Saturday, December 17, 2005

Flying Kites in Thunderstorms – why writers of erotica go beyond what they know

There is a discussion in the writers’ forum in ERWA at the moment over the role of reality in erotic writing. One member was puzzled about why writers who are straight and male write stories from the point of view of gay men or straight or gay women. Why, she asked, would we want to write about a world we know nothing about?

For me the, answer to her question is that I write fiction, not biography.

The stories of mine that I like the most are truthful, but they are not true.

I think the art of fiction is to lead the imagination to discover truth through dissemblance. It is the epistemological equivalent of perspective in two dimensional art: a means of directing attention and providing context without dictating semantic value.

In erotic fiction, sex is a lightning rod for the soul. What pleases, what disgusts, what tempts, what comforts, what excites and what frightens people about sex is like the DNA of their psyche; either who they are defines it or it defines who they are depending on which side of the nature nurture debate your comfort zone lies. That art of erotic fiction is to use those lightning strikes to illuminate the readers understanding.

This is not about testimony, or witness or life-style documentary: it is about sparks of imagination that leap the gap between what you have experienced and what your heart knows to be true.

I’ve written stories from the point of view of straight and gay men and women, young and old from many nationalities. Sometimes my characters are nice people you’d invite into your home and sometimes they’re scary people you wouldn’t want to be alone with. I’ve written about sexual experiences I’ve never had and I’ve written about sexual experiences I’m very familiar with. I’d like to think that my reader’s wouldn’t know which is which.

What enables and compels me to do this are the voices in my head. I shut down my finely trained analytical mind and let my imagination delve into my curiosity, my insight, and my intuition to summon up a voice. Then I listen hard and write what the voice tells me.

In other words, I go looking for those lightning bolts of lust that belong to others and not to me. I fly kites in the thunderstorms of other people’s sex lives to capture the spark and pass it on to others.

When this works well, it seems involuntary. The stories produced in this way remind me of those glass artifacts that are formed by lightning rods stuck into sand in the path of a storm. The rod channels the energy but the storm creates the glass.

So why would I imagine myself in a world I know nothing about?

Because, in reality, all worlds are like that.

Because I hunger to capture the unknown.

Because the voices in my head thrive on my ignorance.

Because that’s what writing fiction is really about: to enable the reader to know a world from your words and sense the truth in the consensual delusion.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Humour, hate and something that’s just not funny

Tony Blair is, I’m sure; a well intentioned man of principal who wants to get things done that will make the world a better place. In other words he is the most dangerous Prime Ministers Britain has had since Thatcher. Graham Green once described innocence as a leper roaming the world without a bell. Blair goes one step further than this; he’s a leper who wants to shake hands with everyone.


Imagine the dismay when Tony, (he insists his colleagues call him Tony – likeable chap that he is), after helping George W liberate Iraq and remove the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction that could be launched in less time that it takes to call a press conference, it turns out that most of the Arab world see him as part of an invading army of the west, intent on destroying Islam. Good grief, some of them got so upset about it, they even bombed London.


Now Tony has nothing against the Muslim world. He’s a tolerant man, married to a prominent Catholic woman (Tony of course is not allowed to be Catholic and Prime Minister at the same time although I suspect he may “discover” his faith at the end of his present term of office) and he supports religious freedom. To Tony, it is unacceptable that people should be hated simply because of the religion they follow. Hate, he has explained to us, is a Bad Thing. Hate gets people so upset that they blow up buses and trains and kill all the people on them. Any self-respecting Government would therefore feel the need to make promoting religious hatred a crime. Then we call all live together in peace and harmony.


This of course is to misunderstand the legal process to an extent that is almost wilfully naïve. You can’t write a law that says “Thou shalt not hate the next chap just because of the God he prays to”, you have to get a bit more specific than that. And those nice law makers that Tony put on the job have been much more specific, and the more specific they have been come, the more ludicrous the legislation they propose becomes.


Anyone who reads my blog will know that I think humour is a great political weapon. It seems that Tony’s lawyers agree with me. Unfortunately to them that means that humour is now one of the Bad Things that need to be banned. Their propose legislation would make it illegal to satirise religion – any religion of any kind. To satirise something is to promote disrespect of that thing which is pretty damn close (at least in the clubs that these lawyers are members of) to promoting hatred.


So if my religion holds that women are biologically subversive and need to be locked out of sight lest men be corrupted by them and lose their immortal souls in a fit of lust, I am not supposed to snigger or say “you can not be serious” in a McEnroe type voice. I’m supposed to stay calm and say “Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.”


Even if the person I’m speaking to believes that God has been pretty clear that everyone is NOT entitled to their opinion and everyone except the chosen will burn in torment for all eternity, I’m still not supposed to suggest that this is a self-serving view of God and that any omnipotent being who chooses that path should have his beard burnt off rather be worshipped. No, I’m supposed to nod and say, “You might have a point”.


Rowan Atkinson, known around the world as Mr. Bean and known in England as the Black Adder, is so incensed by the stupidity of a law that say that just because it’s religious you can’t make fun of it, that he has taken the time to explain to the lawyer chaps, clause by clause, why their legislation is insane. Sadly, they looked at him and said, “Well you may have a point, Rowan, but Tony’s rather keen on all this so the show must go on.” Rowan has promised to write a comedy sketch in breach of the new laws if they are passed, just to provoke a prosecution and give some of the funniest men in England a chance to explain why Tony needs his ass kicked.


By the way, in writing the Atkinson story up, the Sunday Times quoted a joke that would be frowned upon by the proposed laws, so let me share it with you.


“How do you know that Jesus was a Jew?”


“Because he was still living at home at 30 and his mother thought he was God”.


So now on to the distinctly unfunny story that caught my eye this week. A while ago I read a book called “Market Forces” by Richard Morgan. It’s a hard hitting book set in a near future Britain where consultants for privatised war firms win business by fighting to the death in a kind of choreographed road rage. It was a depressingly plausible read that I found difficult to dismiss from my mind. The characters in the book have a toast, “To Small Wars” as these are the ones that bring the biggest bonus payments. This week, I discovered that truth continues to challenge fiction. The Americans have privatised the policing of Iraq and have brought in a few thousand hired guns at $1,000 a day.


The activities of the 50 plus firms that currently operate in Iraq are coordinated by “Aegis Defence Services” who also employ 75 teams of their own. Aegis is British firm, run by Lt Col Tim Spicer,a former Scots Guards officer, which describes itself as risk-management and private security company or PSC. Aegis is a small outfit by PSC standards and yet the Iraq contract alone was worth $293 million. If you want to get a flavour for the enterprise, visit their website: http://www.aegisdef.com/


Spicer is a controversial figure in Britain. He won the OBE in Northern Ireland, was accused of illegally exporting arms (and then was cleared when he demonstrated that he was under orders from the UK government at the time. He led troops who were convicted of murdering an unarmed Irish teenager. Take a look at this open letter to Comptroller General of the US Government Accountability Office if you are interested in the details: http://www.serve.com/pfc/pmcbride/04olpfc.html or take a look at these two articles http://www.williambowles.info/ini/ini-0266.html and http://www.williambowles.info/ini/ini-0266.html


There are 50 PSCs operating in Iraq. Competition is tough so Special Forces types are in big demand to demonstrate the value of the company they belong to. This has in turn placed recruitment pressures on the public sector – the US Army now offers $150,000 cash bonus to re-enlisting Special Forces troops. So it seems Richard Morgan was not being fanciful after all. I’m sure there are few ex-Sandhurst chaps in the City toasting small wars as you read this. Still, at least they won’t be doing a Bad Thing like poking fun at a religion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Obscenity, the Department of Justice, the Patriot Act, and Tony Blair as Jack Bauer

The US Department of Justice is using the Patriot Act (Orwell would have loved those names) to start a quest to protect Americans from obscenity.

Here is a link to a speech by Sara Paretsky called “Truth, Lies and Duct-tape” that talks about the implications of this from point of view of being a mainstream writer in America
http://www.saraparetsky.com/silence.html

I’ve also written an article – it should be on http://www.cleansheets.com/ shortly, called “Porn Again Christians” that I’ve included at the end of this entry.

This week the DoJ closed its first, text only, website – Red Rose. The site seems to have had some stuff on it that many people would find obscene and which, if done in reality, would be illegal, stories involving children, animals, and forced sex. It also looks to have been a membership site so it could be that the DoJ are just on a fishing trip to catch some paedophiles – yey for the DoJ.

The more interesting part is that they have de facto extended obscenity to include text, removing the 1st Amendment protections that are usually relied upon. They appear also to have used the Patriot act to enter without notice and remove computer equipment in the absence of the owner.

If there are any Americans reading this who want to write to their congressman or woman and say they think the patriot act is a greater threat to America freedom than any terrorist attack, please feel free, just expect a visit from the FBI shortly after you press send on the email.

Blair has been pushing similar legislation to the Patriot Act in the UK. The UK’s laws on secrecy and obscenity and terrorism are already far more restrictive than in the US so there wasn’t a lot left to do but the UK Parliament is still opposing what some are calling the “Jack Bauer” approach to saving the UK from terrorism. They oppose the idea of locking people up for 3 months without telling anyone that you’ve done it, without explaining – even to the individual – why you’ve done it, and without having produced any evidence. Yet this would be mild by comparison to the Patriot Act.

Of course the Brits are suffering from the embarrassment of having shot an innocent man that they followed, held down, shot six times and then lied about. For the first time in a long time it looks as if UK policemen may actually be charged with murder or unlawful killing. This is not a great confidence builder just before you extend police powers. And it was made even less likely when the head of police in London suggested that armed soldiers should be used instead of armed police because it is cheaper. The problem here is that, while British troops are trained not to use their weapons unless the rules of engagement permit, when they use them they always shoot to kill. This is not yet palatable to the British public, bless their intransigent hearts.

So, in these times when governments are lead by men who use fear as substitute for argument, lies as a substitute for evidence and force as a substitute for agreement, it is not a comfortable thing to be a soft target.

If you are writing anything that those nice people in the FBI or their masters in the DoJ think is obscene, be prepared for the knock on the door.

Actually, once they knock, there’s not much you can do about it. So I recommend that, before they get here, you make sure as many people as possible know what you think and what you want.

I agree with Paretsky that silence is then enemy. As an annoying foreigner type, I think that laughter and derision is part of the answer.

With that in mind, take a look at my article “Porn Again Christians”.


Porn Again, Christians?

If, like me, you grew up reading American books, watching American films and television, eating American fast-food and listening to American music, you might start to believe that the boundary between your culture and theirs is membrane thin – just another colour-way of the same design.

You’d be wrong of course. America has a unique and complex culture that no outsider can ever really understand.

The differences are disguised by language and the globalization of American icons but when one of those differences shrugs off the camouflage and displays itself, all you can do is shake your head in disbelief.

One of those points where several differences come together is in the American way of combining sex, religion and politics.

As an example, let me quote from a recent www.law.com article:

“When FBI supervisors in Miami met with new interim U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta last month, they wondered what the top enforcement priority for Acosta and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be. Would it be terrorism? Organized crime? Narcotics trafficking? Immigration? Or maybe public corruption? The agents were stunned to learn that a top prosecutorial priority of Acosta and the Department of Justice was none of the above. Instead, Acosta told them, it's obscenity. Not pornography involving children, but pornographic material featuring consenting adults.”

The article explains that Gonzales, despite criticism that prioritising the prosecution of obscenity will take resources away from violent crime, child pornography and anti-terrorism, has created an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (which gives rise to a job title that would never survive the withering mockery it would evoke in the UK: “Deputy Chief for Obscenity”) that will shut down pornstores and go after “peer-to-peer” distributors of obscenity over the internet.

The article rehearses the arguments of the “liberals” that this is a waste of money and of Christian organisations who say it should be a priority because it is a form of corruption that has an impact on children.

Now, I come from the UK, which is a very secular society. Only 6% of the population in the UK go to Church on a regular basis. In the last census 20% of respondents self-identified as having no religion. Half of all first-born children are born outside marriage (although the parents often marry afterwards). I live in Switzerland where religious allegiance is part of everyday life (a tax payable to your church is deducted directly from your salary) violent crime is low (although there are the same number of guns per head of population as the US) and there is a sex shop in most high streets (my nearby 50,000 population town has two sex shops in the main shopping area) and an erotic hypermarket in many out of town shopping centres. So for me the American attitude to porn is as alien as it gets.

One of the sexshops in my town belongs to a chain called “Beate Uhse”. When the woman who founded and ran that chain died recently, there where obituaries in the all the serious papers. She was a colourful character: at 18 she was a pilot in the Luftwaffe. When the Allies permanently grounded Luftwaffe Pilots after the war, Beate got involved in producing pamphlets on the appropriate use of the rhythm method for contraception. This expanded into marital aids.

Today, her shops sell clothes and toys, contraceptives, gels, oils, books and videos. Occasionally I get fliers in my letterbox (together with coupons from Supermarkets) telling me of the latest offers to improve my sex life. This is not the way it works in America.

Now I don’t want to mislead here. Beate Uhse may be viewed with tolerance now but she was prosecuted hundreds of times in Germany. She made a habit of winning her cases and she set out to win the hearts, minds and various other bits of the general public.

But to come back to the Department of Justice and their campaign on obscenity. It is easy to portray Gonzales as an idiot who doesn’t understand the impact of his choices or a zealot who doesn’t care, but I think the reality is that he’s a politician who believes that his job is to win the maximum possible number of votes.

Now this is still a slightly alien concept for me. UK politics is a little more patrician than that. One wouldn’t want to subject the judiciary to the democratic process, as that would be to substitute the tyranny of the uninformed majority over the judgement of good chaps from the right background who’ve been trained in all that sort of thing and probably know what they’re doing. Swiss politicians take a different approach to controversial decisions; they step to one side and let them be resolved by referendums.

But in America it seems that votes are the currency of the political economy and God (or at least Government) is on the side of those who are vote rich.

I think Gonzales wants to prosecute obscenity because it will win him more votes than prosecuting other things. He knows this because the Christians are organised and they tell him regularly and clearly, what they will vote for.

The rest of the voters, even though they might be the majority, are not organized and so they have no affect on Gonzales’ priorities.

If I was American, I might now write a little plea for the rest of America to get organized. I might point out that those who are not prepared to govern must be prepared to be governed by their inferiors. I might write a manifesto and start an ad campaign. Hell, I might even run for Congress (well I might if I was independently wealthly and came from the right kind of family).

But I am a Brit and we Brits tend to muddle through rather than rally around an ideology. The greatest weapon in British democracy is not organization but ridicule. In Britain, no idea that is ridiculous, no matter how attractive to a block of voters, can long survive.

So let me take you on a little British flight of fantasy in response to Mr. Gonzales and all those others who fight obscenity because Christian voters have told them it would be a jolly good idea.
Wouldn’t it be nice if…

  • It could be demonstrated that cutting off people's access to porn was as unpopular as putting up the price of gas

  • The Federal Government took a large slice of the porn profits (as they do in Germany) and decided that Christians are a voice to be mollified but not really listened to.

  • Jay Leno led a campaign to defend the right of Americans to free access to sexual relief: it’s good for your cardio, reduces the incidence of violence and builds the muscles in the right wrist.

  • Microsoft used the banner "where would you like to get off today"

  • Actors wore cute little ribbons to the Oscars defending the freedom to masturbate to images of your choice

  • Soccer Moms had bumper stickers that read “Porn Free or Die”

  • Statistics where published by ISPs showing the number of American households that access porn sites: frequency, duration, top topics, as a means of driving advertising revenue

  • Talk shows ran phone-ins asking for counseling for Christians who practice a faith founded on the importance of love in human redemption and end up focused on a fear of (other people's) sexuality.

Ah well, back to the real world where more energy is put into regulating porn than to prosecuting rapists and child molesters.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Period Pulp Fiction – background to my new story on www.quill-pen.net


One of the things I love about the internet is the way that it allows passionate people to do interesting things. Andrei V. Lefebvre is one of those passionate people. He has an ongoing love affair with pulp fiction and runs a website called “Unbelievable Stories” www.quill-pen.net that recreates that chandleresque black-and-white movie feel. One look at the October cover shows you what you’re in for.

I’ve always loved genre fiction and I admire those with the dedication to provide it with a venue, so I scratched around for something that Andrei might be interested in. I decided to send him “Till death do us part”, one of my rare excursions into detective story writing. It’s the kind of thing that people made into 30 minute TV movies presented by Alfred Hitchcock. I wanted to see what would happen when I sent something to a site that wasn’t dedicated to erotica.

Andrei liked the story but set me an interesting challenge. He said, “My publication is that of Pulp Fiction genre. I decided to recreate the sensational fiction of the pre-electronic era of the early 20ths century. During this period the moral censorship was such that no four letter expletives were printed. Moreover, words such as “pussy” and “cock” were not to be used other then to describe the rooster and the cat respectively.”

He asked me if I could rewrite the story to meet those guidelines.

I gave it a shot and was surprised to find that I had to change very little and that nothing I changed altered the feel of the piece. It made me realise that I’d perhaps grown too used to graphic language and that being a bit less direct might serve me just as well.

Anyway, I’m hooked now. I’m working on second detective story and I’m reviewing my SF ones to see if there is something “pulp” enough to fit. So if you’re in the mood for something period, put on some swing or jazz, pour yourself a gimlet and settle down for a good read. You’ll find my story at http://www.quill-pen.net/200510KimerToDeathDoUsPart.html

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Flash Fiction: saying more with less – try it yourself

I first got into flash fiction purely as a technical exercise over at ERWA. The challenge was to write a piece of exactly 100 words that was a real story (with a beginning a middle and an end) that also had erotic content. It was meant to help the writer to understand how to be concise.

It was quite frustrating at first. I would write something that was 220 words long and then have to précis it until it reached the 100 limit.

Of course, it turned out that that largely missed the point. It implies that you write a flasher by cutting things out. I’ve since learned that you write a flasher by condensing what you have to say. It’s a little like “reducing” a sauce in cooking – although there is less volume of sauce at the end, what’s left is much more intense; everything essential to the flavour remains.

Now when I write a flasher, I start with an emotion. Then I move to a situation. I end up with almost as much back-story in my head as I would for a 3,000-word story. Then I try to find the moment that best expresses the back-story and the emotion.

Yeah, I know this all sounds theoretical and not very specific. So let’s get down to examples.

Here’s one I wrote last month.


The woman my lover made me
(c) 2005 by Mike Kimera


I miss his grin when he undressed, spread wide below hungry eyes, mirroring my position, it was both challenge and tribute.

I miss the bruises he left on my breasts, his blood-hot hardness skewering me, his lust flooding me, bursting the dam of my restraint.

I miss the glee in his eyes when I slid his soft-but-stiffening flesh into my mouth, engulfing and resurrecting him.

I miss being his mistress, his guilty secret, his unoriginal sin.

Refusing a life of loss, I grasp my sleeping husband’s sex, ready to discover if he will enjoy the woman my lover made me.


Not easy to read is it. You sort of have to sip at it. Because every word is necessary.

The title is a little luxury – it’s not included in the word count and it sets the mood.

The emotion here is a wistful sadness that turns into brave hope. So how do you do that in 100 words?

To be completely honest, I tinker until it’s right. Then, afterwards, I can see why it’s right.

What makes this flasher work is a structure that tells the reader when to breathe – every new idea start with “I miss”.

And each miss tells you something more about the two lovers and what did for each other.

And, of course, you know they are lovers because the title tells you so.

The first miss is about challenge and tribute – risk and respect.

The second miss is about the robust physical nature of the sex and how it “bursts” through “restraint”.

The third miss shows intimacy and collaboration – she acts, she is not just acted upon – and continues the emotional thread of glee - grinning, conspiratorial happiness.

The fourth miss adds the idea of the illicit and shows complicity. It also shows, by the choice of language, that she is intelligent and introspective and that he is married.

The fifth section flags its difference to the reader by starting with: “Refusing a life of loss”. This tells the reader to slow down, there’s a new idea coming. The “life of loss” idea shows that her lover is gone not just absent. It also shows the strength of the connection.

Then we get “I grasp my sleeping husband’s sex”

This is more complex than it seems. First, we now know she is also married. Secondly, her reverie, her four misses, has been conducting in her marriage bed. Thirdly, there is something deeper in “my sleeping husband’s sex” that would not be there if the word sex was replaced with cock or if her husband were awake. “my sleeping husband’s sex” suggests perhaps a reason why this married woman had a lover – because her husband’s sex slept?

Finally, we get “ready to discover if he will enjoy the woman my lover made me”.

If we unpack this, we get her been active and brave “ready to discover” then the focus moves from her to him. Her question is whether he will enjoy. Then we understand that, whether he enjoys it or not, she will always be “the woman my lover made me”

Which get us back to the title and balance all that she misses against all she’s become. It is this pivot point in her perception of herself that this little story is really about.

OK, either I’m full of it or these flasher things have got something going for them.

After I wrote this one I got some feedback saying how little is written about what happens after an affair is over and the marriage continues. It stuck with me, so this week I wrote a companion piece.


Stoking the embers
(c) 2005 by Mike Kimera


Waking to find my shy wife taking me deep into her mouth, I know her lover, the man who taught her this, has left her.

The first bruises he left on her breasts inflamed my envy. I, with my over-careful love of my perhaps-too-young wife, had never lit the fires her ungentle lover kindled.

Always, I met her shy lust with gratitude not the passion she craved, holding myself back, afraid to hurt what I cherished.

She looks up, a question in her eyes.

In answer, my fingers push roughly into her wet sex, stoking the embers he left behind.


The emotion here is regret turning into hope – similar to the first one but here the regret is for something not done. And that difference defines the piece and the relationship between husband and wife.

This piece is meant to be harder to read. It doesn’t have the clean lines of thought that the wife had. This is an older man who thinks in complex sentences that sit at a distance from direct experience.

The first sentence tells you he isn’t a straightforward man. What kind of man wakes from sleep to find his shy wife has him in her mouth, and reacts with neither pleasure nor surprise but with deductive logic? And what is implied both by the fact that he knew she had a lover and that he knows that she will only reach out to him like this if the lover has left? This is a man who thinks before he acts, and probably while he’s acting.

The second sentence then twists the reader a little. The bruises on the breasts, something that the woman “missed” in the first flasher, become the source of envy, not jealousy or concern or wrath.

The next sentence shows a man who expresses himself by what he is not or can not or does not “over-careful”, “Perhaps-too-young” “ungentle lover”

Then we get his view of why the sexual part of the marriage has failed – his fault not hers – no reproach for her having the affair, only to himself for creating the need for it.

The last two sentences move from past to present and finally this man finds his way from thought to action.

OK, so, any lessons learnt from this perhaps-over-long examination of 200 words of text? J

Here are a couple of takeaways:

Try out writing flashers. If you write nothing else in October, write at least one of these. It is an excellent way to focus your writing, especially your imagery and use of tenses.


For me at least, writing happens by feel. Analysis is strictly ex-post. But being able to do the analysis helps to sharpen what you know intuitively

Now, for those of you still reading, take a look at a couple more flashers and work out for yourself what makes them work (or what would make them work better).

Thanks for listening


I still...
© 2004 by Mike Kimera

I still lie on my side of our bed
curled ‘round your old shirt
scavenging your scent
sustaining my memory

I still feel your heat pressing into me
when I’m lying on my belly
letting my fingers
take your place

I still open my legs and offer my mound,
to your soft, skilled tongue,
trying to summon
a remembered caress

I still rage at you for leaving me alone,
gnawed at by fierce hungers
that you awoke
which never sleep

I still reach out for you when I wake
puzzled anew by your absence
slow to remember
your pointless death

Tryptych
(c) 2002 by Mike Kimera

My tongue lops his just spent seed from her swollen sex. It is a ritual with us: part blessing, part penance, part pleasure.

We have so many parts.

I was already his wife when we took her to our bed, believing ourselves predators, although she knew we were prey.

When I first shuddered to joy on her fingers, we all three knew I was hers forever.

My desire for her remains urgent, painful, insatiable.

She could have taken me away but she chose to stay with him, becoming our sole connection, our shared obsession, the hinge of our lust.

Friday, September 09, 2005

“Mädchen, Mädchen” – a must see teen-sex comedy

In Switzerland, Thursday night is for going out: it was traditionally pay day; the shops open late (until 9pm - they normally close by 6pm on weekdays, 5pm on Fridays and all day Sunday – shopping malls are not places of worship here) and families and couples head for the cinemas and restaurants. One consequence of this is that, on Thursday nights, Swiss TV sucks.

The six main Swiss channels transmit many programmes “Bi-Canal” which means that two sound tracks are transmitted for a programme and your TV can choose between them. The second sound track is in the original language – usually English – so I get to watch CSI Manhattan or Alias without having to deploy my meagre skills in French or German.

But last night there was nothing but sport and local discussion programmes. I was grimly flipping channels, almost ready to resign myself to a dose of BBC Prime’s diet of house makeovers, garden makeovers, celebrity chefs, ancient comedy shows and reality TV documentaries about people desperate to live somewhere else other than their native England, when I stumbled across one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a long time. It was in German but even if you barely speak the language this was a movie that grabbed your attention.

It’s called “Mädchen, Mädchen” (literally “Maidens, Maidens, but more accurately translated as “Girls, Girls” but with the understanding that we are talking teenage girls) and it’s about three teenage girls in Munich whose early sexual experiences aren’t matching up to the descriptions of sex that they get from the magazines (or from their fairly active parents). Determined to find the orgasms that they are sure that they deserve, they work their way through fumbling boyfriends, internet flirting, and even risk falling in love.

Now I know that this sounds like a German version of “American Pie” but the point here is that this is the German version. In Munich, 18 year old girls aren’t seen as children, public nudity is perfectly fine if you’re sunbathing in the park or at one of the local lakes, sex shops sit next to the supermarket in the high street, and no one pretends to be surprised that young people like to get drunk and have sex – not always in that order.

So, “Mädchen, Mädchen” treats sex completely differently from “American Pie”. There’s nothing “naughty” about it. There is a lot that’s absurd and some stuff that’s downright confusing and the sex in the movie isn’t cleaned up and airbrushed. This is what most of us in Europe would remember from our teenage years (long, long ago, in a land far away from here…)

The main distinguishing feature of the movie is that it is done from the point of view of the three young girls.

Their friendship for each other, their willingness to take risks, their astonishment at what they discover, and the emotional highs and lows that they go through on a daily basis make this a movie about what its really like to be a teenage girl, with just a touch of “Gregory’s Girl” type whimsy.

There are some classic set pieces: Inke’s face as her boyfriend works away on top of her and she’s not-so-patiently-waiting for something interesting to happen or her reaction to her first (accidental) orgasm, brought on by riding her bicycle (see picture above). Or the revenge taken by Lena (the redheaded girl) on a loutish friend who embarrassed her publicly (she feeds him two Viagra tablets telling him that they’re e. He spends the evening so erect that he can only pee in the urinal if he does a handstand).


But the best part of this feel-good movie is the sense that friendship is more important than sex, people aren’t who you expect them to be, and if you stay true to yourself and open to new things, you can get through it all.

Now here’s the thing: I’m a movie junkie and I’d never heard of this movie. As soon as it was over, I went to IMDB (Internet Movie DataBase) and looked it up to see if I could get an English version (preferably, in the original German – I hate dubbing – with English subtitles). Here’s the IMDB review. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0258827/
The movie was made in 2001 and there was a sequel in 2004.

Great, I thought, I’ll be able to buy a two for one package from Amazon. If only life was so simple. Neither amazon.com nor amazon.co.uk sell this movie. Amazon.de sell the movie but only in German and as far as I can see, there are no subtitles in other languages. Amazon.fr sell an English Language version of the movie called “Girls and Sex” which appears to have been dubbed into English and French but with subtitles only in French. A Swiss vendor sells both movies together at a reduced price, in German, with subtitles in French and Dutch.

This is why Hollywood gets away with making second-rate remakes of European films. Of course it could be that this movie would get an X-rating in America where the girls would be seen as children (Inke has her 18th birthday party in the movie and she’s already found out that sex isn’t living up to her expectations by then –enough to send American censors into a frenzy).

That’s OK, I thought, I’ll just recommend people to pick up the either the English language dubbed version or the original German one. It doesn’t cost much to ship DVD’s between Europe and America, I do it often.

Then I remembered the other problem the film industry puts in the way of getting to good movies: DVD Zones.

In Switzerland, most DVD machines play any Zone - this has something to do with the Swiss not having signed some of the international copyright laws – so it’s easy to forget that Hollywood has convinced itself that Zoning is necessary because they can’t handle the logistics of simultaneous global movie release. This is the same “I’m not very bright but I’ve always made a lot of money so I must be right” thinking that saw downloadable music as a threat and not a revenue stream.

So, see this movie if you can. And if you are restricted to Zone 1 viewing, find a patch on the internet, load it to your DVD drive on your computer, and watch it anyway.

Monday, August 29, 2005

How the Erotic Readers and Writers Association Storytime list helps me to write

Those of us who continue to write, despite the time it takes away from other people and other things, mostly do so because not to write deprives us of something we need. It lessens who we are and diminishes our ability to become who we desire to be.

But writing can be a lonely thing. When what you write is not read, when the only interpretation of the text available to you is your own, writing can fold in on itself. Your voice becomes distorted by its own echo.

One of the persistent sources of happiness in my life is the Erotic Readers and Writers Association Storytime List. This list has been nurtured by Adrienne and her trusty staff at ERWA to become a place where a writer can be listened to, where they can learn and where they can share some of the strange in-the-closet aspects of writing.

Stories are posted to the list between Thursday and Saturday each week. Readers provide feedback on the stories throughout the week. Once a month there is a theme, posted well in advance, to help writers focus on a topic. The theme is meant to be useful practice for answer calls for submissions but I enjoy it most for the diversity of content and style that it delivers each month.

There are very few rules on the how feedback should be given on storytime. There are no quotas (to post a story you must feedback on at least x other stories first), no required format. You feedback on what you want to how you want to. It is typical of the style of ERWA that excellent guidelines are provided on how to criticise a story but only basic manners are required to participate.

Some feedback is a line or two. Some is very extensive. Some focuses on the craft of writing. Some talks about how the reader experienced the story. Some just encourages you to continue.

I owe a great debt to the feedback I’ve had from ERWA readers (not all of whom choose to be writers). In the end of course, the responsibility for the story stays with the writer. Writing is a about making choices. The feedback that I get from ERWA allows me to make informed choices, aware of how what I’d written has been read/experienced and coached on how to improve the craftwork.

One of the added bonuses of ERWA storytime is that some stories are selected each month to go on the ERWA website. I’m always please when one of mine makes it.

In September, I’m fortunate enough to have two stories on ERWA: “Burger Queen” which I mentioned in an earlier blog, and “Better than a cup of tea” which is a humorous but realistic look at one woman’s experience of sex toys.

If you are one of those addicted to putting words on paper, and you want to hear more than the sound of your own mind, I heartily recommend the ERWA storytime list to you.

If you are a reader who goes – oh, that was so good but I just wish the writer had… then what could be more rewarding than getting the chance to tell the writer that while the ink is still wet and his or her mind is still open.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the ERWA list, go here:

http://erotica-readers.com/ERA/EmailList.htm

Thursday, August 11, 2005

On how long it takes to get into print and the circuitous routes for getting there

With the universe’s typically skewed sense of timing, at the very point when my work life is at the most precarious and stressful that it’s been in years, getting work published seems to be getting easier.

I explained on my last post that my first anthology of short stories, “Writing Naked”, went into print this week. I’ve also heard that I’ve had stories taken up for two other anthologies: “Santa Claws” a comic Christmas fantasy is in Susannah Indigo’s “Sex and Laughter”,
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0971662371/qid=1123491646/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-9469017-0653462?v=glance&s=books coming out this month; and “I want to watch you do it”, another comedy piece for Maxim Jakubowski’s “Best New Erotica 5” coming out in January 2006.

It shows what a long term process getting a story published is. I wrote “Santa Claws” in 2002 as a fun piece for an ERWA Theme weekend. It was later used in a slightly modified form on Clean Sheets in 2003. It didn’t seem a likely anthology candidate to me: it’s about a devil (he wanted to be Satan’s Claws but there was a mistake on the paperwork and now he wears a Santa suit) sent to summon a (slightly overweight but carrying it well) super-heroin to Hell on Christmas Eve. But then Susannah Indigo manages to pitch a collection on “Sex and Laughter” (who can resist that combination?) and suddenly this story is mainstream.

“I want to watch you do it” is another example of story that was a long time coming. The humour in this story comes from the trouble that follows when a guy is told by his girl-friend that she wants to watch him masturbate. The original version was written in early 2004 and was much shorter – when the humour stopped, so did the story. I submitted it to Clean Sheets and encountered one of those editorial reactions that keeps me going back to Clean Sheets time after time: Bill Noble came back to me and said something like: “The opening to this is really funny. Wonderful. But then it just sort of collapses. How’s about you re-write it with a better ending?” This could have been my cue to through a tantrum and take the story elsewhere but I re-read it with Bill’s comments in mind and I decided he was right. On re-reading it was clear that I’d sort of run out of energy once the humour in the situation was explored. But the characters still had more to offer. They loved each other in a complicated kind of way and I wanted to know what would happen next. So I extended the piece, Bill accepted it and it went on to Clean Sheets in the middle of 2004. Susannah then chose it as the opening story for “Writing Naked”. By the time it makes it into “Best New Erotica” it will be nearly two years old.

I learnt from “Santa Claws” that sometimes you just have to find the right anthology for a story to fit in. I’m hoping to do this with the upcoming “Aqua Erotica 2” which has pushing the boundaries as its theme. I liked the style of the first “Aqua Erotica” http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0609806564/qid=1123491882/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_ur_2_1/103-9469017-0653462who could resist a waterproof erotica book that you can read in the bath – and I’d like to have a place in the sequel. I’ve sent some of my favourite (though not necessarily easiest) stories through for consideration. I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, August 08, 2005

My first book of short stories is published this month

I said in an earlier post that I was moving towards becoming a Writer, with a capital W, and this month I sort of get my membership card: my first book is being published. It’s called “Writing Naked” and it’s available from Amazon at either of these links:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0971662398/ref=nosim/cleansheetsmagaz

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0971662398/ref=nosim/eroticareadersas

I thought I’d use this blog to work out what this means for me.

Well, the first thing it means it that I can now go to Amazon and see a book with my name on it being advertised. That brings a smile to my face. I’ve had my nose pressed up against the bookstore window for so long that it feels strange to find myself on the inside.

Of course, I’ve been in print before as part of an anthology and that is a wonderful feeling. I remember being stuck in the US on business just after “Deserving Ruth” was published in “Best New Erotica” and passing the time by browsing Barnes and Noble (I love how late book stores stay open in the US) and they had the book. I stood there holding it and realising that anyone could come in and buy it. I had no control over my story any more. It had a life of its own.

The other thing I realised was that I wasn’t going to tell anyone. Normally, being published is the kind of thing that you put on your CV/Resume, even if it’s only to show what a well-rounded chap you are, but saying “by the way, did you know I write erotica in my spare time?” doesn’t play well in the business world. In my case, it doesn’t play well at home either. My wife hates that I write erotica. She would be happy with me writing just about anything else but not this. If the erotica I write is too speculative then she sees it as a grubby attempt to get strangers off. If the erotica is too truthful, she sees it as too intimate to be shared with outsiders. True, none of my erotica is autobiographical but there is always a link between life and fiction, even if it’s only the things that the writer chooses to pay attention to.

So I won’t be going to book-signings any time soon and you won’t find my photograph on the back of the book – although that is no great loss. There’s joke that sums up this situation – skip the next paragraph if jokes bore you.

Rabbi Levi is a golf addict so when an opportunity comes to take a round of golf on his own on a course he’s always wanted to play, he takes it, even though it means playing on the Sabbath. He plays an extraordinary game, finishing the round with three consecutive hole-in-one shots. This is little short of miraculous and raises a problem of faith for the rabbi. Rabbi Levi falls to his knees, looks up at the sky and says, “Oh Lord, why, when I break your law and play golf on the Sabbath, do you reward me with such a magnificent score?” The sky darkens and a deep, God-like voice says, “So who ya gonna tell?”

But, jokes apart, I’m excited about having a book of my stories published. The fact that all of the stories are mine makes the choice of book by the reader much more personal. I mean, if someone buys “Sacred Exchange” or “Porn to Poetry” I have no means of knowing if they even read my story, but if they buy “Writing Naked”, then it’s because they want to read what I’ve written. And when they’ve finished reading it, they will have view, not just of the stories but of me.

I remember when I found Barbara Kingsolver’s first book of short stories “The Bean Trees”: I enjoyed each tale but what I enjoyed most was the idea that I’d found a new author who’s perspective on life and who’s use of language excited and refreshed me. In my most honest moments, that’s how I want people to feel when they finish reading “Writing Naked”. It’s a big ask, as my Australian colleagues say, but it’s one that gives me something to aim for.

Of course, with a book of short stories, it isn’t true to say that the book is all mine. I’ve discovered that the editor plays a crucial role here.

When Susannah first asked me if I’d like to put a collection of short stories together I was at a loss to know which ones to choose, so I sent her everything. I’d been writing for years by then and “everything” was a lot. Susannah had the distance and the skill to sort through them and find the best. Not just the best individual stories but the stories that would work best as a collection. She also gave me feedback on where a story might benefit from a re-write, and, as new stories came along, she changed the line-up to incorporate them.

By the time that I got the unproofed galleys to look at, the book had taken on a life of its own. Susannah had managed to sequence the stories so that the reader is constantly finding something new. She’d also turned a thin suggestion from me into a distinctive cover graphic.

So now the book is there. Too late to change anything. It is what it is and we’ll see what people think of it.

So what did I learn from this process?

Getting a book of short stories together takes a long time and you need support and commitment from a good editor.

You need a largish body of work to choose from and you need enough variety in what and how you write that when you pull the stories together they don’t all feel the same.

That it is tremendously helpful to spend the time going back over all the stories you’ve written so that you can see what works and what doesn’t and what underlies what you’ve written in terms of theme, imagery, language, characterisation and plot.

One outcome of the re-read for me was to question whether I’m writing erotica at all. In “Writing Naked” all of the stories have sex in them, usually multiple sex scenes that are, I’m told, hot to read. And yet, when I re-read the stories, what I felt best about was that these stories will make people laugh and cry. I think they will also put them in touch their own sexual experiences and fantasies. But they are not the best material for reading with one hand.

Which gets us into questions about the nature of genre writing. But they will have to wait for another day.

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Problems in the real world

I’ve been away for a while. My alter-ego, he-who-earns-the-money, has been going through a stressful time this month. For a couple of weeks it looked as if he’d finally managed to screw up big time: no money, no job, no ability to carry on living in Switzerland and virtually no one to talk to about it. At times like that a week can feel like a year and a sleepless night can feel like a century.

On the up-side, he lost 6 kilos, got to spend more time with his wife, worked off some fear in the gym and found out who his real friends are. On the downside he was made to question exactly who he thought he was and how the hell he got himself into this mess. Actually, that’s probably still the upside. The real downside was the impact on his wife. It felt like he’d driven over a cliff and she was strapped into the passenger seat beside him, able to do nothing but watch.

In the midst of all this, the Montreux Jazz Festival was going on. Tickets were already bought and paid for, so the uncertainty was put to one side for an evening and we listened to Tori Amos and to Tom McRae. Except that you can’t put that kind of anxiety to one side, so when Tom sang “Falling feels like flying ‘till you hit the ground” I felt like I finally knew what he meant.

Things are better now: not yet resolved but at least manageable. It turned out that sometimes, if you’re lucky, you bounce when you hit the ground.

Now in all of this you might think that Mike Kimera would have been a dormant figure, set aside while other priorities ruled. But that is to misunderstand what Mike Kimera is for.

I took refuge in Mike Kimera from time to time.

There is a story coming out on ERWA in September called “Burger Queen”, about a disturbed man obsessed with a server at his local Burger King. It was sparked partly by the Clean Sheets food month and partly by an empathy with what it might be like to be so wrapped up in a delusion that your reality on slightly overlaps with those around you. I think the most chilling thing for me was a comment from one reader: “I work with sex offenders and you may or may not be pleased to know that your depiction is very accurate.” It is not entirely comfortable to have these “accurate” voices in my head, but better perhaps to have them on the page than leave them creeping around my imagination, semi-formed but persistent.

And I went through the galleys of my first ever book, “Writing Naked”, but I'll talk about hat another time.

What I wanted to share is that I’ve discovered that being Mike Kimera, if only for a few hours at time, helps me to continue to deal with the real world. A refuge is not is not an escape, it is a place to gain strength, a pause in the fray that staves off tiredness and preserves the will to continue.

So Mike Kimera will continue and so will this blog.

Thank you for listening.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

"Reflexes" - the story behind the story

I want to tell you the story behind a story of mine. The story is called “Reflexes” and I think it is one of the best things I’ve written yet it has taken me two years to find a home for it.

“Reflexes” tells the story of a mixed race Australian couple caught up in a near-future war in the Pacific. It’s an emotional read that isn’t always comfortable. It contains sex and violence and politics but it is about love and loss and the choice we face between forgiveness and revenge. The title alludes to the fact that so many of our actions are not choices but reflexes.

I think part of the reason it took so long to find a homes was that it doesn’t fit easily into a genre – it has sex in it but it’s not erotica – it’s sf but the sex is a little too graphic for some of those sites (hopefully the success of Richard Morgan’s books will make the SF press re-think some of their attitude to sex).

But I think part of the reason I couldn’t place it is that the cynically named “Patriot Act” and the Orwellian wet dream of “Homeland Security” together with the rising number of dead in Iraq have created the perception that it is risky to publish a story like this. It’s ok – even trendy – to publish thoughtful erotica or speculative fiction that deals with difficult issues on far distant worlds but something like “Reflexes” is too close to the here and now and too “un-American” for most websites to handle.

“Reflexes” now has a home at Sedona’s Attic http://www.sedonasattic.com/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=67&MMN_position=85:85

Sedona’s Attic provides the perfect venue, focused as it is on sex and politics and religion.

Writing “Reflexes” was a strange experience. It met a need in me that just wouldn't leave me alone.

It was 2003 and the war in Iraq was just underway. The Americans, with the mandatory appeal to motherhood and apple pie, called it “Operation Iraqi Freedom", the British, with their usual obscurity, called it “Operation Telic” (which, when you look it up – and I think most people had to - means “Directed or tending toward a goal or purpose; purposeful.”) and the Australians, with a dash of romance or a nod to sports called it “Operation Falconer”.

Together with a lot of folks in Europe, I was depressed by the ease with which European powers slid into America’s wake and another war was started. Living outside the UK and with easy access to the French and German press, it was startling to see the tenuous links being made to weapons of mass destruction and operational support for Bin Laden. When Bush gave Hussein 48 hours to get out of Dodge, it seemed incredible to me that any one could see this as something other than a war driven by Bush’s personal agenda.

It wasn’t America’s involvement I was angry it – it was the countries that followed them, including my own, who, it seemed to me, were either cynically currying favour with Bush or had lost themselves to a rhetoric that could only produce more and more dead bodies. I felt they should have known better and behaved better. I believed that they should have listened to the wishes of their own citizens.

Then I was sent to Australia on business. It was my first time in the country and I’d been looking forward to the trip. I’ve always enjoyed working with Australians back in Europe. I tended to get on well with them – we got each other’s humour and shared a fairly straightforward view of how to get things done – what I think of as the Oz version of Nike’s slogan, “Just Fucking Do It”. And I was staying in Sydney at the Four Seasons Hotel, right in the middle of downtown.

I went to Australia expecting to slide into the place and the culture with only a minimal amount of effort. Maybe it was the timezone difference (which meant I was awake in the middle of the night) or the fact that I was in the uncomfortable role of being the “bloody Pom from headoffice” who had been sent to Sydney to “kick some Ozzy arse”, but I had a difficult time.

In those circumstances, small things grow out of perspective and I became over-sensitive to how white Australia is. I’d just come through India and Thailand and ended up in country that felt more white than the UK (in fact the numbers are about the same).

So I found myself sitting up at night, thinking about the war and researching Australian politics on the web. I realised that part of my reaction to the war had been driven by the exposure I’d had to multinational teams. I’d travelled widely and made friends (and enemies) in many countries and it seemed to me that the war just ignored the humanity of the people on the receiving end. Then I realised that that was too simple – the war ignored or discounted the impact on the soldiers who went to war and on their families.

In the isolation of my hotel room I analysed what I felt and I realised that it was partly anger at politicians who choose to lead through creating fear and hatred, partly contempt for those who let themselves be lead, but mostly sadness for how ordinary and predictable and “normal” it all was. It had happened before. It will happen again.

I used “Reflexes” to discharge some of that emotion: to free myself from a sense of helplessness; to ground myself back in individual human reactions to “regime change” and “pacification”.

I don’t mean this to be a political rant. The whole point of what I have to say is that politics are not the driver here. I wanted to focus on the decisions of individuals in difficult circumstances.

Please take the time to read “Reflexes” and let me know what you think.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

London

I’ve just spent a few days in London on business. After years of living in a place where, in the nearest big town, the traffic lights turn to flashing amber at 8pm (after that the volume of traffic is too low to need traffic lights) London now comes as a shock to me: the volume of people and traffic, the noise they make, the just-below-the-surface mix of tiredness, aggression and endurance in the faces in the crowd, the ethnic mix, the tourists, every fashion style known to man; it all results in a kind of sensory overload that forces you to tune parts of it out.

I lived in London for a few years, in Belsize Park, down the hill from Hampstead Heath. I enjoyed the energy of the place and it’s resilience, but it never felt like home.

Actually, I can’t think of anywhere that feels like home. The place where I grew up is in my blood but I was pleased to leave it and I visit it rarely. Besides, I’m no longer the person who grew up there and it’s no longer the town I lived in. No one steps into the same river twice and all that.

I travel a lot. Last year I made multiple trips to Australia, Brazil, the US, and India. When I travel, I become an extreme version of myself. On the one hand I isolate myself, never choosing to speak to others, resisting asking for help, trying to stay inside my head. On the other, I absorb the flavours of the place and the behaviours of the people avidly. My job means that my days are long and filled with people talking English and acting within the boundaries of corporate culture. At the end of such days I just want to eat and sleep. Occaisionally, the corporate forcefields are switched off and I make contact with people: one colleague cooked me a meal at her home in Germany, Indian colleagues shared the festival of colour with me and invited me to their homes, Latin American colleagues value longevity in relationships and now embrace me on meeting and keep me out late at night drinking.

But mostly, I’m an outsider. Hell, who isn’t? J The difference is how you react to being outside. If I’m not careful, I turn it into a badge of honour. What a thing to have on your gravestone “I stayed outside and sulked”

Strange isn’t it, that someone who writes so much of intimacy, should avoid it so often? And yet I wonder whether that is one of the reasons why I can write about it.

Or maybe writing is part of how I deal with locking myself up so tightly.

This time around in London, I was being pitched as the major expert on the topic of the month: one large consultancy giving advice to one very large company on how to make more money than before. Being a a major expert is a comfortable place to be. But it wasn’t always like that. My first year or two working for a big consultancy I felt sure that someone would finally notice that I had no right to be there. I would enter our big headquarters and feel I had more in common with the guys running security than the guys running the company.

On the way home from one of those visits I wrote the first draft of story called “London”. It’s one of my few gay stories. I don’t know why I made the character (me) gay. Perhaps to reinforce a sense of difference. Perhaps, because, as the author, I can do what I want to characters.

I’ve decided to include the story here so you can see the overlap between Mike Kimera and the guy who pays the bills.

London

© 2002 Mike Kimera All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission from mikekimera@yahoo.co.uk

I had forgotten how pretty London can be. Full of energy and life, light and money. Dressed in Christmas finery, it sparkles and displays itself. Beckoning you to eat here or watch a play there, but never to pause, to just stand and breathe in the night. London streets are like rivers, you swim or you drown.

Pushing through shoals of tourists, I descend into the Underground at Piccadilly, heading to the discrete hotel in Marylebone where you, I hope, will soon be running my bath. I imagine your strong forearm testing the temperature of the water.

I fell in lust with you because of your forearms. You looked so fierce in the club, naked to the waist, arms folded across your sculpted chest, blue eyes blazing in challenge. New boy in town, signalling top not bottom and determined to be taken seriously. I might have passed you by, found less troublesome company, but I needed to trace the corded muscle of your forearms, wanted to test the softness of the blond hair that covered them. The club was too loud for conversation. I placed my hand over yours, waiting for an invitation. You stared at me but didn’t move. Gently I slid my fingers down towards your elbow. Still you did not move. I made to turn away, disappointed but not surprised. Most likely you wanted someone younger. Then you did it. You grasped my wrist, pulled me to you, and kissed me. With that first kiss you sucked out my soul. With the second you gave it back, marked as your property, to be used for your needs.

Taking my seat on the Tube I place the bottle of champagne that I was given today, between my legs. It sits there proudly. I know you will sneer at its pretension, swigging straight from the bottle to show your contempt. I smile at the thought of your lips around it.

The champagne is a token of my visit to Head Office today. The place stinks of alpha male aspirations. The entrance is a vast cave of green marble with water flowing over lighted glass and tasteful uplighters highlighting the vaulted ceilings and the corporate art. “We are here” it says, “By the river, rich, successful, see how well we’ve done”. My heart should swell with pride as I exercise my right to go there. Except I keep wanting to click my heels together and have my ruby slippers bring this game of vanity and boast to an end. “Surely” I want to say, “You can not be serious.”

I’ve was called in to HQ to be blessed for a year of achievement; stroked and petted and encouraged. It is so much a boys club (though half the people there were women). Gold stars for over achievers and a nice report card to take home to mummy. If only they knew who I really go home to.

Many of my colleagues are nice people: pleasant dinner companions; well travelled; well read; well bred. I am their token rebel. The one who has such an amusing disregard for forms and procedures. Perhaps a little too intense. A little too critical. Never quite relaxes. Never quite becomes… one of us.

There perhaps is the thorn on the rose. That little prick of class. Of Eton and Cambridge or Harrow and Oxford. Of generations of education and money and ease. Not their fault but mine. I cannot, will not, become… one of us.

Of course a much bigger prick, yours, separates me from them. You are my class warrior, with your working class voice and your fuck-off-and-die attitude to the chattering classes. I wonder how they would react, these colleagues of mine, if they knew that I daydream of the taste of your cum in my mouth and the fierce heat of your cock in my arse.

The tube spits me out. The night is cold and cloudless. I stand in the relative quiet of the square, in front of our hotel, the first place where you ever let me sleep the whole night in your arms, and realise that because of you I can stand still in those London streets. I can let the river of people flow past me and I will not drown. For a few seconds I let myself absorb the London night. Let myself feel the beauty of new light on old stone and see the red of the buses and the black of the cabs in the warm glow of the stores and cafes and theatres. The city doesn’t care that I’m back, but I’m glad to feel its pulse again.

I shed all thoughts of work like a coat on a too hot day and mount the steps of the hotel with the same eagerness that you will soon mount me and eclipse the tiresome world with the intensity of your lust.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

On being a Reader and becoming a Writer

I’ve always been addicted to fiction books. Reading was my refuge and my excitement long before the idea of writing occurred to me. I’ve always loved books that I could lose myself in. Later, I learnt to love books that I can find myself in. Most recently I’ve learnt to love books where the skill of the author fills me with joyful excitement.

(Joyful excitement – sounds like a pompous exaggeration doesn’t it? Well it may be pompous – pomposity has always come easily to me – but I don’t think it is an exaggeration. I’m not prone to joy and I rise to excitement only slowly – so slowly it’s often retrospective – but sometimes I look at how a book has been written and I slap myself on the forehead and go “Of Course. What a great idea. I wonder if I could do that?” - I am well used to strange looks from those around me who are surprised by my behaviour because they regard reading as a passive experience).

The best of all books are the ones where I can get excited about the content and about how the book was written. Reading those books switches all the lights on in my head.

I browse bookshops with the nervous energy and focused attention of an addict looking for a fix. Just being in a bookshop makes me feel better about the world and it is hard for me to leave without buying something (often, an arm load of somethings).

I’m one of those folks (and there are millions of us) who have pre-ordered the next Harry Potter book. I like to know that I will have it in my hands as soon as it becomes available. When “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” came out, I took it with me everywhere – despite its great bulk. I got sent to a conference in Holland shortly after the book came out. I slipped away from the conference centre to a Mexican restaurant in a tiny little beachside resort for dinner. I sat alone with my book, enjoying the mix of margaritas and magical fiction. When the waitress saw what I was reading, her first question was, “What page are you on?” I knew I had found another addict and for the twenty minutes or so during which we discussed which book we liked best and why the stories where so compelling and which characters had stolen our hearts, the differences in age, gender and nationality melted away as we affirmed our membership of the great tribe of Readers.

Being literate doesn’t qualify you to be a Reader. It’s not enough to be able to read all the words and comprehend the plot. Being a critic doesn’t qualify you either. It seems to me that most critics have completely lost whatever potential they once had to be Readers.

To be a Reader you have to suck the book into you as if it was air and you were emerging from too long a time underwater. You have to let the book possess you. Possession doesn’t stop when you close the book. The book is still with you. You come back to it compulsively: attracted by this image or that piece of language or this plot twist. Readers don’t just enjoy a book as they read a particular page. The book becomes a filter through which they will see the world for a while. They will become sensitised to particular topics or places or points of view. They will review the book, consciously or unconsciously, against what they know about the world and how they feel about themselves and their lives.

I became a Reader about the time that I hit puberty (or it hit me – make of that what you will). I read widely but I kept coming back to science fiction ( Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, James Tiptree Jnr, Ursula Le Guin) and to some forms of fantasy (Rosemary Sutcliffe, Lucy M Boston, JRR Tolkein, C S Lewis and Ursula Le Guin again). The SF books engaged me in the idea that the universe had rules that could not be broken but that knowledge and courage and cooperation could turn these rules to our advantage. The fantasy books helped me realise that the need for something to believe in and to belong to runs deep in most people and the fundamental choice we are faced with is whether we have the courage and the strength to stay true to the right beliefs and loyal to the right people.

I would emerge from these books filled to bursting with excitement about what the world might offer. I was bright enough not to share this information with those around me. I was already enough an anomaly without trying to engage friends or teachers in a discussion about whether there was a bridge between the nature of scientific truth and the nature of religious belief and if so, who would have the courage and the strength to cross it. (Yep, I was, and still am, a fully paid up nerd).

When I picked up the last of Narnia series at the public library, I made the mistake of reading a few pages in the reading room. I couldn’t stop. I read all day and left the library feeling dazed and emotionally drained and for the first time understanding that, in Lewis’s version of the Christianity, good can triumph over evil by denying the win/lose paradigm (hey, I was 13 – this was heady stuff back then).

So, I’m a long term Reader with no hope of or aspiration to ever kick the habit.

For the past five years or so, I’ve also been becoming a Writer. Yep, that would be Writer with a capital W: the kind of person who cannot process their reaction to life and the world without writing something; the kind of person who will give up sleep rather than lose the opportunity to write; the kind of person who hears voices in their head and, instead of seeking psychiatric help, tries to write down what they are saying and work out why they are saying it.

Now doesn’t “becoming a writer” sound twee – hand me that waxed brown paper bag so I can throw up politely - but it seems to describe what has been happening to me.

Modesty is never something that I’ve suffered from. I knew I was good with words and that I could weave stories that carried other people along. But that didn’t make me a Writer – that only meant that I had the potential to write. I didn’t actually start to write until I hit my forties (yes, they hit me as well – hmm writing as a reaction to existential panic brought on by the sure and certain knowledge of the inescapability of death and the daily reminders of the slow but inexorable decline in function and dissolution of form – nah, I don’t think so. I was raised as a Catholic. I’ve always knew that I was going to die). I rationalise this by saying that before then, I had nothing to say. Who knows the real reason – maybe I was just too lazy to be bothered?

Anyway, in my forties, I started to write about sex. So much of what I read about sex (and my research was thorough) didn’t accord with my experience. It was either wank-fodder (yeah baby, do it like that) or ecstatic stuff that said that my consciousness would be altered by the right kind of orgasm or something that suggested that I needed to master sex as if it was sport I need coaching in or an extension of the hospitality I would offer to friends by learning to be a good cook. I wanted to write something different.

Actually, that’s not quite true. At first I just felt the urge to write to just write some porn (go see “Have a Nice Day” http://www.richardrealm.com/stories/niceday.txt and you’ll see what I mean.) But the process of writing started to impose itself on me then. I started to think about all the structural stuff (point-of-view, tense, grammar) linear progression or moving back and forth on the time line, pace and imagery and so on. It didn’t matter what I was writing about, if I wanted to write at all I needed to be able to deal with that stuff.

That helped me realise that what I really wanted to be able to do and what I think I am finally starting to be able to do – is to write the kind of thing that would make the all the lights go on in someone else’s head.

Then what I was writing about became important to me.

I’d grown up with Science Fiction stories where the basic rule is that the story needs to be true to scientific possibility and should not include anything that was demonstrably impossible/untrue. This imposes a world view that most readers of science fiction would take for granted e.g. the universe – mulitverse actually- tends towards chaos (2nd law of thermodynamics), nothing is for free (Newton’s Laws of Motion), something can be two things at the same time (light is a particle and a wave) and truth can only be disproved, never proved (Popperian scientific method).

So if I was going to write about sex, what where the basic rules that should apply?

I’m still working on the answer to that question, but my starting point was that, while sex and lust will cause people to do strange things to themselves and to others, these things are not random. They are based in some kind of truth about what sex means to us and how we experience it.

So I thought I would try and keep my stories in some sense truthful. I don’t always succeed in that. Sometimes I just let myself off the leash and write so good old fashioned porn. My first attempt at an honest story was Kneading http://www.richards-realm.com/stories/kneading.txt. I wanted to write something about sex between married people and I wanted to give some sense of what a male orgasm (at least in my experience) feels like.

Over the past few years I haven’t written to any kind of master plan, but, story by story, I’ve tried to write something that will get under people’s skin

At Susannah Indigo’s suggestion http://www.susannahindigo.com/, I’ve been assembling a book of short stories. In the process I’ve been rereading my own work and I’ve realised that I’ve ended up writing about four things:

Married Sex: it amazes me how little stuff there is out there about sex between married people (even if they’re not married to each other). Surely most of the sex in the world falls into this category, yet most of the erotica seems to be about young single people.

Humour: I’ve always found sex slightly ridiculous (maybe it’s something about the way I do it – as Woody Allen once said “I’m good at sex, I practice a lot when I’m alone) but I’ve tried to write funny stories that also show that a lot of the humour comes from that uncomfortable mix of vulnerability, intimacy and desire.

BDSM: I’m not a member of the community but I’ve some experience in this area (coughs and shuffles feet) so I’ve tried to write (at least some of the) stories in this area about what it really feels like to be in that kind of a relationship. Take a look at “Other Bonds than Leather” http://www.cleansheets.com/fiction/kimera_08.28.02.shtml and you’ll see what I mean.

Science Fiction: as a long term fan of SF it still amazes me how often both sex and religion are missed out of Science Fiction. I like to try and write stories where both the sex and the SF are credible. Take a look at “Fucking Forever” and you’ll see what I mean. http://www.erotica-readers.com/GD/TC-KE/Forever.htm

So, I’m still moving on becoming a Writer. I’ll keep you posted.