Let me say at the outset that 37 Stories About 37 Women is not erotica, at least not by my definition, despite being released by a publisher that specializes in that genre. There's a lot of sex in this book – though it's incorporated mainly by offhand reference, rather than described – but precious little desire, even of the physical sort. For the author/narrator/hero of this volume, sex appears to be something you engage in by default when you can't figure out what else to do, and especially when you're drunk, high, broke, depressed, feeling self-destructive and figuring you'd like to pass that mood along.
The book is a series of thirty seven vignettes, two or three pages long, each labeled with the name of a woman (with the exception of chapter 32, entitled “Sean's Whores”). They're written from different perspectives and points of view, which is initially confusing but ultimately adds to one's sense that this book is a deliberately constructed work and not merely a collection of miscellaneous ramblings.
Rachel: “He was going to leave you until he found out you were doing Morphine.”
Kristie: “I was fascinated with Kristie during her trial for murder.”
Melissa: “I never thought you would be getting off work at seven. When one's girlfriend is a waitress, that possibility does not enter one's mind.”
Erin: “Cody used to hit me so I left. It wasn't that simple of course. But that isn't what this story is about. I liked Brian. I had seen him at the Portside or at Pearl. He wasn't with that gorgeous blonde girlfriend anymore. I think he was with someone else but I knew that much anyway.”
When I began reading, the book struck me as snarky, facile and clever, a sort of literary version of the movie Sherman's March, where the main character is constantly hijacked emotionally by the various women in his life. Warren Zevon's song “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” kept playing in my mind:
These young girls won't let me be.
Lord have mercy on me.
The further I read, though, the darker and more disturbing the book became. Women who had headlined in one chapter turned up as side characters in other chapters. Little by little I started to piece together the disastrous web of sex, lies and illusions that linked all these women together.
He was cheating on his wife with three women at once. All of whom worked together. One who thought he was going to leave his wife and marry her. Two who didn't know about the other two. And one chubby formerly straw-hatted young woman who knew he was fucking three other women.
He could get nothing done. His life had become nothing but a bad porno. All three of them constantly cycled in and out of his office. He would go into Jenna's office and put his cock in her mouth, then go into Amanda's and do the same. Then at lunch he would go to Brynne's, and she would get on her knees for him.
It was at times like this when a person is no longer in any doubt that he is completely and totally out of control. (Chapter 18, Brynne).
Amanda has her own chapter. Jenna didn't even rate one, unless he changed the names, which is possible. In one chapter he seems confused as to whether the woman in question is called “Brooke” or “Krista”, although in general the editing in this book is excellent.
The longer one persists in reading about these poor women, the sadder and more desperate one feels.
The author/narrator/hero is a top. He likes to spank his women, make them crawl, suffocate them, even knock them out with chloroform and fuck them while they're unconscious. There's no joy in these encounters, none of the closeness or mutual respect I look for in a D/s encounter (real or fictional). The stories reek with misogynistic self-pity, with the narrator completely focused on what he wants. And yet he seems as lost and miserable, as addicted and depressed, as any of the dozens of females who seem willing to offer him their bodies.
Perhaps the most revealing of the so-called stories is Chapter 26 – Ashley. “I used to pretend to be other people. I did this on the Internet...So this one time I was Ashley.” Ashley is a total illusion, an imaginary blonde eighteen year old with an equally fictional vicious and dishonest boyfriend named Jake. Ashley posts about the terrible things Jake does to her, but also about how she loves him. People come out of the woodwork, urging her to leave him. The narrator and his druggy friends play the tale to the hilt, writing blogs, leaving comments and posting photos, until national media contact “Ashley” wanting to interview the poor abused teen. When she suddenly disappears from view, her on-line fans and friends frantically call the police, convinced that she's been murdered by her violent lover.
The author and his cohorts find the situation endlessly amusing. In fact, the way Jake treats poor illusory Ashley mirrors not a few of the stories that supposedly discuss real women.
By the time I'd finished 37 Stories About 37 Women, I had endless sympathy for these thirty seven and the others that he probably forgot. I wanted to hate the author for his callous attitude. I couldn't quite manage that, though, because despite all the darkness, there are sparks of genius in this book. Furthermore, it's clear the author carries enough self-hate that my meager contribution would hardly affect him.
Chapter 23, Brittany, may be the shortest in the book. For a page, the author strips himself bare. All the bravado, the attitude is gone. There's nothing but need and regret.
I can't say I exactly liked 37 Stories About 37 Women. I find it a bit offensive that such a sex-negative book is being marketed as erotica. But it isn't the piece of fluff I originally expected. It's a hard book to read. Despite the flippancy of some of the tales, I suspect it may have been hard to write. I hope that it brought the author some kind of peace.
I could try to write a book about all the women I have known. Or I could try and write a book about you....
If I were still with you this book would be peaceful. It would be inspirational. It would be about coming together and moving on to the other side. It would be about overcoming mental illness, overcoming addiction. It would be about stupid ex-husbands and alcoholic millionaires.
It would be about reading in bed, seeing movies, going to The Porthole and running errands with my hand on your leg in the car. It would be about doing good deeds and knowing just how much cream to put in coffee. …
It would be about being loved and understood.
But you know I fuck up all the time, and you know I am crazy.
So I wrote this piece of fucking shit instead.
I hope you like it.
In her introduction, Lisabet Sarai begins with a statement that I had to chuckle over.
“Not another vampire book....”
I have to say: every time I spot another vampire on the cover of a book I have the same sinking sensation. The “here we go again” of vampires does tend to wear a bit, and when you bump into the same old vampire tropes over and over (and over) again, it’s enough to make you swear off blood-suckers for good.
Which is why Coming Together: In Vein was such a pleasant surprise. It’s obvious that Lisabet Sarai is well aware of the tropes and has gone out of her way to collect stories that take at least a step (but usually two or three) away from the usual vampires – did I really just say ‘usual vampires’? – and bring something fresh to the collection.
Before I delve into the stories, I’d also like to take a wee moment to point out that this collection of stories gives you something you don’t see often in erotica – a good deed. Funds from the book go to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctor’s Without Borders) – so this is a collection worth scooping up for more than just the quality included.
And just to be clear? There is quality included.
Right from the get-go, we find ourselves in refreshing new territory with “Nixie’s in Love” (C. Sanchez-Garcia) who gives us a foul-mouthed German vampire on perhaps the narrower edge of sanity, whose human lover has found a novel solution to the blood-drinking, and is attempting to bring a normalcy back to their life (and a very fun dose of role-play and hunter-and-prey to their sex life). It’s fun, and lively (if you’ll pardon the pun) and a wee bit manic. Definitely not your typical vampire erotica.
Of a different tone is “The Taste of B Negative” (Cheyenne Blue), which is dark, full of an ethical snarl, and has a conclusion that left my inner revenge-glutton feeling fully sated. Lovely.
I’m also starting to learn you can always count on Xan West to bring you a phenomenal story that steps to the side and then trips up your expectations. “Willing” is brutally brilliant, a mix of sex, BDSM, and boundary pushing that leaves the reader breathless and unsure of the possibility of a positive outcome. “Willing” deliciously defies expectations.
“It’s Lovely, It’s Horrible” by Kathleen Bradean is another bravura performance in defying expectations from the reader and mixing up dichotomies. Fear and sex, lust and desperation, captive and hunter – the spin of this story is dizzying, leaving the reader so tied up in the chase that there’s little hope for escape. This is a story that turns “vampire” on its head – and satisfyingly so.
Lisabet Sarai’s own story, which concludes the anthology, “Vampires, Limited,” left me with just the right tone for the collection. A mix of blithe and dark, “Vampires, Limited” tells the tale of a woman who has been using the Vampire mythology to sell magazines – and turn a tidy profit. She is presented with the reality when hunting for a new cover model, and finds that there’s a reason it’s called mythology.
Coming Together: In Vein was a very welcome surprise. None of the stories felt familiar or typical (some even crossed into speculative fiction territory) and it was a very welcome reminder that given the right authors, even something that feels as “done” as vampires can – pardon another pun – gain new life.
The fan blades buried in the floor whirred to life as Delfina began her descent from the plexiglass bubble where she rode suspended over the front rows of the arena audience. When her five-inch bejeweled stilettos touched the stage, her dress flew up around her in a vortex of pink chiffon. Hands framing her face, she let her jaw drop, her eyes opening, feigning surprise, innocent, revealed, caught in the spotlight, a poster child for precious.
The iconic moment shifted quickly. Her hands dropped and cupped her breasts, her mouth closed, her eyes narrowed, and Delfina cocked her head to one side. Her tongue poked out of her mouth, licking slowly across her lips as her skirt billowed and waved.
The flesh tone of her thong looked like bare skin to anyone more than twenty rows back. She grabbed a microphone from a stand and screamed the words of the encore.
David Bowie is alleged to have said: I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, "Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.”
I’m not sure if this is a genuine quote or simply an apocryphal story to add to Bowie’s aura of superstar legend. I do know that the quote fits the milieu of our stereotypical expectations when we’re considering the rock star.
Delfina, eponymous hero of Delfina, is a rock star. The passage above shows us Delfina as she takes the stage for the final set of a triumphant tour. Her journey has been a gruelling one and her success, whilst deserved, has been hard won.
The story begins when Delfina is parting with an unsuitable lover. He’s caught in the arms of another woman and Delfina realises she’s been wasting her time investing a relationship without commitment.
Going away for a massage helps:
“Excuse me. I’m Martin. You’re here for a massage?”
He wore brown drawstring pants and a green t-shirt. His arms filled the fabric of the shirt, muscles taut and developed by years of physical work. His hands were large and well formed, hands that knew skin, that knew how to bring relief and pleasure. Delfina noticed that he wore no underwear; the outline of his penis was visible in the crotch of his pants. Short blond hair curled around his forehead, and his blue eyes met hers with a calm and quiet intelligence.
“Yes, I want a massage.”
“This way, please,” he said, and disappeared behind the curtain.
Delfina rose and followed. As she walked behind him, she saw that he was not massive, but simply strong, well built and well proportioned. A man who had spent time sculpting his own body, even as he worked on others.
He led her to a small room and closed the door. A massage table draped with sheets waited, a candle burned on a high round table, and slow Celtic guitar, gentle and evocative, played softly in the background. A warmer stood on one side, stocked with deep fabric towels, while another table held oils and lotions.
“Please,” he said. “What do you want me to do? There’s no time limit; we can go as long as you would like. Are there parts of your body that you’d like me to pay special
“All of me,” blurted out Delfina. “It’s been quite a week. Quite a month, actually. Well,
really, quite a year.”
Delfina is a story that sits in territory between erotica and romance. It’s a piece of fiction that gives the reader a backstage access to all areas of an intriguing character as she struggles to find the true meaning of success.
I have to admit, as a reader, this title didn’t work for me. I thought the dialogue was unconvincing and I had very little emotional investment in the characters. The sex scenes, when they came, were explicit and charged with appropriate vocabulary but it all felt a little mechanical and too superlative to be credible.
It’s likely that this is just me.
I’m not a big music lover of any description. I’ve quoted David Bowie earlier in this article but I think he’s enormously overrated. When you take that opinion into account (and I’m aware that I’m in a very tiny minority for holding such heretic views about Bowie) you can see that I’m probably not the right person to offer an opinion on a book about someone immersed in the music industry.
No doubt there are plenty of readers out there who will adore the writing of P K Belden and the antics of Delfina et al, but those readers and I will have to disagree as to whether or not this is an entertaining book.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Circlet Press. Strangely enough, I don’t think I’ve ever written for them before. Every time I read one of their anthologies I’m struck with a serious case of writer’s envy and reader’s delight. Fantastic Erotica was enough to send me into green-eyed rapture.
Fantastic. We tend to use it as a superlative, and that fits this anthology, but fantastic, according to the free Dictionary, is also “Quaint or strange in form, conception, or appearance, OR unrestrainedly fanciful; extravagant.” That fits too. Each of these stories introduces you to the other, where the other is a world, a people, a person. Some are similar in many ways to our world, but the one where we took a left at Albuquerque, fell out of the rabbit hole rather than into it, and stepped through a looking glass. Science fiction and fantasy loving me was spellbound.
Normally I pick three or four stories in an anthology to talk about, but this is near to impossible as it seems that every story was in my top picks. South sea pirate adventures! A sentient sex automaton. Near future dystopia! The fae. Space and other vast reaches of nature. Vampires. Magic and technology, viruses and things that bump and grind in the night! Miss Mary Bennett from Pride and Prejudice is the heroine of her own story? Oh yes, please! A rift jumper who dies many times and lives to tell about it. The Eldritch Horror sitting at a bar! (okay, confession, I do have a favorite, and this one is it. Blame my love of the weird and things that make me cover my eyes but peer through spread fingers) Call those incongruous but it seems entirely consistent to me to love well-crafted stories. And the great thing is that you too can read and enjoy each of these and maybe love one a little more than the others and you won’t be wrong.
Table of Contents:
The Beauty of Broken Glass by Frances Selkirk
The Succubus by Elizabeth Schechter
Enslaved by Kierstin Cherry
Lawman by Angela Caperton
The Pirate from the Sky by Sacchi Green
Rescue Wounds by Kal Cobalt
A Woman of Uncommon Accomplishment by Elizabeth Reeve
Navigator by Kathleen Tudor
At The Crossroads by Monique Poirier
Catch and Release by Sunny Moraine
Mirror by Clarice Clique
A Vision In X-Ray and Visible Light by Nobilis Reed
Wood by David Sklar
Devil’s Masquerade by Michael M. Jones
Fences by David Hubbard
The Many Little Deaths of Cicilia Long by Shanna Germain
The Dancer’s War by N.K. Jemisin
Ink by Bernie Mojzes
Ota Discovers Fire by Vinnie Tesla
A story has to have something going for it when you’re truly engrossed even though you already know, if you have the slightest interest in history, how it comes out in the end. In the case of Wyatt: Doc Holliday’s Account of an Intimate Relationship by Dale Chase, it’s not just the premise that does it, even though a Doc Holliday/Wyatt Earp pairing is a blindingly obvious avenue for speculation. And it’s not the sex, even though you get such a bang for your buck in that department that you may be feeling pretty chafed in the saddle before you’re halfway through. It’s not even Chase’s mastery of the written word, although skilled writing is something I value highly, and in this case the language has just enough flavor of the historical time and place to feel authentic without being distracting.
What really drew me in, and kept me itching to get back to reading, was the finely drawn character of Doc Holliday. A man who knows he’ll die young of tuberculosis has a complex outlook on life, even more so when he lusts after other men when satisfaction must always be a matter of danger and secrecy--but not, for Doc, of shame. Wanting what he sees as “what all men want even if they’ll never admit it” bothers him no more than his notoriety as a gambler who can kill a man with no hesitation or compunction if his honesty is challenged and a gun is drawn.
The book is foremost, of course, a gritty Western seething with explicit erotica, and adhering to more historical fact than most since its protagonists are well-known figures in both history and mythology. There’s plenty of action and violence, and even more sex. Fair warning; the sex scenes are not for the fastidious. Doc Holliday was noted for being particular as to cleanliness and attire, and Wyatt Earp is generally shown as grimly upright and law-abiding, but their no-holds-barred encounters get as up and down and dirty as anything you’re likely to come across.
The relationship between Wyatt and Doc is one of mutual respect and, often, of mutual exasperation, Doc isn’t by any means submissive, but he is by choice a definite bottom, even though some of the positions they get up or down to are creative enough to be unclassifiable. The initial surge of attraction is purely sexual, but over the years it develops into something much deeper for both, though they express it differently, and we only have Doc’s thoughts on the matter.
Early on he reveals the beginnings of an emotional attachment, as when he says, after an exhaustive bout of sex, “I moved my arm the couple of inches between us, nudging him as I spoke. This small touch felt most good as it bore another kind of intimacy, and I found myself wanting all he had.” But Doc’s always careful not to be too explicit about tender feelings, both because he knows Wyatt has a hard time dealing with such things, and because he knows he won’t be around all that much longer due to his malady. He’s hungry for all he can snatch of life, for good or ill. In the midst of a much later encounter, Doc says, “As a person undoubtedly headed for hell, I nevertheless knew none but heaven at this juncture, for Wyatt and I were both descending from satisfaction while ascending toward a repeat. The only better place a man could find himself would be in the throes of climax.” And then, minutes later, “’Hell, Doc,’ Wyatt said as he pulled out and fell beside me. ‘We’re gonna kill each other,’ to which Doc replies, “Not a bad way to go.”
Through years of gunfights (the OK Corral episode was only one among many), reversals of fortune, tragic losses, and brutal vengeance, these two come to find in each other their truest homes, a term Doc uses often and Wyatt admits to. Their story would be well worth reading even if it were told in euphemistic terms of close comradeship, but in Dale Chase’s hands it goes far beyond an adventure tale to stake an unshakable claim on the deepest desires and rawest urges of two exceptional icons of the Old West—and on us lucky readers as well. Wyatt: Doc Holliday’s Account of an Intimate Relationship is definitely on my recommended list for those who appreciate such stories.