Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Inspiration of the Erotic Kind

Saturday night my two grown daughters and I watched my DVD of "Oklahoma!", the 1999 London stage version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. It stars Hugh Jackman as the cowboy,
Curly, who fights the upstream battle of courting farm girl Laurie. If you like Hugh with mutton chop sideburns and ten inch claws, you really need to see him sing and dance. And smile. What a smile...

On that rare occasion that you encounter a guy who can do drama and comedy and sing the lead and do his own dancing, all live, and manage to exude 100% testosterone all the while, you have to be pretty impressed. It's no wonder that show made him a star.

So from this height of masculine glory we descended to our normal lives: my 12 year marriage replete with steady, if usually ordinary, happiness...my elder daughter's ongoing struggles with her six month relationship with her sweet, if sometimes challenging, boyfriend...and my younger daughter's continuingly fruitless search for a guy decent enough to date. "Ah Hugh," we sigh, "maybe you're simply the only perfect man on the planet."

Hugh Jackman hasn't exposed his flaws in the manner of, say, Hugh Grant, but he has them. We all know that. Nevertheless, as long as he keeps them under wraps (and smiles a lot in that way), we can go on in blissful ignorance. And frankly, I think there's genuine value in our doing so.

It's sweet inspiration.

Nothing inspires the libido like perfection. I don't believe the libido is just a mating instinct, or a mere thirst for physical pleasure. I think it also can be the soul's yearning for the ideal. Day to day we can put up with life's little imperfections and disappointments, but each day also desperately needs a bit of beauty: beautiful music, pretty scenery, well written prose, lovely art, well-crafted entertainment. Day to day we can live with the flaws and foibles of ourselves and our fellows, but on a truly good day we enjoy the presence of a person we can at least imagine to be perfect.

My soul sings when I see Hugh Jackman smile. He is the definition of beaming: shining bright and warm like the sun, filling the gray and gloomy corners of my mind and heart with the sunshine of sweetness and good humor. His brown eyes are so perfectly what one wishes all brown eyes could be: deep and clear and captivating. There on the TV he cannot physically reach out to touch me, but the touch of his brown eyes is utterly palpable, and serves perfectly well as an embrace.

When he gathers the frightened Laurie in his arms and shushes her sobs, he is the personification of paternal love and protection. When he dances with her he is majesty and grace and princely beauty. And when he sings, pouring his heart out unabashedly in those long triple forte notes, his voice clear and true, he is love as much as any god of love invented by the ancients ever was.

He makes one (or at least me) rhapsodize. And that is just what the libido needs. The soul is so inspired, so excited, so wildly happy at all this beauty, it pours itself out in a rush of desire and adoration. Given a chance, who wouldn't want to kiss this man, caress every inch of him, stare for hours into his eyes, stroke his curls, strip him naked and make love to him?

And interestingly, one finds in this rush of libidinous emotion a certain willingness to look more kindly on the less perfect aspects of life. The happiness that springs from experiencing the ideal is so refreshing, we suddenly see the little ideal aspects of our ordinary mates. That, I suppose, is why a good romance movie (or even a good porno movie) can inspire a couple of ordinary humans to look upon each other with new zest.

By the way, my husband has a very nice smile too.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Fan Fiction, Love and Lust

A few years back, when I discovered how fan fiction was thriving online, I was amazed. There were literally hundreds of thousands of people pouring themselves into writing about various characters from Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy, Lord of the Rings, and so on. And the majority of it seemed to be erotic (and the majority of that, “slash,” but the popularity of writing about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in bed together is something I won’t venture to explain here). People absolutely love reading each other’s stories about their favorite characters, and some of it is quite well done.

At that time, I posted online an Obi-Wan Kenobi erotic piece. (I later rewrote it in non-Star Warsian fashion as the story “As Commonplace as Rain,” published in my book Soulful Sex Volume II.) It gave me a great opportunity to get to know some members of the fan fic community, and to this day I occasionally get emails asking me for a copy of the original story. (Can’t give it to you, sorry--copyright issues and all.) The whole experience was fascinating, and I think fan fiction is something everyone who writes erotica should explore a bit. It has a lot to tell us about sexuality.

In my opinion, the reason why erotic fan fiction works so well is that the reader is already in love with the protagonist.

I maintain it’s difficult (at least for women) to get effectively and meaningfully turned on by erotic fiction that makes no attempt to get the reader to fall for the hero before she needs to lust for him. A single paragraph about his broad chest and muscular ass isn’t going to do it. For the story to work well, he has to be interesting, compelling, funny, inspiring, something. And even then, not every well-written hero--not even the classic alpha male--will work for every woman. Each reader’s taste is different.

But with fan fiction, you circumvent all these problems. If you are surfing for hot stories about Sawyer and Kate from “Lost,” it’s because you already know them and like them and have already partaken of plenty of preparatory sexual tension between them watching the show. If you are downloading a story about Anakin/Darth Vader, it’s because the particular archetype of the tortured soul moves you below the belt.

So the author of the story can get into the hot stuff relatively quickly and still have it work for you. The love is already there, so the lust can commence immediately!

Ironically, however, I have found that a lot of these amateur writers take more pains than many professional erotica writers to establish tension, develop character, and set up the love scenes. Well, perhaps it’s not actually ironic at all. These authors love the characters they are writing about and get a thrill out of their being present in the story even fully dressed and far from bed. To be interested in writing fan fiction, most of them are in love with Spike or Spock or John Locke, and consequently want desperately to do justice to that character.

I say, good for them. To me, this is a principle all writers who aspire to writing erotic fiction should apply. Pretend the hero you are creating is real; pretend he might himself come across this story some day and read about himself. Would he be impressed, write you a thank you email, possibly want to meet you? Because that’s undoubtedly the secret prayer of many who write fan fiction. They lie in bed at night fantasizing about Ewan McGregor writing them, “No one has done such justice to my portrayal of Christian in Moulin Rouge as you did in your story. You amaze me.” If, on the contrary, an author never lies in bed fantasizing about a character she’s invented, there’s a problem. You’re simply not in love with him, so how good can your writing about him be?

Some people may mock fan fiction writers, but as for me, I admire many of them. They have wonderfully vivid imaginations and genuine passion. Of course they know the difference between real and imaginary, they simply happen to like imaginary, and well they should.

Keep up the good work, you guys: show the world how love should pave the way for lust.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pure, Unadulaterated Adultery

Ah dreams...it’s so nice how they enable you to experience things you really don’t want to experience in real life.

This morning I dreamt I was in love with a married man. No, I’m not sure I was in love with him; but I definitely was obsessed with having sex with him. I can’t tell you what the attraction was. He wasn’t anybody I know in real life, and the dream didn’t supply a lot of information about his personality, character, interests, etc. He was tall, slender, with wavy light brown hair and blue eyes. He was good enough looking I suppose. And the only other thing I can tell you is, he was married, with children, and the level of craving I had for this man was so extreme that I really didn’t care.

To make matters worse, I was at his house, and his family may or may not have been at home. His home was a place with countless rooms (as often happens in dreams) located on a huge plot of forested land along a river. Consequently there was the tempting potential for us to slip away successfully somewhere and consummate our desire, but also the risk of discovery at any time.

This dream had a theme, and one theme only: desperate lust. I have never experienced such single-mindedness in real life. I wanted this man with a fervor that drove out every other ambition, including eating, sleeping, self-respect, and any care for tomorrow. I hadn’t a thought for his marriage or his kids; morality seemed irrelevant in the face of such all-consuming desire. The feeling was akin to starvation...does a starving man weigh the moral consequences of stealing a loaf of bread? In a way I felt entitled to this man’s body by token of my very craving for it, as if that superceded any other law of nature or society.

In his presence I could do nothing other than pursue with him the opportunity for sex. Were the situation different and he a single man, I surely would have given myself to him on the floor of the first room in which we were together. Alas, we were hindered by a need for discretion, and so my dream became an endless, fruitless search for privacy--in the house, on the grounds, in the buildings of the neighborhood.

And all the while I burned for him. Not for any particular aspect of him, or due to any particular merit, but rather almost as if I must mate or perish and he were the only man on the planet. I yearned, I ached, I nearly panicked at times, but it was not so bad as that sounds. For there was a peace and comfort to the fact that I had only one need, one desire, one hope, and it was all very simple and quite near at hand. I knew I had only to make love with this man and my pleasure would be perfect forever.

Unfortunately, in the dream we never found our trysting spot, and I woke up and it was morning and my dear husband was up and about.

I have often dreamt of fantasy men who were wonderful, beautiful, charming and captivating. Upon waking I was dismayed to feel them slip away, and would spend the day thinking of them. There was nothing about this morning’s dream man to recommend him for such reminiscences. However, I did spend more than a moment contemplating what it was like to feel that kind of desire. Something in human nature covets lust like that. But at the same time, it was more a relief than anything to awaken and know I was not in thrall to a married man for whom I didn’t even feel love.

Reflections on this? Not really. It’s just interesting what the psyche can experience through dreams.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Between a Cock and a Hard Place

The other day I was visiting the website of an erotica author to check out her stuff. She had handily posted an excerpt from her latest book right on her home page.

Before I say anything further, I want to avoid getting into trouble again like I did over my column written for the website Novelspot in May 2005. I learned that the fans of erotica, God bless ‘em, are very protective of their genre. I am not picking on this author, whom I shall not name, nor on her readers, nor anyone else whose opinion differs from mine. I am simply speaking of personal taste. Are we clear on that? Good.

The passage in question was the opening of the book, and about six paragraphs in, the cock and balls appeared. Literally. Now to most people, that is erotica. Cock-and-balls is what it’s all about, and without that, it’s not erotica. I will grant you that’s the prevailing opinion. Ironically, however, not only does this kind of story not turn me on, it turns me off. It makes me cringe and click the back button. That’s just me.

So apparently I’m not an erotica reader, and yet I write books called “erotica with soul” and maintain this blog. Believe me, some days I find that as weird as you do. Nevertheless, I will persist, and for one reason alone: I think sex is wonderful.

How can a person who thinks sex is wonderful cringe at a cock-and-balls story? Well, because sex is a very individualized thing. Do we call a man who is not attracted to women a sex-hater? No, usually we just call him gay. I love sex and things sexual, I love desire and lust and sensuality. At the same time, I personally am not into sex without personality, or sex without seduction...and, alas for me, I am not into the words “cock” and “balls,” among others.

This has put me between a cock and a hard place ever since I started in this business. On the one hand, my publisher, New Age Dimensions, turned down one of my stories once for subject matter. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, some reviewers have downgraded my work because they don’t think it should call itself erotic. I write for readers who like sex with their romance, and it is graphic sex...but many erotica fans feel my books don’t deliver what they expect.

Well, I could never be comfortable writing prose like the author referred to above. Not out of embarrassment or shame, mind you. I am the sort of person who went topless in my neighborhood at age five, have done it at parties, and would do it in public occasionally if it were legal. No, it’s because I love to write beautiful prose, prose that is sensual and lovely and literary and full of all the richness language has to offer, insofar as I am able with my limited gifts. Again, that’s just my style.

So I am forced by quirk of personality to write about sex in a way that doesn’t read like erotica. My apologies to all who attempt to read me and are offended by this. But my hope continues to be that there are others out there like me, who flee in repulsion from the cock-and-balls stories but nevertheless, really, really do like sex. These are readers who like to warm up to the characters, to be seduced by them, so that by the time the clothes come off it is a supreme relief. These are readers who find a scene sexy because they desperately love these two characters and are dying for them to be intimate.

I personally feel it is difficult to write good cock-and-balls, but not impossible. In 2004 I judged the erotic romance category for the Eppie Awards, and although all four books I read and rated were in that style, one was really well done and I ranked it very high (and it won the category eventually). Two of the others were publishable but not great. The fourth book was so poorly written I was appalled that it was in print, but not because of a preponderance of cocks or balls--it was just bad.

And because of the insatiability of the erotica market today, publishers putting out that genre do get lazy sometimes. And few readers or reviewers are willing to express criticism towards erotica lest they be labeled prudish, judgmental erotica-haters (much as in today’s culture if you criticize a person in a minority group, you risk being called racist). Why, I myself have been called a prudish, judgmental erotica-hater.

To which I can only reply, “But how can that be when I really, really love sex?”

So anyway, there are days when I despair of this endeavor I have undertaken to write “erotica with soul.” I think, “why do I kid myself that I’m writing erotic romance?” I read a piece of cock-and-balls and say to myself, “Now THIS is what people expect from YOU, dear.”

But then I’ll get a fan letter from a reader thanking me for my stories, or a glowing review about my “fresh style,” or find out my last quarter’s sales, or simply finish writing a piece I find thoroughly arousing, and I set my worries aside. Regardless of what it is, people are reading it and liking it. And even if they weren’t, I’d write it anyway.

Just because I think sex is wonderful.