Sunday, October 14, 2007

“Best New Erotica 7” (now available to pre-order) is my 5th BNE in a row

I’m proud to say that, for the 5th consecutive year, I have a story in the Mammoth Best New Erotica anthology, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. “Best New Erotica 7” is now available for pre-order from Amazon (although it won’t be published until January).

I always send Maxim a selection of stories to choose from and I can never predict which one he’ll take. “Best New Erotica” is an eclectic publication and, apart from the fact that the stories have to have been published (print or online) somewhere in the relevant year (2006 in this case) they have little in common.

The first story of mine that Maxim published was “Deserving Ruth” in “Best New Erotica 3”. I was very excited to see this in print. I still think it is one of the short stories I’ve written. I like it because it has a good hook at the beginning, it pulls of a first person POV, it’s crammed with sex scenes and it’s driven by strong emotions: guilt, lust and most of all, love.

Here’s how it starts:

“My wife says you like to come in her mouth, David.”

We are only one drink in to the evening and this isn’t the conversational opener I’d expected. I nurse my bottle of Bud and say nothing.

Lars puts his arm around my shoulders, leans his head down towards mine and says, “Mei Mei does have a talented tongue, but I always wonder about a man who is able to resist her tight little cunt. There’s something about the grip of a wet cunt on your cock that a mouth just can’t match, don’t you think?”

I am very aware of the heat of Lars’ body next to mine. He is dressed in Levis and tight fitting black t-shirt and he looks like six foot four of pure muscle. For a moment it occurs to me that he could snap my neck without breaking sweat, but he is smiling and from the tone of his voice we could be talking about cars or sports.

I glance over at Mei Mei. She looks small next to my wife, Ruth. They both have the same long black hair and have conspired to wear matching outfits, black silk shirt-dresses that stop inches above the knee and tie with a simple belt at the waist. Their makeshift uniforms emphasise how different they are. Ruth has a strong Slavic look; her breasts and hips seem almost swollen and over-ripe compared to Mei Mei’s compact Malaysian frame. The two of them are talking animatedly, leaning forward, their faces almost touching. Ruth’s hand rests on Mei Mei’s knee, her fingers pointing along the line of her thigh. Sexual intent seems to flash between them.

“Ruth has nice breasts, David,” Lars says, “You must enjoy pressing her tits together and pushing your cock between them.”

I feel the beginnings of an erection and I wish Lars would take his arm off my shoulders. I have never fucked Ruth’s tits, she has never let me, but I have often wondered what it would be like.

I continue looking at the women to give myself time to decide how to get Lars to move his arm without causing offence. After all, this is his house and I was brought up not to insult my host.

Ruth’s hand is now out of sight, underneath Mei Mei’s dress. Mei Mei leans forward and pushes her tongue into Ruth’s mouth. There is something staged about the kiss. The tongues are too visible. I know that, out of the side of their eyes, they are looking at Lars and me, putting on a show for us.

Ruth is in charge of course. Ruth is always in charge. She was the one who brought Mei Mei into our bed. She told me that they met at one of those Manchester Sauna clubs that doubles as a swingers swap centre. Mei Mei was new and all the men had been trying to get her attention. Ruth pushed them aside, pulled Mei Mei’s head back by the hair and then kissed her. Mei Mei kissed back and opened her legs slightly. Ruth said that Mei Mei was so wet she could have slid her whole fist into her cunt. As it was, pushing two fingers in was enough to cause general applause from the watching men.

Normally Ruth doesn’t involve me in her promiscuous adventures, but she always tells me about them. She wants me to know the lengths that she goes to to find satisfaction.

Ruth has a set routine. Whenever she gets really horny she goes to the club and fucks. Then she comes back and tells me all about it. She makes me sit in the living room with the palms of my hands on the arm of the chair. If I move my hands she will walk out of the room and not tell me anything more. If I stay still, she will talk me through every detail, all the while coaxing my cock to get harder and harder. Then she’ll let me be her last fuck of the day.


For “Best New Erotica 4” Maxim took “American Holidays”. This is the longest piece I’ve ever had published and at 21,328 words I was surprised that Maxim had room for it but it turned out to be a good decision as the piece received positive reviews.

“American Holidays” is a novella about a group of characters who are all connected. Over the course of Memorial Day, Independence Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving, each character gets to tell their story.

This piece came about because Susannah Indigo at Clean Sheets offered me the chance to write a series, with each story appearing on Clean Sheets at the appropriate time of year.

I like the piece because it’s written in the first person with each section being a different person (something creative writing classes constantly tell you not to do) and because each story has to complete, connected to the others and relevant to the holiday it’s named after. For me, the best thing about the story was having the space to get to know the characters as people and having the pressure to give them each a distinctive voice. Here’s the opening to “Thanksgiving” the final section of “American Holidays”. It’s told from Helen’s point of view. She is a Femdom, happily married to Peter. The story takes place at her mother’s house on Thanksgiving. I loved the opportunity to think through what it would be like for a D/s couple to spend the night at the Dominatrix’s childhood home. Is a Domme still a Domme to her parents? Here’s how it starts.

“You want me to sleep here?

“Well this is where you slept when you lived here, Helen. Why should it change now? I thought you’d be pleased to have your old room back.”

I try to read my mother’s face. She must being doing this deliberately. And she must know that I can see what she is doing. But she still has that innocent, not-quite-connected-to-planet-earth look that she uses to avoid any minor questions about her decisions that my father might be rash enough to voice.

I stare in disbelief at the single bed that I slept in as a child. It’s a very narrow single bed.

“I know that you prefer to ignore the fact that Peter and I are married mother, but he is my husband and I expect to have him in my bed. We can’t sleep here.”

“Really, Helen, I have no idea where you get these impressions from. I have no opinion about Peter. As I said at the time, who you chose to marry was up to you.”

What she’d said at the time was “Are you sure you want to marry Paul, dear? He’s such a bland man. I can see the advantage of having someone manageable but marriage needs a little spice if it’s to last. I’ve always preferred to wake up to Huevos Rancheros, the problem with Paul is that he’s just so… oatmeal.”

I‘d stood there, with my hands balled into fists and my jaw clenched, trying to quell the desire to hit her.

“His name is Peter, mother,” I’d spat out.

“You see, dear, not even his name is memorable. Ah well. It is your decision of course.”

Now, seven years later, I find myself having to bite back my anger one more time. My mother is talking. I’m trying not to strangle her.

“I didn’t think that you and Peter would mind being separated for one night. I’ve given him the fold-down bed in your father’s den. He’ll be perfectly comfortable. I had to give the guest bedroom to Troy and Dianna; after all they have the baby to think of.”

The baby. Of course we should be thinking about the baby. My younger brother (what kind of mother calls their kids Helen and Troy?) produced a grandchild right off the bat. I of course committed the sin of putting my career ahead of my duty to deliver grandchildren, although even that became Peter’s fault in my mother’s mind. “If Peter has a problem dear, I can recommend an excellent clinic.” My mother had left that helpful tip on our answerphone in the second year of my marriage. Peter played it back to me when I got home from work.

I don’t resent the fact that Troy and Dianna got the big bed. I resent the implication that Peter is so bland that I won’t even notice his absence.

“I want him here with me, mother.”

Even I can hear how petulant I sound.

“Well if it’s that important to you, dear. I’ll ask your father to move the fold-down bed in here. I’m sure he won’t mind. Although of course he has only just set everything up the den. But then your father always makes sure that his little Helen gets what she wants, doesn’t he?”

I don’t believe it. She is still

“There won’t be a lot of room in here. You’ll have to fold up the bed before you can open the door. But, if that’s what you want…”

Oh God. It is always like this. A constant trickle of words that erode my will. I either have to get angry or to shut down and give in. Giving in is easier. If I push her now, the topic will come up at dinner. And again in the morning. And in the next time we come to the house. If there is a next time.

“Never mind, mother. Peter can stay where he is. Let’s just concentrate on getting dinner ready.”

“Well, if you’re sure, dear.”

How did this woman live so long?

“You look tense, Helen. Why don’t you take a moment to freshen up? Dianna is changing the baby in the bathroom but you can use the en suite in the master bedroom. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready.”

And then she is gone. The relief is physical, like when your ears pop at altitude.

For “Best New Erotica 5”, Maxim went with comedy, picking “I want to watch you do it”, which later became the opening story in my “Writing Naked” short story collection. This is a lightweight tale meant to amuse as much as to arouse. I like the story because I managed to use dialogue to keep the past fast and to deliver one liners. It’s quite liberating to get away from the burden of descriptive prose

Here’s the first 500 or so words:

"I want to watch you do it."

We've been kissing; really kissing. My eyes are still closed and my mouth is wide open when Karen pulls away to make her bizarre statement.

"Do what?" I say, trying unsuccessfully to pull her back into my arms.

"I want to watch you masturbate."

"What? No. I mean, why?"

"You need a reason? I thought you did it several times a day." Karen places her hands on her hips and holds her head to one side in that way she does when she wants me to know that I'm being difficult.

"I do not. Well, not several times. Once or twice maybe. When I'm by myself."

Karen looks unconvinced.

"What do you think about when you do it?" she asks.

"I don't know. Coming, mostly." I'm feeling foolish and confused now.

"I think about being fucked," she says, "with my hands tied above my head in the centre of a Moorish harem." She holds her hands up and sways slightly at the hips. "With the Sultan taking his pleasure while his other wives stroke themselves from sheer excitement."

I try to grab her hips but she twists away, falling back on to the sofa, legs spread wide.

"Or I imagine I'm on stage," she says, "men and women lining up to lick me to orgasm. It's a charity Lickathon, televised around the world."

Her hips thrust forward and her head rolls from side to side on the cushion. I stand between her legs and she sits up. This girl has very strong stomach muscles. Her face is just in front of my fly and I want desperately to be in her mouth.

"Are you sure you don't want to masturbate? You look as if you need to."

She's laughing at me, the cow. But my cock never gives up and I hear myself asking, "Couldn't we just fuck? You've made me as hot as hell."

She sits back on the sofa and folds her arms. "No. I want to watch you do it."

"But why?"

"I want to know if you look the same."


"You know, whether you still get that 'I've-been-constipated-for-so-long-but-it-will-soon-be-over' look."

"Bloody hell." If I was a real man, I'd leave right now.

"Don't take offence. I'm just curious." She makes that sound so reasonable. Like it's something every woman has to find out eventually.

"Look, I'll strip if it will help," she says and starts to unbutton her blouse. I'm still thinking about sulking until she reaches the third button. She has beautiful breasts.

She looks up from under her fringe, her hands frozen on the fourth button, and says. "Wouldn't you like to stand over me while you do it? Hmmm?"

"What if I knelt?" She slides to the floor in front of me. "And touched myself like this?" she says rubbing one prominent nipple with her thumb.

"Fuck," I say. I'm so eloquent at these moments.

"No, wank. Come on, you'll enjoy it."

For “Best New Erotica 6” I sent Maxim a list with some serious stories in it: Writing Nakedwhich won the Rauxa Prize for erotic writing for 2005; Nadica” a short, edgy, tale about making choices; “Burger Queen” about sex from the point of view of an obsessed sociopath and a comedy piece called “It may not be art, Darling, but it pays the bills” an insider’s view of the making of a grunge porn movie.

Almost as an afterthought I sent a strange little story called “Eve’s Freedom”. This is one of the few stories I’ve ever sent directly to Clean Sheets without going through the writers list on ERWA first. Maxim decided it was the one he wanted. There’s much less explicit sex in this story but the idea is quite powerful. It was originally going to be a comedy piece, based on the Encounter Groups that were so popular once upon a time, with the title “Wankers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your inhibitions” but once I started to write, Eve got into my head and the story become about how love, even when unrequited, can free you.

Here’s the opening of “Eve’s Freedom”. It uses a lecture device that I enjoy. After this opening we get inside Eve’s head and discover what she does to make herself free.

Wanker. Jerk-off. Tosser.”

With each word, Zach points aggressively at one of the people in the circle around him. Even I, who have seen this performance many times before, would flinch if that finger were pointed at me.

“These are all terms of abuse. Terms for abusers.”

Zach’s rich, deep voice loads the word “abusers” with such a burden of shame and guilt that some of those in the circle will not meet his eyes. One of the older women, the kind of woman I know Zach prefers, blushes until her pale skin almost matches her auburn hair.

“And yet, we all do it. Every one of us masturbates.”

Zach’s hands are open now; his arms are outstretched as he turns slowly to include the whole circle in that “we”. And surely if he, Zach, a man so beautiful, a man with such an electric sexual presence, a man that we all secretly want to be touched by, masturbates, then it must be OK. Mustn’t it?

“So why is something that we all do…” he paces the circle, trailing the question with him.

“That we all enjoy…” People are starting to smile.

He pauses, as I knew he would, in front of the auburn-haired-blusher; squats with graceful ease, looks into her face and says. “Something that some of us enjoy a great deal…”

She blushes again, but she is smiling now and making eye contact with Zach and we can see she would like a great deal more contact than that.

There is a moment of tension when we all wonder if he will touch her, when we all want him to touch her, when it seems that touching her is the only natural thing to do, and then, with a smile that is almost a caress, Zach stands and resumes pacing.

Zach’s motion, his interaction, his potential have charged the air with sex. Into this atmosphere he launches his loaded question:

“So why does this activity, this little bit of finger fun, get so much abuse?”

Some people are smiling at the word play, but no one laughs. Zach’s body language makes it clear that this is not a time for laughter.

“I will give you the answer in one word: FEAR.”

Zach cuts across the circle in diagonals, keeping the momentum, underlining his point, reeling us in for the argument that will make us special.

“History teaches us that society uses terms of abuse to suppress that which it fears. And what it fears most are those truths that set us free.

I am a wanker.” Zach says, pointing at himself.

“You are a wanker.” The young man Zach points at winces, as if Zach had jabbed him with a stick.

“And you are a wanker.” Zach points quickly at a woman on the other side of the group.

“And you are a wanker.” This time Zach twists around as he makes the statement, and points at the first person he sees.

Zach smiles and spreads his arms. “We are all wankers. And we should be proud and yes, even grateful, that we are wankers. Wanking will set us free. And that freedom, that willingness to take our pleasure into our own hands, that refusal to be ground down by guilt and shame and the expectations of others. That freedom is what makes us frightening.”

The group stumbles over the turbulence created by this idea. A gaunt grey-haired man, the oldest in the circle, lets out an involuntary snort of surprise which he stifles when he feels Zach’s gaze upon him.

“I can see that not all of you believe me.” Zach says, walking slowly towards the man. “But in your hearts…” His voice drops and he seems to be speaking only to the man in front of him “In your heart, I know that you want to believe me.”

The room is completely silent. The mood of the group balances on a knife-edge between ridicule and acceptance. How the man reacts to Zach will colour everything that follows.

“It is your desire to believe, your need to be free, your dissatisfaction with a life filled with half-truths, that has brought you here.”

As Zach says this he touches the man on the wrist. It is not a sexual act but it is an emotional one: a blessing, a gesture of acceptance, maybe even of forgiveness. The old man nods his head, the knife blade twists and we all tumble towards belief.

Zach moves back to the centre of the circle, ready to catch us as we fall. Everyone is looking at him. He looks at me. I wait until the first heads start to turn, then I walk towards him.

So this year I sent Maxim my list:

“Brave enough to cry?” is a story sex and war and rock and roll. It appeared on Erotic Readers and Writers Association in April 2006. Word count 6,295

Up in the morning” was published in “Cream: the best of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association” Edited by Lisabet Sarai in 2006. It’s about an older married man who still wakes each morning with an erection and the choices he makes in dealing with it. Word count 2,259

Postcards” Is the story of how a couple fuels their passion during enforced absence.

It was published in “Aqua Erotica 2” edited by Megan Worman in 2006. Word count 2,357

The Last Taboo” Fat Frank loves fucking his wife but it would be bad form to admit this to ‘The Lads.’ Appeared on Erotic Readers and Writers Association in April 2006 and is now in the Treasure Chest. Word Count 1,249

“Hand Jobs” This is a monologue about a man who likes getting hand jobs from whores. Appeared on the Erotic Readers and Writers Association in August 2006 and is now in the Treasure Chest, Word count 1,427

To my surprise, Maxim picked the “Hand Jobs” which is both the shortest piece I sent him and the least conventional in style.

I re-read the piece to see if I could figure out what made it attractive to him.

It is a monologue given by an ordinary man in his sixties from the North of England who has always needed sex and has always dealt with that need with a quiet dignity.

What distinguishes the story is that, although the monologue is all about his sexual experiences, at the end of this short piece you feel as if you know a lot more about this man than how he likes to get off.

Maxim’s willingness to select this kind of story is one of the things that makes him such a successful editor.

These are turbulent times in the publishing business and the house that publishes the Mammoth series has just changed hands. I hope that the new owners recognise the strength Maxim brings to the table and give him the scope to continue to edit anthologies that stimulate and surprise.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Praise for “The Dresden Files” and a Discovery About American Paperback Book Design

I’ve just discovered “The Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher and now I have a new writer to admire to the point of envy.

Last time I was in the US, I saw one of the Dresden books being promoted at Barnes and Noble but they only had book eight and I’m one of those folks who just HAS to start at book one. So, a few months later, I finally get around to ordering first two in the series “Storm Front” and “Fool Moon” from Amazon. I read them back to back and enjoyed every page.

Harry Dresden is the only publicly practicing Wizard in Chicago. He works alongside the Special Investigations Unit of the Chicago Police Department to deal with all the super-natural nastiness that no-one wants to admit exists. He lives alone, he has a dark past, he wears a black duster coat, a cowboy hat, boots and jeans (sadly this is an accurate description of my winter wardrobe – what can I tell you – it keeps the rain off) and he has trouble with authority figures and likes to be chivalrous with women, even one’s who’d rip his arm off if they even thought he was trying to protect them..

Put like that this sounds like pulp-fiction – clichéd to the level of a Hollywood “treatment” – think “The Long Goodbye” meets “Tales From the Crypt” with a touch of Spaghetti Western thrown in. Hey, it would have more going for it than “Resident Evil 3”.

But the wonderful thing about these books is that they are genuinely surprising and original. Every monster has a new twist. Every plot is more complicated than it seems. Then you realize that the books are linked and that the whole thing is thought through and that Harry Dresden is much more than a macho magician with a penchant for coats with mantles – he has ethics and weaknesses and he changes as the books go by.

I gulped down the first book like an ice-cold beer on a too-hot day, When I caught my breathe and said “wow” a few times, I put my reader persona to one side and asked myself the writerly question: “How did he do that?”, swiftly followed by “How could I do that?”

The immediacy and emotional impact of the books come from the fact that they are told in the first person. I love writing in the first person and I lost count of the number of times that I’ve been told that although that might work for short stories, it’s not viable for novels. What Butcher shows is that it’s viable for a novel IF YOU’RE GOOD AT IT.

Butcher’s books move along at a fast pace. He is a master a short chapters – eight to twelve pages – each of which starts with a hook and ends with cliffhanger or a punch-line – which may be one reason that he can continue to use the first person. This means that you get straight in to every chapter and you’re always keen to reach the next one.

Plot is central to these books. Each book sets out a problem for Harry to solve and Butcher walks the tightrope of maintaining suspense while providing the reader with all the information necessary to solve the problem. Butcher keeps the promises his opening chapters make to the reader and each book ends with a resolution – of course, in line with the structure of the chapters, each of the first two books has ended by setting up a sequel.

But the most important thing is that Butcher has rethought the mythos without violate or belittling it. He’s taken a cliché and made it into some new and fresh.

Of course, reading a book is a physical as well as an intellectual exercise. I carry books with me everywhere and read them when I dine alone on restaurants, or when my dog and I complete the morning walk with café and croissant at the local patisserie. I like the physicality of books, the weight of them in my hand, the smell when they are new, the texture of the paper in my hands. These days I sometimes indulge myself with hardback versions of books by authors that I HAVE to read RIGHT NOW, like Terry Pratchett or Ben Elton but mostly I buy paperbacks and most of them are from the UK (I live in Switzerland). I read a lot of science fiction and I’ve never liked the garish covers that American publishers use.

With the Dresden books I made an exception. I preferred the covers on the American books – they seem more in keeping with the content of the books than the arty English versions that seemed more obsessed with the concept of files as stationery than they were with Dresden as a Wizard (copy the two covers for book one and you’ll see what I mean).

So I decided to put up with the smaller size and the crappy typeface they chose. And I made an interesting discovery – one morning I was putting on my duster and my hat to walk the dog through the rain to the patisserie, and trying to figure out where to put my copy of “Fool Moon” when I realized that American paperbacks are designed to fit in the back pocket of your jeans.

How cool is that?

I think Lee Cooper should start an ad campaign with women looking intently at the jean-clad ass of a cool look guy. He thinks they’re checking out his clenched curves but actually their trying to read the title of the novel in his pocket.

Another thing that makes it cool is that, in French (which is what they speak around here) a paperback is called a Roman Poche, literally a Pocket Novel – now I know why.