Saturday, January 31, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion for Everyone!


Yes, I’ve been a bad girl over at Cooking Up a Storey this month, but with the debut of my new column in the Erotica Writer’s Resources section, I’m all goodness. Maybe it is a wee bit naughty to slap some neon on my underpants (I wonder if Adrienne would let me borrow her matching boots?), but when you’re doing “Shameless Self-Promotion,” that’s just part of the job.

I’m really excited about writing this column, which is kind of an invitation to other writers to sit down at my kitchen table and talk about the confusing, scary and often overwhelming task of promoting our work. I don’t want to repeat everything I discussed in "Dreams and Realities: Our Journey Begins," but after you’ve read it, if you have any suggestions or responses, please leave a comment. I do want this to be a conversation! I have some sake left over from the Kyoto party and a few of the erotic wine cups that were not taken by admiring guests, so pull up a chair and let's chat.

The topic is so huge and I’m definitely no expert, but I am fresh from the trenches (or rather still wallowing in the mud). I had a few questions for readers of SSP. So far do you think I’m spending too much time on “deeper” issues, like why your work is worth the energy to promote and what your fantasies of success are? These were big issues for me and I want to offer more food for thought (that's me, always thinking about food!) than just list “useful” tips which could be found anywhere. Not too many how-to books talk about the psychological journey, and I thought it might be interesting to touch upon it and get us all thinking about what lies behind the apparently simple public act of selling our work.

I also wondered what you thought about my networking suggestion. Word of mouth and getting up the courage to contact other writers for advice truly led to the majority of my breaks. Frankly, I haven’t had much luck with MySpace, but maybe I don’t get how to use it. Facebook got me in touch with some old friends and some bought my book, but the real value was getting in touch with the friends. Actually, one of the best things I did—which I forgot to mention in the column—was post my bio on ERWA’s “Circle of Friends.” I met some wonderful people that way and got to know Adrienne, who is tops in generosity, eloquence and support. Any thoughts on the best ways you’ve found to connect—other groups or web sites?

Also, don’t forget to check out M. Christian’s perfectly complimentary column on how to meet people and make friends in the blogosphere. The Maestro is the source of much helpful knowledge and inspiration for me and he knows his stuff.

Here's to a year of shameless self-promotion for us all!

I Want to Sleep With Your Husband

Why not? He’s pretty cute. And I’m sure you have him trained well in bedroom athletics. Besides, all I want is a teeny little taste of him, just an hour or two between the sheets. When I’m done, I’ll be gone in the blink of an eye, off to seduce someone else’s husband or wife or lover.

Okay, I’ll admit it. In my first Cooking Up a Storey column of 2009, called “I Want to Sleep with Your Husband: Adultery, Exhibitionism, and Other Reasons I Write,” I aim for the provocative. That's because I want to stir things up a little, dig a little deeper. After all, this is a new of year of change and bold action.

Join me in stirring up a few things, too, fellow writers and readers and anyone interested in the erotic mind.

What are your fantasies? Do they find expression in your stories? Do you notice any patterns and recurring images? Do you become someone else when you write?

Have you ever been seduced by a nice hot helping of Oriental-style chicken salad? What about a naughty erotica writer purring the recipe in your ear?

The only way to find out is to click on over to my website for a listen.

Happy February—the month of Eros, provocation and fine chocolate!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Trip to the Floating World


Welcome, most honorable guests, to Saturday’s stop on our free-wheeling, wide-ranging progressive blog feast. I know you have just arrived from a magical evening under the desert sky with Kirsten Monroe. My offerings today will be humble: vegetarian dishes from the Buddhist temples of Japan known at shojin ryori. I’ve taken the liberty of reserving a traditional Japanese inn for our modest banquet, and, naturally, arranged for your plane ticket to Kansai International Airport as well as ground transportation to the ancient city of Kyoto.

Ah, what’s this? We’ve already arrived! Don’t forget to take off your shoes as we step up into the entryway. Each party of guests will be escorted to their rooms by a kimonoed maid, who will offer tea and a local sweet before leaving you to change into the cotton kimono called yukata, which will be our lounging wear for the remainder of our stay. After you refresh yourselves and change, please meet us at the bath, which, because the entire inn has been set aside for our enjoyment alone, is open for mixed-sex bathing. (As an open-minded host, I’ll let you interpret the definition of “mixed-sex” as you will.)

Feel your muscles soften to taffy, breathe in the healing mists of the hot spring water. May I take the liberty of presenting some dainty snacks to whet your appetite? Here is a selection of rice crackers especially prepared for the new year. Some are flavored with plum-infused sugar, others with savory seaweed or roasted soybeans. All can be easily washed down with some Sakura Masamune sake, a personal favorite, although it comes from the Kobe area and the inn procured it for me as a courtesy. But I wanted to share this beverage with you because it was the very first fine sake I ever tasted. I’m sure will agree the complexity and depth of flavor on your palate is remarkable.

The pleasure of the drink is no doubt enhanced by the presentation in my special collection of antique Chinese erotic wine cups. Observe how the couple moves beneath the ripples of this gently bracing beverage. One might think they are enjoying themselves as much as we are.

As we bathe, our murmurs of gentle pleasure rise softly in the steamy air. Our feast thus far has involved much untrammeled merriment—and yet at this moment our gathering is rather subdued and serene. And yet, my honorable guests, a certain inward focus, not to say repression of our desires can ultimately lead to a most satisfying release. So argues the noted rope-mistress, Midori, in her shibari handbook for Westerners, The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage. And as writers, we do know that formal constraints often, ironically, liberate our creativity.


But such topics might best wait for our after-dinner chat. I’m told our evening’s entertainment has arrived. Let us don our robes and adjourn to our tatami banquet room, where we will enjoy a private concert by a geiko and apprentice maiko from the Pontocho geisha district. These accomplished dancers are performing for us thanks to an introduction by Liza Dalby, the only American to work as a geisha.



I will admit this is my first “traditional” dance concert as they were originally meant to be viewed—in intimate surroundings with a small party of friends. The elaborate cherry blossom dances open to the public are indeed gorgeous, but to have the honor of enjoying the talents of these artists in this way is exactly like inviting Weird Al Yankovic to sing a few favorite tunes in your living room. Well, not “exactly like,” but you get my drift.

May I pour you more sake? A good host sees that her guests’ erotic wine cups never go dry. I see our meal has arrived. Maids place individual lacquered tables before each of us in the formal style. To the left is a dish of Tofu with Mushroom Sauce. Those of you who’ve only tasted supermarket tofu, which is made to blend innocuously into a curry or stir-fry, will be amazed at the subtle, yet distinctively fresh soybean flavor of this “silken” tofu. I’ve asked that the sauce be lightened for our Western palates—less sugar and salt, the better to appreciate the subtle earthiness of the mushrooms, which may remind my earthier guests of certain portions of the male anatomy, but I digress.

To the right is a plate of Roasted Sesame Pumpkin with Peanut Sauce. Japanese pumpkin, or kabocha, has an edible green skin and was one of my great discoveries in Japan. I’d only known pumpkin as a stringy jack-o-lantern or a canned mush for Thanksgiving pies. But Japan’s version reminds me of good rice pudding—smooth, but with a toothsome resistance. During my first stay in Kyoto, I was taught an old saying that "real women" are fond of pumpkin. My continuing passion for the vegetable has reassured me of my femininity in times of doubt ever since, although "he-men" have been known to appreciate it as well.


As you see, the peanut sauce is a perfect blend of sweet and tart and the recipe might serve well for a crudite plate when we return to the States. The combination of tender pumpkin and protein-rich sauce is quite a happy marriage of textures and flavors.

(An aside—my apologies that I neglected to take photographs of my own miserable efforts with these dishes, but rest assured, the recipes have been tested for taste and ease of preparation.)

Although not strictly an entrée, the inn has provided small bowls of delicious steamed white rice and rustic miso soup. We eat slowly, meditatively, a nourishment for the spirit as well as the body, enjoying the “now” of each dainty mouthful. Light as it is, this food seems to have magical properties. Rather than “filling” our stomachs, it merely erases the animal growl of hunger as an inked brush might blot out the whiteness of paper. Just as easily, it seems to turn our blood to pulsing radiance. Our bodies float now--even without the buoyant water of the bath. We are easy in our skins, and our minds open out like a cherry blossom, boundaries and false dualities dissolving.

"The floating world," or ukiyo, is a Japanese term that embraces two meanings. The original sense of the word referred to the Buddhist concept of worldly illusion--the material world is rooted in nothingness--but by the seventeenth century it came to refer to the pleasure quarters and the fantasies one could only indulge in within its gated walls.

We’ve enjoyed so many pleasures over the past week of our progressive dinner—lips, hands, laughter, dance, skinny-dipping and slathering cherry-Pinot sauce on our naked flesh. I’d like now to honor yet another: the erotic potential of the airy and limitless realm of our imaginations. Which floating world shall we choose to enter this evening? Or need we choose at all?

The maids arrive to whisk away our trays, so I’ll take this opportunity to bring out some 18th century books of erotic prints by my favorite artist, Suzuki Harunobu. Harunobu has been the inspiration for a number of my stories. He also makes an appearance in my first novel as the favorite artist of one of my alter-egos, an older Japanese man who is at home in Japan’s after-hours world of sexual self-indulgence. I’m drawn to Harunobu’s work for numerous reasons—the wistful, intelligent faces, the relatively “realistic” depiction of the genitals, the stories that seem to hover above the page, whispering their secrets.

These shunga, or “spring pictures,” were of course used by their wealthy owners as a prelude to self-pleasuring. They were also purportedly used as sexual manuals and presented to rich men’s daughters as a form of education for their marital duties. Thus, perhaps it is appropriate to focus today’s discussion on sex manuals of every type—illustrated, wordy, retro or myth-shattering. Where and when did you encounter your first “how to do the deed” book? Do you have a favorite? Ones you find fitting for critique? Which sex manuals are on your bookshelf right now?

Isn’t it amusing to think that was once reserved for the wealthy is now available to ordinary folk such as ourselves? Then again, in spite of the lean times, hasn’t our feast shown us how very rich we are indeed?

Please linger awhile to chat, sip sake, and nibble on mandarin jelly, but feel free to retire alone, or better yet with a partner, whenever the spirit of Harunobu moves you. When you return to your room, you’ll find your maid has already laid out your futons--the two fluffy mattresses laid side by side and close enough for the fine cotton sheets to kiss--for your night’s rest. Once in private, there is no longer need for decorum or restraint, unless you choose to explore the latter territory with the help of the soft belt of your cotton robe and Midori's manual ;-). Do sleep well, for on Monday we will travel far yet again to enjoy the hospitality of the lovely Emerald, who will serve, most appropriately, a delectable salad.

The recipes for this portion of our feast were adapted and “lightened” from The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan by Mari Fujii. If you like fresh, simple vegan food, I highly recommend this book—everything I’ve tried has been very uplifting and tasty.

Tofu with Mushroom Sauce (Serves 4)

1 14 oz. tofu, silken if available
1 3/4 oz. mushroom caps, two or three types such as shimeji, enoki, fresh shiitake or button
1 2/3 cups konbu stock (see below)
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sake
2 Tablespoons mirin
1 1/4 oz. carrot, peeled and julienned
2 Tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 Tablespoons water
Strips of green beans, blanched, for garnish

Wrap the tofu in a paper towel or non-fluffy tea towel, sandwich between two plates and refrigerate for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture. Break the enoki or shimeji into bite-sized pieces and cut the other mushrooms into thin slices. In a frying pan combine the konbu stock, soy sauce, sake and mirin and bring to a boil. Add the mushrooms and carrot. Lower the heat to medium and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Cut the tofu in half and place in the frying pan, taking care that the tofu halves do not overlap. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Add the dissolved cornstarch, and stir gently without breaking the tofu until the sauce thickens. Cut the tofu into four pieces and serve hot in individual bowls, topped with the mushroom sauce and garnished with a green bean strip.


Konbu (Seaweed) Stock

1 2/3 cups water
1 4-inch piece dried konbu seaweed

Place the water and konbu in a saucepan and leave to soak for 2 to 3 hours. Place the saucepan over medium heat. Just before the water boils, remove the konbu. Use the stock in recipe as directed.


Roasted Pumpkin with Peanut Sauce for Real Women and the Men Who Love Them (Serves 4)


2 Tablespoons roasted sesame oil
2 Tablespoons water
14 oz. Japanese pumpkin with seeds and stringy fibers removed and sliced into very thin slices

Sauce

6 Tablespoons unsweetened natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons white miso or 1 teaspoon red miso
2 Tablespoons sake or white wine
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons mirin

Combine the oil and water in a flat-bottomed bowl. Dip the pumpkin slices to coat and place on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 400F for about 15 to 20 minutes or until browned, turning halfway. To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth. Arrange the pumpkin artfully on individual serving plates and top with the peanut sauce.

Delicious Wishes Under a Desert Moon


What are your most dangerous and delicious wishes as a writer? (Do they involve fire? Meat? Plenty of spice? A red-haired woman who knows how to do it just right?)

It's a thought-provoking question, and right now I'm a bit tipsy on Torii Mor Pinot Noir, so I'll just give the first answer to slide from my lips.

What I really want right now is to head on over to the blog of my daring and talented co-host, Kirsten Monroe, for some Spice-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Dried Cherry Poppin' Chipotle Pinot Sauce. But that's not all you'll find to amuse yourself there on this let's-hang-loose Friday. There's a hot spring full of slippery bodies, some enchanting storytelling for your aural pleasure, and a burlesque show that will wow you with the myriad of artistic possibilities for pasties. Oh, and some willing masseurs to knead your tense muscles to taffy.

But what am I doing here yakking? I'm going back to Kirsten's to chat, feast and enjoy.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ipanema Idyll


Mmmmm, this caipirinha is very tasty and it goes perfectly with this spicy fish stew! Sorry for the late start, I'm on Brazil time, taking it easy on the terrace overlooking the beach in Ipanema. There's music, there's stargazing, and as always the genial conversation is both pleasurable and educational. I now know that my Chinese astrological sign is the metal ox, like Barack Obama. We're the sign of "hard work brings achievement." Let's hope so!

If you're looking for some enlightenment or just a great plate of swordfish stew in some good company, head over to Neve Black's where she and frisky astrologer Roxanne are hosting today's stop on our blog progressive dinner.

This party is knocking my socks off--good thing I'm at the beach!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't Eat the Balls


MSNBC reports that seven Japanese diners were poisoned by an incompetent blowfish chef in Tsuruoka City in northern Japan this past Monday. The party ordered blowfish sashimi (pictured above in its peony-like glory), which is a standard delicacy in such restaurants. They also ordered grilled blowfish testicles (blessedly not pictured above).

That was their mistake.

Most of the blowfish's body is perfectly safe to eat, but the highest concentration of poison lies in the ovaries, liver and, well, the balls. Experienced blowfish chefs know how to deal with this—by which I mean they don’t serve these things to customers at all. Yes, this backwater chef was “negligent,” but the diners were also taking a foolish risk, in my opinion.

Still, as the blowfish seduction dinner in my novel, Amorous Woman, illustrates, we all are drawn to a dinner of this puffy sea creature's flesh--as much to flirt with danger as to enjoy the delicious flavor. But you’re much more likely to court a new lover rather than Mr. Death if you remember one key rule:

Don’t eat the balls :-).

Sexy Soup of the Evening


I was right, a fine soup always tastes richer and spicier after an overnight rest! Pop on over to Jeremy Edwards' room-with-two-views to sample the tasty results for yourself. Prepare yourself for some savory indulgence, delightful humor and a soupcon of danger. Ladies (and gentlemen if you dare), I advise wearing your fishnet stockings because after a few sips of our charming hosts' Fishnet Creek wine, you'll be reminiscing with the rest of us--with shocking, amusing and very familiar confessions in abundance.

For those of you who are new to our dinner, please feel free to comment under a pseudonym or anonymously. We love to bring new voices to the party.

And finally, I just have to point you to Nikki Magennis' wonderfully clever book trailer for her new novel, The New Rakes. I just have to know what's happening inside those pages--well done! Thank you, Jeremy, for your wonderful book release party yesterday.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Sweet Welcome to the Year of the Ox


Hey, I'm a cow and this is my special Chinese zodiac year, which calls for special celebrations as we contemplate the year ahead like an unopened gift. The feasting already started yesterday with kisses over at Craig's and continued deliciously with sticky fingers at Shanna's. Tomorrow, Jeremy is hosting a special party for the release of Nikki Magennis' The New Rakes, so we'll all be partying there, but he'll be taking a break now and then to stir up some soup for Wednesday's stop on our sensually stimulating progressive dinner. Which is perfect, because we all know that soup tastes better with a day in fridge to let the flavors mellow.

This wonderful food is getting addictive, though, and so, as I passed a wonderful local bakery today called Masse's Pastries, I couldn't resist bringing home a selection of their special Chinese-New-Year-inspired treats. The box alone was so festive--lucky red and yellow ribbon with a little firecracker favor attached.

But the pastries, ah, the pastries, were truly as delicious as they were gorgeous! On the upper left is the coconut cream tart: "coconut custard finished with whipped cream in a sesame and almond sable tart shell." My mother used to make the airiest coconut cream pie and this confection might possibly be the first time a coconut custard exceeded her legendary creation. Top right is the green tea opera: "almond, green tea jaconde, chocolate ganache, green tea buttercream--an exciting twist on a Parisian classic." Indeed it was, a happy marriage of flavor and texture. The cute little cow on the bottom was a flourless chocolate cake, but somehow fluffier than the usual. The shop also offered a mandarin firecracker, a small orange chiffon jelly roll with mandarin curd, iced in bright red frosting, but visually appealing as it was, I knew there were limits to our appetites. Especially after all the fine eating I've been doing in blogland!

Please help yourself to a taste of artistic sweetness and accept my wishes for a happy Year of the Ox as well. Gong Hei Fat Choi!

Finger-Licking Pleasures with Shanna Germain


My lips were still singing from yesterday's kissing fest over at Craig's, when I clicked on over to Shanna Germain's pad to see what she was cooking up as our blog feast appetizer.

Shanna says she wants my hands, and with her signature seductive prose, she now has my every last tingling digit and more besides. Fresh from reading her transporting story of Amsterdam's Old Town, "Red Light, Green Light," in X: The Erotic Treasury, I knew she was going to throw a provocative party, and it's an understatement to say my expectations were very much exceeded.

Step into Shanna's kitchen with us and get ready to lick some fingers--although you may not want to visit during work hours. The sensual visuals and steamy prose might earn you a reprimand from the boss--right after he memorizes the URL for his own purposes when he's "on break" in his office behind closed doors.

Provocative fig closeup courtesy of Deviant Art.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

We ARE Amused


As I mentioned in my post below, I’ve been dreaming of being part of a progressive dinner since I was in elementary school. Immediate gratification was not to be mine in this desire, but you know, sometimes it is definitely better to wait until the time is ripe.

That time is now.



The sensual feast of my dreams has just begun over at Craig Sorensen’s blog with the amuse-bouche course and oh, my, I am not only amused, I am enchanted and transported. Craig truly takes us on a journey, beginning with a hike through the snowy woods to our secluded cabin (an irresistibly romantic setting) where, appetites aroused, we sample succulent tidbits in pairs—and I mean that in more ways than one. Suffice to say, I'm glad I brought my husband with me.

It’s no surprise that with Craig’s magical way with words, my lips are now tingling and my palate is singing with the heat and the spice and the thrilling blend of flavors we’re sharing.

I can’t think of a better way to be amused and delighted on a winter Sunday.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An Xciting and Exotic Evening with Susie Bright

This has been quite a blogging week for me, and it’s been fun revisiting my New York book tour, but Thursday night’s reading for X: The Erotic Treasury at Diesel Books in Oakland, CA brought me right back to a very exciting here and now. It was a wonderful evening and while any account can’t do it full justice, I’ll try my best!

My expectations were already high after reading the stories and interviews of Pam Ward and Greta Christina, my fellow contributors to X. And of course, I knew from experience, beginning way back when I heard Susie read Anne Tourney's “Full Metal Corset” from Best American Erotica 1994 at the now defunct Cody’s Bookstore on Telegraph, that Susie’s events were always provocative and enlightening (This story also appears in X). I also knew I’d have six friendly and familiar faces in the audience to cheer me on, including Jane Black—she made my week with her generous comment posted below.

I’d practiced my excerpt several times—the narrator was male and I felt I needed a little extra work to approach a tenor range. And fortunately I managed to fit into my “lucky dress” as EllaRegina dubbed it, although it was still a wee bit tight from December’s cookie madness.

Because some of my friends needed to leave early, I asked to read first and Susie graciously obliged. All of the chairs were taken by the time we got started—say about 40-45 people seated and more standing around in the back. After a very nice introduction from the Diesel events coordinator, who affirmed his support of erotica and free speech (Yay!), Susie came to the podium to talk about the genesis of X and her vision of the book. Then it was on to the topic of yours truly and our first project together, Best American Erotica 2006, which included my first story on a Japanese theme, “Ukiyo” (still one of my favorite pieces!)

And then, I was on with my story “Yes”! I’d say my reading went pretty smoothly, except for a wee bit of nervousness about shuffling my pages in proper order. I decided to dive into the action with only minimum scene setting—within a few sentences the narrator was ordering his girlfriend to strip for his old college buddy and otherwise forcing her to push her limits in exactly the way she secretly desired. Although on the surface the story of a man “on top,” I drop plenty of hints that the woman is really in control. My excerpt lasted about 12 minutes, all the way to the final “Yes!” which I emphasized by closing my eyes in a timid—or maybe you’d say lightly suggestive—mimicry of an orgasm. (Oh, and don't my breasts look misleadingly HUGE in this photo?)

The audience was warmly appreciative and I returned to my seat, relieved, relaxed and ready to have fun. The next reader was Pam Ward, who lit up the stage with her positive energy and humor. She read the opening section of her porn noir story, “A Clean, Comfortable Room,” then took us right into the lustiest scene and then…left the poor audience hanging just moments from the shocking climax. I shared Susie’s sentiment that even though I’d already read the story, I craved more, more, more.

Greta Christina then read from her thought-provoking story “Deprogramming,” after warning us that the story dealt with a topic foreign to her—the eroticization of non-consensual sex. Greta read the first section of her story and her rich, resonant voice gave the piece even more power than it has on the page. By this time, I think the audience was totally blown away.

A question-and-answer period followed, and these can be excruciating, but the Diesel crowd was thoughtful and lively. I found it interesting that a number of people asked Susie basically the same question in different form—in your view, how have attitudes toward sexuality changed over the years since you first began editing and writing erotica? Susie gave some interesting answers as you might expect. As a writer, the one that intrigued me was the patterns in the types of stories she receives as submissions. Around the advent of AIDS awareness, she got a lot of vampire and blood-letting stories. During times of war, male submissive stories were more common. And in our new era of hope? Susie shared a dream she’d had where she was Barack Obama’s “comfort woman,” refilling his water glass while he met with dozens of church ladies.

I haven’t had any Barack Obama dreams yet, although I did have a Clinton dream in early 1993, so maybe it’s only a matter of time?

My fellow writers had some interesting things to say as well. I was impressed with Pam’s confidence as an erotica writer—she totally refuses to buy into the mainstream’s attempts to belittle what we do, and I’m going to remember her spirit the next time I deal with another snooty bookbuyer (which should be next week, unless I decide to give this up for good, which might be a different way of showing my pornographer's pride….)! Greta took a few questions about abuse and recovery, a complex and still taboo subject. I know we all left the event with some things to think about. And a very nice lady came around with homemade truffles for the panel, which I believe should become a tradition at such events.

All in all, it was a great reading. But the best was yet to come.

For those of us who could stay—me and Greta—Susie had a wonderful treat in store: a quick get-away to Polynesia, or rather Forbidden Island, a gourmet Tiki bar in Alameda. Wisely traveling by cab, we talked shop in the backseat, while the courteous driver switched on some mellow jazz. Greta made my evening by telling me how much she’d enjoyed “Yes,” and the positive portrayal of a woman who said “yes” to sex. That was pretty much the whole point of the story and it was gratifying to have someone capture it so perfectly. We also talked about the whole culture of “sex sells” where the kind of sex that sells is superficial, dishonest and unsatisfying.

Susie also mentioned that she often gets questions asking her to summarize changes in our sexual culture over the decades as she had that night, and while she has her own answers, she really wants to ask the questioner to weigh in as well because we all have our own view and our own truth. In my own less experienced way, I totally related to this—we are all encouraged to look outward to get validation about sex. To our partners, to the stupid magazine articles that supposedly give answers but really just try to sell us things, to experts. But to really be empowered, we have to make our own observations, draw our own conclusions, look within to figure out what sex means to us and how we’ve changed. I think erotica can be more than a way to get off—it can help you learn about your sexual desires. I didn’t say this then, I just got to thinking about it later, but I’m sure the cab driver’s mind was inspired to interesting conjectures as well after he dropped us off at our watering hole.

What can I say about Forbidden Island? First of all, I’m a Tiki girl from way back. My roommates and I had a Tiki god statue in our room junior year of college and we took a series of photos—me teaching “Zamboozo” from the Norton Anthology of English Literature, my chemical engineer roommate tutoring him in organic chemistry, and my peer sex counselor friend teaching him about condoms and foam. I also have several books on my shelf like Tiki Road Trip, plus The Enchanted Tiki Room is a must-visit attraction every time I go to Disneyland. Secondly, it struck me that in a figurative sense, Susie Bright has been whisking me away to Forbidden Islands since the mid-nineties with Best American Erotica. Suffice to say, I almost had to pinch myself to make sure this was real!

Susie had first heard about Forbidden Island from a book, Sippin' Safari: In Search of the Great "Lost" Tropical Drink Recipes... and the People Behind Them by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (sorry, I just bought the last immediately available copy on Amazon). The décor was appropriately Tiki, although not overwhelmingly tacky—booths with thatched roofs, romantic lighting, carved wooden statues. But the real draw of the place was the cocktails, concocted with fresh juices and house-made cordials. The drink menu was as overwhelming as a tropical garden—too many delicious choices—but Susie pointed us to the Nui Nui made with the bar’s own allspice liqueur and cinnamon syrup, fresh citrus juice and of course rum. It was absolutely exquisite, the perfect balance of spice, sweet and tart—like Thanksgiving in Tahiti. Of course, Tiki drinks need the proper snacks as accompaniment, and we feasted on coconut shrimp (the perfect blend of sweet coconut, tender shrimp and crunchy coating), sweet potato fries (perfect for the Thanksgiving flavor theme and not greasy), and crab Rangoon (fried wonton with a fluffy crab-cream cheese filling). The food came in simple paper trays, the drinks in tall chilled glasses with fresh mint sprigs, which shows where the owner’s passions lie. As a chaser, Susie ordered a house specialty, the Sidewinder Fang with passionfruit juice and rum. A “hearty goblet” was promised and indeed the glass took up most of the table—rather like a slightly smaller version of a honeymooner’s champagne bathtub in the Poconos.

But what better way to lubricate our literary discussions? Susie told us about Chronicle Books' very positive attitude toward promoting X in creative ways and her upcoming book trailer, which sounds like lots of fun (I’ll let you know as soon as it is released). Although both Susie and Greta are long time veterans of publishing, they were very supportive about my newbie trials in the business. Both had gotten their start at On Our Backs and I loved hearing about the early days of the Erotica Revolution. Hanging out with them just proved what I’ve been discovering in this year of making connections: erotica writers are very witty, warm and generous people. I’m not sure which comes first—you have to be open-minded and creative to take the dare of writing erotica or exploring that edgy territory opens you up? Maybe both, suffice to say, there’s nobody I’d rather quaff tropical drinks with!

I could have lingered on and drunk myself into a South Sea Islands stupor but we all had places to be by midnight, so we cabbed back to Diesel Books and said our goodbyes. Parting is always bittersweet, like a bracing taste of grog, but I knew I’d be joining Susie, Greta, Susie Hara and Rachel Kramer Bussel next week at Books, Inc. in the Castro.

It’s bound to be another Xciting evening!

The Sensual Feast Begins Anon!

All right everyone, get your appetites ready! Tomorrow is the day we’ve all been waiting for—the inauguration of our sensual blog feast. Here is the invitation and of course, you’re all invited.



Join Us for a Sensual and Provocative Progressive Dinner ala Blog

Come join us for a sensual feast to celebrate the new year of hope, promise, and delicious pleasures of every flavor. Each day a new erotica-writing blogger will be your host for one sumptuous course, providing recipes, entertainment and scintillating discussion topics. Best of all, dinners ala blog are known to expand your mind, but not your waistline. The festivities begin on Sunday, January 25. Come to one, come to all—you deserve a little indulgence!

Sunday January 25--Amuse-bouche
Host: Craig Sorensen http://just-craig.blogspot.com/

Monday January 26—Appetizer
Shanna Germain http://yearofthebooks.wordpress.com/

Wednesday January 28--Soup
Hosts: Helia Brookes and Jeremy Edwards http://heliabrookes.blogspot.com/
http://jerotic.blogspot.com/

Thursday January 29—Fish
Host: Neve Black http://neveblacke.blogspot.com/

Friday January 30--Meat Entrée
Host: Kirsten Monroe http://aphrodites-table.blogspot.com/

Saturday, January 31--Vegetarian entrée
Host: Donna George Storey which is right here, folks!

Monday, February 2--Salad
Host: Emerald http://thegreenlightdistrict.org/wordpress/

Tuesday, February 3—Dessert
Host: Sommer Marsden http://smutgirl.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, February 4--Petit Fours and truffles
Host: Nikki Magennis http://nikkimagennis.blogspot.com/

I know all of the blogger hosts have been busy decorating, auditioning musical entertainment, thinking up witty discussion topics, and of course, working out the kinks in their scrumptious recipes. My kitchen has been a mess for the past few days—Japanese food is light and delicious, but all of those small plates require a lot of separate prep and a lot of dirty dishes. I definitely had to tweak the recipes a bit, but I was very pleased at the result: carnally satisfying, but intellectually uplifting fare. I can’t wait to share!

Now this may seem like a strange diversion from the topic at hand—but have any of you read the Betsy-Tacy books, especially the high-school years, by Maud Hart Lovelace? This was one of my favorite series as a child. I could really relate to Betsy, who wants to be a writer, and the descriptions of her life at the turn on the twentieth century in the small town of Deep Valley enchanted me. (Btw, sort of thanks to me, my sister is now literary executor for Maud Hart Lovelace, but that’s a long story). Anyway, as I was getting all worked up for our eroticists’ progressive dinner, I remembered a passage from Betsy Was a Junior, which is doubtless one of the tiny seeds of many that led to the blossoming of this blog progressive dinner. Betsy’s older sister is a college freshman and is being courted by a sorority. Although still in high school, Betsy and her friends have decided to start a sisterhood society of their own. It all ends tragically, but this part of the story obviously stayed with me.

Next came the Okto Delta progressive dinner. This was for girls only and each course was served in a different home. It was exhilarating to troop from house to house in the biting cold.

They went to Winona’s for the appetizer. With the fruit cup, each one received a favor. They went to the Rays’ for the fish course; to the Kelly’s for turkey; to the Mullers’ for salad.


For place cards, Tib made cartoons of the girls; Betsy was shown in the new red princesse dress and out of her mouth in a balloon came “David Copperfield.” At Irma’s, where there was black and orange icing on the cakes, the place cards were slams again. “Silence is golden,” Betsy’s said. After dinner coffee was served at Carney’s along with apples, nuts and candy. Nut meats had been removed from the walnuts and mottoes were sealed inside. Betsy’s said:


“Silence is more eloquent than words.”


“The boys were almost crazy,” Betsy wrote to Herbert, her Confidential Friend, “because they couldn’t make out what kind of party it was, nor whose house it was at, nor anything. Their royal highnesses were offended to think we could have any fun without them.”
Perhaps the progressive dinner turned the trick. At any rate, the boys decided to get up a fraternity….

The weird thing about revisiting this passage is that it’s much plainer than I remember, plus there are too many semi-colons! In my imagination the “exhilaration” took on sensual substance. Each house was cast in golden light, music drifted invitingly into the cold evening air. The food offerings were delicious, even decadent—not homey fruit cups, although in the 1900s I supposed this wouldn't have been as bad as canned peach and pear chunks in heavy syrup with a single dyed cherry for color.

But sometimes fantasies can become reality. All it took was forty years and meeting some very cool and sensually-minded grown-up Betsy’s and half-crazed boys wanting to join in the fun to make this happen. Thank you all for making my childhood dream come true!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Seducing Every Man in the Zodiac with Neve Black

Today is truly a day of good tidings for my fellow eroticists!

I am so excited to announce the publication of Neve Black’s debut novel, Sex Through the Zodiac. I just love the premise of the novel—the protagonist, Roxanne, an astrology cognoscenti, decides that 2009 will be the year she gains more intimate knowledge of each zodiac sign by having sex with all twelve signs in the coming (no doubt over and over again) year.

I’m even more excited about soaring along on this starry literary journey with the ambitious Roxanne. As I raise my champagne flute to Neve’s inauguration into the ranks of novelists, I have to smile at my own fascination with astrology over the years. I don’t believe in it and yet, well, there are some curious coincidences. I am a bit of your classic Capricorn—slow and steady, with a calm, not to say boring, exterior hiding a passionate core. My husband is a textbook Libra, always seeing both sides of a question, very artistic in spite of his job description as software engineer. I’m not an expert on the topic in any sense, but I still do have my dog-eared and very retro vintage-1980 copy of How To Seduce Any Man in the Zodiac, which was the source of much useful advice, not to mention comfort in my college days.

Out came the book as soon as I had the slightest amorous interest in a guy (birthdays were easy to determine because of Princeton’s proto-Facebook, a directory of students with photo, hometown, high school and birthdate). First I turned to the section on “how to get his attention.” Then of course I had to read about his strengths and weaknesses and how to keep his attention (if it ever got that far). With this “battle plan to conquer his heart,” I worked my way through a number of the zodiac signs that way, but there are still a few gaps in my roster (Aries, Gemini, Sagittarius). I know Neve will fill me in on what I’m missing in more ways than one.

By the way, not only am I a Capricorn with my moon in Libra, but my Libra husband has a moon sign of Capricorn. This has proven to be a good match—and yes, I did consult the Libra chapter to plot my strategies. So far, so good. But I’m very sure Sex Through the Zodiac will give me updated twenty-first century insights to keep things heavenly!

Swept Away By Emerald


“What moves you?” So begins “No Such Thing,” the lovely Emerald’s latest publication at one of my very favorite erotica sites, The Erotic Woman. Emerald had mentioned that this story had special meaning to her—and believe me, there’s no better story foreplay for me! I suspect I may have been even more anxious than the author herself to see the story up on the site.

Now, I like to think my work moves readers in some way or another. On the most basic level, I’d like to think it “works,” that is, passes the zipper test or the wet test, depending on what you’re wearing. I also entertain fantasies that my stories make people think about sex and the human condition. But I don’t usually dare to hope that my writing will make it as far as the highest and most difficult rung on the literary ladder—that it will touch them emotionally.

This is precisely what “No Such Thing” achieves. Yes, it is lusciously poetic and arousing. It definitely makes you think about sexuality and repression and the human spirit. But it left me with much more, a certain easing of the breathe, an almost floating sense of peace—perhaps I’d best describe it as a literary afterglow?

Okay, I just have to give you one tiny “amuse-bouche” from the story, words that capture my own feelings in such moving rhythms:

Sex. Sex was what moved her. Not just the act, but the pure, profound, inherent power of sexuality, that force which encompassed the deepest realms of humanity, spanned the spectrum of life and held within it every possibility of human existence. Sex was life force embodied; it was strength, it was beauty, it was joy, it was….

Well, I don’t want to give the ending away! Go read this story. You’ll be swept away.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An X-Rated Evening with Greta Christina (and company)

Tonight’s the night of my first reading for X: The Erotic Treasury at Diesel Books in the trendy Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland. I’ve practiced my piece and tried my best to polish my tenor to do justice to the creative and very romantic dom in my story, “Yes.” And I’m so looking forward to meeting my fellow writers Greta Christina, Pam Ward, and of course, Susie Bright.

X: The Erotic Treasury continues to impress me with each new story. I don’t know when I’ve read such a consistently strong and powerful collection of erotica. No story is more powerful and thought-provoking for me than Greta Christina’s “Deprogramming.” My first taste of Greta Christina’s smart, humorous writing was “Are We Having Sex Now or What?” in Best American Erotica 2008. I think this is required reading for everyone 18 and over, and I’m planning on being a cool enough mom that my sons will be getting a copy with their gifts as I’m putting those eighteen candles on their homemade almond cake.

In her essay, Christina asks the questions about what “sex” means that most of us are too shy or otherwise repressed to express publicly. Even when such questions do surface in public, as they did with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, our society still doesn’t seem able to discuss it in an intelligent, nuanced way. I, too, started out in my early years keeping a tally of lovers as if this was somehow significant. Eventually, I, too, began to wonder why a really bad lay should qualify, while a much more satisfying make-out session did not. Over the years the territory I label “sex” also expanded, although different types of eroticism call for different moral parameters. The essay gives no easy answers, but it does get you thinking about these issues, which is my definition of a piece worth reading. For example, is an erotica writer’s connection with an anonymous reader “sex”? What do you think?

As you might expect, “Deprogramming” engages the intellect as well as the libido. Simultaneously disturbing and arousing, this story dares to explore the most complex workings of our imagination. The story is told from the point of view of a former cult member who is attempting to move on with her life by replaying a public punishment scene from her past. This is much more than your typical spanking story—it’s a head-on wrestling match with issues of the abuse of power, whether by a real parent or a surrogate one, and the fascinating way humiliation is often transformed into fuel for sexual fantasy. But don’t take my word for it, Greta Christina says it best in her interview below. I’ll be sharing the podium with her at two X readings over the next two weeks—and it’s a true honor!

And now, Greta Christina on “Deprogramming”

Susie Bright: Has any of your writing been produced in popular films or videos?

Greta Christina: Well, I wrote the narration for a video how-to guide on electrical sex toys, titled "Our Friend the Volt."


You were raised as an atheist, but when do you remember being fascinated with the "cult" experience?

I wouldn’t describe myself as fascinated by cults, although I do find religion in general to be a compelling subject.

But it sounds like what you want to know is what inspired me to write this piece. It's not a very nice story, but it is a true one, so I'll tell it.

I was watching a documentary about Jim Jones (of Jonestown fame) and his
People's Temple. At the point in the story where things were starting to go wrong in the church, it said that members of the church who disobeyed the rules were punished by being spanked.

It's a terrible story. They described the incidents, and what they called "spanked," I would call "badly beaten." But there's a deeply ingrained part of my mind and my libido that almost inevitably gets turned on when I hear the word "spank," and that starts to conjure erotic images and stories. So I found myself having sexual fantasies about this scenario... while at the same time being horrified by it, and feeling ashamed for being turned on by it.

That's where "Deprogramming" came from. I was trying to capture that feeling of being simultaneously horrified and turned on. I decided to have the survivors of the abuse in my story re-enact it in an erotic way: for the characters, this was a way for them to reclaim the experience and move past it... and for me, it was a way to give myself, and my readers, permission to be turned on by it.

My story isn't specifically about the People's Temple. It's about a fictional religious cult that I made up. But it's definitely influenced by real cults that I've read about...

Does your family know about your erotic writing? Have they read it?

I've asked my family not to, actually. My porn is like a window into my libido, and
it crosses a boundary for me to have my family looking through that window. I don't want my family to know what I think about when I jerk off. Call me old-fashioned.

Have you written any Manifestos?

Definitely. Many times. In my blog. Probably the best known and widest read is "Atheists and Anger"— an attempt to answer, in detail, the question, "Why are you atheists so angry?"


Has your work ever been "made an example of"?

Oh, yes.

The best example: I wrote a piece a few years back for The Skeptical Inquirer, called "Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do With God."

The piece talks about how, although it might seem that an atheist philosophy has no comfort to offer in the face of death, in fact this is not the case. And it offers, as examples, some of my own atheist thoughts about death that I find comforting and hopeful. I started ego-Googling my name and the title of the piece... and found that several Christian ministers were quoting from the piece out of context, as an example of how even atheists admit that life without the promise of life after death is bleak and hopeless.

No, really. Here's how they did it.

They would quote the part at the beginning, where I talk about how atheism seems to offer no comfort in the face of death. And they would completely ignore the entire point of the piece... which is that, while that might seem on the surface to be the case, it most emphatically is not.

FYI, when I find that happening, I write to these ministers; point out that they're quoting me as saying the exact opposite of what I'm actually saying; and remind them about the commandment against bearing false witness against your neighbor.

New York Book Tour 3: Restless Adventurers and Celebrity Sightings

Wednesday, October 15. The early morning weather was warm and sunny again on the third day of my Amorous Woman book tour. Joining the subway commuters, I took the 1 train to the bottom of the island. Walking briskly down to Castle Clinton at the very tip of Manhattan, I purchased my steerage fare and flashed my paperwork at the ticket collectors. The next stop was security, then, properly scanned, I joined the growing crowd of travelers as we were herded into the waiting area. As the minutes ticked by, we were pushed closer and closer together by the swelling number of passengers. People and voices of every nationality surrounded me—a group of Japanese businessmen, an Italian family, some Australians, high school kids with a Midwestern twang.

Finally it was our time to board, but occasionally the wake of some passing boat or ship would set the vessel rocking so hard, we had to stop and wait. When I was on the boat, this roll and pitch was enough to make me queasy—a taste of seasickness that was all too real. At long last the 10 am group was all on board and we steamed off across the river on our journey back into history.

I have to admit my heart soared at the sight of the Statue of Liberty across the water. In fact, everyone on the boat seemed riveted by the vision, and the decks of the ships were standing room only, with all of us holding our digital cameras over our heads to get a good photo sans the body parts of fellow passengers. Her torched glowed golden in the morning light and she looked so strong and confident—girl power at its best. It struck me then that I’d just sampled a mini passage to the Golden Land of America: waiting amidst a jostling crowd of foreign strangers, enduring stomach-wrenching rough seas, and finally, glimpsing Lady Liberty at the end of my journey.

I’d wanted to visit Ellis Island since it opened some years ago, but my New York visits since had mostly involved family celebrations. Free time was dedicated to the Nintendo Store or the uptown museums. Since this was my one free full day in the city, I thought I’d take advantage of my temporary independence to indulge in some historical sightseeing. After all, my next novel will be very historical, so a book tour was a good time to look to the future as well.

Most of my shipmates disembarked at Liberty Island, but I’d already climbed the Statue back in the day when you could go all the way to the crown, and the present-day limited access seemed somehow unsatisfying. I also guessed, correctly, that an earlier visit to Ellis Island would be quieter. Tourists to Ellis Island follow roughly the same path an immigrant would—disembark, enter downstairs where your luggage would have been stowed (and where you can check your backpacks now), then trek up the stairs to the Registry Room, the famous grand hall that processed 12 million new Americans.

The restored hall was mostly empty at 10:30 am, perfect for picking up the faint whispers of its many ghosts. I stood at one of the podiums where the immigration officials interviewed new arrivals and imagined earlier times when this very spot was the scene of so much hope and anxiety. Then, as my guidebook had recommended, I stopped in to see the film about the Ellis Island experience. It was a good introduction, because I hadn't been sleeping well, I dozed off a bit in the warm darkness. But a talk from a park ranger was a good introduction to the galleries, which were next on my agenda.

Some highlights were the statue of Annie Moore (1877-1923), a young Irish girl who was the first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island. She was a modest mirror of Lady Liberty, human in scale, but just as brave and symbolic. A little internet searching today unearthed this interesting tidbit about the real Annie Moore.

The museum was a labyrinth of exhibits: rooms where the immigrants changed their money from the old country, bought train tickets, were questioned to weed out the legal or political troublemakers. It was interesting to note that when the immigration official asked “do you have a job waiting for you?” the proper answer was “no.” This is contrary to what you’d say these days, of course, but the government was trying to protect immigrants from sleazy types who basically lured them over as indentured servants. I had to wince at the shoe button hook, an implement that was used by doctors to turn up the eyelids of newcomers, especially those from southern Europe, to check for trachoma, a common eye disease there that had not yet reached North America. (I wonder how many poor souls came down with conjunctivitis from the examination?)

As I wandered in and out of the rooms on the third floor, I became aware that the cavernous Registry Room was now almost frantic with the echoes of the tourists coming in from Liberty Island. But the roaring echoes seemed appropriate as well. After all, it took a certain restlessness and courage to make the trip to an unknown land. Our ancestors were people who were willing to give up what they knew for the uncertain, and the Ellis Island descendants of today were certainly displaying the same (loud) enthusiastic desire to seek out the new and be on the move.

It was rather ironic, then, to step into the “Silent Voices” exhibit, which had photos and artifacts from the abandoned Ellis Island in 1954, before it was restored to its current glory. This was the most moving and memorable part of the museum for me. The rusting, broken basins, crutches, metal bedsteads with crumpled blankets, a mold-covered piano, an ancient cash register, signs reading “maintenance,” “tickets,” “release office,” “social services.” I think these decaying objects were so poignant because they had been part of the real Ellis Island experience. The polished marble and thoughtful exhibits were great, but these homely, forgotten objects had been the real witnesses to the history being made here.

Ellis Island got me thinking about my own immigrant ancestors. I only have any sense of the background of one, my maternal great-grandfather, Peter Hufnagel. One of my mother’s cousins was a genealogy hobbyist and researched the family history—I’m not sure why he ignored Catherine Hufnagel, sexism perhaps or she was too much of a mutt to unravel her many ancestors? Anyway, Peter came to the US from a town near Frankfurt in the 1880s to escape conscription into the Prussian Army, which is as excellent a reason to come to America as any. He arrived before Ellis Island was opened and settled in southern Pennsylvania farm country along with many of his countrymen to establish what we now know as “Pennsylvania Dutch (Deustch)” country. He was reportedly a stern, strict father who liked to read his paper in peace in the parlor on Sunday while his wife and children did all the necessary chores for Sunday dinner. However, I’d also heard that he was the man his neighbors would turn to when they had a letter to write to the old country. Until I heard that story, I’d assumed my interest in writing came solely from my father’s side of the family—a motley bunch of poets and mad(wo)men—but perhaps old Peter had some literary skill as well?

The trip back to Manhattan was even sunnier and warmer than the morning journey. The view of the city’s skyline from the boat was truly majestic—a symbol of American energy in itself. The southern tip of the city is where its history began and I noticed an out-of-place, old church near the subway station that had a Federal Era feel to it. Some day I knew I would be back to this neighborhood for more touring, but for now my Ellis Island journey had tired me out.

I arrived back at my sister’s place in late afternoon, and we both headed up to Bed, Bath and Beyond to look for room-darkening shades for my sister’s friend who had a new baby. Distracted by the many offerings of this New York branch of the familiar chain, I was jarred back to attention by my sister’s nudging. “Did you see him?”

“Who?”

Wallace Shawn. That’s like the fourth time I’ve run into him and he always give me such a warm smile. You’d think we were friends.”

Darn, I’d missed him and he was nowhere in sight! I’m a big fan of My Dinner with Andre, and would have loved to catch a glimpse of a real New York literati. My sister lived on the same street as Sarah Jessica Parker, but I had no real interest in that sort of celebrity gawking. But Wallace Shawn? That would be cool. Alas, Wally had disappeared.

Later that night, my sister and her husband took me to dinner at their favorite local French restaurant, A.O.C. at 314 Bleecker Street. The owner greeted my sister with kisses on the cheek and gave a warm welcome to me, but I’m glad to say our waitress was appropriately snotty to give the place an authentic Parisian air. My sister told me she’d once seen Keanu Reeves here, and he was even more gorgeous in person. But Keanu must have been having dinner with Wallace Shawn that night.

More red wine, more grilled fish and salad. Of course the meal was wonderful, but I was told to take a pass on dessert. We had to get back to watch the last Obama-McCain debate—the one where Joe the Plumber rocketed to his undeserved fame. Our debate evening was sort of an amusing coincidence, because we’d watched the first one together in LA. Champagne on both occasions made it easier to watch, and when the debate was over, we all got our reward for enduring Joe the Plumber—a sampling of orgasmically chocolately desserts from Bouchon Bakery. I stop by the original Napa branch of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon whenever I go to Wine Country, but I’d never tried their most sinful treats, only the breakfast pastries, crusty breads and airy French-style macarons.

These glossy confections were as wickedly delicious as they look here. I ate heartily, knowing I’d need my energy and courage for the most demanding part of my book tour ahead. Three readings in four days awaited me. Many people told me I was crazy or at least admirably ambitious to be packing in so many events. But I’d like to think I was just carrying on the restless, bold sense of adventure that made American what it is. (And you thought I was just a sleazy pornographer….)

Next: A meeting with some real celebrities, plus my very first power breakfast

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brushing Up with M. Christian

I’ve been an admiring fan of M. Christian’s work since well before I began writing erotica myself. He’s edited twenty anthologies and written over three hundred stories, four novels, and four short story collections, with numerous appearances in Best American Erotica and other Best of’s as well as being an annually returning alumnus of The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. His narrators and protagonists come in a rainbow of sexual preferences, yet the stories are always incandescently erotic and convincing. On top of this, his work spans a range of genres, from literary to horror, science fiction and a soupcon of erotic romance.

I’ve always wondered what the “M” in M. Christian stands for, but I’m pretty sure it stands for “Maestro”!

I recently had the pleasure of reading one of his most recent novels, Brushes. A multi-layered treat for the mind and the senses, Brushes reminded me how a well-written novel can really draw you into a totally different world and keep you there, enchanted. M. Christian transports us to glittering Paris where we follow the adventures of eight denizens of the art world, from an acclaimed artist and his muses to desperate wannabes. As their lives brush up against each other, serendipitously, inevitably, all experience a compelling sexual encounter that changes their lives forever. The variety of sex scenes is like a tempting buffet, the prose as silky smooth as a pot de crème. The novel definitely raises fascinating questions about the artist’s life and the silliness of the business surrounding it. This tale of mystery will definitely provoke and entertain anyone who’s intrigued by the power of the creative--and the erotic—spirit.

That’s me, baby—how about you?

And now, I have the even greater pleasure of inviting the Maestro to my blog to chat about writing, erotica and sensual indulgence of the culinary persuasion.

DGS: I’ve always been amazed at your versatility as a writer, your virtuoso ability to cross genres and genders. How do you do it? Or are you actually a shapeshifter from another galaxy?

MC: Nah, I’m just a classic hack, though being a shapeshifter from another galaxy would make it a lot easier to find a date on Saturday night.

How did you get started writing erotica?

Well, I’ve always wanted to be a writer – in fact I first remember deciding it would be the life I wanted to live when I was in the fourth grade or so – but I had zero luck with it for, oh, about fifteen years. Tired of rejection slips, I signed up for an erotica writing class from Lisa Palac, who used to edit a magazine called Future Sex. My thought at the time was something like: why the hell not?

Turns out I was pretty good at pornography – who knew? – and Lisa bought my first story, which was subsequently published by Susie Bright in her Best American Erotica 1994. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

You’ve been publishing erotica for a long time now. In your view, how has the genre and the publishing environment changed over the years.

Lordy, that’s a big subject! Right off the top of my head I’d guess the biggest change has got to be the death – or imminent death, to be polite – of the traditional publishing model of business. Printed books are simply way too expensive to produce, especially these days, and far too difficult to sell. Sure, there will always be big houses operating like we’re still in the ‘50s but going forward we’re going to see far more small-to-medium-sized publishers connecting with very specific audiences. That’s good news for readers, as a publisher’s profit doesn’t have to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Only having to make a few thousand means they can take risks and produce books for very narrow-focused interests. The bad news, though, is that the days of huge – or even large – advances for authors are gone … bummer. Don’t despair, though. Because the smaller publishers don’t have huge overhead, they can pay better royalties, and because of Amazon – the sort-of-great literary equalizer -- a small-time author has about the same ‘shelf’ space as a big-time one … the trick, of course, is to get yourself noticed.

You’re now blogging at Imagination is Intelligence with an Erection, Frequently Felt, Meine Kleine Fabrik and The New Café (Racer) Society. What do you like about blogging? How does it fit into your fiction writing schedule?

Actually The New Café (Racer) Society is a two-wheeled, one-man enterprise run by my brother, S.A. – who works with me on Meine Kleine Fabrik. I like blogs because they’re a way to get yourself out there. With Meine Kleine Fabrik, which is German for “My Little Factory,” the name of a jewelry company S.A. used to have, it’s a kind of commonplace book; a way of sharing the fun and wild and weird and silly and cool things we’ve come across. Frequently Felt is kind of the same thing but with a sexy twist – and is also a place where authors can share their work as well: my way of opening the door for new erotica writers. Imagination is Intelligence with an Erection, is my writing site: the place where I post reviews, announcements about new projects, new books and suchlike.

I kind of cheat, to be honest, with these blogs: I usually just post or repost stuff I find. Sure it makes them a bit less ‘rich’ but I simply don’t understand writers who spend hours posting and no time on their craft. Working on stories and books is what I love to do, so they will always be my top priority.

One of the pleasures for me while I was reading Brushes was the chance to come to my own conclusions about the shadowy central figure, the artist Escobar, based on the clues provided by the perspectives of the different narrators. It’s also fun to see how the different characters “brush up” against each other in different ways on the streets of Paris. But what might be pleasure for the reader could present a real logistical challenge for the author. Did you have a particular strategy to plan and keep track of all the “brushes” in the novel?

Thank you so much – it means a lot to me that you liked it!

While it was a tad challenging, it was also a lot of fun to do. My motivation was to try to put together something showing our various ‘faces:’ like the Donna I know isn’t the Donna other people know, etc. In the case of Escobar these multiple ‘faces’ are amplified because of his fame: the people around him have their own perspectives on him, twisted by jealousy, fear, unreasonable admiration, and all those other lovely emotions. Occasionally I’d find myself ‘painted into a corner’ especially since I was trying to tell the story from different perspectives but also taking place at the same time. Although there are some things I wish I’d done better, I thought it came out pretty well. I guarantee I’ll do better with the next book, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that ….

Your novel has countless wonderful examples of how an erotic scene reveals character—this is really the heart of the book. I’ve chosen this excerpt from chapter 4, told from the point of view of Marcel, a snobbish, fastidious gallery owner, who has called in a paid companion to “celebrate” after a long day in the art business. Here’s a tasty sampling of the scene:

"I love my breasts," she said. "I love they way they look, but I really like the way they feel." Purple painted nails slid over the slopes, stroked under, and deliberately hesitated over the rises of her nipples. One hand went behind, reaching for another clasp, preparing for another revelation.

More than at any time in recent memory, he was aroused. With Josephine it had been there, but more abstract, more a quality of the whole experience than a pulse-matched deep down, stirring where he wasn't Marcel the gentleman, the rich man, the owner of L'Art, but rather just a man and a very demanding desire. He might still be struck by silence, but he could move.

There was a good reason Zazu would love her breasts. They were phenomenal. Large yet exceptionally firm, they swept gently from the satin of her chest, ending in two saucer-sized, swollen areolas, topped by aggressively firm nipples the color of fresh strawberries and the size of gumdrops. As her bra joined her clothes at her feet, her breasts swung and jiggled, a mesmerizing display.

"Aren't they beautiful? I'm so lucky. But what's even better is that I like how they feel, not just how they look." With thumb and forefinger she tightly plucked at her right nipple, much harder than he'd ever seen a woman do before. She hissed, deep and languid, in response. Then the same, this time to the left, but now the hiss became a moan and her knees seemed to lose a bit of their strength. "Oh, wow," she said through a sharp laugh.

Stroking himself, he realized he didn't care that he was or that she knew he was. It was too good. This woman was beautiful and sexy, and more importantly, he was enjoying himself more than he ever had before. How his zipper had come down, how he'd extracted himself from his underwear, he didn't know, but there it was and he wasn't about to stop. Again, the question -- but this time only the barest of whispers in his mind and nowhere near a loud thought: what am I? The answer came immediately: I am me... and I like this.

The other nipple again; this time she had to catch herself before dropping all the way to the carpet. It took her some time to pull herself up and stand straight. "I like this. It's one of my... things, I guess you could call it." Peering through her purple bangs, she caught his gaze with hers. "Having fun?"

Even before he'd realized he'd broken the silence, he found his voice. "I-I am."

Do you have a particular favorite among the characters or scenes in Brushes? Any that were harder or easier to write?

Once again, I really appreciate your kindness and support, Donna! Writing can be a damned hard life so compliments and kindness – especially from a writer I like and admire – are a real treat!

Each of the characters in Brushes had their challenges, as well as their easier bits. I’m so glad you liked Marcel: he was a particularly fun one as I was trying to use his sexuality as a pretty broad reflection of his personality: removed and controlling in life, removed and controlling in bed. Escobar was probably the hardest because as I was ‘doing’ him, I kept thinking that here he is, the guy everyone’s talking about. A bit of pressure there ….

What’s next for you?

Let’s see … working on a gay horror novel called Monster that should be done in a few months. Have a new collection of straight erotica coming out soon, called Licks & Promises. Both The Bachelor Machine, my science fiction erotica collection, and Dirty Words, which is a gay erotica collection, are being reprinted and should be out soon. I’m also chatting with some publishers about doing some new anthologies – more on those very soon. I’ve also done my first screenplay, the movie for which should be shooting soon, and I’m working on other fun stuff as well. Just keep an eye on my blog for more info and updates and such.

Finally, describe a perfect meal that would be guaranteed to seduce you—into a deep conversation about the writing life, if not something even juicier!

A perfect meal? Hummm … I love a lot of food, and have a long list of great restaurants, but to make any meal perfect I’d have to have the company of my wonderful lady, and soon-to-be-wife, Sage Vivant. As I already mentioned, writing can all-to-often be a brutal and hard life. I am very fortunate to have found the woman of my dreams, and would never do anything without her.

Well, congratulations--that's definitely a match made in erotica heaven!! I wish you both all the happiness in the world (as well as many delicious meals together).

Thanks so much for stopping by to talk shop with me. And for those of you interested in some more hot-and-hot-off-the-presses M. Christian fiction, check out his novel Painted Doll and Hack Work, a series of short story downloads, as well.