The very name Susie Bright would seem to thumb its nose at the whole notion of literary substance, but then there’s that other nom de plum, e.e. cummings. They share in common the ability to elevate and rarify a fairly hoary literary form to create a work that belongs among the literary canon of the last decade. In this instance, I refer to Ms. Bright’s Bitten, an anthology of “dark erotica” that exceeds any work of this kind that I have read since the inception of Erotica Revealed.
In every story, the authors have taken some cliché of fiction, usually gothic in nature, and turned it out with a new lining, a new feel and entirely penetrating sense of style. Humor balances gracefully with cutting surreal horror in “The Resurrection Rose” by Anne Tourney. What is more, as is generally the case in this volume, the narrative has a genuinely erotic effect on the reader. Partly that is a matter of how the subject is manipulated, but equally important is the elegant and sexually fluid style.
To my delight the book itself is an oddly sensual object to handle even in paperback. The cover art is a dark and sensuously raised representation of a snake in greens and purples. The edges of the pages have been burnished with some sort of charcoal silver substance that makes them smooth to the touch and easy to turn. Those who can remember 19th century books, which were often leather bound and burnished at the edges, will take tremendous pleasure in just touching this book. It is silky, slick and has an interesting texture.
It may seem odd to extol a book ‘as object,’ but if you have occasion to handle lots of less thoughtfully wrought texts, as we all do in the age of the computer, the feel of this book is worth noting. Plaudits indeed should go to Chronicle Books. What’s more, why not? I read erotica primarily for pleasure. Why shouldn’t the caress of the book itself be as pleasant as the fantasies it creates?
The authors in this book have an amazing ability to connect the sense of touch with the experience of reading. Sera Gamble’s “The Devil’s Invisible Scissors” is the best case in point. What more innocuous cutting tool is there than scissors, especially a tiny pair of shears? But have you ever caught your skin in scissors and felt their bite say while grooming a pet or cutting something thick and hard to penetrate? The cuts can be both painful and surprisingly incisive. The shears in the story nestle between two delectable breasts, so the libidinous imagination hums into gear at the contrast of textures. You want to see these little scissors and touch them, but in the back of your mind, you surely know better. That is real dramatic tension in fiction because it invades the body of the reader.
None of these stories fail to engage the reader even though they do so at a widely divergent set of levels. In “The Witch of Jerome Avenue” Tsaurah Litzky perfectly captures the unique and sea driven atmosphere in that part of Brooklyn, the borough in which I live. She has blended the voice of its streets with the nuanced character of her heroine.
The most outlandish offering in Bitten is “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan” by Ernie Conrick in which the hero, Mr. Morgenthaler, has decided that, “he wanted to forgo their usual dinnertime rituals and have a sudden, impolite encounter that ended with the fertilization of Mrs. Morgenthaler’s esophagus.” It is a tale of downtown Manhattan; an area where I lived for many years and apparently so has Mr. Conrick.
His version of life there has a hilarious murderous tension that all New Yorkers feel when waiting for the “F” train to come and wondering if there will be a square inch of room for them to squeeze inside. So dense is life for us in Gotham, and so bizarre the mix of people, that it does not seem outrageous at all that the laws of physics might be set aside and some totally new cosmic mayhem unleashed by our pent up sexual desires. I will not spoil the story by giving more specific examples.I think it fair to say that all the stories are strong and unique in this book, and thus something is there for every erotic or literary taste. You may even develop some new ones.
As the title suggests, there are queens in this anthology: imperious women who expect to be obeyed and who openly seek carnal knowledge of wenches and princesses. What damsel could refuse them, and what man would dare intervene? However, the most fascinating characters in these stories are the witches, magical women who bend reality to their will and who recognize other women like themselves. There are some witch-queens here who combine characteristics of both, but in any contest of Who Is Sexiest of Them All, the resourcefulness of the witches beats the regal panache of the queens hands down.
This mini-collection of erotic fairy tales from Circlet Press is a companion volume to Like a Prince, a gay-male counterpart. Both these e-books have almost-identical introductions by editor Rachel Kincaid, who explains the special appeal of stories in this genre:
These stories are fun and sexy and clever, but they are also important. The original Grimm's fairytales were set without exception in a world of compulsory heterosexuality; even worse than being ostracized or punished, queer people didn't even exist. These stories are our way of writing ourselves back into our cultural consciousness; of making sure that the values that we're imbibing include us and our desire in a positive light -- a practice that's necessary no matter how many times it's already been done.
These stories are all deliciously twisted versions of familiar stories, some featuring compelling characters and some with clever plots that wind their convoluted way to a happy ending. My favorite character of the bunch is the witch/stepmother in "Mirror" by Clarice Clique. In this story, the magical mirror that shows the beauty of Snow White to her jealous stepmother has become a metaphor for the similarities between the witch, self-exiled from the world of men, and the motherless girl who has always been aware of the witch in herself.
After the witch in this story has sought out Snow White's father, the king, and bewitched him into marriage, she leaves him drugged by a potion and seeks out Snow White in her bedchamber. To her surprise, the girl doesn't panic at the sight of the terrifying stranger at her bedside. Snow White explains:
"I try, every day, I try so hard to be good, to earn the praise and acceptance of those around me. But I've always known what I really am. That's how I know what you are. We are the same. I'm not scared of you. I'm scared of myself."
This Snow White, who doesn't hesitate to become the playmate of all seven dwarfs before the witch, her nemesis, catches up with her yet again, is far from a passive maiden. She can give pleasure as well as accept rough treatment. In some sense, she is wiser than the witch, who comes to realize that love is not her undoing; it is a newly-discovered source of power.
"Queen's Jewel," by A.D.R. Forte, features a similarly resourceful young woman who couldn't bear to be given to an old man in an arranged marriage. Her first-person account begins when a queen is directing her maids to help transform the narrator into a gowned and coifed seductress after she arrived, lost and bedraggled, at the castle door.
As the center of attention for a curious, sympathetic court, the narrator steals the heart of the queen's son, a wilful prince who has never found a princess to his taste. Will the strange visitor settle for marriage to a young man instead of an old man? Not exactly. But her presence in the castle gives the queen a perfect excuse to "test" her guest in ways that satisfy them both.
"Gretel's Dilemma" by Kaysee Renee Robichaud is a more playful story, written in a breezier style. In this version of "Hansel and Gretel," Hansel is a clueless twin brother who manfully tries to "rescue" Gretel from a Mistress-and-servant relationship that thrills her to the core. As annoying as he can be, Hansel is her blood kin, reminder of the only family she has ever known. Like many a modern-day woman, Gretel thinks she must choose between the love of her family and a new relationship in which Gretel discovers a new sexual identity. Needless to say, the witch's desire to "eat" the tender flesh of children in the traditional story is turned into a sexual joke in this one.
"After the Hunt" by Michael M. Jones is a romantic comedy that combines elements from several folktales. Set in the Black Forest of Germany, it involves a fractured kingdom, a tomboy princess with eleven female attendants who can all pass as huntsmen in the service of a king, an inconvenient fiancé, and a droll, talking lion who turns out to be under a curse. King Matthias finds himself engaged to two women: to Princess Sophie, who still wears the promise ring he gave her when both were children, and to Princess Tatiana, whom he promised to marry for political reasons. As everyone else in the situation can see, however, he doesn't really want to be married to a princess at all. And the apparent rivalry of the two women barely disguises other responses. What to do? The solution becomes clearer as the story winds to a climax (or several), and all the loose ends are tied up in a way that looks impressively uncontrived.
"The Stepmother's Girl, a Cinderella Story" by Quatre Grey is an intense BDSM fantasy which focuses more on the dynamics of a relationship between a Dominant older femme and a submissive younger butch than on the dysfunctional family of the original story. In this first-person version, the "Cinderella" character sees herself reflected in the eyes of her new stepmother soon after she arrives:
Lips the color of a dried rose curl at the edge as you smile, intrigued by this new toy, young, pure, boyish and eager. What servants are needed when a strong girl is willing to do the work?
The narrator wants nothing more than to please her Mistress, and stepmother is delighted as her servant passes increasingly harder tests of loyalty and endurance.
These stories vary considerably in style and tone, and each casts a different spell. Tales of strong women subverting predicted outcomes never grow stale. If woman/woman sex appeals to you at all, this collection is sure to enchant.
S. Adrian of Fearless Reviews says that “Literotica.com is one of the most popular and diverse sites presenting fiction by thousands of different authors.” In her introduction, Marilyn Jaye Lewis states that there are imaginative stories written by new voices and without predictable plotlines. That sounded promising.
In “The Thingy” by Cockatoo, the narrator finds an object stashed away with his Grandfather’s old possessions. Intrigued by the weird device, he keeps it. As he carries it around, he realizes that it reacts to some women, and in a different way for each one. When it starts ringing for a woman on his bus, she hears it. They end up in her apartment, where they explore a lot more than the device.
In Molly Devlin’s “Troll Bridge”, a woman has been cursed with the name Briar Rose (AKA Sleeping Beauty). While she lives in a modern city, she encounters fantastic creatures. While crossing a bridge in the park one day, she’s grabbed by a troll. Briar Rose is a lot smarter than he is, and being a savvy lady, finds it easy to convince him that he means to eat her out instead of eating her.
In “Rent” by Parris, Kate is waiting for her soon to be ex-husband to show up with divorce papers. Hours later, she’s still waiting. Frustrated, she fantasizes about Marlon, the boy she’s renting out a spare room to. Marlon walks in on her as she’s playing with herself. She seduces him, and they spend the next few hours working off her pent up sexual frustrations. That’s when the ex-husband shows up. A hot, fun story.
Fans of f/f BDSM will probably enjoy “Famous Blue Raincoat” by Natalie Nessus. It’s more vignettes from a relationship than a traditional short story, but it’s well done. It flirts with snippets of humiliation and hardcore scenes without getting deep enough into them to push buttons for the squeamish.
Alas, “The Thingy” and “Troll Bridge” were the only two stories that came even close to MJL’s promise of unpredictable plotlines. I suppose you could add Killer Muffin’s “Absolution for Gretta MacClain” to the short list. This story was probably picked for the anthology because it was “edgy” - edgy meaning that it shows rape in a positive light as a healing experience . . .Overall, there wasn’t too much to get excited about in this anthology. Euphemisms like honey pot and pulsating manhood belong in bad purple prose, not well-written erotica. Some stories were so clichéd that I had to grit my teeth to get through them. However, Literotica has a huge following, so maybe that’s what some readers want. If you demand better quality writing, you might want to skip this one.
Clichés are a hazard for any author. They are a particular problem in the BDSM subgenre, partly because a very few influential works have strongly shaped readers' expectations and writers' imaginations. How many dozens of slave-infested mansions have I encountered in my reading? How many S&M clubs where hapless submissives are publicly beaten and abused, where cruel mistresses drag their pets around on leashes and masked Doms glower and posture?
Cristina Crooks' inappropriately titled Sweet and Dirty offers two novellas (Baring It All and Forbidden Heat) that unfold in these prototypical S&M settings. Thankfully, though, she has done an admirable job in avoiding the clichés by focusing on unconventional and at least marginally complex characters as much as on the dirty deeds in which they're involved.
Michelle, the heroine in Baring It All, has been bullied all her life by her family, and then later, by her fiancé, Ted. After an unfortunate episode in which her attempt to be assertive ends badly, she flees her old life in Alabama, taking up residence in big, bad Los Angeles. Despite her desire to free herself from her past existence as a doormat, she finds herself under the thumb of Posh, proprietor of the doggy day care center where Michelle finds work. Meanwhile Ted shows up at her apartment door to drag her back to her “real life” in Alabama.
Then Posh sends Michelle to a fetish emporium to buy studded collars for the kennel's clients (one of the less plausible aspects of this tale) and Michelle encounters dominant Ro Kaliph (interrupting him in his demo of flogging). Michelle manages to stand up to Ro's anger and asks him to teach her how to be more dominant herself. Ro is certain that Michelle is fundamentally submissive, but he's willing to play along. The action unfolds at his newly-opened BDSM club The Dungeon, and provides a number of surprises.
Ro is a great character, an ex-lawyer who has quit his lucrative practice with his father in order to follow his heart and provide a safe, sane and sexy place for people to play. Ms. Crooks emphasizes the fact that he's not classically handsome, a relief in the world of erotica and romance, and he clearly has doubts both about his struggling club and his mixed perceptions of Michelle (or Lizbeth, as she decides to call herself when she steps into Ro's world of pain and passion).
Nora Sabine, the protagonist of Forbidden Heat, is a very different sort of person from little Michelle. A high-powered, hard-working businesswoman, she usually knows what she wants and is unafraid to take it. When she discovers that the Twisted Wood B&B her fiancé Ryan has booked for a long weekend vacation is actually a “Bondage and Breakfast” establishment, she takes it in stride. She has never done anything kinky before and she's hardly a submissive, but she has long-cherished fantasies of being captured and raped. She wonders, especially when she sees Sylvester Vincent, the craggy owner of Twisted Wood, whether her fantasies might not be fulfilled over the fateful weekend.
Sylvester has his own demons to fight, however, stemming from a past incident where he misread the signals from another submissive. Despite his fierce attraction to Nora, he holds back, leaving her to the ministrations of the other guests at the luxurious mansion: refined and sadistic Master Andre, dominatrix Mistress Kiana, the intriguing switches Black and White, and the enigmatic Mage, master of rope bondage and electric torture. Ms. Crooks draws each one of these characters in precise, loving detail, as well as the “service submissives” Little Peter and Kitten. Unlike many tales of Roissy-wannabe S&M hideaways, each dominant and slave is a distinct individual. Being a submissive does not mean having your personality erased. I ended up caring about almost all the characters, even as I waited breathlessly for the heroine and the hero to finally get together.
Ms. Crooks does descend almost to the level of parody in her portrayal of the two boyfriends in these stories. Both are such slimy weasels that you have to wonder how the likeable heroines ever could have gotten involved with them. Ryan is particularly horrible and dishonest, insecure, self-involved, immature, with no sense of responsibility for his supposed lover. The contrast between Ryan's despicable behavior and the sensitive, caring attitude of even the cruelest dominants at Twisted Wood is undoubtedly deliberate.
There's a hint of romance in these tales; both end with the heroine and the hero as a couple--but there's a lot of hot sex with a variety of other people before that point. Both stories fit the classic erotica mold of the sexual quest—characters exploring their own needs, suffering or enjoying a variety of experiences on the way to fulfillment.
The portrayal of BDSM is overwhelmingly positive. Both stories emphasize the need for consent and the responsibility of the dominant for the submissive. That does not prevent Ms. Crooks from presenting some fairly extreme scenes. The interaction between Nora and Mage is particularly intense, and also ends with a great twist.
Occasionally I had the sense that Ms. Crooks lacked knowledge or experience with BDSM. The blocking in some of her scenes felt awkward; I couldn't imagine the positions she was describing. Her description of the fetish store did not match any one that I've ever visited. However, most of the time I was able to forget these quibbles as I was drawn into the action and the characters' actions and reactions.Overall, Sweet and Dirty is entertaining, arousing and will not insult your intelligence. I wouldn't call the book startlingly original, but simply avoiding the traps of S&M stereotypes is a significant accomplishment.
I think it was Alanis Morisette who sang the lyrics, ‘Isn’t it ironic?’
As it transpires, for those who’ve heard the song, Morisette’s examples aren’t particularly ironic. Rain on a wedding day. A black fly in white wine. A free ride when you’ve already paid. These things don’t genuinely demonstrate irony. They are more indicative of annoying stuff that pisses us off.
Which brings me to Wanton Writers by Rae Clark.
Wanton Writers is a ‘sizzler edition’ title from Renaissance E Books. I took comfort from the fact that no trees were harmed during the production of this novel. And I’ll hold my hand up now and say I haven’t read all of this book. More accurately, I couldn’t read all of this book: I have standards.
I might sound as though I’m being disparaging. The truth is I am. Wanton Writers is written in a style that foregrounds the author’s lack of technical craft and makes the willing suspension of disbelief impossible.
Stella De Palo's eyes hardened as she waved a single sheet of paper in the air. "Here is the proof in depressing circulation figures for the last quarter per kind courtesy of the executive of this organization – I don't think." She cast the report back on the desktop where it slid away and fell to the floor. "Leave the friggin' thing," she snarled as Roger Cruikshank made to pick it up. Flushing, he retired to his chair.
This is from the second paragraph of the novel, where the virgin reader is still trying to come to terms with the reality of the fiction and willingly suspend their disbelief.
I’m not sure what Stella De Palo is saying in her first piece of dialogue. There is something about circulation figures, an errant word ‘per’ and a final negation. I suspect this inciting incident might be integral to the plot. As I say, I couldn’t bring myself to read all of this book. The paint on my garage walls won’t watch itself drying.
Or, selected randomly:
"Stella. Call me Stella." She gave an evil laugh. "You don't want to know what my enemies call me. Ha-ha."
"I didn't know you had any enemies, Stella," Roger chuckled.
"Everyone's got enemies in this magazine publishing dog-eat-dog business. You should know that, Roger. Now take a seat please and you too, Derek. Well, firstly, everyone, on behalf of WHAM, I'd like to officially congratulate Rachael on winning the WHAM's Inaugural National Short Story Writing Competition. Well done, Rachael..." She led a round of enthusiastic clapping.
The dark-haired seventeen-year-old paraplegic blushed and nodded her thanks.
In some ways, I find I’m almost drawn to ghoulishly leer at Stella’s dialogue in the same way I observe events every time I drive past a car wreck, aesthetically decorated with mangled bodies. If there really is a person on this planet who speaks like Stella I suspect the individual is a badly programmed robot impersonating a human being.
And then there’s this paragraph from the opening of Chapter Eight.
Charlie thought Stella had never looked so happy, and why shouldn't she? The editor-in-chief sprawled unladylike across her leather recliner, one bare leg casually cocked over an arm of the chair. The fact that a good deal of thigh was displayed to the world – well, the staff of WHAM – didn't worry her one bit. Then again, Charlotte mused, who had ever classified Stella De Palo as a lady? One of the most successful editors in the country? Yes, absolutely. Ruthless in the dog-eat-dog business of magazine publishing? Undoubtedly yes. But then again, you had to be to succeed, even to just survive in that circus.
I must admit, by this point of random delving, I’m beginning to suspect that magazine publishing might be a dog-eat-dog business. Or a circus. And, without being facile, I have to say that I think the text is expository (flouting the writer’s maxim of show don’t tell), the dialogue is unconvincing (making it difficult to empathize or even believe in the characters) and the combination of fragmented sentences with convoluted subordinate and interdependent clauses makes the whole thing (for me) inaccessible.
I found this book annoying for three reasons.
Of course, you have to smile at the idea of a book about writers being a book that is badly written. On some level this could have worked as a satire with a heavy-handed dose of mocking wit. And, under those circumstances, I’m sure that even Alanis Morisette would have asked, ‘Isn’t it ironic?’