Ashley Lister talks with PS Haven

PS HavenPS Haven is a prolific author and illustrator of erotic fiction whose short fiction has been included in such titles as Best American Erotica, Coming Together, B is for Bondage, Playing with Fire, and far too many other titles to list here.

An accomplished storyteller, Haven’s work is distinctive for building strong tension between the central characters and including beautifully crafted scenes of hard-hitting erotica.

Haven kindly took time out from a busy schedule to talk to me about the pleasures of writing (and drawing) sex, and the process of producing rich and satisfyingly hot erotica.

Ashley Lister: Where do you get your ideas from writing fiction? And where do you get your ideas from for your artwork? Does inspiration for the two come from the same source? Or do you find yourself being inspired by different things for fiction and artistry?

PS Haven: Well, first off, thanks for that introduction, and thank you for the honor of being interviewed for ERWA. I’ve been visiting the site for years and ERWA has always been an invaluable resource. Thanks!

The ideas for writing come from all over the place. Music is a big one. I’ve had more than one story inspired by song lyrics. Other stories and writers will frequently spark a story for me, too. There have been plenty of times when I’ve read something and wanted to try my hand at that particular style, or put my own twist on a certain concept. To be honest, though, the majority of my writing has historically been created to serve as a sort of propaganda. I started writing as a way to put into words the dirty things I wanted to do with my partner. Things I maybe didn’t have the balls to say out loud. I could present them as the desires of fictional characters, and then gauge the reaction from my significant other. If I wanted to try anal sex, for example, then I’d write a story where the characters try it and it was the greatest experience of their lives. Confessing this, though, makes it sound very subversive and manipulative! I suppose in that way, my writing is influenced by the former Soviet Union, or possibly the Catholic Church…

The drawing comes from a different place. A drawing can spring from simply what I think might be fun and engaging to draw. Pointillism is so labor intensive and time-consuming that I’m always mindful of a subject that’s going to hold my interest visually for the hours it will take to illustrate it. I usually look for images with a lot of variety as far as texture and shading go. And of course I want them to be visually stimulating. Since I almost always draw from photo reference, I’m also restrained by what images I have access to, or what I’m able to photograph. As opposed to writing, the drawing ideas are much more practical.

Ashley Lister: I mentioned in the introduction that you have a distinctive ability to build tension. Your unnamed female protagonist in ‘Westbound’ (from B is for Bondage) spends the first half of the story alone, building to her encounter with Richie: and yet this solitude adds to the tension in the story from when the two characters do come together. Did you deliberately shape the story in this fashion to stress that tension? Do you think this helps the reader empathise more with the characters’ predicaments?

PS Haven: I went into “Westbound” hoping to explore some unconventional definition of bondage. On a metaphoric level, the protagonist has escaped the bonds of a bad relationship and has struck out on her own to find her freedom, which can be frightening and liberating at the same time. On a literal level, she becomes trapped by her car breaking down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, which is also frightening. So, basically I was trying to juxtapose that duality. And then of course there was the practical reason of needing her to be stuck on that highway all by her lonesome.

But yeah, I think it always helps to put the reader in somewhat familiar situations. We’ve all been stranded by a piece of junk car. Everyone knows how helpless you can feel when your car won’t start. Then, with that basis in reality, I was able to amp it up by having her literally bound to her car and willing to do just about anything to get back on the road.

Ashley Lister: Similarly, in ‘Out of the Frying Pan’ (from Playing with Fire) you manage to tell a powerful and compelling erotic story where the main sexual event happens behind closed doors: closed doors where the reader doesn’t get to see what’s happening. This story draws very effectively on the readers’ imagination and is a stunning example of ‘less is more.’ Did you deliberately set out with this story to make the reader do the hard work? And did you deliberately intend to write a story about two sexual events, one of which took place before the story started and the other of which happens where the reader can’t see what’s going on?

PS Haven: Thanks! Yeah, with “Out of the Frying Pan”, I definitely wanted the reader to decide for themselves, not only what happened behind that door, but if anything at all happened. And that was compounded (hopefully) by the clues we were given about the event that triggered this act of retribution. Actually, we know more about the first encounter than we do about the one that takes place during the story. There’s something very powerful about the notion of leaving something to the imagination. A tantalizing glimpse through a cracked door, snippets of an overheard conversation, that sort of thing. “Out of the Frying Pan” was an attempt to capture that feeling and let the reader fill in the blanks along with the poor husband straining to listen for noises on the other side of that door.

Ashley Lister: How does creating and producing erotic fiction differ from creating erotic art?

PS Haven: Pointillism is really technical. Once you’ve sketched out the image and finalized the composition and all that stuff, from that point on it’s simply executing. Putting the dots where they need to go, with the proper density. So you’re locked into it after a certain point in the process. The writing is so much more fluid. You’ve got more freedom to let the story lead the way, to let the characters tell you what they want. As a writer you can always go back and change things, even after multiple drafts. With the drawing, you’ve got more of a blueprint to follow. Each has its own rewards and frustrations.

Ashley Lister: I mentioned ‘Out of the Frying Pan’ in connection with your fiction. As I said, the story draws heavily on the reader’s imagination. Do you ever worry, when illustrating fiction, that your interpretation of events might differ from the reader’s interpretation?

PS Haven: That’s the beauty of it, actually. It’s up to the viewer to decide what’s really happening. What’s going on just off the edge of the paper? Who else is there? Where are they? Is that his wife, or someone else’s? That sort of thing.

I’ve read interviews with musicians who’ve expressed disdain at having to create videos for their songs, because they feel like it robs the listener of the chance to determine for themselves what the lyrics mean. I think that same sentiment can be applied here.

Ashley Lister: What advice would you give to anyone interested in honing their skills as an author or artist?

PS Haven: For writers, it’s the clichéd advice to give, but just read. Read what excites you. Then write what excites you. I’m certainly in no position to be dispensing writing tips, but that’s really what it boils down to I think. For erotica writers especially. Write what you would want to read. Write what turns you on.
For artists, that’s a little harder. I’d say just practice. I know that if I don’t pick up a pen for a while, I get pretty rusty.

Ashley Lister: Finally, what are your current projects, and what are you hoping to do next with your writing and illustrating?

PS Haven: Pretty quiet on the illustration front. I’ve got a full-length memoir/novel I’m pitching around right now, hoping to get some interest in it. Got a couple of short stories in the pipeline I’m not at liberty to discuss just yet. As soon as I’m freed up to brag about those, I will. I’m also considering the possibility of compiling my car-themed stories and offering them as an anthology with a few new ones thrown in. I’ve actually got a sci-fi concept kicking around in my head as well. Think the Dukes of Hazzard meets Mad Max…

Thanks again to you and ERWA for this opportunity, Ashley! Best of luck for your continued success.

— Haven

Ashley Lister
December ’09 – January ’10

“Between the Lines” © 2009 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

How to Have More Good Sex: Reluctant Wives, Willing Minds, and International Cookies of Mystery

How often do you think about sex? How often do you have sex? How about with a partner? Do your answers put you in the “normal” range for your nationality, sex and socio-economic class? Or are you a frigid neurotic, a sex-crazed freak—or perhaps just an erotica writer?

Ever since I started writing erotica and delving deeper into the sexual imagination for both professional and personal enrichment, I’ve been more attuned to the treatment of sexuality in the popular media. It’s a fascinating topic, but after a while, I’ve noticed certain themes pop up over and over. This repetition is instructive in itself. Magazines and blogs are naturally drawn to stories that draw greater readership. And sex supposedly sells. But what kind of sex is selling (besides vampire tales) and what does that say about our culture?

This is by no means a scientific survey, but one “problem” that seems to surface over and over is the disparity in sexual desire between women and men. Inevitably “evidence” is quoted along the lines that men think about sex about every 52 seconds or so and women only several times a day, if that. With advances in neurological research, many writers claim that the brain itself shows males have a greater capacity for processing thoughts about sex while women trump men in processing emotion. Of course, all of this is a fancy way of saying that men want to do it a lot more than women do, and if you’re a horny man and a disinterested woman, you are the norm.

I’ve rarely seen any articles that seriously question these articles of faith. Instead, as strange as it might seem some forty years after the Sexual Revolution, common wisdom still accepts that most women have to be talked into sex and most marriages are sexless. If any woman claims to enjoy sex with her husband, such as Ayelet Waldman in Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, she becomes a figure of notoriety, publicly condemned by women as an unnatural parent for not redirecting her eroticism to babylove and privately approached by men asking her how to make their wives more like her.

I could bombard you with a thousand more examples of the same, but the more I read, the more I begin to wonder—is any of this true? Or does the myth that women don’t even think about sex and marriage condemns men to celibacy serve some other unacknowledged cultural agenda?

One of the main reasons for my doubt is that I’m not a man, much less a young man, and I think about sex all the time. Admittedly, eroticism is my profession, and bricklayers probably think about bricks more than other people do. But how exactly are these scientific surveys of thought conducted? Does it only count if you specifically think about boning the attractive person sitting next to you on the bus? Or might something broader—a sensual appreciation of your arugula salad, a slightly anxious worry about why the guy across the aisle on the bus keeps staring—count as thinking about sex? Could it be that the areas of the brain that process emotion also process an emotionally-flavored approach to sex? Or maybe my friends and I, some erotica writers, some not, are just bizarre freaks?

The sexless marriage “epidemic” also begs for closer scrutiny. As a married parent myself, I am aware of the logistical challenges children bring to one’s sex life, but obstacles are known to increase desire as well. I’m not saying that parents of newborns don’t have less sex than honeymooners, but why indeed are these reports just accepted and seen as the way it has to be for natural reasons? Might it let philandering husbands off the hook for meeting their needs elsewhere? Or is the media doing double duty—arousing us with sexual fantasy in every ad, but soothing us with the reassurance that no one else is having much real sex either? Why do we both condemn and secretly envy any woman who speaks out about enjoying sex, even a married woman who lusts after her husband?

I don’t really have answers to these questions yet, but I do have an answer to the one question the media loves best of all: How can we all have more good sex?

Let’s return to those studies that measure how often men and women think about sex. While I’ve yet to be convinced their methodology yields meaningful results, I do have abundant anecdotal evidence that thinking about sex in a way that puts you in touch with your desires—rather than say worrying that your selfish husband is going to force himself on you again tonight—makes you feel more sexual and interested in erotic activities. Why even in Em & Lo’s New York magazine article about mothers who love Twilight, a West Village mom claimed that she had more sex with her husband when she was reading the book than in the entire few months before. (My husband dared me to mention Twilight in my column, so pay up, buddy—with sex—okay?) I myself would pick up an erotica anthology, but a cookbook or collection of sensual photographs might work as well for some. Even simply paying attention to your senses, communing with the universe, will greatly increase your sensitivity to all of life’s pleasures.

And for those who might counter that only actual intercourse counts as sex, doesn’t the scientific evidence itself acknowledge the importance of the imagination in our sex lives? If thinking about sex makes men more sexual, then thinking counts for everyone. Indeed, over the course of your lifetime, how much time have you spent thinking about sex versus actually bumping bodies with a flesh and blood lover? I say let’s promote sexual fantasy to the category of sex that matters rather than marginalizing it as a poor cousin. The same goes with masturbation—”sex with the one you love,” as Woody Allen aptly calls it. Add that to the mix and we’ve all had a lot more good sex than we realized. Aren’t you more satisfied already?

As a reward for any sex-deprived husbands who’ve indulged me by reading this far, I actually have a helpful tip for getting your wife to be more like Ayelet Waldman. First I have to mention her prescription—help out more around the house. I will admit that the sight of my husband washing the dishes or even drying the dishes while I wash, brings a glow to my loins. But that alone would not be enough to get me interested. I’ve had the usual female challenges in my sexual history, material for other columns for sure, but I rarely say no to sex with my husband (unless I’m coming down with the flu) and even initiate it now and then. Why? Because I’d be a fool to say no to an experience where my pleasure is so obviously and totally his pleasure. In other words, I know I’m going to have a hell of a great time. What’s not to love?

I’ve also had enough experience with partners who aren’t so interested in what’s going on with me to empathize with women who use the kids or some other excuse to avoid the act. So, here I go with some more questions that will hopefully get us closer to some answers. What if the problem was no longer the frigid wife but the hackneyed myths of what American marriages must be so we can redirect our lust to shopping? What if the sex-starved husband decided to change the rules of engagement and approached his partner with a new purpose of indulging her, cherishing her, getting back in touch with what lit her fire in the beginning and learning something new about what turns her on now? What if he asked her, over a glass of wine, what he does that she likes best and what she’d like him to do? What if he offered her one hour of devotion to her pleasure alone, if he’d be allowed to stick it in afterwards? What if he acted like sex with her matters rather than being a way to release tension after a hard day at work? Of course, doing the dishes first is guaranteed to make it all work better, but I’d bet if more disgruntled husbands did their best to make sex more like a spa treatment than a chore for their partners, the popular media might start writing stories about the great American renaissance in sexual pleasure.

I see the winter light is fading, so I’ll jump off of my sexual soap box now and head into the kitchen to share my own take on a classic solstice cookie that is almost as ubiquitous as sex itself. This confectioners’ sugar-coated, nut-studded butter cookie goes by many names: Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Snowdrops and Pecan Butter Balls, among others. My mother went with the Russian version, in spite of the Cold War, and these meltingly delicate confections always graced her Christmas cookie tray. I always found the name—actually all its aliases—wonderfully romantic and evocative of world travel, another example of how the imagination can enhance any sensual experience. A few years ago, I came across a recipe that used pistachios and dried cherries instead of pecans, but I happened to have a whole case of delicious dried cranberries on hand, so I replaced one red berry with another with an especially festive result. My family is usually too busy eating these cookies to call them by any name, but for this column, I coined a catchy new title to capture the spirit of this international cookie of mystery in all its guises. You can call them NCPACHISCB’s for short. And believe me, they taste especially good after you’ve had great sex with your spouse….

May 2010 bring lots of delicious sex, well-crafted food, and mind-blowing writing to you all!

New Classic Pistachio and Cranberry Holiday International Snow Cake Butterballs

(Makes 80 cookies)

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar plus more for coating
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract (Mexican preferred)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shelled, unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 ounces), chopped coarsely
1 cup dried cranberries, each chopped into 3-4 pieces
3 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat 2 cups butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt, then pistachios and cherries. Using a spatula, stir in all the flour (do not overmix the dough because it toughens the cookies and you want them tender).

Measure dough by 1 flat Tablespoon each and form into football-shaped ovals. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until bottoms just begin to color, about 12-13 minutes (bake one test cookie and check for level of bottom-browning because, spanking stories aside, burning bottoms are no fun). Cool cookies 10 minutes on sheet before coating.

Pour a generous amount of powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar. Gently turn to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to a sheet of waxed paper. Repeat to coat cookies with sugar again. Cool completely. Store airtight at room temperature. The rich, buttery flavor starts to fade after four days—if they last that long!

Donna George Storey
December ’09 – January ’10

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Ashley Lister talks with Mitzi Szereto

Mitzi SzeretoMost readers and writers of erotic fiction will be familiar with the name of Mitzi Szereto. Mitzi is an erotic author in her own right, with the highly regarded M S Valentine titles to her credit, and she is also the renowned anthologist behind such titles as the Erotic Travel Talesanthologies, Wicked: Sexy Tales of Legendary Lovers, Getting Even: Revenge Stories, The New Black Lace Book of Women’s Sexual Fantasies, and Dying For It: Tales of Sex and Death. Mitzi’s latest title to hit the shelves is the re-release of her Cleis title In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed.

Ashley Lister: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed is more than a simple collection of erotic stories based around a loose theme of fairy-tale precedents. It’s a collection of fiction with each story introduced by an explanation of the background and researched lineage. Why did you approach the subject in this fashion?

Mitzi Szereto: I wanted to put the tales into some kind of context. People take fairy tales for granted; they’ve always been around, no one gives much thought to where they originated from. I thought it might be interesting to find out. However, for my book I didn’t want to only use tales that we in the Western world are familiar with – I wanted to expand into non-Western cultures as well, such as India and the Middle East. I’ve always enjoyed reading literature from that part of the world and thought I’d add a dash of more exotic spice into the fairy tale pot. As for the actual writing of my versions, I worked backward, in that I wrote the stories first, then I researched them. I didn’t want anything to influence the creative process. Or should I say the corruptive process!

Ashley Lister: Did any of the histories you encountered surprise you?

Mitzi Szereto: I wasn’t really aware that so many of the fairy tales we read or had read to us as children originally contained sexual content. Mind you, it was only in more recent times that they were turned into morality tales directed toward children, some with heavy-duty subliminal messages, such as “Little Red Riding Hood”. As we have seen, it wasn’t deemed suitable by those who wrote these new interpretations to retain the old sexual references. Oddly, they had no problem with violence and, in fact, in many cases actually ratcheted it up. But sex? That seemed to be a no-go area. In a way I’ve restored some of the integrity of the original tales, though I must admit, I really warped the hell out of them!

Ashley Lister: Aside from In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, you are also the editor behind the very successful series of Erotic Travel Tales anthologies. Why do you think readers find travel to be such an erotic experience?

Mitzi Szereto: I think readers probably associate travel with eroticism because it’s the one activity that can take you away from routine and from your normal every-day environment. When you travel you can become someone else, behave as you might not typically behave, free yourself from your normal constraints. Nobody knows you. Now I’m not saying everyone who travels does this, but the opportunity is there – and so too, is the fantasy that goes along with it. Of course in today’s grim economy, you can simply stay home and read one of my Erotic Travel Tales books. It’s a lot cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about getting into trouble!

Ashley Lister: I know that recently you’ve been concentrating your efforts on Mitzi TV. Could you tell us a little more about this project?

Mitzi Szereto: So glad you asked! Mitzi TV is an internet television channel I recently launched. It takes a quirky look at the offbeat and eccentric side of London, showing an aspect to the city most tourists and locals never get a chance to see or experience. Segments so far have included me joining in with some “locals” at a lively pub singalong; chatting about classic cars with Formula 1 racecar driver/BBC TV presenter Tiff Needell and couture shoe designer Jimmy Choo; prowling the city streets in pursuit of the famous Cockney delicacy, the jellied eel; hanging out in the English countryside with a local chapter of Harley Davidson riders; and visiting a teddy bear festival with my famous furry companion Teddy Tedaloo. And I’m lining up even more random madness as we speak! I’m now looking into sponsorship for the channel, which will be the next stage of business.

Ashley Lister: Finally, can you tell us about your other projects?

Mitzi Szereto: Well, I have my blog Errant Ramblings, which covers a wide range of topics: from my experiences as an American expat in the UK, to social media, book publishing, the internet, music gigs, travel – pretty much anything and everything, including a few rants. It’s really more a series of personal essays than a traditional blog, and always with a bit of humour attached. I’m also starting up another internet venture, which will be a newspaper/blog hybrid. I hope to get that up and running before the year’s end. I’m quite excited about it and believe it will appeal to a wide audience. As for the book business, I have some ideas in mind, so I guess it’s safe to say that I’m juggling a lot of balls. Hmm… that sounds really wrong, doesn’t it?

Ashley Lister
November 2009

“Between the Lines” © 2009 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

All Worked Up about Public Indiscretions

Did you watch the Late Show With David Letterman the other night? His “Top 10” list was, “The Top Ten reasons I’m sleeping on the couch.”


I don’t think I’d be a very good celebrity. Not that I’m fielding any offers to become one, but the recent Letterman brouhaha is just one more reason that it’s probably just as well that I toil in blissful anonymity.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, last month late-night talk show host David Letterman publicly admitted to 1) having had sex with female members of his staff, 2) having been threatened with public exposure of those sexual affairs if he didn’t accede to a blackmail attempt, 3) having helped the police arrest the alleged blackmailer during a “sting” operation, 4) issuing a public apology to his wife, Regina, and 5) being in big, big trouble with the aforementioned wife Regina.

Personally, my response to the whole matter has been, “Too much information! Dave, I’m sure your fellow talk-show hosts appreciate your giving them joke fodder for at least a good month or so, but all that’s frankly none of my business, nor is it the business of anyone other than yourself and your wife and son. I’d rather you refrain from your recounting your own personal ‘Stupid Human Tricks’ and just introduce your first guest, the lovely and talented Charlize Theron.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, at least for celebrities. Public figures live in the public eye, and that means that what appear at first glance to be private affairs quickly become public indiscretions, which correspondingly lead to public humiliations, public ridicule, and public “holier-than-thou” analysis and public sitting in judgment by other celebrities. The key word in all this is, “public.”

The whole thing has become so ubiquitous that it’s entered the media mainstream. CBS is producing a TV series called, “The Good Wife,” featuring Julianna Margulies as a politician’s wife trying to rebuild her life and career after her husband gets busted for yet another sex scandal. The promos for the show’s first episode feature Ms. Margulies in the by-now-routine position of standing next to her husband during his “mea culpa” press conference, showing her support but with a clear “deer-in-the-headlights” look on her face. While I don’t doubt Ms. Margulies’ skills as an actress, her performance was clearly inspired not so much by those of colleagues such as Meryl Streep or Kathryn Hepburn but more by the experiences of real-life “Good Wives” such as Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Edwards, Jenny Sanford, and Hilda Spitzer. In fact, one could say that the opening scenes of Ms. Margulies’ TV series break no emotional or dramatic new ground. Humiliation has become a Hollywood cliché.

As I’ve said before, many times in this column, when these sorts of sexual indiscretions pop up, I prefer to fall back on my credo, my mantra, my mission statement, if you will: Mind Your Own Business. As long as you respect my privacy, Mr. Letterman, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Sanford, et. al., I will be more than happy to leave you to your own devices in return.

Now it’s true that, in this column, I’ve skewered many a public figure for getting caught doing inappropriate things with his or her genitals, but it’s never been for the indiscretions themselves. Rather, it’s been for the hypocrisy of the public figures getting busted for the indiscretions after having gotten on their high moral horses and condemned others for similar indiscretions. When Gov. Sanford demands that we all let bygones be bygones regarding his affair, but then-Congressman Sanford wanted President Clinton’s head on a pike for “undermining trust in our system” during the Lewinski scandal, that makes him a fair target.

However, the bottom line for me is that I just don’t care whether Gov. Sanford loves his wife or his Argentinian mistress. Whatever he does in the privacy of his own home is his own damn business and none of mine. As long as he doesn’t cast stones at black kettles in glass houses, (or something like that), I’d rather everyone just leave everyone else’s sex lives alone.

By the same token, Mr. Letterman’s problems with his wife and his female staffers would be best left to be resolved by Mr. Letterman and his wife.

That’s why I don’t think I’d be a very good celebrity. If I were a celebrity and I’d gotten busted for sexual indiscretions, (not that I’ve made any, mind you…I’m speaking hypothetically), the last thing in the world I’d do is publicly grovel and beg for forgiveness. I’d be the celebrity on “Entertainment Tonight” or the “E Network” or “TMZ” yelling, “Get that fucking camera out of my face,” and otherwise standing firm that any (hypothetical) problems between my Lovely Wife and myself are our (hypothetical) problems, and are the concern of nobody else.

Come to think of it, maybe I wouldn’t be such a bad celebrity after all. That approach seems to have worked for Sean Penn. Hmmm. But I digress.

Of course, celebrity scandals have been around as long as there’ve been celebrities. Ever since 1915, when the first celebrity was hatched in a secret Burbank basement laboratory, the American press and public have clamored for stories of their indiscretions. In fact, here’s a link to an interesting “10 Most Notorious Sex Scandals In Hollywood History” story published on Nerve.com.

Of course, sex scandals have consequences. Even though Fatty Arbuckle was found not guilty at his trial for the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe, his career was destroyed. On the other hand, the reputations of Errol Flynn and Charlie Sheen were enhanced by their respective scandals.

However, what makes the modern crop of sex scandals different from those of the last century is the advent of reality TV. These days, anyone who can get on TV can be considered a celebrity, even if it’s for pulling off a cockamamie, ridiculously stupid stunt. One can’t deny that even though the Heenes’ “Balloon Boy” gimmick didn’t work as planned, everybody’s still talking about them.

And that’s the problem. We’ve reached the point where people are celebrities for the sake of being celebrities, and in a world where docu-dramenta-celeb-reality programming is ubiquitous, even “ordinary people” celebrities find themselves in a position where their sex lives can be used, either willingly or unwillingly, to exploit their “celebrity” status.

More likely, willingly. Does anybody really think Paris Hilton’s sex tape achieved public distribution without her full knowledge and consent? Does anybody think she hasn’t gratefully embraced the publicity, swimming in the attention like the media whore she is?

Or consider Levi Johnston. You remember him. He’s the former soon-to-be-son-in-law of ex-Alaska Governor and G.O.P. Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who’d pledged to marry Bristol Palin, the mother of his child, right up until shortly after the election. Since then, he’s been appearing on “Oprah” and other TV talk shows, bad-mouthing his almost-in-laws, and a full-frontal-nude photo spread with Playgirl Magazine is in the works.

Think about that. This young man is on the fast track to D-list celebrity status, and his main claim to fame is the fact that he was too stupid to use birth control while he was banging the Governor’s daughter. Sheesh!

Ultimately, I fear that if the current trend continues, it will reach the stage where celebrities, (reality and otherwise) will find themselves having to stoke the fires of sex-related controversy just to stay in the headlines. That is, if they haven’t done so already. Like I said, Paris Hilton doesn’t seem too grief-stricken over the release of her sex tape. If nothing else, it confirms the fact that she’s as bad an actress with her clothes off as she is with her clothes on.

I just think the ultimate solution is to make a concerted, multi-media effort to announce to the celebrity-making industry out there that we just don’t want to hear about their indiscretions anymore.

In fact, that’s a great idea for a gossip magazine. The title will be, “I Don’t Care,” and it will be strategically placed next to “People” and “Us” and “The National Enquirer” in supermarkets. Headlines will announce, “LINDSEY GOT BUSTED KISSING BRITNY’S EX-HAIRDRESSER’S BOYFRIEND WHILE JESSICA AND JENNIFER FOUGHT IN THE LADIES’ ROOM OVER ANGELINA’S LEFTOVER MASCARA…AND I DON’T CARE!”

Don’t think it’ll catch on? Try it. The next time you’re in the supermarket checkout aisle, read one of the gossip magazine headlines and then add, “I don’t care.” You’ll feel so much better. Trust me.

“Kanye Made Beyonce Wait 20 Min. At The VMAs!”

I don’t care.

“Michael’s Dog Groomer Mysteriously Silent About His Death!”

I don’t care.

“Jon & Kate Plus Eight…Expecting Two More?”

I REALLY don’t care!

See how easy that is?

J.T. Benjamin
November 2009

“All Worked Up” © 2009 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

Gardens of Earthly Delights

In this month when Americans celebrate Thanksgiving while Canadians are still trying to lose the extra pounds they gained in October, images of abundance come to mind. A tradition of collective feasting while giving thanks for blessings seems to have religious roots.

What blessings are we grateful for, and which ones do we hope to gain?

Fantasizing about sexual pleasure seems to me to be the best way to imagine heaven or nirvana. Yet ready-made descriptions of heaven, paradise, the Garden of Eden or the “promised land” are usually offered to the faithful by organized religions that discourage personal fantasies, especially about sex. Such mental self-indulgence might lead to the real thing.

In some sense, my upbringing was blessed: I wasn’t brought up in a strenuously Christian household. My parents belonged to the local Unitarian Fellowship, a liberal-humanist discussion group which overlapped considerably with the faculty of the local state college.

However, I spent my formative years surrounded by Mormons, members of a debatably Protestant sect formed in the U.S. in the 1840s. After they were driven out of the state where they originated, they migrated west to an area they defined as the Deseret, or the “promised land,” which later became the states of Utah and Idaho. By the time my family moved to southern Idaho in the 1950s, a watered-down version of Mormonism (no longer polygamous but still favoring early marriage, male dominance, childbearing as women’s chief function, and sobriety) dominated the local culture.

I ran across the phrase “land of milk and honey” in my childhood. I learned that the ancient Israelites, like nineteenth-century Mormons, either found their way through a desert to this “promised land” or at least had faith that their God would lead them there.

I couldn’t believe that anyone could seriously regard the sagebrush hills of the Deseret as a haven, an ideal place to live. And why would anyone describe an environment in terms of milk and honey? I knew that both those items were available in grocery stores, but this fact didn’t induce grateful piety in me. My parents believed that children should drink cow’s milk every day, and not because it was a divine elixir.

In time, I realized that a tribe of seekers who would fantasize about milk and honey must have experienced a scarcity of those things. I could have believed I was living in the “promised land” if I had ever seen a brown spring of Coca-Cola bubbling miraculously out of a crack in the hard ground. Clearly, my fantasies were as specific to my life as other people’s were to theirs.

Reading a lot of erotic and lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans fiction has exposed me to a variety of fantasies about the ideal society, usually described from the viewpoint of someone who craves an abundance of something that seems scarce in her or his life: sexual pleasure, excitement, power, freedom, understanding, love expressed as protection and control, love expressed as co-operation among equals, love expressed as a constant willingness to please. The “promised land” for most writers of sexually-explicit narratives could be called “the land of lube and sex toys.”

Much erotica, especially the kind that focuses on traditionally-stigmatized sexual communities (gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, polyamorists, trans folk of various sexual orientations, those involved in a spectrum of “kink”) features alternative cultures in which everyone is “queer,” multiply-mated or entitled and expected to occupy a Dominant or submissive role for life. Usually these cultures are accessible only to those found worthy and who are willing to undergo an initiation.

It’s easy to imagine a sexually-explicit version of the Harry Potter novels, featuring adults with magical gifts who are misunderstood by the philistine Muggles around them until they are rescued and brought to a special school where tribal adepts teach them to develop their powers.

The imaginary cultures in works of sexual fantasy are often unsustainable, since no tribe, however liberal or kinky, could really afford to engage in sex all day long while ignoring basic human needs for food (grown, hunted and cooked), sleep, clothing, shelter, tools, transportation or medical care. Even still, these cultures are fascinating places to visit for a few hours out of one’s “real” life.

The lands of sexual plenty that appear in daydreams and night dreams seem to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration, especially for erotic writers. If human lovers are distracted or worn out from their other activities, non-human lovers can provide unlimited pleasure whenever they are summoned. Paying attention to one’s own sexual dreams (especially the ones that take place during sleep) can either be a way of finding the subject of one’s next story or novel, or of becoming aware of what is missing in one’s daytime life. Or both.

Probably the most enduring theme of my own fantasies, starting at about the time I reached puberty, could be called Permission. While my life at school and at home was a sexual desert in which “nice girls” weren’t expected to think about it, much less to do it, I could dream about being a princess in a worldly court in which ecstasy was assumed to be my due, and where my sexual initiation (not to be confused with a Mormon-style teen marriage) was cause for general celebration. Or I could imagine being a priestess/witch whose orgasms had the power to save a kingdom from drought caused by the psychic stinginess of an evil wizard.

The sex I wanted only seemed possible in a place where it would not be judged as a sign of sinful self-indulgence or trashy intellectual stuntedness. While people, especially women, who love sex are still a topic of snickering jokes in the real world, sex in my dream-world was and is a noble calling, a source of honor rather than shame.

The phrase “bitch in heat” is rarely a compliment in the vanilla social “mainstream” of our world, but all non-human female mammals express sexual need in regular cycles, and no one in my life has ever suggested that dogs, cats, cows or mares need therapy to cure them of their nymphomania, or that they all deserve to die alone of sexually-transmitted diseases. An imaginary combination of blame-free mammalian lust with human intelligence (such as it is) has appealed to me for years.

The briefest sprint through the paranormal erotica that is currently available will turn up cat-women in heat, bionic women, she-dragons, female were-animals (shapeshifters) of every species, all in states of intense, contagious lust. As they say, great minds think alike. The charm of a bitch in heat, of course, is that once she appears, sexual satisfaction is bound to follow for everyone involved: both for the bitch whose pheromones are irresistible, and for everyone who might want to mate with her. And in an alternative world, the inevitability of “heat” would give rise to a culture that accepts more-or-less random sex.

The satyrs and centaurs (goat-men and horse-men) of ancient Greek mythology are the fantasy male equivalents of the bitch in heat, but their unlimited desire and ability are less obviously unreal than their animal qualities. In the real world, no one is constantly ready and willing all day and all night, but human males are expected to meet this standard. Anyone who has ever had a sexual relationship with a man knows how impossible expectations can damage a relationship, even when a man imposes them on himself. Men like this turn to chemical aids, self-blame, partner-blame, distractions or cheating as ways to cope with their human limitations, and thus the original problem can spin out into a lifestyle worthy of a talk show.

In a fantasy world, there is never a limp cock or an argument about why it is not granite-hard. Ironically, the only masculine characters (in fantasy or in life) who can be ever-ready are those equipped with “cocks” not made of human flesh. If Real Men are conceived of as sex machines, only the unreal (in some sense) need apply.

Is it harmful for mere mortals to escape from the frustrations of this world into an imaginary garden of earthly delights? Realms of sexual fantasy are criticized both by psychologists who warn dreamers and readers that spending too much time there is a diversion from solving real problems and by reviewers/literary critics who complain that fantasy worlds and the characters in them just aren’t plausible. Somewhere beneath these objections, I smell a religious argument: trying to improve on God’s creation, even in the privacy of one`s own mind, is a dangerous heresy.

However, every human invention or discovery that has improved our collective life started out as someone’s fantasy. (And in many cases, the critics claimed it wouldn’t work.) Instead of defining sexual fantasy as a harmful addiction and trying to give it up completely, one could decide which elements can be incorporated into one’s real life in a way that is reasonably safe, sane and consensual. Repeated dreams about milk and honey (so to speak) might be a sign that one is living in a barren desert even though there are real dairy farms and beehives in the world. Going forth to find them might be a sane plan.

Most people of my acquaintance dream about getting more of what they want. For all I know, animals might also fantasize; dogs might imagine themselves roaming the wilderness with their wolf pack-mates, cats who clench their muscles in sleep might be seeing themselves as running tigers, while lizards might dream of being dragons living in cozy caves, each with a stash of something a lizard treasures. We might as well accept our fantasies as a fact of life.

Jean Roberta
November 2009

“Sex Is All Metaphors” © 2009 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Don’t Fondle My Sentence: Sex with Strangers, Casual Critiques, and Fearlessly Arty Applesauce

After Halloween’s explosion of exuberance and magic, November glides in more softly, a month of waning light and color. Fortunately, some thoughtful neighbors of mine always rescue a few pumpkins from the jack-o-lantern carving block to adorn their porch and bring a splash of orange fire to the dying landscape. In this edition of Cooking Up a Storey, I thought I’d do the same and carry on last month’s discussion of the role of mentors and critiquing in the writing life.

I mentioned in October that I’d been approached by a few beginning writers who expressed the hope that I’d be willing to comment on their work. I discussed in some detail one of the unspoken questions hovering over such a request—the expectation that I, or any “experienced” writer, had the power to assure a newcomer that they truly belong in the guild. I actually came up with an easy answer to that one, a fiery orange lesson I draw on for myself when I’m feeling wobbly at my keyboard, and I’m happy to pass on the maestro’s wisdom (Are You a “Real” Writer?) to anyone who asks.

However, there is another implicit assumption in such a request that I’m not so sure I can handle. Again, because I’ve been there myself, I suspect when new writers ask for my “comments” they believe that my opinion of their work can either validate or improve their story, merely because I’ve been published myself.

In this I think they are very much mistaken.

Not that I haven’t experienced some amazingly fruitful and instructive feedback from fellow writers. Recently I likened the critiquing relationship to having sex with someone—from the traditional female perspective. You can do it with anyone, but it’s only good with a fairly small percentage of willing bed partners out there, those who care enough about you to take the time to give you real pleasure or likewise have enough of a sportfucking ego to insist on your orgasm as a trophy. However, it’s only truly great with a partner with whom you share a deeper emotional bond and that rarest of treasures, trust. (I’ll go out on a limb and argue this part is true for men, too).

So let’s talk intimate encounters.

Back in my teens and twenties, I took a few writing classes and bedded more than a few partners, some of whose names I barely knew. I don’t regret these adventures. The latter has come in very handy in my erotic writing and helped me define what I do want in a sex partner. And the writing classes? Well, they certainly helped me define what I don’t want in a critiquing relationship.

Stroll down memory lane with me for a moment to take a peep into my checkered past. No, not the exploratory late adolescent couplings on single dorm-room beds, but a scene of more intimate agony and ecstasy: a college creative writing seminar. Imagine a group of six or seven undergraduates seated on sofas in the toasty converted classroom of an old elementary school at 185 Nassau Street, an address that still makes my stomach twist into anxious knots. In strides the Famous Writer of the semester—or more often the Not-So-Famous-Writer who is interested in making some money on the side by teaching at Princeton. After all the location is perfect for a quick commute down from the city, where all Real Writers make their abodes. The Writer sits in the lone padded armchair and shuffles the mimeographed copies of the week’s stories. The students draw in a collective breath, wondering who will be on display this week and what will happen to the victims. The pathetic souls will definitely be stripped naked on the page but what comes after? Will they be flogged or fondled and praised?

Oddly, or perhaps not, I remember little else of my four semesters of being “mentored” but this public spectacle, the seemingly arbitrary praise or censure from our nation’s elite wordsmiths. Sometimes they liked a turn of phrase, which they read aloud approvingly. Sometimes I only learned they had admired a story when a later story was deemed sadly inferior. Mood and taste, the fit of sensibility or lack thereof seemed as important as my words in determining the worthiness of the effort. In other words, some teachers liked my writing and some didn’t.

I did take away a few valuable lessons. I did my very first extensive revision of one badly skewered story and discovered that it was indeed better the second time around. And I have glowingly fond memories of a Very Famous Writer telling me in the quiet of his office hours that I was talented and should keep writing. Perhaps not coincidentally, this particular writer was exceedingly kind to all the students in his class and gave us mostly praise or thoughtful suggestions in the spirit of the story. But the main consequence of my apprenticeship under the great and mighty says it all. After I left college, I didn’t dare write a word of fiction for fourteen years.

Now I realize I can’t exactly blame my teachers for this extended vacation. Surely I needed that time to find my voice and my confidence. Once I did begin writing again, I was fortunate enough to find a casual peer writing group, consisting of my former grad students. This experience was far more helpful and inspiring because the power dynamic was radically different in this group. The writer giving the critique knew she would in turn face critique of her own work. For all of us, writing fiction was an enriching way to take a break from academic work, so we focused on the joy of creation rather than proving ourselves as Real Writers with agents and Manhattan addresses. Still, I will admit some of the members “got” my work more than others, and I had to struggle at times to separate the wheat from the chaff. The group disbanded around the time I became more serious and published more. I wonder now, if like a love relationship, the dynamic might have changed with our changing levels of dedication? I’m sure there are exceptions, but anecdotal evidence seems to support the idea that writing groups work best when the members are peers.

My other major experience with critiquing was through Francis Ford Coppola’s online writing workshop called Zoetrope Virtual Studios. This is the Plato’s Retreat of critiquing experiences because you submit a story to the public forum and any one of the hundreds of writers in the group can review it and give you numerical scores (gasp!) on plot, character, and quality of writing, as long as they produce at least one hundred words of feedback. Predictably many of the reviews were either meaningless praise or pointless panning. A surprising number would counsel me on how I should write my story according to their tastes. Once in a while, however, a thoughtful reviewer would give my story a close reading and come up with ways to make it better.

Then we’d go off and make out in a private chat room. (Not really, but we often did become friends).

While I’m on the topic of online writing groups, I understand that ERWA’s StoryTime is an excellent way for new erotica writers to get supportive feedback from people who “get it.” Again this is probably because it is more like a writing group of peers with similar goals than a public free-for-all. Had I joined ERWA at an earlier phase in my writing life, I would definitely have taken advantage of this aspect of a great community.

Instead I was battered and toughened in the ways I described, which doubtless made the criticism and rejection of editors somewhat easier to take. Yet, just as I have no desire to return to my sailor-seducing days, I’m no longer interested in letting strangers fondle my lovingly crafted sentences. Nowadays I’ve settled down with only two cherished and trusted first readers of my work. I’m monogamously married to one, so the sex/critiquing metaphor is quite appropriate there. Fortunately he is not a writer himself, so his reading is blessedly free of even a whiff of competition. My relationship with my other first reader, a writer and fellow Asia scholar, developed over ten years. It wasn’t all easy, but we started out with a natural affinity for each other’s sensibility and worked through the rough times. Our story shares over dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant have all the reassuring grace of long-time companions who respect each other’s vision, but are comfortable with pointing out weaknesses.

At this point in the process, my mentoring comes from reading the work of other writers and absorbing their lessons in action on the page without any sticky personal politics. I believe I learn more by keeping an open mind and showing up at the computer to write and rewrite and write some more.

While I’m flattered by requests for my feedback and I could certainly mark up any story in red, in the end I’d only be indicating how I would write someone else’s story to my taste. I could tell them to be stingy with adverbs and dialogue tags other than “said.” I could counsel that they start with a solid hook and have an ending that circles back to theme or echoes the title because I tend to use such tricks. Yet all of these suggestions, even the part about the adverbs, which might seem like god-given law, are all a matter of preference. Countless excellent stories have broken every rule a teacher can devise because the passion and vision and creativity of the writer will always trump every “thou shalt not” in the book.

So what’s the lesson here? Should you avoid classes and watch the MFA’s swarm the soup kitchens, shed your worn-out writing group and blaze your own solitary trail through the wilds of the English language? Every writer’s relationship with her readers, teachers and editors, formal and informal, will indeed change over time. My advice? Yeah, I know I’ve basically lectured you on why you don’t want my advice, but I’ll give it to you anyway. Do what feels right for you now, but don’t forget your writer’s “condom”—a skintight pledge to protect your vision and your passion no matter who tries to finger your juicy bits.

This month, in keeping with my fuck-authority message, I want to pass along an “approach” to homemade applesauce that can be anything you want it to be. The result is always different—and tasty—every time I make it, just like a story written with courage and passion.

A Non-Recipe for Fearlessly Arty Applesauce

(Serves as many as you like)

Quarter, core, peel and slice:
About 8-10 medium apples of your preferred variety from tart Granny Smith to sweet Golden Delicious. Almost any cooking variety will work well, although Red Delicious is not recommended. Just as character plays the major role in fiction, the taste of the apples will be the largest factor in your final result—all the more reason to experiment and see what works best for you.

Add two or three peeled, pitted and sliced peaches or pears in season, if you dare to play loose with genre.

Add fruit to a large, heavy-bottomed pan along with:

1/3 cup water to start and add more if the apples stick to the pan. Don’t go overboard, though. Best to keep the result dense and flavorful like sharp, evocative prose.

Bring the fruit to a boil over medium heat then turn heat to low and cover, checking often, until the apples have boiled themselves down into a sauce. Crush remaining chunks of fruit against the side of the pan with a fork, or leave them if you want texture. If the sauce is runny, you can thicken it by continuing to simmer gently uncovered until it reaches the desired consistency, but stir often so it doesn’t stick.

Taste the sauce. Sweeter varieties or pear or peach applesauce may need no additional flavoring at all—let it go naked in all its glory. But you might find the sauce could use a little editing. As in writing, if you’re willing to deal with the consequences, you can basically add whatever the fuck you want at this point, but dumping in the entire list is of secrets ingredients is probably overkill. I’ll give you my palette of flavors. Innovate as wildly as your muse allows.

White or brown sugar, one Tablespoon at a time (come on, you’re a grown up, you know the authentic sweetness of the season’s freshest apple wins out over the stale plotline of processed sugar every time)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste
Fresh ground nutmeg
A pinch of cloves
Pumpkin pie spice to taste
Chinese five spice powder to taste
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Serve warm or place in a container and refrigerate. Homemade applesauce is great with latkes or pumpkin pancakes, mixed with cottage cheese, or in any fearless form your creative mind can conjure. You may also freeze the applesauce; it keeps well for six weeks, which reminds me I have a container from peach season that is about to expire, so I’ll see you next month. Bon Appetit!

Donna George Storey
November 2009

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Ashley Lister talks with DL King

D L KingD L King is the author of two novels, The Melinoe Projectand The Art of Melinoe, as well as the novella The Marrying Kind. Aside from full length fiction, King is responsible for the erotic review site, Erotica Revealed, has written many short stories and is the anthologist responsible for the Cleis titles Where the Girls Areand The Sweetest Kiss.

As if that weren’t enough, D L King is a regular reader at Rachel Kramer Bussel’s In The Flesh reading series and has just completed an extensive cross-country tour promoting her fiction. She kindly took time from her busy schedule to talk to ERWA about some of the finer aspects of her writing.

Ashley Lister: Your fiction, particularly the Melinoe titles, focuses heavily on the dynamics of power-play, between fem/dom and male/sub relationships. Is this an aspect of erotica that has a personal interest to you? And is this why you’re able to write on the subject matter with such an air of knowledgeable authority?

D L King: Thanks for the compliment and thanks for asking for the interview! So, if I’m not misunderstanding you, you’re asking about my personal experience relating to BDSM and fem/dom? First, let me say, I don’t have access to all the science fictiony devices, nor to the cool institute and club in the books, but yes, I suppose there is a certain degree of personal interest in female domination and male submission.

I do a lot of research for my stories and books. I’m not a doctor, but I’m interested in medical fetish and if I’m going to write a hospital scene or a medical fetish scene, I want to make sure the scene and description is not only plausible, but as accurate as possible, as well (that is, if I didn’t invent the instrument or practice). I must say, I learned a lot about electricity and surgical procedures writing The Melinoe Project.

That said, I do like to know how things work and what they feel like. I like to watch a submissive’s reaction to various scenes—all in the name of research, of course—so I do like to do a certain amount of exploration and experimentation. I want my scenes to be a accurate as possible so someone with personal knowledge can say, yes, that’s exactly what that feels like!

Ashley Lister: Without giving away too much about the content, your excellent short ‘New York Story’ (published in Best Lesbian Erotica 08 and Best Erotica 08) has a strong connection to the 9/11 incident. I know from previous conversations we’ve had, the enormity of that tragedy affected you on many levels. How difficult was it writing a piece of fiction that had such a personal connection? Did your personal connection to that element of the story make you approach the fiction in a way that was different to your normal writing style?

D L King: Actually, I set out to write a simple, lesbian ghost story. It was for a particular call and I thought it would be an interesting challenge, as I’d never written a lesbian story, or a ghost story before. When I began the piece, 9/11 hadn’t even entered my head.

The story centers around a sexually repressed young woman who moves into a Greenwich Village brownstone, daydreams of sex with all her historical heroines and finally has lots of sex with the ghost who’s been haunting the house for over a hundred years. That was really what I had in mind when I began writing “New York Story.” Somehow, the story took on a life of it’s own and, before I knew it, the World Trade Center was involved.

I think the best stories do take on a life of their own, but I really had no idea that this story would head in that direction. With time, September 11, 2001 became uniquely intimate and personal for New Yorkers, in a way it couldn’t really be for others. As such, it tends to appear unexpectedly in odd thoughts and situations.

I cried when I wrote that story; something I’ve never done before or since. I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way through, reading it aloud, without bursting into tears, so before I read at the KGB Bar, during the Best Lesbian Erotica reading at Drunken, Careening, Writers!, I practiced it over and over. Thankfully, I was able to read it through without making a fool of myself, but the story still affects me deeply.

Ashley Lister: Astute readers of your work will not have failed to notice that your writing should be stamped with I (heart) New York.Do you think it’s a conscious decision on your part to foreground your home city? Or is it that your characters embody the essence of New York and therefore need to be fixed firmly in the heart of the tri-state area?

D L King: Tri-state area? Who cares about New Jersey or Connecticut? Yes, it’s true, I do heart NY, primarily two boroughs, although the other three could easily enter into my stories. But you must remember, the last time I mentioned New Jersey, it was in a fairly derogatory way in “Hard Wet Silk” (Frenzy: 60 Stories of Sudden Sex, Alison Tyler, editor, Cleis Press 2008).

I suppose my characters do exude the “essence” of NY. I find New York City and its inhabitants endlessly fascinating, stimulating and sexy. It’s my hometown and I know its dirty, loud, sweet, crazy heart better than that of most other places, so I suppose I can’t help putting it at the forefront of much of my work.

Ashley Lister: In regards to your recent work as an anthologist, what do you specifically look for when compiling a collection of short stories? Has the experience of editing and compiling affected the way you now tackle calls for submission when you’re not the editor of the anthology?

D L King: I suppose I look for a lot of things, when compiling an anthology, but the first and foremost is a good story. I know that sounds trite but that really is at the start. Just because something has a beginning, middle and end and has to do with the theme of the call for submissions doesn’t necessarily make it a good story. And yes, I know that can be purely subjective, but if I’m the editor, I have to think it’s a good story. It also has to be well written; I’m a stickler about that.

I once received a story that had no paragraph delineations: no indents or extra spaces—it just rambled on as one long column of words. It had no quote marks for dialogue. It was impossible to read and I gave up after a page. That’s all the way at one end of the spectrum, but you get where I’m going here. If every other word is misspelled or rules of grammar seem to be mere “suggestions” I tend to take a pass. You see, I’m fundamentally lazy and if I have to practically rewrite a story, that’s working too hard!

Another pet peeve of mine is people who don’t follow formatting guidelines. I’m actually pretty anal (and I’m not just talking about sex, here…). When I don’t receive a submission in the proper format, I have actually gone through the process of changing it myself. It’s time-consuming and a pain in the butt. But I print each story out and make notes on the paper, so, I need that double spaced, easy-to-read font, I’m just sayin’…

All that aside, I look for something interesting; something different; something that’s beautifully written or intriguingly written; something that makes me laugh—or cry; something that grabs my attention and makes me want to continue turning the pages. And of course, I look for something that makes me wet and squirmy. After all, this is erotica! (I suppose that’s really what you were looking for, but you know me—anal—and I have the toy cabinet to prove it!

Ashley Lister: As I mentioned in the introduction to this interview, you’ve recently completed an extensive book tour, reading and promoting your work across the country. Ordinarily, an author writes their work and doesn’t get to see the response or the reaction from the readers/audience. Having read your work to audiences, has this made you more conscious of the responses you are provoking?

D L King: I guess it surprised the hell out of me.

You’re right, writing is a solitary business. We sit in chairs, looking at our computer screens and family and friends break our concentration when they call or ask inane questions like, “If the house is on fire, who do we call?”. We work in our heads, usually in silence. Even if we have friends who read our work and critique it, that isn’t the same as the response from strangers—a response, I might add, that a writer never sees unless s/he reads in public.

My first public reading was at Rachel Kramer Bussel’s In the Flesh, several years ago. I was thrilled to have been asked and chose an excerpt from a novella (The Marrying Kind) because it fit the length requirement and I thought it was both hot and funny. I practised it over and over, reading it aloud to myself and to a friend who said it was good and politely chuckled at the funny parts.

I’m basically a ham. I like performing in front of an audience. But I was nervous almost to the point of nausea, the first time I read. What I remember is that the place was packed and that the laughter, sometimes outright guffaws, were spontaneous (and totally in all the right places). I think that was the first time that I realized that people might actually like what I wrote.

Now I love to read in public. It’s one of my favorite things. I still get a little nervous, which makes for a nice adrenalin high, but it’s fun. I once told Jeremy Edwards, shortly before his first reading, that it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on.

The tour promoting Where the Girls Are (my first anthology), Girl Crazy and Lesbian Cowboys was great fun. I got to meet new people and read with a group of amazing women writers. It’s great to talk with readers and watch audience reaction. I don’t know if doing that has changed the way I write; I doubt it. But I suppose it has given me the confidence to continue. I heartily recommend it!

Ashley Lister: What are you currently working on and where can readers go to find out more about D L King?

D L King: I’ve got a few story ideas brewing, attached to a couple of calls for submission. I’m working on (although I don’t know if “working” is a good word—perhaps “ruminating” “looking at” “occasionally thinking about” a novel I began a while ago. I’ve recently begun to add to it and think it may bear completing.

I’ll be editing a spanking anthology for Logical Lust soon and I’m thinking about writing something tacky and tasteless with a friend. We’ll see how that goes…

You can find more stuff at my blog, more about my work at my website, read occasional 140 character ramblings on Twitter and I’m Dl King on facebook.

Thanks for the interview. Now I think it’s time for a nice glass, or three, of Port. You?

Ashley Lister
October 2009

“Between the Lines” © 2009 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

All Worked Up about Homosexuality

Having written as often as I do about homosexuals and, specifically, my support for gay marriage, I’ve received several emails speculating (sometimes nastily) that I myself am homosexual. One correspondent in particular called me a “faggot lover” which I can only assume was meant to be an insult, as the correspondent also was looking forward to my slow, painful death from AIDS.

For the record, I’m not homosexual, although I did spend one afternoon at the Focus On The Family Website reviewing a series of questions posted that addressed the possibility that one’s child might be gay. I answered the questions honestly. Yes, when I was a kid, I did get beat up a lot by other boys, yes I did hang out a lot with the girls, (because they didn’t beat me up), yes I did lack athletic ability, that sort of thing, and according to FOTF, it was clear that I was and still am a raging queer. The only problem with that analysis was and is the fact that I lust after women. A lot. I mean, I want to put women on pedestals only because that makes it easier for me to look up their dresses.

Still, despite my heterosexual tendencies, I’ve become an advocate for sexual equality, and I’m okay with that.

Why do I bring this up?

The other day, I was going through some of my old columns and old news items, some of which go back at least twenty years, and I’ve been struck by a shift in popular perception about homosexuality.

In the first place, when I was young, I confess I wasn’t even sure what being “gay” meant. Billy Crystal was gay on the TV sitcom “Soap,” which meant that he liked dressing up as a woman, and John Ritter’s character on “Three’s Company” pretended to be gay so he could share an apartment with two women. Having no idea what being “gay” meant, I was all for signing up for that gig if it meant having two hot chicks as roommates.

When I was seven or eight, I do remember having a friend named Pete who lived in a big house and in that house, his Great-Aunt Winnie shared a room with her “just-a-friend” Sylvia, with whom she’d been roommates for more than fifty years. Pete insisted that there was nothing unusual or untoward about Winnie and Sylvia’s relationship; they were just friends who happened to share a room…and a bed. At that age, I thought Pete was unusually defensive about his great-aunt and her “just-a-friend” Sylvia, (who were both sweet ladies). I didn’t see anything to be defensive about. It was, after all, a large bed. From a practical standpoint, it was perfectly natural that the bed be shared. I also thought nothing of the fact that Winnie and Sylvia kissed and held hands a lot. They just seemed like friendly people. Especially toward each other.

The bottom line is that, as far as I knew when I was young, being gay meant being something to laugh at on tacky 1970s sitcoms. I couldn’t have told you anything other than that. I didn’t know any people who identified themselves as being gay, and I certainly couldn’t have told you anything about gay people other than that they were…different. The stuff of bad jokes on TV.

Not like the rest of us.

Then came the Eighties. And the explosion of the AIDS virus. At that point, the common belief was that if a homosexual sneezed on you, your sexual organs would fall off. If you were lucky. We were treated to foam-at-the-mouth diatribes from the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that AIDS was a punishment from God for homosexuals’ degenerate lifestyle. The fact that non-homosexuals like Ryan White and millions of Africans also died from AIDS was just an example of how much of an abomination homosexuality really was.

Things got really ugly there, for a while. By the time George W. Bush took the Presidency in 2000, there were two armies at war. On the one hand, the Powers That Be, led by the Republican Party and the fundamentalist Christians I’ve dubbed “The Holy Terrors,” were doing everything they could to eliminate homosexuality from American life, complaining about everything from the Teletubby who carried a handbag (and who therefore MUST have been gay), to the notion that homosexuals are all secretly pedophiles who are bent on destroying the American Way of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of heterosexual sex, so long as it’s between people united in the holy bond of matrimony. On the other side of the battlefront stood the forces of marriage equality, the people who pushed the “Gay Agenda,” the people who demanded the same rights heterosexual couples enjoy, such as the right to make medical decisions, the right to adopt children, the right to share property, and every other right that so-called “Normal People” enjoy.

And what’s the status of this “War Of Sexual Preference?” It’s hard to say. The California Supreme Court gave homosexuals the right to marry, only to have that right taken away at the ballot box last November. The war is ongoing. The state of Maine similarly gave homosexuals the right to marriage equality, and now there’s a ballot initiative to take that right away, as well.

Then, there’s the state of Iowa. Last year, the Iowa Supreme Court legalized gay marriage to great fanfare and tremendous uproar. For a while there, one expected to see the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse bearing down upon a cornfield outside Des Moines. However, last month the Des Moines Register released the results of a poll which showed that 92% of Iowa residents admit that the legalization of gay marriage has had no impact on their own lives.

Of course, it’s not as if homosexuality has been completely accepted in modern American society. As I said before, homophobes in both California and Maine have decided to resist marriage equality kicking and screaming.

Then there’s Michael Schwartz, chief of staff for Republican Senator Tom Coburn. At last month’s Values Voters’ Summit, Mr. Schwartz recounted to an audience a conversation he’d had with a friend, Jim Johnson, who said that “All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.”

Hey! Considering how much porn I’ve watched…uh, that is…STUDIED…STUDIED for research purposes…maybe I AM gay, after all!

And yet, last year Jared Polis, the first openly gay first-time Congressional candidate, was elected from Colorado’s Second District. Barney Frank, also openly gay, is one of the House Of Representatives’ most powerful members. (Congressman Frank came out after he’d been elected). And if that weren’t enough to suggest that homosexuality has entered the mainstream, Ellen DeGeneris is a judge on “American Idol” and Neil Patrick Harris has hosted both the Tony Awards and the Emmys.

I bring all this up because of something that happened to me last month. I found myself in contact with someone I haven’t heard from in twenty-five years. (Facebook is a wonderful thing). I’ve known the guy since we were both ten years old, and one of the first things he told me when we were catching up is that he’s gay. I hadn’t asked about his sexual orientation, but I didn’t object when he volunteered the information.

Two funny things about my old friend’s revelation. First, he wasn’t the kid in high school who spoke and behaved in what the rest of us perceived as an “effeminate” manner. He didn’t spend his time in the Drama Club or Home Economics class and he didn’t play the clarinet. He was in the jock clique; a three-sport letterman who bragged about nailing the Homecoming Queen. In short, when we’d ignorantly speculated in high school about who might be gay, he was waaaaay on the end of the “no way in hell” side of the line.

Secondly, my high school friend describes his life as sounding a lot like mine. He’s got a spouse who sometimes makes him pull his hair out, in-laws who don’t understand him, two kids, a mortgage, no job, blood pressure problems, and a life situation that sounds more or less normal.

In short, based only on my personal experience, it appears that gay people are just like the rest of us.

Who knew?

J.T. Benjamin
October 2009

“All Worked Up” © 2009 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

Hang Around for a Spell

Bewitched in Salem

What’s Samantha Smiling About? — Just over 300 years ago twenty people were sent to their deaths in one of the most famous miscarriages of justice in American history. This statue is located just a block away from where those victims were convicted.From the top of Gallows Hill in Salem you can see the Atlantic Ocean and the tops of the masts of the Friendship, a replica of the first ship to ply the East India trade, the same trade that would make Salem one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cites in a young America, light years ahead of the curve in commerce and new ideas, an incubator of colossal intellects: Hawthorne, the Peabody Sisters, the mad poet Jones Very.

I’m walking my dog in the park atop the hill as a group of women approach, almost timidly, a few of their number holding back, inspecting the tall flagpole, futilely seeking some kind of monument.

“Excuse me,” one says. “Is this where they hanged the witches?”

At least she didn’t ask if it’s where they burned the witches.

“No, ma’am. Most likely at the bottom of the hill.”

I point to a towering apartment building set upon a high crag and then a little more to the left.

“At the foot of the hill,” I say. “Right behind the Walgreens.”

I’d be happy to explain that back in 1692 the hill was densely forested and getting a cart up the top would have been a major feat, and that the sheriff only needed to take the condemned beyond the town limits, and how the scant descriptions of the topography matched with that one spot – someone’s backyard.

But she’s already waved her thank you and darted back to her friends. They’re off to make their pilgrimage to the rear of a chain drugstore. They’ll find no monument there either.

I suppose I could have corrected her too. They weren’t witches, except perhaps for one, and she was most likely a dilettante.

No matter, they had gotten what they’d come for, a tangible, albeit tenuous, brush with a brief and terrible bout of viciousness that overtook a lonely outpost of Europe in the New World, and it’s stressed-out inhabitants who lived on the cusp of superstition and enlightenment.

The present city of Salem is a major tourist draw, entertaining visitors from around the nation and the world. The Witch City, whose police cars are emblazoned not with the city seal, but with a cartoonish witch on a broomstick.

The city for much of its history tried to downplay it’s nefarious past, taking pains to point out that it had been given a bad rap. The witch hysteria did not originate in Salem, the coastal community that even then was a bit more rational for having a stronger contact with the rest of the known world. The trouble started in Salem Village, present-day Danvers, about five miles inland. Salem was merely the county seat where the courts convened and where the gaol was located.

It was only in the last decade of the 20th century that entrepreneurs tallied the visitors who came to Salem despite the city’s best efforts to ignore the witchcraft hysteria and decided to make money off them.

In other words, they could profit from a 300-year-old atrocity. As a character in one of a few stories I’ve set in Salem points out rather ruefully, it’s rather like a little town in Poland perhaps three hundred years from now, celebrating Olde Aushwitz Days. As revelers in Salem dress like witches and goblins, maybe then folks will don dirty striped pajamas.

Now, lest you take me for a grouchy old killjoy, let me say that I have no problem with having fun and getting silly; there ought to be more Carnivals and Mardi Gras. The world needs to blow off steam.

For the entire month of October, my adopted hometown indulges in Haunted Happenings. And the only difference between it and the celebrations in Rio and New Orleans is the temperature. No young woman is likely to bare her software on a New England evening in October. In fact, even with the t-shirt on, you’ll easily deduce it’s a tad chilly. But, I digress.

There is something utterly schizoid about Salem. The dichotomy between celebration and tragedy worms its way into every endeavor. The city is a magnet for modern-day Wiccans, witches and various new-agers. They see the city as hallowed ground where martyrs suffered in the name of religious freedom, and claim the hysteria victims as their own. The problem with that is all those poor victims would be appalled and horrified to have been posthumously embraced and inducted into the ranks of modern witches. Think about it, they went to their deaths denying it.

The Wiccan community here is comfortably within the mainstream. That became hilariously clear when a bunch of out-of-town vampires announced they would hold their annual ball in Salem.

Witches wrote to the local newspaper complaining that letting the vampires have their way would give Salem a bad name. Hoo boy!

There have been competing psychic fairs that have devolved into legal squabbles. Who could have predicted that!

Things can and have gotten … well … nuts. From the what-were-they-thinking category, we offer TV Land’s donation to the city of a statue of Samantha Stevens from the “Bewitched” sitcom. Not only was it accepted, but it sits across the street from the site of the church that excommunicated members convicted of witchcraft. No matter, the effigy of the late Elizabeth Montgomery grins maniacally at tourists exiting a restaurant that now occupies the site.

There have been suggestions and some efforts to promote the city’s literary, maritime and philosophical legacy. This is the city where Hawthorne (barely) toiled in a political patronage job while penning “The Scarlet Letter,” and where he wooed his wife Sofia Peabody, one of the trio of sisters, including Mary and Elizabeth, who made their mark on the philosophical and educational history of the nation.

It was the city where merchant mariners brought back not only rare goods and art, but also a cosmopolitan world view that spawned a healthy liberalism in the young country.

But, folks still come because of the witches. What witches? Well, okay, just one, the first one accused. Her name was Bridget Bishop, and she went through husbands like pantyhose, flaunted her sex, wore a scarlet bodice, and went out of her way to vex her uptight neighbors. She also ran a roadhouse where the kids came to drink hard cider and blow off steam … just like today. If she used little effigies to effect minor spells, what was the harm? I expect, if there is another life, Bridget is getting quite the hoot out of Salem’s kitschy celebrations.

If you decide to visit, feel free to have your fortune told by a lissome young witch, her bodice (maybe scarlet) near bursting. Try to pay attention to the cards, or the crystal ball.

Salem … now, its okay to hang out.

Robert Buckley
October 2009

“Cracking Foxy” © 2009 Robert Buckley. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Innocent Guns: Male Violence as a Concealed Weapon

My twenty-something stepson has spent a lot of time (relative to his age) in bars as a disc jockey and a drummer with several local bands. Last month, he told his mom and me about a delicious Scottish beer he had recently discovered between sets. He said its distinct flavor comes from the oak barrels in which it is stored. Its name sounded distinct as well, like that of some post-musical band: “Innocent Gun.” By the time Stepson offered me a bottle labeled “Innis & Gunn,” the name I heard had triggered (so to speak) a train of thought in my mind.

I could imagine an advertising campaign aimed at a newly-(re)discovered male demographic, the Innocent Gun crowd. These would be the guys who accept and even revel in a self-image as human weapons, naturally aggressive and likely to fire whenever jostled by a stimulus outside themselves. Yet they object to being described as assailants or even “at-risk” for committing assault. They insist on their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. If accused of acts of violence, they discredit the accuser or complain about being victims of a personal vendetta or a “male-bashing” conspiracy. If convicted in court, they rail about the corruption of the legal system.

Now that I can look back on roughly forty years of discussions with male acquaintances about male violence, particularly sexual violence, I am tempted to reach for a calming beer. When young Second Wave feminists first launched educational campaigns about rape (as it was legally defined) and the less-extreme forms of sexual coercion generally defined as harassment, the guys we knew (including Significant Others) often responded with a stunning lack of logic. They assured us that they were good guys, not oppressors of women, and that they were opposed to “real rape.” They wanted us to trust them, and they warned us not to be the kind of cold, lonely women who couldn’t trust men. They reminded us that “Men Are Not the Enemy.”

The guys we knew usually claimed to value human rights as much as we did, and probably more. They thought it unfair for men alone to be held responsible for men’s behavior, especially when it involved women. They patiently explained to us that men have a “male sex drive” which is instinctive and not under men’s individual control.

After telling me that trust is essential in all human relationships, many of the guys I knew in my teens and twenties came surprisingly close to echoing my parents’ warnings that all men who still had functioning “sex drives” were heterosexual predators looking for opportunities to “take advantage” of girls like me by having unprotected sex with us whether we wanted it or not. Everyone I knew expected me to get married and have children some day, yet most advisors warned me that guys of my generation had no interest in “settling down” (i.e. if I got pregnant, I would have to deal with this on my own).

If a guy leaned out his car window to yell something sexual at me as I walked down a street at any time of day, I learned not to ask male “friends” for an explanation later. In most cases, the explanation included at least one of these points, and usually a smorgasbord: 1) Whatever was yelled, even if it sounded threatening, was a normal, healthy response to the spectacle of a young woman “flaunting her body,” 2) “Flaunting” is an expression of contempt for males, intended to arouse and frustrate them, 3) “Flaunting” is an expression of feminine masochism (a reference to Freud was often used to clinch this point), 4) I was walking down the wrong street, and I should have known better, and 5) I probably imagined the whole episode (females are delusional). On one occasion, Point #5 was expressed by my male faculty advisor when I was working on my Master’s thesis. Before this conversation, he had encouraged me to believe I had the makings of a literary scholar.

In forty years, some aspects of the Innocent Gun Theory have changed, while some have not. The harsh tradition of blaming and punishing female victims of male violence seems to have given way—at least in urban Western society—to a system of belief and response that has been criticized as “victim feminism.” While male victims of violence still receive little widespread support, women who are physically or sexually abused in cities have access to counselling, emergency housing, non-judgmental medical care and legal advocacy that did not exist before. Women in our culture are now so often generically referred to as passive victims of harm that expressions of female rebellion and sexual aggression (Riot Grrls, butch dykes and femme Dommes as cultural icons) have arisen in contrast to a boneless image of women that has become mainstream.

What hasn’t changed is the standard use of the passive voice in media descriptions of male violence against women. We all know that some women “get attacked” in various ways (even if they no longer get themselves attacked), in large numbers in wars and individually in “peacetime.” Women also get abducted, confined, beaten, mutilated, and sometimes killed. The perpetrators are rarely defined.

The public at large is urged to be concerned about the problem of violence against women, which sounds remarkably like a natural disaster or the spread of breast cancer. Supposedly objective news items about violence against women evoke bizarre images: females of various ages, sizes and races in states of undress and distress for no obvious reason.

The assailants are usually invisible in verbal reports, and rarely defined as men. Sometimes the assault is credited to “a gang of youths,” or “armed forces.” Individual assailants are usually described as “alleged,” sometimes even after a legal conviction. Self-defined survivors of sexual assault who appear on talk shows are routinely asked whether they are sure about what really happened. (Apparently females are still delusional, though more entitled to sympathy now than when we “flaunted” with sinister intent.)

In the 21st-century West, spokespeople from publicly-visible gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender communities have declared androgyny to be the new norm, and announced the end of gender as we used to think of it. Mutually satisfying and cathartic “rape” scenes in a context of consensual Dominance and submission are often acted out and described in print. Yet it seems the Middle Ages are not over, even here. We live in a world where old-fashioned, nonconsensual male violence against women soldiers on.

The Congo is currently one of the world’s hot spots for sexual violence against women in a context of war. In a recent visit, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was disturbed by the damage she saw. International attention seems likely to draw aid to the victims, and the need for this is relatively uncontroversial.

The status of the perpetrators is a different case. As Jackson Katz explains in an article in the Huffington Post,* they are largely missing from news reports. If it’s still not acceptable to say that women (and children, and men who are targeted for feminizing humiliation) get raped in war because men rape them, how likely is it that the perpetrators will ever be convicted of crimes?

There is really no such thing as an Innocent Gun. (And the beer that inspired this thread is just a tasty drink. Even excessive amounts of it don’t have the power to make anyone do anything.) I can’t believe that males (my stepsons? my daughter’s husband? my little grandson? my “brothers” in the GLBT community?) were created by a violent god to be human weapons. Those who function that way have made a conscious choice, for which they should be held accountable.

Logic is a quality I value, regardless of which gender is assigned to it. At the risk of being called a pathological extremist (again), I’m inclined to draw a conclusion which seems more rational than diplomatic. Logic tells me that no one can be both innocent and violent, and that neither those who impose their will on others by force nor their defenders can seriously expect to be trusted.

Logic tells me further that the “culture of impunity” in which mass violence flourishes in the Congo exists to some extent even in societies that are not officially at war. Wherever the Innocent Gun Theory is accepted, and where victimhood is assumed to be the fate of womankind, love can only survive in the cultural margins, and peace can only be an illusion.

*”Men Missing in News Coverage of Sexual Violence in Congo,” Huffington Post, August 22, 2009 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/men-missing-in-news-cover_cover_b_265524.html

Jean Roberta
October 2009

“Sex Is All Metaphors” © 2009 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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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