Seeds of a Story: Recipes for Creative Erotic Feast from Inspiration to Publication

As the wheel of the year turns to the darkness of the shortest day then back towards the light, many of us like to pause and take stock of our lives and our writing. No doubt the past year has brought pleasant surprises, valuable lessons and perhaps some disappointments, but none insurmountable for a determined eroticist. For much of 2010, I’ve taken you along on my quest to write a second novel, and indeed I’m delighted to say I’ve made some definite progress. At the beginning of this year, my novel was little more than a daydream. Today I have a tight outline, scrappy characters who insist they will not rest until I tell their story, about 10K words of readable draft, and a steely determination that I will finish this project no matter what the fate of the finished book. Although the end is nowhere in sight, the potential humiliation of weighing in each month has assuredly spurred my journey. However, I’m at the point now where talking about my project seems to be detracting and distracting from going with the flow. Besides, there’s something about a brand-new year that seems to call for new themes, new recipes, new infusions of creative energy.

In the spirit of renewal, I’d like to invite you to year-long feast for the palate and the imagination, beginning with an appetizer of inspiration for a story and ending with a sweet finish that takes a long view of the writer’s journey from that first heady publication onward. The column will run every other month in 2011, and I will still be slipping in an update on the second novel when I have something to report, so stay tuned.

Back in October I had the honor to be part of a panel on “How to Sell Erotica” moderated by Jean Marie Stine at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco (a podcast of the panel is available at the Sizzler e-books website. Although I was one of the supposed “experts” dispensing advice, I actually found I learned much from my fellow panelists, M. Christian, Blake C. Aarens and Gina De Vries. I learned even more from our attentive audience, whose enthusiasm and insightful questions about the writing life reminded me that our natural human desire to tell a story nourishes our hearts and minds like delicious food. As I prepared for the panel, I got to thinking about the various steps I take in creating a story—inspiration, first draft, editing, targeting a publisher—and realized how far I’ve come since I began writing erotica thirteen years ago.

I’ve already admitted my guilty fondness for “how to write” books, but even more for chatting with other writers about how and why they do what they do. Soon after the panel, I flashed on an idea for this year’s “Cooking Up a Storey” that made my pulse quicken—why not invite my ERWA readers over for a good meal and a down-home discussion about the craft behind the magic of fiction? In particular, I wanted to compare how I did it when I first started and how I do it now, so that beginners and veterans alike might find something of value in my literary “secrets.” (Shh, here’s a spoiler: there’s only one essential secret—Keep Writing!) At the very least, for an erotica writer, the voyeurism alone is bound to bring on at least one delicious shiver. So please, take a seat at the table and help yourself to my offering of simple appetizers—toasted nuts, sliced baguette and an assortment of cheeses, olives, and raw vegetable sticks with roasted red pepper hummus. As this fresh, new year begins, let’s settle in to talk about the seed of a fresh, new story.

Writers are often asked how they get their ideas for a story. From the time I first started writing seriously, my ideas did not emerge from any rational decision or process. Rather it was almost like magic, the proverbial muse handing me a gift. Then and now, the seed of a story is always a mystery, a question with no easy answer. A story can be sparked by an image in a magazine or a snatch of overheard conversation or a sexual practice I’ve never tried (at least before I started writing the story). One story, “The Cunt Book,” was inspired by Bob Crane’s (of Hogan’s Heroes fame) secret pornography collection. A few months ago, a friend mentioned she was going on a silent retreat and I got to thinking—what would that be like? Soon after I set a story in a silent retreat, where, according to the rules, the only communication allowed is through bodily gesture, the perfect restriction for an erotic story.

The whole universe is our endlessly generous muse, we only need pay attention, or in other words, think like a writer, to see that any setting or chance acquaintance and every desire, especially of the thwarted kind, is material. And yet not every intriguing or sexy tidbit blossoms into a rich story. It must find fertile ground in each writer’s imagination.

Even in my earliest days as a writer, I instinctively “felt” if an idea was worth pursuing, but over the years, I’ve learned to trust rather than doubt my instincts. If an idea, even the slimmest fragment of one, gets my pulse racing and my curiosity aroused, I know I have something worth developing. If a story idea genuinely turns me on physically, emotionally, and intellectually, the story itself always reflects these passions. That feeling, more than any other consideration like marketability, is what gives birth to a new piece of writing.

I’ve also come to accept that every idea that sparks something in me does not necessarily immediately go to the page. Some need longer to germinate. Thus I keep a story ideas file where I type in as much about the story as my mind immediately creates. Sometimes it’s a full plot outline, sometimes just a sentence or two. Then I let it grow at its own pace. I may go back and add more notes as they come to me over time. More than once a themed call has come along months or years later, and the germ of the perfect story lies waiting in my files. Some stories have yet to develop, but I know they’re there.

Thus inspiration for stories involves listening to your heart and watching your imagination at work to see what she does with the ingredients life provides. While I suggested earlier that ideas for stories are “out there,” I believe the rich abundance really comes from within. Straining for a story idea is usually counterproductive though. When I’m cultivating a story idea, I often just let my mind wander during the more fertile times of the day. For me that’s in the morning when I first wake up, in the shower, or while doing dishes, mowing the lawn, or taking a walk. Night owls might do their best work at 2 am, but my constitution is such that I have better luck with sunrise.

Perhaps the question most often asked of erotica writers is whether or not their steamy scenes are based on their actual sexual experiences. I always proudly, and defiantly, answer with a great big “YES,” because in all that ways that matter, my erotic stories do draw from my real life. But it would be misleading to say every stories is gussied up memoir (although a few are, but you’ll have to guess which ones!). The key difference between memoir and fiction lies in another provocative question, one that functions as a writer’s magic wand: What if?

That is, we may start with our office crush or an attractive stranger we spied on the subway or a provocative kissing game back in college, all of which are “true,” but we let our imaginations feed that little seed until it grows into a moist, dewy, irresistibly vulvular flower of an erotic story. It occurs to me that when new writers ask a veteran how he or she gets her ideas, the beginner is anticipating a battle with the dreaded writer’s block. Most writers do face fallow periods over the long term, and sometimes these are healthy breaks soon followed by a time of intense production. However, my trick to banish run-of-the-mill writerly boredom is to bring out my trusty “what if?” Those two simple words ground your story in believability, but let your imagination soar.

The seed of a story is just the beginning of a long process, but it is obviously an essential step. If an idea truly excites you, the writing itself comes easier and the reader feels your connection with your story. In my next column, I’ll discuss the basic elements every story needs and tricks to get you moving on that often scary first draft.

In the meantime, help yourself to some appetizers and let’s toast a year of creativity and discovery to come!

Inspiring the Appetite: Creating a Simple Hors d’Oeuvre Buffet

I’ve always preferred an intimate dinner party to a large gathering. After a few hectic evenings when I’ve been scurrying around the kitchen putting the finishing touches on fancy dishes I’ve made to impress, I decided that when I invite people over for dinner, the real feast is the conversation and I enjoy myself so much more if I focus on my guests and the moment. This isn’t to say I don’t want to serve tasty, “company” food, but to me a truly elegant meal is like a good short story. You do as much sweating and planning and preparation in advance as you can so the actual experience for your reader maintains the fiction I’ve conjured my creation effortlessly.

Of course, a selection of nibbles to “titillate the mouth” as the French say, is de rigeur for a special dinner. But a pleasing meal in an ordinary home doesn’t have to consist of one show-stopping course after another. I save my best cooking efforts for the main course and dessert and focus on careful shopping for a casual appetizer course. Here is a sampling of the sorts of things I have waiting on the coffee table for my guests—and you, if you stop by!—although I don’t include all of them unless it’s a larger party.

What can be simpler than putting out some toasted nuts in a pretty little bowl for your guests to nibble on with some sparkling wine? However, simplicity makes the quality of the nuts all the more crucial. In California, fresh almonds and walnuts are fairly easy to find at this time of year, and my local market has vats of fresh tree nuts. I toast them myself in a 350 degree oven for about four minutes, then stir the nuts and toast them a few more minutes until the fragrance of their oil fills the kitchen. If you don’t have a good local source—or even if you do—I also recommend the Royal Mix (cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and almonds) from Sunnyland Farms. It comes in bags or a tin toasted, not salted, or toasted and lightly salted and either will likely elicit from your guests a look of ecstasy that suggests they’ve either found God, are having an orgasm or both. I’ve had several guests say they felt they’ve never really eaten nuts until they’ve tasted Sunnyland Royal Mix. Yes, the nuts are that good. Maybe you didn’t make them, but you chose them, and that’s all part of creating a delicious experience for your guests.

Cheese and Bread

The French serve a separate cheese course between salad and a sweet dessert, but here in the wilds of America, bread and cheese tends to be served as an appetizer. If you have a good cheesemonger (I love that word) nearby, you can ask for recommendations for a good selection to serve with your chosen beverage. I live near a place called The Cheese Board Collective, which put out an informative book on cheese with platter ideas and great bread recipes called The Cheese Board Collective Works. Janet Fletcher’s The Cheese Course: Enjoying the World’s Best Cheeses at Your Table is another useful guide with some good recipes. Some of the basic suggestions include: keep the selection small (3 or 4 different cheeses), aim for variety in appearance, texture, strength of flavor and source (goat, sheep, cow) and bringing the cheese to room temperature before serving.

Choose a crusty fresh bread from a good local bakery or make your own. If no excellent fresh bread is available, choose high quality crackers or flatbread rather than indifferent bread. Uninspiring bread is like uninspiring prose. They both leave a bad taste in your mouth.


Raised in a household where canned and pitted “ripe” black olives were the height of culinary daring, I was thrilled to discover the rich complexity of cured olives in my California foodie years. If you have an olive bar in your neighborhood, do a little preliminary tasting, then provide a variety of black and green for your guests, plus a bowl to collect the pits, which I learned from the Japanese are most elegantly dispensed with by shielding your mouth with your left hand and discreetly pulling the pit from your lips. Don’t make eye contact while doing this, although, it occurs to me, brazenly staring someone in the eye might be good edgy foreplay for food erotica!

Another appetizing use of olives is in the Provencal spread called tapenade, which consists of pureed or chopped olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil, which makes an excellent spread for your good bread.

Raw Vegetables and Dips

It seems everyone is trying to eat more healthily these days (or maybe I just hang out with “mature” types), so a tray of crudités, or fresh carrot and celery sticks, pepper strips, and cherry tomatoes, with strips of sweet jicama if you want to get exotic, will satisfy your guests while still letting them feel saintly—and thus more likely to indulge orgiastically in your decadent dessert later. Serve the veggies beautifully arranged on a tray or chip and dip platter with a dip or two. I tend to go for Haig’s roasted red pepper hummus and Baba Ghannouge (a roasted eggplant spread). Their Muhammara, a blend of walnut, pomegranate and roasted red pepper, is also a tasty dip. All of these can be homemade in advance, and there are many other good brands available in supermarkets.

Last Word

While a selection of good quality nibbles make a great introduction to a special meal, they can also make a perfect picnic in the park or by the fire, with a simple dessert of cookies or maybe some amour on the blanket or the (faux) bearskin rug.

Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit!

Donna George Storey
December 2010 – January 2011

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2010 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Flash of Northern Light

Since Victorian novelist Charles Dickens coined the phrase “The law is an ass,” many people have had cause to repeat it. As a remark made by a male character in Oliver Twist, that phrase referred to the nineteenth-century legal concept of “coverture,” under which married women had no legal identity of their own, since they were “covered” by the authority of their husbands. In the following decades, a growing number of feminists agreed with Dickens’ character that this law had no connection with reality. Step by step, law by law, women in English-speaking countries were eventually granted most of the rights of adult citizenship.

This process still isn’t complete. Few people on earth have had more reason to despise traditional laws than sex workers. And although sexual pleasure has been sold by people of all genders and proclivities for millennia, the popular image of a sex worker is still that of the Fallen Woman of yesteryear, a sinner and a victim who supposedly needs to be forced out of a hellish pit of shame for her own good.

Laws against the sex trade are generally more drastic in the United States than in Canada, where an exchange of sex for money, per se, is not illegal. Yet Canadian federal laws aim to bind and gag sex workers, since it is illegal for anyone in Canada to solicit customers, to communicate for the purpose of prostitution, to “keep a common bawdy house” (note the archaic language), to “procure” customers for someone else, to lure someone into the trade, or to “live off the avails of prostitution.”

Imagine learning that you can legally work at a service job (say, as a cook or an alternative health practitioner), but you can’t advertise or even discuss your service or your prices with anyone, you can’t provide the service in a place designed for that purpose, and you have good reason to fear being arrested at any time by an undercover police officer posing as a customer. In such conditions, you would need a reliable manager, a bodyguard and maybe a publicist, yet a person filling any of these roles would be just as vulnerable to legal charges as you, even if he or she (the “pimp” or “madam”) never provided the primary service.

These laws were already outdated when the new Canadian constitution was implemented in 1982, complete with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which (among other good things) grants equal rights to men and women. Considering that the laws surrounding the sex trade are notoriously vague and contradictory, why weren’t they struck down or at least revised years ago? Even the lawyers in a Legal Aid office couldn’t explain how one could legally practice the sex trade in Canada without breaking any laws. (I asked about this in the early 1980s.)

Since the laws and the social stigma against prostitution are largely aimed at women, have feminists taken a stand on the issue? They certainly have. Most of the self-defined feminists I know have advocated a “crackdown” on the sex trade, presumably so that victimized women could be rescued from it — by being sent to prison! Whenever I have suggested that, by the same logic, female victims or survivors of sexual and physical abuse (e.g. wife-beating) should also be convicted and locked up for their own good, feminist “friends” have responded with shock: but those women are innocent victims of patriarchal violence! They’re not the source of the problem!

So there you have it. Many so-called advocates for “women” seriously propose to abolish the sex trade once and for all by parading everyone in it through the courts and shaming them as publicly as possible. (Of course, that would motivate Fallen Women to seek respectable jobs and enable them all to get hired.) The more liberal, moderate version of this campaign aims to punish pimps and/or johns, conceived of as men who have joined forces to exploit women. Yet pimps and johns are hardly in cahoots. Pimps have a motive to protect sex workers from physical damage and economic exploitation, and many johns consider themselves chivalrous men who want to “rescue” whores from a sordid profession–by persuading them to provide free service. And even a focus on evil men as the enforcers of prostitution rests on an unexamined assumption that sex is so harmful to women that even consensual arrangements need to be policed.

Those who define prostitution as a form of “violence” need to be reminded that only assault is assault, abduction is abduction, extortion and false advertising are–well, you see what I mean. There are laws in place against all these things, whether they have any connection with sex or not. And laws against violence are more likely to be enforced when the victims have no reason to keep their mouths shut.

Conservatives hate the sex trade for various reasons. Men complain half-jokingly that whores would be more appealing if they didn’t demand payment for their services, while conservative women want them to leave other women’s husbands alone. Property-owners worry about the damage to property values that can be caused by the sex trade.
Christian and Islamic fundamentalists watch the sky for the bolt of righteous lightning which is surely coming soon—because their God can’t tolerate sex outside the bonds of matrimony.

Self-defined spokespeople for the marginalized, exploited communities which serve as source pools for the sex trade generally resent being associated with it. They point out that most of “their” women are not prostitutes and never were. They want the local police to be educated not to mistake decent members of their communities with actual prostitutes – who, of course, deserve whatever they get.

And so the politicians who make the laws (many of whom enjoy access to the sex trade), the business owners who influence the politicians (who may be the biggest fans of the sex trade), social reformers who lobby against street crime, racism, structural poverty, illegal drugs and sexual abuse, feminists who want women in general to have a more dignified image, and religious zealots who fear the wrath of a macho God can all officially agree on one point: the sex trade is bad and needs to be “cleaned up.” Advocates for sex workers’ rights exist in every city, but they don’t seem to be welcome in broad coalitions of People Against Bad Things who expect the police to erase every sign of vice from all public space.

Unknown to most Canadian voters, advocates for sex workers’ rights have patiently tried to bring Canadian laws into line with the Charter of Rights since 1982, against the tide of public opinion. Most politicians who privately admit that the laws are archaic and hard to enforce haven’t dared suggest changing them. While the Men in Suits who advocate a police “crackdown” seem more likely to keep escort agencies in business, the brave few who recommend treating sex work like any other service job are more likely to be ridiculed or stigmatized for their interest in it.

On September 28, 2010, however, a brave judge made a sensible decision. Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court struck down the laws surrounding the sex trade (at least in her jurisdiction, the province of Ontario) as inconsistent with the Charter. She said: “It is my view that in the meantime [until new legislation can be set up], these unconstitutional provisions should be of no force and effect, particularly given the seriousness of the charter violations.” It’s not as catchy a slogan as “Keep your laws off my body,” but in the meantime, it’s good enough.

Justice Himel’s decision was a response to the suit brought by three sex workers: Terri-Jean Bedford (who has shown up in the media in her pro Domme gear and a victorious grin), Valerie Scott (a long-term sex workers’ rights advocate) and Amy Lebovitch. Their lawyer defended the case largely free of charge, with help from a team of twenty law students.

Terri-Jean Bedford, the plaintiff who seems to be quoted most often, said: “The worst thing that can happen is for nothing to change. Nothing can be worse than what we have now. . . These laws don’t allow women to protect themselves.”

Now that a legal expert has openly said what amateur observers have known for years, Canada’s current sex-trade laws can’t survive a legal challenge anywhere in the country. As of this writing, I assume the Supreme Court of Canada and the federal legislature will have to tackle this issue as soon as possible, and try to find a viable modern alternative to laws that have been knocked down like a rotting wooden fence.

Will Victorian attitudes be the next to fall? One can only hope. As long as women’s sexuality is envisioned as a swamp full of hissing snakes (as in the Garden of Eden), those who earn a living by selling sexual service will be social outcasts. We need new conceptions of guilt and innocence.

Jean Roberta
November 2010

“Sex Is All Metaphors” © 2010 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Sex With Pilgrims: Historical Research, Writing Cycles, and Triple X-Rated Red Cabbage

Once a wasteland stretching between my two favorite holidays, poor November has become my favorite month in recent years. To my writer’s mind, the stark austerity of the denuded trees, the rich scarlet sunsets, and the apple-crisp chill in the air all serve as a subtly titillating foreplay to the all-out sensual debauchery of the year-end festivals to come.

And as erotica writers, isn’t our business creating subtly (and not-so-subtly) titillating foreplay to be followed by all-out debauchery?

November also brings to mind our honorary European forefathers, the Pilgrims. Once seen as sexless, god-fearing folk, later scholars revealed that early European-Americans indulged in such customs as bundling, where courting couples would share the same bed to test for compatibility, which doubtless included more than pillow talk. Thus our colonial forefathers and mothers might not deserve all the blame for the Puritanical streak that lingers in our culture today.

History is much on my mind these days because one part of my novel involves a trip back to the past. Until now, I’ve followed one school of thought that suggests you just start writing your novel, then do only the amount of research necessary to give your story authenticity in the second draft. This method helps you avoid the doctoral dissertation syndrome, where you spend years researching every last detail of a topic before you feel entitled to write—if, in fact, you have any interest or energy left over to finish the job. As I have no intention of writing a book suitable for publication by an academic press, I hoped to avoid this time sink. A fiction writer doesn’t need to be the world’s expert; a few lush factual details will suffice to bring a story to life.

This approach has worked well in terms of actually producing pages of a first draft, but now I find myself at a point where I do need to do some time traveling in order to move the story along. Part of me wants to continue to “fake it,” by which I mean write scenes that work with my outline, then go back and fix any anachronisms after I do carefully focused research based on my needs. As in, if I introduce a carriage ride, I can study up on horse-drawn transportation, but won’t need to bother at all if my characters decide to walk instead. However, that Inner Voice I keep talking about is starting to nag me again. Apparently she thinks I can find valuable inspiration in research that might help me write a more vibrant first draft.

I’ve decided to listen to her this time, too, making my second novel an exercise in (hopefully) positive split personalities! The challenge will be, of course, to do the research detour without losing forward momentum. If any readers out there have suggestions for me, please don’t hesitate to contact me. (I’ll post your suggestions on the ERWA blog for the benefit of other struggling novel researchers).

And, as my crafty Inner Voice alluringly whispers, the research itself can provide fresh details and reminders of the timelessness of human desire, erotic and otherwise, that will bring history to life. To return to the Pilgrims for a moment, I want to approach research as I would a night bundling with a brawny colonial lad: enjoy the experience for what it offers, but don’t feel the need to rush to the church the next morning. Besides, I’m feeling excited about this new phase of the project, and for erotica writers—or any writer for that matter—your excitement inevitably finds its way to the page and the reader.

This particular hurdle reminds me that writing a longer work, such as a novel, has its seasonal cycles. The “year” begins with a fear of starting a huge project, which gives way to a beginner’s elation at finally getting underway. However—this has happened with both of my novels and I’ve heard it’s extremely common—fifty or so pages in, many writers hit a rocky stretch where they begin to doubt the viability of their idea. Many novels are abandoned at this point. The very first novel I wrote suffered this fate, although I later revived it with plenty of hot sex to become Amorous Woman.

Indeed the writers who push through this block go on to report the next phase is like one long year-end holiday party: a passionate immersion in the novel such that it becomes your life and takes on its own momentum. Just as we might commemorate a rare moment of cooperation between Native Americans and Pilgrims over Brussels sprouts and pumpkin pie this month, the fact that no novelist is alone in riding the ups and downs of the cycle can be a positive reminder that we can survive famine to feast again, too. So at month’s end when you sit down to your Thanksgiving feast, raise your glass to novelist forefathers and mothers who have blazed the trail and shown you can finish, in spite of self-doubt and distraction.

Speaking of fall feasts, this month I wanted to share a recipe for a dish that is the essence of autumn: red cabbage braised in red wine. I like to call it “triple red cabbage” because of the addition of some red wine vinegar. I’ve tried many red cabbage recipes over the years, and this one has more spice and less sweetness—a more “adult” or X-rated flavor, if you will—than the traditional accompaniment to roast goose. Meat eaters can enjoy this with pork; vegetarians can make it a main dish with bread and cheese on the side thanks to the protein in the chestnuts. It’s delicious hot, but I’ve also lunched on the leftovers cold. In any case, the hearty flavor and heady touch of booze provide the perfect sustenance for a crisp afternoon of erotica writing.

Bon Appetit and Write On!

XXX Red Cabbage
Adapted from Eight Weeks to Optimum Health by Andrew Weil

1 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large red cabbage, cored & sliced 1/4″ thick
1 large Pippin or Granny Smith apple, diced
salt to taste (minimal is healthier)
1 Turkish bay leaf
1/4 t. ground cloves
1 1/2 cups dry red wine (the perfect use for Trader Joe’s bargain cooking reds)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
As much of a jar of peeled chestnuts as you like

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion and carrots and sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add the cabbage and apple and mix well, then add salt to taste, the garlic, the bay leaf, cloves, wine, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a low boil, cover and cook for about 1 hour. Remove bay leaf and correct seasoning. You may also add 1 cup of peeled chestnuts to cook in the braising liquid.

Donna George Storey
November 2010

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2010 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

The View From Gallows Hill

Salem Witche Trials

It isn’t Mardi Gras … yet. But maybe it’s getting there. It’s the October-long celebration of everything weird, wild and not-quite-natural that culminates on Halloween in the city of Salem, Massachusetts.

And what’s the occasion for all this revelry? Well, a bit over three centuries ago some folks who would have been content to live out their ordinary lives and disappear quietly from Earth’s stage, instead became victims of an early American miscarriage of justice. There would be many more such atrocities committed in this country’s history, much larger ones, but this is the one that still captures our imaginations, and for so many wrong reasons.

Let’s put aside some misconceptions. The victims of the 17th century witchcraft hysteria in Massachusetts weren’t witches, although one for sure and perhaps a few more may have been dilettantes of the occult arts. And what’s the matter with that? They were hanging on to the edge of a continent by their fingernails, the legitimacy of the ownership of their homes had been questioned by the mother country, “savage” indigenous peoples were poised a tree or two away in the forest to kill them. And a fierce Calvinist God was forever looking over their shoulders waiting for them to screw up. Under such stressful circumstances, could you blame them for looking for a little “edge” to get them through the day?

The accused who went to the gallows did so to avoid placing their souls in mortal danger. How? By confessing under oath to a heinous crime that they did not commit. Confessing would save their life, but their soul would always be stained by a lie that gave them a one-way ticket to perdition. Talk about a Catch-22. So, they weren’t witches; they abhorred witches, so much so they would rather die in ignominy rather than admit to being a witch.

Today the Wiccan community happily embraces them as religious martyrs. Sorry, folks, they died for their beliefs, not your beliefs.

Another big misconception: the hysteria began in Salem. Salem at the time was a seaport called Salem Town. It was a tiny farming community about five miles inland where the lethal nonsense took root. That place was called Salem Village.

That’s where a bunch of bored adolescent girls amused themselves during long and boring winter nights by telling spooky tales. They got caught by the father of one, an ambitious but incompetent minister that no one seems to have liked very much. The girls reacted to being caught doing something they weren’t supposed to the way adolescents have reacted since there’ve been adolescents: they tried to put it on someone else. Instigated and encouraged by adults who should have known better by just taking the hickory stick to their tender derrieres, the girls’ finger-pointing escalated into lethal accusations against their neighbors. The first to be accused was a much-married, much-widowed woman who ran a road house and liked to vex her neighbors. She was also the one most likely to have actually toyed with the forbidden arts, and she scandalized the Puritan community by wearing a scarlet bodice. Shameless hussy!

Once they put her neck in the noose, the others were easy. Pent up resentments surfaced that spawned more accusations. Add to the mix spur-of-the-moment jurists who thought their duty was to find more offenders rather than find justice, plus a chief jurist with no legal training who denied the accused long established legal protections, and the atrocity was set well in motion. Only when the girls accused the wife of the colony’s governor did someone – the governor in fact – say, “Okay, that’s enough of this bullshit!”

So why does Salem town, now city, get the rap? Because in 1692, as it is today, Salem was the seat of Essex County, where all the legal business, including trials, takes place.

Until very late in the last century, Salem recoiled from this sorry episode in its history and turned a jaundiced eye at the town of Danvers – the new name chosen for Salem Village so as to evade the shame and wrath that was directed wrongly by succeeding generations at Salem the town. Meanwhile Salem blazed a glorious history through the Revolutionary and federal eras as the home of dashing and daring merchant adventurers who brought wealth and cosmopolitan ideas back to the new country via the East Indies and China trade.

The “hysteria” as it came to be known – until feminist historians took issue with that term – was just not talked about in Salem. It wasn’t until about the tercentenary of the Witch Trails that people – most from outside of Salem – realized there was money to be made from the connection with witchcraft and the supernatural.

Money was invested in shops, restaurants, museums – quite a bit of kitsch. And that’s how Haunted Happenings was spawned. Today it’s a month-long party.

A large Wiccan community has taken hold in Salem and embraced the commercial potential. In one of the more bizarre though hilarious instances of cross-purposes occultism, one year an international vampire organization decided to hold its annual Vampires Ball at the chi-chi Hawthorne Inn in Salem.

The city’s witch community sent an irate letter to the editor of the local paper complaining that allowing vampires a foothold in Salem would give the town “a bad name.” (!)

Aside from such minor flare-ups, Haunted Happenings has been pretty good for the old town. Maybe it’s even made Danvers envious. The city is second only to Boston as a New England tourist destination. People are having fun, people are making money, and people are making love.

Yup, ala New Orleans, where there’s always been an erotic undercurrent of laissez le bon temps rouler, Salem’s festival “for the whole family” has taken on a definite adult flavor. Not that you’re likely to see young women show their breasts for a string of beads – not on a chilly October evening in New England. But you might enjoy having your fortune told by a comely young witch at the psychic fair, especially if she’s set her crystal ball about eye-level with her cleavage.

And let’s face it, Trick-or-Treat is for kids, but Halloween has become an adults-especially party day over the past couple of decades. You’re just as likely to see a lady in a French maid costume as a witch’s get up. In Salem, when the crowds show up, the bars get crowded, the music plays, the dancing goes on all night, or at least until closing time. And the dawn of the Feast of All Saints arrives with hangovers, or couples all hung over each other.

It’s odd, isn’t it? It’s such a great party. And while all that revelry is going on, in a quiet little rectangle formed by a low granite wall set hard against the Old Burying Point, a memorial lists twenty names that got left off the party list.

Robert Buckley
October 2010

“Cracking Foxy” © 2010 Robert Buckley. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Ashley Lister talks with Lucy Felthouse

Lucy FelthouseLucy Felthouse is a UK based author whose steamy short fiction has appeared in anthologies produced by Xcite Books and Ravenous Romance. Aside from writing erotic fiction, Lucy also reviews erotica and wrote her final year dissertation on ‘How women’s roles in erotic writing have increased as social attitudes change.‘ Lucy took time from her busy schedule to talk to ERWA about her fiction.

Ashley Lister: You began writing erotica at University. What started your interest in the genre? How was the experience of exploring erotic themes in an academic environment? Did you ever feel as though your peers or tutors were defining you by your preferred genre?

Lucy Felthouse: My initial interest in the genre actually came after I started writing erotica. Whilst on a lunch break at University, I was talking with some friends. We were having quite a blunt conversation, and one of my friends suggested that because of my general open-mindedness I should try and write an erotic story. I told him to give me character names and a theme and I went ahead and wrote it. I took the completed piece into University and gave it to the friends involved in the original conversation to read, and there was a unanimous admiration for the story. I guess I never stopped writing!

I don’t feel as though I was treated any differently because of my choice of topic for my dissertation. In fact, the lecturer for that particular course was really interested in what I was doing, and admired my bravery and the unique topic. Of course, the fact that Mitzi Szereto was also lecturing at the University at the time helped. My lecturer suggested I go and talk to her and get some advice, and that was pretty much the end of the discussion! It wasn’t really mentioned after that.

Ashley Lister: You review and you write: both of which are challenging and demanding occupations. How do you balance both of these? What’s your typical daily routine with regards to your writing?

Lucy Felthouse: Firstly it depends on how shattered I am after arriving home from my day job! I tend to get home and start going through my emails. I’ll reply and action the most urgent ones. Then after dinner I’ll start working on outstanding reviews, and more recently, posts for Erotica For All – a UK website for reviews and author promos dedicated to erotica. Once I’ve got all that out of the way, I tend to work on my fiction. When I’m on deadline for fiction, though, everything else has to be put on the back burner.

Ashley Lister: In your self-published collection of two short stories (The Great Outdoors) you deal with the theme of outdoor erotica. Sex in public places is a common theme in your work. I know that you’re also an avid walker/rambler and have done lots of works for charities including fun runs, and mountain climbing. Is there a connection between your personal love of the outdoors and the fictional passions you create?

Lucy Felthouse: There’s definitely a link. As a writer, story ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. The fact I spent a fair amount of time outdoors inevitably gives me ideas for stories. As well as enjoying writing stories about the outdoors (‘Fun in the Forest’, one of the stories in The Great Outdoors is a particular favourite of mine), I find that it’s a popular topic amongst readers too.

Ashley Lister: You review a lot of erotica titles. Do you ever find yourself being influenced by the content or style of a particular story?

Lucy Felthouse: To be honest, I don’t really. I tend to just write the stories I like to write and feel most comfortable with. I most often write straight, contemporary stories simply because it comes most naturally. However, I really want to expand on the story I started in Shattered Resistance, which is a story I have featured in Ravenous Romance’s anthology Fang Bangers, which is about a vampire and a human getting together. It’s got potential to be a much longer work, so I’m pretty excited about it. Watch this space!

Ashley Lister: What advice would you give to anyone interested in writing in the erotic genre?

Lucy Felthouse: Go for it! Write, write, write. Join Twitter and Facebook and start hooking up with other writers (we’re a friendly bunch!). Then check out ERWAs Calls for Submissions and start sending stories in. When you’re published for the first time, you’ll be ridiculously excited (well, I was anyway!) and it’ll spur you on to do more. Embrace your work and the erotic writing community and we’ll embrace you right back.

Ashley Lister: What are you currently working on? Where can readers go to find out more about Lucy Felthouse and her writing?

Lucy Felthouse: I’m currently working on lots! I’ve got my brand new website, Erotica For All, which is a resource for readers and writers of erotica (come check it out eroticaforall.co.uk), and I’m uploading lots of content, by way of author profiles, free erotic stories and much more.

I’m also still doing erotica reviews. I’ve just got myself a Kindle so I’ll be reading lots more eBooks, so if anyone wants to send me review copies, contact me!

I’m working on a few stories for lots of calls for submissions I’ve got, for publishers such as Xcite, Ravenous Romance and Cleis. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

And last, but certainly not least, I’m reading stories for an anthology I’m working on. I’m self-publishing an erotic eBook anthology with a uniform theme, called Uniform Behaviour. Hopefully by the time you’re all reading this, you’ll have sent me a story for inclusion!

To find out more about what I’m up to, check out my personal website, lucyfelthouse.co.uk.

Ashley Lister
October 2010

“Between the Lines” © 2010 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

His Cold Eyes, His Granite Jaw by Howard Halpern

The title says it all.

“Surrender to the feeling” is the message of much erotic literature. At least readers are invited to witness characters surrendering to their feelings, sometimes against their own principles. In noir-flavored erotica, common sense usually fights a losing battle with Passion, which is shown to be stronger than good intentions. This is the message of some of our oldest stories. One-sided, self-destructive love doesn’t contribute to serenity or long life, but it makes for great opera.

The more practical messages of self-help literature (e.g. “Use your head” and “Save yourself“) often look philistine in comparison. But what if a good hard look at the object of one’s desire by sober daylight could shift that desire an inch or two? If a collective passion for, say, big hairstyles from the 1980s can change quickly, maybe the mystique of certain Alpha Males could be debunked with a little eye-rolling as well.

From what I’ve seen, a Cold Bastard is more likely to be shallow and self-obsessed than deep, mysterious or strong. At best, he is not suited to the one who wants him, and at worst, he is lacking some essential ingredient that enables most human beings to bond with others. If all else fails, a cold shower followed by a run over sharp rocks could be as intense an experience as a close encounter with a cold man. With all due respect to those who find such characters compelling, I would rather leave the monster in the dungeon.


*The feast day of St. Francis is October 4. Since he was the patron saint of animals, this is the one day in a year when Christians can bring their pets to church!

Jean Roberta
October 2010

“Sex Is All Metaphors” © 2010 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

All Worked Up About Nature

“This thing, what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what is its causal nature?”  The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius,  Book VIII, v. 11 George Long Translation.

True story.

Last month, my Lovely Wife had to have surgery.  (Nothing life-threatening, an outpatient procedure.  Thanks for asking).  A week before the big day, we were talking with a friend of ours, whom I’ll call “Carol.”  Carol, a sweet lady, volunteered to bring dinner for our family during my Lovely Wife’s convalescence, and the conversation ended up being about the procedure itself, and Carol asked my Lovely Wife if she was nervous.

My Lovely Wife answered, “No, not really.  My doctor seems to know what he’s doing.  I’m confident in him.”

I added, “Plus, she thinks he’s cute.”

My Lovely Wife turned three shades of crimson.  “What makes you say that,” she asked.

I responded, “You’re generally a very flirtatious person, but when you’re really attracted to a guy, you kick it up a notch or two.  Whenever you’re with Doctor Hottie, your flirt-o-meter goes into the red.”

My Lovely Wife had no answer for that, because she knew I spoke the truth.  We both turned to look at Carol, whose own cheeks were the full spectrum of red, pink, and crimson blush, and whose jaw was on the floor at what she’d just heard.

Carol spent a good fifteen seconds finding her voice.  “You think you’re doctor’s attractive?”

My Lovely Wife, facing one of those rare moments when I have her on the spot, gulped and nodded her head.

Carol said to me, “And you’re aware of this?”

I said, “I couldn’t not be aware; we’ve been married almost twenty years.”

Carol said, “I just can’t believe it!  It’s just so unnatural!”

I usually leap at the chance for a  spontaneous argument, but I opted not to that time.  As I said before, Carol is a sweet, generous lady, plus she makes a mean lasagna.  In addition, she gave me the idea for this month’s column, so I suppose I should return the favor and bring her family dinner sometime.

Anyway, part of the reason our friend Carol was so stunned by My Lovely Wife’s and my revelation is that for Carol, marriage is an institution deeply impacted by her religious faith and by that faith’s rules and traditions.  True marriage isn’t just a civil union until death do us part but it’s a bonding of two souls by God, for time and all eternity.  The husband has one role and the wife has another role, as defined by scripture and doctrine going back centuries.  An essential component of marriage through Carol’s eyes is absolute fidelity towards one another, as exemplified by The Gospel of Matthew 5:28, “whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

For poor Carol, the idea that 1) My Lovely Wife had eyes for Dr. Hottie, 2) that she expressed those feelings to me, AND 3) that I wasn’t going “Incredible Hulk” green with rage as a result were incomprehensible. We might as well have admitted to being Kenyan-born Muslim socialists advancing Obama’s secret agenda to undermine the United States from within.

For me, the standout word of the conversation was “unnatural.”  Carol had felt that My Lovely Wife’s and my conduct didn’t comport with the “natural” order of things.  There is a right form of marriage and a wrong form of marriage, and ours didn’t meet with what Carol considers the “right” or “natural” form of marriage.

I should add at this point that both Carol and her husband seem as perfectly happy in their marriage as my Lovely Wife and I are in our marriage, so the “Mind Your Own Business” streak in me is inclined to shrug my shoulders and say, “Hey.  What’s natural for them isn’t natural for us, and vice versa.  It’s no big deal either way.”

However, on a larger, societal, and even species-wide scale, the issue of “natural” and “unnatural” interpersonal relationships has profound applications.

Throughout most of human history, the concept of marriage (as attested to by our friend Carol), has been that of one-man/one-woman, in a bonding that exists for life.  “’Til death do us part.”  My friend Carol (and most other otherwise sensible people) can therefore make the strong case that the one-man/one-woman lifetime relationship model is and always has been the “natural” model, and that correspondingly, any other type of interpersonal relationship is therefore “unnatural” and should likewise be discouraged.

For example, one of the most popular arguments against gay marriage is that it deviates from the “natural” one-man/one-woman model, making it easier to justify opposition.  Other relationship and sexual practices which “deviate” from the “natural” order of things, and which likewise justify opposition or suppression, include multiple sexual partners (or sexual promiscuity), polyamory (multiple love interests), and polygamy, (multiple spouses).  While certain societies have sporadically allowed polygamy, for the most part those arrangements have been among the upper classes, and virtually all have been harem-like one-man/multiple wife arrangements.

However, what if information came to light that the monogamy model wasn’t so natural after all?  What if it turned out that human beings, through biology, sociology, or both, were geared not so much for the aforementioned “one-man/one-woman-til-death-do-us-part” model, but that the “natural” order of things was in fact geared toward us having multiple sexual partners?  Multiple short-term relationships?  Yes, even homosexuality?

Consider, for example, the bonobo chimpanzee, (Pan Paniscus), native to the Republic of the Congo.  Both the bonobo and the more common chimpanzee are the closest genetic relatives to Homo Sapiens.  Bonobos were discovered only in 1928, and they’ve fascinated zoologists ever since; they make tools, walk upright as much as 25% of the time, have narrow shoulders, larger female breasts and longer legs than the common chimp, so that they bear a stronger physical resemblance to human beings than do common chimps.

However, it’s the bonobo social structure that has zoologists (and human sociologists) in a tizzy.  Unlike virtually every other primate, (including humans), bonobo society is largely matriarchal.  Not only that, bonobos are the only primate species besides humans that has sexual intercourse primarily face-to-face instead of via rear entry.  Take a deep breath, because this is where it gets really freaky.  Bonobos are also the only primates besides humans that have sex at times other than when the female is ovulating.  That’s right, bonobos can and do have sex whenever they feel like it, not just to propagate the species.  And bonobos feel like having sex a lot.  In lots of ways.  They’ll do it rear entry, female on top, anally, orally, homosexually, and even in orgies.  Bonobos use sex to defuse tensions within groups and to resolve disputes.  A bonobo mother can count on several male members in her group to help provide food for her baby, in part because she might have had intercourse with as many as a dozen males the day that infant was conceived.  Scientist characterize bonobo groups (usually of between 100 and 150 individuals) as being “extraordinarily peaceful” and an embodiment of the “make love not war” approach to societal living.

As astounding as the biological and sociological implications of bonobo behavior may be, the theological implications may be even more profound.  If homosexuality, for example, is an “unnatural act,” yet in the “natural world” of the bonobo (among other species) it occurs all the time, is it possible that maybe homosexuality isn’t so “unnatural” after all?  And what of the bonobo’s immortal soul, if it has one?  If homosexuality is still a sin, can the bonobo be punished for committing such a sinful act?

A reader named “Wes” at “Psychology Today’s” website blog, (full article is here: www.psychologytoday.com) who happens to be a Baptist minister in North Carolina weighed that question very carefully. Quoting Wes: “(H)omosexuality is a sin…but animals don’t sin…they don’t do righteous or unrighteous acts.  So…what am I to make of these animals that engage in homosexual activity?  It seems to me that this behavior reveals a sense of brokenness in the natural world….just as natural disasters aren’t normative, neither is homosexual activity within animals.  The creation itself is marred with the effects of sin (i.e. death).

A thoughtful, contemplative answer to be sure, but nevertheless confusing.  “A sense of brokenness?”  The natural world is itself…unnatural?

Call me crazy but for me the natural thing to do is to be open to the possibility that “nature,” like every other element of the human experience, needs to be constantly re-evaluated and possibly re-defined.  Whether we’re more like the hypersexual bonobo or more like fallen angels, at the very least we owe it to ourselves to consider the possibility that maybe our natural state isn’t quite what we’ve always imagined it to be.

By the way, my Lovely Wife’s surgery went just fine, thanks.  In fact, while she was being prepped, my Lovely Wife and one of the nurses spent several moments in good spirits, commenting on how Dr. Hottie managed to surround himself with equally-attractive interns such as Dr. Sixpack-Abs, Dr. Tight-buns, and the med student Dr. Bedroom-eyes.

At one point, another person walked by the examination room and my Lovely Wife asked, “Who was that?”

The nurse asked, “Who was who?  I didn’t see.”

I said, “You mean the hot-looking brunette with the spiked heels and the black skirt slit up the thigh and the tight short-sleeve blouse with the plunging neckline and the 36DD breasts in the black lace Victoria’s Secret push-up bra?  Probably a drug rep.”

The nurse asked, “How’d you notice all that?  She passed by the doorway and was gone in less than a second.”

I said, “Hey.  You’ve got your natural impulses.  I’ve got mine.”

P.S.  For a far more effective and scholarly examination of the “natural” state of human (and bonobo) sexuality, may I again recommend Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, published by Harper Collins. [see Rob Hardy’s excellent review of Sex at Dawn]  If you decide to buy this excellent book via Amazon, please do so through the link provided. Doing so allows ERWA to have a cut of the take, helping to keep this excellent website going.  Thanks.

J.T. Benjamin
October 2010

“All Worked Up” © 2010 J.T. Benjamin. All rights reserved.

Naked for Halloween: Gifts from the Universe, Revealing Fictions, and a Seasonal Ménage Trois

Another month has flown by and it’s time to step on the scale for my monthly novel weigh-in. Have I been a good girl this month? Well, I’ll admit, I’ve been no saint, but what use would that be for an erotica writer? On the other hand, I have generated some new prose and, more importantly, I’m definitely moving deeper into my story, to the extent that the Universe itself seems to be supplying inspiration.

For example, my novel’s protagonist is married to an older man but will suddenly find herself involved with one who is younger, a difference of thirty years. Thus far the “reality” of this was nothing more than a twist of plot in my preparatory outline. I hadn’t given the details of it much thought. Then last Friday, I walked into my yoga class to find my usual teacher—a charismatic, well-toned Santa Claus type—had arranged for a substitute, a man about thirty years younger. The new teacher had a slightly different take on the classic poses, and this made me more aware of ways to envision and enact the positions in my body. Not to mention, the younger man did some handstands and effortless flips that gave an acrobatic dazzle to a usually sedate class.

Yet I also missed the soothing familiarity of my regular teacher and was mildly annoyed he hadn’t warned us of the personnel switch. Then, about halfway through the class it hit me—this is just like my novel! My heroine will experience this same unsettling change with her lovers, in a more intimate way than I did of course, but now I could be her in a more visceral way as I registered the differences between mellow maturity and the edgy energy of youth.

That’s when I knew I’d reached a new level of engagement. There’s a point in every longer piece of writing—be it dissertation or novel—when everything in your life suddenly becomes relevant to your project. Halloween, the fiction writer’s favorite holiday, is another example. Forget the cheap candy, ever since I can remember, my favorite part of October was dressing up and trying on another identity, just as I’m doing in my novel. Yet this year I’m more keenly aware that hiding myself behind a costume actually reveals something about me that I don’t usually show to the world.

Dressing as a witch or ghoul helps us get in touch with our shadow, of course, but even if the connection isn’t direct, the choice of alter ego itself speaks. When I decided to be “Melanie” from Gone With the Wind or Anne Boleyn back in my elementary school days, I was also showing my girlish attraction to the romance of history. In later years I’ve gone for a sari, a Korean hanbok, an Austrian dirndl and a Venetian carnival get-up—all but an open announcement of my international Wanderlust.

In the cool-eyed, rational phase of outlining my plot and developing character sketches, my protagonist was most definitely “make believe.” Her job, her family and romantic history, her looks, her sexual preferences were, in factual terms, very different from mine. And yet, now that I’ve slipped into her shoes and begun to live her life out scene by scene, I feel us growing closer. I can’t quite say whether I’m becoming more like her or she’s becoming more like me. In any case, our moments of communion have taught me a few things about my fantasies and desires I don’t always see in “real life.” Thus, while tricking my reader with my fiction, I’m really treating them with an intimate glimpse into the real me.

Talk about scary.

While I’ve never written an erotic story that is 100% autobiographical—120% is the most I’ve managed—I will admit that my readers know more about my erotic self than the majority of people who’ve actually had sex with me. Now and then, that thought still makes me feel shy, even tempted to hide myself behind more veils of make-believe. But I quickly realize that tactic is futile. Every story, every image, every word speaks of the writer’s sensibility. As an avid reader, I’ve long been aware of the irony that I seek deeper truths about the human heart in fiction. But only recently have I realized that even when a writer is all dressed up in her characters’ clothes and fantasies, s/he is essentially naked.

Accordingly, for one (very) brief moment, I toyed with the idea of going naked on Halloween, my naughty parts modestly covered with a flowing, long-haired wig, so that when I was asked if I were Lady Godiva, I could reply, instructively, “No, I’m a writer.” If you found this idea scandalous, I assure you I quickly decided I’m too busy with my novel to shop for such a wig. If that decision disappoints, there’s always next year when I might dare to show an even braver and bolder side to the world than my current story does now.

After all, the writing life is nothing if not an unpredictable adventure.

As cooler weather descends, our bellies crave warming foods—especially true for naked writers—so I’ll leave you with a recipe for a filling dish that mingles a sweet and tender winter squash with sturdy grain and manly legumes. Bon appetit and may this Halloween reveal new and fascinating facets in your life and your writing!

A Very Revealing Barley, Butternut Squash and Black Bean Ménage à Trois
(Serves 6; adapted and corrupted from a recipe in Prevention, February 2005)

1 cup barley
1 14 oz. can chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped butternut squash (1 small or 1/2 medium)
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook barley in broth according to package directions, add water to broth if necessary. Meanwhile heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks and squash and cook, stirring occasionally until slightly softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add a Tablespoon of water if the vegetables seem dry and half of the parsley and cook 2-3 minutes longer. Transfer vegetables to a large bowl. Add barley, black beans, salt, remaining parsley, lemon juice and pepper and stir to combine. Serve warm or let cool to room temperature—it’s delicious either way.

Donna George Storey
October 2010

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2010 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 Tracey Shellito

Tracey ShellitoTracey Shellito is the author of the Crème de la Crime novel Personal Protection as well as e-book titles including Red Skin and The Scantlebury Demon. Aside from appearing in acclaimed anthologies such as Vamps, Locked and Loaded, Periphery and Best Lesbian Erotica 2008, her short stories have been submitted for awards including the revered Nebula.

Tracey took time from her busy schedule to talk to ERWA about her writing.

Ashley Lister: Personal Protection takes place in Blackpool, Lancashire, in the UK. This is a town where we both live so we’re both intimately acquainted with its unique qualities. How difficult was it recreating Blackpool in fictional form so that it would appeal to a public who aren’t familiar with the town’s distinctive charms? Did you find any challenges in writing about an area that is so different to any other place in the UK?

Tracey Shellito: I never thought of Blackpool as being especially different from anywhere else I’ve been. I do think there are a lot of deliberately fostered misconceptions about the place. Its press would have you believe it’s a fun, family holiday resort; seven miles of beach, deck chairs, kiss-me-quick hats, candy floss, smutty postcards, trips to the tower and the circus and rides on the big one by day while scoffing sticks of Blackpool rock, then pantos and pubs and fish and chips by night. While all of that is there on the surface, I wanted to show the Blackpool I know and have lived in for the better part of forty years. So I conjured up my loathing of the place while it’s full of tourists and dead during the miserable winter weather when the council closes everything so that we can’t use it. Most of it isn’t fiction. I adopted a documentary style when the town appears in the story. Real places and street names. Anyone who read the book will be able to walk around some of those places and say; “I read about this!” Only the Bird of Paradise lap dancing club is fictional. But that’s based on a mixture of several places that do exist. Under the glitter it’s all a bit seedy and tarnished. I didn’t set about making Blackpool appeal to the readers, I tried to let them feel what I feel about it. It’s the place I live. Not a place I like. A necessary evil. (Because it’s where my day job is.) I think that shines through in the writing. It’s not a book you’d give to someone to persuade them to come here. I don’t think the tourism board are using my work to promote the place – though one hotelier is!

Ashley Lister: According to your Amazon page, you’ve been published in: “crime, erotica, speculative fiction, western, supernatural mystery and poetry and have resolved never to be pigeonholed.” What is that makes you shy away from the prospect of being pigeonholed? And which genres do you intend to approach next to prevent the risk of this happening?

Tracey Shellito: Someone’s done their research! Yes, I have an Amazon Author Page, and (probably rather pretentiously) it does say that. I don’t think of it as shying away so much as a refusal to be defined as a writer of only one genre. I have all these ideas running through my head which don’t necessarily fit in with whatever the last thing was that I wrote! If you get stuck in a rut with just one kind of fiction it’s really difficult to have editors and fans take you seriously writing anything else. So far I’ve managed to push the boundaries and find acceptance in most of the above categories, my fans seem to have come with me and I’ve added new ones with each different thing I write. That’s great, and not something I was certain would happen. From a purely financial point of view, you can’t afford to be a master of only one trade anymore. You might love writing science fiction, but that may not be what is selling. While we’d all love to just write only what we want, if it’s a narrow field you might never see anything but rejection slips. Sometimes you have to diversify in order to make any money. Let’s face it, if all I wanted to do was see my work in print I could pay a vanity publisher. Like it or not, writing is a business, no matter how much we enjoy what we do. And you have to enjoy it to keep on doing it. I have honestly no clue what I’ll tackle next just not chick-lit or literary fiction. I’m pulp fiction and b-movie entertainment all the way.

Ashley Lister: I’ve read and enjoyed “Mind Games.” It’s a story about an empath and a telepath in a dystopian future. The imagery is stark and literate. The story is complex but not complicated. The two central characters are from well beyond the realm of the normal reader’s experience, yet you’ve managed to make them appear human and realistic. How did you go about humanising characters with these special abilities?

Tracey Shellito: Thanks for the compliment! This was a story I just woke up with in my head one morning and wrote down wholesale. (I told you I have a lot of weird shit running through my head, if I’m allowed to say that?) There was never any conscious decision about what the main protagonists would be like, they just sprung into being fully formed. When I came to read it back after I’d got it down and start the editing and refining process I realised that I’d just written them as ordinary people with… additions. Additions which – admittedly – take them beyond the normal. But people just like you and I. Who throw up at the idea of being inside a murderer’s twisted thoughts. Or who vividly remember their childhood baby food as a comforter. Who are phobic about open spaces. But sanguine about who and what they are because they can’t change any of that, except in small ways. Little rebellions. Exactly as we all do every day with the bits of ourselves and our lives that we don’t like. I think that made them easy to identify with, even while they are living a life so different from our experiences.

Ashley Lister: I understand that, aside from being a prolific author, you also hold down a job working in the civil service. How do you find time to work in regular employment and write? Do you find that your day-to-day work influences your fiction?

Tracey Shellito: How do I do a day job and write? Easy, I have no social life and I don’t sleep! Seriously, you know yourself how time consuming keeping up the websites, blogging and then actually writing, editing (and mentoring protégés) can be. Somehow along with all that I work 37 hours a week, spend around another 28 hours a week computer gaming (Mass Effect 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction most recently) at least an hour and a half every weekday reading, catch maybe an hour of TV every other night… It all adds up. I suppose it helps that I’m basically an insomniac. But every so often I end up drinking a can of Rock Star (energy drink) to get me through the working day then crash for ten hours the next night before I start the cycle all over again. And in answer to the second part of your question, yes, my day job does have a certain amount of influence on what I write. I’ve worked in the financial sector for the better part of the last 20 years – in one of the few institutions not hurt by the banking crisis – it keeps you politically and socially aware. And my current post is hardly a happy one (I’m working in a death claims department) so in order not be let the job get you down you find ways to think your own happy thoughts. I’m just the exception to most of the other folk in that I put mine down on paper and sell them afterwards. So even if I’m not utilizing the quirky behaviour of somebody I work with in my next character, or adding unusual names from our clients to my ‘names bible’ list to be recombined with something else to employ at a later date, I’m actively forcing myself not to get depressed by the work I’m doing by taking some flight of fancy that will become the next story. (And still getting 196% output. What can I say, I’m the classic over achiever. Me and the Energiser Bunny have a lot in common.)

Ashley Lister: What advice would you give to any aspiring writers reading this interview?

Tracey Shellito: Write what you know, then twist it 45 degrees, it’ll make a great story. Get a completely unrelated person to read your work, one who hates that genre. They’ll be the harshest critic you’ll ever have and you’ll be prepared for anything the industry throws at you later. Develop a thick skin early on if you want to get anywhere in this business. Listen to what your reader says and adapt your work accordingly. Don’t be precious about it. It’s not the Holy Grail. Re-write until it’s right! You’ve got a word processor, hack that beautiful (but unnecessary) piece of prose out and paste it in another file. You can always use it somewhere else another day. Read endlessly. Know your market then you won’t get rejected because you sent Cyber Punk to a Steam Punk anthology! Be prepared to change and adapt anything whether it be the language you employ, the gadgets you’ve incorporated, or the title you laboured for hours to choose. Do you want to sell this work or don’t you? It won’t change the basic core of the story and it might make it even better. And when you’re rich and famous if you want to go back and release it the way it was you can – if you can stand it read it again – you’ll be surprised how much you’ve grown up and improved. Once you’ve got the basics of grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence construction down and have something interesting to say, writing the story is easy. Selling it is hard. Brutal even. So my final advice would be never give up.

Ashley Lister: What projects are you currently working on? And where can readers go if they want to find out more about your work?

Tracey Shellito: I’m currently having a break from writing to edit some of my longer works (a werewolf novel and the sequels and prequels to Personal Protection) while I review some books for Lethe Press. Readers can find out about my latest works on my Live Journal blog which is now being syndicated on Amazon and for links to this, latest interviews, some short free fiction and even some photographs of the covers and me (god forbid!) please visit my website: www.traceyshellito.moonfruit.com

Ashley Lister
September 2010

“Between the Lines” © 2010 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.


I love public transportation. Lately I don’t have many opportunities to use it, but I’ve always had a fondness for subway trains, buses, trolleys and such. I learned early in life how to navigate the oldest subway system in America, back when the subway cars had concrete floors and wooden slat benches, and air conditioning was pulling down a window and letting the stale tunnel air blow through the car.

Various public transit vehicles are theaters on wheels where anyone can become adept at people reading. That’s putting a story to every face on board. It’s also where a male of any age can surreptitiously appreciate a pretty girl without appearing to be a creep – unless, of course, she catches you and you must avert your gaze, always too late. But your embarrassment only lasts as long as the next stop when you both blend into the anonymity of the crowd. And to be fair, I expect women do their own share of subway surveillance of their fellow passengers, especially the more athletic males in their muscle shirts. So, everything evens out on the omnibus, whether it be on rails or asphalt. Everyone gets a chance to look at everyone else.

There are of course genuine pervs, almost always men, who aren’t content to let their imagination complete the canvass presented by a pretty girl. They are compelled to touch, and their efforts range from the subtle to the startling. A friend told me of an encounter she had on a crowded trolley just as it was pulling in to a major hub station. She was standing near the door, preparing to exit when she felt a hand slide between her thighs and clamp on to her behind. At the same time she felt a rush of air indicating her skirt had risen as high as the offender’s hand.

She was so astounded she couldn’t react. The creep bolted when the door opened. And when she looked back over her shoulder, there was a pudgy soul, his face flushed and his mouth a perfect ‘O’ who had apparently witnessed the entire assault and was already filing it away for masturbatory relief at a time convenient to him.

The system has since acquired its own police force that rigorously pursues pervs with a special unit that employs attractive female officers as bait. It has become a game among passengers trying to pick them out of the crowd. It’s a bit more difficult in the summer when the standard attire of young women includes shorts, gossamer sun dresses and minis, halter tops or just bandeaus. But if you spot a pretty girl in the winter with denim shorts and tights with a cropped jacket, she’s probably a cop. You’d think a perv with average intelligence would figure this out, but pervs don’t think with their brains. The transit police haul in as many during the winter months as they do the warmer seasons.

It has gotten me thinking about the practice of using women as bait.

I work in a sort of urban no-man’s land between Chinatown and a recently much-gentrified neighborhood of elegant restaurants and bars. It’s an area where street hookers ply their dangerous trade since they’ve been rousted away from the livelier, touristy areas of the city.

Forget that whole ‘Pretty Woman’ myth. A street whore is one of the saddest, stomach-churning sights you’ll ever encounter. It’s hard to tell their age, because they all look old and worn, probably beyond their years. And while some might try to glam themselves up to attract customers, they’re just wasting their time, because the johns aren’t looking for a ‘pretty woman.’ They’re looking for a part, most likely a mouth, occasionally a pussy. They aren’t much different from the women, who are all jonesing for their next fix. Except the john’s fix is rapid relief, and perhaps even the element of danger and sleaze, the cheap thrill of doing something illegal, something dirty.

They’re risking a lot. If nailed, they are looking at public humiliation, a fine and the possibility of jail time, although that is usually substituted with a very public community service, like picking up trash, including used condoms in a kids’ playground. And in my state, if you’re caught soliciting from your car, you lose the car.

The local constabulary from time to time also employs attractive female officers to entice these losers into their net. In the summer months it used to be entertaining to sit outside on your break and watch the stings go down. The bait was always the same. A tall statuesque brunette in hot pants and heels, showing lots of thigh, and her companion, a slightly shorter blonde in a mini with its hem somewhere around the why bother zone. These ladies were gorgeous. Either one of these officers could have graced the cover of Vogue or Maxim.

So we couldn’t figure out how they managed to catch so many flies. Anyone with half a brain could tell these ladies never did any time on the street. But then, like the subway pervs, these guys weren’t thinking with their brains.

As soon as the deal was made the guy was swarmed by four or five cops who put him in the paddy wagon that pulled up at about the same time as the tow truck.

It’s been said that the prostitute carries the brunt of consequence for plying her trade, and that johns get off too easy. I think they’re two sides of the same coin. A damaged life comes up no matter how you toss it. What desperation drives a woman to sell her mouth out on the street? What compulsion, craving, and self-loathing drives a guy to seek them out?

Whatever reason you come up with, it has nothing to do with sex.

Robert Buckley
September 2010

“Cracking Foxy” © 2010 Robert Buckley. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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