Thursday, April 30, 2009

If These Walls Could Talk...

Our auditeur sharing circle continues today with a tasty tidbit from Craig Sorensen, who always delivers ear-pleasing prose that resonates with emotional authenticity. I have to say I really enjoy hosting these casual salons. I feel like I should be handing around cookies and sherry--maybe I'll go whip up a batch of pecan bars anyway?--while we read our work aloud, lounging on Indian print pillows, our sighs and murmurs of approval only adding to the enchantment of sounds.

Maybe some day my fantasy will come true?

Until then we can enjoy this snippet which comes from a piece entitled "Through the Ranks." I think it's an excellent example of the pleasures of compare-and-contrast. If taste tests can help you appreciate the qualities of cinnamon or chocolate, why not sex?

And now, here's Craig:

I kissed Isabelle’s full lips gently, savored the nape of her slender neck. In the next room, a pounding akin to John Bonham playing a drum solo was in full swing.

Seemed the louder they got, the softer we became. I looked in Isabelle’s eyes to see if I could find a bit of the jealousy I felt. She was so quiet, so intense. I traced the folds in her ear with my tongue. When I held her body tight, I could feel her pulse rush. She moaned into my mouth when I introduced my tongue after long, massaging closed lip kisses.

She eased my shirt over my head.

The rhythmic pounding of the headboard in the next room was accompanied by throaty moans, approaching crescendo. Isabelle and I lay on the bed and stared into each other’s eyes. My cock was only semi-hard. Given the beauty of the woman by me I felt inadequate. The rhythmic pounding grew louder. The image of Jeanette’s body, the song of her joy, her passion became more consuming.

My cock grew to full hardness.

Isabelle unbuckled my belt and pulled down my pants. We resumed kissing, and I stroked the front of her silk panties, then dipped down to her soft pubic hair. She reached in my boxers and cupped my hard on. When I dipped a finger into her she released only her second moan.

Her body was like a jeweler’s safe, responding ever so slightly to the turning dial. I began to comprehend her silence, and tried to find new means to divine a third moan – let the tumblers announce another magic spot.

I peeled her baby doll kissing every inch of her skin until I settled between her parted thighs. We took turns, nestled in pillows atop the freshly stripped bed, one sprawled across the bed while the other knelt and feasted until the wild moans and thumps next door abated.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Secret Life of Music Students

We all know rock-n-rollers and jazzmen are randy devils, but certainly their uptown cousins, the classical, conservatory-trained musicians, are as cool and refined inside as their white tie and tails and tasteful evening gowns suggest? Marina St. Clair tore the tux off of that prim myth over at Jeremy Edward's blog the other day and I have to admit the scene in the practice room she described really stayed with me. Perhaps it's because I have a bad case of musician-envy. A writer needs to sneak up on her reader, slowly weaving a web of words, but those lucky musicians have the magical ability to reach right inside you and touch your heart (and other places) with just a few well-played notes.

Here's Marina's report from inside the practice room:

I spent a lot of years as a music student. As you'd suspect, we all spent a lot of time training our ears -- so that we'd understand harmonic structure, so that we could play in tune, so that we could play a beautiful melodic line, and so that we could play well with our colleagues.

Our highly-trained ears got to hear a lot of other things at the conservatory as well. It was always interesting to stroll down the practice room wing at night. There were all sorts of passionate sounds, musical and otherwise! Quite a thrill for the creative, imaginative auditeur!

Here's a brief scene I originally posted over at Jeremy's, having been moved to reminisce a bit about my conservatory days after reading his terrific 4-hand piano piece:


He was a trombone player. We were both undergrads at the conservatory. We were friends -- what the young ones would call “friends with benefits” these days, perhaps. He dated others, I dated others, and in between, we’d occasionally keep each other company.

We were young, passionate musicians who spent far too many hours in solitary confinement perfecting our tone, technique and musicianship. As was true of many of our friends, we tended to practice late into the evening. And, late in the evening, our young passionate minds and bodies tended to lose concentration on our art and tended to wander to other pursuits. The practice room wing of the conservatory came alive at night and was filled with much more than just the sounds of winds, brass and percussion as the evening wore on.

This particular night, we were both “single” again and feeling lonely. So, I wandered down to visit him in his practice room. He had the window papered over, as was traditional, especially among the low brass players, but I knew his sound. So, I knocked, opened the door, and went in. He was sitting at the piano, working on some orchestral excerpts.

As had become our routine, I stood behind him as he sat there on the piano bench, put my hands on his shoulders and asked him if he wanted a massage. He did, of course. We both knew where things were going, but we were both always a little shy and this gave me the initial excuse to touch him. So, he put the horn down on top of the piano, leaned over to rest his arms on the music stand above the keyboard, and I started rubbing his shoulders and back.

After a while, familiar urges started getting more urgent and the tempo picked up a bit. I started licking his ear and running my hands down his chest -- at which point, he stood up, backed me up against the wall, pulled up my shirt, and we engaged in a fair bit of kissing, petting, sucking, etc. This is why we all papered the windows, of course. We wanted our privacy during these duet sessions. And anyway, we were all musicians -- standing outside the door and listening when people were engaging in this type of activity was quite an auditory thrill in and of itself! Now, I'm generally more of a heavy breather than a screamer, but he tended to be a bit loud and descriptive. So, nobody saw us, but I have no idea how many people heard us.

Conservatory practice rooms are rather sparse -- usually a piano and a bench, a music stand, walls, a floor and a ceiling -- and they’re not very large. So, we both decided that we wanted a more comfortable setting before things went much further. In the really olden days, the sensitive, artsy-type guys would have said something corny like, “Would you like to come up and see my etchings?” But, we were intense, classically-trained young performers -- very cool and very horny. He said the line that would become my favorite pick-up line of all time, “Would you like to come up and listen to my new Mahler 2?”

Ah, I have trouble resisting Mahler and his second symphony is a favorite -- and where else do you get to hear that kind of pick-up line! So, we wandered over to his dorm room, hopped up on his dorm bed covered with the nice beige chenille bedspread his mother had sent for his birthday, and he and I and Mahler were entwined in the harmony of the spheres!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Another Kind of Fetish?

We've all heard of voyeurs, but Marina St. Clare's expose of the secret life of musicians over at Jeremy Edwards' blog yesterday--a response to his lovely "Warming the Bench," an Oysters and Chocolate tale of a very harmonious duet in a practice room--got me thinking about another flavor of sexual pleasure. This one doesn't have an official name, so I'll give it my own French twist. If voyeurs find pleasure in watching the sexual behavior of others, the "auditeur" finds pleasure in listening.

I can't say that listening to another couple's sensual sounds is something I seek out, rather it has been thrust upon me now and then through thin walls. At first I usually find it embarrassing, but, since in most cases I've been a captive audience, I gradually get into the rhythm. One very memorable set of encounters happened the second time I lived in Japan. My neighbor and her boyfriend were very loud on occasion, usually at two in the morning. Separated from my new husband by an ocean, I lay in my futon listening with envious annoyance. Yet eventually I realized it was language study of a rare and important kind! And, just for the record, while the Japanese couple made beautiful music together and obviously had a wonderful sex life, they were both quite homely--but an auditeur need not worry about such things. He or she is freed from the tyranny of the visual.

And of course, now that I write erotica and read it out loud whenever I have the chance, I've come to appreciate a new variation on the experience of the auditeur, which, to be catholic about it, includes phone sex, podcasts, public readings of my work and other auditory media.

Marina's comment also reminded me of a scene from my story, "John Updike Made Me Do It" from Swing!: Adventures in Swinging by Today's Top Erotica Writers, the newly released and very hot anthology edited by Jolie du Pre. I thought it might be fun to give you an auditeur's excerpt in honor of the power of sound. I'll also be posting Marina's stimulating report from the practice room here tomorrow. If you have any of your own auditory excerpts to share, let me know. We can have our own fetish festival right here!

From "John Updike Made Me Do It":

Aural Orgy

We finally got to the cabin in King’s Beach around eleven. Good old Jill was waiting up for us in the kitchen with a pot of cinnamon tea.

“Sorry about the bad luck with the weather, you guys.”

“No problem,” Nick said, giving Jill a peck on the cheek. “Maria and I had a nice long talk in the car.”

“Actually there’s another little complication tonight. I thought this place had three bedrooms, but the third queen bed is the sleeper sofa in the living room. Katharina and Jurgen took the bedroom on the other side of the house and they’ll be walking through your room to get to the bathroom.”

Nick and I exchanged glances. That could put a damper on the sex part of our holiday weekend—unless we decided to live dangerously.

“And…um,” Jill began with an apologetic smile.

“What is it now, Jilly-bean?” Nick said, in not-quite-mock annoyance. In fact, they did act a lot like brother and sister.

“So, you know how Germans are more comfortable with their bodies than Americans?”

Nick shot me a what-the-fuck grin. We were both a bit punchy from the drive.

“Just so you’re prepared, sometimes Katharina and Jurgen walk around the house in the nude.”

We held our laughter until we were snuggled together on the sofa bed, snowflakes still battering the windows.

“Beware the naked Germans,” Nick whispered as I muffled my giggles in his shoulder. His hands slipped under my nightshirt and he slowly, teasingly inched it up over my breasts.

“Hey, are you sure you want to do this? A naked German might walk in on us any minute.”

“We can pull them into bed with us. That’s what you want, isn’t it?” Without waiting for my answer, Nick scooted under the blankets and eased open my thighs. He knew once he got to work with his mouth down there, I’d stop arguing.

Sure enough, the instant his tongue met my clit, jolts of familiar pleasure shot through me. I arched back on the bed, but remembered where we were just in time to swallow down a moan. However, to be honest, the thought of fucking in a semi-public place where a stranger might see us turned me on in a big way. Besides, keeping quiet seemed to increase the sensation, sounds of my pleasure trapped and throbbing in my belly. My mind was teeming with images, too, fragments from the evening all tumbled together like trail mix. Nick fucking Grace, while Heather rode his face, their sweat-slick breasts swaying as they writhed in ecstasy. I watched the lewd scene before me while Jill’s faceless German friend groped my nude body, pinching my nipple, twisting it, just as Nick was doing in real life now.

I bit the corner of the pillow to keep from crying out. Every moist click of his tongue, every creak of the cheap mattress as I rocked my ass up for more, seemed to roar in my ears like a jet engine.

They could hear everything. They all knew exactly what we were doing.

Suddenly I heard a soft knocking filtering down from Jill and Ben’s room in the loft. Tap, tap, squeak. It took a moment before I realized what it was: a headboard nudging the wall, another mattress protesting under the thrusts of joined bodies.

Ben must have been waiting up for Jill. He had to watch the German woman parade around naked all evening and he was desperate for release. Jill was now paying for her friend’s provocation as she lay beneath her husband’s big body, his dick sliding in and out of her swollen, pink pussy. Tap, tap, squeak.

My thighs began to shake. I was close. Nick pulled away and rose to his knees, guiding his cock into my very wet cunt.

He bent forward and his lips closed over mine. We began to move together in our familiar rhythm, making love as we always did. Except tonight we had company.

Tap, tap, squeak.

Now another voice joined the chorus, a low feminine moan, with a hint of Bach. Jill’s friends from Bonn were fucking, too. On top of the blankets, of course, their nude bodies fully exposed. The heady mix of sex sounds swirled through my head in an aural orgy, dancing down my spine to gather in my cunt.

We’re all fucking. Together. Friends, strangers, fucking, coming.

It was too much.

I climaxed, my teeth biting into the pillow. Nick was right behind me, his face twisted in a mute grimace of pleasure.

A few moments later the knocking above and the moans from the front room subsided. I heard six pairs of lips exhale in a collective sigh of carnal contentment.

John Updike couldn’t have planned it better.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tomorrow's a Swinging Day!

Yes, with all the build-up of the tantalizing blog tour, I'm just dying to read the sizzling hot stories in editor Jolie du Pre's Swing!: Adventures in Swinging by Today's Top Erotica Authors.

And tomorrow, April 24, my dream will come true! It's a big day for Swing! authors. There's a party at the Swing! yahoo group from morning until midnight where you can chat with the editor and contributors and win Swing! prizes.

In the meantime, check out the Swing! book trailer on Youtube with Tara Tainton.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Reading IS Sexier in Paris!

Bonjour, mes amis! My big news today is that my novel, Amorous Woman, has taken a special flight over to the City of Lights to be featured on Maitresse, the very smart and elegant blog of Lauren Elkin, a literary lady who divides her time between Paris and Tokyo. Lauren's interview questions definitely got me thinking in a new way and I really enjoyed answering them--the flavor is definitely gourmet. So, if you're in the mood for an exquisite buttery croissant and a bowl of cafe au lait, please pop on over to Paris and leave a comment, if you are so inspired. Bon Appetit!

(Illustration:Utagawa Kunisada II, 1823-1880)

Friday, April 17, 2009

An Elegant and “Brainy” Debut Novel: Kirsten Menger-Anderson

I recently finished a novel-in-stories that was truly one of the most thought-provoking, elegantly written works of literary fiction I’ve read in a long time. The title is Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain (Algonquin Books, 2008), the debut novel of author Kirsten Menger-Anderson. The book has received glowing reviews from The Washington Post, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle…and some of the stories have also appeared in Ploughshares, the Southwest Review, Post Road and the Maryland Review. I tend to regard mainstream critics with a critical eye myself, but in this case, I’m in hearty agreement with their praise. Literary fiction should always be so fresh, relevant, and provocative.

Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain follows the lives of twelve generations of New York City physicians who are trying to better the human condition, each in his or her own misguided way. Rich in historical information, the book offers a light-handed education in medical history as well as an insight into the mixture of arrogance, delusion and faith that still lurks at the heart of medical science today. It grabbed me from the first paragraph and never let go!

Kirsten Menger-Anderson has a real gift for choosing the perfect resonant detail, creating prose that is both evocative and admirably spare. Each story illuminates the experience of the struggling outsider in some way, nudging us to contemplate racism, feminism, poverty, the pain of the immigrant experience, even the modern-day beauty business. What happens in the silences and shifts between the stories is as intriguing as the narratives themselves, and I was reminded again what a pleasure it is for a reader to make her own connections and enjoy “aha” moments. This, of course, is only possible when the author crafts her tale skillfully and with respect for the intelligence of her audience. Most impressive of all was the way the disparate voices “slur” together in a conclusion that works brilliantly to unify the stories.

You can hear excerpts from the book here, performed by professional actors as part of Sally Shore's "The New Short Fiction Series" in L.A.

Fortunately for us, Kirsten has agreed to stop by today to talk about her novel, the writing process and seductive literary dinners.

DGS: How did you come to write a novel-in-stories about the history of medicine in America?

KMA: First off, thanks for inviting me to your blog! It's a pleasure to be here.

The history of medicine has intrigued me ever since I looked up "phrenology" in the dictionary and marveled that reading human characteristics in the contours of the skull was once common belief. What other (now discredited) medical ideas have we held, I began to wonder. I discovered the works of Jan Bondeson, Carl Zimmer, and several other medical historians and science writers who tell captivating tales of practices that read like fiction: curative radium, lobotomy, therapies requiring ground millipede and mercury. These techniques and the contemporaneous debates about life, death, and the soul took hold of my imagination. Who were the people who believed humans could birth rabbits? Or that routine bleeding could cure the common cold? I began to look at how doctors and the medical philosophies of previous generations impacted daily life, and I ended up with a book that covers 350 years of medical history.

One of the many pleasures of reading Dr. Olaf van Schuler’s Brain is the wealth of historical detail about New York City over the centuries, which clearly represents a lot of background research. Can you tell us about your process? Do you have any tips for historical research for fiction writers?

Much of my research about New York began with Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace's amazing book Gotham, which tells a detailed history of New York City up until 1898. I looked at maps from different centuries; old documents such as newspaper articles, ship manifests, inventories of various sorts, old family trees; and at drawings and photographs of people and places taken at different points in time. All provided nice windows to the times.

Do you have a particular favorite among the stories? Any that was a special challenge for you to write?

I'm fond of all the stories and characters--I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite. The last piece was definitely the hardest to write. I tried a number of different final stories: one about a woman in a persistent vegetative state, one set in the future, one that involved captive monkeys. "The Doctors", when I finally managed to write it, felt like the proper ending. But it took me a long time to get there.

That's interesting, because I thought it was a perfect and powerful ending! Now Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain is certainly not erotica, but there were a number of memorable scenes where eroticism plays a key role. This scene from “Salk and Sabin” struck me as an interesting commentary on adolescent sexuality and power play. Joanie, the voyeur, and Walter, the exhibitionist, don’t fully understand what they’re doing, which makes the interaction all the more poignant in the context of what’s going on with the adults in the story. Here's a teaser from the story (the really erotic scene comes later):

I couldn't answer when Mr. Wharton called on me; I didn't even hear his question. I was folding the [note that said "Communist"] in my palm, imagining how I would reinvent myself, how my skin would clear, and how one day I'd return to this school, and whoever had done this would seek me out and beg me to teach about the unions and the strikes. The reason communists weren't more popular, I believe, was entirely aesthetic. Even I acknowledged that my father, with his long chin, thick brows, and hairy nose was particularly unnattractive.

Mr. Wharton tapped his pointer on a wooden chair, staring at me, his jacket missing a button, his trousers so short that his socks showed. The chalkboard was covered with notes I noticed only then: battle diagrams and years, without any indication of significance.

"I don't know," I said.

Katherine, who sat behind me, laughed.

"Joanie's wet her underpants," she said softly so that only I and a handful of others heard. I realized then that she'd scrawled the note and placed the gum in my textbook. Her tone revealed it, and the fact that she knew I was upset. I can picture her placing the gum between her lips, cheeks wide and fat as a pregnant belly. People think she is beautiful, but she laughs like hard change in a beggar's cup, her pale hand sporting Walter Thompson's class ring. I know she lets him touch her. Secret places, dark places. After school, after she lingers at the back of the room to apply the red lipstick my father forbids me to wear, I follow them to Central Park and watch as Walter slips his hands under her skirt. She's never seen me, but he did once. He was kissing her, but looking at me. He was watching me and I him and for the first time I was equal. I, too, had a chance at winning his heart. I'd felt such a thrill then, I'd turned and run.

What was your experience doing the “sex scenes” for the novel?

The scene with Joanie, Walter, and Katherine is probably the most erotic in the book! I tend to write sex scenes that have a witness because I like the tension that interlopers bring to intimate moments. So yes, Joanie watches Walter and Katherine having sex, and I enjoyed writing/narrating that scene from her perspective. Other characters caught in the act (the innkeeper and the servant girl in "The Burning") don't fare quite as well.

What’s next for you?
I'm currently working on a novel about a field ecologist who travels to Ecuador to study butterflies.

Name a writer (or two, living or dead) you’d like to have dinner with, one you’d most like to trade talents with, one with whom you’d most like to spend a week in the Catskills golfing and trout fishing.

F. Scott Fitzgerald! Probably not for a week in the Catskills, though. For that I'd have to think of someone who prefers hiking to golf. Or someone who might want to blow off both the trout fishing and the golf and just spend a week reading and writing.

I'm a Fitzgerald fan, too--and I definitely hear you about the lure of reading and writing over fishing. Now for our last question, please describe a perfect meal that would be guaranteed to seduce you—into a deep conversation about the writing life, if not something even juicier!
For me, the perfect meal has a lot to do with location. I love to eat outdoors—a picnic in the park or a dinner on a roof top. Wine, bread, cheese, fresh fruit. And tomatoes (good tomatoes. The best ones I know of in the Bay Area are the dry farmed ones from Two Dog farm). And some chocolate, of course.

Thanks so much for the interview, Kirsten! Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain is a book that leaves a reader with more questions than answers, but I certainly appreciate the insights you gave us today. For more on Kirsten’s experience promoting the book, check out the interview at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Join us for a Spicy Summer Vacation!

It's no surprise that a Cinnamon Girl like me would have spice-loving friends. My last post about my penchant for sniffing and tasting cinnamon got some wonderful comments full of sizzle and passion for the spicy life. Just reading them made my mouth water.

Marina St. Clare suggested we organize a Spicy Sunday Blog Tour this summer, a laid-back affair, rather like a Sunday barbecue, where each week a host chooses a favorite spice or herb to celebrate in any way she or he chooses. It's a great idea and I'm definitely signing up. Again in honor of summer, that lovely season of no school and no rules, I'd favor a cooperative approach. Beyond setting up a schedule (a Memorial Day start?), we all do as we feel and have fun. What d'ya think?

So far some of our spiciest writer friends have let slip their special relationship with certain flavors. Craig Sorensen has a thing for peppercorns. Emerald loves poppy seeds. I'm keen on nutmeg. Kirsten Monroe might need to give us more insight into her cinnamon buns? And Jeremy Edwards, always thinking outside the box, suggested we include herbs, which, given that this is a summertime party makes perfect sense. In the past, I've resolved conflicts where two people want the same theme by staging a butterscotch pudding wrestling match, winner take all. But in the international spirit of spice, what the hell, if more than one person wants to celebrate the same spice or herb, why not?

So, thanks again, Marina (who's just confessed an affair with basil) for giving us the spark to light the fire! Anyone reading this, please let us know if you'd like to participate, 'cause it's summertime and the livin' is easy....

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I'm a Cinnamon Girl

I'm ready for a change of pace here. Censorship and corporate greed have been much in my thoughts these past days, but I'm feeling in the mood to focus on another, happier entity that begins with the letter C.


Mmm, cinnamon, reassuringly sweet, almost bland when you scoop an aged teaspoonful from one those McCormick cans. Friend to oatmeal cookies, sticky buns, rice pudding, it was the most familiar and comforting spice in the cabinet.

But that was the cinnamon of my childhood and early adulthood. Since I became a writer, a foodie and a satisfied customer of the online spice merchant, Penzey's, (who have yet to segregate their spices into sexy/LGBT and literary), cinnamon has become a much more complex and ubiquitous ingredient in my life. Not to mention I've read several reports that it helps control blood sugar naturally. Since adult-onset diabetes runs in my family, I'm sprinkling cinnamon on my morning yogurt every day--a medicine that is easy to swallow indeed. (Rumor also has it that it sweetens bodily fluids, gentlemen!)

Long banished is the tin of McCormick's that languished on the shelf for a decade. Penzey's offers four kinds of cinnamon from different parts of the world and it all comes fresh and potent enough to take you on a journey to an exotic land from one sniff. Their Chinese cinnamon is advertised as the best for all-purpose use and for a while I just bought that, but recently I decided to do a taste test on their other varieties: Vietnamese Cassia, Korintje Cassia, and Ceylon Continental 00000.

The results are in and they're all good, but each definitely has its own character. The Vietnamese has the most natural sweetness and complexity. There's a touch of sandalwood to it and it's my first choice for cookies, puddings or a family batch of oatmeal. Korinjtje Cassia was advertised as the choice of cinnamon bun bakers and a more potent version of our childhood brand and I can see why. It's also good on oatmeal and with yogurt, but definitely takes you to a different destination--there's something a little rounder and toastier about it. Ceylon Cinnamon is the spiciest and most austere, with a hint of hot pepper, which makes it perfect for curries and couscous. It's apparently favored in England and Mexico which would make it perfect for Mexican chocolate brownies. But since I used up the others and am having it for breakfast, it's also perfectly satisfying for my yogurt parfait as well.

Immersing myself in the scents and flavors of these high quality cinnamons reminded me of the importance of spices in human history. The desire for spice led Europeans to explore the world and alas rape and plunder it as well. As erotica writers we also make use of the desire for spice to inspire and sell our work. Readers are always curious about a writer's habits and tricks--perhaps my morning infusion of cinnamon is part of what keeps me writing fiction that is too hot for the Amazon?

Amazon is "Back to Normal"?

Well, as of this morning, my book is back in the general searches and it has a sales ranking. I received two Amazon customer service replies, one to my censorship complaint on Sunday, which was the same as the "ham-fisted" official statement (and seems to be the one everyone is getting). The other is more personal, a reply to my complaint last Thursday. They said they checked my book page and reinstated in in general searches. So, everything's back to normal, right?

Not quite. As the "Humans at Work" blogger argued, feelings are a fact. Whatever the reason for my sudden de-ranking, it feels like some right-wing, anti-sex, anti-LGBT intelligence--well maybe "intelligence" isn't the right word, "human will" perhaps?--was at work. Authors who are challenging conservative sexual hang-ups in any way still are vulnerable to censorship and judgment and the Amazon mess has shown how vulnerable we still are--again whether it was intentional or not. My feelings are telling me Amazon should post a statement reassuring authors and readers that they support a non-judgmental open marketplace for books. Maybe then I'll start feeling a tad bit more trust. But for now, I'm afraid I can't do that....

Monday, April 13, 2009

Will Twilight Make You Gay?

Here's a hilarious Youtube video that Jackson Pearce made of her call to Amazon Customer Service suggesting that Twilight be put on the banned list because it gave her gay thoughts.

It's always good to laugh!

And thanks to the Internet for giving us all access to people who are speaking out!

Still No Real Answers from Amazon

Amazon has issued a cryptic statement about making a terrible cataloging error and apologizing to the gay and lesbian community. But many questions remain. Were they intending to de-rank erotica and just so happened to make a mistake to include Heather Has Two Mommies?

They need to come out with a full statement of their intentions and their philosophy. If there has been a sudden, secret plan to hide all erotica and keep it from being easily accessed, I'm going to continue to boycott them. Even if the inclusion of "gay and lesbian" in their banned books criteria was a mistake, the act of a secret mass round-up of books itself is objectionable. Amazon could, for example, provide a special filter for customers who can't bear to see such traumatizing titles and book covers and let the rest of us endure the horrors at our own discretion. Or they could put a banner at the top of the book's page: contains adult content. But the consumer should be allowed to make the judgment.

Apologizing to the gay and lesbian community is necessary, but not enough, and I hope the outcry does not die down into complacency. It's like saying prejudice against African Americans is bad, but it's okay to discriminate against Mexicans. I think this debacle demonstrates that any censorship is dangerous.

In an article linked to the one above, the reporter was commenting that Amazon does not release sales figures for Five Minute Erotica, snigger, snigger. Grow up, people and stop being such hypocrites. The majority of us have sex, all of us have erotic desires, and Amazon has certainly made plenty of money off of it. Oh, well, enough for now. I'm still really upset by this!

Fighting the Good Fight

Yesterday my technical consultant used his chocolate-bunnies-for-breakfast buzz to post a web version of one of my essays on my website, "A Pill to Change Your Life," about my mother's death from the diabetes drug Rezulin. This was originally published in Fourth Genre, a well-regarded creative nonfiction journal.

The timing is good in light of Amazon's efforts to silence controversial voices because the essay talks about my family's fight to learn the truth about my mother's death. The drug company and the FDA had a lot to hide, but eventually much of the story did come out. The result of our struggle is not simple and not exactly happy, but I see now that we did help get the drug off the market in a very direct way, which saved many more people from our mother's fate. And we did something in spite of the tremendous resources of our corporate opponent.

Rezulin really did change my life, and I see its lingering side-effects in my reaction to the Amazon disaster as well as my decision to write erotica openly. I can't exactly say "I hope you enjoy this," but I do think this essay reveals something of me that I seldom show in my other work. If knowing the truth is in some sense a fundamental human "pleasure," then this piece will provide that at least.

Lessons from Amazon

This #amazonfail censorship fiasco has had some interesting side-effects. First of all, it's been a great illustration for a discussion the dangers of censorship with my children. My tech-savvy older son immediately signed on to twitter to help the cause and had lots of ideas on how consumers can protest. We're all looking forward to seeing how this plays out. The right-wing is known for being noisy, but maybe progressives are just a little tired of taking it all "maturely." And that includes Amazon's decision to take in loco parentis powers to protect their readership from sex and homosexuality. Except Hugh Hefner's brand....

Another interesting side-story has been to watch how people react (including myself) on the comments boards. Some find it hard to believe Amazon would do such a thing--it must be Christian trollers. (If so, Amazon still owes us an apology and a public statement of their intention to support free speech). Some accuse gays of being too sensitive. Some authors just sighed and said, "well, I guess there's nothing we can do." My immediate reaction is to fight, write letters, boycott. Now I know well, very well, that a little guy can't do all that much. But a lot of little guys can. And sometimes a little guy can at least make some difference. A small difference is a big difference. I have to say my heart is gladdened by the outcry to this Amazon policy. Last Thursday, I thought I might struggle alone to get my girl reinstated, but it turns out tens of thousands of authors suffered the same fate. Together I think we can do something.

The ironies of this debacle are also interesting. This happened the same week Judith Krug, the woman who started Banned Books Week, died. Lyrical and lovely Anais Nin is relegated to the de-ranked dusty back room. Henry Miller is not. Anti-gay books stay right up front because they lie and don't label themselves "gay/lesbian." The inspiration for my novel, Ihara Saikaku's The Life of an Amorous Woman, gets to stay in the front under the lights, although its heroine is a true nymphomaniac who has thousands of sexual encounters and a hundred abortions. The book was banned by the Japanese government in the 1930s for its sexual content. And frankly, if you're looking for a bad example for kids, Oharu is way worse than Lydia. So, Amazon, take your lessons from Japanese militarist fascism and remove Saikaku as well!

Yesterday I was feeling a bit wounded by all of this. Attacked. I'd thought our society was opening up to intelligent, honest sexual expression. The small bookstores were not friendly to erotica, but at least we had Amazon. But maybe that wasn't quite true. When I thought of writing again this week, I felt a little scared and tired. But you know, this morning I realized that I'm still a fighter and I will fight on.

One dirty story at a time.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Amazon Cures Homosexuality!

It all makes sense now! Amazon has removed all gay and lesbian themed books from their general searches EXCEPT the following. Yes, type in "homosexuality" and you get A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality among other enlightened tomes. As a parent, I'm so relieved (not). If they're going to be the Amazon Fundamentalist Christian Bookstore, be honest with your name. And where's the big picture of Jesus on the homepage?

If you wanted to come up with a politically embarrassing list of books that Amazon is "recommending," you could do no better than this screen shot. Some commenters are claiming this is a "glitch with the database," but I can assure you there is some policy-making going on at some level. Amazon has a lot of explaining to do if they want their customers back. Either that or get that Jesus picture up on the homepage pronto, Jeff Bezos!

I can only hope that the Internet, which made Amazon what it is, can bring it down for doing this.

Help Send a Message to Amazon

Okay, there are a lot of things we CAN do to send Amazon a message. They aren't hard and involve just a flew clicks of the mouse or blog posts. Thanks to Madame Butterfly, I checked out the post by Sarah over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, who's created a Google Bomb. The more people who link to this page redefining Amazon Rank, the higher it goes up on the Google list and the more attention it draws. According to Sarah, attention has already been drawn (it's #1) and Amazon is meeting to consider its next move.

Let's hope they wake up to the fact that their customers will not stand for this.

This really feels like a violation to me. And all the while I was thinking that things were getting better for an honest and intelligent discussion of sexuality in our culture. Not so alas. But if this was started by some letter-writing campaign from the right wing, or worse, some cadre of anti-First Amendment Amazon execs, it's time to show them how people who actually read books feel about this!

Amazon "Protects" America through Censorship?!

I was going to blog about what the Easter Bunny brought me this morning and how it's sort of fun to eat middling quality milk chocolate for breakfast one day a year, but I have a more disturbing visitation to write about today--news that the weird stuff going on with my book on is actually party of a company-wide campaign to "erase" adult-themed books, including anything having to do with gay and lesbian issues. All sales rankings have disappeared from these books and they no longer show up on general searches. I queried Amazon and received messages that seem to suggest their customer service staff is clueless, or at least was as of late last week. But now it's official.

In other words, Amazon is censoring us, without even giving their customers the chance to request this filter. Apparently Lady Chatterley's Lover and a Playboy retrospective of centerfolds are still okay for general viewing. Amorous Woman and books on gay and lesbian parenting are not.

This feels like such a violation, I'm reeling. I know Amazon is a "red" company on the balance in terms of their political contributions. I didn't like that, but it really was THE place to promote your book in terms of reviews, Amazon Connect and other tools, so I overlooked that. But now I absolutely must boycott them--and I will. I ask you all to do the same--check out this information from Erastes, sign the petition and write Jeff Bezos expressing your objections.

People who read and write GLBT themed books and erotica are smart, literate, book-buyers. We write what we do to protest our society's narrowed minded and unhealthy attitudes sexuality. There was a bookstore up in Point Reyes that refused to carry my book, even after I appeared on a local radio show, because they categorically did not carry "erotica." And yet I saw books on their shelves that I knew had plenty of sensational sex scenes that were far less thought-provoking than mine. Amazon is doing exactly this with their new policy--making "value" decisions based on the most ham-handed criteria. Until last week, I truly considered them the friend of the small author. Now I think they are hypocritical and dangerous and clearly tied in with the "moral majority."

I hope, at least, that Amazon's shame is a chance for Barnes and Noble and our local independent bookstores to celebrate.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Do You Have A Virgin Ear?

Herr Doktor DGS and I haven't had the chance for one of our weekend wine parties in about a month. First one or another of us has been suffering from a cold. Then last weekend we skipped our liquid ruby indulgence for a nicer reason--meeting M. Christian and Sage Vivant for mai tai's and pupu platter treats at the Fairmont Hotel's famed Tonga Room, a South Seas fantasy bar complete with periodic rain storms. Getting tropically toasted with M. and Sage was of course a lot of fun, and it reminded me of my story that appeared in their anthology Garden of the Perverse: Fairy Tales for Twisted Adults, which is still selling well on Amazon (and I'd know, wouldn't I?)

The name of this story is "Virgin Ear" and it's supposed to be a fairy tale but it's actually one of the most autobiographical stories I've ever written. I'd like to share an excerpt from the opening section, about a young woman who experiences an unusual defloration that enables her to hear penises talk. The events of that autumn afternoon actually did happen to me. As for my magical ability to converse with penises? Well, maybe there are some professional secrets it might be best not to share....

From "Virgin Ear"

Not so long ago nor particularly far away, there lived a young woman with a very special power. Gina--for that is our heroine’s name--did not always possess this power. She was born an ordinary girl, although in an extraordinary time. The ways of the kingdom were changing thanks to a magic pill that, it was promised, would enable the fair sex to perform as well as men in the bedroom and the boardroom. Perhaps even better.

Gina listened, wide-eyed, to the fairies, the pretty golden-haired one with big glasses, and the crone with her wise, rasping voice, who urged her to wake from the age-old enchantment that kept females chained and coy. Their tales stirred her mind with a bright, burning hunger to scale the patriarchy’s slippery bastions to earn the title doctor or professor or CEO. Her body burned, too, but with darker longings for pleasures of the flesh, not the tepid tearoom fare of married love, but a groaning board of male bodies spread out for her delectation, to choose or discard as fancy moved her, names strictly optional. Her immediate quest, in short, was to "do it" like a man.

But, sadly, in spite of so many nights wrestling naked strangers on waterbeds, too many mornings groping for the name of the man asleep beside her, deep in her heart, she heard no trumpets of triumph for her mastery of this time-honored sport of the male tribe. There was nothing but silence. That is, until one crisp afternoon in the autumn of her nineteenth year.

On this fateful Friday, Gina was sitting at her desk in her dorm room reading Jane Eyre. Now and then she paused to gaze through the mullioned window to the gray stone spires and archways of her college. Here the noble youth of her country were sent to be instilled with the qualities of leadership, though many chose instead to consume a surfeit of intoxicating beverages and couple awkwardly on narrow dormitory beds.

Into the hallway of her suite lurched a young man who, by the smell of him, had already downed a few cocktails. He was her roommate’s boyfriend, a fellow named Jim from the balmy southern reaches of the realm, so Gina nodded a greeting and returned to her reading. She was at first only dimly aware of his voice as he chatted with her roommate at the door, a deep, lazy river drifting through the words on the page. But slowly, as if by magic, the feisty exchange between Jane and Mr. Rochester faded into very different words: Jim’s drawling joke about a farmer’s daughter and her X-rated obsession with an overgrown zucchini, punctuated by her roommate’s giggles.

“Hey, watch it out there! You’re offending my virgin ears,” Gina called, a smile in her voice in spite of her words. In truth, bawdy talk amused her.

“We’ll have to do something about that,” Jim shouted back and before she knew it, he was beside her, jeans unzipped, putting his penis in her ear. She laughed and let it happen. Laughing and letting it happen pretty much described her sex life in college.

It was over almost before it began: a wiggling softness in the hollow of her ear, a glimpse of his baby-pink tube of flesh as he tucked himself in his briefs, zipped his fly and went back to the hallway, to his girlfriend, to the world where everyone knows exactly what will happen next.
Later that evening, Gina stood before the bathroom mirror looking for some sign that something important had happened to her. She had done the very same thing after she lost—or to be more accurate, foisted onto the first willing taker—the virginity that seemed to matter most to the elders of the kingdom. That time, to her disappointment, she saw no outward change at all. Even inside, there was nothing but a lingering whisper of soreness between her legs. But this night, as she turned her head from side to side to study her ears, the debauched one seemed quite noticeably fuller and rosier in hue. It was hotter to the touch, too, and as she circled the ridges and valleys with her fingertip, the mild tingling sensation began to grow until it was just short of an ache.

As if it wanted more.

Did it—she--want more? Gina shook her head. Her reflection agreed, but her ear gave the lie with its hungry, insistent throbbing. It all came back so easily, the velvet warmth of entry, the friction of his member against the faintly oiled cup of her auricle, the surprisingly perfect mating of her ear with the pliant helmet of a cock in repose.

Gina gazed into her own eyes, her lips curving into a smile. It made her special to have just one virgin ear. She understood that her ear and her life had been transformed—irrevocably opened to something strange and new—but she imagined this change was small, secret, within her control.

That was her first mistake.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Where's My #%*&@ Book on Amazon?

Okay, I'll admit it, I check my Amorous Woman Amazon page fairly regularly. Not exactly every day, but several times a week. Sometimes I'm checking for a new review. Sometimes I'm checking if the "2 copies remaining (more on the way)" has shifted to "in stock." Sometimes I'm trying to confirm the apparent trend of more sales on Friday night than any other day of the week. Today I clicked over to Amazon, typed in my title and all I got was Ihara Saikaku's The Life of an Amorous Woman. I tried my own name. My academic translation popped up, but no Amorous Woman. I tried the link I use for sales of the book and yes, there I was. My book is in stock, my numbers far lower than many that show up readily with a title or author search. But unless a potential buyer clicks through from my link, I'm invisible. I've written Amazon about this, but it's very scary and frustrating for an author to be wiped off of Amazon. It reminds me of the early days right after official publication, when my book wasn't really available here at all. Talk about feeling impotent.

On the other hand, perhaps the universe is sending me a message? Stop promoting your old book! This coupled with news that a Zoetrope colleague has landed a two-book deal makes me stop and think--what am I doing? I should be writing. Seriously and obsessively. That's what I really want to be doing. Not that I'll ever get a two-book deal with a print publisher, but I at least want to say I tried my best, no regrets.

Is this my big, fat kick in the pants?

A Publicist Who Does the Job Right?

As part of my column on book promotion for first-time authors on the ERWA Authors Resources page, “Shameless Self Promotion,” I’ll be posting some interviews with writers who’ve graciously agreed to share their experience over coffee and cookies. So pull up a chair at the ERWA blog kitchen table and come chat with debut novelist Kirsten Menger-Anderson. Kirsten recently published an amazingly thought-provoking and elegant novel-in-stories entitled Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain (Algonquin of Chapel Hill), which follows the lives of twelve generations of New York City physicians who are trying to better the human condition, each in his or her own misguided way. Of particular interest to shameless self-promoters is the fact that Kirsten’s publisher treated her with respect and made a significant effort to publicize the book. Don't believe me? Check out her interview!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Mile High Flirtations and Inspirations

Last week, I posted a link to my interview at Rachel Kramer Bussel's blog about the inspiration for my story "Nasty Little Habit" that appears in her latest soaringly sexy anthology, The Mile High Club: Plane Sex Stories. Mile High Club-themed stories have some built-in limitations in terms of setting and theme, but sometimes restrictions can spur a writer on to overcome the challenges. With my Mile High Club story, I tried to write a story that could really happen to me. Little did I know that poet Robin Sampson had already published a piece that could well be the opening to my story. Except, well, it is more literary. Still I do like to see it as proof that great minds do think alike!

This poem was originally published in the Connecticut River Review 2008.

Window Seat by Robin E. Sampson

From 16F she wills boarding passengers
don’t sit here - you don’t want to sit here
sees the cute guy, thinks to herself
he won’t sit here. But he stops at her row,
asks “are these seats free?” adds
with a grin “I don’t bite, just nibble.”
She wonders is he flirting? nobody
ever flirts with me
He’s fortyish, curly blonde hair, rumpled chamois
shirt, nicely faded jeans. From Long Island,
heading to Cleveland to visit his brother
who says there are storms, reports of tornados.
He laughs when the pilot predicts a bumpy ride,
makes jokes about silly in-flight catalog items
like indoor pet gates and faux marble sculptures.
They never will exchange names. She enjoys
his little asides, his humor, his smile.
Glimpses skin as he retrieves his bag
from the overhead compartment,
wishes it were a longer flight.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Interview with a Virtuosa: Catherine Lundoff

Catherine Lundoff is unquestionably one of the top names in erotica today. Not surprisingly, her latest collection of lesbian erotica, Night’s Kiss, offers a feast of pleasures for lovers of smart and arousing fiction. These stories were first published in such places as Best Lesbian Erotica (four stories from a highly competitive anthology!), Ultimate Lesbian Erotica, Sex and Candy, Clean Sheets, and many others making this a true “best of the best” compilation.

Each of the sixteen stories offers the reader a trip to a different world in time or space, yet these escapes from the ordinary are all grounded in emotional and sensual authenticity. I found them uniformly intelligent, fearless, humorous, and satisfying. Equally impressive is the range of genres and tones. The encounter with the Elvis impersonator in “Viva Las Vegas” had me laughing, as did the witty exploration of pagan female-empowerment spells in “The Goddess Within.” The poetic “Left Bank,” set in Paris of course, had the dusky feel of a French film, while “On the Spanish Main” had the fierce energy one might expect from the union of the two famous female pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonney. Lundoff can travel deep as well as wide. One of my favorite stories was “The Model,” where a familiar erotica scenario—a nude photo session—is humanized and transformed into a moving and fluid connection between artist and model. Another favorite was “Cowgirls and Science,” surely one of the hottest cowgirl stories on the rodeo circuit.

Many of these stories make masterful use of the frameworks of genre fiction, such as sci-fi, historical romance and paranormal fantasy, but Lundoff’s talent for storytelling and her smooth, elegant prose never fails to bring her complex, passionate characters to life. For example, I’m not a regular reader of vampire tales, but the gritty “She Who Waits” definitely seduced me to the dark side. “The impossible just came calling” says the narrator of her encounter with a blue-eyed, cold-skinned temptress—and isn’t that what we all want from good erotica?

Best of all, in these financially strapped times, Night’s Kiss offers a sweetly indulgent selection of mini-vacations to satisfy any wanderlusting spirit. There is so much more to praise, but perhaps it’s best to pause here to chat with the author herself about her work and her writing career.
DGS: How did you get started writing erotica?

CL: Well, around the time I started writing, I ran a small feminist/queer bookstore, small enough that I tried to read a lot of what I sold. I initially started out reading various erotica magazines and anthologies like On Our Backs, Best Lesbian Erotica and Herotica. Back then, it didn’t really occur to me to write my own erotica, at least not initially.

But the first few volumes were kind of a gateway drug and I started checking out a whole range of erotic writing, some of it terrific, some not so much. It was the latter that got me writing my own. The exact phrase that inspired me is etched in my brain forever. It was: “Blonde and blue, her skin was magnificent.” The story was neither science fiction nor BDSM, just to put this in perspective. After reading that particular story, I thought I could do better so I started committing fantasies to paper.

And now you’re one of the most respected names in the field! Can you tell us more about your trip from newbie to pro?
My first published story was actually a nonerotic lesbian historical romance. I'm one of those writers everyone loathes--I sold the first short story I ever wrote. And award-winning fantasy artist Alicia Austin did a cover based on the story. This was, not surprisingly, quite a confidence builder, not to mention a squee meltdown since I love her work.

After that, I started writing in multiple genres. I made early erotica sales to various Circlet and Alyson anthologies, then to Cleis and other presses as well, including multiple volumes of Best Lesbian Erotica and The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. Once I had about 40 stories or so in print, I queried Torquere Press and asked if they were interested in seeing a collection from me. They said yes and that became my first erotica collection, Night's Kiss back in 2005.

While I was out promoting Kiss, Steve Berman from Lethe Press approached me about doing a collection for him so I sat down and gathered some of my available lesbian erotica reprints, then wrote a bunch of new stories. That became Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing (Lethe Press, 2007). After that, Steve asked me to edit an anthology of nonerotic lesbian ghost stories which was released last year, Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories (Lethe Press, 2008). Then most recently, Lethe Press released the new version of Night's Kiss: Lesbian Erotica, revamped and with new stories, in January of this year. And, of course, there were few other short stories, novellas and whatnot along the way.

What I'm skipping in this summary is immense amounts of verbiage committed to paper/computer screen and a tremendous amount of butt in chair, writing and rewriting. When I first started writing fiction, I also wrote a lot of articles and a column for a local newspaper. I tried to explore different genres: romance, science fiction, nonfiction, literary fiction, essays and mysteries, as well as erotica. I spent a lot of time learning to do promotion via readings at local bookstores and open mics as well as chats, blogs and panels at science fiction conventions. While I was at it, I applied for writing residences and was accepted for several, including one at the Atlantic Center for the Arts to study with award-winning science fiction/erotica writer, Samuel Delany.

When I got to the point where editors solicited stories from me, I worked at giving them my best, turned in within their deadlines. I tried for every Best of I thought I could get into. And I did a fair amount of networking, mostly online but also at conventions. For me, writing is a business, albeit not one that is as remunerative as my day jobs, but I still try to treat them both the same way.

One of the many things that impressed me about Night’s Kiss was the wide variety of settings that whisk the reader off to another place and time, from the bittersweet romance of Paris’ Left Bank and a rough-and-ready Western rodeo to colonial Mexico and Jack the Ripper’s London. Did you do a lot of research for your stories either through travel or “library” work?

Well, in some cases, I’m writing about places I’ve traveled to like Florence, Italy or Paris or Managua, Nicaragua for one of the stories in Crave. Travel is definitely helpful for getting an authentic feel for a place, as you demonstrate so beautifully in Amorous Woman.

But if I’m going to use a place I’ve never been to, I try and do some research to get a good feel for it. I have a great fondness for reading historical and geographical trivia; all of that gets filed away for future use in the corners of my reptile brain. The Web is also very helpful for details about what a place looks like now, so then it’s more a matter of using those details to establish a feel for the time period.

It’s hard to pick a personal favorite from among your stories, but since I’ve recently celebrated the allure of hotel sex here at my blog, I thought I’d treat my readers to a pensione scene from your exquisite story “A Room with a View,” a modern-day nod to E.M. Forster but with a lot more hot sex.

“You stand at the window, watching Florence’s glorious merchant palaces spread their pale orange wings on the other side of the Arno. I get up to lean against you, wrapping my body around yours, my hand reaching down of its own accord to ease its way under your blouse. I can’t help myself.

“Stop.” You breathe the word like a sigh, like you don’t mean it. It’s as though you want to hear what it sounds like to say “no.” But your eyes are still fixed on the green Arno and the centuries old palaces turned hotels and restaurants and trendy boutiques on the opposite bank so I continue my exploration.

My hand finds the silky skin between your bra and skirt and I lean over to take the lobe of one ear between my teeth. I work the tender flesh with my tongue, rejoicing at the quickening of your breath. My fingers find and close on a hardened nipple and you squirm against me. “Stop,” you hiss the word insistently between gasps.

All right, I will. My fingers reluctantly loosening, I step back with a courtier’s bow. But you’ll beg me for it later. I can see it in your eyes when you turn around. You know it, too. I grin down at you, my smile more a baring of frustrated fangs than anything else.

“C’mon, don’t pout. Let’s go look at something. I don’t want this to be one of those trips where we never leave the hotel room.” Your lower lip thrusts out slightly with the words as though I’m going to deprive you of a treat. I almost expect you to stomp your foot for emphasis.

As if I could deprive you of anything....

Night’s Kiss begins with the alluring glitter and laughs of “Viva Las Vegas” and ends with the sultry, dream-like “Beso de la Noche” [Night’s Kiss] which spans a woman’s lifetime—and more. Was there a particular method or mood to the arrangement of your stories in the collection?

I’d love to say there was a grand plan, but honestly, it came down to things like voice and setting more than anything else. Apart from that, “Viva Las Vegas,” my drag king Elvis story, is more humorous than some of my other work and I always like to lead with laughs. “Beso” is the title story so it made sense to put that one last. I was trying to avoid having too many stories that sounded alike or had similar settings one right after the other. I know that can bore me as a reader so I try to keep things as entertaining as possible for my own readers.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on several short stories and a novella, all either romance or science fiction and fantasy at the moment. My brain is full of lesbian pirates, feminist steampunk and a theater romance I just started. The current big project is a nonerotic fantasy novel about menopausal lesbian werewolves. It does have an evil twin of sorts in the works, about hot gay werewolves in medieval Russia; that one will have lots of sex in it, needless to say. I do like to multitask. In fact, I can’t not multitask; keeps things exciting.

Name a writer (or two, living or dead) you’d like to have dinner with, one you’d most like to trade talents with, one with whom you’d most like to spend a lost weekend in Paris.

Hmmm. Dinner – Jane Austen. I’m an unrepentant Austen fangrrrl and I’d love to have gotten a glimpse of what made her tick. Trade talents is a tough one. I think writing is a deeply personal headspace sort of thing so I’m not sure whose head I’d rather be in than my own. I can think of several writers I’d like to trade career trajectories with, of course, but that’s just not the same thing. Paris –Dorothy Allison. Trash just leaves me all aflutter.

Finally, describe a perfect meal that would be guaranteed to seduce you.

Sushi. I adore spicy mango tuna rolls; they’re the specialty of one of my local sushi restaurants.

Thank you so much for all the great questions!

We do sushi here--I'll order up some spicy mango rolls right now. And thank you for stopping by to chat, Catherine. It was a real pleasure!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Swing Blog Tour: "John Updike Made Me Do It"

Welcome to the Sex, Food and Writing stop of the all-star Swing! Blog Tour, a month-long party leading up to the publication of Swing! Adventures in Swinging by Today's Top Erotica Writers on April 24, 2009. Please help yourself to the sushi and saké cocktails to satisfy your foodie urges--we'll get to the sex and writing part very soon. But first I wanted to say how much I've been enjoying the interviews on the tour so far, first with editor Jolie du Pre and then with the U.K.'s foremost expert on the swinger scene, Ashley Lister. I think we'll have to collect all the spot-on useful writing advice when this tour is over and make another anthology!

But now, my responses to the Swing! Blog Tour questions, including an excerpt from my story of a swinging literary obsession. So let's Swing!

SWING!: Why do you write erotica and what do you love best about it?

DGS: When I first started writing erotica about twelve years ago, it wasn’t a conscious choice. I’d just left teaching to be with my new baby and decided to devote his nap times to fiction writing, which is something I’d always wanted to try. Somehow, whenever I sat down at the keyboard, sexy stories just seemed to flow through my fingers and onto my computer screen. This was far from the respectable masterpieces I’d hoped to write, but then again I’d never felt so excited or fulfilled by any work I’d ever done in my life. It was thrilling to write about sex honestly from the female point of view and discover familiar truths in erotic stories by other women writers, because of course, I started reading a lot of contemporary erotica for the first time, too. So much of the sex written by our most celebrated American writers—such as Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow--represented the male experience.

What I love best about this genre is that I can celebrate good sex and the many ways sexual desire enriches our lives. In literary fiction, sex tends to be bad and sad or both. Popular magazines constantly offer us a flood of fluff pieces every month about sexless marriages or five steps to better orgasms, but rarely do they go deeper than chirping self-help platitudes. Sex is either poison or a reason to buy something to “improve” yourself.

Of course, it’s so much more. When I start a new story, I feel as if I’m trying to figure out yet another mystery about sexual desire. What makes power play so alluring? How does swinging enrich a couple’s relationship? What new things can you see through a blindfold? Erotica gives me the chance to break free from our society’s fear of sex to capture the magic of the erotic urge. I also have to mention that one of my favorite parts about my work is connecting with fellow erotica writers and being part of such projects as Swing! People who write dirty stories are very cool!

Tell us about your story in Swing! Adventures in Swinging by Today's Top Erotica Writers and please feel free to give us an excerpt.

My Swing! story is called “John Updike Made Me Do It,” which refers to the heroine’s life-long fascination with the couples’ swapping scenarios in John Updike’s novels. The story is as much a celebration of the way Updike’s portrayal of suburban life in the 1960s captured America’s imagination, as it is the depiction of a polyamorous party. So in that sense, John Updike really did make me do it--although I definitely had fun writing the many juicy sexual encounters. Like all of my stories, it started out as an intriguing question and ended up teaching me a lot about my own desires and yearnings, both sexual and literary.

By the way, this story had already been written and accepted for Swing! when I heard news of Updike’s death in January. Now I realize the story is a kind of eulogy for a writer I both admire and struggle against in my efforts to present the erotic experience from the female point of view.

I thought about excerpting one of the, ahem, climactic scenes, but didn’t want to be the cause of undo blushing on this very decorous blog tour, so I’ll offer up the opening scene which merely suggests the pleasures that await in the pages beyond.

From "John Updike Made Me Do It"

Roots of an Obsession

John Updike made me do it.

He definitely deserves a lot of credit anyway.

Because when I think back on that night in Tahoe, it’s almost as if he were right there in the hot tub with us, his lips stretched in a patrician smile as he guided my hand over to caress the rock-hard cock of a man who was not my husband. Of course said husband was too busy sucking the rosy nipples of the German woman, Katharina, to notice or care. And Jurgen and Jill were already kissing as if they’d done it dozens of times, which they hinted they had when Jill spent her junior year in Bonn. None of them seemed to need John Updike’s help, although no doubt they had his blessing.

Updike had been softening me up for this night for years. Sitting in the effervescent spa water with five other horny married people, the Sierras soaring around us into the star-flecked sky, it was just like stepping into the pages of a steamy novel. In fact, it was the same surreal excitement I felt as I devoured Rabbit is Rich or Couples under the blankets as a teenager. Sneaking them from the bookshelves in my parents’ room, I instinctively knew I could only read them when I heard the soft click of their bedroom lock at night.

While my parents “did it” the customary way--with each other in their marriage bed, their lust invisible to the world--the couples in John Updike’s stories were fearlessly experimental, so they ended up all jumbled together like Halloween candy in a plastic pumpkin. They’d jet off to the Caribbean where the wives would confer to redistribute sex partners for the night. Or they’d fall into affairs, then confess to their spouses who would graciously consent to sleep with their cuckolded counterparts to even the score. Even Updike’s memoirs glittered with shocking transgression. I can’t tell you how many times I masturbated to the scene of Updike fingering a neighbor’s wife through her ski pants as they drove back from Vermont through a starry winter night.

I knew these were just stories, maybe even pure fantasy, but I sensed, too, that John Updike was giving me a glimpse of the hunger and restlessness of the adult world. What were these people looking for in their swaps and affairs? Did they ever find it?

Would I?....

Name some other books where we can find your work.

DGS: For a book that’s all me, all the time, check out Amorous Woman (Neon/Orion), my semi-autobiographical novel set in Japan that was published last summer. I took my inspiration from a 17th century erotic classic by Ihara Saikaku about a woman who loved sex and had many adventures, taking on every role open to women of the time from the concubine of a provincial lord to a lowly streetwalker. I thought it might be interesting to translate that into a modern story of a sexually curious Western woman trying out all the roles available to her in Japan. I tried my best to make the tale as steamy as a hot spring bath, plus add in plenty of humor in keeping with the tone of the original. For a sample, check out my website or my provocative book trailer on Youtube which includes racy Japanese erotic prints mixed in with embarrassing photos of me without any clothes on.

I’ve also had the honor to work with many wonderful erotica anthology editors over the years, and my short fiction has appeared most recently in Susie Bright’s X: The Erotic Treasury,
Maxim Jakubowski’s The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 8, Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica 2009, Alison Tyler’s Never Have the Same Sex Twice, and Rachel Kramer Bussel’s The Mile High Club: Plane Sex Stories.

And of course, being part of Jolie du Pre’s Swing! is a long-time dream come true.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently plotting out my second novel, an “intellectual erotic mystery,” that is a peek through the bedroom keyhole of American history in the 20th century. I’ll pay homage to Sally Rand, the famous 1930s burlesque dancer, Bettie Page and camera clubs in the 1950s. John Updike’s spouse-swapping suburbia will play a “key” part in the story as well. Swing! has been a great inspiration for me in this particular area!

If you could offer one piece of advice to a new author, what would it be?

Writers create fiction and fantasies, but we can also get distracted by some common fantasies about “success” in writing that make us forget what’s really important—the creative act itself. I remember reading a memoir piece by John Updike bemoaning the fact his novels were no longer available in every airport kiosk. Here’s a writer who is by any measure a huge success, and it wasn’t enough to satisfy him. Sales and good reviews do feed the ego for a while, but the greatest satisfaction will come from like-minded colleagues who support you, readers who give you the gift of their time, and most of all your connection with the magical power of language to create something surprising and true.

In short, the process is the gold. Treasure it!

The Swing! Blog Tour continues on April 6 at Alicia Night Orchid's very erotic blog.

Amorous Woman Continues to Charm!

Karl Wolff, a book reviewer at Blogcritics and at his own blog, and self-confessed atheist and bleeding heart liberal (and he doesn’t even live in Berkeley!) has just posted a lovely review of my novel, Amorous Woman. Nothing makes a writer happier than a reviewer who “gets” her work and enjoys it. Join me in a glass of champagne to celebrate?

I also got my royalty statement from Orion today and the news is pretty darn good considering I basically sold every single copy on that sheet with my own blood, sweat and tears. I still have several hundred copies to get into the hands of readers before the print run of 2000 is sold out, but I’m closer than I ever dreamed I would be. I did a little internet surfing and found data that seems to suggest the average published book sells 500 copies (from a Publisher’s Weekly article). “Successful” fiction from a big house sells at least 5000 copies. Successful nonfiction must sell at least 7500. Just FYI, for print on demand, a bestseller is 500 copies. The average POD is less than 200. The number of copies of Amorous Woman that got into readers' hands (and I’m not totally sure how reliable these numbers are given comp copies, potential returns, my author copies, etc.) seems to be roughly three times the average. Again, way better than I ever thought given the circumstances. I think this definitely calls for more champagne. A modest champagne, but that can be pretty tasty, too.

A special thank you to all my friends here for saying nice things about my book, writing reviews and being so supportive!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009