Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Aphrodisiac

Being a Stephen King buff, I had to indulge myself in the recent broadcast of the made-for-TV movie “Desperation,” written and produced by the master of horror. It was one of those “oops, we’ve unleashed the long-buried evil spirits and we’re in trouble now” stories, decently enough done. The presence of the ever-attractive Steven Weber as lead character Steve Ames did not hurt.

One of the highlights of this movie was a superb scene between Steven and co-star Kelly Overton as one Cynthia Smith. Steve picks up hitchhiker Cynthia on the open road near Desperation, Nevada and the two hit it off before the creepy stuff kicks in; they are quirky but good people. There’s a little flirting between them in the guise of teasing, nothing overt. The fun is over quickly once they start investigating the disappearance of Steve’s boss and end up in Desperation, surrounded by all kinds of evil manifestations.

One of these is an ancient stone sculpture of a sinister creature, which Steve finds on a table and touches. Why he doesn’t back off from the thing immediately is not clear at first. Then Cynthia puts her hand upon it as well, and the problem becomes instantly apparent. This weird object is radiating sexual power, and both of them are in the grip of an overwhelming aphrodisiac.

Cynthia gives Steve a look that would buckle the knees of the most disinterested man. They are on each other at once, groping, kissing, frantic with lust. Thanks, evil ancient talisman! There’s not much sex in Stephen King and it was sure bonus to get a scene like this with Steven Weber!

Alas, the typical horror movie interruption ensues before any clothes are ripped off (this is network TV after all). But this was one of those scenes that can stay with you more than most pornographic scenes manage to do. Why? Well, me being me, I’m going to address that!

There’s something very powerful about the concept of the aphrodisiac, and I’m not talking about prescription drugs taken for impotence here. I mean the magical stuff that works its way over people who had no such intention, are completely taken by surprise, and find themselves helpless. This scene in “Desperation” was a perfect example. Steve and Cynthia are two attractive people obviously attracted to one another, but doing anything about that is the farthest thing from their minds, particularly once they are embroiled in the crisis of finding a town populated by dead bodies.

But in an eye blink, all that changes. Thanks to demonic forces, they find themselves so overwhelmed with lust that nothing matters but sex. Had they been with someone less desirable, that wouldn’t have mattered either. Their wills are at once turned to only one concern: physical gratification.

How liberating is this? In real life, there are always a dozen distractions from sexual desire. If you are just dating the guy, you may be full of doubts as to how safe it is to yield to lust. You struggle with insecurity, shame, pride, etc. Even if you are in an established relationship, you have so many other concerns: your energy level, the kids, your job, the bills, your weight or his, etc. Even during a perfectly satisfying lovemaking session you’ll find yourself thinking about what to make for dinner tomorrow.

How thrilling it is then to imagine being under the influence of an aphrodisiac, to be absolutely single-minded of purpose concerning sex. Steve didn’t have to think about whether Cynthia would accuse him of date rape. Cynthia didn’t have to wonder if this was going to be just a one night stand. Neither of them was distracted by the creepiness of the town or the danger they were in, not even by the fact that an evil force had just seized control of their minds and bodies. There was nothing to think or feel but lust. Just “I feel so good I want to feel better and you make me feel better so let’s touch and kiss and copulate and eat each other alive till we feel total ecstasy.”

Nor was there any problem with either one of them not being the perfect partner. (Not that Steven Weber wouldn’t be, of course.) When your bloodstream is surging with Love Potion No. 9, that warm body next to you is the answer to your prayers, period. You don’t care that you’d prefer someone taller, richer, or less interested in football. He looks as feels as good to you as any man on the planet could.

And even best of all is the fact that morally you are off the hook! No hard feelings or misgivings when you were in the thrall of an evil aphrodisiac, now are there? Such a deal: not only do you get to give in to raw, amoral lust...it comes completely guilt-free.

This whole scenario is so sexually ideal that it turns a person on just to watch it or think about it. Or write about it, for that matter. (My lucky husband tonight.) But as with most really great sexual scenarios, keeping it in the realm of fiction is best I guess. Because the one downside to the aphrodisiac is that it is not consequence-free. As fun as it might be while it’s happening, after the fact one might find oneself in some serious trouble.

But as a person who deals in fiction, I’m thinking just of the upside. And of how I’m going to work this concept into my next story...hmm, yeah, I think I know just the thing...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

An Oval Peg

Well, I’m back from Florida, where I served on three erotica panels at the Romantic Times Book Lovers National Convention. I was very humbled to share the dais with the likes of Jade Lee, Angela Knight, Emma Holly and Cheyenne McCray, all big names in the industry. RT BookClub invited me to appear on their panels and to this day I’m really not sure why they invited such a novice! I’ve only been writing in this field for two years and am still at the stage where I can’t believe anyone has heard of me. It was a great honor.

Let me start by saying that from the two conventions at which I have appeared in this time, I’ve found romance fans to be the nicest, most enthusiastic and cheerful bunch you would ever want to meet. But at the same time, it’s always a challenge for me to be with this crowd. With my background and life’s history, I’m a much better fit with the Star Wars and D&D bunch that attend GenCon in my hometown of Milwaukee every summer. I can talk Star Trek or X Files with the best of ‘em, but I know nothing about Harlequin or Nora Roberts or any other subject that romance readers eat, sleep and breathe.

Worse even than that, I’ve tried reading a couple of the free books that I’ve received at conventions and I can’t really get past the fourth page of them. But before you conclude that I just don’t like romance, I must interject that my top ten favorite books include Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Gone with the Wind. Likewise, I grew up immersed in the great Broadway shows of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, which are pretty dang romantic. I’m also a big believer in happily-ever-after (or HEA as it is termed in the romance biz). So it’s not like I don’t like the whole boy-meets-girl thing.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying I am a square peg in a round hole. Or maybe an oval peg would be more accurate. I’m a similar shape but I really don’t fit.

I lamented about this once to my publisher and editor, and they assured me there is no “classic romance fan” and that readers of my books were all kinds of people and that was just fine with them. But whenever you write genre fiction, you can’t help but feel the pressure to be like the others who write in that genre. Most of your readers have expectations, including that you have read plenty of other books in the field, that you keep up on the various imprints and series, that you find cover models (like Fabio) attractive and exciting, etc.

I’m afraid I don’t have it in me to be like that. But at the same time, I take solace in the fact that a lot of people, both self-avowed romance fans and readers outside that fold, like what I write. I guess that’s the important thing. And “writing what I write” is me. I write stories about love and sex, about men and women and their most intimate, passionate interactions, and it’s something I love to do.

So I probably won’t be spending a lot of time doing the convention scene, but happily, that will just give this oval peg more time to write.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Three Ordinary Guys with Sex Appeal

Every once in awhile you suddenly find yourself turned on by the most ordinary sorts of guys, men who wouldn’t never stand out in a crowd. Three in particular come to mind to illustrate what I mean—one real, one fictional, and one a hybrid of both.

The Smart Guy – Journalist Carl Cameron

FoxNews viewers know Carl and the boyishly goofy-looking Washington correspondent who typically covers the presidential campaigns, etc. I’ve had a crush on Carl for some years now even though he lacks anchorman good looks. The guy is just so damn smart. When he speaks you can tell he could eloquently discuss any political topic under the sun and back his comments up with countless facts and figures. He has that rare combination of the command of detailed information and the ability to analyze.

Nothing ruffles Carl; he has a ready articulate answer for any question. His face suggests what Mayberry’s Opie would have looked like if he grew up to be a journalist, but there is nothing boy-howdy about this reporter. He is hard as nails, uncompromising, and confident. And it doesn’t hurt that every now and then he exhibits a dry sense of humor punctuated by an amazingly endearing smile.

The Capable Guy – Anthony Hopkins in “The Edge”

In this wonderful 1997 film, Anthony plays Charles Morse, an aging billionaire married to a supermodel (Elle Macpherson), who travels to the Alaskan wilderness for a photo shoot with his wife and a photographer, Bob Green (Alec Baldwin). Bob is young, cocky, good-looking, and apparently having an affair with Charles’s wife. Charles is balding, quiet, unassuming, and brilliant. It also turns out he has a brain full of facts, many of which are eminently useful in survival situations, which comes in handy when he and Bob end up crash landing in man-eating bear territory.

It is the juxtaposition of Charles and Bob that truly calls attention to the older man’s quiet sex appeal. Bob has the looks, the self-confidence, and the macho youthfulness that typically qualify as sexy. But Charles, who has obviously come by his money by wisdom, effort and patience, truly has the qualities that make a man desirable. Bob looks like a buffoon next to him. More fairly, he is pretty much an ordinary guy, whereas Charles is a sort of entrepreneurial shaman who epitomizes masculine ingenuity and resourcefulness. That he does this in such a quiet, self-effacing way only makes him more appealing.

The Dutiful Guy – Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Lane in “Shattered Glass”

I’m not going to claim Peter Sarsgaard is ordinary-looking, seeing as I find him one of the hottest actors around. But in this 2003 film he does a brilliant job portraying regular guy Chuck Lane, the New Republic editor who ended up exposing the journalistic crimes of Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen). Again, it is the juxtaposition of two characters that brings out the heroism of a guy who could easily be overlooked. In the news room it is Stephen who comes across as exciting and brilliant. He has a way of appearing talented but vulnerable, and this charm wins the hearts of all his co-workers. Only Chuck, a quiet family man dedicated to his principles, stays objective about Stephen.

Chuck is the sort of guy who is so introverted he could potentially be walked all over, and occasionally is. But underneath his passive exterior, Chuck has a basic sense of right and wrong that is unshakable. When faced with injustice, he rises to the occasion with a fervor that would make Braveheart’s William Wallace proud. Peter Sarsgaard plays the role in an understated but heroic manner that makes his character ultimately even more attractive than the flashy and charismatic Stephen. The story is true; it makes a woman wish she could meet the real Chuck Lane.

What do these three men have in common? Their outward appearance and manner belie the fact that they embody key masculine traits that are extremely sexy. At first blush they don’t look like anything special, but in reality, they are uncommonly gifted in ways that make them particularly capable of handling challenge. In other words, they are unassuming heroes. Now I like a self-sure, obviously extraordinary hero as much as the next woman, but there’s something special about finding heroism in hidden places. These three men, and others like them, are buried sexual treasure.

Monday, May 08, 2006

My Latest Book: "Do-It-YourSelf-Publishing"

It occurred to me I really ought to mention on the blog that I published a new book last week, even though it has nothing to do with “erotica with soul.”

Do-It-YourSelf-Publishing is my little how-to book that sets forth the entire process I used when I decided to become my own publisher back in February. So many people asked me about how it’s done, I finally gave in and wrote it all down. Here’s the official promo stuff for those who care:

If you are frustrated with your lack of success finding a publisher…if you’ve looked into companies that will publish your book for you and been appalled at what they charge…if you wish you better understood what the new printing and ebook technologies meant in terms of your options…then this little book can help. Author Diane Lau (aka Diana Laurence) gives the whole scoop on how she published her titles through her own small publishing house, and tells how you can too.

Do-It-YourSelf-Publishing is a step-by-step blueprint through the entire process, to help you decide if this approach is right for you, and guide you to valuable resources that will enable you to become your own publisher. From estimating your costs to finding out the skills you need and how to acquire them, you'll learn how a previously published author found a more enjoyable and profitable way to sell her books: by publishing herself.

You can purchase Do-It-YourSelf-Publishing from Amazon and from Living Beyond Reality Press (15% off). 50 pages in Adobe Reader (pdf) format, with color illustrations, the book retails for $2.99. For complete information visit www.dianalaurence.com/diyp.html.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Why Are We Ashamed of Sex?

I’ve been told more than once that my stories exhibit a remarkably innocent take on sex. (Some might say a remarkably unrealistic take as well.) I’ll admit I’ve never been into the sordid side of sex, although I do understand that a large chunk of the population like their erotica raunchy and that’s a fact. Why do I try to keep my stuff so “wholesome”? I guess because I feel like there are plenty of reasons why we are ashamed of sex, and I’d just as soon come up with some reasons not to be.

So I’ve never really addressed head-on why the emotion of shame is so closely tied to the erotic. I started thinking about it recently while emailing with my fascinating new acquaintance Laura, who worked for ten years as a video chatroom hostess. Speaking of innocent (or to be more accurate, na├»ve), I didn’t even know there were video chatroom hostesses. But it’s a service that obviously would thrive on the web: users pay for the privilege of video erotic play.

The topic of shame arises not in that I think Laura or her visitors ought to feel guilty. I believe love and sex make the world go ‘round and in most cases this kind of thing is probably quite harmless. No, the shame element is demonstrated here by the fact that people can’t get their needs met in this regard in any other way than going to a stranger.

Take the guy with the milk fetish that Laura told me about. Maybe his significant other wouldn’t want to pour milk on herself, but it’s just as likely the guy simply doesn’t want to admit his erotic fascination with milk to anyone who knows him personally. Point is, people are frequently unwilling to reveal certain aspects of their sexuality to anyone--unless it is a stranger and they can keep their identity secret.

We use the term “kinky” for any sort of sexual affinity not in the mainstream. It is usually not taken as flattery. But in truth, everyone has his or her kinky side. That is, each of us gets turned on by something we find too embarrassing to admit to, not even to our life partners. The nature of sex is that it’s very Pavlovian: the most unusual things can become associated with arousal, and a person is very quickly conditioned to that association, sometimes even exclusively. He or she may wish the association could be reversed, but usually it can’t.

So, you have a secret that is embarrassing, private, and out of your control: it’s a set-up for shame.

Should the milk guy be ashamed of his fetish? I don’t see why. But because he’d rather it be kept secret from his family, friends and co-workers, he feels shame. I suspect even without the constraints of society and religion, people would feel plenty of natural shame about their sex lives, even when there’s not a thing morally wrong.

Interestingly, since for many of us shame is such a recurring element of sex, it can often become a fetish in and of itself. A book isn’t erotic unless it’s “naughty,” we can’t get aroused unless we’re “being bad.” For a lot of people, the innocent, wholesome sex I write about just isn’t erotic--they can’t be turned on unless the raunchy language is there, etc.

Yes, first we feel shame for being turned on, and then we get turned on by that shame. Sex does get quite complicated.

And speaking of complicated, I can imagine how complicated it might get for one of Laura’s chatroom participants if, for example, he got caught by his wife. And all the while, it’s perfectly possible the guy has no morally justifiable reason to feel shame. He may well love his wife, be totally devoted to her happiness, and even have a fine and satisfying sex life with her, and still have outlet for his erotic life that he keeps secret. It’s too bad that it’s so difficult to sort out the shame we feel about sexual things simply because they are embarrassing, private, and out of our control, even though they may not be wrong.

If my attitude about that example surprises anyone, I’ll elaborate a bit. I know what real sexual betrayal is from experience, since I was married for 15 years to a gay man who had an active sex life outside our marriage. The betrayal happened not so much in the acts he committed, but in his choice to marry a woman knowing he could not commit sexually to that relationship. My point here is, a person can have some secret fetishes in which he or she indulges in fantasies, or even in the occasional “acted out” fantasy of a video chatroom, without needing to feel guilty. I’d ask how that person treats the human beings s/he lives with every day, including his/her partner, before making that judgment call.

But feeling a little shame about sex is simply human. It’s powerful, private, and very complex, as Laura can attest to as well as anyone. (She’s thinking of writing a book, and I say she better!) I’m not sure we as a culture will ever perfectly sort out which aspects of sex we ought to feel ashamed of and which are “normal and healthy.” Even in my “innocent, wholesome” erotica stories that’s still a matter of great debate.