Monday, May 25, 2009

When Your Celebrity Crush Finds Out

I first met my friend Rebecca after posting about "the Kohl's Guy" (aka Kevin Rice) last fall. She's a huge fan of his so of course she had to introduce herself. In the subsequent months Rebecca has done a bang-up job being a fan, sharing plenty of photos and entertaining content on her blog and also creating a Facebook page for Kevin. I've really enjoyed watching her go down such a path for the first time, having myself blazed that trail ridiculously often.

Recently, through the people who have signed up on Kevin's Facebook page, many of whom are his friends, it became clear to Rebecca that the man had most certainly at some point read her musings about him. Yes, she experienced the "OMG My Celebrity Crush Has Read My Stuff" Moment. There's nothing quite like it, that feeling that is the perfect blend of "oh yay he knows I exist!" and "oh god, he has to think I'm some insane stalker."

Rebecca reacted as all intelligent, well-adjusted, sensible people do when this occurs: She laughed at herself. I've certainly made fun of myself a number of times on this blog for my own romantic ravings about celebrities from whom I have the hots. It's a much healthier and more reasonable reaction than panic or shame. Certainly any celebrity who has run across fan commentary such as this merely smiles, is fairly pleased, and in the case of the humble ones, shakes his head and says, "If only you knew me, honey, you'd find out I'm just a guy."

Still, I know from experience that Rebecca is having the occasional panicky moment of shame. Well, shame is too strong a word: it's really more just embarrassment. I think that springs from the fact that when one writes or blogs about a celebrity crush, one's thoughts are in another world. We interact with our crushes in the realm of imagination. It's not like we filter everything we do and say in that place, keeping in mind that the actual man may someday read it. As much as it seems ironic, when we are most intimately and vividly engaged with our crush, the real fellow is quite far from the picture.

So when suddenly the flesh-and-blood guy pokes his head into the scene, looks around at what we've created, and reacts...well, it can really freak one out.

During my vacation this weekend, I made a pilgrimage to a comic book store in Minneapolis that is a favorite hangout of Neil Gaiman. For one thing, I do like stores like that, and wanted to see this particular, renowned one. DreamHaven is a very cool place in its own right. But my other purpose for the visit was to drop off for Neil a copy of the comic book I wrote, which includes reference to his inspiration as a comic book writer, and a copy of my collection Soulful Sex: The Darker Side which was dedicated to him.

This isn't the first time I've given a celebrity a book dedicated to him...I actually hand delivered my book Living Beyond Reality to the then-famous hockey player to whom it was dedicated. That was a scary and thrilling time. Meanwhile, I also sent Les Stroud a copy of the book that contained my story dedicated to him ("Spacewrecked with Joel Fennimore," Soulful Sex: The Science Fiction Collection), and it's weird to think he's read it.

The funny thing about this situation is that I'm not at all sure these books will ever be cracked open by Mr. Gaiman. For one thing, it would involve Greg (the owner of DreamHaven) actually remembering to give my package to him on a future, rare visit. And for another, it would require Neil to take the time to open it and look. And gifts from fans arrive in his hands every day, I'm sure.

So to be honest, I really simply went through the motions of this delivery in a ceremonial way; that is, just to go through officially with the dedication of the book. I certainly have no expectation of someday getting an email from Neil or even Greg about the matter. Which is fine with me.

Still, I can't say I haven't gone through the exercise of imagining Neil stretched out on his couch, reading my book by the amber light of one lamp, saying to himself, "Wow, I like this!"

That's just the kind of thing dreamers like me and Rebecca do. Much to our occasional, good-natured embarrassment.

Monday, May 11, 2009

From Horror to Romance: Vampires Transformed

So, I can now share with you more about the book I’m currently writing for early 2010 release by Sellers Publishing. It’s called How to Catch and Keep a Vampire and will be a step-by-step guide to finding, selecting, wooing and being in a relationship with a vampire. Surely everyone will want a copy, right?

I’m about halfway through drafting the book and so far I’m having a wonderful time addressing issues like what traits are most attractive to vampires, how to relate to these undead charmers, etc. As I research the matter online I have been finding out just how many people out there have burning questions on this subject. I’m glad to do my part to provide answers and clarification. And yes, this book is supposed to be funny. But also helpful. You’ll just have to read it to see how this all shakes down.

Needless to say, this project has brought to my mind just what a huge volume of vampire literature, lore, and pop culture has accumulated from the time these creatures first appeared in our world. Particularly interesting to me is to watch the slow but sure evolution of the blood-drinker from horror icon to sex symbol.

If you want to go back to the earliest vampire movies, check out 1922’s German horror film “Nosferatu.” I share for you here a photo of Max Schreck in the starring role of Count Orloc, based upon Dracula from Bram Stoker’s novel. He is quite thoroughly unattractive and terrifying. And really, when you think about it, shouldn’t a creature that feeds on human blood be terrifying?

Nevertheless, from their earliest origins, vampires have always possessed a certain sexual allure, however shrouded in creepiness. The original movie Dracula, Bela Lugosi, certainly did. Everyone picked up immediately on the parallels between vampire victimization and erotic seduction. It wasn’t simply because the neck is an erogenous zone, although it is. There was also the eternal struggle of dominance and submission that we are often ashamed to associate with sex and therefore shroud in metaphor, like the vampire myth.

For most of my lifetime, the vampire genre has been a mixed bag of horror and eroticism. Both elements were always present—in different proportions, true, but always both. Only in recent years have we seen the erotic—and even, can you believe it, romantic—side rise to the fore. A lot of people will credit Stephenie Meyer and Twilight for this development, but in fact, it was brewing before her books became bestsellers. Romance readers have for years had an insatiable appetite for vampire romance. More and more authors (myself included with my novellas “
Pints” and “The Verity of the Vampyre” and my novel Bloodchained) were finding ways before Twilight to provide romantic vampire heroes to our readers.

A century ago vampires were served up as horror characters with a dash of sexiness. Now it is all the rage to make vampires into sex symbols with a dash of the sinister, like Spike here from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

I think the change is reflective of a larger societal transformation. And I think it’s a good one. We have become more accepting of our own “dark urges,” if you will. More and more people are discovering it’s possible to explore that side of the psyche and keep your moral compass. In fact, playing on the dark side can be refreshing and invigorating, and actually help a person keep to “the straight and narrow” in real life.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in the popularity of Harry Potter. Witches and warlocks were once nearly universally feared and loathed. But at Hogwarts, in spite of the mystery and intermittent scariness, we find the world of witchcraft turned into a wholesome environment in which kids can grow up.

How to Catch and Keep a Vampire would not have worked a hundred years ago unless it was about trapping and extermination. But happily, in today’s world there are a whole lot of people who love vampires and simply want to understand why they do, and what to do with that affection.

It’s going to be really fun for me to give them some ideas.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Poetry of C.E. Chaffin

Today I'm doing something unusual for me, and taking part in the virtual book tour of an amazing poet who introduced me to his work recently. I was just so happy to be able to share with my readers the lovely poetry of C. E. Chaffin.

Craig recently published his book, Unexpected Light, and is spreading the word around the Web. I asked Craig to tell me how he feels about writing romantic poetry, and here was his eloquent reply:

"Love poetry is exceedingly difficult to write, in my opinion, as it is a subject as old as poetry, possibly even the first subject. Thus when putting pen to paper a poet must be conscious of the great tradition, from Sappho to Dante to Donne to Shakespeare and onward. Clich├ęs are hard to avoid; without a historical consciousness of love poetry, culled from much reading, the poet may just end up repeating ideas and language already dedicated to the tradition of love.

"My own poems are inspired by my true love of ten years, Kathleen McGovern Chaffin. Since we met, despite all the challenges of our mutual disabilities--(she is deaf and suffers from depression; I'm a manic-depressive also under treatment for chronic pain)--love has truly triumphed over all. Every morning when I wake and see her dear face sleeping I am filled again with wonder at the miracle of human love. It transforms and feeds, it supports and encourages, and as the Apostle Paul wrote, "Love never faileth." Indeed.

"True love is a miracle that inspires even non-poets to poetry. It is up to poets to make others feel the feeling and have the experience in a more universal literary sense. My approach is varied, but nearly all my poems address the loved one directly, through a variety of experiences and examples, as the work you post here, I hope, shows."

Thank you, Craig--just beautiful sentiments. And without further ado, three erotic/romantic poems by my guest, C.E. Chaffin.


A pile of ash, a spaniel on a string,
a dormant summer lawn:
morning splits the milkweed shaft
left leafless by the Monarchs.
White skeletons rise aloft,
              At night
the kettle barbecue drops embers in its dish.
Two lightning bugs arc in and out
then reappear beneath a wall
of trees where they were not--

and all these jewels and wings,
the need of the dog caught
by his running leash, starved for touch,
and this pen condemned to a narrow life--

easier to focus on your green eyes
lightly puffed by grief, your lashes
dark as night's vegetation
because love never dies,
like the devotion of this spaniel,
and this man, and this
impossible art.

Not Wake the Tiger

Come with me, love
across this field of crimson poppies
to a bed of rushes
where the old tiger sleeps;
we will not wake him.

Do not bring your purse or make-up,
shed your jeans and bra.
Let your creamy legs
part the scarlet meadow,
the great pearls of your cheeks
rise and fall as in a carousel
above your pussy's diamond
as you glide ahead.

Lay your head
on the heaving stripes
of this old killer's belly
and be at ease because
he no longer dreams
of violence but generation.
Then sleep that I may admire
you at my leisure.

Softly you’ll stir
as I lick the pebbles of your areola
until you wake
with that infantile, angelic smile
of the truly loved.

Aroused you'll straddle me,
breasts grazing my chest,
your moist envelopment
my sure extinction as you flex
your magnificent thighs as if in prayer:
We will not wake the tiger.

Sea Hare

When I say, "Do you love me?"
I 'm really asking, of course,
whether I love you
across this mad suspension bridge--
dark the gorge below
though not so dark as losing you
I pray the rope never unravels.

You are that perfect thing,
the sea hare I held in the moonlight,
translucent, patched with purple,
gelatinously firm
quivering invertebrate jewel
containing the entire sea
in boneless miniature.
So you envelop me.

I am a hollow cedar
stuffed with your scent,
scarred by the fire of your handkerchief.
My roots run to your ocean.
Ah, to hold you naked and wet!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Million Words

I've been quiet for awhile here, and there's a reason for that: I've been waiting for the go-ahead to share with you the details about a surprise new book I'm working on. It's hard for this blabber-mouth to stay quiet this long. So even though I haven't yet received said go-ahead, I simply have to share with you what I can.

I received an email about three weeks ago from the publishing director of a medium-sized house in Portland, Maine. The company is Sellers Publishing, and they are among the fastest growing publishers of their size in the U.S. They specialize in gift books, and you might have heard of their series of "500" cookbooks or or the 50 Things to Do When You Turn 50, etc. series. This nice woman wanted to know if, even though I publish all my own work, I would be willing to consider writing a title for Sellers.

She shared the idea with me and it was absolutely superb. Not only that, I felt like I have spent the last 25 years of life preparing to write such a book. We discussed it further, I put together an outline, and the project was greenlit with much eager enthusiasm by all parties. An early 2010 release was planned. This past Wednesday I signed the contract, which included an actual advance, which I assure you is one thing a person never sees no matter how successful their own little publishing company may be.

A friend of mine likened this situation to when a starlet is discovered sitting at the counter in a Hollywood soda fountain. That made me smile. Did I expect such a thing could ever happen? Well, I've learned you can never predict what life may bring, that's for sure. On the one hand, I've always thought it unlikely that publishers roam the world looking for authors; that business is generally one where the authors scratch and claw and pray for attention.

But on the other hand, I estimate I have put a good million words up on the internet in the past ten years.

This is how Sellers found me: Their publishing director wanted to find the right person to write this dream title of theirs, so she Googled some related terms, and found an essay of mine from 2006. The style and content of the essay was just what she was looking for. She visited my Web site, investigated me further, became convinced I could be the one for the job. She emailed me, and here we are.

You could say this book deal was a heckuva lot easier to accomplish than the route I used to try before 2004: sending manuscripts over and over to various publishers till I got a hit. And that's certainly true. I decided in 2006 I had established a big enough readership that I was done with that approach, because it can be exhausting and discouraging and 25 years of that was quite enough.

But on the other hand, getting this book deal wasn't easy at all.

I've believed for a long time that regardless of an author's approach to his or her career, you have to get yourself out there. I've had one or more Web sites for over a decade, with new content all the time. I've placed essays with other sites, put out press releases, posted entire books online for free, blogged and done columns, etc. Was it a hardship? To be honest, sometimes I didn't feel like it, but I did it anyway. But the majority of the time I enjoyed it, because above all things I love to write. Well, about all things, I love to be read, and that's why the Internet is possibly my favorite thing in all the world.

I do feel very, very fortunate to have this great opportunity. Mostly I am grateful to Sellers for being so creative and so willing to turn over their fantastic concept to me to execute. But at the same time, this experience has confirmed to be my long-held belief that the best way to realize your dreams is to work really, really hard.

This past week I did an interview with a local weekly here in Milwaukee, on the subject of self publishing. The reporter asked me what advice I'd give to aspiring publishers. I told her the same thing I would tell an aspiring author. It's this: Success is based not so much on having a dream, but on being smart, working hard, and staying the course.

I started writing the new book this week and it's almost scary how it flows out of the keyboard. But then, like I said, the last 25 years--and those million words--have definitely prepared me for this moment.