We live in an age when gender is an ongoing question, not a comforting binary: boy or girl. My neighbor who lives a few houses down the street, Judith Butler, introduced the concept of gender as performance, or “doing” rather than “being,” in her 1990 book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.

“We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman…we act as if that being of a man or that being of a woman is actually an internal reality or simply something that is true about us. Actually, it is a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time.” (Applications of gender performance, Social constructions of gender, Wikipedia)

Butler argues that gender performance is generally out of the individual’s control, but in some settings, a person may attempt to control gender performance quite consciously, as Butler acknowledges, most obviously in drag performance.

In my research for my novel, I came upon fascinating examples of gender as performance due to the popularity of cross-gender impersonation on the stage in the early twentieth century. This openly recognized “performance” entranced audiences who lived in a time when gender roles were already being challenged by mass media, the suffrage movement, and new technology. Let me add that behavior outside of society’s strict gender expectations most definitely did not elicit the same delight off stage, in particular male homosexuality and “fairy” boys. But in a strictly controlled fantasy environment, “men” acting as “women,” and “women” acting as “men” brought the house down.

In my novel, our charming, yet darkly mysterious love interest will take our plucky heroine to a vaudeville show, a form of entertainment specifically designed to be respectable enough for your sister or sweetheart—in contrast to the bawdy entertainment for men only that predominated during the nineteenth century.

In spite of its family-friendly aspirations, vaudeville was always pushing the limits of propriety, aiming to titillate just enough to keep the audience humming.

After much study of New York vaudeville, I’m certain that the playbill for the show our couple attends will feature one cross-dressing act, because this form of entertainment reached the height of popularity in the 1910s.

For a taste of what a cross-dressing act in 1910 might offer, you’ll find interesting information and even better photographs as seen here in Anthony Slide’s Great Pretenders: A History of Female and Male Impersonation in the Performing Arts.

Perhaps our couple will enjoy the talents of a male impersonator in the tradition of the premier such artist on both sides of the Atlantic, Vesta Tilley, known as “The London Idol.”

Tilley hailed from Worcester, England, and was born in 1864 as Matilda Alice Powles. She had an easy entree onto the stage because her father worked as the master of ceremonies at St. George’s Music Hall. Tilley first appeared in male dress on stage in 1869 at the age of five. In her 1934 autobiography, she explained humorously: “I concluded that female costume was rather a drag. I felt that I could express myself better if I were dressed as a boy.” (Slide, 62)

Actually, as someone who gets rashes from makeup, is allergic to metal jewelry and is crippled by high heels, I can relate.

While Tilley could sing a fine song, such as “Following in Father’s Footsteps” or “Jolly Luck to the Girl Who Loves a Soldier,” her true genius was her jaunty carriage.

Will M. Cressy described her magic in The Green Book Magazine (March 1916): “If Vesta Tilley could not sing a note nor speak a word, she could walk her songs successfully. There has never been a player who could paint a character more clearly by word or note than she can by her walk.” (Slide, 61)

Tilley toured the US in 1906 and 1909, but turned down a 1912 offer because she didn’t want to work on Sundays. She retired from the stage in 1920 when her husband decided he wanted to be an MP, and it wouldn’t do to have a wife on the stage. For a better sense of Tilley’s performance, check out this homage, or get a sense of a male impersonator’s act in this clip of Julie Andrews from Star! (1968).

Or perhaps our New York-savvy hero will take his lady friend to see the greatest female impersonator of the day, Julian Eltinge, in his turn in the musical comedy, The Fascinating Widow, which was playing in Manhattan the fall of 1911. In a plot that prefigures Some Like It Hot, Eltinge begins the play as Hal Blake, but is forced to pose as the widow Mrs. Monte—I haven’t yet found a full plot summary, but one source described it as similar to Charley’s Aunt.

Eltinge reportedly took two hours to put on female makeup and costume, including shaving his fingers. When he performed vaudeville, he would remove his wig at the end of his act to reveal the trick to the audience, many of whom were taken by complete surprise.

Great Pretenders was published in 1986, and while I learned a lot from it, I do have a gripe about the author’s full support of the common wisdom that men can impersonate women more effectively than women can impersonate men.

“There is, of course, a basic problem, and that is that women simply cannot adequately disguise themselves as men. There are not only the obvious physical problems with the hips and the breasts, but, more importantly, a woman’s face does not lend itself to makeup as a man. Even the greatest male impersonators such as Vesta Tilley and Kitty Doner could not fool anyone away from the spotlights of the stage.” (Slide, 67)

Slide follows in the tradition of Japanese kabuki critics who maintain that the female impersonator elevates femininity to a higher level than any mere biological female could manage.

But how many drag queens can survive close scrutiny out of the spotlight?

Slide doesn’t seem to have met the decent number of biological females with boyish or muscled figures, deep voices and Vesta Tilley’s confident carriage. Besides, if you view this clip from later in Julian Eltinge’s career, I can’t say I’m fooled.

I do agree with Slide when he notes that a man dressed up as a woman is “always good for a laugh” because he is seen to be losing status, which is arguably the foundation of comedy. However, when a woman plays a man, she is “reaching above her station in life,” especially in 1910.

I agree even more with Carolyn Heilbrun writing in The New York Times (January 16, 1983), “Men playing women, if they don’t camp it, can be very moving, whereas women playing men is always a bid for freedom.” (Slide, 67)

Vesta Tilley and other popular male impersonators were among the few women of their time who could achieve both self-expression and popular acclaim while wearing male clothes. Women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were fettered by layers of underwear and corsets, petticoats and long skirts. In trousers and solid shoes a body can swagger, run, and take possession of the space around it without the same fear of exposure and danger as in a corset, skirt, and heels. No wonder a woman would enjoy such a show—to see one of her own move through the world with power and ease.

Perhaps our heroine will see in the male impersonator her own vision of freedom—not too many years before women would be able to wear trousers in public, at least the daring ones in casual settings.

For women in 1910, the road to freedom stretched from the vaudeville stage into the future. What a journey it has turned out to be for us all.

By Ashley Lister

It’s a common mantra within the writing community that we don’t write: we rewrite.

This investment in revision is supported by Hemingway who is meant to have said, “The first draft of everything is shit.” Of course, Hemingway died in 1961 so he never got a chance to read any of my first drafts, which are far from shit, but I understand a lot of people put credence in Hemingway so I won’t dismiss his opinions here.
The need to rewrite is important. Few first drafts reach the giddy heights of what we wanted to do with our work and revision helps us to achieve our goals by producing a more accessible text. However, rather than look at Hemingway’s reductive (and scatological) observations, I find more value in considering George Orwell’s guidance from his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’.

The essay itself is available on the internet and remains relevant and readable, even though it was written more than 70 years ago. It includes many valuable nuggets of wisdom and concludes with six rules that, for writers, are well worth living by. I’ve reiterated them here and I’m going to go through them in a little more detail below.

1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2.Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4.Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.


1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

This makes perfect sense as an editing rule. Readers don’t want to be revisiting tired phrases such as ‘she was as pretty as a picture’ or ‘he was working like a dog’. These are phrases with which we are so familiar that we don’t bother considering their content and simply come away from them think ‘she’s pretty’ and ‘he’s hard working’. Victor Shklovsky, in his essay ‘Art as Technique’, discussed the notion of defamiliarisation, suggesting that our readers can see things more clearly when they’re given an original description. Consequently, if we use alternative phrases such as ‘she’s as attractive as a tax refund’ or ‘he’s concentrating harder than a bomb disposal technician with shaky hands’, then our readers are seeing the world from a fresh perspective.

2.Never use a long word where a short one will do.

In an episode of Friends, Joey Tribbiani uses a thesaurus to help him write a recommendation letter for Chandler and Monica. His original phrase, that the couple are “warm, nice, people with big hearts”, has been translated into “they are humid prepossessing Homo Sapiens with full sized aortic pumps.”

This is a perfect example of why our personal vocabulary is usually sufficient for the task of writing, and a cautionary tale about the potential dangers of using a thesaurus to simply make our phrasing look cleverer. As the old joke says: if you use long words without being absolutely sure of what they mean, there’s a danger you might look photosynthesis.

3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Words like really and very are useless modifiers. You should be able to find stronger verbs or adjectives for whatever you’re trying to enhance.

Similarly, words like totally, completely, absolutely and literally are words that don’t add information to a sentence. For example, “The shelf was completely full of books.” reads the same as, “The shelf was full of books.” or better yet, “The shelf was crammed with books.”

4.Never use the passive where you can use the active.

Passive sentences aren’t incorrect; it’s just that they often aren’t the best way to phrase your thoughts. Sometimes passive voice is awkward and other times it’s vague. Also, passive voice is usually wordy, so you can tighten your writing if you replace passive sentences with active sentence.

5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

This is not Orwell saying that foreign phrases, scientific words or jargon are verboten or non licet. It’s simply his observation that the complexity of these words can sometimes be a barrier to clarity. I’d argue that some foreign phrases, scientific words and jargon need to be used: but this is only in cases where there isn’t an English equivalent that has the specificity of meaning I require. Other than that, I try to place a moratorium on vocabulary that might drag readers from the narrative I’m sharing.

6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

As I said at the start of this blog, we don’t write: we rewrite. Personally I find Orwell’s rules are a useful tool to help me when I’m rewriting. I sincerely hope they might be of use to you if you’ve read this far.

I went to a writers retreat hosted by Broad Universe in mid-March. Broad Universe is a networking group for women who write speculative fiction. I’ve been a member for several years. This retreat was held at Starfield Farm in central Massachusetts. There were lots of trees, birds, peace and quiet. I spent four days working on short stories, blog posts and part of a novel.

Everyone cooked in some fashion. I had brought cookies I had made at home. One woman made some delicious Mexican food. Another made scrumptious kugel. I was in gustatory heaven, which made the experience ever more enjoyable. During the evenings we socialized, drank homemade mead and sangria made by two of the women, and enjoyed a brief snowfall.

The isolation and quiet made for easy writing. The house dog (the retreat’s mascot) came to me often for petting (and hoping for table scraps), which was a nice break. I did finish a short story and I wrote two blog posts. The novel is coming along nicely.

I like writers retreats more than conventions now. For one thing, I think I get more for my money. I am not trapped behind a table in the dealer’s room for eight to ten hours at a time. I can rest whenever I want to which is important at my age. And I felt inspired by all the other women around me and by the locale. Writers retreats are well worth the money I spend on them for room and board, which was inexpensive for this one.

If you are a writer and are in the market for a writer’s retreat, here are a few to apply for that I’ve read are worthwhile:

Wellspring House Retreat – Located in Ashfield, Massachusetts, Wellspring is open year round. Rates per week are reasonable and vary depending on season and if you are coming along as an individual or a couple.

Yaddo – This one is an artist’s retreat that welcomes writers. You must apply to be accepted. According to Wikipedia, collectively, artists who have worked at Yaddo have won 66 Pulitzer Prizes, 27 MacArthur Fellowships, 61 National Book Awards, 24 National Book Critics Circle Awards, 108 Rome Prizes, one Nobel Prize, and more. The name “Yaddo” rhymes with “shadow”.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Retreat – Can you imagine your muse inspiring you in the Rocky Mountains? Then, you’d like this retreat. This retreat spans three nights and often includes agent and author guests. Prices vary up to $399 for a private bedroom for the duration of the retreat. You may also stay for one day for $65 including meals.

Retreats located outside the U. S. that may appeal include the Himalayan Writers Retreat, Luova Retreats in Provence, France, and the women-only A Writer Within in Tuscany.

I may be going on another writers retreat near Cape Cod around Memorial Day weekend. This one is also hosted by Broad Universe. It is a bit more expensive, but that’s okay. It’s five days long and at a beach house. The rate is higher because it’s the beginning of the peak summer season. Once again, we’ll provide our own food and there will be plenty of peace and quiet. One thing I like about these retreats is I tend to see the same people over and over again since this is the New England chapter of Broad Universe, which is very active. I plan on soaking up some rays, walking on the beach, and getting lots of writing done. These retreats are a welcome part of my writing future.


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 two cats.

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By Larry Archer

A question that seems to have come up a lot recently is what does a writer of erotic fiction base his/her story upon? Do I write from experience or imagination?

I’ve never hidden the fact that we are in the Lifestyle and often use our experiences in the stories I write. Being a swinger has helped me write erotic stories because we’ve often been there and done that.

I was reminded of this difference when I watched part of Suburban Swinger Club on Lifetime. I say part because I was interested in The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom, which came on following Swinger Club. I ended up watching the last fifteen or so minutes of Swinger Club, so I got the ending portion first.

After watching Sex Life of a Single Mom, I started watching the Swinger Club movie which followed Sex Life. Lifetime was repeatedly showing these two movies back to back. Sort of pulling a sex story train gangbang to my way of thinking.

I could only stand a few minutes of Suburban Swinger Club because it was completely wrong and possibly based upon someone’s idea of what swinging is about instead of knowing what swinger’s parties are actually about.

I’ve based my opinion on the beginning and end of Swinger Club but don’t think watching the entire movie would change my opinion for a number of reasons.

Warning: somewhat of a spoiler follows. The movie seems to portray swingers and swinger’s clubs as some type of weird cult with people who would never get a second invitation to party at the clubs I’m familiar with.

First, the people were all young and attractive in general, which I guess is Hollywood’s idea of the typical suburban swinger’s club. When in real life the people you’ll encounter are a broad variety, young to older, plain to gorgeous, and everywhere in between. The only way you might be able to tell the type of party is the dress code. By and large, many women in the Lifestyle tend to be exhibitionists, and their dress code normally reflects that.

I knew that this story wasn’t based on reality was when everyone threw their house keys in a bowl. That was how you picked your partner for the night by plucking someone’s keys out of the bowl.

First, they didn’t go to the selected partner’s house, they went upstairs, so why the keys, other than it is something that may have happened in the 1950s with the original group of fighter pilot swinger’s?

When you are at a House Party (aka swinger’s party), your partner isn’t chosen by a lottery, it’s by personal choice. You meet and talk with someone; then if you hit it off, you ask if they would like to party (aka fuck and suck). At this point, if both of you agree, then you get together and do the nasty.

Another point that galled me was one of the guys assumed he could get with the new girl at any time he desired, even without getting reciprocal feelings from her, after they partied for the first time.

Just because you get together with someone, you don’t own that person or have more rights. You get together for recreational sex and not a relationship or ownership.

What you can’t expect is that your partner will stay quiet if you break the rules. Once I remember a new couple who showed up at a party and the husband immediately started inviting wives out for dates and nooners. I guess he thought that this would be like cheating where everything is on the down low. Boy, was he wrong and they were never invited to another party. I’m sure they were asking themselves, what happened? He had no idea that all the wives immediately started talking with each other about what had happened.

As hard as it may be to believe, swingers may have loose morals, but they don’t cheat. When we get together with someone else’s husband or wife, it’s typically in the same house and often the same room, not at Motel 6 with Tom Bodett.

Since swinging is not socially acceptable to the majority of the populous, we tend to not talk about our parties around the water cooler.

I got into writing erotica for two basic reasons, (1) I wanted to see if I could do it, and (2) it was a way to talk about our experiences that didn’t have our neighbors burning crosses in our front yard.

I admit that I made a bad choice in picking the names of our counterparts in my stories, Foxy and Larry. Originally, I started out by writing stories about us, but then fictional Foxy and Larry took on a life of their own. They have evolved into a couple, who are a lot like us but a little more over the edge.

The makebelieve Foxy and Larry own a strip club in Las Vegas, The Fox’s Den, and enjoy a hedonistic life of excess both in the money they make and the lifestyle they lead.

When I discuss the actions and emotions of Foxy or Larry, the story typically portrays how they actually are in real life. For example, in The Watchers, one scene portrays Foxy and one of our girlfriends Chrissy staring in a gangbang witnessed by a room of voyeurs, Foxy is apprehensive about performing for an audience.

Not trying to throw her under the bus but that’s exactly how my wife is. She hates to plan and while she’ll do the most outrageous stuff on the spur of the moment, will usually fail to follow through if it is planned and scripted.

I’ve seen her on the floor making out with another girl at a dance with hundreds of people watching, yet if I would have suggested anything like that, she’d flatly refuse.

I’ve learned never to push my wife and always let her take the lead as it typically works out better all the way around. Swinging has allowed us both to grow and the crowd we run with are the greatest.

One of my recent stories is based upon an actual event that actually occurred. We have huge New Year’s Eve Pajama Parties and once a couple from down the street crashed our party, creating the impetus for Crashing the Swinger’s Pajama Party.

You can imagine my shock and theirs when a straight “normal” couple walks into a party with over one-hundred naked or semi-naked people doing obscene things to each other.

Needless to say, our actual relationship with them cooled somewhat but exploded in the fictional version of the encounter.

This was another case of fiction imitating real life and while a lot of the story was a what if, it is based upon fact. Thanks to Lisabet for suggesting that I write that story, which ended up as an 80,000-word novel that’s been one of my best sellers.

I also feature a lot of the people we know in my stories. With the names changed to protect the guilty, naturally. People who are more than walk-ons are typically real people. In my stories, I try to portray them pretty much true to life.

We have a menagerie of friends that we run with and by and large are a great group. Our best friends, Pam and Jack, are a MILF Hotwife and cuckold cop couple we do everything with. And yes, even that, well except that Jack only likes to watch the three of us and abuse himself, while holding the camera.

Another thing I don’t believe in is using condoms in my stories, a topic I’ve railed against many times before. I believe using a rubber doesn’t add anything to a story and since stories are not safe sex lessons, I don’t use them. And I promise, once you can get an STI from reading, I’ll make everyone put on a rubber.

Now having ragged on Suburban Swinger Club, I’d like to suggest that you check out The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom. This great movie on Lifetime is about a Cougar divorcee dating a young guy, half her age, and becoming a submissive in a Dom/sub relationship.

While some things were missing as this is regular TV and not the Playboy channel, the story, in general, was good and should help in understanding why someone is a Dominant or submissive.

As always, if it’s the 24th, then it’s more erotica from the dirty mind of Larry Archer. Visit my blog, for more of my ramblings.

Image by Prawny

Sometimes I think it’s more fun to flirt than to fuck.

Of course, I’ve always been focused more on the experience of arousal than on the ultimate release. That’s just the way I’m wired. When I recall my most intense erotic adventures, I don’t remember the orgasms, but rather, the inexorable upward ramp of desire, the thrilling anticipation of what was to come.

You get a lot of the same pay-off from flirting, without the attendant risks.

Knowing someone wants merealizing the power I have over my partner’s body and imagination it’s heady, almost addictive. Kick me out of the feminist union if you want, but I love being seen as a sex object. I don’t mind the fact that men (or women) might be watching and lusting after me. Quite the contrary. I do the same, after all, discretely ogling strangers, fantasizing about their hidden charms.

Flirting goes a bit further, but not much. Flirting requires an acknowledgment. A smile. A wave. An exchange of greetings, moving on perhaps to compliments or double-entendres. Underneath it all, there’s the excitement of mutual attraction, the pleasurable buzz of arousal that doesn’t need to be consummated to be enjoyed.

When you flirt, you don’t need to worry about practicality or propriety. I can chat up the lanky twenty-something barista at my local coffee shop, basking in the heat I feel in his gaze, despite the fact that I’m forty years older and happily married. I can shoot back some clever response to the burly construction worker who gives an appreciative whistle as I walk past, though I know we have nothing in common. I’ve brightened his day. He’s done the same for mine. Maybe he’ll fantasize about me as he’s jerking off. That doesn’t bother me. I might take the same liberties.

Flirting is most satisfying, though, with an intellectual equal. I remember a small party, years ago, with some university friends, hosted by a very appealing philosophy professor and his wife. We’d gathered to create homemade cheese tortellini. Christopher had dark eyes, the graceful long-fingered hands of a musician, a devilish smile and a delightfully agile mind. As we worked togetherhe cutting neat squares of pasta dough which I filled and twisted closed—we discussed politics, solipsism, and the works of Robertson Davies.

At one level, the topics of our conversation hardly mattered. The focus was the magnetism, the sexual tension that flickered between us. At the same time, the mental gymnastics in which we engaged added to the pleasure. If we were ever to connect, we knew the bond would be more than physical. Not that either of us really considered going further— well, of course, I don’t know in detail what was going on in his mind, but both our spouses were present, and I had no inkling his marriage was in any way less satisfying than mine. But reality was irrelevant. Flirting is all about fantasy, about possibilities that will very likely never materialize but which nevertheless excite.

The detail with which I remember this particular long-past incident of flirtation is testimony to how much it affected me.

I worry, however, that flirting will become a dying art. These days, flirting is often conflated with unwanted sexual attention. A respectful and well-meaning compliment is likely to be interpreted as inappropriate, offensive or threatening, while a friendly wolf whistle will get you roundly condemned as a sexual predator. I mentioned above that flirting involved lower risks than full-out sex, but in today’s hyper-vigilant climate that might not be true.

Where’s the line, though, between flirtation and harassment? How can someone distinguish between innocent innuendo and potential abuse? When does sexual objectification become demeaning or dangerous, rather than fun?

I don’t have an easy answer to these questions. It might depend on mutuality, or on the certainty that a lack of reciprocity would immediately put a halt to the unwanted attention. I do know that individual reactions vary. I’m sure that some of the actions that I’d accept as flirtatious behavior would be condemned as unacceptably sexist by some women.

At the same time, I’m certain that life would be far less colorful and entertaining if every expression of sexual interest between strangers were banned.

Given my appreciation of flirting, you’d expect it to show up frequently in my writing. In fact, I have very few stories that feature this sort of interaction. I know most readers aren’t like me. They’re looking for physical, not just fantasy, sex.

I did find a few prominent examples, though. Here’s one of my favorites, from the short story “Test Drive”, which appears in the altruistic erotica anthology Coming Together: On Wheels, edited by Leigh Ellwood and benefiting UNHCR.

“Hey there, pretty lady.”

His drawl rumbled through me, an avalanche of heat, melting everything in its path. My hair flew as I turned back in his direction.

I’d intended to scold him for his barely polite greeting. The words caught in my throat as I took him in.

He lounged in the doorway of the Indian motorcycle showroom, hands in his pockets, broad shoulders braced against the frame, one lean, denim-clad leg crossed over the other—six feet of loose-limbed masculinity. A sand-colored braid hung down across his solid chest, almost to his waist. The rolled-up sleeves of his plaid shirt revealed tanned forearms furred with golden down. His sun-bronzed face wasn’t classically handsome, but when his bright blue eyes snagged mine, I couldn’t look away.

Thirty. Thirty five at most. I could almost be his mother. Shocking that all I wanted to do was tear off my conservative skirt and blouse and throw myself into those obviously strong arms.

“Want to come for a ride, darlin’?”

“Ah—huh—what?” A master’s degree in library science, reduced to inarticulate mumbling by a bit of flirting. What was I, a teenager?

“Got a sale going on, through next week. Discounts of twenty to thirty percent on all our models. I have to say you’d look fantastic on a bike, Miss.” He unfolded himself from his casual pose and handed me a business card. “I’m Jack Taggart. Top sales associate in the Midwest, three years running. And you are…?”

Its none of your business who I am, I wanted to tell him. Fat chance. “Um—Alice. Alice Robinson.”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Robinson.” Apparently helpless to resist, I accepted the large, calloused hand he held out. Lighting sizzled through me as our palms connected. “Or is it Mrs. Robinson?”

His cocky grin sent blood rushing to my cheeks. I straightened my spine and tried to regain some sort of control over my autonomic functions. “Mrs. My husband died four years ago.”

“Oh—I’m so sorry…”

He gave my hand a sympathetic squeeze. With some difficulty, I pried it out of his grasp. What if one of my co-workers came by? “That’s okay. He was sick for quite some time. In some ways it was a blessing.”

“Still, it must be hard for you—being alone and all.”

I shrugged. I missed Ben, but I had to admit I enjoyed some aspects of being single. Aside from work, my time was my own. I didn’t have to answer to anyone—except, occasionally, my daughter on the West Coast. I smiled up into those sky-colored eyes, noting the crinkles at the corners. Perhaps he wasn’t quite as young as I thought.

“What makes you think I’m alone?”

“Well, I admit that it’s unlikely a woman as lovely as you would be unattached…”

“Is this how you got to be the top-ranked salesman? Flattering the customers?” I flipped a lock of hair over my shoulder and smoothed my skirt down over my lap, very aware of the dampness underneath. It might be the purest bull, but that didn’t stop me from reacting.

“That’s not fair, Alice—can I call you Alice?” He continued without waiting for my nod. “First of all, it’s the God honest truth. You are the most beautiful woman who’s walked by the shop in days.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll bet you told the same thing to the last half dozen.”

“No way! Secondly, I’m the best because I love the bikes. I know pretty much everything about the full Indian line, from the Scout to the Roadmaster. I don’t just sell them. I can repair ‘em, too—did a six month mechanics training course in Minnesota. And of course I ride, these days a Chief Dark Horse. Started on a vintage 1950 Black Hawk, when I was sixteen.”

He paused his monologue to give me another appreciative once over. “You ever been on a bike, Alice? I know you’d love it.”

“I’ve never been that inclined to risk my life,” I replied with a chuckle. It was difficult for me to maintain an attitude of skepticism in the face of his enthusiasm and his obvious admiration.

“It’s no riskier than driving a car. And so much more fun! The speed—the freedom—the sense of control—there’s nothing like it. It’s addictive. Come on, Alice. Let me take you on a test drive.”


Of course, in this story, the protagonists do eventually have sex. But they have an awful lot of fun flirting first.

As part of my home organization project, I’ve been going through my heavily laden bookshelves. I’m donating books that don’t really fit my life right now. However, I’m also rediscovering some that definitely spark joy. Of course, I am keeping all the books in which my own work appears!

I came upon one such volume that was published a few years ago: Exposed: Hollywood Glamour Caught Off-Guard edited by Philip Krayna and Susan Kuchinskas. Susan approached authors who’d read at her Dirty Old Women series at the Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland about working on this interesting project. Writers would take black-and-white images by the 1960s glamour photographer Edward Braslaff as their inspiration for an original story. I actually wrote two for the anthology, but “Scent of an Angel,” inspired by the photograph above, is the more erotic of the two. (And the model is holding a perfume atomizer, not a cell phone, although it certainly looks that way!)

I don’t think of myself as someone who likes to write from other people’s prompts, although admittedly writing for themed anthologies puts you in the service of the editor’s vision. But I have avoided writing games and dictated assignments because I feel I have plenty of my own sources of inspiration to keep me busy. And yet, I surprised myself with how enjoyable it was to craft a story of less than 750 words exploring the world of one of these photographs. The restraints actually proved to be liberating for my imagination, and I was able to bring some of my historical research on San Francisco nightclubs into the mix.

So if inspiration is flagging, you might consider taking out a book of art or photographs. Find one that speaks to you and weave your own story around that image. The experience is likely to be heavenly!


From Exposed: Hollywood Glamour Caught Off-Guard

Eddie gave her the perfume the night before he shipped off to Korea.

“When you wear it, I’ll be with you,” he whispered.

It was a whirlwind romance, but Shirley had really liked Eddie. She liked his patience, the heat of his skin when he held her close, his deep sigh when he first slipped inside. And she liked his letters saying how he ached for those long mornings in bed together, laughing and loving her. He made her feel as if she really meant something to him.

He hadn’t written in some time.

Shirley studied the elegant bottle and wished that she remembered more French. A perfume smelled different on each woman, or so they said. Maybe she should give it a name of her own? Eau de Eddie?

No, she could do better than that.

The truth was, she didn’t mean to take Eddie along with her tonight. She just needed to smell nice for work. For the real work, after the show, when she had to make the fellow at the table feel that God had made her just for him, even if it was only for an hour. Men were better at putting reality out of their minds when the lights were low, but a girl could never forget the way the world worked. Put simply, if he won, she lost–unless she managed to get something out of it for herself. For Shirley, it was never money or perfume. She wanted a man to see her. A few did. Like Eddie.

A soloist in the youth church choir and the lead in the school plays, Shirley easily found a place in the chorus when she came to the city. But her agent warned her she’d have to work hard to get the starring roles. “You have the pipes, baby, but you don’t have the face. Now I’ve got just the gig for you at my buddy George’s place over on Kearny. You’ll have your own act, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Trust me, it’s high-class. Just remember to show him some of that leg of yours.”

George had given her a cool once-over, but after one verse of “I Wanna Be Loved,” he signed her on the spot. He didn’t mind that she had her standards. Shirley was his star. Half the boys in the place had tears pouring down their cheeks when she sang “The White Cliffs of Dover.” You’d think they wouldn’t ask for the sad old songs given where they were going, but they did.

The men had their types. Some went for the cover-girl beauty, some for the girls fresh out of high school. Some were too drunk to care who was at the table as long as she wore a cocktail dress. Shirley had her type, too: the ones that said what Eddie said the night they met, “My God, you sing like an angel.”

But would Eddie really want to be there at the table with her when her new admirer of the evening leaned in and cooed, “I love your perfume, sweetheart, don’t you smell pretty?” She wondered if the fellow tonight would write, too, and then stop without a word of explanation? Shirley decided she didn’t want to know why. She put all her feelings in her songs and let them float off into heaven.

When she went on stage tonight, it would be like heaven. She’d have no past, no burdens, no doubts. The voice of the piano would entwine with hers, like the bodies of a woman and man when it’s so nice between them. With the lights in her eyes, she couldn’t see the audience, but she would feel them intimately like her own breath. She’d give them everything she had then. She always did.

Shirley squeezed the bulb of the atomizer gently. The cool mist settled on her neck and shoulders. To her surprise, the fragrance calmed her. She knew she was strong enough to take Eddie with her and still touch each man in the audience with her own gift, lifting every last one beyond the yearning, the fear, even the awful war taking them so far away from home, maybe forever.

She had a name for his perfume now. She’d call it “Scent of an Angel.”

I don’t care what you do. Your severest critic is you. And if you are a writer, increase that severity to an infinite power.

We second-guess ourselves mercilessly. We fuss over minute details. We agonize over using just the right word. Some of us have trashed completed stories after a final read because our inner critic dismissed it as so much drivel. But while our inner critic can prove debilitating, for the most part it keeps us on the straight and narrow and doesn’t let us down as a rule.

But there’s another drawback to having such a strong inner critic. You can’t turn it off. We’ve so honed our critical eye that, if it’s not able to fuss and flail at our own creations it will turn on any target of opportunity. And so it’s gotten to the point that my inner critic has made it difficult for me to enjoy many popular entertainments.

I’ve become remarkably difficult to please.

I recently watched a very well-regarded movie. It had garnered a couple of Oscar nominations and wins, much critical acclaim. But after I viewed it I was annoyed. I just couldn’t buy many of the scenes and plot twists. One character who started out as a knuckle-dragging cretin morphed 180 degrees into a thoughtful, noble character in the space of one scene. A number of other scenes left me shaking my head mumbling, as if that could happen.

I’m not talking about a lack of willingness to suspend disbelief, something we all must do to get into say, sci-fi or fantasy. This was a contemporary drama throughout which I kept thinking this stuff just couldn’t happen.

I find myself finding fault with a lot of movies, books, etc. And I wonder if  it’s just me.

I made my living as a copy editor. I’m retired, but misspellings and bad grammar still jump out at me. It was all I could do hold my tongue when I noticed pizzeria was misspelled on the awning of a local pizza joint I was patronizing. So, as you see, I’m already a bit hypercritical. But lately, it seems worse.

I’m beginning to fret whether I’ll ever be able to settle back and watch a movie, particularly one afforded critical acclaim without that voice interrupting, You gotta be kidding me. Who the heck wrote this? Are they serious?

It isn’t just me, is it. Please tell me other writers have been vexed by an overabundance of fussiness. And if you have, is there any hope for us?

By Ashley Lister

Without wishing to sound like a neurotic writer, constantly begging for acceptance and validation, I think the question at the top of this blog post is one that we often ask ourselves: is it good enough?

I’m not talking about the worries we all have over our creativity. We have an idea for a novel or story. We love the idea. But then we begin to worry that it’s been done before. Invariably, because the nature of story gets the comparable from the parable, we realise our idea is similar to something else. And a lot of writers step away from the good idea at that point, bleakly confident that there is no place in the world for their slant on creativity.

These sorts of doubts are commonplace and are a typical part of the insecure writer’s toolkit. Originality is an abstract concept. Even if we’re so original we write an erotic story that describes a new and previously unchartered method of sexual congress, there will be readers out there who dismiss our genius as, “a horny story about a couple getting it on.”

Here I’m talking about the worries we have once we’ve produced a piece of fiction. Is it good enough for the marketplace? Is it good enough to be worth troubling an editor? Is it good enough to meet the needs of a readership?

Unlike those forms we can complete online, which tell us that we’re 58% of the way through the content, and there are only 212 questions left, there are no convenient guides that tell us when a story is ready for its audience. Because of the solipsistic nature of writing it’s common that the only person who knows when a story is ready is the person who wrote it. And a lot of us have barely convinced ourselves we’re capable of writing a story, let alone understanding when it’s ready to be published.

So, I thought it would be helpful to mention some of the tell-tale signs which let us know a story is ready for publication.

1. This is probably the most important one: are you happy with what you’ve written? You finished your story a fortnight ago. You’ve allowed a little distance between yourself and the text you produced. Now, returning to the story with fresh eyes, you’ve had a chance to read it and answer this question: are you happy with what you’ve written?
This is the point where you should be making sure it tells the story you wanted to tell. The characters are the characters you wanted to see in this story, and the whole piece has the cohesive feel you envisioned when the idea first struck.

2. Does this story do what was asked for in the Call for Submissions (CfS)? If you’re writing for a CfS, or to the remit of an editor or publisher, does the story you’ve produced do what they wanted? Is the word count correct? Does the vocabulary match other titles from this publishing house? Or, for example, if the story asked for steampunk themed stories, is your story sufficiently steampunk, or does that content need to be developed in the edit? If the story was for an anthology of lesbian vampire stories, are the main characters in your narrative lesbian? Is there some suggestion of vampirism?
I’m not suggesting any of us make these latter sorts of mistake regularly, but I do know editors who have received futuristic science-fiction stories when they’ve been asking for Victoriana, so I believe it’s always a point worth making.

3. How close is the deadline? I’m not saying this to be brutal or callous but, if you’ve been working on this story for the past six months, and the deadline is midnight tonight, the thing is ready to send. Stick it to an email and dump it in the editor’s inbox.

4. What do your beta-readers think? No man is an island (except for the Isle of Man) and a second set of eyes is always useful to appraise the manuscript we’re producing. If you’ve had a beta-reader or two go over your story, and they’ve given a green light, it’s time to hit send.

The French essayist, Paul Valéry, said, “A poem is never finished only abandoned.” This is a helpful way of avoiding responsibility for any of the poems we’ve ever written, but it’s an unhelpful approach to gauging whether or not our material is ready for the marketplace.

I sincerely believe, if a writer considers his or her responses to the four questions above, they’ll be a step closer to knowing whether or not now is the correct time to publish. And, if you have any other ideas for how we can tell when a manuscript is ready, I’d love to see them in the comments box below.


I’m sick this late February day. Sick with your stereotypical winter head cold. It’s in the tens outside and pretty windy. The last thing I feel like doing is going outside. So, what to do?

Read, of course. Watch TV. Sleep. And look for strange news stories just for fun.

For example, there is a rare shark population off the coast of Cape Cod right now. I wouldn’t worry too much about it since it’s like 10 degrees outside and no sane person (surfers not included) would want to be out in that. But still. Last year was the first fatal shark attack in Massachusetts since 1936. The rise in shark sightings could have something to do with rising seal populations and closed fishing areas, according to one person commenting online. This is the home of the movie “Jaws”, so sharks are often on people’s minds around here at the Fourth of July.

In an “Idiots Selling and Buying Drugs Story”, a man broke into his cousin’s home and robbed the four inside after accusing them of selling him rabbit chow instead of marijuana.

An Aussie man fleeing from police was felled by his own underwear when it got caught in a fence he was trying to jump. Police found him dangling upside down on the six foot fence. I thought I saw that only in Warner Brothers cartoons.

A man who played Good Samaritan for buying $540 worth of Girl Scout cookies to help the girls get out of the cold and rain that day was arrested for alleged drug distribution and fraud. So how many boxes of cookies is that? Five? Six? 🙂  The cookie purchase was unrelated to the distribution and fraud charges, but it was still very strange.

Best Life Online has declared the most boring town in each state. I’m from Maryland, and Easton won mention. It’s on the Eastern Shore, I think. I live in Massachusetts, and Barnstable won the title. I’ve never been there. Must now go to see how boring it is. It’s rather hopping for  a boring town – 40 entertainment spots and 196 hotels and restaurants.

An article linking from that one named the most famous celebrity from each state. Babe Ruth for Maryland. Mark Wahlberg for Massachusetts. Most of the celebrities are modern.

And finally, Pornhub porn star Mia Khalifa had plastic surgery to reinflate one of her boobs after she was struck by an ice hockey puck. The puck was moving at 80 MPH.

This is how I spend sick time when I’m not sleeping, reading, or watching TV. I look up strange news online for the entertainment value. I’m going to go back to bed now after I take some NyQuil. I hope to feel better soon. Until then, it’s strange news all the way.


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 two cats.

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In January, I released the third book in my Vegas Babes erotica series, Sin City Sweethearts. This no-holds-barred erotic romp features a pair of fraternal twins, Marcie and Maddy, who come to Las Vegas to attend university and to escape from their overprotective family. They move into the apartment below Annie and Ted, a slightly older, recently married couple who have an open relationship. Annie and Ted undertake to initiate the two newcomers into the hedonistic, carnally-permissive lifestyle of Sin City. Needless to say, the twins are eager and attentive pupils who take their lessons to extremes even Annie and Ted didn’t predict.

In self-publishing this tale, I used the procedure I’ve adopted recently, setting the book up as a pre-order on both Amazon and Smashwords. This tactic means that by the time release day rolls around, the book will have purchase links on all the third-party platforms to which Smashwords distributes, such as BN and Kobo. In the past this has always worked like a charm.

With this book, though, I ran into problems, specifically with Kobo. On release day, more than a week after I submitted the book, there was no trace of the title on Kobo. I waited for another week. Still no Kobo link. Finally, I sent a support request to Smashwords.

I got a prompt and courteous response promising to investigate. After a couple of rounds of emails, I got the answer: Kobo had rejected my book because it violated their content standards.

What? I pointed out that the two previous volumes of the series, which are just as explicit, were available on the Kobo platform. The diligent customer service rep from Smashwords dug further and came back with the news that the following lines had caused the book to be banned:

Holy Shit! Was Marcie licking her own sister? That thought, along with the blonde’s oral talents, pushed the ignition button.”

Apparently this was considered as breaking their rule against depiction of incest.

Note that there is no actual incest going on in this scene. Ted has Maddy sitting on his lap, bouncing up and down on his cock. Here’s the context, the paragraph preceding the offending sentences:

“Argh…” he sputtered. The sensation was almost too intense. Marce backed off a bit, letting him breathe. When Maddy raised her body off his shaft, Marcella swiped her tongue along the exposed length. He arched up to bury himself in the brunette’s juicy passage. The blonde’s daring tongue followed, keeping contact with his rod until it was completely hidden in Maddy’s cleft.

In short, Sin City Sweethearts was banned from Kobo because one of the characters was thinking about incest, and finding that thought arousing.

We’ve apparently reached the state described in George Orwell’s 1984, where merely thinking about forbidden things is considered a crime.

Arousal begins in the mind. Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Our characters’ sexual journeys originate in their fantasies, before they take any action. If Kobo’s rules were consistently applied, our characters’ hottest, most taboo fantasies would become unpublishable. This includes not only incest fantasies but also rape fantasies, golden showers, enemas, fantasies about dogs or horses…

After twenty years in the business, I still don’t understand the double standards that govern sexually explicit fiction as opposed to other fiction. If authors can write about murder, terrorism or war, why the special rules for sexual activities? But even if I’m willing to exclude some categories of sex acts from my stories (and there are some actions I’d be loathe to write about), must I censor my characters’ thoughts as well?

I suppose that Kobo might argue that there is no distinction in fiction between real actions and character fantasies, in that both exist only in the imagination of the author and the reader. I think this is wrong-headed. In reality, and in fiction, humans have control over what they do, but not what they think. If I’m attracted to my brother, I’m not going to do or say anything to reveal this situation, but that doesn’t make the attraction disappear.

In 1984, the supposed antidote to “thoughtcrime” is called “crimestop”.

The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it in Newspeak.

He set to work to exercise himself in crimestop. He presented himself with propositions—’the Party says the earth is flat’, ‘the party says that ice is heavier than water’—and trained himself in not seeing or not understanding the arguments that contradicted them.

My brother is not attractive. I don’t find that horse’s schlong arousing. I have no interest in watching two eighteen year old sisters pleasure one another.

Doesn’t seem to work for me…

The rep at Kobo suggested that they’d reconsider their decision if I modified the offending line. I thought about it. It’s not as though my sales are so high that I can afford to forgo listing on a popular platform. Indeed, I’ve been buying many ebooks for my own consumption from Kobo. I find their interface, their policies and their service far superior to the Mighty Zon.

Ultimately, though, I balked at the notion. I’m not willing to participate in this ridiculousness.

So you can buy Vegas Babes Books 1, 2 and 4 on Kobo, but not Book 3. I do hope some eager readers will bug them about this inconsistency.

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