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Yearly Archives: 2017


During my sex goddess years (somewhere between my introverted bookworm period and my semi-respectable married lady period), I delighted many lovers with my willingness to try new things. I’m not talking about dangerous stuff here, just sex in unusual circumstances. Whipped cream, for instance (the kind that comes in pressurized spray cans). A peep show booth in the seedy part of town. A blow job delivered on the ramparts of a historic Canadian castle. Another under a blanket on a Greyhound bus. Hot wax. Olives eaten out of my pussy. I was open to almost any sexual adventure, and indeed, I had many.

Those days are long gone (though they live on, thinly disguised, in my books). I’m still experimental, however, when it comes to my erotic writing. Indeed, I am constantly tempted by new themes, new sub-genres, and new markets. For example, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing some futanari fiction (even though I’ve never read any), after enjoying Sally Bend’s fantastic reviews of the subgenre. I find the mixture of female and male sexuality to be intensely arousing, so I believe I could make it work. (If I really plan to do this, though, I should probably do at least a little research!)

What else calls to me? Would you believe monster erotica? For some reason, I have this mad urge to write a BigFoot story. I suspect that fad has long since sputtered out, but I’ve never been one to be influenced by trends.

Then there’s adult incest. Talk about ignoring current events! At this very moment, booksellers are scrambling to crack down on this theme (see, for instance, Smashwords’ recent announcement), but hey, I think it could be hot. I’ve definitely read incest erotica that got my motor running. I’ve only written one such tale however (A Breed Apart), which is in any case a bit of a cop-out because the brother and sister are paranormal creatures for whom coupling between siblings is the normal practice. I’m sure I could do better (or worse . . .)

The last experimental itch I actually scratched was an impulse to write a pure stroke book. I’d been reading and enjoying Larry Archer’s lively, warm-hearted smut, and decided to try my hand at a book in the same genre – indeed, set in the same world. I expect to publish that in the next month or so. My erotic romance readers will probably be scandalized – as will the folks who enjoy my “literary” erotica.

But so be it. People probably didn’t approve of my defending my dissertation without a bra either.

I recognize that my tendency to jump all over the genre map does nothing to help my sales. My back list includes romance, suspense, steampunk, science fiction, paranormal, historical, fantasy, gay erotica, lesbian erotica, humor and of course lots of kink – M/f, F/m, F/f, M/m . . . In a world where readers crave predictability, I’m like the weather in New England.

I can’t help it, though, anymore than I could stop myself from agreeing to lick ice cream off my lover’s erection. I mean, I could force myself to choose a genre and build a brand, writing one book after another of the same basic type. But why should I? I’d be miserable. The books probably wouldn’t be much good either, especially the third or the fourth or the tenth.

In the real world, I work as a scientist/engineer. Maybe that’s why I love doing experiments. Or perhaps I’m just easily bored.

So what do you think I should write next?

Whatever it is, I’m willing to consider it.

One of the chief pleasures of writing a historical novel is discovering the details of daily life in the past so we can recreate the texture and flavor of the time. The clothing of the period is, of course, an essential focus of research to put our characters in proper attire. But because erotica writers carefully undress our characters as well, we must also learn exactly the sort of undergarments an impatient lover will encounter for full authenticity.

Most of us know about corsets, petticoats and pantalettes from historical dramas. However, mainstream movies and TV leave out one important aspect of ladies’ drawers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—they had no crotch. Indeed they were almost completely split from end to end, two free-standing leg tubes held together by little more than a waistband as you see below.

Frederick’s of Hollywood doesn’t even dare to go that far.

I first found out about this unspoken feature of female undergarments of the last two centuries when I was assembling a corset-friendly costume for a boudoir photo session a few years ago. I went to a local lace and antique clothing store called Lacis in the hope of finding a pair of old fashioned bloomers. To my delight, I found a pair in exactly my size for a reasonable price pictured in both photographs here. The open crotch was a surprise, but when I put the drawers on, the gap disappeared into a sort of short petticoat. Unless the wearer made an effort to spread the split seam, if you didn’t know, you’d never guess what did–or rather didn’t–lie within.

But of course, the women and men of the 1900s knew. I’ve read in several sources that working-class lovers rarely undressed fully when they had sex in Victorian times. Open-crotch drawers certainly support the logistics of that custom.

In An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality, Jill Fields provides further illumination about the history and sexual politics of open-crotch underpants for women. Until the nineteenth century, women didn’t wear any sort of protective clothing between their legs, although surely there was some provision for menstruation. (In the time period I’m studying, women wore diaper-like pants lined with cotton wool or rags; disposable pads were just coming on the market). Little girls and boys, who were dressed alike in feminine fashion until about the age of five, wore closed pantalettes under shorter dresses. Boys then were “breeched” and wore knee-length britches, then long trousers at puberty. When girls were old enough to put up their hair and lower their skirts—more or less at puberty—they also started wearing open-crotch drawers.

Fields acknowledges that the split crotch made it easier to answer daily necessities for a woman swathed in layers of undergarments and long, heavy skirts. Some experts claimed exposing the female genitals to the air was healthy. However, Fields also emphasizes the symbolic value of the female version of drawers. Women were not supposed to wear trousers—Joan of Arc’s cross-dressing preferences were part of her heresy. If a woman wore closed-crotch garments, she would be veering too close to the appropriation of male privilege, and no real lady would dream of such transgression. Thus, the gap at the crotch symbolized an adult women’s physical difference, her availability to men, and, ironically to our modern sensibility, her feminine modesty.

Around the late 1910s, the world began to change. Skirts shortened. More women were employed outside the home in offices and factories. Women went on “dates” outside the home, danced the tango in public halls and cabarets, and rode bicycles. Modesty in public now required closed-crotch step-ins, more like our tap pants, duly decorated with lace and wider at the leg to distinguish them from men’s drawers. From the end of World War I until the present day, open-crotch panties, once the sign of submissive and respectable femininity, became associated with naughty eroticism instead.

Fields writes: “The sexual access open drawers provided could coexist with woman’s propriety only in the context of an ideology of female passionlessness and social structures of masculine domination. When women publicly asserted their own claims to sexual pleasure, political power, and economic independence, an open crotch was no longer respectable.” (p. 42)

By the 1920s, ladies were now allowed, even required, to experience sexual pleasure in marriage to keep their husbands from straying. While I view this as a positive development, Victorian prudery did allow some women the power to control the number of marital sexual encounters due to their spiritual delicacy, as well as a desire to limit families. Now a woman “owed” her husband regular sex and an enthusiastic response. For the middle-class at least, with their greater access to birth control such as the new latex condoms and diaphragms, intercourse had fewer consequences to fertility than earlier.

Fields even describes a comic novel (1926) and film (1937) called Topper by Thorne Smith where the plot revolves around a prudish wife’s conversion to the modern underpants of a “forward woman,” which improves her sex life with her husband but deprives her of her power as the moral arbiter of the family.

Nonetheless, it would be several decades more before the average woman dared to wear slacks rather than skirts over her closed-crotch undies. At a family reunion last fall, my 96-year-old aunt described the momentous day she wore pants for the first time in her life during an evening stroll with her husband through the neighborhood–with his express permission of course. In the 1950s in the summer, small-town families still gathered on their front porches after dinner to seek relief from the heat. My aunt’s heart was pounding with anxiety as she wondered how the neighbors’ reaction to her brazen outfit. But there were no earthquakes or riots, everyone simply nodded and wished her a good evening as they had the day before.

Some revolutions are quiet, yet significant, like the closing of the crotches on ladies’ drawers.

Reggie Jackson was asked by a reporter of my acquaintance what would have happened if a particular game-winning hit had not gone his way. It was a stupid question, asked by someone who, while he was a very decent human being, just wasn’t too bright.

Reggie’s forbearance was admirable. The hit did go his way; there was nothing else to be said.

But the reporter persisted, “but, Reggie, what if …?”

Reggie’s patience finally evaporated. “If? If don’t mean shit. If the Pilgrims had eaten a cat instead of a turkey, then we’d all have pussy for Thanksgiving!”

Reggie’s point was succinct. What’s the point of pondering what never was?

I generally adhere to Reggie’s point of view, but still, like the rest of us, I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if only history had meandered along a different course.

I was brought up in a working-class home, but I should have been a rich kid. I don’t say that in the sense of, Well, gee, I shoulda been a rich kid. I mean, I really should have been a rich kid. My father was a rich kid. Unfortunately, he was also an orphan. His mother was carried off during the 1918 influenza pandemic. His father died just a couple of years later.

His parents were wealthy. My dad’s sisters had ponies for pets.

His father and his brothers were principles in a high-end furniture manufacturing and retail business. They sold their furnishings to very discriminating, wealthy customers. After his father died, my dad became the ward of his very rich uncle, who was president of no less than three interrelated companies centered in New York City and Boston. My dad was sent off to an expensive Catholic boarding school.

But alas, his millionaire guardian was a skinflint – the kind who tossed nickels around like they were manhole covers. He used to tell of writing to his uncle for spending money because the other kids at school enjoyed sweets and going to the movies. His uncle wrote back, stating sweets were bad for his health, and watching movies in the dark was bad for his eyes.

So my dad said he needed a new suit. His uncle had him go to Brooks Brothers in Boston and order up a suit on his account. My dad got the suit, then promptly took it down to the next street corner and sold it, and that’s how he got his spending money.

Then came the Crash of ’29 and the ensuing Great Depression. My dad had inherited stocks that, while at the time had a good piece of their value knocked out of them, nevertheless recovered. The companies that issued them survived the rough times and continue today in one form or another. But his uncle persuaded him to sign them over to him during the downturn, in the belief they would rebound quickly. They didn’t rebound quick enough. His uncle died in his room at the elegant National Republican Club in midtown Manhattan, across from Bryant Park. A will was read, but creditors pounced like locusts. My parents found themselves in the midst of the Depression dead broke, except for a couple of hundred bucks.

Throughout his life, during which he worked hard as a construction laborer, my dad amused himself by tracking his lost stocks, chuckling that we’d all be rich if only he hadn’t listened to his uncle and held on to them.

Ah, what might have been.

I like to think of myself sometimes as a dissolute scion, a playboy. Sports cars and trophy chicks sunning themselves naked on my private yacht. A one-percenter, perhaps blowing scads of dough on visits to exclusive sex clubs, in pursuit of the next shocking level of debauchery. A well-heeled, licentious libertine: Let them eat cake; I’m having my cake and I’m eating her too.

Ah, but then, would money alone make my tastes any more extravagant? This is a guy who gets sweaty and uncomfortable in fancy restaurants. Not that I frequent many of those.

Nah, I’m too pedestrian, too damned catholic (yeah, with a small c). You can only spend so much money in a lifetime. I’ll be satisfied with enough to get me to the finish line.

Still, it’s fun to imagine keeping a stable of pony girls. Nah … forget I even brought that up.


by | Sep 11, 2017 | General | 5 comments

Ian Smith

ERWA Gallery Flasher Editor


I’m always intrigued by the wide variety of ideas people come up with for stories. How do they think of them?

Yes, of course there are strong similarities in many genres. Where would a billionaire erotic romance be without (a) a kinky and implausibly young billionaire, and (b) an innocent young lady with an unsuspected taste for being spanked?

And let’s face it, most romance stories are broadly similar. Boy meets girl and they overcome hassles before finding true love. Hassles might be a love rival, abduction, being involved in a war, family or cultural hostilities, misunderstandings, being separated by cruel fate, or simply not liking each other to start with. But if they met, fell in love and lived happily ever after, who’d want to read it?

I’m sure you know how the modern detective is almost required to have some personal problems, like over-fondness for drink, sex or gambling, a missing limb or a personality fault. 

The classic crime thrillers actually had rules to be followed. SS Van Dine listed twenty in 1928, and Ronald Knox published ten in 1929. These are still broadly followed, for instance in the popular British “Midsomer Murders” TV series. Even though these are contemporary, they seem to be set sometime in the past, and often revolve around a rich but dysfunctional and mad family, or a village/community/club generously stuffed with slightly potty people.

But writers still need some inspiration for a story, whether it follows genre conventions or not. They need characters, events, and a story arc. Readers enjoy following the adventures as the characters experience things and develop, and hopefully feel satisfied when the story ends. 

Some of my stories are probably inspired by others I’ve read or watched, even if I can’t actually remember them. But some ideas seem to come completely out of the blue, or grow from an idea for character, a phrase, or even by writing the story to suit an ending I’ve thought of. I’ve even had an idea from my local paper’s “police report” column, about which I will say no more until I’ve written it!  

Many writers admit to using family, friends and acquaintances as the basis for characters. Real people are a great source of the sort of mannerisms and patterns of speech which could really bring a character to life for a reader. And thinking about how to briefly describe them in writing is an interesting exercise too.

I’ve created two characters based on real people. One was a former manager, whose literary alter-ego has an, er, colourful demise. But that’s nothing to do with our unhappy working relationship…

The other character appeared briefly in my third novella. About 20 years ago, I saw a report on my local TV news show about a second-world-war Spitfire which had just been converted to a two-seater. The team involved tracked down a delightful elderly gentleman who’d actually flown that very aircraft in the later stages of the war, and invited him to take a flight. The brief interview he gave afterwards has  stuck in my mind ever since. He said it was just like it had been when he was a young man, except it didn’t smell of fear.

I’ve not thought of a story where I can really explore how I feel about his comments. Well, not yet.

If you’ve seen the film “Shakespeare In Love”, you may recall a brief scene where Shakespeare walks through London and overhears snatches of conversation, all of which are well-known from his plays. A nice idea for an amusing short scene. I don’t believe for a second that the Bard “invented” all the words which appeared for the first known time in his writing, but he had an awesome knack for putting them together in ways which still work four hundred years later.

But that’s not a bad idea, keeping your ears open and making notes before you forget.

My wife was once given directions to a conference being hosted in a museum. The phrase “turn right at the elephant” certainly stuck in her mind. And I’ve used it in one of my own flash-fiction stories, too.

I’ve used another example in a draft novella I’m working on, inspired by a real-life conversation where someone said something which all-too-easily be taken to mean that her sister’s late husband had been put down by a vet. 

I noted a brief conversation a couple of years which I’d love to use, but it’s a challenging to find a suitable context. But I will. I walked past some burlesque dancers chatting during a break between performances and overheard one of them say, “He wanted her to ride in on a pony, bareback and only wearing a tangerine thong. I mean, you just can’t do it.”

Is it me?

What’s the problem with tangerine?

 by Ashley Lister 

Dark, dangerous
succumbing, submitting, surrendering
We want this badly


We’ve looked at the traditional cinquain in the past, but I don’t recall us looking at the modern cinquain. Whilst the traditional cinquain is based on a strict syllable count, the modern cinquain is based on particular types of words, as illustrated below.


line 1 – one word (noun) a title or name of the subject
line 2 – two words (adjectives) describing the title
line 3 – three words (verbs) describing an action related to the title
line 4 – four words describing a feeling about the title, a complete sentence
line 5 – one word referring back to the title of the poem


long, slender
testing, touching, teasing,
delving deeper and deeper

Remember – you’re not counting syllables with this form: only words. As always, I look forward to reading your poems in the comments below.




Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page. 

Her new m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda Strain, and Outbreak. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.


Yet another publisher suddenly announced it’s going under. DarkFuse, a horror imprint, sent a generic form letter to everyone who either had outstanding submissions or contracts with them. DarkFuse always struck me as being a market to get into, but from what I’m hearing from those affected by the Chapter 7 filing, DF isn’t handling the whole mess in a professional manner. I had submitted a short story to DF and I did not hear anything until SEVEN MONTHS LATER when DF announced it was in hiatus. Suffice to say I was pissed. Granted, I knew DF could take up to 8 months to respond to submissions, but to finally get word and to know the press didn’t even open my file left me quite miffed. I could have sent the story out to other markets during that long period of time and may even have found a home for it. Now I have to start the entire process all over again – seven months late.

Remember when Samhain closed? Samhain was best known for publishing romances but it had delved into horror. This one was another market to aim for, and even it wasn’t immune to the changing publishing landscape. Everyone knows of the disaster that was Ellora’s Cave. EC did not do right by its authors. There are signs that a pub is going under. Here are a few:

  1. Does not respond to emails in a timely fashion or at all.
  2. Sudden non-communication.
  3. Publisher email bouncing or phone calls not going through.
  4. Dragging out the publication date for weeks or months on end.
  5. Press threatens writers who protest poor treatment.
  6. Royalties not being paid on time or at all.
  7. Web site is not updated.

If you run into any of these issues, beware. The pub may be in trouble. I don’t know what to do if you request your rights back when you get wind the pub is actually closing and it refuses to release them or you hear crickets. Some writers have hired lawyers to fix the problem but most writers I know do not have money coming out of their ears. After all, they are writers. Most don’t earn a living wage. Eventually the rights have reverted back but it may take awhile.

Here are some tips I’ve learned from watching one small press after another close:

*Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Submit to several publishers so you have works in more than one. This is to protect yourself. You don’t want to see all your works dissolve once your only publisher goes belly up.

*Have as many as a dozen short stories out there in circulation as submissions to numerous publishers.

I was told this trick from a writer who has had many short stories published. Submit to as many markets as you can. Look up Duotrope, Ralan’s, and of course the ERWA submissions page for submission calls. Go to your favorite publishers and see if there are any themed or non-themed anthologies calls. If you like the theme, write something and submit it. Don’t write one or two stories and hope for the best. Submit as many as a dozen stories. You’ll hear back more often and you may see more acceptances. The more irons you have in the fire, the more likely you are to see some good results.

*Think of yourself as blessed if your book was under consideration by a publisher yet it wasn’t published before the press closed.

My first indie press closed before it published my book. Twilight Fantasies was one of several publishers that closed one right after the other in 2007. At first I was angry that the press had been stringing me along insisting my book was coming out in a month or two and then later not responding to my emails at all. When the pub folded, I was told it was a good thing my book was never published because if it had been, to resell it would have been quite difficult since it would have been considered a reprint even if it had been available for purchase for only a month or two. Or less. Once the pub closed my rights reverted back to me and I sent the book off to Dark Eden Press only to see that press fold. I then send it to a third press whose name I can’t recall anymore – and it (you guess it) promptly folded. Talk about a string of rotten luck! So I was able to show my rights had reverted back to me via an email TF sent me and finally Fanny Press later published the book. That book is my paranormal erotic romance An Unexpected Guest and you may buy it at Amazon. This was my first novel and the experience gave me a sour taste in my mouth that I never really recovered from.

*Get your rights back and send the work out again. Find it a new home.

Don’t be dismayed that your book isn’t going to see the light of day with a publisher that went belly-up. That doesn’t mean no one else will want it. Research other viable markets and resubmit. If you wish to do some further editing by all means do so but get that book back out there as quickly as possible lest you lose your nerve. I research several markets and I send my works to each one in order until one accepts my work. You can’t give up or get depressed about it. If you do, you’ll never see your books published.

The best bet when dealing with questionable publisher is to be wary and be informed. Research Ellora’s Cave, Twilight Fantasies, Dark Eden Press, Samhain and DarkFuse to see what all the closings had in common and what writers did to protect themselves. That way, you hopefully won’t be caught up in disaster should one of your pubs deep six itself.


Did you know that breasts are out of fashion? Apparently Millennials have little interest in cleavage. As a result, restaurant chains like Hooters and Twin Peaks (hadn’t heard of that one!), where the main draw is busty waitresses in low cut blouses, are losing money, closing stores, and being forced to reevaluate their business strategies.

While I can’t say that I feel much sympathy for the silliness of “breastaurants”, I find the apparent shift in tastes for particular sorts of bodies quite intriguing. I could posit a variety of explanations. Maybe the increased cultural acceptance of LGBTQ individuals had led to a more androgynous physical ideal. Maybe, with sexting and other sexual instantiations of social media, the sight of naked tits has become so commonplace that it’s uninteresting. Could there be a Freudian explanation, a repudiation of the maternal principle as women choose careers over motherhood? Or perhaps this is simply a typical rejection by one generation of the values and preferences of its predecessors—a breast rebellion.

Of course, throughout history, we’ve seen cyclical changes in cultural norms about body type and sexuality. Perhaps we’re headed back to the days of flappers, with their slender, boyish figures. Hopefully we’re not also on the brink of another economic collapse, like the Great Depression.

Now there’s a topic for someone’s doctoral dissertation: the relationship between popular breast size and the health of the economy. After all, ample bosoms were exceedingly popular during the boom years of the nineteen fifties. Full-figured ladies were much admired in the prosperous Victorian period, when England reaped the benefits of scientific progress and a far-flung empire. If we believe the paintings, breasts were big in the Renaissance as well, with its flowering of trade, art and culture.

But I digress.

The article above reminded me of the link between sex and money. Sex sells. The fact that this is a cliché does not make it any less true. And when one’s marketing strategy is based primarily on sex, a change in popular sexual culture can spell economic ruin.

Have you checked out the latest innovations in sex toys? You really can’t get a simple vibrator anymore. Anything you purchase is likely to be USB-chargeable. It has a Bluetooth connection to your iPhone. To use it, you need to download an app. Innovate or die. That’s apparently the law of the market, even in the realm of sexual implements.

Which brings me to erotic writing. I have to ask myself: am I just as guilty of exploiting the Id for my own enrichment as tasteless and gimmicky places like Hooters? And if I am, do my personal sexual preferences, molded in the Golden Age of the sixties and seventies between the invention of the Pill and the advent of AIDS, doom my work to eventual obsolescence? Am I headed in the direction of Twin Peaks, scrambling to reinvent myself in order to sell my stories?

For instance, how many millennials find pubic hair arousing? Or chest hair on men, for that matter? Dangly earrings and long skirts, worn with no underwear? Sweaty sex in the back seats of automobiles? The sweet bounce of unfettered breasts under a loose tee shirt?

I really can’t imagine what sort of sex twenty-somethings find interesting. Given the general decline in literacy, it may be Millennials aren’t likely to read my books no matter what sort of sexual content they contain.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. My livelihood doesn’t depend on my writing—praise the Goddess. I love seeing the royalty payments bump up my PayPal account, but that’s primarily because it’s evidence that someone is reading my stuff. I am writing for fun, to explore new ideas and genres, to entertain myself and my readers, and yes, to turn myself on. If Millennial’s can’t connect with my characters, well, that’s too bad, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t claim to understand them. I’m not surprised if they feel the same about me.

I’d like to believe there are some universal truths about human sexuality captured in my tales, that I can tell a story that will resonate and arouse despite one’s background or generation. I am probably deluding myself, though.

For one thing, I like breasts too much.


What is the difference between erotica and porn? The classic reply is “erotica is what I like and porn is what you like,” which underscores the inherently arbitrary nature of any judgment. Some might challenge the need for this question at all, and I understand the appeal of taking each piece of writing on its own merits, classifications and hierarchies be damned. Still I’ve always found it rewarding to contemplate what makes certain kinds of sexually explicit writing more personally satisfying to me than others—what makes it my erotica, so to speak.

My definition has changed over the years and is still changing. Today, my favorite definition of erotica is that you still have an interesting story left if you take away the sex. As in my own life, what intrigues me is not the physical consummation alone, but the people involved and what they bring to the encounter.

The latter sentiment is starting to sound more like “romance,” another genre that has negative connotations for many due to its association with foolish women. Truth be told, my current project was inspired by a gendered coupling: my reading about WWI on its hundredth anniversary—hmm, the politics are fascinating, but what was sex and romance really like at that time?–and an unexpected dip into Fifty Shades of Greyhmm, I understand why some love this story and some hate it, but what kind of romance would I write to please myself?

I like a good romance as much as anyone who likes a good romance, so I’ve enjoyed exploring the path my lovers take in deciding they must be together, despite obstacles of social background and religion. The values and expectations of an earlier time naturally raise the stakes, because romance and sexual intimacy had more serious consequences for one’s reputation and fertility than they do today. I’m especially interested in how courtship has changed—and remained the same—in the last century.

One of the pleasures of this project is hearing voices from the past through books written at the time and primary sources such as letters. James Joyce and his wife Nora, Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins and his fiancé Kitty Kiernan, Franz Kafka and Milena Jesenska, playwright John Millington Synge and actress Molly O’Neill, all provide insights into the passionate epistolary expressions of more-or-less famous artists and political figures. It should perhaps be no surprise that these correspondences have a bit more artistic panache than the emails between Christian Grey and Ana Steele. But the romances of ordinary folk are also revealing of their times. This month, I’d like to share a more humble sample from my archives, two letters exchanged by a courting couple, the first from John to Annie, shown at the beginning of this post. The text is as follows (my apologies for the quality of the scan as this blog won’t let me upload the highest resolution files):

McSherrystown, Pa.
April 25, 1915

Dear Friend Annie,

Hoping I am not taking to [sic] much liberty in addressing a few lines to you to ask you if I could see you some time reel [sic] soon to exchange a few ideas. Hoping you are not offended and if you wish to see me let me know if not please destroy this letter for old time’s sake.

From your friend, I hope,

John A. Smith

This letter is from Annie to John:

Hanover, Pa.
October 7, 1915

Dear friend,

I received your letter which was more than a surprise to me, I surely thought you did not want to speak to me, but Johnie the way your letter read you do not want very much about speaking to me. I would like very much to talk to you, so if you care to see me and it is convenient for you please meat [sic] me on Friday evening after Service down at St Joseph’s, if not destroy this letter, if you please + excuse this writing and all mistakes.

I remain a friend,

Annie C. Hufnagel

I hold the originals in my hand, the paper yellowed and spotted, torn at the creases and fixed with Scotch tape. The ink is faded, and someone has traced over the writing in ballpoint pen with some indifference to the original. Perhaps some of the misspellings are the fault of the second writer? As for the content, my first response was amusement at the reserve in “see you sometime soon to exchange a few ideas” and the concern of both writers that their invitations might not be welcome, hence the pleas to destroy them, which I assume means burning them in the stove. Was this simply convention? Did courting couples in 1915 worry that an unwelcome written overture would be circulated among friends or posted in the town square to be mocked? Modern technology, Snapchat aside, can hold similar dangers of regret and discovery, but most people don’t beg recipients to delete texts. (Or do they?) I have also read that in the nineteenth and early twentieth century if a courtship ended, it was polite to either return the other party’s letters or assure them that you had destroyed them to save embarrassment. Perhaps we should revive that custom today?

Yet a second more careful reading of the two extant letters raised a new question. John’s letter is dated April 25, 1915 and Annie’s, which I initially assumed was a direct reply to his, was written on October 7 of that same year. Did she wait over five months to reply? Or were other letters exchanged in between? If so, there’s little evidence of the development of confidence in the relationship or ease between the two.

We might wonder if there was much of a future between these two people. Beneath the reserve, I do sense some yearning on both sides in those expressions of friendship. Fortunately, in this case as well as in my novel, I know the ending. John and Annie went on to marry in 1919, when he was 35 and she 29.

They had seven children; the girl on the right of the photograph standing next to John is their second-to-youngest, my mother. I am one of their 23 grandchildren. Thus in retrospect, the personal stakes for this relationship’s success are high, but we can assume John did indeed meet Annie after church on Friday and exchange some appealing ideas. The long courtship led to a marriage of sixty years, until my grandfather’s death at 95. My grandmother confided that on the morning of the day he died, my grandfather made a sexual advance, which I like to think represented a long and fulfilling life of romantic “ideas” between them.

It’s a nice thought for the future and an appealing inspiration for my novel set in the past. Whether you call it erotica or porn is your choice!

As are most people in North America, I am anticipating a partial solar eclipse next week. Not eagerly anticipating, however. I’ve experienced a couple of partial solar eclipses in my life already. They are about as exciting as a cloud passing in front of the sun. One couldn’t even call it a dimming, no more than a fine curtain dims sunlight coming through your window.

Still, my neighbors are excited. They’re buying eclipse glasses so they won’t go blind looking at it. I expect they’ll be disappointed. Like me, they’re in the right time, but the wrong place. Ah, but that’s life, isn’t it?

The other side of that sad coin, of course, is being in the right place, but in the wrong time. That was kind of how I felt on my first visit to New Orleans, a city I always wanted to visit, but didn’t get the chance to until I was in my fifties.

As my bride and I strolled Bourbon Street on a Tuesday night, it was like the height of the weekend in any other town. It was March, and it was as warm as June in Massachusetts. Trees and flowers had bloomed and the air was redolent with floral scents and the aroma of liquor.

Young people carried glasses across the street from one bar to another congealing in one place before drifting back into the general current, with various eddies swirling amongst one or two establishments in particular.

Sex was in the air too. Young women baring their bellies and thighs and young men entranced, buzzing about like gnats swarming in a pheromone frenzy.

The thought came into my head, then out my mouth: “Damn, I wish I was here when I was single.”

Then a gulp, and momentary panic. Had I actually said that out loud? A sidelong glance at the wife answered that question. But she eyed me with wry grin.

I shrugged, grateful to be off the hook. She’d felt it too.

We stopped in to one joint and had a few drinks, chatted up some very friendly strangers, then strolled back to our hotel. Later we banged each other’s brains out, like a pair of kids on spring break (another experience I seem to have missed).

I haven’t gotten back to the Big Easy, though I’d like to. There are just so many other places I want to go, and I’m not immortal. At least, I don’t think so. Of those places I do get to visit, I expect some will be disappointing in some way, but letdown or no, it’s the journey, right?

And wherever you are, it might just be the right place, for that particular time.

Editing Corner banner

By Iris Perkins (Poetry Editor)

Most people that write know about the stumbling block that most call, consider or term “writer’s block.” Well, I am here to let you know that there really is no such thing.

Make sure that you’re writing for you, then for your readers. There is a story that you are trying to convey and you are trying to get it out. Don’t force it.

If there is a block, then that is from not surrounding yourself with creative people who can help push you or from being in a stagnant place for far too long. Also, something else could be requiring your attention, halting your creativity.

If you ever have that moment where you feel stopped, halted or blocked, think about what is the best way to push yourself—or even come up with a different storyline. Or even find something else to do like cook, read, watch a movie, go for a walk or rest.

Is it hard? May be for some; however, not impossible.

The biggest part of writer’s block comes from the writer him/herself. It is like you are trying so hard to make yourself do something when it is not time. It will not happen.

Forcing yourself to idly sit at a blank page/screen will not make words come to you; however, you can make yourself a word bank and keep that around to spark some creativity.

Go outside. Watch television. Listen to some music. People watch. Do something.

Doing something else may trigger a memory or provide something to write about in your so called “dry spell.”

The advice I was always given when totally stuck was to envision the one scene or moment that made me want to write the entire story. Capture the original spark and forget about how you get to that point, or what happens afterwards. Imagine you’re looking at that scene through a little hole cut in a sheet of cardboard and describe only what you can see in that shot. Forget being linear, or chronological or logical. Just go with the descriptive flow. Save (and print, if you like things visual) then move onto the next clear image. Eventually your brain might figure out how to link things up, and then those moments become the reason you wanted to write that story…

Don’t underestimate that dry spell though. That dry spell just may mean you’re on the brink of greatness!


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