by | November 21, 2019 | General | 4 comments

Snowy Day

 A black-and-white photo from my high school years

When we moved from the US to Asia, more than a decade ago, I got rid of at least three quarters of my material possessions. One thing I kept, though, were photographs. We shipped two plastic crates of prints and negatives, plus a box of fancy photo albums where I’d pasted the very best of our travel and party photos, selected to showcase our adventures to others.

Photographs possessed a certain importance, a gravitas, as historical markers. They were artifacts to be preserved and cherished. Family photos adorned the walls in my mother’s and grandmother’s homes, not only of people that I knew, but also of people I’d never met. Our family marked important transitions with group portraits. My archives include the originals of at least two expensive studio shots of me and my siblings, one when I was around seven, the other aged twelve. In addition, my first lover was an amateur photographer, who taught me a bit about his craft. Among the boxes we shipped were envelopes of black and white “art” photos I shot in my junior and senior year in high school with my used Kodak single lens reflex – and developed myself.

Photos were precious then.

How things have changed! Now we all carry cameras in our pockets, and capture images of the most prosaic subjects. We flip through the pictures, allocating a few seconds to each – “sharing” them, deleting them, editing and enhancing them, rarely if ever printing them. Photos have become nothing but electronic data, ephemeral. We keep them on our devices, upload them to social media, and sometimes download them to our hard disk. If we don’t back them up regularly (and how many of us do?) they could all vanish with a single computer crash. Life’s history, gone in an instant. Maybe that doesn’t matter, but it’s quite a contrast to the thick-parchment, colorized, pricey studio photos of my childhood.

Books have followed the same trend. In that move halfway around the world, I also kept a selection of my favorite volumes from my youth. In fact, they’re still sitting on my shelves here, in some cases fifty to sixty years after I acquired them. Many are what I’d consider timeless classics: the complete Sherlock Holmes stories; Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; Edgar Allen Poe; Shakespeare’s plays. I also have very old versions of books that have been important to me personally, including Anne Rice’s vampire books (a 1975 edition of Interview with the Vampire) and The Story of O.

A book was a magical object, back then. Opening the covers, you entered the gates to another world. This was still true when I published my own first novel, twenty years ago. I held the paperback in my hand – the paperback with my name on the cover! – and marveled that I had joined the illustrious ranks of real authors. Like all writers, I even fantasized about my book becoming a best-seller or a classic.

And now? Books are just bits. I have a box full of author copies I can’t get rid of, including four different versions of that first novel, and a hard disk packed with manuscript files. There are multiple different versions of many tales, published and re-published, tweaked, expanded, reworked. The notion of a book as a finished creation, whole and perfect, has disappeared.

I used to suffer from what I called “narrative inertia”. What I meant was that I found it almost impossible to make significant alterations to a book after I’d written “The End”. My work seemed to resist revision. Almost as if it were solid and real.

I’m past that now. I can slice and dice my books to suit the perceived market. They have no special status, and I have no illusions about their pretensions to longevity.

The notion of a timeless classic being published today almost seems laughable. Fifty years from now – nay, even twenty years – hardware and software will have evolved to the point that ebooks from this era may not even be readable.

Of course, according to Eastern spiritual traditions, change is the only constant. Everything is ephemeral, the universe a construct of our minds and emotions. It’s all Maya, the sparkling, ever-mutating illusion that masks the incomprehensible, eternal nature of God.

(Gee, am I really talking about God on the ERWA blog? Well, why not?)

Perhaps it’s a side-effect of growing old, but these days almost everything seems temporary. News. Crises. Fashions. Celebrities. Technologies. Scandals. The rate of change seems to be constantly increasing. I don’t even bother to pay attention to much of what flashes through my life, or across my screen. It’ll be gone before I can even grasp it.

In fact, one of the less ephemeral phenomena in my life happens to be the Erotica Readers & Writers Association. Next January will mark twenty years that I’ve been part of the ERWA community. (ERWA itself has been in existence for twenty three years! Nearly a quarter century!) There are actually a few people on the email lists whom I’ve known that entire time. I’ve been writing the Erotic Lure newsletter since 2004 – fifteen years. That’s a lot of alliteration under the bridge.

Of course, ERWA has changed. We have new blood – young, talented, energetic writers and editors who help keep things interesting. The feelings, though, remain remarkably constant: warmth, respect for others, a spirit of fun, and of course a lively interest in all things erotic.

It’s pretty amazing that a community that exists only in cyberspace could be so resilient and so real. Our communications are just bits – but they matter. I enjoy closer relationships with some of the friends I’ve made here than with people I know in “meat-space”. Watching the world rush by, buffeted by the winds of change, I am truly grateful for ERWA, a “place” that doesn’t even exist, but where I always feel at home.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Eric Shelton

    Thank you for such a thoughtful insight; all true.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Eric – I’m sure I replied to this comment, but my thanks disappeared into the ether.



  2. Rose B. Thorny

    So many things to think about evolving from your post, Lisabet. Sometimes, I think I think too much. (And sometimes, I *know* I do.)

    For me, books are still magical objects. When I’m reading a good one (good, of course, being totally subjective), it’s still like traveling from my current time and space, at the very least, into a different space (since I read mostly stories that are set in the present — as opposed to historical stuff or future stuff, though the latter is more likely to happen to me) and being there, in the moment. And I’m a throwback; I like paper books. I don’t care how many ebooks are out there, because I still prefer browsing book stores, picking up different books, looking at the cover art (which is amazing in some instances), reading the snippets on the back dust jacket, then a teaser on the inside flap, about the author on the back flap, and then the real test, which is the first step onto the bridge I can’t see lying across the chasm (like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), reading the first paragraph. Is this the book I’ll buy, because the hook is set after the opening lines and I simply must know the rest of the story? It always starts as mystery, really, because I don’t have any idea how it’s going to end. It’s an adventure. If I do buy it, then I take it home and I get to look forward to settling in with it and reading it.

    And it doesn’t hurt at all that books and book stores smell so good. And, for the most part (even big book stores notwithstanding), book stores are quiet places. No music (or so-called music) blasting away, supposedly in the background, but definitely making as much noise as an army of obnoxious hooligans and viragoes bashing garbage can lids.

    Ephemera, by definition, are any transitory written or printed matters that are not meant to be retained or preserved. They are items that are considering to be not “lasting.” But lasting is a relative term. I possess some books that have lasted longer than my lifetime, so far. They were printed before I was born and I suspect that they will be part of my estate when I die. In that way, they are not ephemeral to me at all. I was not aware of their presence before I was born, and according to my beliefs, I will not be aware of them after I die, which means that to me, they existed for an eternity, my eternity.

    And lasting can also mean what I find and take with me during my lifetime. My memories of people, places, events…those exist *in me,* or at least in my mind. As long as I remember them, they are not ephemeral, they are real. I don’t even have to close my eyes to feel how real they are. As Dumbledore said, ““Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

    Your post raises, in me, questions about the nature of time and reality.

    And that brings me to ERWA. What I miss most about the “old” (or “older”) days of ERWA, like when I first joined in 2005 until not long after the introduction of smart phones and self-publishing, was exactly this type of discussion going on in Parlor. That was so much fun and so enlightening, too. What an opportunity to get the feeling that one was sitting in cosy room with friends and/or colleagues and discussing all manner of…well, for lack of a better word…stuff. One person starting a discussion and then each person, in turn, opining on the subject, if they choose. I miss talking about stuff. I guess that sort of thing is much more ephemera than ephemera. For people like me, though, that was such a tangible thing. It was like being in a real room, but a quiet room where with one person talking at a time (because the threads were individual emails) and then listening to each response. No noise and everyone in the room at that particular time paying attention to whoever was speaking. (Needless to say, in my imaging of this room, all the smart phones are tossed into a basket by door upon entering.)

    It’s different now. Things have changed. My husband used to say the same thing about change. i.e. the only constant is change. But I prefer that change be more gradual. Sudden change (and suppose sudden is a relative term, too) creates why too much stress for me. I like having more time to digest change, to analyze the pros and cons of the changes, to not just leap into a change without looking first, not because I’m a coward, but because I like to assess the possible consequences first and how they’re going to affect me. Well, I guess that’s it, isn’t it? I make it all about me, which isn’t selfish, really, it about self-preservation. Perhaps that is what ephemera is about, too — the preservation of the self.

    So sorry this is so long, but it’s that stream of consciousness that a post like yours evokes. (Just like I used to do in Parlor, so thanks for reading this, if you get all the way through it.)

    Rose 😉

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Rose,

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I also still read a lot of physical books. I loved your description of going into a bookstore… I know exactly what you mean.

      Even physical books, though, have become less tangible for me, or at least, less enduring. We buy many used books. After we read them, we try to pass them on, because honestly, at this stage in our lives, we don’t want to increase our material footprint with more “stuff”.

      Occasionally I’ll read something so wonderful that I’ll keep it. More often, I’ll buy copies for my friends and family.

      I was never on Parlor. But I feel that I know at least some of the ERWA folk really well. Sharing in someone’s deepest, darkest fantasies will do that…


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