Friday, September 19, 2014

Who do you write for?

Spencer Dryden


When I hit this topic I was immediately conflicted by what I wanted to say vs what I think an author should say. Then I got brain lock. What should an author say? That I have never compromised my art? Any writer who says that is a liar, deluded, and most likely, unknown.

I wish I could dial into readers the same way Steven Spielberg is dialed into me. He can make me laugh, cry, or scream whenever he wants. He hasn't had many mulligans—rare in the movie business.

I do my best writing when I am simply writing to entertain myself. Admittedly, I am a bit of an odd duck writing vanilla M/F erotic romance from a male point of view. I'm sure there is more of it around than I realize. I haven't spent too much time looking for other male writers. Maybe I should.  We could form a tribe of guys trying to make it in a world dominated by women and a female POV. (Incoming!)

First drafts are all about me, my clumsy language, split infinitives, so many 'that's, that I have all but worn out that word. And of course my favorite faux pas, the IDB (Independent Body Parts)—His eyes swept the room (because the vacuum cleaner was broken). I'm sorry, I like my IDB's when used with discretion. It's one of the few issues I've argued with my editor. I do have at least one body part that acts on its own and it is the source of lots of trouble.

As long as I'm down in the bunker, I'll say as a male writer, writing to a male audience (is there one?), I know my work is going to pass through a female gate keeper who has an eye toward a female audience. Bottom line, I shape second drafts and beyond in light of the fact that more women are likely to read my work than men.

This plays out most vividly in sex scenes. Men are visual and mechanical, at least ordinary guys like me—the guys I write about.  If I am going to do a sex scene and be true to the male experience, I shouldn't wander too far away from what I know. However, the trope in erotic romance surrounds the multi-layered physical sensations and emotional satisfaction of the woman. Men like me don't have that kind of experience in sex. We (I) become less attuned to the environment as our (my) excitement grows. (I know, not enough blood...) My work as read by women was often labeled as 'telling not showing.'  I had to take a step back to realize what they were saying...I wasn't connecting with readers expectations. I needed a new plan.

One of my goals for the year has been to raise the heat level of my stories. A famous publisher of erotic romance has a line dedicated to male oriented fiction. I want to be on that line-up. I decided I would read all of it, if possible, to see how it's done to the satisfaction of editors and at least one publisher.

Oddly, the entire roster of writers— writing male oriented fiction— are women. Huh? Imagine a publisher launching a line of lesbian erotica and only publishing stories by male writers. True, the story lines are following the editorial guidelines of 'less emphasis on relationships and more focus on men's needs and desires.' In the hundred or so stories I have read to date, many of the plots feature women acting like men in terms of promiscuity, which strains credibility, or they write the story switching the POV back and forth from the male and female characters, jumping to the woman's POV when it's time for sex. Those techniques don't work for me as a reader or a writer, but the reading exercise has helped me identify places to improve my storytelling and raise my heat level.

The work I'm submitting to them is better than what I'm reading, at least from a male perspective.(And a highly biased one.)  Unfortunately there are stories circulating about the hard times this publisher is experiencing. The articles surround the Amazon blame game. I wonder if its bigger. Everyone seems to be having trouble connecting with the reader. (Great topic for the future.)

I'm very fortunate to have found a couple of female beta readers who understand a male point of view with a sensitivity to female readers. In subtle ways my stories and sometimes my characters are feminized in that they are shaped closer to the expectations of a female readership.  I accept it, the same way I accept the necessity of something approaching the Chicago Manual of Style for construction, or meeting the formatting requirements for making a submission. Publishers want to sell books. So do I.

Am I selling out? I think of it as buying in. I don't know if that's what a author should say, but it is something an author with ambitions of marketplace success must be willing to do.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Write Stupid Book

by Giselle Renarde
Giselle's To Do List
There's an interview question that typically comes up for authors: "What makes your books different from others in the genre?"  It's too bad you can't answer a question with a question, because the first thing that always comes to mind is, "Which genre are we talking about, here?" Although it doesn't even matter because I don't fit in anywhere.

I think a lot of us here at The Grip are in the same boat. We're not the popular kids. And we don't want to be.

But, as Lisabet mentioned in the comments of Monday's post, I make my living at this. I don't have an evil day job.  Writing is my evil day job.  It's povertylicious.  And I don't say that jokingly, so don't be offended or think I don't take low income seriously.  I literally live below the poverty line.

I never answered that interview question, did I?  The thing that makes my work different from others' in the genre is that I'm queer and I'm pretty genderfucked and, though there are a few men I find interesting, they aren't anything like the Alpha Males who are so popular in erotic romance today.

The kind of erotic fiction readers want is not the kind of erotic fiction I write.

When I started writing erotica in 2006, I came into this venture soooo naively.  I still hadn't figured out that I wasn't a normal person.  I thought the stuff that appealed to me erotically would appeal to everybody else. So.... yeah, that's not the case. I've mentioned before that editors and publishers advised me to stop wasting my time on fiction about lesbians or bisexual women. Instead, I wrote more. I wrote a trans lesbian novel that won a Rainbow Award but, as Sacchi mentioned, awards don't help sales. You'd think they would but they don't.

What's a poor author to do?

Write a stupid book.  That's what I decided on.  Dark romance is popular these days--erotic fiction at its rapey-est. I really had to push myself into this project.  Non-consent doesn't appeal to me. But if there's one thing I learned from writing my Adam and Sheree trilogy it's that writing a taboo topic can change my opinion of it. (I thought incest was really squicky before I wrote Adam and Sheree. Now it's all I want to write.)

Actually, the idea for my soon-to-be-self-published novel Seven Kisses came to me as I was cutting through the grounds of a very Victorian-looking rehabilitation centre. I've lived in the same neighbourhood for over a decade but I'd never seen this place before. It was one of those magical realism moments where you think, "Where did that come from?"  I found myself wondering what kind of rehab this clinic provided. I had an image of two orderlies mistaking me for a patient and dragging me inside kicking and screaming.

As I continued my walk that day, a hazy idea for a dark romance formed in my mind.  What if they locked me up and subjected me to strange "therapies"?


I hadn't quite committed to writing this dark romance until I spotted this on my book shelf:

That's "Beauty and the Beast" to you.

A book I'd bought and never read. A tale of capture and confinement. It's the original dark romance!

I've had a soft spot for Beauty and the Beast ever since 1991, when the Disney feature came out. Writing this book as an adaptation made me more comfortable with the concept of dark romance.

Of course, it didn't take long for my adaptation to run off the rails. Sure there's a beast, but he exists under the command of the cruel psychotherapist Mme de Villeneuve.
Get it? Hahaha I'm so funny.
Madame can see everyone's follies but her own. She doesn't seem to realize that she's been repressing her attraction to women so long that it's coming out in harmful ways... like binding our young beauty to an antiquated hospital bed and subjecting her to a turn-of-the-century fucking machine.

What just happened here?  A book that was supposed to be strictly heteromance with a hard, unforgiving hero turned into an I-don't-know-what romance (yeah, it's still a romance) about a fairy tale wicked witch therapist with serious issues. But don't worry--I didn't forget the monkey butlers.

Even when I try to write for the market, my books always turn into ME. That's great news for my fellow erotic authors who appreciate my work. It's bad news for my bank account (which currently has $53 in it. Canadian.).

Same thing happens every time I write "for the market."  So do I regret trying? Actually, no. Sure my frustrated code name for Seven Kisses was "Stupid Book," but I really like the story I ended up with... even if readers might not be sold on my spin.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who Writes You?

I’m standing in front of the shredder in the place where I work. I’m staring at the whirling blades the way a man might stare at a lawn mower after realizing some of his toes have disappeared.

Yesterday I had been going for a walk around a two mile track across the street from where I work. I had taken off my shoes and walked around the track barefoot carrying my shoes in my hands, enjoying the sand between my toes. I was thinking of the archaeological site of a Mayan ruin I had visited a long time ago. A poem came to me, the way a headache might come to me and I wrote most of it in my head as I walked. When I got back to the car, I didn’t even take time to put my shoes on before grabbing a some scraps of typing paper and scribbling it all out with a pencil. I looked it over. I liked it. I liked it very much.

I’m not a poet. But I liked this poem enough to want to be a poet, to take the notion seriously like child discovering crayons for the first time. I could do this. I had read once about how poets like T S Eliot kept works in progress handy in their pockets or desk drawers to work on them when stuff came floating by in the air that was worth snatching down and noodling over. I brought the poem to my desk. The desk became cluttered over the progress of the day. In a fit of indignation over my natural sloppiness I gathered up the papers.

And so now I’m staring at the shredder, realizing.

Hemingway once had a briefcase of short stories he’d written during his Paris days. His first and favorite wife had determined to bring it to him in a taxi cab. That turned out badly. He might have named his next novel “A Farewell to Briefcases”. A young Garrison Keillor left his fateful briefcase of manuscripts in a men’s bathroom when he was considering the idea of starting a variety radio show. He forgot the briefcase in the toilet but he stuck with the radio show.

At least you can’t stick a briefcase in a shredder.

Stephen King was luckier, he threw the rough draft of his first novel “Carrie” in the trash because he thought it was crap and that he was crap as a novice writer and should give up. But it was his wife who fished it out and talked him into giving it another shot, so maybe that doesn’t count. And don’t we all wish we had a wife like that.

But I still had this poem to rebuild.

In the afternoon I put my notebook in my pocket. Took off my shoes. And walked the track again in exactly the same way. I met the poem again along the way, gave it a hug and rebuilt it. As I was sure I would.

It wasn’t the poem I needed - it was the walk around the track. That very track. After all, you have to know where to look.

I write from the unconscious. The unconscious writes for me. We are a team when we’re working well and when we’re working well it shows.

I think what writers live for is being in “The Zone”. The Zone is that place where the machinery is humming, where the world recedes and you’re down in the story with the characters and on a good day the characters speak and you shut up and take dictation. Its the best place to be. Its the place to aspire to be. It’s the place I love.

There are as many schools of writing, as there are schools of painting. I come what might be the Zen school of writing, those who write best when they write from the unconscious. One of my literary heroes, Ray Bradbury, wrote distinctly from this school and had habits and rituals distinctive to that way of writing. This particular style of writing is well suited for erotica, because it emphasizes writing primitively from the senses alone. It is much like the act of love itself.

There are books that teach the craft of cultivating that relationship with the deeper depths and writing from them. Among these craft books you’d find Bradbury’s own book of aphorisms “Zen and the Art of Writing”, also Robert Olen Butler’s boot camp craft book “From Where You Dream”. The book that Ray Bradbury personally trained from, the book that inspired him to develop his unique style has been out of print for way too long but is still available on the Internet or Amazon if you look hard - “Becoming a Writer” by Dorothea Brande.

In the end you have to find where you write from. They say write from you know. That’s great, what if you don’t know much? I say write where you’re from. If you’re a cerebral person you might write from there. But don’t think about about writing erotica that way. Erotica is as primal as the turbulent Jungian waters of the unconscious and is best written from there.

Here’s how.

Although I’ve been doing this for awhile, I still consider myself an apprentice writer. This is a good place to keep yourself, because you are best served by what the Buddhist’s call a “Beginner’s Mind”. I’m always hungry to learn how other writers, especially the ones I admire do things. Ray Bradbury learned his apprenticeship by studying Dorothea Brande’s book as a young writer and following it seriously. He sometimes mentions her book in interviews. One of the things he adapted from her craft lessons is the habit of writing by appointment. Brande states that you should assign yourself a place to write and a specific time to write and promise yourself mentally that at this time and this place you will show up and write and do no other thing. If you’re with friends, you’ll excuse yourself. This time is for your muse and yourself. If you stick faithfully to this the day will come and days will follow when your unconscious will be waiting for you like a writing partner with something special to surprise you with.

Another thing Bradbury learned from Brande was what is sometimes called “free writing”. I still do this as a warm up. It’s very simple. You’re trying to experience and become practiced at being in The Zone. A pencil, a notebook. A timer. You decide that you will write for, say, ten minutes without stopping. It doesn’t have to be about anything, it can be pure babble, but you have to hunker down and write and not stop for so much as a sip of coffee. Ten minutes of constant word loading. Let the intuition speak. You’re not trying to be profound although something profound may emerge. You’re trying to let the unconscious speak and teach yourself to listen.

Bradbury also experimented with playing with words and the unconscious. His first published short story was a kind of ghost story about two kids called “The Lake”. Where did he get the idea for this story? He sat down at his typewriter, put in a clean piece of paper and typed the words “The Lake” at the top and began free writing about whatever the two words suggested to him. He didn’t stop. He let the image carry him. The unconscious doesn’t deal in language. It deals in images, like dreams. If you can find yourself a powerful image to deal with, one that speaks to you, you begin. The novella I’m working on “The Tortoise and the Eagle” began with a simple image. I was watching a German movie called “The White Ribbon” and there was a scene of a young boy doing a high wire act on the railing of a wooden bridge over some dangerous water. Later when someone demanded what in the hell he was thinking of he said “I wanted to give God a chance to kill me.” Now, that’s an image to conjure with.

Like courting a girl (do kids still do that?) to court the unconscious you have to first pay attention. One of the most basic ways to pay attention is keep a notebook by your bed and write down your dreams. Try to do this consistently. Your unconscious has its own vocabulary, its own language of images that will be unique to you. If it sees you trying, if it sees you paying attention, it definitely will speak to you over time. It will speak to you in images and images are always more compelling than cerebral ideas. Mary Shelley invented her novel “Frankenstein” over an image she received in a nightmare. We get images like this all the time. The difference is you have to be ready. Like a little kid on the field with the big kids, if somebody throws you ball you have to be ready to run with it when it finally happens. You have to prove your attitude.

The last thing I recommend, although I could go on, is to set a goal for yourself. In one of the rooms where he wrote, Hemingway wrote on the wall with a pencil how many words he wrote each day so “you don’t kid yourself.” I use a calender. If you do this, you’ll be amazed at how little writing you actually do compared to how much you think you do.

When I get writer’s block it doesn’t intimidate me. I know the cause is a weak imagination, caused by too little exercise, caused by not keeping my end of the deal. The unconscious has gone under ground and must be romanced back by paying attention.

1) Make a appointment for each day, a time and a place - and be there.
2) Free write for 10 minutes to warm up.
3) Make a goal, how many words you will bench press for that day - and do it. It doesn’t matter if the words are any good. The point is to show up and write them, practice your instrument. Musicians practice. Painters practice. Writers should practice too. If you keep your end of the deal the good words will come.

You have dozens, maybe hundreds of excellent compelling stories inside your head. Your problem is not that you don’t have any good stories in you. Your problem is that your hundreds of good stories are buried under thousands of bad ones. The only way to get under the pile of bad stories is to pay your dues. You have to shovel shit with a keyboard until you tunnel your way down to the gold. You have to have faith in the beginning. There is no other way.

 C Sanchez-Garcia

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing for me

When I started out I was most definitely writing the type of story I liked to read - only with my embellishments.  As a teen I was in love with anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs - especially his John Carter series. I envisioned myself right there with him, battling the enemy, jumping gravity free, hundreds of feet into the air - and landing safely of course - then punching out or flailing around with a giant sword at anyone who dared come near John or me.

Burroughs wrote another book based on a prehistory culture, darned if I can find it anywhere, but it was one I actually used as a basis for my first story bashed out on an old Remington I paid five pounds sterling for. There were only two races on the planet I imagined - the Eagles , a golden haired people of immense physical stamina and beauty and the Ravens, people of a darker hue with bronzed skin and 'black as night' hair.Of course when my Eagle hero and Raven heroine meet, there is a fight for dominance which the Eagle (barely) wins. I was a little too young to give a complete, graphic description of their coupling, but one of my sisters who read my first attempt at literary success said, "So that's the kind of woman you want?"

Uh, no... but never mind that, at least I had injected a female into the story.

Later in life I fiddled with stories set in London about the theatre, usually with a detective solving a backstage murder with the aid of a singer, actor or dancer. None of these got anywhere near a publisher. The fear of rejection was alive and well, so it was amazing that I finally got the nerve to submit my first real attempt at a contemporary novel - A Portrait of Phillip. Naturally, it was rejected and rejected and...well that's the way it goes, so I self published, and amazingly it was a success. Who needs a publisher? I thought smug and self satisfied. My first six books were self published but the cost of going that route outweighed the return, so greedily I looked around for someone else to bear the cost, and found not one but three companies ready to do just that. Amazing what being placed in Amazon's top 100 will do for a fella.

Yay! Now I could go on writing the sort of stuff I liked to write - as long as I gave the characters a happy ending. Vampires, cowboys, detectives, soldiers both ancient and modern, all the heroes I dreamed of running about with, facing endless adversity, nine headed monsters, vast armies, but always coming out on top, were now mine to do with what I wished. What a great life. I honestly don't care if the reviewers like 'em or not. I learned long ago to take all of that snark with the middle finger upraised. And if the royalties go up and down , I'll grin and bear it - hopefully the publishers will too. Let's face it - in this economy of less disposable income and with the veritable thousands of authors all vying for the same readership, I count myself lucky that there is a check at the end of the month/quarter.

I love what I do, I love what I write, for the most part, and I'll probably keep on doing it as long as I can punch a keyboard.

Monday, September 15, 2014


By Lisabet Sarai

Market? Do I have a market?

I suppose I must. I mean, not all the rows on my monthly royalty statements are zero. However, I suspect that the people who buy my work don’t fit easily into any category, because my writing doesn’t either. They don’t constitute a Market with a capital M. I’m not particularly popular with Erotic Romance Readers, or Suspense Readers, or BDSM Readers, or Science Fiction Readers, or Steampunk Readers, though I’ve written in all those genres. Actually about the only identifiable group who seems to consistently like my work is the community of other erotic authors.

Definitely not what you’d call a large market, though I’ll admit it’s one I respect and for which I’m grateful...

The funny thing is, to a very large extent, I understand what’s popular in the different genres where I dabble. I believe that I could write exactly what the market wants, if I set my mind to it. Another lusty virgin seduced by a dark, seductive, haunted dominant? I cut my literary teeth on that trope, in my very first novel, fifteen years ago. (Okay, Kate wasn’t exactly a virgin, but she was a total newbie as far as BDSM was concerned.) Been there, done that. Although tales of power exchange push my personal buttons more than almost any scenario, the world now has more than enough books with that basic plot. I have little desire to write another.

In fact, I’ll admit that when it comes to my writing, I have a contrary streak a mile wide. I love to experiment with different genres. When I do, my first thoughts involve ways that I can give the genre an original twist. For example, I wrote a feline shape shifter romance in which the hero was originally an ordinary cat. I wrote another shape shifter romance about Quetzlcoatl the feathered serpent. I’m working on a story now where the bossy billionaire is a woman and the virgin is a guy (a nerdy professor who is borderline Asperger’s). I’ve already discussed here at the Grip the BDSM romance I’m contemplating, in which the hero is quadriplegic.

In my multi-genre opus Rajasthani Moon, I challenged myself to include the classic elements of as many genres as I could. I ended up with a steampunk/ BDSM/ multicultural/ menage/ werewolf/ Rubenesque/ Bollywood tale that I personally think is pretty brilliant (or at least, a huge amount of fun), but which readers have mostly shunned.

These narrative choices do not endear me to the capital M erotic romance market. What about pure erotica, though? There are millions of readers looking for stroke fiction and thousands of authors publishing it. I can write fuck-and-suck stories with the best of them (with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, too!) Perhaps that should be my target market.

Alas, sex for the sake of sex bores me, almost as much as love for the sake of the happy ending. If I were desperate for money, I’d probably try my hand at hard-core porn, and I suspect I’d be at least moderately successful, but writing as I do mostly for the pleasure of the experience, I want more than just the mechanics. I’ve received reviews from folks who bought my erotica collections, complaining that the stories weren’t sufficiently graphic. Yes, I know. They had characters. Conflict. Plot.

On the other hand, I find myself struggling to tone down the raw sex in my romance. I make my editors squeamish. Then there’s the problem that my characters always want to have sex with the wrong people, instead of staying focused on their soul mates.

I could write popular erotic romance or utterly filthy smut if I forced myself to do it. I’m quite certain. Despite my contrariness, I’m actually good at taking direction. (I am a sub, after all.) The commissioned stories I’ve written for Custom Erotica Source have been highly praised. Clients have sent comments thanking me for bringing their (for me, sometimes odd or even distasteful) fantasies to life, exactly as they imagined.

I understand how fiction works and how language can manipulate emotion. I feel as though I have decent control over the tools of my craft – better than the majority of published authors today. I’m confident I could bring those tools to bear in order to construct, if not a best seller, at least a series of books that would sell much better than what I write now.

The bottom line, though: I don’t want to do that. Unlike some of you here at the Grip, I’m not trying to make my living at this. I can write what I feel like writing – even if only a few people share my tastes. My true market consists of the relatively rare individuals who care about originality in fiction and who appreciate the way a story is told as much as the story itself.

I know you're out there somewhere.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Privileged to Know

by Jean Roberta

I’m fascinated by celebrity culture: the general perception, fuelled by the media, that we, the mass audience, have relationships with people we only “know” because we’ve seen their images so often.

Once in awhile, I discover that I’m actually less than six degrees away from someone famous. Years ago, I discovered a handwritten sonnet by Robert Frost in a hardcover book that belonged to my mother. She told me that her friend Harry had given it to her some time in the 1930s. Harry’s aunt, editor of The Saturday Review, had printed the poem and then offered it to her nephew: no big deal. I suspect there might still be some hand-written sonnets by William Shakespeare and Percy Shelley in someone’s family archives.

This week, I learned that my old friend, a brilliant hairdresser and drag queen (the only one in town who can impersonate Her Majesty in a way that doesn’t look satirical), is grieving for Joan Rivers because they had a personal connection. Apparently he struck up a friendship with her in 2009 when he did her hair and makeup before she performed at the local casino show lounge. According to him, she was blunt and so was he. She chased an incompetent (unionized) dresser out of her dressing-room, so my friend took over. They understood each other.

He learned that she had a cottage in the Hamptons; he told her that he has a cottage in the Saskatchewan version of the Hamptons (ha – a lakefront property on the prairie). Ever since then, he told me, they had exchanged a “Hamptons-to-Hamptons” phone call in the first week of August. During this year’s chat, he had no idea that it would be their last.

My friend told me that he was notified as soon as Joan passed away, before the media was on it. When the news became public, he posted a 2009 backstage photo of Joan standing between him and his husband on Facebook.

Seeing myself in the mirror in my friend’s hair salon, I thought I looked a bit like Joan Rivers in her latest photos. (Actually, he gave me my usual bob, but I hadn’t noticed the resemblance before. Mine is an undyed silver-grey.)

I’m probably the opposite of those people who think they have personal relationships with celebrities. I always get a certain frisson from hearing that they live in the same world with me.

I am also fascinated by secrets. It intrigues me that for many people in the past, sex was below the radar of what could be acknowledged, even within marriage. Yet sex has happened in every generation, and sometimes it rises to the level of general public awareness.

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, the only person I knew of named Richard Burton was a movie actor who had a scandalous affair with Elizabeth Taylor – while both were married to other people. When I looked through my parents’ library for something to read, I was attracted by the name “Sir Richard Burton” on the cover. I hoped the book was juicy, and I was not disappointed.

The Perfumed Garden, originally written in Arabic by Sheikh Nefzawi during the Islamic Golden Age (some time in the late 1300s or early 1400s by Christian reckoning) probably would have remained unknown to an English-speaking audience if an eccentric English scholar and world traveller, Richard Burton, hadn’t translated it in the Victorian Age (1886). This translation of a sex manual was as scandalous in its time as the later Richard Burton’s sexual behaviour, and the translator’s books (including the Kama Sutra of India) were privately printed. It seems unlikely that any mainstream publisher of the time would have taken them on.

Although this book includes chapters explaining which men and women are to be “held in contempt” (because they are “ugly” or “ill-formed”), and a chapter about the “deceits and treacheries of women,” I was able to overlook various blatant prejudices because the descriptions of sex were like nothing I had ever read before. Here is a seduction scene in which a married woman is tempted by a charming trickster:

Hamdonna threw herself upon Bahloul, took his member between her hands and began to look at it. She was astonished at its size, strength and firmness, and cried: “Here we have the ruin of all women and the cause of many troubles. O Bahloul! I never saw a more beautiful dart than yours!” Still she continued keeping hold of it, and rubbed its head against the lips of her vulva till the latter part seemed to say: “O member, come into me.”

Even though the illicit act that follows seems likely to be “the cause of many troubles,” the woman is clearly expressing her own will; at Bahloul’s urging, she even sits astride him. In the end, both of them get away with it, and the woman’s husband never finds out.

Since then, I’ve wondered if the original Arabic version or Sir Richard’s translation featured the first talking vulva in literature, even if it only seems to proposition a cock.

This book was the first sex manual I remember reading, and now it holds a cherished place in my erotic library. In 2009, when my friend was grooming and dressing Joan Rivers, my parents were leaving this world. (My mother went first, in March, and my father followed six months later.) Later, my sisters and I divided up their stored belongings, including their books. I claimed The Perfumed Garden, and I was glad that no one objected. I couldn’t help wondering what effect this book might have had on our parents.

Some secrets seem destined to stay with the people who kept them.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

"I Am Providence"

by Annabeth Leong

The object of my fascination would likely not have thought much of me. H. P. Lovecraft does not seem to have liked women much. He was anti-immigrant and deeply racist. He hated mentions of sexual matters.

Some people avoid these depressing facts by focusing on the writing rather than the man. My fascination, however, is most definitely focused on the man, and specifically his relationship to his city, where I live now.

When people come to visit me, I nearly always say, "Welcome to Providence, the home of H.P. Lovecraft." The first time I stepped out of the Providence train station and began walking up steep roads toward the East Side, I recognized the shapes of the buildings from Lovecraft's stories. The sky was exactly as he had described it, low and gray. I knew I was walking where he had walked, breathing the air that he had breathed.


At the Necronomicon convention in Providence last year, an event devoted to H.P. Lovecraft, I attended a panel of modern Lovecraftian writers. "I am obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft," said Wilum H. Pugmire, lingering on every syllable. When asked about recent reading, Pugmire cited Lovecraft, over and over again.

I don't have that kind of obsession, though. I've read Lovecraft. I am intrigued by his central themes—forbidden knowledge, secrets with the power to break the mind, the ultimate irrelevance of humanity, and the hopelessness of any battle against large, cosmic evil.

But I'll confess that I prefer Lovecraft as narrated by the brilliant Wayne June. I'm not frightened by what frightened Lovecraft—I am only interested in it. I smile at his purple prose, and it sets me free, but I don't exactly admire it. It is June who brings his tangled sentences to life for me, who makes me see the true worth of his descriptions.

I wonder, then, why I think so much about his footsteps. I wonder what Lovecraft did to earn my devotion. I visit the house where he wrote Call of Cthulhu all the time. I go there as if venerating a saint, standing awkwardly across the street, looking at the window that I know was once his, searching for a relic.


I once paid a healthy sum to tour the city alongside S.T. Joshi, Lovecraft's foremost biographer.

I already knew some of the sites he showed our small group. Over the years I've lived in Providence, I've collected locations relevant to Lovecraft. Every time I walk up Doyle Street, I recall that Lovecraft liked to wheel his bicycle up that very hill on his way to the observatory. When I am stuck in my writing, I go to Prospect Park, where Lovecraft liked to sit and write.

Joshi, however, far surpasses any obsession to which I could pretend. He turns out to have been part of the group that raised the money for a bust of Lovecraft I like to visit. He was the one who corrected a misidentified photograph of Lovecraft on a bench—rather than the New York location where it was thought to have been taken, Joshi recognized the gates outside of Brown University.

Lovecraft's relationship with Providence ran to breathtaking depths. He went through the entire archives of the Providence Journal and read every issue of the paper that had ever been published. He had a love of old Colonial homes (the Victorians were too vulgar, he thought), and he immortalized them in his stories.

Joshi knows where those houses are. At his side, I learned the location of the real-life Shunned House and the home of Charles Dexter Ward (a few houses down from the address given in the story).

I don't think I'm this kind of writer, but I wish I was. Perhaps it's because my life has been so impermanent. I ground myself by clinging to a writer whose roots ran deep, a man who seemed unable to truly exist away from his city.


It is painful to think that, were I to meet Lovecraft, he would likely respond to me with disgust—he was wonderfully generous with his white male writer friends, and I'd like to hope for the same. I don't fool myself, though. Lovecraft opened his Mythos for others to play in, but he would not appreciate what I do with it.

I'm not sure what made it into the final book, but Bobby Derie's draft manuscript for Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos mentioned my work. It pointed to "The Artist's Retreat," a story that appears in J. Blackmore's Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica anthology, as a rare example of lesbian Mythos erotica. I've also been in an anthology alongside the aforementioned Pugmire—we both had stories in Martian Migraine Press's Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath.

To me, there is a way that sex is dark and vast and unknowable, liable to disturb, able to break the mind if it is fully grasped. That's why I like to put sex into the Mythos. That's why to me sex has always been in it.

Still, I know that's not a popular opinion in certain Lovecraftian circles. At that panel I mentioned earlier, a writer I won't name went on a diatribe against what he saw as a disgusting tendency to contaminate the Mythos with sex. His comments essentially amounted to, "Why do you have to go there?" His face was contorted with disgust as he spoke, and others agreed.

My body went hot and my heart began to pound. I am very proud of my Lovecraftian work, and yet his disapproval made me feel the stigma that erotica all too often has. I'm not a real writer. I'm perverted, and I'm perverting something sacred to so many.

Sex belongs in the Mythos, but maybe I also put it in to fuck with people. I can sometimes be a rebel like that. Lovecraft is dead. I visit his grave with devotion, and then I raise a middle finger and write about what it would be like to fuck an Elder God. I use words that would make Lovecraft squirm. I talk about how it would hurt, and how it would feel incredible, and how normal life would be impossible ever after. Desire is, after all, a type of forbidden knowledge. Sex can be inexorable, inevitable. It can reveal selves and realities we don't actually want to meet.

It's too bad the title "Booty Call of Cthulhu" is taken, or I would write that story to fuck with Lovecraft even more.


"He's stuck with me," I tell my sister. We are on the lawn in front of the observatory. I go there almost every day.

If I studied his every word like Pugmire, this would make more sense to me. Instead, I read enough to be credible, and then I walk and walk the streets he liked to walk. I am in his city, and I want to make it mine, too.

Maybe I am like a would-be lover studying the behavior of the beloved's ex. From the moment I laid eyes on Providence, I wanted her. Her name rings with fate and destiny. Her streets drip with history. She is rundown in the ways I love. The best bands come to play here, and they do it just before they get famous.

I want to know what Lovecraft did to win this city, to tie her to him so powerfully. How did he and this city seduce each other so thoroughly?

Maybe I am like a lover who wants to leave a hickey. I want to walk up Doyle and leave grooves in the sidewalk in the wake of my passing. I want to learn to write settings better so that someday, a generation from now, someone finds the remnants of the labyrinth in the churchyard of the Redeemer (which is already crumbling, already half-hidden by an improbable willow tree), and they feel they've already seen it because they read about it in something I wrote.

I don't have the blood of this city in my veins. My parents did not both go mad and get committed to Butler Hospital. I haven't even been inside the Historical Society, and the Providence Journal is dying now, and I'm not sure what sort of feat it would be to read its every issue. And yet I have a sticker on my laptop that arrogantly proclaims, "I am Providence," and one day I would like that to be true.