Monday, December 31, 2012

Remember This

By Lisabet Sarai


Dear Lisabet in the future -

How far in the future am I imagining? Ten years? Thirty? Fifty? Perhaps you'll revisit these journal pages more than once, at different stages in your life, trying to recapture this time of youthful discovery.

What will you (I) be like in a decade, or in half a dozen? I rather assume you'll be more confident than I am, less riddled with doubt and scarred by envy, more satisfied with yourself. By that time you will hopefully have realized the futility of constantly comparing yourself to others and finding yourself lacking. Obviously you will be wiser. I've spent enough time around older, even elderly, people to know that wisdom does often come with age and experience.

I worry, though, that too much experience may dull your senses and emotions. Will you lose the ability to feel the thrill of new insights, fierce revelations like those that overwhelm me almost daily during this crazy period in my life? Will you brush off the wild passion and transcendent pleasure I describe as merely the effects of hormones or marijuana? Looking back at your twenty-six year old self, will you shake your head in embarrassment and tell your friends, “I was such an awful slut.”?

Don't. You know more than I, have done more, achieved more, but still I have some advice for you. Remember this.

Remember the electrifying feel of first skin. Remember the exultation of being joined, the richness of emptiness filled. Remember the telepathic communication – don't shrug it off as mere fantasy. At least be willing to consider the possible existence of psychic links potentiated by carnal connection. As for me, I'm convinced that sex, God and magick are three names for the same thing. I'm not a slut. I'm a spiritual seeker.

Remember that love lies at the very core of your being – yours and that of everyone else. Even a stranger has lessons to teach, if you're willing to learn. Remember, if you can, how it feels to be open to it all, even the pain, to give and receive as part of a virtuous, outrageous circle.

Of course, you won't recall the physical sensations. Even now, just hours later, I can't conjure them here on the page. Sense impressions are ephemeral, impossible to capture in words. All you can do is hint and suggest, using analogy and metaphor, roughing out the shape of the experience and allowing the reader's memory to fill in the details.

I hope, though, that you'll remember the joy bubbling in your chest as you go about your daily business after a night with your lover. Remember the awe when you pushed past another barrier, connecting more deeply than ever before. Remember your amazement and pride, admiring the fading marks from his crop on your rear. Never forget the devastating flood of tenderness when you first pursed your lips around her trembling nipple.

The intensity will fade. Of course it will. In fact, sometimes I'm not sure how long I can bear it myself, one ecstatic day after the next. I'm too aroused, sometimes, to sleep. Poems pour out of me like blood. I gaze into the face of a lover and I see God. They say a mortal cannot bear such glory.

Keep the thrill alive, if you can, however you can. Tell the stories to your new lovers. Write them for strangers. Read this journal, page after page scrawled during the times when I'm alone, or while my lover is lost in dreams, and let it rekindle the flames of memory.

Passions become muted over time. Stories told too often ossify into stereotypes. Fight these trends, if you're able. I can't know what you will experience, as your body ages and your mind and heart mature. Tonight, though, if only for a moment, I'd like you to feel what I feel, know what I know – the awful, holy beauty of the flesh.

And even if everything dwindles to stale shreds of recollection, do not, at least, forget the truth – that these days, and these encounters, are a rare blessing. Old people become conservative, I've heard. Perhaps there will come a time when you're tempted to repudiate me, to label me as foolish, extreme, or even wicked. Promiscuous. Perverse.

Listen to your heart, Lisabet. Remember. You know that, no matter what society says, I (we?) did the right thing at the right time. I have no regrets, and neither should you.

By the time you read this, I'll be gone. I write, like the ancients, to share the knowledge I've gleaned with my descendents – you, the many Lisabets who may read this over the years. Perhaps you'll find my scribblings quaint and fantastic, myths from a lost past. I beg of you, don't dismiss my stories as the ramblings of an overactive imagination. Believe. And remember.

Friday, December 28, 2012

My TBR Pile

by Jean Roberta

Where to start? My to-be-reviewed pile of books grew higher during the past semester, when I had to grade more and longer student assignments than ever before (partly because of the new rules of the committee that vets course outlines). I managed to read several review books on the bus to and from the university where I teach.

I recently sent my review of Coal to Diamonds, a biography of punk-rocker Beth Ditto, to The Gay and Lesbian Review. Apparently this book was written “with Michelle Tea,” a current chronicler of the urban lesbian working class. The book itself is marvellously clear and outspoken about the culture of Arkansas, where Ditto grew up (and where the abuse of women is described as both rampant and invisible as abuse), but the two names on the cover are confusing. Who, exactly, is the “I” who tells the story? Luckily, anyone who wants to hear Beth Ditto’s actual voice can easily do that, since she is a singer.

Lethe Press is one of the generous publishers that sometimes send me piles of books, including unedited review copies weeks before the official release date, in the hope of getting them reviewed. How to Greet Strangers by Joyce Thompson is a forthcoming must-read from Lethe, and I definitely plan to post a review of it wherever I can.

In the first paragraph, the narrator introduces the reader to his world:

“Faith’s a tide. A poet said that and I read it in English class in my Freshman year at UC [University of California] Santa Cruz. I think it’s true.”

Here Archer Barron, the unusual narrator of this novel, comments on his loss of faith in the African gods of Santeria, a widespread religion that first came to the Western Hemisphere on slave ships. Archer’s madrina (godmother/mentor/priestess) has just been murdered, and Archer is one of the suspects. Even before her death, he was mourning his loss of faith in what she taught.

Archer is clearly referring to “Dover Beach” by English poet Mathew Arnold, first published at the height of the Victorian Age, in 1867. The speaker of Arnold’s poem gazes at the English Channel and laments the current state of the world:

“The Sea of Faith was once, too, at the full,/And round earth’s shore lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled./But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,/Retreating, to the breath of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear/And naked shingles of the world.”

Archer Barron finds himself pulled into the mystery of his godmother Michaela’s gruesome death, not only to protect himself but to help others who also had faith in her, and who were also victimized. Archer, as a gay man who loves to do “drag,” and who can pass as a woman in public when he chooses to, identifies his various feminine identities as parallel to the loas (gods, spirits) who possess the faithful during ceremonies of the religion he still loves.

The multiplicity of identity is a theme that runs through this complex murder mystery. The burning question at the heart of the investigation is: Who was Madrina Michaela, and what did she really believe in? Archer remembers her as cold and controlling, and he (along with others of his “house”) is queasy about her advice to her godchildren to pay for expensive rituals rather than medical treatment for serious illnesses.

After her death, it is discovered that “Michaela,” originally known as Michael Ann, was not exactly who she claimed to be (duh), but does this mean she was a con artist and nothing more? For that matter, as Archer’s own life is unpeeled like the layers of an onion, questions about dating ethics in the gay community and the spread of AIDS arise; how did things get this bad, and who is responsible?

Throughout the plot, the presence of the Pacific Ocean off the California coast (or Yemaya, sea-goddess “mother” of the narrator and the author) can be heard and felt, much like the rhythmic sound of waves that runs through the verses of a Victorian poet.

This novel, like all the major characters, has more than one identity, and it stretches the definition of “mystery” or “whodunit.”

Meanwhile, for a complete change of pace, I’ve been reading My Mother’s Wars by Lillian Faderman, an incredibly detailed reconstruction of the life of the author’s Latvian-born Jewish mother who immigrated (by carriage, train and ship) alone to New York in 1914, at age 17. Granted, it was arranged that she would live with relatives, at least until she could find work (and, hopefully, fame) as a dancer. The lure of the stage turned out to be deceptive, and one of the questions repeatedly raised by the author is: Who in that time would allow a teenage girl to travel to a foreign country alone, and why? The disturbingly probable answer is that the girl’s loving parents wanted to send their daughter away from the anti-Semitic violence and limited life-choices she faced at home.

The author, who is probably best-known for her study of “romantic friendships” among women of the past, Surpassing the Love of Men, and her own autobiography, Naked in the Promised Land, stops short of trying to reconstruct the sex life of her parents, “Mary Lifton” (her mother’s anglicized name) and Moishe (or Morris) Federman. Moishe was apparently irresistible to Mary, but he repeatedly told her that he couldn’t afford to marry her yet. At length, Mary realized that he never would, and she bravely chose to raise their love-child without him. This story would be heartbreaking even without the author’s brief news flashes at the beginning of each chapter (like the newsreels shown at the beginnings of movies in the 1930s) about the buildup to war and the Holocaust in Europe.

In due course, my review of My Mother’s Wars will be sent to The Gay & Lesbian Review.

I really need to find time to write a review of Screaming Yellow by Rachel Green of Derbyshire, England, another murder mystery that stretches the definition of the genre. To get a taste of it, read Rachel’s two spoofs of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” in Ashley Lister’s post on the Erotic Readers and Writers blog, here:
www.erotica-readers.blogspot.com. Our own Lisabet has also written a kinky spoof of the classic poem.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Books of 2012 and the Books to Come

by Kristina Wright

I'm writing this almost a week before it will be posted because I'm scheduled to blog at Oh Get A Grip! on December 26-- and I imagine I'll still be wiped out from the Christmas merriment (and deaf from a dozen different noise-making toys) to blog. And so, I'm afraid this is going to be a short piece from me. Because, at this very moment, I'm not reading anything.

I know. It boggles the mind.

I'll spare you the woeful lament of the writer/editor/mother who has no time to read. Honestly, when I'm engrossed in a new book, I just find the time. Usually, when I should be sleeping. But lately I've been reading books for review (or playing too many games of Words With Friends) and haven't picked up a book to read for pleasure in the past month or so. That will change-- probably by the time this post goes live. 'Tis the season, after all, and the people who love me know I love books.

Despite my lack of reading so far this holiday season, I have read more for pleasure this year than I have in the past several years. I now own both a Nook (the original, non-backlit version, which I love for that almost-real-book feel) and a Nexus 7 (on which I can read across platforms, a wonderful thing when I get giftcards for Kindle and Nook) and both have gotten their share of use. I also read "real" books, and have read both paperbacks and hardcovers this year. I'm an equal opportunity reader.



Two books on my Christmas wishlist that I'm likely to be reading this week are Stephen King's 11/22/63 and Bruce, the new biography of Bruce Springsteen by Peter Ames Carlin. I'm a huge fan of King and Springsteen, so both seem like good end-of-the-year reads. (Though I imagine I'll be reading 11/22/63 well into the new year...)

I am excited about all of the books I will read in 2013-- including the books I'm already anticipating (two of the young adult trilogies I'm reading will have their third book released in the coming year) and the books that aren't even on my radar yet. I love literary surprises, don't you? I look to my reading friends to recommend their favorite reads and my writing friends to write books that I know I'm going to love. But I still enjoy discovering new authors, as I did this year with Gillian Flynn and Melanie Gideon.

Whatever you're reading this holiday season, wherever you may live, I wish you joy and peace in the coming year. Please share the books you love, both the reader and the writer will thank you.

**Addendum 12/26: I did get the Bruce Springsteen biography for Christmas, but  a couple of days ago I downloaded Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild and I was hooked from the prologue. I've read several essays by Cheryl and excerpts of Wild and her honesty and storytelling ability blows me away. This seems like the perfect year to close out 2012.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Very Naugthy Things

by Kathleen Bradean

Sorry I'm so late to post. I'm on the road.

I meant to talk about Perfume by Patrick Suskind this week, but I watched a Doctor Who marathon instead of finishing it. And I delivered a manuscript to my publisher. So I wasn't lazy, I simply had other priorities. However, if I really like a book, I'd never let something like a deadline or even Doctor Who keep me away from it. (the TV show. Doctor Who in real life would be an entirely different matter)

As time ticked down, I thought maybe I'd talk about The Lover by Marguerite Duras. I read it recently and it was okay, but nothing I'd rave about or even suggest to other readers. As you might guess from the types of books I'm reading, I wanted something transcendent, something about the nature of desire and the horrible things we do under its spell. I may have to return to Bataille's Story of the Eye.

So this is cheating, but I guess I'm going to have to talk about a movie. Not just any movie. The Night Porter, a 1974 film directed by Liliana Cavani, written by Tim Kallinis. I've wanted to watch this movie since I first heard about it in the 1980s but just now got the chance. Plot summary: Thirteen years after the end of WWII, a woman returns to Vienna with her husband and recognizes the night porter of their hotel as her former lover/tormentor from a prison camp. She leaves her husband and moves in with the Nazi. They want to play out their fantasies; his Nazi pals want to make sure the past stays buried.

This movie is going to send your wrongness meter pegging in so many ways. It's like everything dark and corrupt that lurks in the back of your brain and turns you on. Stuff you'd never admit to your lover no matter how much you trusted him/hir/her. Maybe having a female director elevated this story, or maybe she was the only one with enough guts to touch on some of this very demented stuff. Despite the lack of explicit sex, this movie, this story, has a seductive pull for students of eroticism. Humanity, stripped and exposed, is not easy to look at, but it's understandable.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Getting Mine

Since today is the apocalypse and my life is about to be snuffed out by a meterorite/rogue planet/solar flare/sudden wave of zombies/the four horseman/a race of underground dwelling potato people, I should probably talk about some inescapably beautiful book that summed up the course of human existence so perfectly I wept over every page.

But instead I've recently been reading all the Twilight books, so I don't know what to tell you.

I knew I'd feel bad discussing my reading habits here. Lisabet and Garce have already spoken of their books, and revealed their amazing literary tastes and their total intelligence. Whereas I am going to talk about a teenage girl who has a nice vampire boyfriend. I should probably redo my masters degree in literature while bound and dipped upside down in a vat of custard, just to make up for this transgression.

Or at least, that's the prevailing thought on Twilight.

Anywhere you go, Twilight is the world of literature's punching bag. Hell, it's not just the world of literature. Pretty much everyone and their mothers is in on the pummeling, from reputable news sources to some hipster you saw on a blog one time, talking about how offended they are that Twilight is so popular when everyone should be reading A Depressing Tome About Almost Dying.

Of course, the actual recommended title is completely different to that. But I feel making up a stupid title gives my opinion of said hipsters some tone, in this discussion.

Because...I don't know. I kind of find it ridiculous when people are all too cool for school and oh I'm so different and yes, of course I think Twilight is mindless pap - aren't I smart? And most of the time, my answer to that is...no, I don't think you're smart. I think the easy dismissal of popular culture, of books that have so struck a nerve that a book based on them has smashed records, is kind of silly.

But don't get me wrong - if you genuinely hated Twilight, there's nothing bad about that either. It's just the posing, pretentious feeling that you have to hate it. If you don't hate it, there's something wrong with you. You're thick, you're a teenage girl, you have no taste, etc. You wouldn't know a good book if it hit you in the face.

When the truth is: I do know a good book. I don't even have to have it hit me in the face. I can see it from here, with my years of studying and reading and being immersed in the world of writing. I understand the craft, the structures, the meanings, the subtexts.

And I like Twilight.

Of course, I understand that it isn't filled with incredible prose. I know, rationally, that they are books without conflict - that the protagonist is offered everything she wants and needs far too easily, culminating in her having a baby that defies all supernatural laws and never cries, shits, or needs her to breastfeed it. The books are flawed, without a doubt.

But who says we can't enjoy something that's flawed? I enjoy things that are supposedly perfect. Why can't I enjoy loads of stuff about these books? I like the fact that they are an unmitigated escapist female fantasy. I love the fact that for the first time in human history, something so driven by women is the top of the charts, the word on everyone's lips, the only thing that matters.

And when people try to sneer and dismiss it out of hand, you know what that feels like to me? Like the same dismissal women have been given for thousands of years. What women like doesn't matter. It isn't proper, it isn't normal. Women should feel bad for enjoying their fantasies, because their fantasies are all based around emotion and silliness and other rubbish stuff.

Well I say fook that. I see enough of that levelled at the romance genre every day. And I sometimes wonder, if the world was reversed...if we valued emotion over intellect, would we be so quick to talk trash about books like Twilight? If women were the victors of history, maybe such ripe contempt wouldn't be everywhere. We value what we value, a lot of the time, because of someone somewhere saying we should.

And that someone is usually a man. Or at least, it has been for a long, long time. Now that it's not always a man...now that 50 Shades of Gray can sell millions of copies almost by stealth...I'm not sure the world is going to continue in that same way. And personally, I'm glad.

I'm glad about Twilight. I'm glad my fantasies and hopes and feelings matter - that it's okay for me to say yeah, I'd love to be swept off my feet by a vampire. So what? Why is that any different to some balding middle aged schlub getting a hottie blonde in Sideways?

Because let's face it, that's why the critics ate that movie up. Don't look me in the eye and tell me something is high art, when really it's just something you desperately want to happen because you're a middle aged schlub, too. We all want our escapes, our flights of fantasy, our hidden desires made flesh. Men have just been getting theirs for a lot longer.

So next time you want to dismiss Twilight out of hand, maybe consider that. Isn't it time that women were allowed to get theirs?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

“Gaijin” by Remittance Girl






















I first heard of this book by way of its controversy, and even notoriety long before I was able to find a copy, which is still difficult. The controversy comes from women especially, many of whom were offended by a graphic rape scene. But one woman in particular, a violent rape victim felt healed and even vindicated by this story and sought out the author to tell her so.

Remittance Girl derives her name from a novel by George Orwell called "Burma Days" and Orwell's reference to that black sheep of a family who is often pushed off to the margins to protect the family from social embarrassment. Erotica writers like Remittance Girl, much more influenced by Georges Bataille and Pauline Reage than by formula romance writers are very much off on the side of the literary world, inhabiting that underground independence that despises formula. More known as a short storiest than a novelist, Remittance Girl's works have been scattered through the Internet and anthologies where she has become something of a dark legend.

"Jennifer awoke to a dull throbbing pain in her chest. She opened her eyes to blackness and felt an immediate flare of panic. She wasn't at home, this wasn't her room, her bed. The pain in her breasts, a hot, pulsing, generalized ache was all that distracted her from the strangeness she found herself in. Someone, something had hurt her."

(from "Gaijin” Remittance Girl)


Jennifer is a "gaijin", the old Japanese word for "foreigner". It is a term like "gringo" which can mean either affection or contempt. Either way it means "not one of us". The gaijin in this case is something of a remittance girl herself, a rebellious white American girl who has come to Japan with romantic notions of Kurosawa movies, the Floating World and the elegance of old Asian culture, a way of thinking not that different than immigrants who arrive in America with hopes of striking it rich. She finds herself foundering, sinking into the hard life of a stranger in a strange land. As white American girls are something sexually exotic she has landed a job as a bar girl in a restaurant much patronized by Yakuza gangs. Jennifer is not a prostitute but inhabits that odd space in-between a hooker and a sophisticated geisha whose job it is to push expensive drinks, be witty and entertaining and skillfully flatter the insecure egos of powerful, violent men.

This is a uniquely Japanese skill and Jennifer is not good at it. Gaijin in this case means an American girl who stubbornly dislikes flattering the undeserving and steers clear of serving tables seated with gangster assholes who expect more than their due of her besides handing them their drinks. This leads to an incident of insult-by-indifference towards an especially cruel Yakuza boss named Shindo and after an innocent drink with her frightened co-workers she wakes up bound and painful in a dark room. Her warrior's journey through hell has begun.

Yes, as the controversy goes there is a rape scene, not that Shindo sees it that way. And yes it is cruel. This isn't old school bodice ripping romance novel rape by handsome pirates or the current popular fantasy rape of BDSM novels. This is the real thing, familiar to women in third world civil wars and deserted parking garages late at night. Underlying it is a very strange rape of the soul. When Jennifer bluntly tells Shindo what he has done and defiantly despises him for it his defense is - so why didn't you kill yourself to stop it? This is an alien bushido way of thinking that simply would not occur to a modern American woman. This is what it means in Shindo's world to be "Gaijin".

Jennifer's journey is ultimately one of person-hood. In the beginning she is expected to be an exotic bar girl, a manga book male fantasy of a woman. When she crosses that line and is kidnapped to sexual servitude to a monster she is still regarded as sub human, as a thing, a buffet of erogenous orifices and most of all disposable. As each emotional outrage is committed on her she begins to change and push back, asserting herself against Shindo whose humiliations underlie an expectation that a true woman should defend her honor by suicide. As she journeys from struggling for survival to struggling for person-hood she blossoms from a beaten down immigrant to something of a modern samurai.

I do love this novel. I love it for its audacity. I love it for the genuinely transgressive nature of its eroticism. It has that rare quality of boldly honest humanity on the dark fringes that only a literary black sheep, a remittance girl, can conceive.

******************

Along with Remittance Girl's novel I've been reading some of my writing notebooks.  I read a lot of craft books and I have four volumes of hand written notebooks, indexed by subject on the elements of fiction craft.  I'm a craft freak.  In fact Lisabet has invited me to add a blog to the ERWA site (Erotica Readers and Writers).  I wasn't sure at first if I could, what would I write in addition to the Grip?  It occurs to me that my ideas about craft are heading in an interesting direction - interesting to me at least - and I've decided to call my brave new blog "Confessions of a Craft Freak" and discuss the elements of fiction craft, a different subject each month.  I don't know if anyone will read it, I don't have that many readers anyway, but it will give me a chance at least to think out loud and organize my philosophy of writing craft.  I'm looking forward to that.


Monday, December 17, 2012

The Thrill of Discovery

By Lisabet Sarai

For the next two weeks here at Oh Get a Grip, we're going to be talking about what we've been reading lately. The timing is fortuitous, since only a few days ago I finished one of the best books I've read in very long time, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

My husband picked up this fat science fiction opus at a used bookstore. Although we often confer about our finds before purchasing them (conserving funds – and space – means buying books we both would consider reading), I didn't really look at this one. I think we might have been in a rush. Anyway, he began perusing the book before I did. We'd sit in bed together reading, and I'd hear “Wow!” or “This is really dark!” or “I can't believe this guy isn't Thai” coming regularly from his side. He kept this up through the entire five hundred odd pages. I knew I had to read it.

The Windup Girl takes place in a dystopic world perhaps a hundred years in the future, during “the Contraction”. Humanity has used up all the petroleum on the planet, leaving biomethane, coal and animal (or human) power as the main sources of energy. Much of humanity hovers on the edge of famine as a few Monsanto-like corporations (the “calorie companies”) control most of the world's genetic material, producing sterile (and of course patented) U-Tex Rice, TotalNutrient Wheat, HiGro Corn and SoyPRO. Genetic modification (“genehacking”) has also produced new plagues and pests that have devastated the ecosystem, making the world even more dependent on the calorie companies. The book implies though never states that at least some of these blights were deliberately engineered to decimate natural genetic diversity and increase dependence on AgriGen, PureCal and their ilk.

Thailand, however, has been spared from the worst of this ecological disaster, largely due to the vigilance of the powerful Environment Ministry, which works to keep unauthorized GM products and raw materials for generipping out of the kingdom. Anderson Lake, an AgriGen employee, visits Bangkok under false pretenses, trying to locate the source of the old-fashioned, natural fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants and other items unseen for generations) that regularly appear in Bangkok's markets. Lake plots with the Ministry of Trade, Environment's traditional enemy, to undermine the Environment Ministry and uncover its hidden seed bank.

The “calorie man” Lake is only one of many vivid characters in this drama, however. There's Captain Jaidee, known as the Tiger, a former Thai boxer who now leads Environment's enforcement – a man who earns both his real name (which means “good heart”), for his generosity and sense of humor, and his sobriquet, due to his ferocity. His somber, dutiful lieutenant Kanya is his polar opposite, grimly pursuing her own understanding of justice. Hock Seng is Lake's lackey at the factory that serves as cover for his genetic researchers. A former wealthy merchant, Hock Seng is now a stateless refugee after horrific massacres of the Malaysian Chinese by Muslim Malays. And at the center of the story is Emiko, the “windup girl” of the title, engineered in Japan as a secretary and companion but then abandoned by her owner in Bangkok. Emiko is in some sense the ultimate fruit of the genetic manipulation that has crippled the earth, but she may also be the planet's future.

The last scifi book I read before The Windup Girl was China Mieville's The Scar. When I reviewed that book, I commented that it included some brilliant ideas – possibly too many of them. Paolo Bacigalupi strikes just the right balance, throwing out fascinating notions about possible futures but never straying too far from his central themes. The book is very tightly written (if you can say that about a 500 page novel!). It kept me on edge to the very last page; I really couldn't predict the (surprisingly positive) ending.

All of the above would be enough to make me recommend The Windup Girl. However, on top of intriguing characters, a shocking yet plausible premise, and plenty of action and intrigue, this book demonstrates an incredible understanding of Thailand – environment, culture, politics and psyche. I know Thailand well. I lived there for several years in the eighties and now I visit it often. I can scarcely believe how perfectly Mr. Bacigalupi has captured the realities and the contradictions of the Thais. They embrace technology and yet they continue to guard their economy from outsiders. They're peaceful Buddhists and violent thugs. The competition between Trade and Environment, the double-dealing and corruption, could have been taken from today's headlines in the Bangkok Post.

Bacigalupi is spot on in his description of the environment, too – the heat and humidity, the vibrant street markets, the noise and the strange oases of quiet. His depiction of Bangkok holding the sea at bay with massive flood walls and coal-powered pumps may be only a decade or two away. Certainly, I could imagine it perfectly, having walked along the banks of the Chao Phaya River and seen the City of Angels meters deep in water.

This amazing verisimilitude made reading The Windup Girl almost a peak experience for me. I do wonder whether readers without my familiarity with Thailand will have the same reaction. On the other hand, the book won both the Nebula and the Hugo awards in 2010, the year it was published (a fact neither my husband nor I knew when we bought it), so I guess a good deal of the brilliance was obvious even to the uninitiated.

When my husband and I have both finished one of our used-book-store finds, we normally donate it to a charity for resale. The Windup Girl, though, has earned a place on our “keeper” bookshelves, along with Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Gilbert and Sullivan, D.M. Thomas, Haruki Murakami, and Shakespeare. We've already sent one copy (new, of course) to a friend as a gift. I expect that will happen again.

If you enjoy intelligent science fiction – if you're concerned about environmental issues – if you have any interest in, or experience with, Thailand – read this book.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Chosen Family

by Jean Roberta
----------------------------

The current topic is intensely ironic for me, especially during the “holiday season.”

Backstory:

My surviving blood relatives washed their hands of me in the aftermath of my parents’ funerals in 2009.

My two younger sisters accused me of trying to gain control of our elderly parents’ money in 2005 when I got Power of Attorney to make sure our parents’ bills were paid, in response to our father’s admission that he could no longer keep track of such things. As the only family member still living in the same town as our parents, I thought it made sense for me to take responsibility for their care in a legal sense. When I called each of my sisters long-distance, they both seemed to accept the arrangement.

Shortly afterwards, one of my sisters and her husband arrived in town, and within 24 hours, our father was complaining that the papers he had signed would allow “anyone from the street” to steal his money. Our mother didn’t understand what was happening, but she felt the tension. She wept steadily while my father, my sister and her husband all accused me of going to “the wrong lawyer.” (I hadn’t known that only one was acceptable to them.)

In short, to keep the peace, I didn’t protest when my two sisters arranged a completely different Power of Attorney deal which allowed “any two” (guess which two) of the three sisters to make financial decisions for our parents. (The legal fees I had paid out of my pocket were never acknowledged, much less reimbursed.) The family perception of me as a snake in the grass has only solidified over time.

In due course, my parents’ fairly sizable estate was divided into equal four parts, in accordance with their will: one-quarter to each daughter and to my grown daughter, my parents’ only grandchild. Receiving their shares of the inheritance didn’t make my sisters or my daughter any better-disposed toward me. I sensed that they felt it grossly unfair that I received exactly as much as each of them.

In summer 2010, my daughter told me she was ending her relationship with me for the sake of herself and her two children. Since then, she and her husband have not responded to my emails. I’ve been very tempted to send presents to my grandchildren for their birthdays and for Christmas, but I’m afraid the parents would simply send the parcel back or give the stuff away. For two years, I sent emails asking if the kids, at least, could be allowed to accept what I send them. The silence in response seems like an answer in itself.

So who is my family? A recent scene comes to mind: In October 2012, I went out for supper with my spouse Mirtha (thanks to the groundbreaking bill that made same-sex marriage legal throughout Canada in 2005), her two grown sons, Younger Son’s two long-term housemates and his fiancĂ©e (I’ll call her Chloe). We were at our favourite restaurant, which serves Mediterranean-style tapas.

We were getting together partly because, for once, we all had time for this in our busy schedules, and partly to celebrate Chloe’s 25th birthday, several days late. We all had martinis, and Younger Son (I’ll call him Romeo) proposed a toast: to our chosen family, the one that was meant to be.

While my blood family has frozen me out, my family-by-marriage has blossomed since 2009. I used part of my inheritance to make down-payments on houses for my two stepsons, and having their own space seems to have changed their lives. Older Son (I’ll call him Orpheus) enjoys time alone with his two cats. Music has been part of my stepsons’ lives since they were born, and Orpheus works in a music store that sends him on interesting trips and gives him promotions. (He also works as a sound technician, for which he was trained.) At forty, he seems to have found his groove.

Romeo likes having his favourite people in the same house. His oldest friend (I’ll call him Dennis) has a room and contributes to the rent. Carlos, a friend whose mother more-or-less abandoned him when she remarried, has another room in Romeo’s house, and he sleeps in a bed provided by Mirtha and me. (He had been couch-surfing in the homes of other families in the local Latino community.) Chloe, a brilliant young woman with a degree in Physics, took care of the bills and made sure the rent (i.e. mortgage) was paid regularly to Mirtha and me. (Technically, we own three houses.)

About a year before, Chloe entered the baccalaureate program in the local university, which requires immersion in French. Her plan is to get teaching credentials so that she can teach science in a French-speaking secondary school. (French is one of Canada’s two official languages, but qualified French-speaking employees are hard to find here on the prairies. Chloe was told that once she has her degree, she need never be unemployed in her life.)

Romeo finally admitted that his freelance career as a Latin percussionist and band leader (brilliant & talented as he is) is never likely to provide a secure income, so he asked Mirtha and me to finance his return to university as an Engineering major. We agreed, and the money we’ve spent on his tuition gets us a tax deduction in the present, plus he has promised to repay us when he is able to in the future. (I believe he will.)

The gathering was convivial. I knew that Romeo and Chloe were under stress because they were working harder than ever before and living on less money (the fate of most university students). They both seemed to enjoy a break from studying. Carlos was more talkative than I had ever seen (or heard) him. He discussed his job as a dance instructor in the new Latin Studio, a kind of grass-roots place that hosts local bands.

I felt grateful to be part of a family in which everyone has found their calling. (On a more secretive level, I felt proud to be the Sugar Mama who helped make it possible.)

That scene now seems like a photo of happier times. Several days ago, Chloe told Romeo that the relationship isn’t working for her, that he is not giving her what she needs, and that she needs her freedom. (According to Romeo, she didn’t want to break up with him during exam-time, but he knew something was wrong and “pried it out of her.”) Two days ago, Chloe’s mother arrived from her home (about a 7-hour drive away) to help Chloe move her things out of the house.

Mirtha and I had planned to give Romeo and Chloe the deed to their house as a wedding present.

Romeo is in such bad shape that Mirtha and I don’t want him to be left alone, and we have spoken to his housemates about this. (Thank the Goddess they are around.) I have offered to help get him an extension of time to finish his classwork (I’m not above pulling strings as an instructor at the u.), but he wants to soldier on and write all his exams on schedule.

The death of a relationship is just that: a death. I don’t blame Chloe, even though I don’t really understand her reasons. A relationship takes two, and if one person has one foot out the door, it’s not really based on consent.

I haven’t stopped liking Chloe, but if I ever hear that she is married with children, I know I will feel as if I’ve been deprived of another set of grandchildren.

“Family” sounds so warm, so secure, so unbreakable. But the real reason to be grateful for family is that we really only have each other in the present moment. The future can never be taken for granted.

---------------




Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Creation

by Kristina Wright

I write a lot about my children. They are three and one and my life has been pretty much consumed by them the past few years. That's the way it is, when you have little kids. But yeah, I write a lot about these babies of mine. I think there are people who are sick to death of reading about my babies and seeing pictures of them on Facebook. I have this year-long project, you see, to take a picture every day of the two of them together. It started as a lark, to counter the repeated comment that you never take as many pictures of the second baby as you do of the first. This year, I can say I took just as many pictures of both of them. Maybe a few more of the second baby, actually.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I write a lot about my children. For one, I didn't get around to having them until I was in my forties and that's kind of an anomaly (or so I've been told-- it seems to be more common in big cities). Not only did I have one baby, I had two. That also seems to be unusual-- most women in their forties have just the one kid. Unless they're taking fertility drugs, and then sometimes they end up with twins. Over forty = one pregnancy, regardless of number of offspring. So I've been told.

So what's my obsession with writing about my kids? Well, first off, I wasn't aware it was an obsession until a total (anonymous) stranger commented a couple of weeks ago about how I seemed to be dragging my feet on an anthology and while I had the excuse of toddlers, deadlines and health issues, I really need to get my act together and meet my professional obligations. (Okay, I'm paraphrasing, but that's how it read to me.) And my first thought was, "What the hell do you know about my day-to-day life?" And, of course, my own response was, "Quite a lot, actually. You write about your personal life, after all."

And so I do. I write a lot about my kids, in part, because I truly never expected to have any. To be honest, I didn't want kids from a very young age until maybe around age thirty. Even then, I was always rather ambivalent about it. Another thing I've written about, maybe not as much as my kids, is the fact that I've been married practically forever. Twenty-two years in October. I don't write quite as much about my husband and our marriage as I do about my children, maybe because he's been a part of my life for, well, literally half my life, while the kids are kind of the new, shiny toys in my life. But I have written quite a bit about my naval officer husband, our crazy whirlwind courtship, his numerous deployments, our military moves and our life in general-- it's a good life, there's a lot of good stuff to write about.

So there's my family. My two little boys, my amazing husband and... yeah, that's it. You see, I've written, here at least, about my childhood. It was, in a word, dysfunctional. I've written about my difficult relationship with my mother and the decade long estrangement before her death. I've written a little about mybfather (who is actually my stepfather, though he did legally adopt me), with whom I have no relationship, and I've written some about my birth father, whom I've never met and whose name I didn't know until five years ago. I can't remember if I've written much about my only sibling (only sibling I know of, at least), my brother, with whom I have had no relationship in over two decades-- and I'm fine with that. I have no grandparents to write about. My maternal grandfather died before I was born, my maternal grandmother died when I was two. I was never close to my father's (stepfather's) parents, his father died when I was around twelve, his mother never much took to me since I wasn't really her biological granddaughter and she and my mother hated each other. I don't even know if she's still alive.

All of my mother's family lives/lived in Missouri. It was a large family-- twelve children-- but with the exception of a couple of cousins I used to write to when I was a kid and maybe still exchange Christmas cards with if I have time, I have no relationship with them. My father's (stepfather's) family lived close to us in Florida and I did see my three cousins several times a year, but we were never particularly close either. Two of them, the boys, have died in the past few years and I found out long after the fact. There is only my one girl cousin and her family left-- and we rarely keep in touch, either. If not for Facebook, I'd probably know nothing at all about them.

That's my family. All of it. I spent my childhood immersed in books and dreaming about being sent away to boarding school and I have spent most of my adult life trying to make a family out of my friends. You know what I mean. "Friends are the family you choose" and all of that. And I do have a few very close, very precious friends. Are they family? In all the ways that matter, yes. To me, they are more my family than the brother I was raised with. But to them-- well, I think to most of my close friends, I'm a bit of a sorry case. Not quite an orphan, but certainly lacking the one thing that most of them seem to have: a big, happy, supportive, close family. (And if not all of them have all of those qualities, they certainly have three out of four.) So when the holidays role around, they are with their families, where they belong. And I am always a bit wistful and melancholy that I didn't grow up with the kind of family so many of my friends have. 

My husband was deployed for our first baby's first Christmas-- and I was alone with a newborn for nearly five months. I did it all, and I did it alone for the first eight weeks. Then I hired a friend I had known for several years to be my part-time babysitter and I had a little help. But baby and me, we spent Christmas 2009 alone, just the two of us. He was exactly three weeks old, so he wasn't much company. It was okay-- I wasn't much company either. But we were together, me and the only family I had in the state. And that was okay. It was good. I had family. Yes, I could've gone somewhere, accepted an invitation to some friend's house to join their family celebration. But I was three weeks postpartum in winter and not keen on taking my tbaby out of the house. Okay, that's not the real reason. I didn't want to feel more alone than I already did. So I stayed home with my newborn and Christmas came and went.

The holidays have never been a particularly happy time in my life. Even with a terrific husband, this is a time of memories and melancholy for me. There are childhood Christmases I sort of remember that weren't horrible-- but none of them were truly happy. In a family like mine, well, there was always something to be sad about. I have had more than two dozen happier Christmases since then, but I have always felt like something was missing. I have always been grateful for this wonderful life I have made for myself, mostly because I know it could've gone in a completely different direction if I had been more a product of nurture than nature. Then again, perhaps I am a product of how I was raised-- I am determined that I will be happier than I was as a child. And I am determined my children will not have sad, melancholy memories trailing after them through life.

And so, yes, I write a lot about my kids. I had no real family to speak of, no magical, special home-and-hearth place where I felt safe and loved and supported. I didn't have a mother who tucked me into bed when I was sick and fed me chicken soup. My mother was of the, "If you're really sick, you won't be hungry and if you're hungry, you're well enough to come to the table" mindset. I was never a Daddy's girl and I'm not even sure my father (stepfather) remembers my birthday and he often misspelled my name (he married my mother when I was nine months old-- you'd think he'd remember that, at least). My brother and I were not best friends from birth, we were each other's nemesis in a hostile household, with him hating me for getting good grades and being the good child and me hating him because he got away with everything and was the "real" child. He turned out as you would expect the child of these parents who raised us to turn out. I am, as I have been told many times, an anomaly. Like everything else about me.

I write about my kids, my husband, this family of mine because I made it. I am a writer and I create characters and families every day, but here in my real life, I created the family I never had. I chose the man who would give me the love and nurturing I never got as a child, and he has given me all of that and more than I ever dreamed possible for going on twenty-three years. And, when I finally realized it was now or never and I needed to decide whether I wanted to have kids before Mother Nature decided it for me, I grew two children inside of me. I created my family. It's small, just the four of us, but it's double the size it was three years ago. And before that, when it was just two of us, I still had more of a sense of belonging in any house I lived with my husband than I ever did in the house where I grew up with people I didn't know or understand. I made my family. I love my friends, I am grateful to share holidays with people who are good and kind and funny and loving, happy that my kids have "aunts" and "uncles" and "cousins" and I will always call them part of my family. But now, like some miracle, I have this family of four that I feel as if I conjured from my dreams. We are happy, this family of mine. I spent a lot of years thinking such a thing wasn't even possible for me.

So yeah, that's why I write so much about my children.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Yellow Taxi

by Kathleen Bradean

Three weeks ago, my eldest daughter moved away. I expected to miss her. We've lived together over half my life, after all. I expected to feel a pang when I walked past her empty room, and to see a difference in my grocery bills. I was a little relieved that I could stop making two versions of every dish that called for mushrooms - one with for everyone else and one without just for her. And of course I expected the phone calls about how to do this and that, everyday details of running a household she took for granted because we always handled them.

What I didn't expect was this quiet, creeping sense of mourning. People move around the house now on tiptoes, or at least it sounds like that. Our usually raucous kitchen discussions are slightly subdued. Even dinner now has a weird vibe as we no longer have to juggle for space on the tiny table.

She said that after she left that we'd find out that her younger sister was the culprit behind mysterious disappearances. What we really found was a horde of hairbrushes, hairbands, scissors, books, and nail clippers strewn about her abandoned bedroom. And believe me, we're going to tease her about it, because that's what we do. We laugh. I want laughter to follow her to her new home and thrive there.

After the first week she was gone, I was feeling a little blue and even more distraught about how everyone who remained seemed to withdraw to rooms and shut the door behind them. So I asked my youngest daughter how she was doing. She was more upset than I'd realized. Given the chance to talk, she poured out a very heartfelt if slightly incoherent soliloquy about how she never realized how much she liked having her sister around, and what a good friend she was. I feel really guilty that I let us get so isolated so quickly. Now that we're talking about it, things still don't feel normal but we're adjusting into it and doing much better. After all, this wasn't a real loss, not death loss. Mel is just four hundred miles away. She's doing quite well. She even knows how to do laundry now. She's moved on the way you're supposed to.

Part of why I felt so guilty about not talking to my youngest daughter sooner is that this situation reminds me of how it was in my parent's home when I was the last child left. We also crept around each other, quiet and distant, only we never made the effort to open our doors and spend time together. We weren't that kind of family. Grief was a personal matter, a bit humiliating, not to be shared.


While the family I grew up in was all kinds of fucked on the communication front, we're making an effort, finally. My father is in early stage Alzheimer's. I'm sure my mother thinks this is the last Christmas he'll still be him, so we're coming together for her, for him, for each other. Only I'll be damned if I'll tiptoe around their house in a state of pre-mourning. I'm going to get silly with my sister and her husband in the kitchen. My mother will stand off to the side, her lips tight as they always were when we laughed too much. My father will also be a bit lost, not understanding why we no longer sit silently during dinner. Our banter may fly too fast for him to follow, because my generation and our kids are a witty bunch. We don't stand on old world ceremony, where only the papa is allowed to talk during dinner, although we used to. For once, mom and dad are going to have to join us as we are rather than us regressing back to the way it always was under their roof. We've moved on, the way we were supposed to, but they don't have to remain left behind.   


~~
Big Yellow Taxi
by Joni Mitchell

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

They took all the trees and put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees (please!)

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Late last night the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi took away my old man away

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Some Like Pandora (A story of family)


 
                                      Freezing wind howled as the driver-less train hurtled down the tracks. Through the gap in the wall of the passenger car`she could see clearly the huge gap the explosion on the trestle had caused. There was no trestle. It was just gone.
“Sorry I won’t be around to see you off, Miss Lane.” said the bald man. He threw the parachute straps around his shoulders with a deftness his big size would not have hinted at.

“You’re such a class act, Luthor!” she yelled as he jumped into space.

The car lurched and became airborne. She felt gravity abandon her as her heels left the ground. Her head crashed into the hand rail of a passenger seat and she crumpled to the floor in a heap. She stared numbly at a wad of chewing gum someone had stuck under the seat.

So this is how it ends. What a stupid way to die.

A screech of impatiently tearing steel; the roof of the passenger car tore away. She saw only a flash of blue and red and then the wind was whipping in her face as the ground dropped away below. His arms were holding her tight to his warm chest. She pressed her ear to the bright red and yellow S sewn of an alien made cloth. She could hear his heart pound.

“Your head is bleeding, Miss Lane.”

“Call me Lois,” she said.

As the whip whipped her suit jacket she felt the hard object resting inside. A perfume bottle she had pick pocketed from Lex Luthor before he’d caught onto her. In the tiny antique spray bottle was a florescent pink liquid that glowed in the dark. A very rare form of kryptonite Lex Luthor had killed 27 men to acquire from a lead lined vault here in Switzerland. A pink form of kryptonite Luthor had wanted to . . . experiment with.

As they dropped down into the rooftops of Metropolis, she recognized her own neighborhood rolling by beneath. Of course, he had been to her condo once before when she interviewed him for the New Yorker. They had been alone in her living room for an hour. But nothing had happened. Not that time.

Her arm was wrapped tightly around his waist. She shifted her arm down and her hand began to wander to the buckle of his belt. She traced the edge of the bright red tighty-whiteys. He squirmed as he felt where her hand was going, but she slid her cold fingers deep under and between his thighs, felt the heat between his legs and held them there. Felt the two large objects beneath the cloth nesting like eggs in a nest in her palm.

She kept her hand there. Kept moving her fingers gently over the warm large eggs, caressing and cajoling.

One thought followed another. And a question. Has anybody ever fucked this good man? This proper gentleman, has he ever gotten laid in return for all his trouble? He never has a girlfriend. Is he gay?

“Miss Lane,” he said, and suddenly shivered. “I don’t think that’s socially appropriate. Perhaps you’re in shock and need some rest.”

If I fucked Superman, would I be his first?

I’m going to fuck Superman. Or bust.

“So come and take a nap with me when this is over,” she said. “And call me Lois, goddammit.”

“Lois.” His legs parted a little as he tipped vertical coming in like a bird for a gentle landing. Her hand moved up - and there it was. The mystery had been solved. He had a cock. Like any terrestrial man. So the male penis was a universal standard of the cosmos. It was mystical to think of. Male and female. Vishnu and Shiva. Anywhere you went in the universe organisms in all shapes and forms were putting strange penises into strange pussies. Even on poor belated Krypton.

I’m going to fuck Superman. Me. I’m going to fuck Superman. It’s going to happen, so help me God.

Her hands roamed over the cloth of chest as the air became warmer and damper. When I get home, I’m going to see him without his costume. I’m going to see him with his dick standing up just for me. There’s a magic moment when you know which way things are going. Things are going my way.

She felt the weight in her pocket. Lex Luthor, what were you up to?

She caressed his cock. It was hard now. Definitely. What did a super-boner look like? She wanted terribly to know. When I get home, I’m going to watch him pull those red jockey shorts down and guide him in. What will that be like? How will it feel to have a man of steel slipping it in? An alien erection? Like those women abductees who claimed extraterrestrials had performed sexual experiments on. This was the extraterrestrial they all wanted to bed. When we get home the big blue boy scout is going to slip that thing in and get himself laid. It’s decided.

“Lois, I don’t understand what you’re doing.”

“Yes, you do. You blue boy scout. That’s what the other clown-suits call you, isn’t it? The Big Blue Boy Scout. Are you a boy scout?”

“We’re here now, Lois.”

She felt him slow, hang in the air like a god and drop lightly to her patio. “Come in and have a drink,” she said, slurring the last word and then - suddenly the world went black.

She opened her eyes laying on her bed with a wet cloth on her forehead. Her shoes were placed neatly by the door. Sitting in a chair next to her shoes reading The Atlantic magazine was the blue boy scout. He looked up.

“I wasn’t sure what to do,” he said. “I thought of taking you to emergency but you didn’t seem that bad. Probably the thin air above 10,000 feet. Sometimes I forget.”

She felt strangely clear headed. That had been a good rest. The top two buttons of her blouse were undone. Had he done that? To give her air? Or something else? She sat up and remembered. “Can you hand me my suit jacket?”

He stood up, eager to please, neatly folded the magazine and put it on the chair. He took the suit jacket from the closet where he had hung it for her.

Standing at a courtly distance, he held the jacket out to her and waited. She took the jacket and fished around in the pocket. It was there. She wrapped her hand around it and hid it in her palm. She tossed the jacket on the floor and stood up slowly. “I need to throw some water on my face and I’ll be all right.”

“Are you sure? I can dial 911.”

“No, no. Relax. Finish your magazine if you want. Stay there for a minute.”

She closed the bathroom door behind her and heard the creak of the chair and the rustle of the magazine pages. You tell him to stay put and he stays put. Goddamn, she thought. If only they made guys like this on Earth.

She took the tiny bottle out and switched off the light. It glowed like radioactive Pepto Bismol. Bright enough to see her face in the mirror. The wrinkle lines around her eyes. Half heartedly looking for the right man. A string of metro-sexual male egos barely worth a one night toss. And right outside her door, fifteen feet exactly from her bed, probably reading the sports page, was the man himself.

She popped the top off the tiny perfume bottle and sniffed.

It was unearthly. Jesus Christ, like cat musk and roses. It stank. It positively reeked and she had held it so close to her nose she’d gotten some on it. Still. It was unique. She held it up to the decolletage below her throat and gave it a squeeze. The air was filled with cat reek and she felt her stomach roll. The base of her throat glowed faintly.

Oh fuck this stuff.

She put the bottle in the medicine cabinet, turned on the lights and slashed water on herself but the stink was still there.

I just now blew it. I had a good thing going and now I stink.

She opened the door and stepped into the room.

He looked up from his magazine. His eyes blinked and went a little watery. “Lois?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “So how about some hot wings or something before you go?”

“I’m not hungry,” he said. He dropped the magazine in a heap on the floor. “I’m so glad you’re all right.” Her lifted his nose. “What is that?”

“Just a little dizzy.” She saw the tears welling in his eyes. “Are you all right?”

He stood up slowly, sniffing the air, shaking his head. “I feel like . . . I don’t know. Yes. I need to talk to you. I think. Yes. I never talk to anyone. Not really. No one knows me. But you. I feel so open to you. Like I can let you inside. I’ve never talked like this to anyone before.”

“Superman? What is it?”

“No. I need to confess something.” He came up close to her and his eyes were blazing. “I don’t know why but I just can’t hold these feelings inside any longer, Lois.”

She looked down at his red briefs. It was clear what was on his mind. “Superman I can see exactly how you feel about me.”

“I’m not just Superman,” he said. “Maybe to them. Not to you. Look.” He reached behind his back to a pocket inside his bright hero’s cape. He took out a pair of black horn rimmed glasses. “Watch, Lois.” He unfolded the glasses and put them on.

Lois screamed.

“Clark?? You’re that asshole Clark Kent - No! No!  That's impossible!  I could never fuck Clark! Not in a million years. Take them off. Take them off now! Now!”

Superman snatched the glasses off, shaking and put them back in his cape.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she said gasping. “What a fucking cosmic joke. You’re so spoiling the mood.”

He seemed to sag. She took him in her arms and brought him to the bed. He sat docilely on the edge, suddenly seeming very much like Clark. He sniffed the air and the intensity returned to his eyes. “I’m so open to you,” he said. “I would do anything for you right now.”

“Take off your clothes.”

He dropped the cape from his shoulders, moved to fold it, but an urgency came over him and he dropped it to the floor. He removed his blue top and she took it from him and buried her face in it smelling his skin. He slipped off his boots and he was barefoot. He took the top from her and threw it across the room.

He stood up now wearing only the red briefs and leggings. “What now, Lois? What are we going to do about this?”

She went over to him and went down on her knees. She fumbled with the latch on his belt.

“Tw - twist to the clockwise.” He was shaking from head to foot. He was terrified at the sight of a woman on her knees.

“Superman?”

“Call me - “ he swallowed hard and shook his head. His hair tousled in his face. “You can call me by my real name. Only you. Call me Kal-El. Son of Jor-El.”

“Kal-El.” She twisted the buckle clockwise unlatched his belt and gently drew his shorts down. She was looking at it. An extraterrestrial stiffy. The full, thickish hard-on of the man-god guardian of the world.

He was looking down on her in that vulnerable way that made her heart turn flips for him. “That doesn’t bother you does it?” he said. “I can’t help it. I mean, they tried. The doctor, well he couldn’t. He tried. The knife wouldn’t cut the skin. Pa said.”

“Wow,” she whispered. “The uncircumcised Weenie of Steel. Good thing you’re not Jewish.”

“Ma still wanted me to be a doctor.”

“Kal-El. Listen. It’s okay either way, just tell me something. Are you still a virgin?”

He answered with a deep sigh.

She took the hot head of his cock and placed it in her lips, wrapped her tongue around it. It had an odd taste, different from the salt and buttermilk of other men. It was kind of sweet and spicy. Appetizing in a way. She licked around it more and gave it a squeeze and his knees went weak. “I want to be your first,” she said softly.

“You will be.”

She took his hand and guided him to the bed. Suddenly he grabbed her and buried his face between her breasts inhaling deeply. “You smell so . . . Good.”

“Shh.” She lifted his legs up, pushed him down on his back. “Watch.” She did a little strip tease, performing as he watched. First the nylons, moving her hips. Then the blouse. Waving gently in her panties and bra, she turned her back to him and pulled down the bra straps, turned the bra around and unlatched it. She turned to him, holding the bra over her breasts.

“There’s something we need to talk about,” he said.

“It’s okay,” she whispered. “Just watch.”

She drew aside the bra and let her breasts tumble out. His mouth opened and his eyes stared that hard stare of pure desire. His thick cock began to darked and bob with his heart’s rhythm.

She undulated her hips, raised her arms over her head, tipped her chin and shimmied her breasts, shaking them, feeling the nipples pop out.

“Lois. Have mercy.”

“No mercy, you big,blue virgin boy scout.” She whispered, parting her lips. She hooked her thumbs in her bikini panties, shimmied her hips and the panties down to her ankles. She lifted her foot and deftly tossed her panties onto Kal-El’s face. He clutched them and held them to his nose, inhaling.

She climbed on the bed, put a knee over his leg and straddled him. He looked into her eyes and she saw there not a child of the stars or an Olympian god, but only a man stepping off wide eyed into mystery and starved for bliss. The world was shut out and only the sensual feast of this magnificent invulnerable body existed, a body every woman in the world lusted for. This man she owned.

She slipped his cock deftly into her depths and was gratified to see him twist his hips in pleasure. "That's it," she whispered.  "Popped your cherry, boy scout."

He tried to rise. “I don’t know if this is wise.”

“This is how women have always rewarded the men who rescue them over and over. This is from me to you. Now lay back Big Blue and let mama be good to you.”

She moved her hips, bobbed her pussy up and down over the length of his cock and drank in the look of perfect ecstasy on his face. On his back, lost in pleasure, he looked the same as any man. The thrill of him was knowing he was a man who had lived among the stars, a man who had fallen to earth like an outcast angel.

She lifted her hips until on the tip of his cock was touching the rim of her pussy lips. She made tiny caressing moments that turned his face pink with urgency. He hissed, he thrust his hips up but she kept out of his reach. She savored his sensual torment and suddenly pushed her cunt down, thrusting the length of him deep inside her at once.

“Lois?? LOIS!”

She felt him swell, burst deep inside. A sharp pain. A huge burst of light in her head.

And the rest was silence.

She sighed and sank with her head resting on his breast and her arms around him. His hands roamed gently over her back, caressing her carefully, mindful of his great strength in moments of strong emotion. These creatures, these homo sapiens were so fragile in so many ways. Their bodies. Their hearts. He felt tenderly towards her and towards all his wards on this benighted world. He loved human beings. Though he was an outsider he longed to be one of them and this woman had shown him how, like a revelation from a goddess she had opened the door for this most human of acts and its passion that he had always been taught to fear. Now, he thought, I have become one of them.

He ran his hands over her hair. She lay quiescent and still and he longed to feel her loving hands moving over him again. But they did not. Something warm and wet dropped on his cheek.

“Lois?”

It dropped on his cheek again.

“Lois? Lois, are you crying? What’s wrong?”

She said nothing. She did nothing.

He touched his cheek and glanced at his fingertip. Blood, mixed with something gray.

“Lois?” Vacancy. He shook her. “Lois!”

He rolled her empty carcass off of his chest and she flopped limply on the bed. Her eyes were rolled up in her head. A thick trail of scarlet ran from her hairline, across the white of her left eye and over her cheek bone. With his super hearing he heard no heart beat or breath. With his X Ray vision he examined her heart. It was unmoving.

“No,no,no,no.” Ape like he seized her head and picked through her hair until he found the bullet sized hole in the top of her cranium.

“Luthor. Lex Luthor - you did this. You bastard. You murderous evil bastard, you’ve crossed the line. You killed a civilian. You shot my woman.” He jumped to the window and roared. “Are you listening? I’ll find you. And this time its not prison. This time I’ll break every oath I’ve ever made and I swear before the gods of Krypton I will rid this world of you. I will personally tear you to pieces and eat your raw beating heart with my teeth!”

He turned to the nude body in the bed and glanced at the wall above the head board. Between the head board and an oil painting was a strangely shaped pit in the wall surrounded by blood and bone fragments; and something thick and creamy and viscous. Semen.

He looked down at his limp cock from which hung a tiny string of the same thick white semen.

“Oh . . .gosh.”

Tiny holes began to appear in the drywall. The sperm, they were still alive. Kryptonian sperm. Super sperm, drilling through the dry wall. Drilling through the building itself. Escaping.

When he had reached puberty, like most boys he locked himself in the bathroom and thought of his teacher Miss Harmon nude. The ceiling above the toilet filled with small bullet shaped holes. Once he had almost injured his mother upstairs folding clothes. Pa Kent had told him about the birds and the bees and the dangers of a man of steel trying to mate with a woman of Kleenex. Gods did not take mortal wives for a reason.

Dark was falling. Outside the window, thin supersonic streaks of light filled the city night like a tiny meteor shower. The super sperm were loose, nourished by Lois’ blood. They were searching for fertile women. They were searching randomly for wombs.

He watched them travel. There were too many to stop. Nine months from now there would be a baby boom that would knock human evolution sideways.

I’m going to be a super-daddy, he thought.

I’ve always wanted a family.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Oldest Friend

By Lisabet Sarai

I've known you all my life.
You are my oldest friend.
Your face is there where the memories start.
It's there where the feelings begin.

I wasn't even two when he was born, so I don't really remember the event, but my parents loved to tell me how excited I was about the arrival of my little brother. One of my first recollections of R was a train trip we took halfway across the country, from the Midwest where my mom and dad had settled back to the East Coast. We had a sleeping compartment. I sat on the upper bunk, eating an orange (the sticky sweetness winds itself into the memory), watching my chubby sibling below, trying to stand as the carriage swayed back and forth. He wore powder blue shorts with suspenders over a white shirt. I was so proud that he was learning to walk. I think I must have been about three at the time; he would have just passed his first birthday, as I'm sure we were headed east to celebrate the holidays with family.

R and I were close as kids. We'd tell each other stories and share details of the vivid dreams we both seemed to experience. We launched amateur theatricals and played at being pirates in the woods surrounding our house. Sometimes we fought, as all kids do, but I'd defend him fiercely if someone else attacked him. As we reached our teens, though, our paths diverged.

On the surface, we seemed very different. I was the good girl, obedient and shy, a straight A student who was afraid to drive and hardly dated. He became a rebel, grew his hair long, joined anti-war protests, smoked pot, played in rock and roll bands, drove around in an old silver-painted ice cream truck he'd picked up for a couple of hundred bucks. He has a brilliant, questioning intellect that never fails to impress me, but back then he labored in the shadow of his brainy sister, dealing with teachers' expectations (“Oh, you're Lisabet Sarai's brother?”), so his academic record was far from stellar. I went straight from high school to university, where I hid for the next eight years, earning more degrees than anyone would ever need. He dropped out of college after half a semester.

If you looked at our sex lives, though, I was the one flouting convention. I gave away my virginity when I was fifteen. I'm pretty sure he graduated high school with his intact (if one can use that word about a male). As we matured, I had many lovers. His loves were few and far between, partly because he was such a perfectionist, partly because his fervent feminism made him suspicious of his own feelings toward the women whom he found attractive.

We have a special connection in the creative realm. R makes his living as a singer and songwriter. Compared to him, I'm a hobbyist – I write primarily for enjoyment, adulation, self-expression. I could never support myself with my writing; I couldn't stand the pressure. But he goes out there, day after day, performing, regardless of how he feels. I'm in awe.

Yet he has told me that the poetry I penned as a child and teenager were what inspired him to write his first songs. And I know that he's proud of my career as an author, even though my chosen subject matter makes him uncomfortable. “You're such a great writer,” he tells me. “Why don't you write a serious book?”

I smile, a bid sadly, because I know I'll never make him understand just how serious I find the topics of desire, its fulfillment or denial, its lessons. The fact that he's a fan despite it all gives me a warm glow in the pit of my stomach. In my will, I've bequeathed him the rights to all my literary works. It makes me grin to wonder what he might do with them.

The lines that begin this post are from a poem he wrote about me. They bring a lump to my throat whenever I read them. I've written about him, too. In fact, he's contributed characteristics to some of my heroes, though I love him too much to tell him what he's inspired. He'd die of embarrassment. But here's a poem I wrote for him, on his birthday, more than a decade ago, which perhaps captures a bit of my feelings for my brave, free, conflicted sibling (who still surfs, even though he's nearing sixty).

Surfer Man

Endless summer: hot
sun bakes your skin,
wind in your hair,
sand on your soles.
The waves beckon.
Pretend you don't see
the sweet flesh
in the brief bikinis,
eyes on the foam
caressing the beach.

Endless summer: free,
poised on the board,
point of balance,
stasis in speed,
muscle and will
in perfect union.
A flow of power,
spirit to body
and out to the world.

Endless summer: song
plays in your mind
like a radio
as you dance the waves
again and again.
Ignore the girls
you know are watching.
Skim, soar,
walk on water.
Nothing's impossible.

The day lengthens
but never ends.
Slanting rays
paint the sea
with liquid fire.
Joy, youth,
singing, strength,
all endless,
the gifts of summer.

Salt on your lips,
skin raw,
from the sun's kiss,
shoulders sore
as you drag your board
up the empty beach.
A scrap of song
recurs, and you smile,
remember the freedom,
the power, the magic.
It's there; it's endless.
The summer will wait
for its next release.

I won't send him the link to this blog post. He'd probably hate it. Tens of thousands of miles separate us now, but I hope that he feels the love I'm beaming across that chasm. Nothing can separate us in spirit.



Friday, November 30, 2012

Conversation at Midnight

“Don’t you want to see me?”

“No. I can see you every day. Now I want to feel you.”

“Mm. And vice versa.”

“Do I feel younger in the dark?”

“I hadn’t thought about it. I don’t need someone younger.”

“Then why is it better in the dark?”

“Because we can pretend to be anyone, anywhere. We can be pirates or lovers from feuding tribes or invaders from a faraway planet that need human cum to survive. We don’t have to see the dirty underwear at the foot of the bed.”

“Maybe it’s like soft plates with leftover food on them. For us, the aliens who need cum.”

“I’d rather get it fresh from the source.”

“That tickles! Oh.”

“That’s good. You’re wet.”

“For you. Don’t stop! I can see colours."

“We spend too much time in the light.”

------------

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How It Began

Kristina Wright

by Kristina Wright

A year ago in the very early morning hours of Thanksgiving here in the US, I sat in a dark room pounding out a few thousand words of a proposal for my first single title anthology. I had promised the proposal before the end of the week, despite the very busy holiday weekend, despite the fact that I had a not-quite-three-month-old baby sleeping upstairs (sleeping more than I was that week, to be sure) and a not-quite-two-year-old sleeping across the hall. So, before I had even put the turkey in the oven, before dawn had streaked the morning sky and running on an average of four hours of sleep a night for three months, I finished the proposal.

The proposal was approved, the book was contracted and I proceeded to write an eighty thousand word book in less than three months. The book hit the virtual shelves on October 25-- almost eleven months to the date of that dark Thanksgiving morning when I finished and sent the proposal. And because I wrote the book in such a compressed span of time-- and because there are roughly twenty short stories-- I have forgotten much of what I've written.

It's a strange thing, rereading my own writing and knowing I wrote the words because the story feels familiar, but not really remembering writing them. It has happened a lot in the past few years, as my production has risen while my sleep has decreased. Being pregnant, having babies, caring for children, being continually sleep deprived, having an endless stream of deadlines to meet-- it all makes for a sometimes faulty memory. And so I often lay in bed at night staring into the darkness and wondering how I'm doing it all, why I'm doing it all, whether I can do it all. Sometimes those questions-- and the lack of answers-- keeps me awake at night. It's a vicious cycle.

But this book I wrote in a frenzy at the beginning of the year, that is now available in all the usual online stores, is a point of pride for me. It is my first entire book in over a decade. I am proud of my anthologies-- six published to date, a seventh on the way in a month, four more contracted and in various stages-- but to have an entire book that is me, all me, has been a goal for several years. There is the inner critic that grumbles that it's "just" a collection of short stories and not a real novel, as I still dream-- scratch that-- plan to write, but even I can see how ridiculous my inner critic is being. I wrote a proposal, sold a book, wrote a book and saw it published in the span of a year. A very, very busy year, with a new baby in the house, a toddler going through all sorts of adjustments (along with my body, my marriage and my mind) and several other contracts and commitments to meet. I wrote a book in what everyone told me would be the hardest year of my life-- the year I had two babies under two. I wrote a book.

That thought, that single thought, is why I keep writing. Why I will always write, no matter what path my life takes. Writing sustains me. It keeps me awake in the dark, yes, but since I was a very young child, I have soothed myself to sleep by telling myself stories. The darkness is where dreams become words for me.

My book, Seduce Me Tonight (HarperCollins Mischief, October 2012), contains a collection of loosely linked short stories about couples in various stages of their lives and relationships. From people just meeting and falling in love (or lust), to long-married couples rekindling the passion between them, it's a book about people connecting in different ways, about the need to be held, comforted, loved, desired, wanted and understood. Many of the stories overlap, with recurring characters and settings. It was a fun book to write-- yes, even as I was killing myself to make deadline-- and I'm hoping it finds a wide readership who also believe in the power of love and lust.

Many of the stories include night scenes and darkness-- perhaps because that's where secrets are to be discovered. Here is a snippet from my story "Coming Home":

I knew I shouldn’t be there. I mean, hell, it wasn’t like I had even been invited. I’d broke in for god’s sake. I’d broken the law—and for what? To sit in the dark and wait for Quentin to come home so he could throw my ass out. Not for the first time, I wondered if he even would come home. It was 3 AM and I’d been sitting at his kitchen table for two hours already, running my fingers over the scarred kitchen table and planning what I was going to say to him. Two hours in—make that two months—and I still wasn’t sure what words were going to come out of my mouth when I saw him. For the hundredth time, I reflexively pressed the keypad on my phone and watched it light up with the time. 3:17.
Quentin and I were a lot alike. Both of us slung drinks for a living—alcohol for him and coffee for me—and we were both quiet and introspective, which made us good listeners for other people’s issues but not too good at sharing our own problems with each other. Quentin was stoic in dealing with life’s curveballs, whether it was his father’s unexpected death or a tree falling on his truck, and he could get focused on work or helping his brother rebuild that old Mustang of their dad’s, or repairing the fence on that piece of property out in the country, until the crisis passed.
Me, I was more inclined to run away from anything I couldn’t face head on—and sometimes that meant skipping town for a few days. Or a few weeks, in this case. I’d told my boss I had a personal crisis and needed to take as much of my vacation time as he could give me. He said my job would be waiting when I got back. All I could do was hope he was telling the truth. I was going to need a steady paycheck. Especially if Quentin bailed on me.
I knew he was still bartending at Kayla’s—but this wasn’t the city where bars stayed open until dawn. One or two, maybe, but it was getting on to the time where I either needed to pack it in and go or plan to make a night of it and hope he didn’t call the police when he found me on his couch in the morning.
I was still debating my limited options when I heard the distinct snick of a key in the front door lock. I threw a quick prayer up to the patron saint of stupid, lovelorn women that he hadn’t brought some chick home from the bar, and waited.
I hadn’t wanted him to call the police as soon as he pulled up, so I’d left the place dark when I’d helped myself to the spare key I knew he always kept tucked under the mat. He didn’t turn on any lights either, so he was just a shadowy figure standing in the doorway. Could’ve been anyone, I guess, except I knew it was Quentin. Five years with a man will make you remember tilt of his frame and the cant of his walk. And a whole lot of other things I didn’t want to be thinking about just yet. It was Quentin all right, and by the tight way he carried himself he had either jacked up his back again or he knew I was here.
“Little late for a visit, ain’t it, Rebecca?”
He knew it was me. “Hey, Quentin.”
Two months of trying to sort through the mess that was my life, two hours of sitting at his kitchen table, and that was the best I could come up with.
***
I like Rebecca and Quentin. I feel like I'm revisiting them after a long time away. So, I'm going to tuck myself into bed now (it's nearly 11 PM here on the east coast of the US) and finish reading their story. 
Good night.
(Seduce Me Tonight by Kristina Wright-- that's me!-- is available from all the usual ebook retailers.)