Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Path to Publication

The December-January ERWA columns are up, and this issue I conclude my writers' feast with a discussion of that most luscious of literary desserts (and deserts)--publication!  Ah, yes, we all want to be published.  We probably all want to be published more than we actually want to write.  And there's no better way to get published than to to promise tips and strategies for other people to get published.  But I digress.

In my latest "Cooking Up a Storey" column, "Get Published Today!," I pass on a few of my personally-tested tips for getting the editorial nod--gratis.  Of course, now that I'm a published veteran, I'd argue that the writing process itself is the real gold, but I certainly still enjoy getting word that my story will appear in a new anthology.  I also offer a great recipe for Eggnog Ice Cream, which goes wonderfully well with homemade Christmas cookies.

Happy reading and submitting and holiday eating!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Desire Made Me More Interesting to Myself

I'm really excited to announce my latest interview over at the blog of Anna Cook, The Feminist Librarian.  The interview is part of the blog tour for Women in Lust, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel.  Rachel's latest anthology is particularly strong precisely because it's about strong women who have the courage to explore their desires--it's a very inspiring and empowering read.  My story, "Comfort Food," is a favorite of mine because it deals with appetites of all kinds, for food, sex, and enjoying sensual pleasure of all kinds.  In the story, the narrator has an epiphany that really resonates with me:  "My desire made me more interesting to myself."

Isn't that what attraction and lust are all about?

The questions Anna asked me in the interview really got me thinking about erotica, my own writing, and our unfortunate cultural habit of thinking sex is "out there" in Hollywood or sexy magazines.  That other people decide who is sexy, and the rest of us have to watch from the sidelines.  Writing erotica helped me understand sexiness is inside of me, and that sense of empowerment ties back to the theme of Women in Lust as well.  I highly recommend you head over to Anna Cook's blog and read the interview, as well as her other posts.  She is a thoughtful and thought-provoking blogger, and I was delighted to be invited!

(The photo above is of my collection of erotic books related to Japan and Japanese culture.  Makes me want to roll around and read for hours!)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Sexy Writing Partnerships

Writing and sex have a lot in common, and I explore another way this is all too true in my latest ERWA column, Sexy Writing Partnerships: Mastering the Art of Reading, Responding, and Roasting Brussels Sprouts.  Originally I'd meant to put in a paragraph or two at the end of an earlier column about writing groups, but my memories of the good and the bad of writing feedback were so overwhelming, I decided to devote an entire essay to the topic.  And that was just the beginning--is there anything to get a writer going all night over a bottle of red wine than sharing stories of mean critiques?  Well, if you have the wine, I've got the tales, but I've also learned a lot about the kind of critic I want to be, a work in process of course.  If you have any suggestions for further tips on how to give and accept feedback on a very sensitive issue for a writer, let me know!

And I noticed fresh Brussels sprouts on the stalk are already available at my local uber vegetable market.  Gonna get roastin'....

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Was (Almost) a Prostitute, Part 2

Writing part 1 of my response to the “Hipster Hooker” story and its aftermath was therapeutic, but I’m still dismayed at how slut-shaming remains such an extraordinarily effective strategy to keep women in line. I mean, really, even today if you want to be a respected writer, ladies, stay away from any whiff of sex or you’re ruined. That’s why this strategy works so beautifully. If “serious,” “respectable” people are scared into silence, then sexuality will continue to be dirty, forbidden and a great way to get at us in sly, subtle ways so we feel ashamed, don’t get feisty, and buy more stuff. Women will suffer for this because on the face of it they are designated as the more sexualized, vulnerable and inferior sex. But in spite of their alleged superiority and free rein with the libidinous impulses, men lose out in a sex-phobic society, too. Jessica Pilot’s article illustrates this point equally well.

While nominally about young women who make six-figure, tax-free salaries keeping company with prominent men, whether intentionally or not, Pilot’s article presents a grim picture of male sexuality. Pilot and her friends didn’t seem to have a very positive experience with sex with free-loading lovers. Pilot admits that at 22, all her dates and hookups hadn’t amounted to much, except to make her life more stressful. A call girl informant asked Pilot, and through her the reader as well, “How many men have you slept with who have turned out to be assholes? Well, let’s say you could get reimbursed for all the time you spent with them. Would you?” It’s easier to get compensated, says another. Sex with a boyfriend just isn’t worth it.

So, okay, guys, you’re going to have to make the bedroom more rewarding for your girlfriend, if you want to beat out the fellows willing to pay $2000 an hour!

If regular guys aren’t offering much pleasure in the sack, the “big-time artists,” “pro hockey players,” a “CFO at a major investment firm” mentioned in the article do seem to exert an appeal for Manhattan’s desirable young women. Of course Pilot can’t mention names, prostitution is illegal, but the necessity of being coy really underscored the depersonalization of the men. They become job titles, wallets, success objects. They might believe a long-time client relationship means there is genuine feeling, but Pilot’s pretty informants shake their heads and smile at that comforting illusion. If you happen to be in the mood to pity rich guys, you’ll find plenty of evidence here. Observes one call girl: “These guys are just lonely. And I know it’s hard to believe some of the big names we’ve been with would ever get that way, but believe me, they are. You have to have some sympathy for a man who works so hard to be successful and has no true love in his life. He has to get it by the hour.”

More than an expose of prostitution, Pilot’s article strikes me as warning about the costs of success and the worship of money as well. I’d guess a majority of people would not actively encourage their daughters to become prostitutes, even high-paid ones, but plenty of us encourage our sons to “succeed” without considering the price our elite professions exact. I was reminded of another great book I read last year called Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street by Karen Ho. Ho studies the culture of Wall Street and her findings would be sad if they weren’t so dangerous for our national economy. In brief summary, Wall Street firms indoctrinate their young recruits by forcing them to work hellish hours in a cutthroat environment, stringing them along with the promise of huge bonuses for putting profit above any other consideration. Does this harsh, blindered life take a toll on these young men (and just a few women who survive the gender hazing)?

Pilot’s article gives us an intriguing answer to that question. Naturally no article about high-end prostitution would be complete without glimpses into the kinky tastes of rich guys, and Pilot gives us a doozy with a peek into the erotic fetish of a “prominent hedge fund millionaire.” (Incidentally, according to a little web surfing, part of the pleasure of reading the article for New Yorkers was guessing identities). Is this kinky enough for you? One Wall Street master of the universe placed fifty one-hundred-dollar bills all over the bed then told “Olivia” to lie on top of them naked and (pretend to, she assures us) play with herself. He promised her the money would be all hers. Then he ejaculated on the money and stuck every bill to her body with his personal “glue.” After he pasted the last bill over her mouth, he said, “I told you it would be all yours.”  (Olivia collects the money in a baggie, washes and dries it, then gives it to her landlady for rent.  Is the dirty money still circulating?  If you deal in hundred-dollar-bills, beware of wrinkled, laundered-looking specimens!)

Okay, certainly one response to this scene, the most expected one, is EEEUUUWWW, men are so creepy and perverted, and obviously the richer you are, the more screwed up you are and the more you demean women and ohmygod this is so gross! That poor prostitute, she must have no self-respect to endure that.  Oh, and is there another example of the weird things these high-flyin' guys do?

I must admit, however, that my reaction was a bit different. Some argue that high-end call girls are more like therapists and in this case it couldn’t be truer. I can't help but wonder what has happened to this man in his life that would find erotic expression in this form? What humiliations did he have to endure for that dangling phallus of great wealth? What silence was required that felt to him like a mouth gagged by a hundred-dollar bill covered with a stranger’s semen?

Remember, this is a guy who has some serious power over our national economy, a success by any measure. Maybe we should stop worrying about our daughters and start taking a look at the way we compromise the souls of our sons?

One more thought about overlooked gems in Pilot’s article. One of her informant friends is supposedly confessing the downside of her job—that she feels depressed when she doesn’t have clients, that she calculates what she’d be earning with a john when she’s out with a boyfriend (as if busy businessmen aren’t always thinking about work as well). But she also confesses she feels close to some of her clients. “We’re both hiding a secret about ourselves, and in a very bizarre way that’s totally hot.” I wish Pilot had explored these intriguing insights further--our assumptions might have been challenged in an interesting way rather than, mostly, confirmed.

But I promised you a story of my own brief descent into prostitution, and I’m a girl who delivers. I won’t leave you your hotel room door, mouth gaping, deeply chagrined that a call girl took one look at your face and fled on you like the poor chubby guy Pilot rejected. (One can’t help but wonder what she would have done if Hugh Grant answered the door). Anyway, here goes.

In the summer of 1983, when I was just one year younger than Jessica Pilot, I lived in New York City for a few months. New York had always seemed so glamorous, all I could see was the neon and bustle, but I gradually became more familiar with its shadowy side—the young women in silk dresses lingering outside of midtown office buildings at day’s end, a friend of a friend who worked for the Mayflower Madam with fascinating, often poignant stories of her own. I glimpsed more depressing aspects of prostitution in New York as well. I didn’t write about my experiences then, but I did a few years ago in an autobiographical story entitled “Gotham Sex,” which was published in Maxim Jakubowski’s Sex and the City: New York.

I’ll let my narrator tell you the story:

Over the next year I did witness plenty of streetwalkers plying their trade on the sidewalk in front of my sister’s building. These women were not French fashion dolls like Anne, but clichés of another sort. Their bodies were dumpy and worn-looking under polyester halter tops and miniskirts. Most appeared to be in their thirties, bored-looking Puerto Ricans or chain-smoking peroxide blondes. There were exceptions. One day I spied two laughing men in their early twenties emerging from behind some cars in the parking lot at the corner. A woman about my age with kohl-rimmed eyes followed a few steps behind, tugging down her skirt.

She returned my gaze with an icy stare of contempt.

I looked away and hurried on as if I were the guilty one.

After a few months I was savvy enough to identify the regular customers, too. Cars cruised the block regularly—fat Cadillacs or big old Buicks with beefy, gray-haired drivers.

Sometimes, when I was feeling disgusted with my Ivy League classmates’ Wall Street ambitions, I wondered if a career in streetwalking might be a more honest way to make a living.

The August after graduation, I finally got my chance to try it.

I was strolling back from lunch with friends in the West Village, wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt I picked up for a dollar in a thrift store. I walked very slowly, studying my sandaled feet. The symbolism of it struck me even at the time. Up to then I’d known exactly what my next step should be. Now my future was wide open, but too frightening to examine, like a deep, messy wound.

That’s when I sensed the big car shadowing me, its engine purring just a few feet away. My body seemed to know what was happening before my mind did, for my cheeks began to burn as if I’d gulped down a puckery old Manhattan cocktail.

Oh, God, he thinks I’m a streetwalker.

I bit back a giggle. But was it a joke? At that moment I did feel like a desperate woman with no direction in her life.

Here was opportunity at last. Obscene possibilities flashed into my head. I could see my own body leaning on the passenger’s window to haggle (how much should I ask for anyway?). The hurried ride to a secluded spot (wherever would that be in this all-too-public metropolis?). Me clutching the car upholstery with sweaty fingers, wondering if I could actually go through with it. Bending over to take his wrinkled, grandpa’s cock between my lips, but doing my best, because I always tried my best for older men.

With a shiver, I instinctively looked up and straight into the eyes of my suitor. I remember purplish, fleshy ears, a shock of white hair. Our gaze locked for a good three seconds. It seemed much longer, however, as I watched the eager curiosity in his stare turn to shame as ink stains clean water in a glass. Jerking his head around, he floored the gas pedal and tore away down the street, engine roaring.

I glanced around quickly, but no one had witnessed my conceptual fall from respectability.

I’d actually been an East Village streetwalker in his eyes, if only for fifteen seconds. Yet the moment I returned his gaze, he knew I wasn’t. And he knew I saw what he was.

Maybe I did have a future after all?

(End of excerpt).

So, there you go, folks, I was a prostitute for fifteen seconds in my own head. I’m not sure how long the old man saw me as such, but he sure got the message that I wasn't when he looked into my pure, not-quite-virginal, presumably respectable eyes. Or was it the Princeton shield on my running shorts? In any case, I will end my musings on Jessica Pilot and good-girl prostitutes with this thought.

Magazine articles about prostitution assume that the world they are “exposing” and their readers have little in common. Sex for pay is illegal and good people don’t break laws. It’s emotionally and physically risky and good people only have sex with people they love and trust. It’s an extreme and foreign thing, either fun and glamorous or depressing and seedy, but the complex issues it raises are not something ordinary people ever experience.

But what if we stop trying to reassure ourselves that this has nothing to do with us? That we recognize the whole project of dividing women into respectable ladies and sluts causes great harm to both the women and men who judge as well as the victims? That we acknowledge “success” as defined by our society comes at a great cost and it's not just prostitutes who make dangerous comprises in their work?  And that finally this great enforced silence about sexuality, such a vital part of the human experience, has serious consequences to our psyches and the quality of our lives?

Jessica Pilot’s story and article raise all of these issues, but most people were too busy being titillated or shocked to notice. My hope is that if “respectable” people keep talking and asking questions, this situation will change for the better.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Was (Almost) a Prostitute, Part 1

Yes, this is a blatant teaser of a title, but it’s relevant, and, if you’ll hang with me until the end of this two-part series, you’ll find it’s even (kind of) true.

Recently I read an article at XO Jane that stayed with me, so much so that I decided I had to write about my reactions. It’s called “I Was a Hipster Hooker (And It Sort of Ruined My Life).” I recommend you read the column and the original article that led to a young woman’s ruination, but for those of you who don’t have time right now, I’ll give a brief summary.

When freelance writer Jessica Pilot was a dewy-eyed 22 year-old journalist, she published an article about upscale prostitution in New York City in the September 2008 issue of Radar Magazine. The story was based on interviews with women who felt empowered by their lucrative work. As part of her investigation, Pilot met with a madam who quickly evaluated her potential as a working woman ($950 market value because although she had a hot "look" her breasts were small) and suggested she go out on a call later that evening. Caught up in the momentum of her journalistic research and encouraged by an “on-again, off-again boyfriend,” Pilot agreed and went to the Plaza Hotel to meet a client. The hotel room door was opened by a pudgy, hirsute man with short arms. Pilot found herself unable to go through with the appointment for reasons she did not fully articulate (more on that below) and was forced by the very angry madam to pay up the $2000 she would have earned. Flash forward to the XO Jane story of the aftermath and all the abuse and humiliation that Pilot suffered for her byline from her family, vicious strangers on Gawker and others, including sexual harassment by an editor who, three years after the story was published, started an interview with “Well, Ms. Pilot. I can’t offer you $950 an hour,” then laughed at his own joke, oblivious of her discomfort.

As I mentioned above, my reactions to this article were quite strong and complex--and surprisingly personal. I also write about sex in a way that often celebrates its empowering aspects for women, and I’ve also suffered consequences, some very unpleasant and significant, some just “thoughtless” jokes and comments that might seem harmless but add up. (Even the apparently innocent remark, “you don’t look like an erotica writer” wears on me, but maybe I need to explore that further in another post). I found myself wanting to talk about the article, the column about the article and all the assumptions about sex, sex work and success that were not articulated in either.

Thank you for reading and “talking” with me.

First point--Pilot was accused of writing the article to get attention for herself, although no article is published in a for-profit magazine without the editor and/or publisher evaluating its worth in terms of drawing readership so they deserve credit, plus I’d guess few journalists write in order to be modest and self-effacing. There’s an old saying that a lady’s name appears in the papers three times—when she’s born, when she marries and when she dies. Any other time would involve a scandal because of course a lady would never write something for the newspaper. That would draw attention to herself, a grievous sin of vanity which is apparently still a fresh insult today. What also annoys me here is that all the people who criticized her for this either read the article because they were titillated by the title or didn’t read it but said mean things about her based only on the topic. Both are hypocritical and represent to me a very common way of dealing with personal discomfort about sex—project it out on to other “sinners.”

Many commentators also failed to take in the fact that Pilot never actually had sex for money, rather she ended up paying the angry madam twice what she would have earned in order to get out of the situation. Whether or not Pilot remained “a good girl” by bailing before she “went too far” is not my point right now. What struck me is that a woman doesn’t have to actually step over that line to merit hysterical criticism for unladylike behavior. All she has to do is think about improper behavior and of course write about it. I believe that the author’s curiosity as well as a certain glamorization of high-paying sex work in her article is what drove a certain segment of critics to shame her. And indeed, in my opinion, this fall from grace was at the heart of the editor’s sexual harassment three years later. By writing that article, Pilot was no longer due the respect he would have to show to a woman who had avoided controversial sexual topics or had written a disapproving expose of the perils of selling your body.

Obviously the double standard is alive and well. This disappointing truth was also driven home in another book I’ve been reading, Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk About Sexuality by Deborah Tolman. When I was a teen some thirty years ago, I hoped and believed women would become the equals of men in work, school and the bedroom by the twenty-first century. But Tolman’s interviews with teenage girls show that sex is still seen as a dangerous for girls. They are allowed to be objects of desire—a pretty creature for the right nice man to fall in love with--but not desiring subjects who can express curiosity, pursue pleasure or own their erotic power. The prostitutes Pilot interviewed seemed to be “getting away with something” by flouting these ancient rules. Perhaps Pilot was taking some of the flack intended for them?

While I am truly saddened by the reaction to this article, and the unfair stigmatization of a talented journalist, I have to admit I had some issues with the content of the article. Much of it was probably unintentional and certainly represents broader cultural stereotypes, as journalism often does. While googling the Radar issue, I found this very insightful response at BitchBuzz called “Love, Sex & the Internet: Hipster Hooker with a Heart of Gold” by Esmerelda Smith. In case you don’t have time to read it right now, I’ll summarize some of the pertinent points that also caught my attention.

First, Pilot’s article is presented by Radar as some kind of cutting edge expose about a new trend among our loveliest young females, but in fact our culture’s fascination with high-end call girls and their wealthy, powerful clients is timeless. The entire article is peppered with references to how cool, stylish and sexy the players are, investment bankers, musicians, CFOs and of course ladies lovely enough to charge thousands for an hour of their time. How different is this from our hunger to learn about the latest sexual misdeeds of celebrities?  Like Smith, I also feel like I’ve seen dozens of made for TV movies on this “forbidden” subject.

Next, while supposedly providing us with a glimpse into a forbidden world, an aspect of the article confused me. Why would two women who had a list of trusted clients and were making six figures sign up with a madam who would take half their fee, not to mention handing their clients’ information over to a third party? I assumed Heather, Olivia and Kelly kept their private clients and just took on new ones through the madam, but Smith’s critique pointed out that Pilot’s story did not jive with the experiences of other articulate sex workers and emphasized the glamour over an in-depth study of how these things really work.

Last but not least, Pilot’s article supposedly offers a view of the new prostitution as something much like “legitimate service industries.” Yet, the double standard and old stereotypes of women as vaginas and men as wallets shine through as subtext throughout. Nowhere is this more obvious than the “climax” of the article when Pilot finds herself unable to go through with the trick. As I mentioned above, she doesn’t really explain why, so we are left to assume one of two things: the client was too short, fat and hairy and didn’t live up to the informants’ romanticized descriptions of “classy" gentlemen with whom any woman would sleep for free anyway OR Pilot was a good girl at heart and these scruples won out over her dangerous, but temporary, intoxication with the contemporary demimonde. There is, admittedly, something soothing about this ending in that it mirrors the reader’s experience. By consuming this article we get to be voyeurs.  We can go to the brink of sin and get a little turned on by the idea either of being adored and spoiled by older, rich men or in the case of a man, perhaps being rich and successful enough to pay a beautiful woman for sex with no more effort than a phone call. But then, of course, being “good” people, we can step back at the hotel room door, return to our ordinary, non-New-York-glamour lives, and do it for love instead of money. We can have our fantasy prostitute's cake and eat it, too.

But somehow, that feels a little sleazy to me. Perhaps this forced complicity is why I feel the need to go deeper into the assumptions and myths hovering about and hiding within this article. There’s more to say about how sex is presented (yes, as kinky and dirty) and how the clients are portrayed. I also think this story could be seen as a critique of “success” in our society. Oh, and as promised I will talk about my own unwitting foray into prostitution, a nice girl caught up in New York City's sinful ways. But that is for next time.  After all, good capitalist consumers always have to sit tight for the story at eleven.

To be continued in Part 2!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sexuality as Art not Sport

I've been enjoying browsing the archives of Heather Corinna's columns at RH Reality Check: Reproductive & Sexual Health and Justice, and this thought from "Get Real: Male vs. Female Bodies--Why Go There?" really struck me:

"Sex is a lot like art: it's a means of self-expression, whether you share it or not.  A sexuality someone really, really enjoys tends to be a highly original, thoughtfully-crafted piece of work, not a poster there are a million copies of or something that's clearly copying or reacting to another artist."

This comment brings together a lot of themes I've been thinking about since I started writing erotica.  In the popular understanding, erotica is about making sex artful--taking an inherently dirty, animalistic act and transforming it into something as "beautiful" and literary as possible.  But that always seemed a little off the mark to me.  That's because writing about sex respectfully has enabled me to learn a lot about my sexual feelings and erotic imagination.  Speaking about sex allows the illumination to shine inward as well as outward.  I know myself better because I write erotica, and I keep wanting to recommend that everyone write erotica, whether they intend to publish or not.  Heather Corinna takes it one step further in a way that really resonates.

Her column begins as an answer to a young woman who is envious of her male friends who always seem to be talking about how great and easy sex is for men.  Corinna reassures the young woman that the accepted ways to talk about sex have little to do with how any individual experiences sex.  Indeed we are all subject to these distortions--how the media portrays sex (my pet peeve being that in popular images sex always sucks after marriage), jokes about sex (even from supposed high-brows like Charles McGrath), silences around sex.  How can anyone fight this constant bombardment of fear, loathing and banality?  Yet the idea that our sexuality is something we create, something that--gasp--might even improve and become richer as we grow older, an art rather than a sport, wow, that's empowering!

It must be something about the new school year starting, but I've been tempted to write term papers about various media treatments of sexuality that have shown me just how far we haven't come since the Sexual Revolution ignited and supposedly consumed itself.  There are plans for more discussion soon.  In the meanwhile, thanks, Heather Corinna, for your eloquent, passionate and inspiring columns.  I can tell you care and that's not so common in the media!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Dirty Smutter Writes to the New York Times Sunday Magazine

I'm not sure why I was so affected by Charles McGrath's profile of Nicholson Baker, "The Mad Scientist of Smut."  There are certainly many more issues involving the future of our economy, the environment and education that I feel much more strongly about than an elite journalist's discomfort discussing sexual themes maturely and his glaring ignorance about sexually authentic literature in our country.  In fact, after reading a few more reviews of Baker's latest book, House of Holes, I'm beginning to suspect poor McGrath found himself with a difficult assignment--trying to frame a truly pornographic book (and I use that term not with derision but in the sense that the writing privileges fantasy and avoids the complications and consequences of sex in the real world) as something a New York Times audience should find significant.

Nonetheless this article and its many assumptions touched a nerve and have inspired me to write not just a blog post at Good Vibrations, "Does Sex Have to Be Stupid?" but also a letter to Mr. McGrath himself.  I haven't received a reply, and I don't expect one.  I honestly don't imagine the man continued to read my email after the first line or two.  But I am glad, for the sake of refining my own position about an issue I do care about, that I organized my thoughts and spoke out for all writers who have the courage to explore sex honestly.  (Mr. Baker hardly needs my support as he cries his way to the bank!) I suspect Mr. McGrath felt "dirty-book writers" were an easy target for his insults as surely none of us would dare to come forward from our slimy holes to protest.

But I did.

Here's what I said:

Dear Mr. McGrath,

Although I’ve admired your articles in the past, I feel compelled to write to you to express dismay at the tone of your recent profile of Nicholson Baker, “The Mad Scientist of Smut.”   Presumably Baker and his work were deemed worthy of an article in one of our country’s most prestigious magazines.  He is a literary author with impeccable credentials, who also has the courage to explore one of our last literary taboos.  Why then is he demeaned, even mocked, as a “dirty-book writer,” with quotes chosen from his work that, out of context, indeed sound as ridiculous as if they come straight out of Penthouse Letters?  I expected more from a journalist of your stature than a titillating supermarket tabloid description of Vox as “so steamy Monica Lewinsky gave it as a gift to Bill Clinton.”  Surely your readership would appreciate a more nuanced look at a possible reason for the gift of a book about two lonely people who form an unexpected, momentary, but profound connection through intimate confessions.  Semen-stained dresses and cigars aside, this very likely constituted the essence of the Clinton-Lewinsky friendship and acknowledges that Baker’s work has value far above “smut.”

I was also confused by the presentation of Baker as a both a bizarre anomaly (“What kind of person dreams up this stuff?”) and the only serious author of our time who dares to tackle sexually honest themes.  Countless writers of literary merit, many of them women, have been writing frankly, and therefore often in an arousing manner, about sexuality. This is not a case of “mixed motives.”  An exploration of the secret and often subversive aspects of the human experience is the great project of literature—eroticism has finally been allowed its chance alongside the other passions of the human heart.   Unfortunately, as I read your article, I felt I was learning more about our elite culture’s lingering prejudices and discomfort with sexual honesty than Baker or his work.

I’m sure you will acknowledge that intelligent people, no matter how cerebral and dignified in their public lives, have sexual feelings and erotic imaginations.  The Judeo-Christian religious tradition has long attempted to deny this.  William Shawn's New Yorker endeavored to protect its refined upper-middle-class readers from unseemly words and topics.  But we live in a very different world now.  We can leave sex to the “dirty-book writers,” or, like Baker and so many other fine authors, we can try to approach it with intelligence, wit, and an eye for complexity and nuance.  We can feel soothed that Baker’s children will, “very sensibly,” not admit to a journalist that they’ve read much less admired his sexually explicit novels. Or we can question why sexuality and parenthood, one undeniably linked to the other, must be kept at such a distance in our culture.

It is perhaps too romantic of me to expect that The New York Times would be able to transcend deeply-rooted cultural messages about the “dirtiness” of sex, but in the American tradition of optimism, I nurture the hope that more journalists will treat the erotic imagination with the respect and maturity it deserves.  Perhaps you, too, will consider doing so in future articles?


Donna George Storey, Ph.D.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Are You a "Real" Writer?

In all the excitement of early August, I forgot to post about my most recent column at ERWA, "Be a 'Real' Writer: Slowing Down, Seeing Anew, and a Fresh Take on America's Favorite Entree."  In this installment I discuss the revision process in what I hope is a rather fresh way.  That is, I don't focus on commas or grab-'em first lines or any sort of technical advice you might get in an SAT prep course (which most of us read as b-o-r-i-n-g).  Rather I argue that editing your first draft is the time when you really take control of the story and shape it with your unique sensibility.  Given how horrible my first drafts are, I can assure you I would not be any kind of writer at all, much less a "real" one without the magic of revision.  Let me know what you think.

Oh, and the photograph above has nothing to do with revision, I'm just posting some favorites from my boudoir session with Laura Boyd!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

I'm the Featured Author at ERWA!

We all had a wonderful time in southern California, visiting Hearst Castle, Hollywood, Disneyland and capping it all off with a luxurious stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel (where they pipe classical music into the water in the pool).  It's always a little tough to transition back into ordinary life after vacation, but the task was sweetened by a very special August treat--I'm the featured erotica writer at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association!  I get a chance to preach a little about the importance of erotica as an antidote to our culture's sex-negativity and also offer up, for this month only, three stories of my favorite stories that have never appeared online before. 

In honor of this honor, and also because I just raided my boudoir archives for my "straight-in-the-eye eroticist" post, I'm offering another peek into my session with Laura Boyd last November.  Although I am looking off to the side, it's not furtive.  I'm clearly thinking of another story scenario.

Hope you're all having a happy August.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Straight in the Eye

The wonderful and clear-eyed eroticist, Shanna Germain, posted a challenge to erotica writers to show the world that Charles McGrath is wrong when he intimated in his review of Nicholson Baker's latest sex-themed novel that writers who dare to tell stories about sexuality have bad coloring and furtive gazes from too much masturbating.  If you want to get riled up about the sad state of our culture, please do read the review--it's bursting with intellectual snobbery toward erotic writing, even as it supposedly celebrates Baker's courage in writing about topics that are usually delegated to stupid, shifty-eyed, sickly pornographers.

Anyway, I offer this above photograph as an exhibit of one pornographer who is not afraid to look anyone straight in the eye and proclaim--"I have a Ph.D., I write sexually honest stories, and I've got plenty of color in my cheeks and my life.  And I'm a hell of a lot more comfortable about sex than you are, Mr. McGrath!"

Although it wouldn't surprise me if Mr. McGrath allowed that females who dare to speak of erotic topics might wear too much rouge....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Juicy Summer Obsession

It's been quiet around my blog recently.  That's because I've been taking it easy this summer, enjoying the lazier days and the sweet summer fruits and writing a few hot, steamy stories.  Oh, and I also collaborated with my son to make a delicious homemade cinnamon ice cream with chunks of fresh-baked Snickerdoodles blended in (destined to become a regular treat in our house).  Now, with the height of the season, I'm happy to announce one of the sweetest treats of my summer, the release of Obsessed: Erotic Romance for Women, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel.  From the gorgeous cover to the stellar list of authors, this book is a fabulous beach read--and an even better hotel-bed read.  My story, "Silent Treatment," is about a silent retreat in the moments, where a couple learns all the wonderful ways to communicate when you can't speak (you can get a little taste of the story here).  Silence can be golden, baby!

Hope you're having a wonderful summer.  More sweet treats soon!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Seduce Your Reader--And Yourself

The next installment in my writer's feast is up: Seduce Your Reader--And Yourself: Erotic Sex, Sexier Erotica, and Very Versatile Salads.  I consider timeless questions such as "What's the difference between erotica and pornography?" (there is indeed a difference and I will go to the arm wrestling mat to defend my opinion); "How much sex does an erotic story need?" (as much as possible, silly, but be sly about it); and "How can I make a tasty salad from this week's CSA veggie box?" (it depends on the season, but follow your instincts or my directions, whichever appeals at the moment).  It was fun to write and I hope fun to read.  Bon Appetit!

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Velocity" at Good Vibrations!

I'm happy to announce that my short-short story, "Velocity," is now up at Good Vibrations Magazine where I'm honored to be in the company of wonderful erotica writers such as Emerald.  While I usually tend to write longer stories, because I just have so much to say about sensuality and pleasure, this piece is mini-skirt short and fast-paced all around, like a shot of espresso for the libido.  My inspiration was a photograph from an old Viva Magazine of a picnic en plein air (pictured above), and I also include perennial favorites--like blindfolds--with a new twist.  What a great way to celebrate spring, a little wine, a basket of fruit, a handsome swain....

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Good Porn?

Hey, I know it's been a while since I've blogged, lots going on, plus I've been wanting to reorient my focus from promotion to a more content-rich blog which explores erotic themes.  For example, I've been reading an interesting book on the portrayal of sex in films from porn to mainstream to arty and wanted to discuss some interesting ideas presented in that book.  I'm still mulling over those ideas, and what should I come across in the blog-scape than a post by Erobintica which deals with many of the same issues that fascinate me--the portrayal of sex and eros in the media, female shame and empowerment, the importance of articulating our desire.  Erobintica presents an intriguing review of Good Porn: A Woman's Guide topped by a wonderful interview with the author of the book, Erika Lust.  In particular I agree with Erika's observation that we tend to lump all explicit sexual material into one big trash pile called "porn," which is not unlike using the male experience as the norm--it erases a great deal of nuance and variety in the human condition.  No doubt I'll have more to say after I read the book, but thanks to Robin for the pointer and the thought-provoking post!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Surrender to Pleasure

 Is that one gorgeous book cover or what?  I'm delighted to announce the release of an amazing "best of" anthology erotic tales Surrender: Erotic Tales of Female Pleasure and Submission, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel.  My story "Dear Professor Pervert" leads an amazing line-up of stories ranging from Emerald's breathtaking "Power over Power" to Shanna Germain's stunning classic "The Sun is an Ordinary Star."  If you want one beautiful volume of the creme de la creme for your library, this is it!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Humphrey Bogart, Honeymoons, Naughty Interviews

The gala celebration of the release of Nice Girls, Naughty Sex: 20 Erotic Tales continues over at Oysters & Chocolate with a series of interviews with the very naughty-but-nice authors.  This week is my turn, and you'll find out about my inspiration for the story, my Hollywood erotic fantasy, and whether my story in the anthology, "Honeymoon Suite," is suitable to show your mother.  I had lots of fun doing the interview and hope you'll enjoy reading it.

Oh, and I get to show off my corset again.  Yessss!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Nice Girls, Naughty Sex

No, that's not my new personal motto (although it could be), it's the title of a fantastic new anthology that has just been released, Nice Girls, Naughty Sex: 20 Erotic Tales, edited by erotica mavens Jordan LaRousse and Samantha Sade of the delicious website Oysters & Chocolate.

The list of authors is truly stellar and I cannot wait to get my contributor's copy to dig into the feast of scrumptious stories. My story, "Honeymoon Suite," is on a theme very dear to my imagination, the power of erotic photography. In a different life, this would definitely be my job and my passion!

Here's an small taste of this tale, which includes many flavors of sensual love.

From "Honeymoon Suite":

I was still packing up my equipment, when the groom slipped out of the bedroom. He positioned himself strategically between me and the main entrance to the suite and gave me a sheepish grin.

I was pretty sure what was coming next.

"Hey, Melody, uh, Kristina and I wanted to thank you again for the session. It was amazing."

I smiled back, secretly admiring his smooth, muscular chest peeping through the hotel's fluffy white robe. Such a perfect torso for photographs. "It was my pleasure, Jake. Give me a call when you two get back from Italy, and we'll set up an appointment for the next step."

Jake ran his hand through his tousled hair. "About that next step. Listen, I've never seen Kristina so seriously turned on. I heard you had a magic touch with the ladies, but that was incredible."

I definitely knew what was coming next.

"so Kristina was wondering--and I was, too--if you'd be interested in hanging out with us for a little while longer. You could help us finish that bottle of champagne."

I glanced over at the half-open door to the bedroom. The bride was watching us from the bed, the sheet clutched over her naked breasts, which, under the circumstances, struck me as unnecessary modesty.

"I never drink on the job," I replied.

"We don't have to drink," Jake said. "And actually we were thinking this would be pleasure. For all of us this time."

I tilted my head as if I didn't quite get what he was proposing.

I should have known a savvy young attorney like Jake wouldn't buy it. "Come on, I saw that look in your eyes when you pointed your big, long camera lens at my naked wife." His own eyes took on a predatory gleam.

Fortunately, I had my canned speech ready. "Well, Jake, it is true that I appreciate female beauty, but my interest is purely artistic. My only desire is to create a momento of the pleasure two lovers share. Nothing more."

He raised his eyebrows. "If your limit is two, I'm fine it's just you and Kristina--although I hope you'll let me watch."

I laughed. I really didn't hold it against my clients when they propositioned me. Planning a wedding involves months, even years of stress. The big day itself is exhausting. Follow that with kissing, fondling and making love to your brand-new spouse in front of a stranger with a camera for a few hours, and the boundaries were sure to blur.

"It's very tempting," I lied, "but I'm afraid I have to decline the invitation. When I started this business, my partner made me promise her that I'd keep things professional. but I promise you I'm going to make the two of you some beautiful images to commemorate your wedding night."

Jake admitted defeat with a shrug. "Well, we wouldn't want to get you in trouble with your old lady. But hey, it was fun while it lasted."

I nodded, holding back a smile. Little did he know that for me, the fun was just beginning....

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Peep into Male Psychology

My column "Cooking Up a Storey" is going to every other month this year so I can spend more time on my novel, but I do have a book review up in February for Have Him at Hello: Confessions from 1000 Guys About What Makes Them Fall in Love…Or Never Call Back by Rachel Greenwald. You'll find the review in the nonfiction section--but why, you ask, is a fiction writer reviewing a dating guide?

Well, because I found this book a fascinating source of information about how both men and women behave when they're looking for a temporary or permanent mate, what they think they want and maybe some hints about what they really want. While those on the dating scene might seek to learn from mistakes, a writer can also use them as inspiration for characters, both lucky in love and not so fortunate. Next month I'll review a pick-up guide for men. I've learned so much from both guides, which both seek to give their readers the analytical upper hand in a game where it's easy to feel powerless. Which I suppose is what fiction writers do with life itself!

Writers are not Things

Loved this post by Sarah Ockler: "You're Not a Thing: 10 Anti-Insanity Tips for Writers." Every phase of the writing life has its challenges and when you first start out, you think being published will make all your dreams come true. But it just creates a whole new set of desires. As the Buddha said: "Life is dissatisfaction." If we take a step back and remember why we write, though, the satisfactions can outweigh the thing-ness.

What do you think?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Gotta Have It Book Trailer is Extraordinary

The Gotta Have It book trailer is out today, and what a wonderful way to cap off two great book readings this past week! There is something so very sexy and tantalizing about hearing (and seeing) the authors read their own work. Each provocative snippet makes you want to read more, more, more. Check out the book trailer on to enjoy offerings by editor Rachel Kramer Bussel, Helia Brookes, Jeremy Edwards, Emerald and Shanna Germain among other great erotica writers. And you'll also learn why I chose this photograph by Laura Boyd for this post. You definitely gotta have Gotta Have It--it makes the perfect Valentine's Day gift, too.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Magical Evenings

Writing is a solitary endeavor, and most of the time I like it that way. Well, actually I'm not alone when I write, I'm fighting or flirting with or rolling around in bed with my characters, who always seem to know the right, or deliciously wrong, thing to do and say. Occasionally, though, I have a chance to step out of my small, cluttered office and share my stories with an audience. Such was the case last night and on Thursday, when Rachel Kramer Bussel was on the Bay Area stop of her West Coast book tour.

Rachel is not only a gifted editor and writer, she knows how to throw a great reading, and both evenings were amazing--audiences generous in both size and response, delicious little cupcakes (which disappeared in the blink of an eye), and a cast of wonderful readers who each brought their stories to life in a magical way. The energy was so inspiring, and I felt incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to be part of this, people coming together to honor erotic writing.

The event at Good Vibrations on Thursday, January 27, had a homey feel--and why not, it's just a short drive from my home! Rachel, Denise Hoffner and I read our short-short stories from Gotta Have It: 69 Stories of Sudden Sex. They were the perfect length for a reading and the audience of about 30 seemed to think so, too. Then we had a Q&A about erotica writing, which was very educational for all. Herr Doktor enjoyed his peppermint patty mini-cupcake, and I was tempted to try the bacon-chocolate, but worried I might get chocolate on my corset!

January 28th's reading at the venerable Booksmith in the Haight had a festive Friday night feel. We had a standing-room-only crowd of 75 and a delightfully varied cast of readers. Susie Hara read her amusing story from Orgasmic, which featured a married couple who still have spark and humor. I went next with an excerpt from "The Big O" in the same book. Violet Blue read a hilarious story by Thomas Roche about a Stanford grad student who finds her way to a lucrative second career. Rachel's story, "Espionage," from Best Women's Erotica 2011 (in which I also have a story), mesmerized everyone with its emotional intensity and heart-breaking truth. Dusty Horn finished off with another Orgasmic bang. If you weren't one of the fortunate 75, you can see part of my reading right here. (The other people in the photo are the charming Kat from Cleis Press and the staff of the Booksmith who were such gracious hosts.)

Finally, I wanted to thank my friend, Lucy, for designing and crafting the skirt that completes my corset ensemble. I can't fully express my appreciation for the gift of her time and skill--from helping me decide the style, to shopping for lace at Lacis, a local lace specialty shop, to putting the whole thing together in a perfect dream of a petticoat. But I'm planning to wear this outfit as often as I possibly can and will always think of her generosity and creative artistry!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Come Together for Owen's Next Concert

Owen's band "In the Moment" will be playing in their second concert at Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley at 4:30 pm on Sunday, January 23. Owen will be singing vocals for the Beatles' "Come Together" and Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Around the World" as well as for the group's original composition "Parallel Universe." And he'll be playing a mean bass line for the other fine songs as well. You don't just have to be a proud parent to enjoy the bands and the $5 cover won't lighten your wallet much at all. These kids are talented and fun, and I'm grateful to innovative schools like BandWorks and Owen's super cool music teachers for helping these kids groove and blossom. Come together with us if you're free on Sunday afternoon!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Free Erotica Class with RKB at Good Vibrations on 1/27

Writing is a solitary endeavor, but sometimes it's helpful to get advice from seasoned experts to help us map our course. That's why we pay big bucks to go to writers' conferences and take classes with established professionals. But what if you could get some distilled words of wisdom and experience for FREE, along with some delicious cupcakes? If you're interested in writing erotica, or if you like free sweets, hell, if you've ever had a sexual thought or feeling in your life, you won't want to miss the reading and erotica writing mini-class led by award-winning erotica editor Rachel Kramer Bussel (and assisted by yours truly) at Good Vibrations' Berkeley store at 2504 San Pablo Avenue on Thursday, January 27. Official event time is 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm, but given that it's a work night, we probably won't start giving out the really useful tips until 7 pm, so don't worry if you have to be a little late. And you won't have to write or read your own erotica, just take notes for later and ask any question your heart desires!

Seriously folks, you're basically getting a chance to get the inside scoop from Rachel, THE leading erotica editor today. I'm getting a sweet little shiver just thinking about this opportunity. Hope to see you there!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Two Weeks From Tonight (1/28)--Please Come!

Yes, it's only two short weeks until a very exciting, I might even say orgasmic, erotica event at the venerable Booksmith at 1644 Haight Street, San Francisco's coolest 'hood. That's Friday, January 28 at 7:30 pm, and I'll be there in my corset (pictured above--and don't I look satisfied?) reading an excerpt from my story, "The Big O," in Rachel Kramer Bussel's very steamy anthology, Orgasmic. However, I'll keep the lacing loose so I can sample the cupcakes afterwards (talk about getting all your juices flowing). If you're in the Bay Area, or have a Star Trek transporter in your basement, beam on over because this is going to be yummmmy, as well as thought-provoking and instructive!

Here's the official teaser:

January 28, 2011 at 7:30 pm


With Susie Hara, Dusty Horn, and Donna George Storey

Award-winning local writer and sexpert Violet Blue (Best Women’s Erotica 2011, Seal It With a Kiss) and New York-based erotica author and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel (Orgasmic, Fast Girls) join forces to bring you an evening of sexy smut! Featuring local Orgasmic contributors Susie Hara, Dusty Horn, and Donna George Storey, plus free cupcakes, this promises to be a steamy night of sensuous stories.

What gets you off? How do you like to come? Let Orgasmic count the ways…with 25 stories centered around female orgasm, there’s something here for every reader. The women in Orgasmic climax from Tantric sex, role-playing, piercing, G-spot play, sex toys, horseback riding, BDSM, a belt and even chemistry–the scientific kind. They delight in food, God and handymen. They create their own objects of pleasure; they spy, tease, obey, command, argue, submit. Some are shy about their orgasms and some are bold as can be. They come, and come and come again, and they do it in some of the hottest, most creative ways you can think of. Featuring red-hot erotica by some of today’s hottest writers, these stories will make you want to stop everything and have an orgasm immediately…once you’ve turned the last succulent page.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Listen to Gotham Sex at!

My all-knowing, all-seeing erotica writing buddy, Jeremy Edwards, just alerted me to the fact that my story "Gotham Sex," published in Maxim Jakubowski's Sex in the City: New York, is the sample story at I have to say I really, really like the way Jenna Wilding reads the story. She definitely captures the spirit I was hoping to evoke. And since the book is full of excellent stories from some of my very favorite erotica writers, I think this might make a good Valentine's Day gift for your favorite auditeur (who might just be yourself)! But even if you're not up for shopping until later, stop by and give a listen to my more-than-a-memoir of adventure in the great city in the 1970s and 1980s.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Happy New Year to you, my dear blog readers! I hope you had a lovely year-end holiday. I really enjoyed my "time-out-of-time" to hang out with my family, watch a lot of movies, eat a lot of cookies and celebrate my forty-ninth birthday. In our house, the birthday girl or boy gets to rule big time, and I took full advantage of my privileges to force my family to go to brunch at Ella's in San Francisco where we breakfasted on orange-brandy French toast, fried cornmeal with onions and jalapenos, fluffy pancakes and waffles and a luscious fresh fruit plate. Then I decreed we go to the Museum of Modern Art to see several cool exhibits on wine and style, voyeurism, and Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs. I do love art museums and always feel my consciousness is broadened by appreciating the works of artists in other media. After we got back home from our aesthetic enrichment, I made my famous rum mousse rice pudding as a stand-in for birthday cake. Dinner was deep-dish pizza from a new kid on the block, Little Star Pizza, which makes what I can only describe as an elegant pizza. The corn meal crust was delish, too. Then we broke open the Veuve Clicquot and watched The Godfather with an eye to all the continuity and historical errors as well as fascinating facts I learned from the annotated screenplay. The day was a pleasure from start to finish and even lingered on into sometime after midnight in the first hour of 2011.

The New Year encourages us to look back as well as forward, and one of the sparkling highlights of 2010 for me was my boudoir session with Laura Boyd. Laura blogged about my session yesterday, and I'm planning to give you more on my experience in the month ahead. I don't have any strict New Year's resolutions this year, but I do want to try to be in the moment, keep my mind and heart open, and write what I love in the year ahead. If you have some good resolutions to share, let me know and I might even steal them! Wishing you a New Year of peace, discovery and pleasure!