Really Real

I’m at the coffee shop. This is the last of a four-day stretch of revisions and tonight I’m winding down. I’ll be back at the office tomorrow and Thursday, after which I’ve got four more days lined up. Bring on the caffeine.

My sister asked me over lunch why I’m doing all this. Since I won’t publish under my real name (if I publish at all, this novel could well end up in a drawer or possibly the shredder), what’s the point? I would have thought it was about being recognized for your work, she said. Averil Dean doesn’t exist, so where’s the recognition?

I didn’t know how to answer her at first. Part of me understands what she means–after all, recognition is the goal of most creative endeavors, and until she asked I would have assumed it was the point for me as well. But considered in those terms, I’ve realized that maybe writing is not about recognition, or if it is, perhaps the word has come to mean something to me that has nothing to do with my name(s). After all, it’s still me, doing the work; whatever I call myself, these are still my hands. This is my mind, creating the story. This is my eye, my heart. Does it matter that I’m building a life as a writer, completely unconnected to my “real” self? Does it matter that you’d look right past me on the street?

No. Not to me, not anymore. My goals have evolved beyond that, or maybe they’ve shrunk. Writing has become deeply personal, an exploration of who I am and how I see the world. Whether I call myself Averil or Lauren or Zoë or Sue, recognition is beside the point except as it exists in me.

Though if someone wanted to throw some money my way, I’d tell them how to make out the check.

Do you associate recognition with your name? If you wrote and published anonymously, would it bother you not to claim your work?

Johnny Appleseed – Guest Post by Anonymous

My husband is the Johnny Appleseed of vibrators. He is the kind of guy who had a ton of female friends and none of them ever saw him as anything more. He was always cynically and so earnestly in love with yet another waif who fucked him over and broke his heart. Maybe he cooked for her and she gained some weight. Maybe he said I love you too soon. Maybe his jokes had a little too much of an edge.

Before my husband, I had never had a vibrator, and it’s, as my southern friend says, a goddamned disgrace. I think about the years I was single or uneasily dating someone who was never quite available enough and lacked the silver bullet, that steady consistent hand. All the while, my husband was living in another city accompanying his female friends to the mechanic so they wouldn’t get ripped off. In the early days of the Internet, he bought vibrators for his female friends when they were too embarrassed or scared to go into adult bookstores alone. And somehow he did it without being skeevy.

When he was fifteen, and his sister was fourteen and showed signs of being boy crazy, and he, blushing, mumbling, in his Catholic school uniform, offered to buy her condoms. Later on, he helped his friends pick out sex toys and encouraged them to sleep with or dump a range of men. He thought all women should have vibrators. And I have to say I’m a believer.

Sometime he uses the vibrator when his fingers are tired. And I use it consistently when he’s away. He’s a hard-working man, if you know what I mean. He will go down on me when I have my period, which is more than I can say for myself in my days of dating women. Dating and marrying a bisexual woman worked out for him too. Bisexual women don’t always need a hard manly chest to lean against. I am unthreatened by his child-bearing hips and his skills in the kitchen. We scope out women together (all look, no touch). And he’s a straight man who can buy me clothes and change my oil. And if that doesn’t sound like a euphemism, then I’m doing it all wrong.

Why are men so much more practical about sexuality? Why are we so embarrassed by the whole thing?

CJ says . . .

If I were a fish, I thought, I’d like grasshoppers. Their leggy bodies moved like drawings against the confines of the Mason jar.

Dragonflies skimmed the surface of the water racing liquid shadows. Grandma cast her pole in and leaned back on the gravel sandbar, big legs stretched stick straight, ankles crossed, rod in one hand, and line in the other, feeling for movement, and waiting.

I sat beside her memorizing the shape and color of plants along the creek bank, watching the sky as the sun shifted, feeling safe on the crumbling bank.

Picked grass and braided it like hair.

Organized twigs into piles by shape and scale; peeled gray bark off like skinned knees and ran my fingers over the hard surface.

What have you seen today?

 

Flash

I’ve calmed down today, you’ll be glad to know. Haven’t gone for any Republican eye sockets with my stiletto, or attempted to locate Newt’s family jewels with my knee. We may get through this election cycle yet.

I have to tell you, it’s difficult to know who to be sometimes. We all have strong opinions–we are writers, after all–but I have never learned how to argue a point without becoming shrill or feeling the need to apologize or capitulate. Now, for instance, I want to tell all my male friends that of course yesterday’s post wasn’t about you, it was about the tea-baggers and sugar daddies and the Rick Santorums of the world who want to take back one of the most fundamental tools for female equality.

A month or two ago, I would have been certain you’d already know that, but lately I feel my voice lacking in nuance, teetering on the edge of caricature. It’s a little disconcerting to see where that is going. When I hear myself described I sometimes have to read my name a couple of times to be certain there isn’t another Averil knocking about. It makes me wonder who I am becoming in this reality. An f-bombing Betty Boop? A pin-up girl with an expression of helpless surprise and a tendency to flash her polyester knickers? A modern day Lauren Bacall with a straight razor under her pillow and a pair of handcuffs dangling from the bedpost? Roseanne Barr trying to flirt? Who the fuck am I?

Who are you?

If you were to make a caricature of your online persona, what would you look like to me?

Hinges

I’m out for a walk. It’s late at night and I should be locked inside my house like a good girl, a smart girl, but after a week of advice about how us “gals” should clench an aspirin between our knees and call it contraception, how we should be subjected to pre-abortion vaginal ultrasounds, how our health issues should be debated by a panel of men without a single female representative, a walk alone after dark feels like an act of rebellion.

I am one small fist, shaking at the sky. One small nothing of a person in a sea of bigger, louder, stronger people who would move heaven and earth to get inside me and then treat my body like collateral damage.

But that’s what men do, you say, I don’t need to go along. It’s entirely up to me to keep my knees together though it’s man’s divine mission to part them. I should be virtuous, impervious, an angel in white. And if you talk to me in that deep, sweet way you have, that way that melts my hinges, if you coax and cajole and seduce me, it’s not your fault. You’re doing what men do. I should do what women do: resist. Every man, every time, because if I don’t there may be consequences. No consequences for you, of course, because it’s not your problem. If I would keep my heart to itself and my pleats neatly pressed and my goddamn knees together, this great country of ours could return to its former glory, when white men ruled the world and a woman “in trouble” would drop out of sight for three months and then reappear, slender and saintly once more, or bloodied (deservedly, though it saddens you) after she’d maimed herself trying to rip your seed from her body with a coat hanger.

Now, now, you say, calm yourself. We don’t do that anymore. We only want to slow you down, shame you with this eye on a wand in the hopes that maybe, if we look closely enough at the source of the problem, we can see where the screws came loose and tighten them. Be still, let us investigate. Let us see what can be done.

(You’re dying to know what’s in there, aren’t you? Desperate to know from whence the siren calls and how to make it stop.)

And what if something did happen tonight while I’m out for a walk. Would you say I deserved it? Would you say I’ve become too fast and too free? If Uncle Hal finds my door unlocked at night, is that also my fault? Is it always, every time, my responsibility to keep out of your way? Is it always yours to control me?

Let me tell you, Foster Friess and Rick Santorum and the rest of you sanctimonious hypocrites to the right of Rush Limbaugh, I am small and my voice is tiny but it belongs to me. I will part my knees when it suits me and I will fall on them if my lover asks me and I will wear a corset under my scrubs and a garter under my skirt and I will lift that skirt when and if it pleases me.

I may be donning stilettos, but you’ll never catch me.

(Comments are off for this one. I seem to be foaming at the mouth and don’t want to inflict myself on my friends.)

Tetman says. . .

If you want to be a strong writer–no matter what you’re writing–you have to look in the mirror. And you have to do it while you’re not looking, so you’ll see who’s really there.

Photograph by Russell James

What are the essential ingredients of good writing?

Erotica – Guest Post by Sarah Wesson

I’m not at home today. I’m at Sarah’s, throwing sand at the other children. And she’s here to entertain you, with clever jokes and HobNobs and footnotes (!) at the end.

Take it away, Sarah. . .

_____________

The last couple of days a few people have asked me why I’ve been bumping into walls while staring at my eReader.

Each time, I’ve looked up, blinked a couple times and said, “Dystopian paranormal gay erotic western horror novel.”

And each of them blinked a couple times and said, “Oh. Why?”

Well, for one thing, it’s an extremely well-written dystopian paranormal gay erotic western horror novel, but that’s not really what they’re asking.

They didn’t care much about the dystopian paranormal western horror thing, and at least two of them couldn’t have cared less about the gay element. No, I could tell by the way their noses did that little wrinkle—you know the one—that they had immediately zeroed in on that other word.

I had confirmation when one of them said “Erotica?” in a way that almost made it rhyme with “porn.”

This frosted me just a bit.

So when Averil offered the opportunity for me to rant a bit here* about my personal definition of what erotica is and isn’t and what personally turns me on about it,** pun totally intended, I couldn’t pass it up.

So here goes.

The old joke aside, the real difference between erotica and porn, at least for me, has nothing to do with feathers versus whole chickens or even good writing versus Wat’s spelchek?

It has to do with emotions and intimacy.

Without emotional involvement—love, hate, rage, joy, despair, compassion, affection, pain, or better yet, a mix—and without some kind of intimate connection between the characters—however tenuous, however misplaced, however evil— beyond the physical, sex is nothing more than mechanics and nerve endings.

I’m not knocking nerve endings,*** which have undeniable and demonstrable entertainment value. But there’s only so much of Tab A into Slot B—or C, or D, or even G—that the average reader will tolerate before the “good bits” of a story become the descriptions of the main character’s weekly trip to the grocery to stock up on Gatorade, Trojans, and Crisco.

This is the reason why the recent movie Shame didn’t turn a lot of people on and why it wasn’t supposed to.

Oh, sure—you can grab me with a little somethin’-somethin’ on the first couple pages—hell, I’m easy. Throw in some dystopian cowboys, and I’ll read a little bit more.

But if you want me in it for the long haul, if you want me right there as your characters tie it up and nail it down, I’m gonna need more than a graphic description of where the Crisco goes.

Let me give you some examples.

One of the most unforgettably erotic stories I’ve read in the past year is one of Averil’s. The emotional setting was a very dark place shared by a couple whose feelings for each other were so overpowering that they expressed them in a sort of sexual combat that spiraled out of all control as they defied and challenged and hurt one another on so many levels with the intensity of it all, unable to win or concede, unable to let go or walk away.

This story wasn’t just about hard hot sex like whoa—it was about the helplessness and the rage and the love and the center not holding.

In contrast, a few months ago, another friend sent me a couple chapters of a BDSM story he’s been working on. He and his partner openly live the lifestyle, so I’m assuming everything is more than Hollywood accurate—and I can’t tell you how happy I am that safe words are real. But although there’s pain involved, there’s also such trust developing between the two characters and the beginning of such affectionate caring that it makes their on-page encounters—which seemed pretty hardcore to me—even more intense.

Again, not just about the metal-tipped leather and an interesting fetish or two—this one is about that tentative hope and the joy of discovery at the start of any relationship.

As for that dystopian paranormal gay erotic western horror novel . . . I’ll let you know. But there’s are certain levels of obsession, love, and despair in here that bode well for this reader, if not for the characters.

So to sum up:

Sex is easy. Intimacy is difficult—but so worth the work.

If the characters, by which I mean the writer, won’t bother, then why should I?

____________________

*It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I’m about to say, but Averil and I run different kinds of blogs. She’s midnight dark chocolate with cayenne and pop rocks and I’m more of a HobNob with spiritual leanings toward Whizzo Crunchy Frog.

**Your results may vary. What floats my boat may sink your battleship and vice versa.

***Or not while I was writing this, anyway—and can I get a Hey-O for a fairly decent inadvertent euphemism? Thank you.

Do you read erotica? Porn? Or do you only come here for the pictures?

Taking Names

I’m at the end of the second draft. Pass two. Still with some spackling to do and a great deal of lipstick to apply, but I’m satisfied with the story and especially with the sexy bits. (I’m not going to think about the word count, August. I’m not thinking about it. Here’s me, not thinking about the word count. Really. Not.)

Photograph by Hedi Slimane

The ending is still a problem. I have gone through several different scenarios, trying them out like shoes to see which pair won’t pinch or wobble. I keep reminding myself that this is noir. It’s okay to leave it bleak, it’s okay to be nebulous. The thing doesn’t need to be tied up with a satin bow at the end, and it sure as hell doesn’t need to become romantic at this late stage, thereby ruining a good romp with some tear-jerking melodramatic coup de grâce. I’d like to leave the characters at a low boil, send them off to a future in which they will almost certainly be fucked up as they ever were, wreaking havoc and taking names.

Simplify, Averil. That’s my new mantra. Do not manufacture a widget just because you can.

Have you ever read a book which was spoiled by the ending? Or saved by it?

P.S. Mr. Medicine, would you please send Betsy a guest post or three? She’s on the ragged edge.

Limits

Home from work today. I came close to finishing my second draft over the weekend, which was my goal (as if it matters to anyone else) but ended up adding an extra smut scene for good measure, which put me behind schedule and leaves me with a bit more work to do this week.

It hasn’t been a good few days. The ex is insisting on an amendment to our court order for the two summer months between when we leave Vegas and when my daughter turns eighteen, even though I’ve acquiesced to all his demands and my daughter has agreed to stay with him until her birthday. He keeps reminding me that we both have “legal obligations” and that the court order “must be amended” since I’m apparently violating it by stepping foot outside the city limits without his express written permission–or something like that.

I don’t cope well with conflict. (No! Truly, Averil?) Even though I’ve told him where to stick the court order and that should be the end of it, my stomach is in knots. I worry about my daughter being stuck in a house with this lunatic, and feel guilty that I’m leaving her in a pickle in order to get our living situation squared away in Oregon before my youngest starts school next fall. Oh, to be cloned. Every mother’s wish.

So writing has been an uphill slog this weekend. I keep finding myself daydreaming about my ex-husband rotating on a spit over a blazing fire, with an apple in his mouth and a burn mark on the seat of his trousers.

How do you write when your head’s not in the game? How do you pull yourself together?

Photograph by Ellen Von Unwerth

Yo-Yo

Photograph by Ellen Von Unwerth

Dear Drew,

It’s the nature of writing to look for conflict–perhaps it’s even the nature of me. But our love has always been easy as a child’s game and that’s because of you. You are calm and wise and steady and strong. Everything complicated is simple to you and I love that. Everything scattered is tidied by you and I need that.

We are very different people, you and I. The prototypes for our types. I live in my head with my imaginary friends, making up conversations and inventing new realities, but you exist in the realm of the physical, for taste and touch and real hungers that cannot be sated by imagining them away. You pull me out of myself, into your hand like a yo-yo on a string. When I’ve been spinning on the ground for too long, you give me a place to rest and be held. I give you a place to play.

I have let you down in some ways, love, because in looking for conflict and the story and what I hope are universal truths of sexual dichotomy, I have sometimes lost sight of our divine oneness. You are the anchor of this relationship, so sturdy that it’s easy to forget you have your vulnerabilities too, that I should seek them out and guard them, and shore things up within myself so you always find the shelter you need in me.

You are a beautiful man and a good one, and I crave you sometimes when I’m alone, wobbling at the end of my string–but you look at me and know. You always know. With a flick of your wrist you’ve got me leaping into your hand and you’ve got me thinking, How does he do that? and you hold me until I’m restless and then give me a little line.

You’ve got it all figured out, baby. You sexy, sweet, badass of a man.

Wind me up tonight. I’ll give you a place to hide.

Love,

Me

Lonesome

Lonesome is a quiet man who leads you from the crowd, whispers in your ear that you are not okay. Lonesome is an open sky: a far-off bird call to a fallen mate, repeating; a curled-up chick inside an egg, freezing.

It’s the scent of a stranger’s house, the lure of the unknown, the deep, damp base note of skin and sweat and semen. This is where his spirit lives, here amongst the dying plants whose leaves lay crisp and fragile on the floor, where weed is left in the kitchen drawer, and thick shoes sit beside the mat, encased in mud that breaks like glass and crumbles by the door.

Here is his mind, exposed: in the bills, stacked or scattered, the carpet, clean or torn; in the leftovers, the aftershave, the kitchen knives, the porn. Within these walls there lives a spirit.

Just inside the door.


Chills

I did a lot of writing over the weekend, and a lot of thinking. I had a moment of epiphany on Sunday–I made the one change that changes everything–and in the process I discovered what the story is about. Now I see why it needs to be so dark, why the characters hurt each other the way they do, why the sex is so deviant and escalates to such extremes. The nebulous ending makes sense, and all those odd vignettes I wrote without knowing why. The plot has become simpler and the story more complex.

Not, you understand, that I think the book is genius and will be a bestseller with movie rights to follow. It’s a smutty little novel with some psychological thrills and chills–nothing more. But my passion for it has returned, stronger even than when I began. I need to write it now. I should have the remaining new scenes added by the end of this weekend, and I’m optimistic that the book will be finished before we leave in late April. (And by that I mean, it will be landing in August’s mailbox, and he’ll shred me, and I’ll begin again.)

It’s a strange thing, isn’t it. Writing. Tens of thousands of empty words, written and thrown away. That’s not my story, that’s not my story . . . You get to the end before you discover what you’ve been writing about all along.

Do you know what your story is about? How long did it take you to figure it out, or how long have you been trying?

Photograph by Ellen Von Unwerth

First Kiss – Guest Post by Anna Fonté

Truth: Describe your first kiss. How old were you, where were you, what was his name?

In sixth grade, Shaun Cassidy was the dreamiest thing I could imagine, with his soft, blow-dried locks, pillow lips, and eyes large and limpid as a fawn’s. Every week, I would take a long bath, put on a dab of my mother’s perfume, and grab a pillow to hug between my knees as I watched him playing one of the Hardy Boys on t.v.. I had his poster next to my bed so I could kiss him first thing every morning and again at night. I would lie there with my face pressed to the wall, the tips of my budding breasts pushed against the plaster, imagining his soft lips and those long eyelashes fluttering against my cheek. In my dreams, he made me swoon.

One Saturday I was in my room experimenting with a curling iron and listening to the song “Afternoon Delight” on my record player. The lyrics seemed innocent enough, about going camping, maybe–catching fish, rubbing sticks and stones together, and watching skyrockets– but I knew that somehow it all added up to something sexy so I played it over and over, trying to crack the code. I ached to understand what it meant.

Robbie, the boy I thought I liked, had a baseball game that day and we had arranged to meet at the bleachers after the game. Wearing my hair curled into wings, a halter top, and tight bellbottoms, I stood in front of the mirror for a long time, turning this way and that, smacking my lip-glossed lips. I thought I looked almost as pretty as Shaun Cassidy.

When I arrived at the park, Robbie was standing in a clump of boys. When they saw me, they all started hooting and wrestling and throwing grass at each other but Robbie just stood there, calm and cool, with his skinny chest puffed up in his nylon uniform. He had a reputation as an experienced ladies man. They gave him punches in the shoulder and high-fives and scrambled off.

We went behind the dugout to where a dried-up creek bed lay hidden under a thick cover of bushes. I don’t remember the details of our conversation; he probably bragged about the game he’d just played and the girls he’d gone “steady” with while I gushed about Shaun Cassidy (trying to make him jealous ) and “Afternoon Delight,” (trying to sound sophisticated). But even as we spoke them, the words we said were trivial.

What mattered was the heady smell of hot sap, the sultry weight of the air under that low roof of tangled branches, the feeling of being hidden together in our own wild world where we sat on an exposed root and, as we talked, how the space between us quivered and hummed, how his thigh inched closer and closer until it touched mine, how amazed I was by the ropy hardness of him, how the fuzz on his upper lip glistened with sweat and he grabbed my hand with his calloused palm and kissed me–hard as plaster, rough as wood, hot as a rock in the sun–and then the shock of his tongue pushing against my teeth, hot and wet, muscular, probing in and filling my mouth with the thick tang of mustard, because it turned out he had just eaten a hot dog.

How perfect is it that my first French kiss tasted like French’s? Almost poetic.

But nothing compares to the first kiss. Nothing compares, but not for the sweet, romantic reasons I’d imagined. I went in with my eyes wide and realized that I could kiss without swooning into love like spineless doll with heart-shaped pupils. Mystery and fantasy dissolved and I discovered that kissing a boy isn’t as complicated as I thought.

That day in the creek bed, I learned that I could choose whom to kiss and then choose not to kiss them again. It was a powerful revelation.

There would be plenty of time for swooning later on.

Do you want to play, too? I promise it won’t hurt at all. Just say the word in the comment section below and I’ll give you a “truth.” Go to my place to see Averil’s answer and play “dare” with her.

Foreplay

Yesterday I discovered our friend Tamara is back to her blog. Sort of. Anyway, her latest post led me to an article by Rachel Aaron which describes how Rachel went from writing 2,000 words per day to 10,000.

Let me begin by saying that I have never and probably will never write 10,000 words per day. I’m not wired for it. But the article was nevertheless filled with excellent practical advice that I’m going to take. One of the juicier bits was something I heard from August one day when I got stuck (and if you don’t know by now that August is my own personal God of Writing, you haven’t been following along). His advice was this: when the words won’t come, write plot instead: Lexi does this, then this, then Jack says that, and the two of them do you-know-what. And I did take his advice and it did work, but I only followed it when I was desperate. What Rachel says is, do some planning before every session. Don’t waste your precious writing time figuring out what to write; walk step-by-step through each scene and make notes ahead of time, so that when you actually sit down with your pages, you won’t find yourself staring at the wall trying to figure out what comes next.

*headdesk, Sarah!*

I know we’re all sick of writing advice so I’m not going to beat this into the ground, but I’m planning to spend today laying out my scenes for the weekend and I’m going to make a concerted effort to finish the fucker. I’m about halfway through my rewrite and I’ve got many of the remaining pieces already in place, so a solid weekend or two of intensive writing should put me through my second draft and in good shape for the final polish.

At the very least, I’ll have plenty of fuel for the bonfire.

Does anyone really follow writing advice? Do you nod and smile and discard it, or do you try to incorporate another’s methods into your madness?

Photograph by Ellen Von Unwerth

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