Saturday, August 12, 2017

A new erotica anthology from Rose Caraway

Now available! The Sexy Librarian's Dirty 30 Vol. 2 includes my story A Polite Fiction along with the work of 29 other exceptional authors. You can read more about the project here at the Stupid Fish Productions website. Check it out! (TAS)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review of 'Hotel: A Literary Erotica Anthology' (ed. Megan Lewis)

The second of three themed anthologies released this year by Minnesota-based Mugwump Press, Hotel features some splendid writing, if not always the most imaginative storytelling. But then, it had a pretty tough act to follow: coming right on the heels of editor Megan Lewis’ brilliant Wanderlust—one of the finest erotica anthologies of recent memory—this new endeavor often lacks the lyric effervescence and  imaginative variety of the earlier title, never mind that many of the same authors are featured in both collections. The thirteen stories in Hotel run an uneven gamut from the scintillating to the mediocre, though all are more-than-competently written. The problem seems to be one of creeping sameness in narrative attitude, scenario and style—a pitfall, one suspects, of the essential requirement that every story be set in a hotel of one sort or another.

Granted, there’s a lot of latitude within this stricture, and, for the most part, this group of authors rises to the challenge with more than sullen resignation. Along the way readers are treated to just about everything from the seedy to the posh: satin-sheeted rendezvous in high-end penthouse love nests to hardboiled rough play on moth-eaten mattresses in fetid hourly-rate hookup holes. Rustic inns, far, far from the madding crowd, flaunting their quaint historically-themed charms, to lonesome roadside dumps in deserts where nothing human ought to be, boutique auberges trading in discretion, and gaudy urban palaces, oozing bright flashing-neon excess. Yet, there’s something about hotel rooms themselves that seems to breed cynicism and ennui in otherwise perfectly well-adjusted human beings; the most ordinary and indifferent of spaces—describe one and you’ve likely described thousands just like it—stubbornly defies poetry. In the end, it has to be the characters that make these stories memorable, their desires, hopes, dreams, conflicts, that which gives the narrative true depth and color.  No setting--no matter how exotic or colorful--can save an uninteresting character. 

This being said, there are some truly outstanding stories here: Valerie Alexander’s scintillating genderqueer fantasy Zero Gravity, and Arden Ellis’ gritty and gorgeously written f/f Grey Bar Motel in which a pair of bank robbers hide out in a desert dump as they consider their next move—a superb study in character dynamic and psychology:  T.C. Mill’s effectively atmospheric f/f My Body is a Haunted House, describing the encounter between two women with nothing in common but a man they once knew, after the man’s funeral, and Reiver Scott’s heart-wrenching The Witching Place in which a selfish Dom is forced to see himself through the eyes of the woman he thought was his perfect sub.

Also of note:  J.S. Emuakpor’s At the Crossroads conjures orgiastic and terrifying images in an ostensibly abandoned hotel somewhere in the California desert—a liminal space where vengeful gods may lurk: Parker Marlo’s lyrically noirish Easter 1992:  Zac Blue’s Rolling the Die in which anticipated retribution comes in the most pleasantly unexpected of ways: Rhidian Brenig Jones’ m/m/m Tricks of the Trade where a pair of male escorts service a wealthy client, the only opportunity one of the rent boys has to fulfill his hopeless love-born fantasy of being with his professional colleague: Sara Dobie Bauer’s Breathing Underwater, movie stars encounter in a hotel pool, and  In the Long Nights of Our Never Enough—great title!—by Christian Fennell, a lyrical description of a beautiful woman’s first outing as a high-class escort.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review of 'archetypal' erotica by Samantha McCleod, Emmanuelle de Maupassant and Janine Ashbless

Death and Beauty by Samantha McCleod
Viking Thunder by Emmanuelle de Maupassant
Named and Shamed by Janine Ashbless

I am a sucker for the archetypal, erotic stories grounded in myth, legend, fairytale and folksong. High Fantasy, sword and sorcery, well-researched historical saga; give me something skillfully written, cleverly conceived, subtly executed, and I will be your purring lap cat for an hour or so. Tell me a story in a way no one else has. Turn me on with the force of your imagination. Make love to me with your words. Dazzle me, dammit!

Here are three titles, recently read, that hit my ever-moving sweet spot with uncanny precision. Samantha McCleod’s Death and Beauty and Emmanuelle de Maupassant’s Viking Thunder both appeared earlier this year, while Janine Ashbless’ magnificent Named and Shamed from 2012 has by now attained the status of an erotic classic. All three are superbly written.

Death and Beauty tells the story of what happened to the Norse god Baldir after his death. First of the Aesir to die, the god is bewildered to find himself in Nieflhel, the realm reserved for the ordinary dead, those mortals who do not fall gloriously in battle or spend eternity feasting and fighting in Valhalla. Surely, there’s been some kind of mistake? Baldir sets out to confront Hel, the infamous goddess of the dead who appears to her subjects half living flesh, half rotting corpse. An unlikely scenario for a sweet erotic romance, but McCleod makes it work with surprising skill. There’s plenty of humor to go with the sex, and a great deal of humanity to set this apart from the average mindless romp. This is a fun, fast read, and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant’s Viking Thunder is an exquisite piece of writing by any standard, imaginative historical fiction at its finest, and one of the sexiest tales I’ve had the pleasure to read in—ever. Told from the point of view of Elswyth, a young Anglo-Saxon woman, promptly made a widow when a band of Northmen raid her village, this is a clash-of-cultures story enlivened by lots of deliciously lurid action, pillage, fire, and, yes, rape--treated with appropriate gravity. Elswyth, not ungrateful to be rid of her feckless husband, quickly catches the eye of the Viking leader, Eirik, and is befriended by the shield maiden Helka, Eirik’s sister who functions as interpreter, cultural go-between and a counterbalance of quiet reason to her brother’s fiercely impulsive nature. Yet, more than mere escapist adventure, Viking Thunder has its thoughtful moments, too, a bit of comparative theology and myth, reflection on love, fate and destiny, cheek by jowl with unapologetically explicit descriptions of sex, heady as the sweetest mead. First in a yet another series from the remarkably prolific Emmanuelle de Maupassant, I, for one, can hardly wait for more. Highly recommended!

Janine Ashbless’ Named and Shamed is a relentless, orgiastic tour de force, a groaning board of pansexual delight unencumbered by the sort of repetition or slacking off in intensity that dooms so many full-length erotic novels. Drawing broad inspiration from Gaelic folklore and pagan myth, the story begins with the theft of a priceless imaginary manuscript, the unexpurgated first draft of Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market, obtained through a cynical act of seduction. In order to return the manuscript without drawing the bloody ire of its owner, Tansy, the reluctant heroine, must seek out the help of a “thing that looks like a man, but wasn’t,” one of the shadowy preternatural entities collectively known as Them There. Of course, the demon’s assistance comes with a sexy price, seemingly pleasant to pay, before its sinister after-effects become apparent. Tansy becomes insatiable, and none too picky about her partners along the way to finding an antidote to her raging nymphomania.  Sex of practically every variety and permutation is described in exuberant detail, whether with a group of horny auto mechanics in a greasy garage, or with just about every mythical creature populating the dark corners of the human imagination—a scene with a randy troll under a bridge is particularly memorable.

Illustrated with a series of captivating line drawings by John LaChatte, Named and Shamed is an essential addition to any library of classic modern erotica. Print copies are increasingly difficult to find with the recent demise of the original publisher, but, as of this writing, the novel was still readily available with the illustrations in a Kindle edition. Highly recommended! 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review of ‘Come Let Us Sing Anyway’ by Leone Ross

Leone Ross is a writer who thinks deeply about her craft. Beyond mere nuts and bolts—the practical minutiae of syntax and punctuation—she grasps the workings of prose as few other writers do, at an elemental, sub-atomic level, her words like charged particles, whirling and spinning in concert to build up language of extraordinary power and beauty.

Ross never wastes a word. Her narrative style is objective, concise, economical yet seldom spare; rich and colorful yet never gaudy or effusive, animated by the lilting cadences of Jamaican patois, the word-music of the mother island, that home where her characters’ hearts invariably turn to remember in spite of time or distance.  

Ross gives us melancholy, homesick stories of the Jamaican diaspora in Britain (Love Silk Food, The Mullerian Expanse), unexpected flashes of humor in the midst of conflict and despair (President Daisy, Velvet Man), the sweet-sour poignancy of imperfect love (The Woman Who Lived in a Restaurant, Art, For Fuck’s Sake), tragedy and heartbreak (Minty Minty, Mudman), and existential horror with a knowing nod to island folklore and ghost stories (Roll It).

This is marvelous storytelling by any standard. The author artfully seduces the reader, and the reader is more than happy to let themself be seduced. The twenty-three short stories in Come, Let Us Sing Anyway offer a sumptuous magical realism, the product of a frenetic and fertile imagination squarely rooted in the rich soil of cultural identity, the keen observation of gesture and motive refracted through a profoundly empathetic lens.

It would be difficult—if not impossible—to understate the excellence of this collection. As a reader, hungry for enlightenment, I was dazzled.  As a writer with an abiding interest in the craft, I came away impressed, inspired, and deeply humbled.

Passionately recommended without reservation!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Review of recent fiction by Spencer Dryden and Emmanuelle de Maupassant

Great writing is a turn-on in and of itself, as surely as lively intelligence and a wicked sense of humor. I’m far less particular about subgenre, erotic flavor or kink than I am about quality of writing. Tell me a story about anything you like, but tell it well, tell it articulately, assuredly, vividly, and, most of all, originally. Do all this and I am likely to be delighted.

I was decidedly pleased to spend time recently with a couple new-ish titles from two gifted and highly intelligent writers: Highland Pursuits by Emmanuelle de Maupassant and The Gueschtunkina Ray Gun by Spencer Dryden.  These two stories are about as different from each other as it’s possible to imagine, nothing whatsoever alike in terms of length, narrative sensibility, style, point-of-view, or character development. But both gave me extended moments of pleasant laughter even as they impressed me with their craftspersonship and their respective authors’ assured command of language.

Highland Pursuits by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

Set in the Britain of 1928, Highland Pursuits begins as a feather-light Wodehouse-ian romp liberally crossed with elements of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. Lovely, young, and reluctantly eligible Ophelia rejects her upper-class twit of a suitor in London and is summarily packed off to the Scottish highlands to “come to her senses” spending the summer on her grandmother’s manor estate. Ophelia hardly fits the mold of a typical Wodehouse leading lady; she is neither an insufferable battle-axe nor a doe-eyed ditz, though she encounters her share of the like in her travels, along with effusively pretentious artists, foreign scoundrels, loudmouthed Americans, dirty old men, titled eccentrics, and divers members of the aristocratic huntin’-shootin’ set.

But it’s the handsome estate manager Hamish who catches Ophelia’s eye. Hamish, of course, possesses all the characteristics of the perfect romance hero; impossibly good-looking (especially in a kilt), macho, sometimes gallant, but also brooding and darkly aloof as he nurses a broken heart from his past. You KNOW how this is going to turn out, right? Yet, it’s in the “getting there” that this superbly crafted story shines.

If I have any complaints about Highland Pursuits, it is that the tone becomes decidedly less lighthearted towards the middle, whence, consequently, the pacing seems to flag. Where do all the wonderful jokes go—even the delightful antics of Ophelia’s cairn terrier Pudding? It’s all-too serious of a sudden, perhaps because, knowing how stories like this are supposed to end, it’s necessary to spin out the dramatic irony for a spell. This inconsistency in tone is ameliorated to some degree by the quality of the writing, and, perhaps, most people, who read considerably faster than I, won’t even notice. Still, 'tis ne’ bu’ a wee quibble considering the excellence of the whole.  

Highly recommended!

The Gueschtunkina Ray Gun by Spencer Dryden

This wry little tale riffs on one of the oldest and most familiar of all male fantasies, the quest for a magical shortcut to the heart of female desire. Drawing on the tradition of pulp sci-fi and classic men’s-magazine entertainments, Spencer Dryden gives readers a lighthearted fantasy about a horny grad student’s encounter with a time-traveling monk from a bleak matriarchal future. (Dryden’s use of natural, snappy dialogue is most impressive!) In a last-ditch effort to save some vestige of male-ness, the monk gifts the grad student with a mysterious artifact, the gueschtunkina ray gun, which, when fired at a female subject, makes her instantly amenable to just about anything a guy is up for. According to the monk, a certain ball-busting female professor is in dire need of a good “gueschtunkining” if the balance between the sexes is to be preserved, and it falls to our valiant grad student to do the honors—or take one for the team as the case may be. Fun!!!

As much as I enjoyed this story, I wish Dryden had taken better advantage of his entertaining premise. There are all sorts of possibilities for erotic hijinks and bawdy humor here, but the storyline is so rigidly linear, so focused on getting in and getting out, that the notion of artful complication, conflict, a bit of trouble along the journey, making the final reward so much sweeter, seems to have eluded the author. The story, entertaining as it is, is simply too short.

Nonetheless, this is a highly enjoyable, rewarding, and occasionally even thought-provoking effort, perhaps Spencer Dryden’s best to date. Enthusiastically recommended.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review of 'Wanderlust: A Literary Erotica Anthology' (ed. Megan Lewis)

I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said that short story writers are mostly frustrated poets. I can’t recall if Hemingway meant this as a good thing or not, but it is certainly easy to see his point after exploring editor Megan Lewis’ Wanderlust, a collection of thirteen short stories in which literary erotic prose is often taken to its lyrical limits—and that definitely is a good thing.

As the title suggests, this collection is centered around themes of travel, or that restless, deeply human urge to be ever someplace else, very much akin to the insatiable hunger for sex that drives so many from moment to moment if not from place to place. These are mostly stories about brief encounters as in Zac Blue’s The Cruelty of Eden, set in Paris; T.C. Mill’s melancholy Soft, Rough wherein a lonely house sitter ponders her past as she entertains her lover; or Alexis Quinton’s Red Earth, in which a restless woman from Australia’s Gold Coast finds peace of a sort as a barmaid in an isolated outback settlement. In Terri Pray’s Colors, a vampiric drifter meets his soulmate in a roadside diner—or is she merely a meal? Arden Ellis’ f/f Nighthawk finds a biker breaking down along a lonely stretch of the Al-Can highway, picked up by an adventurous runaway—this acutely-observed story features engaging characterizations and admirably realistic dialogue. In Jack Swift’s m/m American Leather, a punk rocker “initiates” one of his groupies in the changing room of a BDSM leather shop.

Other stories tell of longer-term relationships: in Arden Ellis’ poignant Scheherazade two women travel to a distant planet on a journey of a thousand years, periodically coming out of suspended animation to maintain their ship and tell each other stories of life that was. In Zac Blue’s haunting, atmospheric Slipping Through the Splinters a restless visitor from another world discovers the complications of love in human form. Val Prozorova’s clever Urgent Train Message: Immediate Delivery is a heartbreaking and exultant story of forbidden m/m love in late-Victorian Britain; while in Riever Scott’s deliciously written Tawaif, a British woman recounts her affair with a young native co-worker in Mumbai, looking back in regret on how things ended.

The stories coming closest to poetry here are Parker Marlo’s Zephyr, nothing less than a rondeau in prose recalling a steamy encounter on a west-bound passenger train, and J.S. Emuakpor’s ravishingly beautiful Aljanar Ruwa in which the water nymph of the title is reunited with her lover, the great river god. Emuakpor’s language flows with the limpid grace of the very waters it describes—it’s simply gorgeous writing, and not to be missed!  

With its superb writing, diverse, fascinating themes, and consistently scintillating eroticism, Wanderlust is enthusiastically recommended!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review of 'How Not to Write a Novel' by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman

NOTE: I'm digging this older review out of mothballs for today, with a promise to get back to new reviews and commentary next week.  TAS

How Not To Write a Novel is certainly one of the most amusing discussions of the art and craft of writing I've encountered--and I have read many books on the topic, devouring them like cotton candy, if not always digesting their best advice. While this book makes for a pleasant diversion, and can serve the purpose of a fairly painless refresher course, I would not recommend it for the rank beginner. There's a little too much snark in the mix--at times, contrary to the advice they themselves offer, the authors seem overly taken with their own cleverness--and the jokes occasionally get in the way of clear explanation. Much of the humor only works insofar as the reader is capable of telling the difference between literary dreck and solid practice from the get-go--something that requires experience in addition to a very active sense of humor.

For those with well-tuned funny bones or a couple Pulitzer prizes under their belts, the book may turn up a few nuggets of insight. It can also be rather discouraging if we recognize some of these pitfalls and bad habits in our own earlier work. Yes, it would be wonderful to live in a world full of brilliant, hard-working writers who never bore us or insult our intelligence, yet, if every aspiring author took every single one of these examples of what not to do to heart, novels would be little more than thoughtless play-by-play; stories reduced to pure action; the show-don't-tell principal taken to its horrifying logical extreme with nothing left of introspection, illumination or personal narrative. One must approach the advice here with a healthy dose of skepticism and a strong sense of self-identity as a writer. No novelist ever became great by being ignorant of the rules; but no great writer ever met at least one rule that wasn't worth breaking for the sake of a truer art.

I would note, too, that a lot of the sort of rotten writing illustrated here still has a way of ending up, with disturbing regularity, in traditionally published, best-selling commercial fiction, as well as far too many poorly conceived, albeit popular, "novelistic" television drama series. Thus, the very premise of the book, that in order to be pubished, one should avoid certain behaviors, is rendered moot. Sure, maybe Dan Brown, E.L. James or the writers of the Revenge TV series would be better, more engaging, more respected authors were they to take some of Mittlemark and Newman's advice, though one doubts they'd be measurably richer, and I don't think they'd be likely to listen in any case.

Among the most useful books on writing-craft, I would strongly recommend these in addition to (or instead of) Mittlemark and Newman:

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guinn
On Writing by Stephen King
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Remmi Browne and Dave King
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block
Spider Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Writers by Lawrence Block
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

How Not to Write a Novel is recommended more for entertainment than instructional value.