Passions and Provocations

Alive and Thinking in Cyberspace: Pam's take on just about everything


A Brilliant Book in a Painful Season

Colson Whitehead’s THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. First posted at Goodreads:

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Up there with WOLF HALL as a spectacular historical novel (one of the best I’ve read), but so so different. Because not only are the characters fictional, but the armature it’s built on — the notion that there was actually a physical railroad running under the ground, conveying brave fugitive slaves to different areas of the United States — is obviously counterfactual.

And yet it’s also clearly and eloquently steeped in the too little acknowledged fact of centuries of United States slavery. For example, the terse occasional section headings (taken from university archives) are actual advertisements placed by the owners of runaway slaves, like:

will be given to any person who will deliver to me, or confine in any gaol in the state so that I get her again, a likely yellow NEGRO GIRL 18 years of age who ran away nine months past. She is an artfully lively girl, and will no doubt, attempt to pass as a free person, has a noticeable scar on her elbow, occasioned by a burn. I have been informed she is lurking in and about Edenton.
Murfreesboro, Jan. 5, 1812

Each is as chilling as only historical actuality can be: plainspoken testament to casual daily inhumanity as inured to its own degradation of spirit as it is deaf and blind to the unfathomable bravery of its victim; raw material for Whitehead’s brilliant fantastical picaresque through a few of this nation’s institutions of oppression and racism; more than a century of history and geography telescoped, origami’ed into one woman’s adventure away from bondage and the shame of bondage.

And yet, as I write this — as I urge you to read it NOW — run, don’t walk — I fear that I’m misrepresenting this stunning novel by making it sound like it’s good for you, a moral lesson. When in fact it reads quickly, fluidly: My notebook is studded with passages I copied out in order to try to pin it down, to better marvel at the clear, sure, compassionate sentences, the ongoing mysteries of people and objects, perception and understanding.

A notion creeps over the heroine “like a shadow.” She smiles, another slave observes, “with brevity and sufficiency.” Caesar, the slave who sees her, “had never spoken to her but had figured this out about her. It was sensible. She knew the preciousness of what she called her own. Her joys, her plot, that block of sugar maple she perched on like a vulture.” I lingered over the word “sensible” for quite a while: sensible as in perceptible to the senses. There’s an imminence, a tremulous to this parodic universe where people are used as things and the tears of things shimmer in the air. “It was the most splendid locomotive yet, its shiny red paint paint returning the light even through the shroud of soot.” “She’d never been the first person to open a book.” “Poetry and prayer put ideas in people’s heads that got them killed, distracting them from the ruthless mechanism of the world.”

Fully a wonderful novel, enriching and necessary in a painful season.

View all my reviews


Sex is Good to Think With

The historian Robert Darnton said that somewhere once, in homage to Claude Lévi-Strauss, who said that food was good to think with. Anyway, it’s what I’ve always thought, it’s sort of the mainspring of all my erotic and romance writing, and it’s rather taken a beating in the current post FSoG climate.

So I’m grateful once again to my smart new online friend, erotic writer and thinker LN Bey, for nudging my thoughts in that direction — hell, for nudging me to think at all, and for posting links to other interesting discussions of this dismal post-FSoG world we didn’t make (or did we). Thanks again, LN Bey, for your energy, intelligence, even optimism. Hoping I can send some readers your way, in particular to your lively discussion of Venus in Furs at


Carrie and her Readers

When you have an idea for a book — really have an idea — it’s more like the idea has you.

Or anyway that’s what happened to me when I thought I might like to tell a BDSM story in the voice of a smart, wisecracking, highly literate San Francisco bike messenger. Carrie isn’t real, of course (though the occasional reader swears she’s met her). But her voice in my head had accrued within it the energy of a lifetime of breathless, obsessive, guilty and yet joyous erotic fantasy, and all I had to do was listen and get it all down.

Which is why, all these years after I wrote it, I’m fascinated to think how many moving parts have to line up before fantasy becomes story. How I was able to do it while having so much fun is a mystery I’ll never solve. But I continue to be completely delighted when another of Carrie’s amazingly astute readers points out this or that aspect of the book. As in this dazzlingly, deliciously thoughtful piece by a new erotic writer, L.N. Bey.

If you’ve read my Carrie books (or for that matter, anything I’ve ever written), you already know that to me there’s nothing sexier or more important than being understood by those I love. But to be understood so deeply and subtly by somebody who only knows me from my words? That’s more than I ever hoped for.

Thank you, L.N. Bey. And to my other readers, check out the essay here.

Enjoy (and ps — yes, she’s absolutely right about the one thing I got dead wrong).


If You Came for a Feelgood Post…

…You’ll probably want to go somewhere else.
Because this is where I begin thinking out loud about For Such a Time, Kate Breslin’s RITA-nominated romance novel, set in Theresienstadt and featuring a Nazi commandant hero and a Jewish heroine with a thing for the New Testament… Continue reading


Such a Deal!

If not a steal…

For the rest of today (July 31, 2015 until midnight Pacific Time), you can get my Audie-award-winning comic BDSM novel Carrie’s Story (ebook version) for $1.99 at…




or google play

(I gotta say I love the idea of having Carrie on your phone).

Happy Friday and enjoy.


Pam as Molly — Or is it the other way around?

It’s been delicious to get such lovely recent recognition, and from a host of venues:

From Philadelphia, where the nice folks at the Kink Shoppe are promising their clients the opportunity to trade their copies of Fifty Shades of Grey for something rather better-written, which is to say Carrie’s Story…

 to Britain, where yesterday a covey of brilliant sex writers and activists included me in World Erotic Book Day, and listed Carrie’s Story high up on their Recommended Reading List of 100 Modern Erotic Classics That You’ve Never Heard Of, nicely describing it as “Modern Story of O, with added wit” (If you want a copy of the list, email me.)

Starting back last January in Berkeley, with my own San Francisco Bay Area Romance Writers of America Chapter, where I participated in a lively discussion of erotic writing

…home to San Francisco, where tomorrow night, I’ll be reading as part of the Leather, Lace, & Lust series. And where I’ll try to bring it all together by reading, not from my Molly books, but from the first romance novel I ever wrote.

The Bookseller’s Daughter takes place during one of the great ages of erotic writing, 18th century France; is graced by the offstage presence of the Marquis de Sade; and ends up in another cradle of liberty, Philadelphia in the early years of the American republic. It’s the romance novel I imagine Carrie writing — or perhaps you can say it was written by Molly Weatherfield as Pam Rosenthal.

Hope to see you there!


Erotic World Book Day: Have a Good One, whatever your time zone

Brought to you by a brilliant bunch of British erotic writers and activists: a time to read something hot, and then to generate some heat and light, if not some friction of your own. Join the party (starting March 5, 7pm GMT, which would be 11 am today, California time)…


There will be amazing prizes and giveaways, including stuff by me as Molly Weatherfield.

Learn more at



Philadelphia Stories

Is this a hoot or what?

I just found out via Twitter that The Kink Shoppe (an upscale adult toy and fetish boutique in Old Town, Philadelphia) is staging a Fifty Shades of Grey Book Exchange. According to Philadelphia Magazine, the store is “urging those interested in incorporating BDSM into their sex lives to bring in their copies of Fifty Shades of Grey for, as store owner Fred Hovermann puts it, ‘a more credible and well-respected book of similar subject matter.'”

And the “more credible and well-respected books” in question?

“While supplies last,” the article continues, “customers who bring in their copies of Fifty Shades will receive one of two books: Carrie’s Story: An Erotic S/M Novel by Molly Weatherfield [aka Pam Rosenthal], or Tristan Taormino’s 50 Shades of Kink: An Introduction to BDSM.” (And if you fancy a soupçon of snark with that — just sayin’ — feel free to read the Philadelphia Magazine article to the end.)

And meanwhile, as for some other Philadelphia stories: well, the first romance novel I ever wrote (and second that I published), The Bookseller’s Daughter, ends happily (natch) in 1789 Philadelphia, a couple of years after the death of our hero and heroine’s benefactor, bookseller extraordinaire Benjamin Franklin. And as a postscript to that story: a few years ago I learned that The Bookseller’s Daughter was the first erotic novel to make it to the august shelves of the Free Library of (wait for it!) Philadelphia.


Sexuality: Endangered Resources and National Treasures

Chapter President Theresa Rogers, Alice Gaines, Me, and Jasmine Haynes
Chapter President Theresa Rogers, Alice Gaines, Me, and Jasmine Haynes

Last Saturday, Jan 10, I participated in a lively panel discussion about erotic writing. Thanks so much to my local Romance Writers’ outgoing events coordinator, Jane George, for putting it together, Chapter President Theresa Rogers for facilitating, and to Jackie Yau for the photos.

And thanks especially to my smart, talented co-panelists, Alice Gaines (who discussed the erotic premise in romance and erotic fiction — and much more) and Jasmine Haynes (who contributed a wealth of experience and savvy about actually getting your stuff sold and read — jeez do I ever need that! — as well as a fine appreciation of research).There was a lot of over-lapping, more discussion than I would have expected about BDSM, and great contributions from the floor.

Pam Rosenthal, the rhetoric of erotica
Me, putting a fine point on it

While as for my contributions: they fell into two main categories.

  • The meat (as it were) of my presentation was an all-too-brief discussion of how to make it sexy on a sentence-by-sentence basis, using what I’d call the rhetoric of eroticism. The notion that you can embody sensation and desire in language is a source of ceaseless wonder and fascination to me, and eventually I want to write down the hows and whys of it all.
  • Secondly, I wanted to accord due respect and gratitude to certain influences and mentors who came from outside the sphere of romance writing — from my early  reading of the Marquis de Sade, to my enthusiastic discovery of “pro-sex feminism” in the 80s, to my encounters with the brave, brilliant minds of the San Francisco’s outlaw sex communities all the way along.

Because while romance has played, and continues to play, a crucial role in the female discussion of sexuality, the ongoing conversation between romance readers and writers can only be enriched by contributions from other spheres. And I’m still trying to understand how my encounters with these individuals and institutions have helped bring me closer to romance and the romance-writing community.

Of course, there’s also a lot of history I’m skipping over here, which I hope to write about later. But for now, here are some resources still going strong. As I look it over, I’m thrilled by the force-of-nature energy and prodigious originality I see and have benefited from. I’m less thrilled, though, about the shrinkage of space for countercultural organizations, as San Francisco rents make creativity harder and more expensive. (More about that back-to-the-future stuff sometime later, as well as a discussion of a book about geek sex subcultures.) Still, what’s still here is terrific. If you have any interest in writing erotica or erotic romance, there’s something here for you.

  • Center for Sex and Culture: I can’t believe that I haven’t been trumpeting the virtues of this resource and research center to my romance-writing sisters for like ever. My bad, CSC good. Make an honest woman of me by checking out their monthly events at for a taste of what they offer. Dr. Carol Queen is one of the smartest, most energetic, and most generally warm and fun advocates of truth in sexuality you’ll ever meet — and I want to give a special shoutout to her Very Educational video, “Bend Over Boyfriend” — which is about,  yes, exactly what you guessed it would be about — and someday I’m gonna put what I learned from it into a novel. As for the Center, go there NOW, because whenever I’m on that block of Mission Street I get this scary feeling that soon its funky little corner building will be swallowed up by yet another gazillion-dollar techie condo. 1349 Mission Street between 9th and 10th, San Francisco
  • Author and impresario (impresaria?) Charlie Jane Anders organizes and curates San Francisco’s Writers With Drinks reading series, (, and writes lots — memoir, science fiction, gender politics. She also gives the most deliciously cracked and brilliant introductions anywhere (I’m happy to say I was so honored). Here’s some Charlie, for starters: “Variety is more that just the name of Prince’s favorite girl-singer sidekick. It’s more than just having sex dressed as Alien Greenspan every once in a while. It’s also a Literary Imperative!” And here’s some more Charlie (which is so good I’m afraid if I print it I might not have anything to say when I try to write my own stuff on sexy writing. Oh what the hell, READ IT — at
  • Tristan Taormino: “My mission,” Tristan says on her website,, “is to educate, empower, and entertain people of all genders and sexual orientations through my writing, lectures, workshops, books, and films.” I met her like a million years ago at an open reading at Good Vibrations, when she was just out of college and going places. And she’s never stopped. Susie Bright has called her something like a workaholic pretending to be a sex maniac (though I’ve probably gotten that a little screwy, so don’t quote without disclaimers). In any case, Tristan is scarily, wonderfully productive, and offers a wealth of good, solid information on kink, all things anal, relationships, pretty much whatever…
  • And speaking of productive, let me introduce you to “the moderately acclaimed and ridiculously prolific writer and editor,” as M. Christian describes himself on his website,, with “more than 400 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and in fact too many anthologies, magazines, and sites to name.” Chris, as he’s known, is also an editor, publisher, educator. He gives workshops throughout the Bay Area, on everything from online dating to flogging. And he’s the force majeure behind the reading series I’m currently part of, Leather, Lace, and Lust (also featuring RWA member Sue Swift/Suze de Mello) at the Center for Sex and Culture. Stay tuned to my events page for the 2015 schedule.
  • I honestly don’t know that much about the The Erotica Readers & Writers Association, but I do subscribe, and if I were even a bit more prolific, I’d really appreciate their wide-ranging calls for submissions and their publishing advice. Their web page, at, says that they’ve been “online since 1996, …an international community of men and women interested in the provocative world of erotica and sensual pleasures. This website features original erotic fiction, current calls for submissions, and publishing advice for authors, sex toy and adult movie recommendations, and a forum focused on adult issues, activities and relationships.”
  • Cleis Press: When the first publisher of my Molly Weatherfield/Carrie BDSM books tanked, my bookseller husband and a close bookseller friend urged me to send the mss to Cleis. “But aren’t they a gay and lesbian press?” I asked (because the Carrie books, although they have lots of equal-opportunity sex, definitely have a female het sensibility). Anyway, “Yes, they’re a gay and lesbian press,” my two informants told me, “but they’re smart and open.” And yes, they did want to print it, and they’ve done a lovely job with it for more than a decade. So check out their website at And tho in 2002 they thought I was crazy to be writing romance, they publish it now, in many genders and flavors. at
  • And when smart gay people is the subject du jour, who ya gonna call but Dan Savage? His Savage Love sex advice columns are funny, sane, and majorly helpful whether you’re straight or gay; and I weep with joy and awe every time I see a video from the It Gets Better Project at But what’s important for our purposes here is his take on what gay people can teach straight people about sex at And in general, running through a golden thread through his later work, how you reconcile your precious urges to rebelliousness with your just-as-precious need to have a life. Which, after all, is yet another thing that romance is all about.
  • While as for Susie Bright, who used to be affectionately described as a cheerleader for sex, but who ought to be recognized as a major player: I’m honored to have had her help and advice over the years — telling me where to send my first erotic novel, and many years later producing the award-winning spoken word version. Susie spoke truth to feminism when some parts of the feminist movement didn’t want to hear it, by teaching and encouraging women to write their own erotica back in the 80s. But mostly I want to send you to her spectacularly good, clear, smart, witty writing. Cast your eye over her huge CV at her web page, Pick a book or an essay: there are so many to choose from; they’re all smart and dare I say penetrating. Perhaps most germane to our purposes is her How to Write a Dirty Story (although be warned: when she wrote this early ebook she thought erotic romance began and ended with Robin Shone; trust me, she knows better now.)



Erotic Romance — Learn All About It from SFA-RWA and a Lovely Little Movie

If you’re in the SF Bay Area, you should come to my Romance Writers Chapter at 10:00 tomorrow morning to hear an Erotica Panel featuring me, Alice Gaines, and Jasmine Haynes.

But if not (or even if so) you should stream a charming little indie movie called Happy Christmas, to hear Anna Kendrick, Lena Dunham, and Melanie Lynskey talk about writing an erotic romance — like what do you call, uh, various parts, and when is it too rapey, and how does she get out of that medieval thing she’s wearing. Not much happens in this wonderful movie except some sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, all-time best scenes of a toddler on film, and the above-mentioned discussions, which made me happy for days when I really needed to be. Check out the trailer here.