Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stories of Loving Women

Becky Birtha wrote For Nights Like This One: Stories of Loving Women when I was a toddler. I read it as a fluke, seeing it recommended in an old book on the writing craft. The stories feel like they came from another world. "Lesbianism" -- the clinical-sounding word used in the book -- is a secret, a thing nobody does. The characters discover hidden realms of it.

"Marisa," one of my favorite stories in the book, describes a mysterious, fascinating woman. The narrator can't figure out what it is about this woman, why she doesn't hang out with the other people at work, and why she can't stop thinking about her. She doesn't understand why she's offended by certain comments people make at work. To my modern eye, it is obvious that Marisa is a lesbian, and the narrator might be a budding lesbian. But the big revelation of the story -- that Marisa is a lesbian -- works because this knowledge is so clearly forbidden in the context of the story.

But I don't want to make it sound like this book is dated, as in no longer relevant. In reading it, I felt I was connecting dots, understanding things I had felt but hadn't seen so clearly. In modern times, we like to talk about how enlightened we are, but I wasn't a toddler so very long ago. The fact that these stories could be written in my lifetime says a lot about the discomfort, confusion, and misinformation still flowing through our society.

The characters' struggles about whether they will have children, how they will deal with other people's opinions of them, or how to dress when they go out rang true for me and made me feel relief. We are not really past this, and it's nice to see this get treated without the complication of an author who feels like we ought to be. In "Next Saturday," the main character questions whether her desire to reach out to an obviously alienated young lesbian is motivated by a pure urge to help or by her own lust.

My favorite story, "We Used to Be Best Friends," hit me hard with its description of realizing you love someone you're not supposed to love:

And Francie found herself saying the words it had taken her so long to realize. "I do love you, Kelly. I never knew it before, but I love you." Then, as the impact of her own words was reflected in Kelly's face, she added, "It's only that I never thought I would be... or could be... a lesbian." Abruptly, she burst into tears. She covered her face with her hands, then buried her head in her arms on the table, shaking with sobs.

Through her tears, she heard Kelly's voice. "I know, Francie. I know -- it's scary, it's heavy. But it isn't bad. It isn't wrong. I know it's not -- not what I feel, what you feel. We can have something together that's really beautiful."

I'm so glad that I can casually decide to write a lesbian story, that many people are able to be open and out about their sexuality, and so many other changes. Progress is good. But this passage reminded me that all too often, even now, people despair at love rather than celebrating it because of shame or the hatred of others. Kelly's words in response to her lover are beautiful, and my hope is that one day all of us can feel this way about our loves, embracing their beauty whatever the sexuality of it might be.

Birtha's collection is moving and well worth reading. It has a powerful, poetic voice that soaked into me for several days after I read it. There are old copies floating around on Amazon, and I'd recommend tracking one down.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Why Pleasure Matters

I was moved by an essay called "Face Forward," by Jim Lewis, published in a recent issue of W. Here are some quotes:

Glamour is unfair -- one of the only things in this unfair world that are admirable for being so. ... Glamour is among the most superfluous of things. Many have never seen it, let alone borne it; many more have paid it no mind. ... Because it's nothing, really: just a bit of flash and glitter, a smile, and goodbye. It's not going to save the world.

No, but it's one of the things that can make the world seem worth saving. Pleasures aren't so easy to come by, after all, and the purer the pleasure, the more pointless and inexplicable, the more we tend to prize it.

I like the poetic tone of the essay, and I'm interested in the context of fashion and glamour. By the time he starts talking about pleasure, though, I've moved into thinking about sex. I often wonder why it seems so vital, so significant to write about sex. Sometimes, I mentally disparage my work by thinking of it as "cock and pussy stories," my own insulting version of the phrase "cock and bull." I worry about whether I'm wasting my talents, and wonder why I'm so interested in writing about people fucking.

But I do think writing about sex is really important, in addition to being fun. (I use the tag "sacred calling" on my blog for a reason.) And I think Lewis's words on glamour go a long way toward explaining one aspect of why. Pleasure is special, fleeting, significant. It makes life worth living and the world worth saving. And it is under siege, from myself and my own internal Puritan, and also from others who want to disapprove of where I find my pleasure or regulate it. Many people find pleasure terribly threatening, and that could only be the case if it mattered.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nine Parts of Desire

I recently read Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, and would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in sex, women, religion, and the intersection of the three.

The book contains deep discussion of the veil, clitoridectomy, seclusion, honor killings, child brides, female soldiers, and similar subjects of vital interest. I really appreciated the effort Brooks makes to place these issues in historical, political, and cultural context. Particularly, she often relates practices to stories of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad.

These are complex issues, and Brooks allows them to exist as a tapestry. Rather than giving easy answers, she lets things lie side by side, illustrating a sort of confusion that increased my trust in the book's authenticity.

The title of the book is drawn from a proverb that suggest God made sexual desire in ten parts, gave one to man and the other nine to women. This is great for the title because it sums up a lot of what's so fascinating about the position of Islamic women. On one hand, this idea is refreshing. As a Western woman, I'm all too used to being shamed for having sexual desire, or finding that people are surprised when I express it. A lot of the Islamic ideas Brooks explores embrace the reality of female sexuality in a way that I can appreciate. However (and this is a big however), another element that comes out clearly is deep male fear of female sexuality. Women are shown held hostage, constrained, and mutilated because of the extent of this fear. This is not unique to Islam -- there's plenty of the same fear in the West. But some practices really do seem more extreme in their social acceptability (honor killing does horrify me more than the perhaps comparable "crimes of passion" one might see in the West).

The book was originally written in 1995. While that means that some of the information, such as the chapter on Queen Noor, is out of date, I actually found that refreshing. I can't describe how nice it was to read a book that really engaged with Islam without the heavy and pervasive influence of 9/11. While that was certainly a significant event, I think it tends to color Western descriptions of Islamic nations and practices to the point that it's hard to achieve balance. Brooks isn't afraid to criticize, but she also works hard to empathize with the women she writes about and provide a sense of their perspective.

But I was perhaps struck the most by Brooks' introduction, in which she tells the story of how she came to interview women in the Middle East. She began as a correspondent frustrated and marginalized because the people she saw as important (the men) would not grant her access to them. She spun her wheels for quite some time before realizing she could get stories from the women that no male reporter could. I think it really says something that it took a female reporter so long to figure that out. It's easy to criticize the Islamic world for marginalizing women, but while those of us in the West are much more free to go where we please, I think we still carry the view that women and women's issues are less important. Nine Parts of Desire can be read as a refutation of that position, and in that sense, its message is powerful and not outdated in the least.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Words and Wings

I've signed a contract with Forbidden Fiction for a new m/m science fiction novelette, called Icarus:

A man on the run dreams of wings, like the surgical modifications given to the rich and famous of Central City. The hacker who harbors him will do anything to keep him, and undertakes risky missions to pay for the dangerous operation in a back alley chop shop. The wings bring agony as much as freedom, but they allow the two lovers to share a brief moment of bliss in the upper reaches of the atmosphere before tragedy strikes.

The mythological Icarus flies too close to the sun and melts his wings of wax, and my Icarus does much the same -- with dreams, with wings, with boldness, and with love.

The story will be part of Forbidden Fiction's special collection, Taking Flight. I'll post more information when it becomes available.

In the meantime, check out the other work in the Forbidden Fiction catalog.

The Six Swans Reviewed

Book review site Mrs. Condit and Friends Read Books posted today about The Six Swans, and gave the book four sweet peas:

King Evan’s lust and longing for the beautiful but mute Leonora is so poignant, especially when he is faced with a forced marriage to cement his mother’s financial machinations.

Here are three reasons you should visit the site to check out the full version:

1) One commenter will receive a copy of the book.

2) You'll see an exclusive character interview with Leonora

3) Mrs. Condit reviews books every day, and you will see similarly lovely posts on other titles worth your time.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Days You Feel Like the Real Deal

A couple weeks back, I got three acceptance letters in one day. I felt like the real deal, like I am actually a writer.

Now, I know I am actually a writer, because I actually sit down every day and write. That's what's important, and that's what I try to focus on, but the unfortunate fact remains that external validation every now and then feels pretty nice. Checks are nice. Seeing evidence that someone read something of mine is nice. Feeling like the real deal is nice.

I'm pretty sure I could be rich as J.K. Rowling and still doubt whether I was the real deal. It doesn't seem logical that way. Writing can sometimes be one big mood swing. Three acceptances in one day can get me floating high, and then the next day I can decide that my business plan will never work and start wondering why I haven't given up by now.

I had a funny moment years ago reading Writer's Market. That book used to have articles featuring descriptions of "My First Sale." A guy described his first sale as a stringer to a newspaper. At the time, I worked on staff at a newspaper that sounded just like the one he described. I didn't consider myself a real writer, and yet there he was talking about how excited he was to write one article for a place like that -- and there I was writing four or five a week. I had a real deal moment then, too, but it also put things in perspective.

As long as I have goals, I will always exist on a spectrum, where there are things I have done and things I haven't. If I ever really feel like I have arrived, like I'm the permanent real deal with no doubt whatsoever, that means I have no goals left and should probably retire.

That said, I like going to bookstores and seeing Cleis collections that include me on the shelves. I like getting three acceptance letters in one day. I don't mind feeling like the real deal for a minute, I just try not to let it go to my head.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

On Not Being Perfect

(This post is part of my series: An Aversion to Marketing with a Fear of Bleeding)

I think I've blogged consistently enough over the past couple weeks that I can talk about a recent blogging embarrassment without feeling too much like a fool. I had been on a roll, posting every day, and I was into this deep exploration of what blogging is all about, and thinking a lot about how I want to do it. I did a post called "The Rewards of Consistency," and then... radio silence. For, like, two weeks. I've had blogging lapses before, but rarely with such irony.

So intense was my sheepishness that it was hard to get back on the horse. But I want to talk a minute about how I did, because I think it's important.

In my writing about what I think is good blogging and what I want my blog to be, I've criticized treating it like a news feed. I figure no one is interested enough in me to simply want to read a long string of announcements about what I've been writing lately. But what kind of post did I use to get back in the swing? Exactly that kind. It's easy, it's fast, and it gave me an easy way to put some text between myself and that embarrassing post on consistency.

This is a key to writing, of all kinds. Sometimes, you screw up. You write something that embarrasses you. Or you spend a week writing and deleting the word "the." At that point, when you're in danger of going dark, you have to do whatever it takes to get going again, and it doesn't matter at all whether it matches your ideal.

If you've had writer's block for six months and all you can get yourself to write is a comic book script, then I hope you've got storyboard paper. I've let projects die altogether because I couldn't maintain progress on them up to my standards. Would I like to blog every single day, reap the rewards of consistency, and make every post incredibly thoughtful in the process? Of course I would. But that's not real life.

Real life is like a balance beam. You wobble. And if you have to use tricks to stay on, you do.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Help Erica Stand Up for Herself

What's Revenge teaser from KAT HUNT on Vimeo.

The idea of revenge makes me very uncomfortable, and yet, when I watched the teaser for this proposed documentary, I teared up, then spent about five minutes crying before I could get myself together. What moved me so much was the meek hopelessness so clear and visible in Erica's telling of her story. After relaying an incident of sexual harassment, she concludes by saying, with flat eyes, "What could I even do?"

I've been that woman. I've been hurt, but felt there was no point in seeking recourse. I've tried to seek recourse, and found that hurt worse, in some ways, than sucking it up would have.

I understand why a friend would want to act on this woman's behalf, to do something, to make people pay, and maybe to make them understand. I'm not sure how I feel about revenge, and I'm glad the makers of the documentary aren't either. What I do know is that this feels important to me. Art can get at really uncomfortable things like this in a way purely cerebral exercises often can't.

I've supported projects on Kickstarter before, but rarely have I felt such urgency about it. It looks like Erica and her friends need this film to be made, but you know what? I need it, too.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Erotica as Declaration

One of my publishers, Forbidden Fiction, recently posted an interview with me as part of their pride month celebration:

What do you like about writing GLBT themes?

All erotica is a declaration of independence to me. It's a way of owning my freedom -- to act, to think, to fantasize, to put those things into words and open them up to others. Stories with GLBT themes are often hot to me sexually, so that's an important thing to note -- they fit that goal of erotica. They also, however, fit with this need for declaration. I think it's important for me to say that these themes are hot, and to get at the issues they bring up. I identify as bisexual, but have spent a lot of my life "passing" as straight. It feels good to express my full identity in my writing.

Read the rest here. While you're at the site, check out interviews with other Forbidden Fiction authors, including Lynn Kelling and Thirteen.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hysterical Treatment

The movie Hysteria appealed to me for a lot of reasons. I'm kind of into the history of the vibrator -- I've spent a lot of time checking out the historical displays at the flagship Good Vibrations store in San Francisco. Hysteria, and the real and imagined wild devices used to treat it, comes up a lot in steampunk erotica, which is a favorite genre of mine. And every now and then, I enjoy playing "hysteria" at home.

I loved the movie. Its treatment of the subject matter was nuanced. Plenty of things are played for comedy, like an opera singer who really gets into her arias the first time she experiences a full-on electrical "vulval massage," but the movie doesn't hesitate to punch you in the gut when that's warranted -- it's all fun and games until you see a woman on trial in danger of being sentenced to immediate surgical hysterectomy for incurable hysteria.

The tone of the movie is light-hearted. It could be considered a romantic comedy, and it has a loopy adoration of vibrators that I found charming.

But if you stand back and think about it for a while, you'll see that the movie provides plenty of material to ponder the dark side -- it indicts the medical science of the time for a lot of arrogant, dead wrong treatments that weren't based on observation and true science. As is often the case with historical movies, I thought this was at least somewhat intended as a comment on modern treatment of women. There's still a lot of fear of female sexuality out there in the world -- whether you're talking clitoridectomy or attacks against women's access to birth control or the many ways a woman can get labeled a slut.

I recommend the movie -- it successfully manages a delicate balancing act, providing an entertaining evening at the cinema along with plenty of food for thought.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My True Confession

I've got a piece coming out in a collection of erotic confessions put together by Barbara Cardy, at Constable & Robinson. It's too early yet to have a link, but I was excited to find out I'll be included, and I also thought I should mention... it's a true confession.

Obviously, I make a lot of stuff up for my writing, sometimes based loosely on true events, but most often not. My stories won't tell you too much about my real sex life, other than a bit about the flavor of it, or a glimpse at the sorts of things that turn me on.

In some cases, I've tried things in the bedroom after writing about them. It was strange to reverse the process. The confession I wrote is from the early part of my relationship with my dom, Dimitriy, and it describes the first time he used nipple clamps on me.

In the confession, I focus mostly on the description of the act, but it was also the moment I really fell for him. The last several years have been a lot about coming into my own -- as a writer, as a sexual being, and more. The morning after Dimitriy used those nipple clamps, I started to get a wild, exciting vision of my life the way it could be -- the way it would be if I accepted what I really wanted and went after it. I hope reading about the experience inspires someone to try something crazy!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ghost Lovers and Brutal Pirates

Forbidden Fiction released The Three Wives of Bluebeard over the weekend -- it's a dark retelling of an already dark fairy tale, including hungry ghosts and a brutal pirate husband.

Here's an excerpt:

“Am I dreaming?” Mollena asked again.

“A little bit yes and a little bit no,” the woman said.

Mollena had forgotten about the light woman until she laughed. “Cecily is so enjoying being mysterious with you,” the light woman said. She, too, settled on the bed beside Mollena. The soft warmth from the two women’s bodies set off a fierce longing in Mollena. “I’m Francine. You are dreaming, but this is a true dream, and we are not figments of your imagination.”

“You live in this house?” Mollena asked.

“We used to,” Francine said.

“Now who’s being coy?” Cecily said. She flopped away from the group, rolling her eyes. “We still live here, in every way that matters.” Cecily’s delicate black eyebrow arched. “We live here body and soul.”

“Why don’t I see you when I’m awake?”

Francine stopped Cecily from answering and shushed Mollena with a soft, sweet kiss on the lips. She stroked her, slipping her hands into Mollena’s nightgown and caressing her breasts and sides. After a moment, Mollena surrendered to the sensation, letting her head press deep into the pillow and arching her back. “You want something, don’t you?” Francine said, giggling.

“Yes,” Mollena managed.

Francine’s fingers began to move along her belly, tickling and teasing as they went. But Cecily sighed loudly and trapped Francine’s wrist before the light woman could satisfy the desire that had begun to bud in Mollena. “Don’t distract her,” Cecily said. “Let her ask her question.” She turned to Mollena, easing Francine’s hands away in the process. “What was it you wanted to know, dear heart?”

“Do you live in some other part of the house?” Mollena said, looking from one to the other. “Why haven’t I seen you during the day?”

“You could look for us,” Cecily offered. “With all those keys, you’ll certainly find something.”

Francine scowled at the dark-haired woman. “Don’t tell her to do that. Why don’t you ask Bluebeard about us?”

“That idea’s no better,” Cecily said. “If you don’t want her to look for us, then I suppose you should just go on distracting her.”

Mollena shook her head. She couldn’t think clearly through the haze of the dream and the intoxicating presence of the two women. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Who are you?”

Francine smiled sadly at Mollena. “There’s no distracting her,” she told Cecily.

“Well, of course not,” Cecily said. “And you don’t really want her distracted. You want her to look for us, you just don’t want to admit it.” Cecily patted Mollena’s cheek. “You won’t have any trouble finding us if you want to, my sweet.”

Mollena tried to protest and ask more questions, but both women settled close to her, undoing her nightgown completely. Cecily nibbled Mollena’s left nipple, while Francine suckled at the right. Thought fled Mollena completely as the clarity of the dream dissolved into a sensual swirl.

If you'd like to read more, you can get a copy here. Also keep an eye out for Wicked Fairy Tales, which will collect this story with others from Forbidden Fiction authors.

Monday, June 18, 2012

More Than Friends

If love spells make your heart race, check out Like Hearts Enchanted from Circlet Press, which includes my story, "Violets."

My contribution is a sweet romance about how the act of casting a love spell sometimes reveals hidden truths about relationships that are already in place. Here's an excerpt:

Helen couldn’t understand why she felt so nervous. “Why don’t you sit down so I can start on this braid?”

“Oh my God, you can tell she’s a grandma! I am going to look ridiculous in a braid.”

“It’s impossible for you to look ridiculous.” Helen got Silvia’s brush from the bathroom and passed the cinnamon stick through the bristles several times. She took a deep breath and undid the loose knot holding Silvia’s hair to the base of her neck.

The hair dripped over Helen’s hands like black honey, clinging lightly to her white skin. Helen shuddered at the touch.

“What’s the matter?” Silvia said.

“Nothing. You have pretty hair.” Helen’s throat felt tight. She took the brush and ran it through the thick locks. She brushed with her right hand and smoothed and arranged Silvia’s hair with her left. She thought of old advice to brush hair a hundred strokes every night. She wanted to give Silvia’s a thousand strokes. She wanted to bury her face in it. Helen wondered if it was something about Silvia’s shampoo.

She set the brush down and let herself sink both hands into the hair, rubbing Silvia’s scalp through it. The old woman had said that the person casting the spell should focus on the beauty and desirability of the recipient. Helen massaged Silvia’s head, rubbing her thumbs lightly over her hairline and then sliding them to the base of her skull.

Aside from Silvia’s beauty, what did she love about her? It was hard to choose just one thing to focus on. Much as Helen hated the trouble that Silvia got into, she loved that nothing ever seemed to break her spirit. She brushed away violence and pain like gnats and went on laughing in the face of it all. Seeing her good humor in bad situations made Helen long to see her friend in a good situation. She imagined how Silvia would smile if all in her life were truly well. More than anything, Helen wanted to give that to her. A happy home. A kind and true lover in her bed. A person who would love her body and her beautiful, black hair, but also the bold woman inside, and the soft girl who peeked out occasionally.

A light moan from Silvia snapped Helen into reality. Silvia’s hair against her palms and the backs of her hands felt so smooth it made Helen want to cry. She rubbed Silvia’s head, putting all her love and admiration into the gesture. Silvia moaned again, and Helen felt she couldn’t breathe.

She lost all sense of time, until finally Silvia cleared her throat. “Helen? This is an amazing head massage, but is this all part of casting the spell?”

“Huh? Yeah. Your grandmother told me to focus on all the good and beautiful things about you.”

Silvia laughed softly. She reached behind her and laid her hand over Helen’s, making even that awkward gesture appear graceful. She stroked Helen’s hand lightly with her thumb. “You are the only person who could possibly do that for a full half hour.”

Helen held back the response that rose to her mouth. What would Silvia think if she told the truth? I was only getting started.

She felt dazed, as if the solution to a problem hovered in the air just in front of her. She shook herself and picked up the first ribbon.

If you'd like to read more, you can get the book here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Arthur Rackham and Me

This cover for The Three Wives of Bluebeard is based on public domain art by Arthur Rackham, which gives me a fun thrill. Arthur Rackham is my favorite fairy tale illustrator, and I find it delightfully ironic that he's inadvertently wound up illustrating my lesbian threesome version of Bluebeard.

Story should be released soon!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Text Message Gone Right

I've just signed a contract with Forbidden Fiction for a new story, "The Right Message for the Wrong Man:"

Lila's texted come-on to sometime fuck buddy Jason winds up going instead to her boss, Jaron. Afraid to upset her sadistic superior, Lila follows through when he responds with excitement, only to discover that Jaron knows how to hurt her in exactly the way that she needs.

I'll post more details and a cover when I have it!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

This Is Me Holding You

My story, "This Is Me Holding You," will appear in Best Bondage Erotica 2013!

What can a man do to hold onto a wife who's about to be deployed to Afghanistan? Jun comes up with a novel solution.

I'll post more information as it becomes available.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Touched By Death

Last week, Forbidden Fiction released its first special collection, Touched By Death. If you missed the chance to get Less Than a Day as a standalone, you can pick it up here along with a good sample of other Forbidden Fiction writers.

You should be warned that Touched By Death is not your typical stroke book. While there's plenty of hot sex in the book, there's also a lot of uncomfortable and downright disturbing sex. I love how willing to push boundaries Forbidden Fiction is, and this is no exception.

The standard edition, available on Amazon, leaves out what is probably the most disturbing story in the collection -- Konrad Hartmann's Glad Rags. If you want the "extended edition," which includes Hartmann's story, you have to buy the version of Touched By Death for sale at Forbidden Fiction's own web store.