Friday, May 27, 2005

Baseball Sends Me

I love baseball. As George Carlin pointed out years ago, it’s not the most macho sport on the planet (“Football is played in a STADIUM…baseball is played in a park”). But there’s still plenty erotic about it. Have you seen the look in Kerry Wood’s eye when he winds up for a pitch?

Anything that provides moments of suspense, prowess, power, and sensual enjoyment is erotic to me. The crack the bat makes when generating a home run gives me shivers: That staccato wooden note is a sound of pure force, a sound that speaks of the power in the shoulders of the batter, which in turn says masculinity to me in the most essential way.

Here’s a poem I wrote a few years back about a moment in a coed softball game. I think it makes my point fairly well.

At Bat

Muggy summer night
I have climbed to the highest bleacher—
He is next at bat

He waits on deck, his face clear and stoic
So clean in its lack of emotion
His visage reveals nothing beyond its own youth
So magnificently simple I am transfixed

He steps to the plate, takes his stance
If he hears his teammates cheer, he shows no sign
If there is any threat he denies it
He is purely himself

He takes a swing
In his shoulders strength builds and releases
As easily as I take breath
Draws back the bat, swings again
Such grace as if he knows no other purpose
His mind steadies the moment
Gauging distance, determining force
He is ready

And I
find the still point of his body and am centered there

Low and outside

I realize then how much I want it
The spark, the crack of wood on leather
The power in his shoulders impacted to the ball
The sight of it arching away, arching away

He plants his feet, swings once and twice
Is it physics or poetry?
I feel in his coiled stillness
Potential energy, a pause in the verse
I shush my heart, and the pitcher releases

A strike

I see the smallest signs that he is perturbed
But he lets it pass
And once more swings, recocks the bat
For a moment I don’t care if he connects or not
Content alone in the poise of his arms
But then the desire rises again

Hit it. Hit it hard.

He holds; she pitches
He swings

I can feel it before it happens
How he sends all his strength deep into the wood
Bat meets ball just as he wills it
That glorious crack, and the orb flies

I’m on my feet
He is gone in a flash as the white dot soars
Soars…falls…finds grass
Everyone is scrambling, yelling
Runners cross the plate
Who knew this man could sprint so?
As fast as my breathing, rushing like my blood
He stops at third

And on the next play he comes home

After the game we speak
He wears his sweat like jewels
And his pride like humility
I praise him, he thanks me
But he would never guess
The sublime adventure he fashioned at bat

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sex, the Light Side and the Dark Side

A couple things happened in the last day which were very enlightening, especially in combination.

First of all, I read a short story called “Party Trick” written by Master Nage. It was an excellent piece of short fiction on the theme of lost souls, and that theme was explored largely via a very dark, desperate sex scene. This type of erotica is at the opposite end of the light-dark scale from what I write, but I enjoyed it immensely. It was wonderfully executed both in terms of style and characterization, and had some very important things to say about the human condition.

Secondly, I received an email from a fan who just finished reading my book Soulful Sex Volume II. I reproduce an excerpt here for the purpose of sharing what it was she told me about myself that I didn’t fully grasp before:

“I will start by telling you that a lot of my opinions and observations about your work are tightly woven with my admiration and understanding of the ideal you are trying to attain. Not just in literary style but in your vision. The worlds you create, the characters and circumstances are a reflection of your longing and striving for a better understanding between men and women, a society where sex is not shameful and the women need not feel victimized or promiscuous. Case in point is the Vernal Night Trilogy. Etaen culture is every woman's dream! Upon reading the first paragraph, I stopped and thought, “How does she think this up?” What struck me was the purity of your characters, men and women. Sex is not shameful here, there is no conflict in the characters...Delinn and Arjent’s story is my favorite of all three because of the purity factor I mentioned before. I love the fact that they grew up together and in that maturation, explored their sexuality together without shame. I understand that in this ideal you have created there are no unwanted pregnancies, no STDs, or broken hearts. Yes, it’s only Art but as with all good Art, it resonates, echoes ancient longings we hold, primal memories of a purer time.”

I had never realized until I read this how extreme and unusual my view of sex probably is. I do think of it as pure and divine, albeit recognizing that human nature tends to cause us to spoil all good things to one degree or another. In my stories I do idealize sex, probably because I believe it really could be that good, that innocent and intimate and refreshing. I like to portray it that way because I know in real life it is so often f’ed up, we seldom see it in forms so happy as those I imagine and write about. That’s real life for ya. Which is why I write romance!

But interestingly, as much as I like to write sex that way, I also am grateful for writers like Master Nage who can capture the sad, frustrated, painful side of sex so vividly. Because he, like me, takes the subject seriously. He’s trying to say something about humanity and its yearning for intimacy and unity, and how that yearning is expressed in our sexual encounters. His protagonist is a good, lonely man in a flawed world, where sometimes a strange but powerful satisfaction can be found in the most conflicted engagements.

Has there ever been a subject so complex, so intriguing, so baffling and so wonderful as sex?

These two little occurrences make me think not.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Anakin and That Look

Yes, I was one of those crazies who was at the midnight premiere of “Revenge of the Sith.” Great movie. But I’m not Roger Ebert and this will not be a movie critique. I write about the erotic, and so I sought the most erotic element I could find in a movie which is really not concerned about eroticism at all. Hey, it’s my job.

And it’s gotta be That Look. Anakin’s sexy glare. You know the one, when the proto-Darth tucks his chin, stares out of the tops of his eyes, looks tortured, fuming, anguished. You’ve seen it everywhere: the posters, the movie stills, the publicity shots. You’ve seen it everywhere because it is so damn appealing, to sci fi fans intrigued by the birth of a super-villain, to action-flick lovers wanting to find out why he’s so pissed off, and to females of every nation, race and creed who respond to its beckoning.

Because the Look is a classic seduction. I know Anakin didn’t mean it that way (although I also know Hayden did); nevertheless it is a facial expression that has been sucking in victims since humans developed heads. You’ll find it on Valentino, on the classic poster for “A Clockwork Orange,” in some scene of every vampire movie ever made, and in the act of Constantine Maroulis on “American Idol.”

So what is it about that Look anyway? I theorize it’s working several different physical cues together to make a knockout combination. Chin-tucking, for example, is really a sign of submission, like a little bow. The mind responds to this gesture by feeling saluted, invited. By contrast, however, a piercing stare is an act of aggression. It says, “I’m after you—be very afraid.” So these two opposing cues create confusion, agitation, which is very like arousal. The ambiguous glare does something similar: it provokes questions that beg to be answered. Is Anakin hurt, does he need comforting? Is he angry and dangerous? Or is lust in those deep eyes? Don’t you want to find out? Aren’t you burning to know what he wants?

It’s no wonder that Look makes a girl feel like swooning. It beckons, it frightens, it entrances all at once.

Occasionally I’ve run into a woman or two who admit with chagrin to an infatuation with Darth Vader. The reason that makes sense to me is a topic for another day. But now that Lord Vader has been given a face, and it is a face that has so perfected The Look, I expect we shall have a whole generation of females afflicted with Vader Love.

Nicely done, Messrs. Christensen and Lucas.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Literature or Fetish?

So, is reading erotica a literary experience, or just the written equivalent of phone sex?

I’m getting the idea it can be either one.

14 months ago when I published my first Soulful Sex collection, I thought I had a fairly clear idea of what’s going on in the erotica market today. I’d read my share of Susie Bright anthologies, stories from Playboy, the Sleeping Beauty trilogy and such, so I thought I knew the genre.

But I was wrong.

A year in the business taught me that erotica/erotic romance is the most complex genre in publishing. No one is quite sure how to define these categories, so there's much confusion about that. The readership is insatiable, so while some publishers do turn out decent books, many companies spring up to take advantage of the craze, and crank out hundreds of titles a month of less-than-stellar offerings. Quality is a big question mark.

It can be very confusing indeed for authors trying to write erotic romance that doesn't follow the most common and accepted formulas. Confused, I wondered if I had made a big mistake declaring myself a writer of erotic romance. I found websites that would not review my books because they didn’t contain the obligatory “C-words.” I ran into a reviewer or two who gave my stories high praise but downgraded them for not having enough sex and yet purporting to be erotic.

Meanwhile I sampled some erotica ebook titles, and while I occasionally encountered a well written book, much more frequently I was shocked by the lack of editing and overall poor quality of product. It seemed there was a real lack of standards in this genre.

I recently published an essay entitled “Why Does Erotica Have to Suck So Much?” in my monthly “Explorotica” column for the Novelspot website. I was inundated with mail from readers, authors and publishers who felt exactly as I did: discouraged by the problems in the women’s erotica genre today. These messages confirmed to me the poor quality of many of these books as well as my opinion of the mess much of the industry is in. So it became clear that while a lot of people recognized the flaws in these poorly done books, they are still the cash cow of epublishing and can't keep up with the demand.

The explanation? Well, I have a theory that there are actually two kinds of erotica fans. There are Readers, and there are Fetishists.

Very simply put, the Fetishists are people turned on by certain words and combinations of words in print. The words must be there or they don’t get aroused. If they are, nothing else matters. As phone sex titillates the ear, erotica titillates their eyeballs.

The Readers are people who appreciate literary devices like characterization, suspense, tension building, description, dialogue, and so on, to engage the mind and through it the body. These people are delighted to be turned on, but they go about it in a much more complex and more deeply engaged way.

It's cheaper and easier to make books for the Fetishists, so a lot of publishers put their focus there. And this development has gone on to the point that the Readers have learned to avoid that section of publishers’ websites because it has nothing to offer them. Many quality publishers shy away from books calling themselves erotica. And reviewers don’t know quite what to do.

I’m not here to blast the Fetishists…see my Fetish Test and you’ll find there’s probably not anything harmful coming out of their particular sexual habit. They are free to read whatever books make them happy, without being criticized for it.

I just want people to recognize that the erotica genre need not cater exclusively to the Fetishists. There are authors out here like myself who take an intelligent, creative, even spiritual approach to erotica writing. There are publishers who could support their efforts and turn aside a few of the fetish writers. And there are Readers who can be won back to the genre and find happiness there, if someone will just remember they are out there.

If you have read an erotic book that you feel exemplifies quality writing, manages to be arousing without using typical coarse language, and has literary merit beyond its sensuality, you may nominate it for my “Erotica with Soul List.” Please visit the page and email me your nominees.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Alchemists: A Tribute to Dream Theater

Been listening to my favorite band, Dream Theater, I thought I'd share this poem I wrote last summer. If you have ever experienced becoming completely captivated by music, you will know this particular sort of erotic experience:

(a tribute to Dream Theater)

Drink this stuff if you dare
But know
Genius alchemists have brewed it
Alchemists so mad and wise

From the quickening sap in the veins of spring
From the shifting pull of the moon
Tapping the clouds’ electric charges
Chanting the words that made the world

Drink it if you dare
Wild mathematical elixir
There is science in the lunacy
And your soul will grasp the meaning
As your heart crashes out of control

Were you a green thing it would make you grow
Were you light it would bend you
Were you a poem it would make you rhyme
Iambic, a sonnet of sound

Drink it from your bare hands
This stuff is molten, and when it cools
Is liquid still
And through your fingers it runs
Leaving behind a map to the soul
Inscribed upon your palms

On your tongue you taste the rushing
In your belly it feels alive
Does it stir or soothe you?
The next draught will change your mind
And make you beg another

Drink this stuff, but know
It’s as addictive as living
For from life they distilled it
Men playing at divinity
Channeling power beyond their mortality

Alchemists so mad and wise

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Boy, was it erotic out this morning.

I went for a run in our neighborhood, and May was in full bloom. Cool breeze, warm sun, cloudless sky almost a cornflower blue. The barest of the trees were covered with bursting buds, and most had brand new leaves unfurled in flawless verdant beauty. There was more color in the foliage than on a fine day in October, only it was pink, lavender, white, yellow and magenta. The air was scented clean from the previous day’s rain, mixed with the heady scent of a couple dozen species of flowers. Every gust of breeze sent flower petals showering down on me like confetti at a party. I ran past garden after garden filled with newly blooming tulips, lilacs, daffodils and lilies.

This kind of fecundity is contagious.

I love the word “fecundity.” It simply means fertileness, but sounds so much richer, and implies an erotic sort of magic. When nature abounds in beauty and new growth, a person just feels like being beautiful too, like turning on the charm and winning hearts, like giving every friend a kiss. The total absence of decay and dreariness makes one feel like any sort of mischief is possible, and the normal rules of daily life are temporarily suspended so that all may simply have fun.

I remembered the song Guinevere sings in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical “Camelot,” entitled “The Lusty Month of May”…

Tra la! It's May! The lusty month of May!
That darling month when ev'ryone throws self-control away.
It's time to do a wretched thing or two,
And try to make each precious day one you'll always rue!
It's May! It's May! The month of "yes you may,"
The time for ev'ry frivolous whim, proper or "im."
It's wild! It's gay! A blot in ev'ry way.
The birds and bees with all of their vast amorous past
Gaze at the human race aghast,
The lusty month of May!

Ah yes, let us all imitate the birds and bees and get a little lusty. The forecast for this fine day in May in Wisconsin is “romantic, with occasional scattered bursts of amorous adventure.”

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Clay and Constantine

Obviously the popularity of the show “American Idol” is not due simply to our fascination with talent shows. Few TV programs reach hit status without some element of sex appeal.

The task before the contestants is not only to sing well, but to seduce viewers into dialing their phone number. (And really, isn’t that “give me a call” act part of the mating ritual?) Sure the show is looking for “star quality,” but what it’s really after is a certain type of sex least how I define that term. Sex appeal doesn’t have to be the ability to provoke sexual desire. In this case it’s that force that makes you surrender your emotions to the free manipulation of the “star.”

What I find fascinating about AI is seeing the delightful range of qualities that can constitute sex appeal. A couple of years back both I fell pretty hard for Clay Aiken. Obviously it was only Clay’s spectacular voice that gave him a shot in the competition, but much to everyone’s surprise, he had such a vibrant personality and exciting stage presence that the unassuming, geeky guy from North Carolina proved he could be a sex symbol. Sweetness, purity, and strong faith actually played out to be remarkably magnetic.

On the other hand, there is this year’s heartthrob (regardless of elimination), Constantine Maroulis. Constantine draws upon a much more proven model for seductive success: the rock star. His tucked-chin, looking-out-the-tops-of-his-eyes stare is a never-fail technique for looking sexy. The long hair and leather jacket, the rough good looks, the strutting body language all evoke classic female responses. On stage he is electric, projecting power and sexuality like a dynamo. This kind of intensity is hard to resist.

So we have two very different paths to the female heart (and loins), both of which are equally effective. So is there anything these two performers have in common? Is there some characteristic they share that can be called “star quality” and falls into this special category of erotic appeal?

As someone who finds both these men charming, I think I can speak to these questions. Both Clay and Constantine are commanding. When they step on stage, they experience no fear or intimidation: each man feels himself easily a match for the millions watching. And both captivate the audience, control its emotions, evoke its adulation. Their performances demonstrate a power so potent that to ordinary mortals it seems magical. The response to that is definitely going to be erotic.

It would be interesting to be in a room with these two and listen to them discuss their approach to entertainment. Of course, if the three of us were in a room, talking might not be my first interest....