my creations for your calorie-free voyeuristic pleasure.

Here's a photo of my dining room table on Tuesday night, the height of the frenzy. The chocolate-covered slab will soon be cut into tiny, jewel-like squares to make the Venetians, everyone's favorite cookie. Only a crazy person would labor over the almond-paste dough lightened with whipped egg white, divide it carefully into thirds, tint two, bake the thin layers for 12 minutes each, agonize over whether they'd fall apart, layer them with apricot jam, let them rest in the refrigerator over night and finally ice them with melted semisweet chocolate. This year they turned out well because I took them out of the fridge well before I poured the chocolate and was too busy to attend to them sooner. That meant the cookies were room temperature and the chocolate took longer to harder, so the icing didn't crack as much as usual and they were much easier to cut. So, crazy overscheduled busyness can lead to fruitful discoveries. Next time, I'll make the same "mistake"!

This year I tried two new recipes for the boxes and rehearsed one other for possible future inclusion. The latter was a recipe for "Nutmeg Logs" which were quite nice--a rum and nutmeg-flavored sugar cookie rope, rolled in sugar for crunch and frosted with an eggnog buttercream. The big hit, though, were my "Night Before Christmas Mice" cookies, seen here cooling on the rack. Herr Doktor entitled this photo "many blind mice." I like that.

Because a number of my son's teachers have kids, I thought the mice would be a nice whimsical addition this year. They turned out to be quite a headache, too. To get the string licorice tail in there, I had to shove a wooden skewer in each of the fifty mouse bottoms, which felt rather like something I should be describing in an erotica story. The eyes and nose were a challenge, too, because the recipe recommended melted semisweet chocolate, but that was leaving a weird point of melted chocolate and made the mice look crazed. So I whipped up some buttercream, which also didn't work until I used a smaller tip on the pastry bag.

I realized, as I was tearing my hair out over these damned mice, that my cookie-baking orgy is very much like writing for me. I have to face down my fears and my perfectionism with every recipe. Disaster lurks at every corner, even though I've been doing cookie boxes for five years and baking some of the recipes for many more. And yet the compliments and enjoyment of those select appreciative recipients (the very appreciative ones get boxes year after year--no dieters or people who "forget" and still have some left over weeks later, please--plus my family is very well-trained in expressing ecstatic delight) makes all the suffering worthwhile.

Here is a squad of mice destined for my son's class holiday party. Each one has its own personality, doesn't it? Unfortunately, none returned to tell the tale. I'm not sure if I'll do the mice next year. They've gotten good reviews, but several people have said they're too cute to eat. What do you think? I mean now that I have the butt-skewering and the eye/nose recipe down, maybe it won't be so trying next year?

This pair did escape the jaws of the fifth graders and seems to be sniffing at the other new recipe--filled German Lebkuchen (gingerbread) squares. The filling of apricot jam with chopped almonds and candied European orange and lemon peel moistens the gingerbread nicely and I will definitely be making these again next year. Especially since I can make them in November and have one recipe out of the way.

I wish I could send a box to all of my blog reading friends (fewer of you now, I suspect, but those of you who are dropping by anyway are friends indeed), but perhaps you'll be satisfied with a voyeur's look at the cookie porn.

The photo above is of the bottom layer of the teachers' boxes, including classic Ribbon Cookies and Cranberry-White Chocolate Drop Cookies.

The top layer includes the heavy hitters: Pecan Caramel Cookies (a pecan pie like topping on shortbread crust), the aforementioned Lebkuchen, Venetians and Spoon Cookies (made with browned butter and Tahitian vanilla for a melting texture and sandwiched around raspberry jam).

If you have children or are a child at heart, you also get a couple of the frisky little mice.

Still left on the schedule--the gingerbread house which I'll make with a new recipe, an attempt at my mother's classic coconut macaroons and some Cranberry Pistachio Mexican Wedding Cookies for a friend who is receiving a late box. I wouldn't feel right if the gift didn't have at least one cookie fresh from the oven!

Perfectionism. Nutty, yes, but where would I be without it?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Winter Break

Maybe you've noticed--and good for you, if you haven't--but I've been on a break from blogging for the past few weeks. Initially, I thought it was because I was busy with Thanksgiving preparations, story writing, and other things involved in my day job as family manager. But gradually I began to realize my reluctance to surf the waves of blogland is coming from within.

In my final installment for my "Shameless Self-Promotion" column over at ERWA, I talk about when is the right time to stop promoting. For a long time I suspected on an intellectual level it was time to let Amorous Woman go, but I couldn't do it. Now my body and mind are making that decision for me. I physically cannot make myself do the things I spent most of two years doing as a fake eager book promoter, so yep, it's clearly time to wiggle out of those "buy my book" leopard panties and put on some sober white cotton briefs. Last year at this time, I hoped to make good progress on my next novel in 2009. One year later, I realize I've done next to nothing. I have blogged a lot, though, and it's become obvious to me that I'm using the same energy I need for my own fiction here instead.

Now, I have to say that being part of the erotica bloggers' community has brought wonderful rewards. I've connected with other generous and talented writers all over the country and the world who've supported me and inspired me with their thoughtful and lovely blog posts. I'm not saying I'll give up blogging forever, but I do plan to cut way down and focus on my fiction in the coming year. In the meantime, I may finish up my posts about my summer vacation, just 'cause I'm the type who likes to finish things I start sooner or later (then again, maybe I won't and that's okay, because who's grading me on this, right?). Beyond that, I think I need the rest of December to step back and take stock of where I focus my creative efforts. This is actually rather painful for me to give up being part of this wonderful community even for a month, but I think it's necessary to step back and get a fresh perspective on my writing life.

No need to say good-bye, though, just bon voyage until the new year. Feel free to keep in touch by email, and have a fun winter solstice holiday season!

Monday, November 09, 2009

I'm in the December 2009 Penthouse!

I'm not naked, though. At least not physically. But my naughty imagination is laid fully bare in the words of my story "Nasty Little Habit," which first appeared in the soaringly sexy anthology, The Mile High Club: Plane Sex Stories, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel.

I really love the illustrations by Charlene Chua (you'll have to buy the magazine to see the other picture--my story starts on page 116!) She does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of my story while adding an extra element of sensual visual pleasure, so thank you for your wonderful art, Ms. Chua, wherever you are. I've experienced the thrill of having my work illustrated just a few times, and this is the most satisfying yet.

This particular publication is especially sweet for me for a couple of other reasons. I'm in the December issue and my birthday is December 31, so it's like an early birthday present. I've also been a stealth fan of Penthouse from way back, the summer of '76 to be exact. Little did I dream when I studied the pages of the Bicentennial issue so many years ago that my own work would appear in the pages of a magazine that has truly shaped the national sexual imagination.

The December 2009 issue will hold the place of honor in my collection, mostly issues bought on e-bay from 1976, but also the 40th anniversary issue from this summer and another from 2004 in which an erotica-writing friend's hot fantasy appears in an article on threesomes.

I also want to thank Rachel for yet again inspiring me to take some chances in my writing. When I originally responded to the call for plane sex stories, I set a private goal for myself--to write about something that could actually happen to an ordinary person. Some might assume (and in my less confident moments, I belong in that group) this would mean a boring, ordinary story. But Rachel and Penthouse were both willing to give the nod to a quieter, more subtle, if no less satisfying, form of mile-high pleasure. I raise my glass of champagne to you both--and happy flying to all!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Masked Men (and Women)

I've been very busy with non-blogland activities for the past week, but I wanted to post my Halloween picture before the season slipped too far away. And yes, I'm still planning to finish up my report on my summer vacation--before next June at the latest!

Here is Herr Doktor and I pretending we have pseudonyms. Simple as they were, our costumes seem to impress our viewers with an uncanny feeling. Numerous people insisted I had to drop my mask so they could see my real face, while a surprising number got that Herr Doktor was "The Corporation" without being told and confessed his costume was the most frightening thing they'd seen all night.

I myself was pretty creeped out by his deliberately measured gestures and his real eyes peering out at me through the plastic eye holes. The thought flashed into my head--yikes, do I know this person?

Nothing like Halloween to bring out a different side of you.

My younger son made a splash on bustling Mariposa Street with his fancy light saber, rushing from house to house like a Jedi on a mission. To my relief, my older son returned unharmed from trick-or-treating with his high school buddies in the wilder part of town. His costume (Garth from Wayne's World) was appreciated by many, especially merrymakers who may have smoked a bit of weed themselves. He also suffered from some hazing at the door due to his advanced age. One guy studied him for a minute and said, "You have a mustache, you shouldn't be trick-or-treating," leaving his chronologically older friends unchallenged. But at least he gave him candy anyway. Another man told him, "You look like my ex-girlfriend. And that's not a good thing." After that, my son took off the long blond wig and went as a nerd.

One gripe though--Baby Ruth's and Almond Joys were nowhere to be found in the candy piles on my living room floor, while the loathsome Three Musketeers and Milk Ways (both promptly tossed in the trash) were sadly abundant. I mean Snickers are okay, but those frothy, wimpy Three Musketeers? What is the world coming to? Do I have to go buy coconut and nougat candy at a real chocolatier or something?

I hope your Halloween was illuminating and sweet!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Size Queens and Sentence Fondling

Can you believe it's November already? But hey, it's my new favorite month of the year, and I hope that I can even fit in a little writing in the next few weeks of quiet and contemplation before the holidays really hammer us.

Not that I haven't been writing a lot this past week. Actually, I've been writing about writing and you can read all about it in the Erotica Readers and Writers Association's latest exciting edition of their fabulous newsletter, the Erotic Lure.

In my Shameless Self-Promotion column, "Bigger is Better: Bookstores from Indies to Amazon," I talk about why bigger can be better for the struggling small author and give you my tips for getting attention for your book at local bookstores and at the biggest bookselling marketplace of all.

My sex, food, and writing meditation in Cooking Up a Storey continues the discussion of story critiquing and mentoring with "Don’t Fondle My Sentence: Sex with Strangers, Casual Critiques, and Fearlessly Arty Applesauce." You'll learn about my traumatic past and why I'm gun shy about giving critiques, then when the confessing is done, you can stir up a batch of delicious applesauce just the way you like it. It's the season after all!

Enjoy! (And, yep, that frozen peach applesauce was mighty good...)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween at My House

Another quickie today, but I just wanted to share some of the sights and tastes of Halloween at my house this year. Above you see a view of the Halloween Village that magically appears on the shelf of our dining room's built-in china closet sometime around the end of September. It's been a feature of our fall celebration for about seven years.

It grew from a single pumpkin stand (center of this photo, far right in the one above) to this well-populated pirate ship port a few figures and buildings at a time over the years--all on sale at Michael's from 30-50% off, of course. My older son used to arrange the figures, but this year my younger son took the baton, and I'd say he did a great job. The village looks especially spooky and mysterious with the lights off so you can appreciate the glowing moon, the gypsy's crystal ball, the weird green throbbing from the graveyard, and the ghosts dancing in the windows of the houses. Some people ask me if I have a Christmas Village, too, but somehow the austerity of the Halloween Village appeals while the candy cane cuteness of the Christmas version just doesn't tickle my fancy. Kind of the way certain erotic fantasies push buttons while others leave you snowy.

On to the tastes. This year, in preparation for the Festival of Lights at my son's school, I tried out a new gingerbread house recipe using butter rather than shortening. The cookies tasted great--rather like speculoos we ate in Belgium--but the dough was much harder to work with and more fragile, so I think I'll go back to my classic recipe. But since I had a couple of Belgian gingerbread houses lying around, I put my kids to work. Here's my youngest's homemade Halloween house which has been attacked by aliens wielding candy corn missiles. Lots of broken M&M shingles on this poor abode. But a worse fate awaited the house in the background. My older son returned home from school and started eating it before he bothered to decorate it. In no time it resembled the ruined farm houses we saw throughout the Scottish Highlands, the legacy of the enclosure movement when the evil landlords evicted the poor farmers to use the land for sheep. The graffiti on the ruins show the farmers' descendants still remember, and so do I, so the sight of the house sort of depressed me on behalf of all who suffer from economic greed. Then again, maybe I read too much history?

Okay, enough doom and gloom. Last but not least, our costumes! Herr Doktor and I will be heading to a party with my younger son, who has an awesome Jedi costume and a very realistic light saber to light up the night. We'll be a masked couple: a creepy corporate drone in a suit and blank white mask and a Venetian Carnivale goer in a black velvet cape with a lovely silver mask ordered from a real Venetian maskmaker! (I can't help thinking about the countless erotic stories set in Venice--perhaps I'll get lucky with a masked man myself?) My older son is off for some mischief with his friends, having outgrown family entertainment. He'll be Garth from Wayne's World and for some reason, the nerd glasses were really hard to find. Afterward, we're all going to eat cheap, trans-fat laden candy until we swear we can't have any more for about a year. Kit Kat, Snickers, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth... so evil, so yummy, so very Halloween.

But enough about me. What are your Halloween plans?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Flesh, Fetishes, Sex Clubs

I've been busy writing my November ERWA columns, but I wanted to pop in to let you know about an interview I did for Rachel Kramer Bussel's latest anthology, Peep Show: Tales of Voyeurs and Exhibitionists. You'll learn secrets about my inspiration for my story "Clean and Pretty," excerpted in some length at Fleshbot, and some insider tips about Tokyo's forbidden-to-foreigners sex clubs. Plus you'll get to see a nudie picture of me that's even more explicit than this one (hey, isn't it best to start a good meal with an appetizer?)

I'll be writing a more detailed review of this excellent book soon, but I will confess right now Peep Show is one of my favorite set of pages to nestle in (and I've nestled in quite a few). I'm not sure what this says about me. Actually I am sure what this says about me, but I'll bet you'll find these stories of desirous watching and intimate exposure just as seductive and sexy as I do. Which might be why I'm taking my sweet time reading it cover to cover.

Rachel's also made a fantastic book trailer, which features a few lines from my story and a very wet and juicy shower scene.

Go ahead and take a long look at all of these goodies--I won't tell!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Does Sex Sell?

Well, another library book is due soon, so it’s time for yet another book report! This time I’ll talk about Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom, “one of the world’s most respected marketing gurus.” With his spiked hair and his goofy smile, he doesn’t look much like Don Draper, but the man clearly has done his research. Plus he uses expressions like “at the end of the day” all the time, which reminds me nostalgically of Stanford MBA’s.

I picked up this book because I have a special fascination for the how the mind works. Add in my daily role as chief consumer for my family and my now-dwindling side hobby as a book marketer myself and this was an appealing and potentially relevant topic. Lindstrom is a global branding expert, and since branding is what a writer is supposed to do to herself and her work, I figured I might learn something useful. In that regard, I did. For example, here’s the list he uses to help his clients formulate a marketing plan:

What’s the secret of your product?

What makes it stand out?

Are there any stories or rituals or mysteries consumers associate with it?
If not, can you find some?

Can the product somehow break through the two-dimensional barrier of advertising by appealing to senses the company hasn’t yet thought of? Smell, touch, sound?

Is the advertising campaign edgy and funny and risk-taking, or is it as boring and forgettable as every other company’s?

This is not a bad set of questions to ask when you’re wondering how to “sell yourself.” But back to the book report.

Buy-ology was a fast and fairly light read, but I suspect I’ll remember more of this book than most (I find I usually take away one to three main ideas or anecdotes from a book for the long term). Lindstrom’s book is a departure from classic marketing in that it relies on the research of neurologists who scanned subjects' brains while they viewed certain images and TV commercials or listened to jingles. This “neuromarketing” is, according to the author, “the key to unlocking what I call our Buyology: the subconscious thoughts, feelings and desires that drive the purchasing decisions we make each and every day of our lives.” For those who question the ethics of mapping the blood flow to the consumer’s brain either through fMRI’s or a less-invasive bathing cap thingy, Lindstrom argues that we will empower ourselves by better understanding our irrational behavior. I agree. Knowledge is power after all!

Most of the rest of the book discusses specific experiments that shed light on what really engages consumers authentically versus merely attracts attention for the moment. A product needs the former to keep going strong over the years.

Here are a few tidbits that stood out for me:

Consumers preferred Pepsi in a blind tasting due to its sweeter taste, but when informed as to the brand names, they preferred Coke because of their emotional engagement with the brand and its history.

The same parts of the brain light up when we see “strong” brands like iPod, Guinness and Ferrari as do when we see religious symbols like crosses, rosaries, Mother Teresa and the Virgin Mary" (I assume this study was done on Catholics....)

Cigarette warning labels light up the craving part of a smoker’s brain, that is, the warning makes them want to smoke more!

When people see an image of a mini Cooper, the part of our brain that recognizes faces lights up, suggesting we see Minis as cute little people--possibly accounting for the popularity of that car.

The success of product placement depends on the way you use it. Bombarding viewers with 100 different brands yields nothing for the advertising dollar, but incorporating the brand into the narrative, as with Reese’s Pieces in E.T. or Coke in “American Idol,” is well worth the expense.

Engaging senses other than the visual makes for stronger associations, but I love this evidence to support the power of music: when classical music was piped over loudspeakers in the London Underground, robberies dropped by 33% and vandalism by 37%.

Thanks to little buggers in our brains called “mirror neurons,” when we watch someone do something our brains react as if we were actually performing these activities, seeing and doing are one in the same. Reading about it triggers the same areas as doing, too.

Which leads us to sex and erotica, naturally. You read about it, it's as if you’re doing it? Depends on the story for me... but of more interest to business types is the following "surprise." Actually, Lindstrom claims that sex on its own does not sell. In fact, it tends to distract viewers, especially men, from paying attention to the product. He does get a bit confusing here, because he also claims that we decide to purchase something based on how much social status it brings, because social status is linked with “reproductive success” (a.k.a. getting laid a lot). Again, without spelling it out, I think he is arguing that it’s how the sex is used that matters. Which makes sense, but I'm not sure most people I talk to about my erotica writing get that. They all seem to think I should be very, very rich if I'm any good. But I digress.

Apparently we need to be able to relate to the advertisement. Studies he cites show that women prefer a wholesome, pretty, more or less “ordinary” woman in an ad to a sexy vixen or gorgeous celebrity. (Makes sense to me, though he didn’t talk about men in this case or makeup ads.) The desire for authenticity is a strong factor in consumers, which suggests why reality TV shows and erotic memoirs are so popular. While we all like a little fantasy escape, “real” sex is somehow more compelling. At least it is for me. It’s all the more thrilling when I feel I’m getting a glimpse into an intimate scene that “really” happened—though we all know that any mediation adds fictionality. But that’s yet another discussion.

I found it interesting that a 2001 survey by Market Facts showed that 53% of people were (said they were?) more likely to buy a product if it showed images of “love” than if it showed images that alluded to sex (only 26%). Again, I’d like a little more definition of what he means by “sex,” but if it’s just body parts colliding, then I can surely understand why some relational context would be more appealing and easier to identify with. Naturally, I’m invested in this because I like to read and write about “real” sex within relationships, so hey, I liked what I read in Buy-ology, too.

Well, I’ve gone on long enough, but again I find myself wishing I could invite you all over for an in-the-flesh erotica writers’ book club. What is your sense of how you respond to advertising? Do you believe sex sells or maybe it's the erotic--sex married to the mind and emotions--that sells instead? Has Martin Lindstrom given you ideas on how to “brand” yourself in terms of hawking your books or your personal (not like in the Story of O--ouch!) So, have a glass of Cotes du Rhone and some baguette with a dab of fromage d'Affinois and weigh in with your opinions on biology and buyology!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Spanking Good Time on Sunday

I had a great weekend starting with three stunning soccer victories by the teams of my two athletic sons (how did that happen from a gym-loathing mom?) and ending with a highly pleasurable reading at Good Vibrations in Berkeley on Sunday evening in honor of the publication of Bottoms Up: Spanking Good Stories.

This is the first time I "officially" read at my local feminist adult-toy-and-bookstore, so it was a sort of a benchmark in my erotica writing life. I did participate in an open-mike sharing circle when I first started writing erotica maybe eleven years ago during which I read from my first erotic story, "The Blindfold," but it was cool to think about how far I'd come since. Good Vibrations is such a cheerfully buzzing place, and the hospitality was first-rate, including complimentary red wine and dark chocolate truffles, both very good for the circulation and bringing a blush to the cheeks. There was a decent crowd of listeners as well, and they even had to bring out more chairs!

The anthology's editor, spanking maven Rachel Kramer Bussel, opened the event with an introduction to the book and the spanking genre, while seated on an ottoman that would have been the perfect furniture for bending over and baring the buttocks. But the evening was about the power of words not paddles, of course.

I took the podium next with an excerpt from my story "A Thousand Words." You can get a sampling of the story here and a Youtube video will be available soon! I really enjoyed bringing my story to life. There was a lot of dialogue, so my high school reader's theater training came in handy. When the guy in the story talks look left. When the woman talks, look right. Straight ahead for the narrator and deliver the punchlines without looking at the text. I was also fresh from my younger son's school storytelling festival where I got to watch professionals perform, so I tried to channel their positive energy as I spoke, even if the content was rather different.

The next reader was the elegant Zille Defeu who did a very entertaining reenactment of her story called..."Reenactment." In another life, I'd devote all my weekends to historical reenactment, and the witty adventures of the fair lady and her "knight" in shining armor piqued my imagination in all sorts of ways.

Rachel concluded the event with a buffet of tidbits from the book including titillating background information on her story "The Spanking Machine" and a peek into the benefits of art gallery opening nights in Jerry Arthur's intellectually (among other things) stimulating "Ass Worship," which could certainly be seen as the theme of the book: Art meets palm meets buttocks.

Afterwards the three authors chatted a bit about the writing life and historical costumes, then Herr Doktor and I browsed the books, toys and videos. I've always loved Good Vibrations' sense of humor. Too bad the sign above can't be posted for some story collections as well, because we'd all benefit from the preview whether we're inclined to more or less of that damned literary content. It gives a new twist to the title of the Nanowrimo founder's book, No Plot, No Problem!

Anyway, it was a great evening, and thanks to all of you who were there in spirit, warming your buns with us....

Friday, October 16, 2009

Female Poetry

Hey everyone, thanks so much for your comments on my "Female Brain" post. I almost didn't post it--after all it was just a book report--but I'm so glad I did. In this time of harvest, I really appreciate the bounty of your thoughts!

I've always found the idea of a writer's salon romantic, but as portrayed in The New Yorker anyway, the present-day version seems more of a party club where all the cool people drink cocktails together and talk about how much they love each other with a few side whispers about how lesser types don't belong. But I'm coming to realize the type of writer's salon I fantasized about is much simpler. You don't need the cocktails or the swanky pad, nice as they are. All you need to do is share ideas with sympatico creative souls and inspire each other to insights you couldn't reach all by yourself. I've found that with you all and I thank you for it!

Speaking of that, Isabel Kerr has posted a wonderful poem on a related theme at her blog called "At 55." I recommend you pop on over to Italy and maybe you'll get some homemade yogurt gelato to cool off afterward, too!

And speaking of poetry, although I don't really feel part of that club, I came across an idea I liked in a book on American holidays. The author cites anthropologist Mary Douglas who said that "a meal is a poem that is created within certain rules and that expresses much about the family as a group. In this regard, the woman is a poet who cooks the meals." It could be a man cooking as well of course, but this sentiment went a long way toward making me feel more comfortable with poetry as part of my life rather than something a committee of literary magazine editors deigns to recognize as worthy. In fact, today I'm making two different batches of cookies for a school story-telling festival tomorrow, and I will approach the task more self-consciously as poetry (I think on some level I always was doing that!)

So, off to "write" my poems. Happy weekend to you all!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Female Brain

A friend recommended a book to me recently, The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine, M.D., and I found it an interesting read as a writer and a woman--love those books with two-for-one pleasure, kind of like chewing Doublemint gum.

Of course, as I read, I was constantly battling with my natural resistance to generalizations about the sexes which abound in this book. I prefer to think of differences between men and women as closely overlapping bell curves. I read this argument in another book a few years ago, whose title escapes me alas, but the wisdom has stayed with me. In this model, men and women share much, much more in common as human beings than socially exaggerated differences suggest and while a small portion of men do have superior spatial abilities for example, any given woman could have superior abilities to any given man.

Brizendine prefers the racier path of emphasizing differences in colorful transportation metaphors, although of course, her theory that hormones construct our brains seems to call for such an approach.

Anyway, she has convinced me to take a closer look at the benefits of a low dose of estrogen at perimenopause when that time comes, to preserve my brain function, which otherwise would shrink by 40%. Wrinkles, age spots, bring 'em on, but a little shrunken brain, that's scary (if it's true).

She also came up with a few other interesting observations that do ring true to me, although again, it depends on the person.

For example, males are apparently more interested in bonding/fucking under high stress situations than women, who tend to turn off under high stress, whereas men will "mate" with the first willing female after a physical challenge (like war). So says, the doctor, anyway, and history seems to support her argument.

She attributes the longer time required for women to reach orgasm to an extra neurological step required by the female brain. "The impulses can rush to the pleasure centers and trigger an orgasm only if the amygdala—the fear and anxiety center of the brain—has been deactivated. Before the amygdala has been turned off, any last-minute worry...can interrupt the march toward orgasm." But you knew that, didn't you? And apparently science shows that it's easier to conceive if the woman comes after the man does, another evolutionary reason for the differential. "Ladies' first" as birth control?

But here's the one that gets me. Brizendine claims--several times--that 85 percent of (twenty to thirty year old) males think about sex every 52 seconds and women think about it once a day or up to three or four times on fertile days. (Sometimes she gives the ages, sometimes she just generalizes, although I think the ages make a huge difference for comparison).

Jeez, am I a freak? Am I actually a twenty-five year old man with a vagina? I think about sex all the time, and it's not just since that became my career! I love this quote, too:

"Just as women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion while men have a small country road, men have O’Hare Airport as a hub for processing thoughts about sex whereas women have the airfield nearby that lands small and private planes."

Damn, I've always thought 747's were so sexy, too! Guess I'll have to transfer my affections to those empathetic little Cessnas.

I will say it was gratifying to see some of the reviews on Amazon taking the author to task for her sloppy conflation of neuroscience and psychology, her simplification of sex and gender, and her love of pharmaceuticals as a cure-all. Still, I enjoyed the book, as an erotica writer as much as a female (if I indeed am one because now I'm wondering since I just thought about sex like five times as I wrote this), and I certainly recognized enough in her case studies to have the luxury of blaming my own psychology on biology, which is always fun. It's easier to attribute my sensitivity to movie violence to my greater capacity for emotional mirroring rather than a candy-ass wimpishness (a self-accusation). My body literally throbs with pain when I see graphic torture or injury while Herr Doktor just shrugs and says "it's a stupid movie." There's probably also a neurological basis for the effectiveness of beer ads on men versus women, but Brizendine didn't go there--Craig Sorensen did though!

So, yeah, time to take the brain back to the library, but I thought I'd give a book report to fuel that sex difference debate that's been around since the Stone Age!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting Spanked at Good Vibrations

Autumn has definitely come to the Bay Area. The gray skies of morning linger on into the afternoon, hinting at much-needed rain. Pumpkins appear on porches, the rich orange hues invoking the plenty of the harvest. The very air seems thicker, as if the year were a soup slowly simmering down to its essence.

Autumn is the time for nostalgia and in fact October brings the one-year anniversary of my New York book tour, the highlight of which was my reading at "In the Flesh" with so many very cool and fun erotica writers (read all about it here). I'll admit I'm relieved I can just take it easy this fall, but I do think back fondly on the experience of standing before a mildly inebriated audience and talking dirty into a microphone surrounded by friends and colleagues. Hey, try it yourself, it's fun!

Fortunately, this coming Sunday, October 18 at 5:30 pm, I'll have a chance for a mini re-creation of "In the Flesh" at a West Coast Rachel Kramer Bussel erotica soiree to celebrate the release of Bottoms Up: Spanking Good Stories (read an excerpt) and Peep Show: Tales of Voyeurs and Exhibitionists at Berkeley's own Good Vibrations.

I'll be reading from my story "A Thousand Words" along with equally scintillating spanking tales by Rachel and Zille Defeu--whose eye-popping website makes me wonder if I should actually wear my naughty schoolgirl costume to fit in? Come on, dare me!

Yeah, I know, most of you can't be there in the flesh, but if you happen to be in Berkeley on Sunday, do stop by. I guarantee it will get your bottom warm and your blood racing.