Passions and Provocations

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

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How to Read a Remarkable Work of Erotica: Greta Christina’s “Bending”

As my birthday approaches (tomorrow!) I’m once again struck by how totally Gemini I am: always of two minds, alternatively Pam the swooning romantic and Molly the shy p0rn0gr@ph#r.

Two genres, two ways of shaping a story.

On the romance side I see arcs of redemption, the closure and satisfaction of the HEA always immanent even in the darkest, most hopeless moments of the plot. Whereas the BDSM story — almost by definition– is an ever ascending, never completely satisfied spiral of anxious consent and escalating control, where the ending (pardon the pun) is always up for grabs.

In the wake of the 50 Shades juggernaut, of course, lots of writers have been publishing BDSM romance, and lately I’ve been experimenting with it myself. But I’m also still a sucker for the tough, smart, challenging BDSM story that keeps us guessing where it’ll end up. As a reader I’m like Molly Weatherfield‘s BDSM heroine Carrie: eager and grateful to be pushed and shoved, whacked and prodded through the dangerous thickets of narrative, by a voice and a sensibility tougher and more sure of itself than my own.Bending cover jpg 200

Which is why I fell so hard for Greta Cristina‘s writing, first almost a decade ago when I heard the author read the story “This Week,” and again when I read the story for myself, this time in the author’s story collection, called Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More, recently published and available as an eBook (find the links below).

And yes, there really is a story about a unicorn. And a couple of others that poke their inquisitive noses into the sexy, scary places where faith and control bump up against each other (without the secular redemption implicit in the romance form). But “This Week” might still be my favorite, for its clarity of diction and purpose, the way its cadenced phrasing get me every time. “It’s the voice,” one of Anne Rice’s erotica characters muses: the careful yet leisurely arrogance of a certain species of narrative voice is all I need to feel mildly scared (in a good way) and totally that I’m in hard, capable hands.

“A girl, a college student, is being spanked by her college professor,” the story begins, with a crisp survey following, of the characters’ manners and mode of dress (the professor’s “trim beard with a hint of gray”; his student’s “regular modern clothing that merely implies the schoolgirl look: a short skirt with a flare, a simple blouse, white panties”). When the story instructs me that “the white panties are important,” not only does my Molly side believe that they are, but does so in a frisson of guilty complicity followed by a sharp surge of lust to know more.

Because like a sexual bottom who learns to be patient and pay attention, the submissive in any careful, curious reader is willing to go wherever a story chooses to take her. Receptive to the subtlest of signals, we don’t have to be told twice how to respond. And if we do catch a repetition (as when the narrator of “This Week” assures us — twice in the same paragraph — that the professor’s “not an idiot”) we know how the same words, skillfully repeated, can mean something different each time. Reading as power exchange: the tit-for-tat being that readerly bottoms are choosy beggars and a good hot writer is hard to find. Which is why Bending‘s wonderfully hot and not-quite-comfortable stories of erotic discovery are such cause for delicious, squirm-in-your-seat celebration.

Just don’t say you weren’t warned about the discomfort factor. Greta Christina warns us right up front that “these are not nice stories.” They’re “dirty, kinky stories”: “erotica, she continues, “in the sense that ‘erotica’ has become the term of art in publishing for ‘dirty stories with some vaguely serious literary intent’.”

I appreciate her fine disdain for a term that too often oozes facile self-regard and unexamined expectations. Sometimes all a good writer has to do is use an over-used word to make you question what it really means. And all too often these days, “erotica” is taken to mean nice, acceptable stories of sex, guaranteed not to shock, challenge, or… perhaps reveal something you might not have wanted to consider, deep in your fantasy life.

In Bending, on the other hand, the good, readerly bottom is expected to pull up her big-girl panties (white or not) and deal with the fact that not everything that happens in these stories is absolutely consensual. Characters sometimes betray each other’s trust, and sometimes there’s something inescapably hot about this. Because in the hands of a smart, honest, skillful writer, what’s unacceptable in real life situations might just possibly be compulsively readable within its (virtual) covers. Since after all (as the author widely points out) the consensual moment already happened when you agreed to read the book in the first place.

Am I getting too serious here? Like Carrie, my bottomly readerly self loves nothing better than a fine distinction, a scary moment, and a new idea to chew on. But too much seriousness might scare you away from the book itself and that would be a shame. Just as it would be a misrepresentation not to assure you that there’s also plenty of humor and sweetness here, from the careful negotiations between a couple who decide to seriously investigate the limits of “done,” and enough — to that trash-talking unicorn banging a boozy rainbow.

Read Bending. And here’s where to get it.

Available on Kindle: http://www.tinyurl.com/bendingthebook
Available on Nook: http://tinyurl.com/bendingnook
Available on Smashwords: http://tinyurl.com/bendingsmashwords

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Brief Travel Dispatch (from the East Coast and from the Interior)

I always learn so much by reading aloud and meeting readers. Terrific discussion of erotic reading at the BESS meeting last Wednesday night — it’s no surprise that people whose preferences lean to narrativized sex (ie BDSM) are moved to write down the stories produced by fantasy or in the throes of power exchange. My job, I think, as someone who’s been lucky enough to do that (AND get published) is to share what I’ve learned during my own quality time in the spaces where craft and imagination meet.

Which reminds me that it’s time for me to look once again at my notes for the writing workshop I’ll be giving later in the summer,  as billed on my events page:

Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013 ~ 8:00 PM
The Art of BDSM Writing: For Readers and Writers, Hardcore and Curious Both
presented by Molly Weatherfield, perhaps with Powerpoint
at Pink Bunny
1772 Union St, San Francisco CA

But meanwhile, I’m also savoring the rare pleasure of having been introduced at the Between the Covers reading (last Friday night) as Pam AND Molly, the two strands of my Gemini writerly DNA. Come back tomorrow for a meditation on how these forms contrast and collide, as I try to do justice to a remarkable book of erotica, Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More, by Greta Christina

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On the Road with Pam and Molly

What a lovely trip it’s been up and down the Eastern Seaboard, meeting readers and other writers and making time to check in with friends and family.

Four readings, the first three (which have already happened) have been as Molly Weatherfield.

But still to come, there’s one where I’m going to read both as Molly Weatherfield AND Pam Rosenthal — that’s this Friday, June 7, at Happy Endings Lounge in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Billed as “Eclectic, Erotic, and Award-Winning,” it looks like a really fabulous event. Check it out at http://betweenthecovers.journurl.com/2013/05/20/between-the-covers-june-7th-eclectic-erotic-and-award-winning/

And if you have any suggestions of which bits from the Carrie books AND The Bookseller’s Daughter I can string together (and make it short!), do let me know.

Today, though, I’m still in Baltimore, after a wonderful time last night reading, schmoozing, and munching with the smart and gracious members of BESS, the Baltimore Educational and Social Society. Kinky folks (especially those new to the area) could do a lot worse than connect with this bunch, and I had a great time talking sex and writing with them.

More to come soon. But right now, I gotta get ready for Spring Sing Day at my granddaugher’s school!

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Hot or Sweet: What’s New is Old is New Again. Or is it?

Thinking in circles on the eve of the reissue of The Bookseller’s Daughter, next Tuesday as an eBook from Samhain Publishing.

Or perhaps I’m thinking in spirals, as an ex-bookseller and ex-bookseller’s wife, who’s written a book whose opening scene (taking place in a brick and mortar bookshop) will now be read on a Kindle or Kobo or whatever. An opening scene that includes banter between a girl who spends her days on a bookstore ladder, and a guy who’s slipped across the French border, carrying a pack of forbidden books, both erotic and political.

Because before the French Revolution (which is when this sexy historical takes place), the King’s censors were on the lookout for both kinds of transgressions, erotic and political. Plus ça change… the more things change, the more they remain the same. Or so I think, anyway, wondering whether a book that was considered scorchingly hot in 2004 (it won Romantic Times’ Readers Choice Award for Best Sensual Romance of 2004) would be considered rather quaintly sweet nowadays.

Well, I guess I’ll find out soon, from reviews of the reissue. Or from new or old readers.

Let me know. I’d love to hear what you think

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The Bronx is Up and So Am I, pt II

I’m from New York, have I ever mentioned that? Yeah, I thought so — after more than 40 years in the SF Bay Area, part of me has never stopped being a New Yorker, which means part of me has never stopped talking about how much I love my first city.

So I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to go home to promote the reissues of three of my books at Book Expo America at the end of May and beginning of June, where I’ll be signing copies of CARRIE’S STORY and SAFE WORD (by me as Molly Weatherfield), and hanging out with Cleis authors and editors. AND, since Samhain Press’s e-book reissue of THE BOOKSELLER’S DAUGHTER will be coming out May 28, I’ll get to meet Samhain editors and authors as well.

Plus there will be… cake? Well, probably. Wine definitely — always happy to meet up for a drink or a cup of tea with friends, family, readers, or any combination of the above.

And there will be readings and a discussion session — mostly as Molly Weatherfield, but Pam will be there as well. Check out the kind of amazing events list at http://pamrosenthal.com/events.php for New York (and Baltimore too) — if you’re anywhere near by, please come say hi.

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Back to My Roots, This Time as Pam Rosenthal

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, that is indeed a beautiful, brand new cover, giving new life to the first romance novel I ever wrote, The Bookseller’s Daughter, available as an e-book this May 28 from Samhain Publishing (and all the other e-book venues as well).

Almost a Gentleman actually hit print first, but The Bookseller’s Daughter was the one I was writing while I was returning to the genre for the first time since reading it in high school. And so I’m thrilled to have it available again, meticulously copy-edited this time (thanks so much, Samhain), with a new, retrospective introduction from me which I hope will interest old readers as well as new ones.

And might the novel even interest Molly Weatherfield readers? Who can say, but if my Francophile BDSM heroine Carrie ever wrote a romance novel, it might be something like The Bookseller’s Daughter, set in cruel ancien régime France with its gorgeous rococo style and the clothing that inspired Roissy fetish garb, sanctioned by the offstage presence of the Marquis de Sade himself. Eighteenth century France was a golden age of erotic writing, and I hope to be talking more about this history and how it inspired me to write. So look for this on my blog and anywhere else online I might turn up in the next while.

And meanwhile, I hope you’ll make your e-reader a home for my brave bookseller Marie-Laure (pronounced like it looks) and my bold erotic writer Joseph. My youngest, sweetest romance heroine and hero (which doesn’t mean, au contraire, they don’t heat up the pages). And my first.

 

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The Shy P0rn0gr@ph#r – With Drinks, Angst, and Jane Austen

Michael said I read too quickly and should have leaned into the mic at Writers With Drinks last Saturday night. Both of which are probably true, since in fact I was kind of nervous, due to a raging attack of am-I-really-a-writeritis.

Not publishing anything new for a few years can do that to you, I guess, especially at a reading series as good as Writers With Drinks, the amazing literary event that happens second Saturday night of every month at the Make Out Room, in San Francisco’s Mission District. Check out the list of authors who have been reading and are up to read later this spring (and then go read their books, as I’m doing, after hearing the four fantastic writers I, in my Molly Weatherfield guise, was lucky enough to be reading with).

Still, Carrie’s Story and Safe Word were new to much of this audience, and in truth my turn on stage went just fine. I got some laughs (and in the right places), heard some kind words afterwards, generally had a great time, and was even, dare I say, inspired not to give up my particular convoluted writing trajectory.

What’s particularly great about Writers With Drinks is its irreverence, its insistence that literary quality doesn’t have to be so serious. I came away recommitted to my own eccentricities, stirred and gently shaken by mistress of misrule Charlie Jane Anders. And if I sometimes need reminding that in the end we’re all a mixed bag of sexualities and sensibilities, what better way than by laughing my ass off at the wild, brilliant, freeform introductions Charlie dreams up for each author?

Charlie Jane Anders
Charlie Jane Anders

Mine, of course, was a cocktail of BDSM and romance motifs, campy and outrageous, complete with a shaggy dog Jane Austen vampire story, that oddly, presciently skirted the truth in more ways than one. Since although I haven’t actually written the BDSM Pride and Prejudice of Charlie’s fantasy, the truth of the matter (and of how I spent a chunk of these last unpublished years) is not entirely different, if a little bit stranger.

Because what actually sits on my hard drive is a large piece of a novel called Jane Fairfax’s Dream, which might best be described as “Emma with strong BDSM elements.” (It’s not ready for prime time yet — just ask all the editors who’ve passed on it, or better still, don’t ask them: when I think the rest of it matches up with my account of what really happened at Weymouth, you’ll see it one way or another.) While Charlie’s the Jane as Vamp stories bore a distant but distinct resemblance to Janet Mullany’s smart, funny, touching novels Jane and the Damned and Blood Persuasion.

Thanks, Writers with Drinks, I’ll be a listener with drinks for the next one.

While as for me and my writing: stay tuned. More events scheduled soon.

And yes, there’s also stuff besides BDSM/Emma on my hard drive, that I hope will see the light some day.

 

 

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New Molly Weatherfield Events – In Person, this time

The Carrie’s Story blog tour was cool. I got to meet a lot of terrific authors, some long admired, some completely new to me. I made some new Facebook friends, and lotsa Twitter connections.

Most, if not all of the reviews, interviews, and excerpts are all still available (check out the links at on the Official Molly Weatherfield Blog Tour Guide).

And you’ve got until midnight, April 11 to enter a raffle for a free copy at Karen Blue’s web site.

And (what are you waiting for?) until midnight today, April 9 to try your luck for a copy at Romance After Dark.

But meeting new and old readers is cool too, especially at San Francisco’s amazing ongoing series, Writers With Drinks, where Molly Weatherfield will be reading, at the Makeout Room, 3225 22nd. St., in San Francisco’s Mission District this Saturday night, April 13, 7:30.

 

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Official Molly Weatherfield Blog Tour Guide

Finishing up today. Come catch up with us, and meet some fantastic writers along the way.

SOME RECENT STOPS (still available for visits) are:

  • March 24 – Shanna Germain — an excerpt and a few lovely words (thanks!)
  • March 26 – Alison Tyler — a different excerpt, a lovely reminiscence… and (check out this illustration!) the perfect accessory for a Molly Weatherfield reader
  • March 28 – Romance Junkies said I didn’t have to answer all the interview questions. But I did, because they were all fun.
  • March 29 – Sinclair Sexsmith chooses an entirely different excerpt, proving once again that there are many ways into the chateau
  • April 1 – “I’m sure,” she began, “that it’s not really necessary to point out that ‘reading you your rights’ is just a little joke we have around here…. Because if you think you have any rights around here, somebody has made a terrible mistake.” In which excerpt, writer, columnist, and anthologizer extraordinaire Rachel Kramer Bussel reminds me that I can write pretty damn uncompromising when I want to.
  • April 3 – Ezrabet’s Enchantments – An excerpt (more of that hardcore episode), a fulsome review (“an S/M novel that stays with you when you turn out the lights” – thanks so much!) and an interview with Molly
  • April 4 – “Who doesn’t love an intelligent heroine who knows what she wants and gets it?” At Pagan Spirits, Erin O’Riodan asks me an entirely new and challenging set of questions, posts an excerpt, and comments from her own point of view — somewhat different from mine and well worth checking out.
  • April 5 – Lindsay Avalon – An excerpt from the beginning of Carrie and Jonathan’s relationship
  • April 6 – Laura Antoniou – An excerpt and a couple of sharp observations from a major author in the BDSM genre: I’m proud she calls me colleague

AND UP TODAY

  • April 7 – DL King wraps it up with one of the first passages I played with — over expresso at Oliveto’s in Rockridge, Oakland, when I was just imagining who these people, Carrie and Jonathan, might actually be.

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Annals of Fetishism: Another Entry in the Diary of a Shy P0rn0gr@ph#r

The cage at Wicked Grounds Kink Cafe and Boutique turned out to be not much. More like one of those pieces of garage-sale furniture you kind of negotiate around in a coffee house than fetish object. At least to me; I wouldn’t have noticed it if I weren’t looking for it. But the group joining me and Michael for coffee and a kinky reading from Carrie’s Story around the big table in the back room yesterday afternoon was smart and enthusiastic, as Molly Weatherfield readers so often are.

And as Molly Weatherfield’s readers often do, they shared their takes on what makes quality erotic fiction and I came away knowing more than when I came in. I’m thinking especially about the young man at the end of the table who said that the pleasure of erotic fetish fiction like my Carrie books is in the consistency and coherence of the imagined scene. When you go to a real-life play event, he said, you feel the clash of individual agendas. Which can be wonderful and energizing — or not — but with a different kind of buzz than the group scenes a Molly Weatherfield kind of writer actualizes, with a kind of smooth, tacit communication and elaboration between participants that’s its own kind of idealized pleasure.

One of the pleasures of the chateau, in my private language. Thanks so much. I’m grateful for the insight.

While as for the moment of fetishism (sort of like Rachel Maddow’s Moments of Geek): I was reading aloud from Carrie’s Story‘s  first chapter, the bit about the presentation event Jonathan takes Carrie to. The presentation contest:

“[Elizabeth…] was wearing a very high collar, which seemed to be made of silver, but which was probably stainless steel mesh, like a good, flexible watchband”

So I was reading this aloud — words I’d first written in maybe 1992; words I’d forgotten I’d even written — when my eye strayed from the print to my wrist, and my own good, flexible stainless steel watchband, that I hadn’t bought until about fifteen years after I’d written this fantasy scene, but knew, when I saw it in the store, that I absolutely had to have.

Which is sort of how we roll, I guess, caught in the crosswind between memory and desire — sometimes for objectification, sometimes simply for objects.

Thanks to the Skagen company for matching my imagination so beautifully.

And do stay tuned as I introduce Carrie to a new generation of readers. And learn a little something about myself along the way.

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