Jean Roberta

A Trip to Cockaigne

This image is from The Land of Cockaigne (literally, “the lazy-tasty land” in Dutch) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567.


Lately, when my spouse Mirtha and I were having a drink in the local queer bar, a gay-male friend of ours told me he had read some of my erotic stories, and he thought I was writing about the Sexual Revolution of the late 1960s, the heyday of the hippies. He knows I am 70 years old, and he suggested with a grin that I have lived through some wild times.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to say. In my teens and early twenties, I dated young men who identified as “radical.” They told me that all the old rules about sex needed to be thrown out. I completely agreed. I remembered how easy it was for girls in high school to get bad reputations based on the slightest indiscretion: being seen with the “wrong” boy, or wearing a skirt that someone else considered too short.

I couldn’t wait for the culture to change. More specifically, I wanted an era of sexual freedom to arrive. I’m still waiting.

My father warned me that I had no right to refuse sex with any young man if I had “led him on” or “flaunted my body.” Boys told me the same thing. The same boys had a vocabulary of ugly words for girls who had (gasp) committed sex with someone other than themselves.

I never lived in a commune on the West Coast (American or Canadian). If there was a patchouli-scented era of enlightenment, joyous polyamory, waterbeds, and ecstasy for all, I missed it.

I’ve written true stories about some of my relationships (to use the word loosely) before I ventured into the sex trade and the LGBTQ community at age thirty. There was the high school boyfriend who aspired to be a writer, and who dumped me after I won a major award in a national student writing contest. He seemed to believe I had sold out to the Man.

There was the guy who claimed to be a Yippie (member of the Youth International Party) and who raped me in my dorm room in my first year of university.

There was my Nigerian husband (whom I met in London, England) who claimed to be a social justice warrior, and who seemed convinced that all white women are sex demons who can never be faithful to one man. You can guess how compatible we were.

When I ventured outside of monogamous heterosexuality, the 1980s were starting, and a backlash against “women’s lib” had already set in, along with a retrenchment of conservative policies in Canada, the U.S. and Britain. The first AIDS patients had died of a disease that was known to spread through sexual contact, and their suffering seemed like a cautionary tale to those who thought “promiscuity” was the road to Hell.

I was a divorced mother living in a housing co-op for low-income single parents. My ex-husband stopped making child support payments, and I learned that I had no way of squeezing money out of him.

I spent three years in a relationship with a married man who dominated conversations by proclaiming his radical political vision. He told me I was naive and “trying to be bourgeois,” which seemed to mean that my need for a livable income showed what a hypocrite I was: a slut trying to pass for a good mother. I believed that he was separated from his wife and children because we sometimes spent the night in his sparsely-furnished apartment, which turned out to be a temporary shelter so that he wouldn’t have to commute between a small town and his job in the “city” on weekdays in an icy Canadian winter. After I overheard him telling his wife on the phone how much he loved her, I had to lock him out of my apartment to prevent him from showing up late at night for free sex.

For a few months, I lived with my first woman lover, whose hard-drinking friends were always hanging out in our apartment when I was trying to work on my Master’s thesis. My relationship ended when I discovered that she had emptied my bank account and taken the proceeds with her to the summer Stampede in Calgary, Alberta.

If anyone was having fabulous sex parties at the time, I was not invited. I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway, since I didn’t want to risk losing custody of my child.

However, I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and that’s where I go to get inspiration for sex-stories. In the Land of Fantasy, the weather is always perfect for outdoor sex, the other inhabitants are attractive, eager, and honest, and there are no disappointing revelations afterwards.

As far as I know, the real world has never been like that. And speaking of backlash, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the right to a legal abortion looks like the first sign of a general stripping-away of hard-won rights for everyone other than wealthy, conservative white men.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have savings and relatively well-paid jobs (based on seniority) are no longer as young and nimble as we used to be.

It seems as if the only safe space is in our own heads, and this is nothing new. Luckily, there is a tradition of sex-writing which features pleasure in all forms, and which serves as a consolation for having to live in the real world.

We need to find or create versions of the Land of Cockaigne, which Wikipedia describes as: “a land of plenty in medieval myth, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist. Specifically, in poems like “The Land of Cockaigne” it is a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheese).” Apparently Cockaigne appeared often in the Latin verses of travelling scholars of the 12th and 13th centuries. It represented wish fulfillment in times of scarcity and resentment of the rules of the medieval Christian church.

Maybe the occasional trip to Cockaigne can help give us the energy to fight the general slide into a shortage of everything human beings need and want. Even (or especially) if a Sexual Revolution never really occurred, it seems like a worthy cause.


Inspiration and Obstacles

For the past few years, I’ve been privileged to teach several creative writing classes in the university where I have taught literature-and-composition since the twentieth century. I’m currently teaching an intense class in a six-week semester, and the students have to try their hands at various genres: fiction, drama, poetry, non-fiction.

I’m not sure if all the students know I write erotica. I never bring that up at the beginning of a course, partly because male students often have conceptions of sexiness that would have driven me out of the room if I were their age.

Let me offer an example. Fred, as I’ll call him, is slightly older than my other students (late thirties?). For his dialogue scene, he described two men in a truck, both employees of a construction company. The younger one is eighteen, and the older one is a supervisor in his fifties As the truck is stopped at an intersection, the younger man points out a woman crossing the street. He claims that she has her “headlights on” (her nipples are showing, and her breasts are described as large, even though she is slim). Then the observant young man also admires her “caboose.” The older man chuckles, apparently with approval.

The older man is reminded of “the ironing board game,” which he used to play with his best friend in high school. Both boys agreed that because there were a lot of girls in their school, they would have to learn to remove a girl’s bra with one hand, and with impressive speed. To develop their skills, the two boys borrowed the bras of a very indulgent mother and fastened them around her ironing board, then practiced undoing them as quickly as possible. The construction worker who remembers this game gives his friend credit for being a “ladies’ man,” presumably because he perfected his ability to remove a bra from the rigid object that represented a living girl.

There is no indication in the written scene that bras should only be removed with the consent of their owners, or that even casual sexual encounters require a minimum of civility on both sides. As I pointed out in class, there needs to be some negotiation before underwear comes off.

The student who wrote this piece said he hoped that no one else in a largely-female class would be offended. The temperature in the classroom  seemed to drop by at least ten degrees when we began discussing the dialogue between the older man and the younger man, and the older man’s fond memory of his own youth.

I’m not sure if the writer of this piece is aware that universities tend to be hotbeds of sexual abuse and sexual misunderstanding because they still attract students between the traditional post-secondary student ages of 18 and 22. Despite the general aging of the student population due to the increasing expense of a university education, many students are relatively young and single. Dating relationships are the norm for those who seek human companionship as a break from studying—and, in too many cases these days, working to stay out of debt. Female students have told me about the double danger of going to the campus bar with fellow-students, and working as servers in various watering-holes, where their youth and attractiveness (which got them hired in the first place) make them magnets for predatory male customers. And in general, women now outnumber men in post-secondary institutions.

Entry-level creative writing classes in this university have traditionally been run as workshops, so my students know that their works-in-progress will be critiqued by their peers. So far, the critiquing in this class has been reasonably polite and constructive. When the piece about the two men in the truck and the ironing-board game was up for discussion, I noticed that the rest of the class seemed to be speechless. I had a one-to-one conversation with the student who wrote it, and he indicated that he hoped his piece was funny. I explained as tactfully as I could that I thought it would need to be considerably revised before it could tickle the funny bones of anyone who knows that bras are generally worn by living people.

I couldn’t help wondering if members of the generation currently in high school really believe that an ability to take off a girl’s bra quickly is a primary requirement for a “ladies’ man.” As a woman who dated men in my own far-off youth, I remember taking off my own bra, as often as not, when the time seemed right. Once things had progressed to a certain point, my date had only to ask for access to my breasts, and I usually preferred to slip off my bra as efficiently as possible than to put up with his efforts to find the hooks or worm his fingers underneath a snug band of stretchy material or an underwire.

Of all the qualities I looked for in a date, an ability to take off my bra with panache was not even on my list. And the tendency of high school boys to snap or undo the bras of their classmates in public places encouraged me to sidle down the hallways like a crab, keeping my back to the wall. I was not amused or aroused, and I never met another girl who claimed to enjoy this “joke.”

I suspect that my older male student now believes that I have no sense of humour, and that too many of his classmates are like me in that sense. Sigh. At least my own education has paid off.

Kinky Grammar

                            ( . . . ).  ! ?  ”  ”  ‘  ‘  [**]. .    :   ;  , @. #. %. & — 

As a teacher of literature and composition classes, as well as creative writing (non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and drama), I am sometimes attacked by Imposter Syndrome (What am I doing here? What do I have to teach anyone?).

As a writer, I know that the writing process is not completely straightforward. It requires input from the left side of the brain (supposedly the logical side) as well as the right side (supposedly the creative, intuitive side). As a writing teacher, I encourage students to keep journals of various kinds, including dream journals, and mine them for material.

The editing process involves imposing some order on the sometimes-incoherent messages from the inner Oracle. Some knowledge of grammar and punctuation is required, but students sometimes complain that traditional rulebooks on such things tend to be: 1. intimidating, 2. confusing, and 3. boring.

Would erotic writers be interested in an appropriate (i.e. inappropriate for the classroom) grammar workshop? At the Erotic Authors conference in Las Vegas in 2011, Shar Azade and I presented this event, complete with handouts to take away. It seemed to be a success.

Ever since then, I have considered writing an erotic guide to the parts of speech, sentence construction, verb conjugation, and the use of punctuation as accessories. It lends itself to being written in brief sections, so various charts and exercises in this Work-in-Progress litter the Documents on my home computer.

I offer for your consideration a discussion of two different but related verbs. You can’t afford not to make their acquaintance.


Two verbs that are often confused are “to lay” and “to lie.” Many people don’t even know they are not the same!

Here is a brief introduction:

Hello, I am TO LAY. I am a transitive verb, which means that I always have a direct object. To put it more bluntly, I am always Dominant. I need someone or something to work on.

I (to lay). O (object)

Here are some examples:

I lay a lace tablecloth on the table when I’m expecting company.

My assistant lays out the implements ahead of time.

My guests lay their clothing on the guest bed before presenting themselves for inspection.


I am TO LIE. I am intransitive, meaning that I perform actions alone. This really means I am a solitary masturbator. I don’t need anyone or anything.

I (to lie, a solitary verb). (I don’t need a thing.)

Here are some examples:

I lie down when I am tired.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean, and my love letters lie to her in her ebony chest with the lock.

What secrets lie in her heart?


Here is TO LAY conjugated in first-person singular:

I laid (simple past), I lay (simple present), I will lay (simple future).

I was laying (past progressive), I am laying (present progressive), I will be laying (future progressive)

I had laid (past perfect), I have laid (present perfect), I will have laid (future perfect).


Simple, right?

Now, here is the confusing part: “lay” can be used as a past-tense form of “to lie.”

Here is TO LIE conjugated in different tenses.

I lay (simple past), I lie (simple present), I will lie (simple future)

I was lying (past progressive), I am lying (present progressive), I will be lying (future progressive)

I had lain (past perfect), I have lain (present perfect), I will have lain (future perfect)


These examples should lay all the confusion to rest!

What I’ve Been Reading, or Sex in Context


Much has been said here about how “erotica” and “literary fiction” are often closer than is usually acknowledged. Apparently the way to prevent your sexually-explicit story or novel from being put in the “dungeon” (where no one can see it unless they search for it by title) on Amazon is to label it something other than “erotica.”

More often than not, there is a sex scene or two in any current work of “fiction.” This doesn’t mean that writers in various genres are hypocrites who really write erotica without admitting it. It means that writers who set forth to write a plot that isn’t primarily about sex or even the development of a sexual relationship must find ways to integrate the sex into descriptions of other things.

The sex scenes can’t look as if they were copied-and-pasted in from some other imaginary world. If there is some dialogue in a sex scene, it has to be consistent with the speech patterns those characters have already established. The sex can’t be described in a different style from other activities in the same narrative, and terms such as “dick,” “pussy,” etc., can’t be used if they are never used in the culture in which the plot is set.

Issues of social class and culture don’t disappear in sex scenes. Even in extreme ecstasy, characters can’t afford to forget where they are, and how they are expected to interact in more public settings, and what might happen if their secret tryst becomes public knowledge.

Even if the narrative viewpoint is third-person omniscient, the descriptions have to be consistent with the central character’s consciousness. If modern English is used to represent other languages (including archaic forms of English, and Celtic dialects), the implication that the whole thing has been translated has to be consistent throughout the work.

Recently, I finished reading Hild, a 530-page novel set in seventh-century Britain. [The author, Nicola Griffith, is an English expatriate living in the rainy northwest of the U.S.] The central character, who came to be known as St. Hilda of Whitby, was born in about 614 AD in a culture in which small kingdoms were almost constantly at war, and in which the Christian church was making inroads into the traditional worship of Woden.

Hild’s mother, Breguswith (widow of a minor king who died by poison) is both a traditional healer and a shrewd observer of local politics. When she notices that her teenage daughter is growing restless, she advises her to have a sexual relationship with someone who doesn’t “matter,” someone below her in rank. (Hild is the the local king’s niece as well as his “seer,” who can presumably foretell the future.) This liaison would attract the least amount of notice in a culture in which privacy is scarce, and in which Hild could be expected to enter a diplomatic marriage in the near future. Needless to say, she can’t afford to become pregnant yet.

As it happens, Hild has a beautiful, sexually-experienced female slave, a captive of war that Hild bought on impulse because she wanted a companion who couldn’t leave her. Gwladus (Oo-lad-oos) was naked when offered to the highest bidder, and she was openly advertised for sexual purposes. She was clearly relieved when Hild bought her, and she has been Hild’s “bodywoman” (servant) ever since. Hild came to realize that as a property-owner, she had a right to protect her woman from the local warriors, so she stopped one of them from grabbing Gwladus, who is grateful.

Probably on the advice of Breguswith, Gwladus finds Hild in the dairy, and tells her that she needs to “lie down” in the afternoon, in their private room. With surprising confidence, she tells Hild to undress. Here is the following scene:

Her [Gwladus’] lips were soft. Like plums, like rain.

Gwladus put her hand on Hild’s thigh and stoked as though Hild were a restive horse: gently, firmly. Down the big muscles, up the long tight muscle on the inside. Not soothing but. . . she didn’t know what it was.

Stroking, stroking, down along the big muscle on the outside, up along the soft skin inside. Down. Up. Up more. “There,” Gwladus said, “there now.” And Hild wondering if this was how Cygnet [Hild’s horse] felt to be encouraged for the jump. Her heart felt as big as a horse’s, her nostrils wide, her neck straining, but not quite wild, not quite yet. “there,” said Gwladus again, and ran her palm over Hild’s wiry hair to her belly. “Yes,” she said, and rested there, cupping the soft, rounded belly, and then moved down a little, and a little more, and her hand became the centre of Hild’s world. “Oh, yes, my dear.” She kissed Hild again, and Hild opened her legs.

It was nothing like when she did it for herself. It built like James’ [Christian priest’s] music, like the thunder of a running herd, then burst out, like the sudden slide of cream, like a sleeve pulled aside out, and she wanted to laugh and shout and weep, but instead clutched at Gwladus as she juddered and shuddered and clenched.


On a later occasion, Hild tries to return the favour, but Gwladus tells her, “No, lady.” The nuances of the relationship seem somewhat unclear even to Hild. Is seduction the act of a servant, and would giving her pleasure make her even more vulnerable than she already is? Later, Hild is taunted by Cian, the young man with whom she was raised, who tells her that at least he doesn’t have to buy his bed-mates.

Without taking any firm philosophical stand on slavery in general, Hild has Gwladus’ metal collar removed, and she offers to let her former servant return to her home territory. Another close companion has to point out to Hild that Gwladus isn’t showing any desire to leave, so the relationship resumes, more or less as it has been from the beginning.

The author wisely avoids mentioning the ages of Hild or of Gwladus. Considering the cultural distance between modern industrial society and the tribal world of the seventh century, “underage sex”—even girl-to-girl—is probably the least shocking event in the novel. Warfare involving swords and spears is described in gory detail.

Novels like this show that fiction can tackle both sex and violence without being stigmatized for either of these elements, especially if the surrounding culture is scrupulously researched and described in detail.

For those who are interested, Hild is only the first volume of a projected trilogy titled “The Light of the World.” The second volume, Menewood, seems to be complete but not yet published. In the meanwhile, the author has written a shorter novel, Spear, set in the world of King Arthur.

Clan of the Cave Bears

’Tis the season for small holiday gatherings among non-infectious people who trust each other. This year, my two stepsons came to the house I share with my spouse on Christmas Eve, as usual, for my spouse’s traditional Chilean roast beef supper with green-bean-and-tomato salad (in the traditional Christmas colours, red and green), & mashed potatoes, with pie for dessert. After Younger Son insisted that we all use our free rapid-test kits to confirm that we were Covid-free (after we were all triple-vaxxed) he calmed down and agreed to stay for the meal. I hate to think how much drama could have been created by a larger family.

Yet I am disappointed that the two boys I first met when they were 9 and 17 have never married or produced offspring that I could regard as grandchildren. (I have biological grandchildren that I’m not allowed to see, a story for another post.) The two sons that my long-term woman partner brought into our relationship in 1989 are now 41 and almost-50 (his birthday is in early January.) They call me and their mother their “moms,” and I love them as my own.

It seems ironic that their basic template for a long-term relationship is the lesbian marriage of their mother-figures. For years, the sons have both said they would love to “settle down” with the right person—who, in their cases, would have to be female. Their bio-mom and I would love that for them. In 2010, I got a bigger-than-expected inheritance from my late parents, so we all went house-shopping and bought houses for the two sons. Spouse and I paid the down-payments and qualified for the mortgages, and the sons have been paying their monthly fees directly to us ever since.

If one of the sons wanted to bring in a live-in girlfriend, get married, and/or have kids, we would give the son his property. This happened temporarily, but that relationship turned out to be a nightmare when the girlfriend (who already had two children by different fathers, who both paid child support) threatened to expel the son and take custody of his house, simply because she was a mother. This opened my eyes to the way a policy of letting a mother and her kids stay in their home in the case of a breakup can be used to victimize a man with property. (Luckily, her ass is now gone, but this means that my stepson can only see her kids on rare occasions, and he was growing attached to them. I know how that works.)

Then there was the relationship between the other son and his fiancee, who seemed almost too good to be real. She was a beautiful blonde with a degree in natural science, who immersed herself in French courses so as to teach science in a French-language public school here in Canada. She also made chef-worthy desserts for family get-togethers. “Don’t lose this one,” I told the son. As it turned out, he lost her because she left, several years ago. She is now married, and has a little son of her own. (My spouse completely blocked her on social media, but I’ve kept track. I also can’t resist Latin American telenovelas because there is always a new plot twist.)

There was also the girlfriend who moved in with the above son, whose best friend from childhood had been a house-mate from the time we bought the house. Best Friend and girlfriend got together, and proposed a throuple. Son couldn’t stand it, so each of them moved out separately. This meant that he lost a friend, a girlfriend, and two contributors to the mortgage.

There are many articles in social media by heterosexual men about why dating sucks because of women. There are many more articles by heterosexual women about why dating sucks because of men. The credibility gap between the two sides looks immense.

I should probably mention here that both my stepsons are stunningly attractive (IMO), talented, and gainfully employed. Music runs in their Latino blood, and one is a trained sound technician. The other one is into Mixed Martial Arts, and has often filled in as an impromptu bouncer in nightclubs where he was hired as a d.j. Both these guys probably have more opportunities to meet women than the average man their age. They don’t seem tempted to try dating apps.

It dismays me to see that women who are young enough to be my granddaughters are still meeting the kind of toxic men I remember from my teens and twenties. At the same time, the men I know (including the two grown sons) seem mystified when I mention the sexual double bind (in which guys complain that girls/women who refuse unprotected sex on a first date are prudish or manipulative, but girls/women who have ever had sex are disgusting nympho sluts) deception (man with a wife or girlfriend pretends to be single), scammy financial exploitation, violence (out-of-control rage and sexual assault), or the Housework Problem (man with paid job meets woman with paid job, and even before they move in together, he launches a campaign to convince her that all the cooking, cleaning, childcare, and planning of social events now belong to her.) My stepsons claim they don’t do any of those things, and don’t know any men who do. They seem to believe that this kind of behaviour must be very rare in modern times.

One of my stepsons used to spout the popular claim that women reject “nice guys” like him because they prefer macho abusers. Back in the day, I had been gaslit by family and “friends,” who all encouraged me to return to a raging alcoholic husband on grounds that he was only human until they began to ask why I had “chosen” a jealous, controlling man in the first place (I hadn’t; he had been a charming suitor). So I told Stepson what he was full of, and he no longer spouts that particular line—at least, not to me. I don’t really think I changed his mind.

Clearly, sexual attraction between people who identify as men and people who identify as women has not died. Yet the world seems full of wounded people who can’t trust anyone in their dating pool of choice.

Women post personal stories about escaping from various kinds of abuse, while men proclaim that all women want men who are at least six feet tall and with six-figure salaries, which supposedly explains why all the guys who don’t reach those measurements get dumped. The spokespeople for different genders don’t seem to be living in the same world.

I honestly can’t think of a neat conclusion to this post. I want the best for the men I think of as sons, but my own experience prevents me from believing any of the popular theories from the manosphere about why women these days are like poisonous snakes. Comments welcome.

A Low-Key Book Launch

Today I officially launched my erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium.

A local independent bookstore, the Penny University Bookstore, in the main street in the Cathedral Neighbourhood (the “Greenwich Village” of my small prairie city) offers local authors a chance to hang out on Saturday afternoons and interact with customers, or to plan a more formal event in the evening, which carries a fee because the store owner has to pay her staff extra to work outside of normal business hours. I chose the Saturday-afternoon slot, and I was delighted when a few of my friends showed up. My loyal spouse was there too.

The bookstore owner, who previously ran a downtown coffee shop which occasionally hosted a pop-up bookstore, offered us free tea or coffee. I sat in the comfortable green armchair that I thought of as Author’s Seat, having attended someone else’s book launch several weeks ago. My friends bought copies of Prairie Gothic, I autographed them, and I read the opening scene in Chapter One, which is relatively work-safe. The owner made a video of my reading, and I hope I won’t find it cringe-worthy when I see it.

I really hope that such small, cozy independent bookstores never die out completely, although their numbers have been shrinking for a long time. The convenience of shopping for books (including digital and audio versions) on-line has almost eclipsed the pleasure of shopping for actual books on shelves in stores that host author events and book club meetings. This trend seems parallel to the gradual disappearance of the kind of community-based LGBT bars that I describe in my novel. Now, in the 2020s, people of all sexual flavours seem to find dates on-line, despite the danger involved in meeting total strangers outside a social context of shared work, shared hobbies, political causes, or friends. I’m not sure if recurring lockdowns due to the pandemic have accelerated this process, but I know that many human transactions have been moving on-line since the era of my novel (1999), when communication usually took place in-person.

I hope all you writers here can find a welcoming real-life place to share your writing with actual readers.

You Could Make This Stuff Up, But You Don’t Have To

Anyone who has been enjoying Donna George Storey’s posts about history in this blog knows that, despite what most of us were taught by our parents, our ancestors actually had sex. And even though most sex has taken place in private settings, research can turn up interesting and suggestive facts. Several years ago, when I decided to “make up” a lesbian identity for a woman activist in the women’s rights movement of the early twentieth century, it seems I wasn’t far from the truth. Several of them lived together in “Boston marriages” which may or may not have included sexual activity, but these relationships were clearly more important to the women in them than most friendships.

On the subject of unconventional relationships, an interracial couple, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, kicked off the fight for marriage equality when they got married in Washington D.C. in 1958 because their home state of Virginia (seat of the Confederacy during the American Civil War) had racist laws against “miscegenation.” Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the marriage of the Lovings, ruled such laws unconstitutional, and paved the way for same-sex marriage. A movie titled Loving was made about this couple. They could not have had a better name.

Looking up information about the Tudor era, I learned that Anne Boleyn, the tragic second wife of King Henry VIII, was admired by Sir Thomas Wyatt, the courtier who is given credit for introducing the sonnet form into English literature in the 1530s, before Queen Anne was executed on trumped-up charges of adultery, which counted as treason if one’s husband was the king. Sir Thomas was briefly imprisoned, but luckily, he escaped the fate of several other men-about-court, who were accused of being Anne’s lovers and executed with her, including her brother George.  I couldn’t resist writing about a tryst between Anne and Sir Thomas, while her lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour is occupied elsewhere. (King Henry married Jane eleven days after Anne’s execution.) And I couldn’t resist writing a love-sonnet from Sir Thomas for Anne.

My local-colour erotic novel, Prairie Gothic, is finally in print, and it includes real-life local scandals, including the mismanagement of funds that destroyed the Conservative Party of Saskatchewan in the 1990s (when my novel is set), and the murder trial of 1995 in which two young white men from prominent families (aged 18 and 20) were convicted of killing an Indigenous sex worker for sport. This crime has left repercussions in the town where I live to this day. My grown daughter was a teenager in the 1990s, and the killers were in her circle of friends, which still raises the hair on my head. My daughter was born to me when I was married to a Nigerian man, and her closest friend at the time was the daughter of another single mother, an Indigenous activist.

Did the two young white men consider their brown female “friends” to be different from the sex workers they routinely picked up? If they did, that’s a small blessing, but I’ll probably never know.

They say that no news is good news, and of course, records of criminal proceedings reveal a lot about laws that aim to regulate sexual activity. Oscar Wilde, a wildly successful Irish playwright of the Victorian Age, was convicted of “sodomy” in London exactly a hundred years before my daughter’s “friends” were convicted of murder. He had made the mistake of suing the father of his current “protege” for libel because the father referred to Wilde as a “posing somdomite,” which looks like a misspelled version of a word commonly used for man-loving men at the time, as though they were all inhabitants of the sinful city of Sodom in the Bible. This trial opened the door for damaging information about Wilde’s association with other young men to be used against him in a criminal trial. He was sentenced to prison for consensual sexual activity, and it ruined his life. After his release, Wilde (who was fluent in French and even wrote in it) went into exile in Paris, France, where he died before 1900.

My spouse, Mirtha, was hired  on a government grant to organize a group for LGBTQ senior citizens, people over age 55. One member of the group is my retired colleague from the English Department of the local university who used to run a small theatre troupe. He has proposed directing a reading of Wilde’s last play, The Importance of Being Earnest, to be performed in the LGBTQ bar and community centre in October.  This play is a romantic comedy of manners with no obviously queer content, but it seems poignant because of the context in which it was first written and performed.

Anyone who wants to write an interesting plot only needs to surf through social media, watch the TV news, read some historical sources, or sift through their own memories. Sex in various forms runs through history and literature alike. Real life doesn’t need to be embellished—or not much—to be turned into a gripping story. The research can be as much fun as the actual writing.


It’s Still a Mystery

The connections—and the differences—between lust and love are an ancient puzzle. In some ways, sexual desire is the exact opposite of emotional attraction, especially when considered from a writer’s viewpoint. Desire leads to sex, which is a sensual experience involving sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Emotional attraction can be expressed in words and actions, but the thing itself is intangible. Love can be faked much more easily than physical arousal.

Novel-length erotic narratives tend to become boring if they are just lists of couplings with no plot arc. Even if all the major characters are enjoying sex with each other, something has to change. The most logical development is that some of the characters become more to each other than casual playmates. They learn each other’s personal histories and take an interest in each other’s current problems, including those that have no direct connection with sex. They are privileged to learn each other’s secrets, and this knowledge increases their sense of connection.

Writers of erotic romances can create intrigue and suspense by the same means that have worked for centuries in non-erotic romances. A misunderstanding can set a developing relationship back and make the major characters miserable until a crucial conversation and an epiphany resolve the problem. There can be rivals on both sides, and the reader can be shown how the rivals threaten the primary relationship, and why the rivals would not be suitable partners for the major characters. One lover’s devotion to the other can be tested by circumstances. Each major character can ask the other: would you risk death for me?

Like most readers, I like happy endings (even if they are just happy-for-now), especially if they aren’t overly predictable. Happy endings in a work of fiction raise the question of whether they can be arranged in real life. How do we navigate sexual attraction vs. Emotional attraction? When should we declare our feelings, even to someone who doesn’t seem to be available, and when should we leave well enough alone?

Speaking for myself, sexual desire has been a very unreliable indicator of whether I could live happily with a particular person of any gender, age, physical appearance, or social class. The “opposites attract” trope which works in romance stories seems more likely to result in a nasty breakup in the real world when the two participants discover that they also have clashing expectations. I’ve mentioned here before that the credibility gap between cisgendered men and cisgendered women still seems to be as wide as ever, despite improvements in the status of women over the past fifty years, and the huge quantity of words that have been written on gendered experience. Why do so many men still seem surprised that women resent doing the lion’s share of cooking and cleaning when they also have demanding paid jobs? Why do some women still believe whatever their divorced boyfriends say about their ex-wives?

My spouse Mirtha and I recently discussed our past relationships which didn’t last long. She told me that before her first marriage, she often got bored with the young men she dated. I couldn’t remember ever feeling bored with another person. I definitely remember feeling dismayed when I learned something that shattered my illusions: the boy I was dating in high school thought college professors like my father were all evil Communists who belonged in prison, or the man who had already spent a night with me was married with children. Or the woman I had met in the local “gay” bar had a drinking problem which impaired her ability to think clearly about anything else. What had I seen in any of these people? I had seen them through a haze of sexual attraction, and I had assumed that anyone that appealing on the outside must have good inner qualities too. Anything else was unimaginable until the truth came out.

Stories about human interaction are almost guaranteed to be more satisfying than many real-life experiences because stories have shape, they rise to a climax, and they reach closure of some kind. Miraculously, characters who look attractive are usually revealed to have inner depth and surprising talents. Even the villains tend to be shrewd. Delectable bodies are usually the outward representation of interesting personalities. This is a major reason why all of us here like to read fiction, and most of us like to write it.

Should realism be included in a plot about sexual or emotional attraction? Some degree of plausibility seems needed to persuade a reader to willingly enter into a fictional universe. On the other hand, readers (and writers) looking for escape from the disappointments of the real world don’t want to be confronted by them in a work that promises a better deal. Comments welcome.

Sex vs. the State of the World

I had several ideas for a blog post this month, but too many other events and news items have distracted my attention. When this happens, I ask myself how much of what passes through my stream of consciousness has to do with sex. The answer that comes to me is: everything! We all crave pleasure, but there are obstacles in the way.

I recently watched a documentary on the revival of Druidry in Britain. A ceremony to welcome the sun at Midsummer at Stonehenge was shown. A mature-looking man in a white robe held a branch of mistletoe aloft, and described it as the healing semen of the gods which never touches the ground in its natural state. Each person in the circle got a small piece of the branch, then they all cheered the sunrise and danced in a circle. At Midwinter, of course, mistletoe is supposed to encourage kissing.

My earliest ideas for erotic stories were fantasies about sex as a religious ritual, even though I couldn’t seriously imagine such a thing happening in the real world. Like most other people raised in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), I was brought up to think of sex as a necessary evil that needed to be contained. Even though my parents had a liberal approach to Christianity when I was growing up, and my father declared himself an agnostic later on, their warnings to me about sex were probably similar to the sermons they got from their more orthodox Protestant parents: sex is for making babies, and if I ever “let” anyone have carnal knowledge of me outside the bounds of heterosexual monogamy, I would “pay the price.”

In spite of all that, a spiritual connection with the forces of nature seems sexual by definition.

The Midsummer ritual I watched looked like a welcome change from a torrent of bad news: the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the sites of residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada. Most of the people I know have decided not to celebrate Canada Day (July 1) because of the policies enforced by the Christian churches that ran these schools, and the federal Canadian government that funded them and forced children into them from the time Canada became a nation in 1867 to much later. The last residential school near me closed in 1996. The official rationale for these places was to “civilize” Indigenous children by teaching them Christian values and useful skills, but the high death rate in them was a clue to their real purpose: genocide.

While ground-penetrating radar is revealing an ever-growing number of small bodies whose families (in most cases) were never told what had happened to them, Britney Spears is fighting in court to regain the rights of an adult. Her apparent “breakdown” thirteen years ago served as a reason for her father to claim legal control of his adult daughter, supposedly for her own good, and to control her income. Like others in the “Free Britney” movement, I find it mind-boggling that she is able to maintain a gruelling schedule as an entertainer, but is officially considered incompetent to handle her own affairs.

Please note that I’m not equating the legal control of one person with a national policy that resulted in mass deaths, but there are some connecting threads. A traditional belief that certain people are too wild or irrational to make their own choices has been applied to people who are not white, not male, or not thought of as adult. (And on this note, I’ve blogged here and elsewhere about the flexible boundaries of “childhood,” depending on who is defining this state and for what purpose.)

To avoid sinking into a hell-pit of despair, I visualize the flow of sexual energy as something that can never be destroyed as long as human beings are still living on the earth, which still nourishes us. Those of us who write sexual fantasies can keep reminding ourselves and each other that pleasure is our birthright, and it doesn’t belong only to a privileged few.

Taking a break from social media and spending time outdoors is a good way to rekindle hope for a better future. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the season for it. Happy summer to everyone living north of the equator, and may the Antipodeans find comfort in winter.

It’s Complicated

El Baile de los quarenta y uno (The Dance of the Forty-One) is a recent Mexican movie, dubbed in English, which is currently available on Netflix. My Latina spouse, Mirtha, read about it and proposed that we watch it on TV during the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada.

Here is the Wikipedia explanation of the real-life incident on which the movie is based:

During the presidency of Porfirio Diaz, an illegal police raid was carried out on November 17, 1901, against a private home in Mexico City, the site of a dance attended by a group of men, of whom nineteen were dressed in women’s clothing.

“The press was keen to report the incident, in spite of the government’s efforts to hush it up, since the participants belonged to the upper echelons of society. The list of the detainees was never published. Only 41 men were officially arrested. However, there were rumors that Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, son-in-law of President Diaz, was also in attendance. Of the 41 men arrested for “offense to morals and good manners,” most paid for their freedom and only [!] 12 were eventually sent to work in the Yucatan.

The movie begins with the courtship of Ignacio de la Torre, an aspiring politician, and Amada, the illegitimate (a term much used in the nineteenth century) daughter of Porfirio Diaz and an Indigenous woman, Rafaela Quinones. In a racist, patriarchal culture, Amada has an ambiguous social position: her father is powerful, but she is a woman born “out of wedlock,” and she is darker than her white half-brothers and sisters. Her own mother is not welcome at social events attended by Senor Diaz’s legitimate family.

Ignacio de la Torre promises Amada a respectable life, but she is his means of marrying into the First Family of his country, and she can serve as his “beard,” the wife who will presumably protect him from dangerous gossip. At night, he spends much time in an exclusive club of men-loving men, all of whom are sworn to silence about their activities.

Amada is no fool. She paces the floor in the echoing mansion her father has provided for herself, her husband, and all the children her father expects them to have. She opens desk drawers, and finds the love notes to Ignacio from “Eva” (Evaristo Rivas), the man with whom he dreams of eloping.

The men’s club is shown as a luxurious site of orgies and balls. In a room full of claw-foot bathtubs, naked men wash, massage, fellate and fuck each other in twosomes, threesomes, and foursomes. In the gaming room, they smoke and play cards. In the ballroom, they dance together in imitation of the social lives they conduct with their wives on more public occasions.

When Amada confronts Ignacio with the evidence of his secret life, he is furious. Getting caught wasn’t part of his plan. She is willing to continue playing the role of contented wife in public if he gives her a child to focus on. She prays over him, hoping that God will “cure” him. Ignacio gets violent. It seems clear that he only stops short of seriously beating her because he is afraid of what her father could do to him.

Amada invites Evaristo to visit her at home for tea and conversation, and Ignacio is mortified to find him there. Ignacio continues to spend much time at his club, and Amada complains to her father, who assigns bodyguards to follow Ignacio everywhere, supposedly for his safety. A big reveal and a public scandal seem inevitable.

The scriptwriter is a woman, and the viewpoint from which the melodrama is shown looks balanced: the eye of the camera is not completely on one side or the other. Ignacio’s desperation, and his love for “Eva,” are poignant, but so is Amada’s loneliness and humiliation. Even though Amada is warned by other society matrons that a new husband’s devotion declines over time, it seems unlikely she had the faintest suspicion that she would be effectively dumped right after the wedding night.

The true history of “forbidden love” in all its forms generally seems to be this messy. Before it was safe for anyone to admit that they were sexually attracted to members of their own gender, a supposedly heterosexual relationship made a good disguise. This meant that one person was the dupe, the one who was lured into a commitment that the other person never meant to honour.

Several gay ex-husbands I’ve known in real life have told me how disappointed they were when their ex-wives turned out to be “homophobic.” I always ask the man whether he warned the woman what she was getting into, and what he expected when he “came out” to her or she found evidence of his extramarital activities. Usually this happened when he was no longer willing to sneak out only on weekends, or no longer willing to hide his feelings for a Significant Other.

Thinking of the harm done by the gay men I know, I wouldn’t want them to stay “in the closet” forever because that would mean burying a part of themselves. On the other hand, I really wish that no one’s sexual awakening had to hurt anyone else.

There are also women-loving women—including me—who were previously married to men. In most cases that I know of, the marriage fell apart under its own weight before the ex-wife “came out” and began dating other women instead of repeating a losing formula and possibly having more children who (on average) would be their mother’s sole responsibility. There are exceptions to this rule. I heard of a woman who rebounded after a painful breakup with another woman by finding a dating site and quickly getting engaged to a local farmer who was looking for a wife. Before the wedding date, the woman realized that she had not really “straightened out,” and ghosted her fiance, leaving him wondering what happened.

Even though the LGBTQ community now enjoys a degree of social acceptance that our predecessors could only dream of, there is still a certain pressure on those who tell “queer stories” to make them as “positive” as possible. The lesbian romances from Cleis Press that enchanted me in the 1980s tend to end with all the loose ends wrapped up, the happy couple planning a future together, and the exes either supportive or at least resigned. Stories like this are comforting, but they don’t capture the complexity of real life. A poly, pansexual lifestyle is not for everyone, and a person who just discovered they have been deceived is unlikely to want an intimate connection with their deceiver’s side piece, or preferred lover.

Sexual ecstasy doesn’t rule out emotional pain. I wish more editors of erotic anthologies would recognize that showing some heartbreak is not a warning that Lust is a slippery slope to hell. Betrayal and disappointment can just be setbacks on the road to better things.


Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


Babysitting the Baumgartners - The Movie
From Adam & Eve - Based on the Book by New York Times Bestselling Authors Selena Kitt



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