Passions and Provocations

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

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Undressing

Yeah, I thought that would get your attention, from Pam Rosenthal Erotic Writer, and all. But actually, it’s also the title of a current favorite poem of  mine, by the Sufi poet Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. And on my birthday, in a small seaside town in Turkey, I want to share it… especially with those of you who’ve been patiently waiting for more books, and those of you who’ve been so supportive during these years.

Undressing

Learn the alchemy true human beings
know; the moment you accept what

troubles you’ve been given, the door
will open. Welcome difficulty

as a familiar comrade. Joke with
torment brought by the Friend.

Sorrows are the rags of old clothes
and jackets that serve to cover,

then are taken off. That undressing,
and the naked body underneath, is

the sweetness that comes after grief.

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Flying High, Whirling like a Dervish

What a lovely surprise. Michael and I were 30,000 feet up in the air (on our way to Istanbul) when I got an email from the fabulous Susie Bright, congratulating me for Carrie’s Story winning a 2014 Audie, for Best Audiobook of the Year in the Erotica Category (2014 being the first time that category has even existed).

AND, as Susie points out on Facebook, “This is the FIRST recognition, ever, of [the] erotic literature genre in ‘Audie’ history.” Not to speak of “the first time an erotic writer/work/actor has been given a mainstream, across-the-board literary award of ANY kind for its merit.”

Consider that for a moment.  As I am (for the first time actually). In our hotel lobby in Cappadocia, where after almost a week of soaking in Turkish art, scenery, and food, Susie’s words are finally sinking into my overworked sensorium.

Mainstream. Literary. Merit. Gosh.

I might still be 30,000 feet above the ground.

 

Sweet!

Look what book made this best-of list in Salon.com, and in some very distinguished company — that’s Rose Lerner’s Sweet Disorder lolling beneath and some other fantastic stuff on the list).

 

Nice blurb in the slideshow, too — he calls it “His Girl Friday” as a spy novel set in the Regency. Which was definitely what I was going for.

 

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Old and New and Audibly Cool

How about that? The Audio Publishers Association (APA) has announced finalists for its 2014 Audie Awards competition, the only awards program in the United States devoted entirely to honoring spoken word entertainment in 29 categories.

And yes, the spoken version of my erotic novel Carrie’s Story has been nominated for an Audie in the brand spanking new-this-year erotica category.

Ouch, sorry for the awful “spanking” pun. Anyhow, it’s a thrill, and not bad for a book that first hit print in 1995.

And here’s more about the award, including a list of all the nominees: http://audiopubblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/19th-annual-audie-finalists-announced-in-twenty-nine-categories-winners-announced-at-the-audie-awards-gala-in-new-york-city-on-may-29th/

 

 

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The Shame of Victimhood

We finally saw 12 Years a Slave last week.

And yes, it’s stunning. Both in its “sober beauty” and in the powerful wallop it packs, it’s stunning in the sense that it renders you speechless — and fills me with admiration for the professional movie reviewers who had to digest and render account of the experience on deadline. I know I couldn’t have done so, though I can urge you to see this movie if you haven’t. Even if (as we did) you’ve been putting it off because you know it’ll be painful.

It will be painful, and I’m guessing it will remain so in your memory, perhaps as it has in mine. But for me, anyway, it wasn’t painful in the way of trauma that shuts off thought and inquiry. Not only have the images lingered, but they’ve raised questions, first sending me back to Solomon Northup’s original 1853 narrative, and then forward to a gazillion movie reviews and articles, to see how other viewers took it in, and whether they understood certain scenes as I did.

Which is why I’m writing about it here — to try to think through my questions some more. And — if you have seen it — to check in with you and see what you made of, in particular, the movie’s closing scene, of Solomon Northup’s reunion with his wife and (now) grown children, that Slate’s critic Dana Stevens rightly called “soul-rending,” and “the unhappiest happy ending” she’d ever seen, “a moment that makes you weep not just for this one man who found his way back to freedom, but for all those men and women who never knew it in the first place.”

All of which is true and eloquently put, if impossible to imagine without reference to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s face, emotions passing over it in agonized, complicated sequence. But which doesn’t account for what he says, which is to apologize to his family through his tears, and which I found deeply mysterious.

Apologize for what, I wondered? There’s no such apology in the memoir. And surely (as Northup’s wife hastens to say) no apology is necessary, most especially from some one so unambiguously victimized. Is it because Northrup nonetheless feels he ought to have understood this own vulnerability? That it was vain, self-regarding, simply foolish, to have let his guard down? That not only he but also his family have suffered for his hubris?

Is there something about the sight of his children, grown up without him? Is it all of the above, in some inextricable combination?

Or is it perhaps that there’s a kind of shame that adheres to suffering, even the most undeserved suffering? I’m not even exactly sure what I mean by this last, but it’s the pole to which my thoughts continue to gravitate, that seems to me to sum up all the other possibilities. The isolation of the feeling.

And does this have anything to do with director Steve McQueen’s last movie, called Shame?

I’d be grateful to hear what you think.

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More about Longbourn, and Why I’m Claiming it for Romance

When I fall in love — with a book, an idea, and of course a person — I want to think hard about the object of my passion. Which is another reason why I love to write (because it’s the best way to get to know the how and the why and the he and the she of your passions). And maybe why I don’t write more often (cause how often does a person truly fall in love?)

And why I had such a wonderful time recently, writing at length about Longbourn, Jo Baker’s spectacular retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The post went up today, at Noah Berlatsky’s very smart blog of cultural commentary, The Hooded Utilitarian. And why I’m hoping you’ll come over and let me know what you think.

I call it “I’ll Take Romance: Reading Longbourn,” because it’s an investigation of this literary historical novel as a very very good romance novel — which is ultimately how I read it. Passionately, can’t-put-it-down-until-I-get-to-the-omg-it-better-be-a-happy-endingly. I’m curious what others think and how they read it. So do come read and share.

While as for why Noah calls his blog “The Hooded Utilitarian,” your guess is as good as mine. But I’m grateful for his permission to write my heart out.

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Smart Thoughts on Writing

From Delia Ephron’s memoir/essay collection Sister Mother Husband Dog… (etc)

Our job as writers, as we begin that journey, is to figure out what we can do. Only do what you can do. It’s a rule I live by…. [I]f you only do what you can do, you never have to worry that someone else is doing it. It keeps you from competing It keeps you looking inside for what’s true rather than outside for what’s popular. Ideally. Your writing is your fingerprint.

It’s our job in life to come to some understanding of our new identity and being a writer makes that easier. What do I think? What do I love? What do I see? What are my stories? come up over and over again and/or reveal themselves, sometimes unintentionally, over and over again.

So true for me, I wanted to share it with you.

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Reading on the Road, with Janet, Jane, Jo Baker, and my Mom

With so much of my family on the East Coast, my trips back here from California become elaborate omnibus affairs, with so many craftily-designed stops up and down the eastern seaboard that I sometimes lose track and wind up having to pay megabucks for a last-minute Amtrak reservation (and worth every penny, needless to say, especially when that leg of the trip included seeing my granddaughters and their parents).

My trips are sometimes built around book promo, sometimes around family events — weddings! bar and bat mitzvahs! (I’ve always been delighted by the strange ironic Jewish genius that causes us to celebrate the advent of a kid’s journey through darkest adolescence). This one was a Connecticut bar mitzvah, w/ the cantor setting a few psalms to Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah. Not bad.

But I also kind of made it a book event, by bringing a copy of Jo Baker’s novel Longbourn — the Pride and Prejudice story as lived by the servants – to my Mom for a belated 92nd birthday present. Belated-shmelated –  my mom was really wanting to read it and so have I been ever since Janet Mullany started rhapsodizing over it. Rightly, as it turned out; Longbourn‘s every bit as good Janet said..

And so Mom and I spent a happy two days reading at her kitchen table, she turning pages and I (some 100 virtual Kindle pages ahead) coldly and cruelly refusing to reassure her about how it all turns out. Not that I could have done much about it even if I’d wanted to, because Baker keeps you guessing (hoping, agonizing) until the very end.

And that’s all you’re going to find out from me, except to say that Longbourn made me weep and marvel. For me it was what novelist and critic Christopher Beha calls holy crap fiction, the kind of book where you finish it and think, “holy crap, what was that about?” Fiction that makes you think differently.

Mileage may vary, of course. One person’s holy crap book… But I’m still mulling over all that (and thanking Noah Berlatsky  for his smart comments on Beha, and for turning my thoughts toward these knotty and entertaining matters). And also mulling over whether Longbourn, though not written for the romance market, could be considered a romance novel.

Stay tuned.

And if you’ve read Longbourn, I’d love to know what you think.

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More on Why I Love Romance (when I do)

Over at Twitter, I’ve added my 2 cents to a discussion of a recent Salon.com piece on romance and erotica. And of course, I’ve also been writing my heart out about Regency romance at Goodreads.

Here’s another sidelong contribution, a poem by a recent Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, who’d probably be surprised that I’m putting it to this use.

Bear with me and Ryan here: we’re descending into a bit of a vortex, because her poem begins in response to an epigraph by Annie Dillard that I think could be read as a defense of what’s often called “literary fiction.”

Got that? Here we go…

 

THE TEST WE SET OURSELVES

An honest work generates its own power; a dishonest work tries to rob power from the cataracts of the given. — Annie Dillard

If we could be less human,
if we could stand out of the range
of the cataracts of the given,
and not find our pockets swollen
with change we haven’t–but must have–
stolen, who wouldn’t?
It isn’t a gift; we are beholden
to the sources we crib–
always something’s overflow,
or someone’s rib hidden in our breast;
the answer sewn inside us
that invalidates the test we set ourself
against the boneless angel at our right
and at our left the elf.

– Kay Ryan, from Flamingo Watching, 1994

See, it seems to me that rather than always defend romance as empowering and the rest of it, we ought to treasure “the answer sewn inside us”. Genre as the given. Which we wouldn’t need to be givien “if we could be less human”.

 

 

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lives don’t stop and start at the behest of a goddamn plot…

Though my life did more or less stop for a few days when writing this rather extended discussion of the romance novella anthology, At the Duke’s Wedding, by Miranda Neville, Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale, and Katherine Ashe.

I didn’t expect to write 1500 words about it, but my inner wonk grabbed the reins. So many of the themes and ideas I’ve spent my life thinking about, since my teenage love affair with Shakespearean comedy through my stop-again start-again career as a romance writer. Now that I’m turning my mind to erotica, I seem more and more to want to consider what makes a romance work, and what I want from the genre that we don’t always get.

This was so much fun to write — I hope you get to read it at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/656291657

Do let me know what you think.

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