Call me wanton and fickle—you wouldn’t be the first—but since last February, I think I’ve changed my mind about which holiday takes special honors in my erotica writer’s heart. Back in the midst of winter, surrounded by heart-shaped boxes of bonbons and naked Cupids, I might have surrendered to marketing madness and claimed Valentine’s Day as the holiday that celebrates eros and by extension the valiant efforts of smut writers the world over who help inspire it. We all need a little inspiration to keep us going through those cold February days.
But now, as summer passes and the afternoon light fades noticeably earlier, I realize that my celebration of St. Valentine was mere lip service. For deep down I know that the true writer’s holiday comes at the end of October.
Yes, I’m talking Halloween, a time when the boundary between our daytime selves and our nighttime fears and fantasies softens enough to be perfectly permeable for one brief day. It’s a time when adult and child alike are allowed to confront our shadows, dance with them, make our fantasies come alive. In other words, the rest of the world gets to do what erotica writers do all the time. Admit it, don’t we have the best job in the world?
Once considered a children’s holiday, Halloween used to mean one short aisle in Woolworth’s was turned over to acetate kiddy costumes with sweat-inducing plastic masks packed in paper boxes, with a few pumpkin and black cat paper cut-outs thrown in for decoration. In recent years, however, marketers have tapped an apparently lucrative adult market with Halloween superstores that spring to life in abandoned retail spaces every year after Labor Day. There you’ll find all sorts of gruesome decorations for a terrifyingly gory Halloween party—bloody decapitated corpses, candy bowls with automated grasping claws—as well as every sort of wig, rubber mask and costume you can imagine. And, if you wander by the “Leg Avenue” section, you’ll see it’s not just violence. The focus on the “adult” (you know, “sex”) part of adult play has been pushed to new limits.
Remember last month when I discussed the lingering popularity of female stereotypes of virgin and whore? [Good Girls Gone Bad] Well, the Halloween stores are definitely committed to giving the bad girl her proper gear for full self-expression. A recent survey of the available costumes yielded the following options—all involving mini-skirts and plunging necklines.
Nun (from an order that wears mini-skirts)
Scandalous Pirate (who wears a mini-skirt to do her mischief)
Naughty school girl (who wears a red sweater instead of a white midriff blouse)
And last, but not least, the classic French maid
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That it’s fascinating how these costumes transform young scholars and working women in the sense of a professional, salaried employee into the wink-wink definition of a working girl who is endlessly available for sex? Okay, maybe you were being more practical, not to say lascivious, because it’s also true that Halloween superstores are the perfect place to supplement your wardrobe for between-the-sheets role play (search the regular aisles for boy pirate, convict and priest costumes to dress the rest of the cast). By the way, if you’re patient, you can stock up on November 1st at half-price. That’s what I always do—especially for the “Leg Avenue” thigh-hi’s and other frilly accessories. Selling at the price of what your typical erotic story brings, I’d rather have two for the price of one.
Truth be told, if you haven’t sold any stories recently, I’ve found it’s not really necessary to invest in the actual costumes, although it is reassuring to have a few costumes laid away for inspiration. Erotica writers have active imaginations and sometimes it’s just enough to close your eyes and the perfect outfit is yours. In fact, in some cases, the imagination may well prove superior to the “real” thing.
Back when I started getting more daring and creative in bed—right about the time I started writing erotica—my partner and I decided to try out some role-playing (at the risk of sounding pedestrian, “regular” sex had been pleasurable enough up to that point). At first we brought the beginner’s earnest sense of the literal to the game. When he told me about his Avon Lady fantasy, I duly went out to our front porch with a little bag and rang the doorbell—then promptly burst out laughing before I could say “Avon calling.”
For my first choice—wearing a skirt but no panties to the library and distracting a scholar from his studies with my casual, open-legged lounging—we acted out the scene blow-by-blow, including a rather stilted dialogue that we valiantly struggled through to get to the good part, a furtive coupling under the dining room (a.k.a. the reading room) table. Eventually we discovered that for us it was enough to set the scene with a little steamy description while lying comfortably in bed and skip to the hands-on seduction—role playing lite, if you will. All of which is to say, depending on your tastes, you don’t have to play the whole football game to have a hot time with the lady referee.
While dressing up can definitely spice up your love life all on its own, this month’s column got me thinking that there are other reasons erotica writing and Halloween go together like apples and caramel, pumpkin and cinnamon, witches and vibrating brooms. For me, one of the pleasures of reading a good book is the chance to slip into someone else’s skin, to be another person for a little while. When I write, I do the same thing with even more intensity. I become my characters to the extent it really seems that strange blood flows through my veins and I do and say things I couldn’t even imagine within the bounds of my own life.
Halloween’s chief charm, of course, is that it offers us the chance to be someone else for a night, which is why you’ll find me chowing down on Baby Ruth and Butterfinger candy bars begged from my kids’ plastic pumpkins on October 31st, instead of my usual heart-healthy, single-origin organic dark chocolate. But a little musing over some apple cider got me thinking that there is another time we’re allowed to become someone else or rather get in touch with a different self lurking within—that is, when we’re having (good) sex. Good sex doesn’t always take place in the darkness, but like a candle-lit Halloween evening frolic, the rules and boundaries are definitely loosened, if not overturned. It might take some stair climbing and a few words of hungry pleading, but more often than not, with a little persistence, you’ll get your sweet reward.
Speaking of sweets, I can’t allow an October column to end without mention of the luscious bounty of the fall harvest, another kind of indulgent change the season offers our appetites. While I love summer melons and stone fruit, green beans and tomatoes, I still find my mouth watering at the sight of crisp local apples, crunchy yet juicy Asian pears which I first grew to love in Japan, fresh walnuts and plump orange-fleshed squashes of all sorts (again Japanese kabocha are a super-sweet delicacy that is becoming deservedly popular).
And yet, I have to admit that autumn brings out a certain nostalgia for retro treats from my childhood. Like my temporary indulgence in cheap candy, chilly evenings seem to cry out for a piece of good old pumpkin pie made with the canned stuff. Talk about a bad girl! But prudence and indulgence can also go together if you plan things right—and of course, I’m going to tell you how. So put on your half-price nun costume and whip up some of my low fat (no pie crust), consequence-free pumpkin pudding to enjoy by the light of your jack-o-lantern. Then take your sweetie to a comfortable spot to discover the pleasures of your dark sides. Write about it afterwards, if you’re so inspired. After all, this is our holiday.
Low Fat, Consequence-Free (But Still Delicious) Pumpkin Pudding
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
A smidgen (or half-pinch) of ground cloves
A smidgen (or half-pinch) of salt
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons unsweetened, canned pumpkin puree (half a 15 oz can)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks and beat lightly with a handheld electric mixer. Add sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. (Note: for small amounts of spices I use one of those sets of with three very small spoons for a dash, pinch and smidgen, available at most cookware stores). Mix at medium speed until the egg yolk mixture is thickened and yellow, about 4 minutes.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk until small bubbles appear around the rim. Gradually beat 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, then add the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan. Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the pudding is gently boiling and as thick as mayonnaise, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat.
In a small, heavy-bottomed skillet, cook the pumpkin over high heat, stirring constantly, until some liquid has evaporated and it looks slightly dry, about 3 minutes. Add the puree to the pudding along with the butter and vanilla and stir until the butter melts. Transfer the pudding to a medium bowl or six individual-sized cups and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Refrigerate until very cold, about 4 hours. The pudding will keep in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
Donna George Storey
“Cooking up a Storey” © 2008 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.