Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Fertile Book and the Urge to Improve

The month of love is just a day away, but love comes early at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association. The new columns have just been posted, and there are some exciting changes this month.

First, ERWA welcomes Vincent Diamond to the columnist roster. His new column, Serious About Smut, is full of practical advice about setting realistic goals about writing and publishing, and even though I might be considered a "veteran" by some, his advice was very helpful to me.

Next, although my "Shameless Self-Promotion" journey has ended, I'm continuing to "Cook Up a Storey," but at a new address. I'm now in the Authors' Resources section, which will allow me to discuss the experience of writing my second novel--just so my columns are in sync with my current focus. This month, however, in I Can Do Better: Fruitful Competition, Intelligent Vegetables, and the Erotica Revolution, I ease into the second novel discussion by talking about the foundations of our smut writing urge, how we might "elevate" the genre, and how to connect with readers. I also let off a little steam about society's dismissal of erotica and the way reviewers evaluate anthologies at Amazon. As I enter my third year as an ERWA columnist, I think I'm relaxing more deeply into the Japanese way of "following the pen." And since I just got a great massage at the spa a few hours ago, I feel especially relaxed right now.

Last but certainly not least, I've also posted a review of the delightfully amusing and inspiring book by Cecil Goran, Dictionary of Semenyms: 1, 383 synonyms for semen with examples of usage from erotic literature. This book is really an excellent resource for erotica writers and wordsmiths of all sorts, so head on over to ERWA and read the review. I guarantee, you will never see (hear, taste or smell) semen in the same way again!

Happy February to you all....

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Erotica at Barnes and Noble

How did it get to be the weekend already? There are any number of things I could blog about today, but I realized that my vacation photo of the Capitol might be a good illustration for an injustice I noticed at my local Barnes & Noble this afternoon.

The Capitol is a beautiful building, especially on a sunny August day, but I'm not at all happy with what's going on inside there these days. Why indeed are the shrill and negative Tea Baggers so powerful at stopping positive change (maybe their bad breath)? What about the voices of Americans who want decent health care, safe food and drugs, the end of Wall Street corruption and so many other reasonable and worthy causes that will make the world a better place for those of us who aren't super-rich?

Can our voices make a difference? Last year at this time it seemed they could. I still have hope, but it's hard to listen to the news these days.

But common wisdom also has it that when you pledge to change the things you can control, like shopping wisely to reward organic farmers (my son tells me bovine growth hormone is basically dead due to consumer resistance), it does make a difference. This afternoon, I was at a Barnes & Noble with my family and I happened to walk by the "Love and Sex" section. There were all kinds of how-to books about sexual techniques and how men and women can understand each other better. And then there was a whole shelf of Penthouse Letters in pocket paperback form. I scanned the display for other erotica anthologies, but I knew I wouldn't find any. According to Barnes & Noble corporate policy, the anthologies are way back in the fiction section. A browser would need to be interested in fiction first, then decide to pick up The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica instead of Best American Short Stories or whatever. I think the store is missing a huge opportunity to sell to browsers who are interested in spicing up their love lives with some juicy, well-written erotica. Okay, I could see the argument that this is nonfiction, but then how did Penthouse get the space? I have a soft spot in my heart for that publication, but come on, what's in those books is pure fiction!

I know, I know, this isn't on the level of health care reform, but do you think there is a way to bring this to the attention of Barnes & Noble? A write-in campaign or something that wouldn't be too demanding, but might make a difference? Because you see, I think writing erotica is all about making a small difference that can become a big difference in our society.

If you have any ideas, please let me know!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Intimate with Eddie Izzard

Ha, clearly I've given up blogging with a mere three posts in twenty-four hours! But, hey, I just have to report on the Eddie Izzard show last night at the Oakland--oh, excuse me, large corporate sponsor--the Oracle Arena. We were up in the $50 nosebleed seats, but since the whole backstage consisted of huge screens displaying a blown-up version of the small Eddie at center stage, the bargain seats weren't a bad deal at all. I was glad I brought the binoculars, though.

In fact, I would enthusiastically recommend seeing Eddie live if you have the chance. The DVD's are great, but there's something about being right there to soak in his energy that makes you feel intimate, in a big way, of course. (This was the Big Intimacy tour).

Eddie did not wear a dress or fishnet stockings. In fact, he wore jeans, a black T-shirt, and a tail coat with red lining that made me think at first he had a huge red scarf in his back pocket. Actually I like Eddie in men's clothing. He brings a freshness to the usual uniform, possibly due to his travels in transvestitism. As an aside, I really don't understand why anyone, women included, would want to dress in women's clothes. I try to avoid it as much as possible myself, although plenty of female attendees were wearing nasty high heels. But I do understand the appeal of the theatre of it, as of course does Eddie. So yeah, back to him, I really think maturity has just made Eddie all the sexier. He's taken on the gravitas of great British performers like Oliver Reed and Lawrence Olivier. And look at those brilliant (in both meanings of the word) blue eyes!

Of course I can't begin to capture the fun of the evening, but Eddie did take on his usual frivolous topics like the history of the world and the existence of God. His raptor imitation will change your view of dinosaurs forever, and I enjoyed many extended belly laughs, especially when he got going on computers and later the Ten Commandments and burning bushes. My older son is studying Latin and Eddie obliged with some hilarious Latin jokes, too. This outing ranks up their with the Weird Al concert for sure. And it's only five weeks or so until Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story is available at Amazon.

Finally, as a mom saving for two college educations, I don't go out to a lot of shows, so this was my first time to enjoy a scrolling view of Eddie's twitter messages as we waited for the show to begin. We'd all laid bets on when Eddie would come on stage and I won with a prediction of fifteen minutes past official start time. The prize was my teenager let me give him a hug and a kiss, which can be a rare commodity. But hey, how cool are we as parents to take him to see Eddie Izzard?

Anyway, if you get a chance, definitely go see Eddie Izzard in the flesh!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Love Hotels in the Heartland

I was cleaning up my in-box and discovered this link my sister sent me to FantaSuite Hotels, the closest thing America has to Japan's famous rent-by-the-hour love hotels. I know there are similar love-themed rooms in the Poconos and the Madonna Inn near San Luis Obispo, but FantaSuite feels a lot more like Japan to me, all the way down to the polar bear pelt on the wall of the "Northern Lights" room (check out a video view of the entire room). So if you happen to be in Dodgeville, Wisconsin or Burnsville, Minnesota (I first read that as "Bumsville") then consider lodging at FantaSuite--and tell me every last detail! This is an erotica story waiting to happen!

The Writing Life: Simmered or Sauteed?

I have some very good news! I started off the new year pledging to spend quality time on my second novel, and so far I’ve been keeping my resolution. It feels so good. Of course, some things had to give and one of the major things was my blogging and Internet time, so that’s why you haven’t seen me around for a while. I sensed that Blogland took the same energy I use for my writing, and if my renewed productivity is any indication, I think I was right on target.

But my plan is not to disappear completely. I’m going to take a page from fellow erotica writer Craig Sorensen and post a short, but hopefully thought-provoking blog once a week(end). To keep focused, I’m generally going to be talking about my writing process and what’s different about writing a second novel. Since almost everyone wants to write a novel (a screenplay is rather like a novel), whether first, second, or whatever, I’m hoping my confessions will be of interest to you no matter where you are in your own process! If you have comments or words of advice, please feel free to share your wisdom. I need it!

This week I’ll start with a very simple observation about how I seem to create new work. You may have been wondering about the purpose of the cookie pictures. No, it’s not just food porn, although that always has its charms, but I was thinking I could use the photos from the travelblog I probably won’t finish to illustrate my point. On the way out of Amish Country, we stopped at the Springerle House in Strasburg for some edible souvenirs. I had to buy three different flavors of the beautiful springerle specialties, of course, but they also had “regular” cookies, including cranberry white chocolate drop cookies (top left in photo). My family split each cookie four ways when we reached our hotel right off the Mall in Washington.

The results were surprising. The vanilla, lemon and orange-flavored springerle—these three "renegade" varieties had called to me most from the bakery case--were bland with a sandy texture (and not in a good way). The best of the lot was the anise, the traditional flavor, which I assumed my kids would hate. But the moist-sand texture worked well with the spark of licorice, and as my son said, “Springerle were meant to be like this. You can tell.”

We then moved on to the “ordinary” cookies, the ones that weren’t house specialties. And what do you know, they were really superior! Buttery, moist, complex in flavor. The cranberry were special favorites. I’d make a trip across town for these cookies. To think most patrons would just buy the good-looking, famous cookies and would miss the chance for the truly quality sensual experience.

Appearances can be deceiving, and I might launch into a discussion of looksism and celebrity, but I have another point to make about surfaces and depth. Indeed I made a delightful discovery about my new novel. I thought I was neglecting it for a year, but in fact, subtle, quiet things were happening. Once I opened the door and started paying active attention, whole scenes leaped into my head, characters came forward to reveal their secrets, then they got to chattering away with each other in the most illuminating way. Yes, I would be much farther along if I’d given them more time last year, but somehow they’ve been getting their job done without me.

For me writing takes a lot of time. Sometimes the work happens on the page through dozens of drafts. And sometimes more of it happens in my head as I replay and rethink the story on my morning walks, in the shower or while I’m doing the dishes. Sometimes the story is actively sautéed on the front burner, sometimes it simmers in the back, getting richer and thicker all on its own. Since it’s soup season, I suppose it is especially appropriate that I'm tasting the fruits of the latter approach.

The truth isn't always what you see. We all know to look beyond the obvious, but--obviously--sometimes I need a little reminding.

Well, thanks for listening. See you next week with another artist's update!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Dark Side of Martha Stewart

Back in my childhood, a lot of mothers I knew baked fancy cookies or made Christmas crafts and it was just part of what moms did. No one called them names. Like "Martha Stewart." Yes, nowadays, you can barely make a fancy meal, much less whip up a gingerbread house or homemade decoration, without someone dubbing you an insider-trading convict. In case you haven't figured out my stand on this issue, I hate it. I am not Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart is not really Martha Stewart anymore either. She hasn't been for some time; perhaps she never was. And even if and when she was, she had a very dark side.

A case in point. Here we have a festoon of the nine ladies dancing.

And here are the ten lords a-leaping draped across my California craftsman mantel.

I made these. Cool, huh? I started this project in December 2004, inspired by a Martha Stewart publication entitled Classic Crafts and Recipes Inspired by the Songs of Christmas. Mostly I bought the magazine as Christmas porn, not intending to consummate the relationship with any of the projects within, just drool and fantasize. But I was really drawn to these lords and ladies. They seemed pretty easy, something I could actually finish in a reasonable amount of time.

So I got me to the fancy paper store down by the interstate and purchased lots of fancy paper for the figures and costumes. Then I went home and reread Martha's instructions. I sensed right away something was off. Martha told me to fold the paper accordion-style, trace one figure and cut them all out at the same time. I knew that this wouldn't work at all--there'd be slippage and the figures would look crooked and uneven. So I ended up tracing each figure separately, which took much longer than I thought. Cutting out the different costumes took even more time. Part of me wonders if Martha didn't want me to fuck up, so my figures didn't look better than hers. But they look fine, so there.

Needless to say, the project was not completed by Christmas 2004. I finished the ladies the following January, and managed to do a bit more on the lords. But with one thing or the other, like having a life, I never finished them until December 2009. I was actually gluing on their coats when our tall, fully-laden Christmas tree tipped over onto the carpet. Part of me kind of blames Martha for that, too.

Yet, in another way, I am proud of myself for finally finishing a project I conceived so long ago. I like to think I'm the kind of person who gets it done... eventually. (And I'm definitely hoping this is true for my next novel). To celebrate, I made a recipe from the same crafts-from-Christmas-songs magazine that appealed to me, not to mention I happened to have some extra heavy cream (not the ultra-pasteurized kind) in the fridge after making my brother-in-law his annual batch of Hanukkah pecan cookies. I've never heard of the Eggnog Panna Cotta Carol, but I can forgive Martha that stretch of theme. The thing is, the instructions were misleading in this recipe, too. Martha, or one of her minions, said you should bring the milk to a boil. What? You never boil milk unless you want it to taste scorched and clean up a lot of boiled-over scum from your stove! Fortunately, I knew enough to be on guard, so I scalded the milk and all was well.

In spite of my complaints, I do recommend this dessert as a simple way to get your daily eggnog requirement for the holidays. And this project doesn't even take five years to complete! So here's a slightly revised recipe for 12 3 oz. servings of (Unboiled) Eggnog Panna Cotta (I only made half since we had tons of cookies to eat, too).

3 1/2 cups milk (1 3/4 cup)
5 large egg yolks (2 extra large or 2 1/2 large egg yolks--use the rest and whites for an omelet)
3/4 cup sugar (6 Tablespoons sugar)
1 cup chilled heavy cream (1/2 cup cream)
2 Tablespoons light or golden rum (1 Tablespoon rum)
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (measure whole envelope, then halve)

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Set aside. Scald two cups of milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl; whisk until mixture is frothy. Pour half the hot milk into egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return to pan; cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.

Remove from heat and immediately stir in 1 1/2 cups chilled milk and the cream. Pour through a fine sieve into a large bowl set over the ice bath. Add rum, and season with nutmeg. Let cool completely. It took about 30 minutes--enough time to go pick up my son from school.

Place 1/2 cup of the eggnog in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top; let stand until the gelatin is softened, about 5 minutes. Pour remaining eggnog into a saucepan, and place over medium heat. Cook until it is barely steaming. Add gelatin mixture, and stir to dissolve. Strain through a fine sieve. Divide among 12 3 0z. ramekins. Grate a bit more nutmeg over each to make it look pretty and appealing (my idea, not Martha's) and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until set, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

With this, my musings and meditations on the holiday season come to a close. In a few short days comes the Epiphany, when the lords and ladies will dance back into their box until next December. Wishing you all many epiphanies of your own!