"Happy families are all alike," according to Leo Tolstoy. After reading Afternoon Pleasures, one might begin to wonder whether this is true of happy couples as well.
In this volume, Shane Allison has gathered seventeen explicit tales of gay sexual encounters, the preponderance involving men in long term relationships. True to its subtitle, the book serves up tale after cum-drenched tale about men enjoying each other's bodies. Quite a few of the authors interpret the book's title literally, writing of lust-filled, stolen afternoons in hotel rooms, trailers, log cabins, movie theaters or in one case, a museum.
This anthology includes some noteworthy stories. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it lacks variety. At least three quarters of the tales explore essentially the same scenario: a committed gay couple keeping the spark alive by inviting others into their sexual play, or by introducing new toys or activities, or by swapping roles. The style tends to be rather similar from one story to the next as well. With two exceptions, all the tales use a first person POV. Big, hairy bears predominate. The sexual descriptions almost universally involve copious amounts of bodily fluids. I found it difficult to keep the stories separate in my mind because of these commonalities.
One of my favorite tales in the collection was "Public Displays of Affection" by Logan Zachary, humorous fantasy that nevertheless manages to be very hot. Couple Quentin and Casey are both employed by the same museum and have trouble keeping their hands off each other during working hours. The situation comes to a head, so to speak, when they take delivery of a dozen anatomically correct male mannequins intended for a costume exhibit. The well-hung dummies turn out to be ideal play partners. Things reach an unexpected crisis when the museum's most important donor unexpectedly shows up to inspect the new exhibition.
Kyle Lukoff's "Something Different" was another story that kept my attention. A sub discarded by his first master decides to try being dominant for a change. The beautiful FTM transsexual he encounters in the BDSM club is more change than he'd bargained for, but both participants in the scene find a connection beyond the physical pleasure.
Although it is based on a similar premise to many other tales in the book, I particularly enjoyed "One Afternoon in the Bible Belt" by Jeff Mann, because of its skillful use of language and dynamic characterization. The narrator's a burly bear, a hot-headed good 'ole Southern boy, but his partner is a lean, self-contained Yankee. The eager young submissive they make into their "boy" for the afternoon is equally distinct.
Pepper Espinoza's "Tokens" also deserves mention, not only for its vivid characters (I loved Jake, the laid-back Mediterranean bad boy who hides his corporate lover's shoes in order to keep the man in his bed), but also because it deals with the beginning of a serious relationship as opposed to one of long standing.
Overall, though, the stories in Afternoon Pleasures are forgettable, at least partly because they are so much alike. I suspect that this may reflect the editor's preferences. It makes sense that he would accept stories that he personally found arousing. It's possible that his target audience (gay couples) would agree with his choices, of course.
If you decide to read Afternoon Pleasures, by the way, do not miss Shane Allison's deeply personal introduction, "Sex is a Cock-Ring Clad Angel." It's romantic, heartfelt and sexy all at the same time. Reading it, I have some sense of what Mr. Allison was trying to accomplish in this collection, and an uncomfortable feeling that maybe I'm looking at the book through too literary a lens.
If you're looking for commitment, happy endings, and lots of hot dick and ass, this may indeed be the book for you.
The theme of Ageless Erotica has a special appeal for me, and the Table of Contents has a high percentage of writers I’ve long admired, so I had high expectations. At the same time, I felt some trepidation as to its general appeal. When Joan Price starts her introduction with “Older folks still enjoy sex—boy do they!” my first reaction was, “Of course! Why would anyone doubt that?” But my next thought, which I’ll bet most of us share if only subconsciously, was, “But, well, how old? Do many people—okay, do I—really want to read erotica about them?” Then I read a few lines further to discover that she’s talking about “erotica by, for, and about women and men ages fifty to eighty-plus.”
FIFTY? Fifty isn’t old! But then I remembered doing a reading of Best Lesbian Erotica in NYC some years ago, and opening my turn by saying that I was there to prove that there’s life after fifty. I certainly knew then that some people, maybe even most people, do think of fifty as old. It’s a truth not generally acknowledged that our perception as to what constitutes old age keeps changing as we get older, always hovering some distance beyond wherever we are now. For that matter, our perception of what constitutes sex may undergo a certain degree of adjustment. But age brings experience, and no lack of imagination. Where there’s a will there are many creative ways, and yes, the will lives on, as intensely for the eighty-pluses as for those young fifty-ish whippersnappers.
I’m glad to report that the work in Ageless Erotica displays a lively variety that rings all the chimes you’d enjoy in any good assortment of erotica, as well as playing some new, ingenious, and ultra-seductive tunes. As with any anthology, some stories appeal more to me than others, and the order in which they appear leads me to think that the editor shares my taste, front-loading the book with some of the real standouts. The middle part, with several exceptions, has several perfectly okay pieces that just don’t have as much of the spark and flow of really good writing. Some of them lean more toward the informative than the seductive, telling more than they show, and after a while there gets to be some inevitable repetition. Toward the end, though, as a good editor should, Price gives us more of the beautifully crafted work that could appear in some of the best anthologies in the genre without being limited to the “ageless” theme, as, indeed, several of them have.
Erobintica leads off with “To Bed”, a sweet and poignant story of love between long-term married lovers that sets a high standard for the similar stories to come.
Dale Chase’s “Dolores Park” gives us a change of pace, where two aging gay men in San Francisco, after lives spent in the atmosphere of the too-prevalent focus on youth and fitness, share a bench by chance in the park and watch the buff boys go by. It begins with; “Nice butt,” says my bench companion, and ends, after the two have found something much deeper together, and are relaxing at peace with each other, with; Then I slide a hand onto his bottom. ‘Nice butt,’ I say. I do love well-rounded story arcs!
If you’re thinking of adding a new fetish to your sex play, Kate Dominic’s “Hand Jobs” may inspire you, unless you’re already an old hand at this one. A woman with arthritic fingers that always feel cold decides to start us both on track for a total glove fetish, which turns out to be a tactile treat and a thoroughly arousing success.
Doug Harrison’s “Smooth and Slippery” gives us a sympathetic and totally frank picture of how an aging man with age’s usual drawbacks maintains his own confidence and his much younger lover’s devotion, knowing the value of experience and expertise. He also broadened my education with detailed instructions on the use of a dick-pump, something of which I’d been only vaguely aware.
Tzaurah Litzky’s “Tony Tempo” is deeply touching, with perhaps the most memorable character of all, who says, I never thought I’d end up like this, in the Crescendo Home for Aged and Indigent Musicians—I, Tony Tempo, once known as the trumpet king of swing. I’m heading towards that last command performance. But he and his trumpet do still have at least one more command performance, thanks to a night nurse who’s old enough to remember when he was famous, and appreciates the man he still is.
There are too many more stories worth mentioning for me to go into as much detail as I’d like to. There’s fine work by Donna George Storey, Bill Noble, DL King (as soon as I saw her title, “Mr. Smith, Ms Jones Will See You Now”, I knew we’d be treated to one very well-seasoned dominatrix), Evvy Lynn (a jaguar of a lover—yum!), Cheyenne Blue, Rae Padilla Francoeur, Johnny Dragona, Erica Manfred (who won my heart with her My answer was a resounding yes, yes, yes, yes. A Molly Bloom of a yes--it’s a James Joyce thing--and Sue Katz. If I didn’t have a deadline I’d happily expound on any of these at length. In fact, as I scan the table of contents again and recall something of each story, I realize that any piece in this book could easily be someone’s favorite, or even mine, if I happened to be in the right mood at the right time.
Within erotic fiction, the genre is constantly struggling against the restrictions imposed by societal taboos. The three classic taboos in the genre are: incest, bestiality and underage relationships. There are other taboos. Non-consensual sex is a no-no. Scatological sex is unwelcomed by most publishers (certainly, as written material, I’m not sure what most publishers get up to in the privacy of their own boardrooms). Necrophilia comes under the heading of ‘illegal activities.’ The list could go on. And it does.
And I mention it here because I’ve known publishers refuse fairy tale stories because, thematically, the idea broaches dangerous territory between adult material and that aimed for a younger audience.
This is, of course, all bullshit.
It’s bullshit for several reasons. If no one ever wrote about incest we would never have had a story like Wuthering Heights. If no one touched on bestiality or necrophilia the concept behind the Twilight novels would be dead in the water. If we all adhered to the strict rule regarding non-consensual sex, it would be near-on impossible to write a BDSM story of reluctant submission.
And, when publishers have told me that ‘fairy stories are for children, and erotica is for adults,’ I have bristled with righteous indignation at the stupidity of that notion.
Historically, fairy stories are NOT for children. Fairy tales are an integral part of our history of storytelling. Stories have been in existence since before we began to learn to write or read. The oral tradition of narratives (oral, as in spoken – not oral as in the fun way) has been an integral part of our literary heritage. Camp elders would sit around tribal fires, mesmerizing audiences with stories that broached fantastic subjects and reinforced important moral and philosophical points. These were the original fairy stories and they were never intended for children.
Unfortunately, some publishers are too stupid to be aware of this distinction. Fortunately, Spice Books and Alison Tyler seem to understand that fairy tales have always been intended for adults.
Not that Alison Tyler is alone in this understanding. She’s managed to find more than two-dozen authors who share her kinky sense of fun. In Alison’s Wonderland there are twenty-seven scintillating stories of fairy-tale shenanigans to set your red shoes tapping and make you wonder what might happen if you go down to the woods today.
It should be noted here that, in excess of 100,000 words, Alison’s Wonderland is the largest collection of erotic stories that Alison Tyler has ever published. It should also be noted that this one, possibly more than any other, contains some of the most celebrated names in the world of erotic fiction.
The collection opens with Nikki Magennis’s “The Red Shoes (Redux).” Nikki Magennis is the author of Circus Excite and The New Rakes, and far too many short stories for me to list here. “The Red Shoes (Redux)” is characteristic of her style for making the commonplace uncommonly sexy, and delivering sultry, poetic prose.
This is quickly followed by Shanna Germain’s “Fools Gold”: a clever riff on the old story of “Rumpelstiltskin,” and Sommer Marsden’s witty re-imagining of a classic story with “The Three Billys.” Germain writes raw sex appeal that consistently excites and satisfies. Marsden excels at blending humour and hedonism in this contemporary revisit to classical territory. Both authors contribute to the superb quality of this collection and make it easy to brand the book as unputdownable.
The fairy queen in Portia Da Costa’s “Unveiling His Muse” reminds us that Da Costa has always had a command of short fiction despite her recent years producing novels. In “Unveiling His Muse” she combines narrative and sexual tension to an incredible erotic effect.
And, in “Managers and Mermen,” Donna George Storey (author of Amorous Woman and innumerable erotic shorts) shows that she possesses an unrivalled mastery of erotic fantasy.
This collection is a have-to-have anthology for every connoisseur of erotic fiction. The table of contents reads like a who’s who of contemporary erotic writing and the quality of the stories in unsurpassable. If you don’t already own Alison’s Wonderland, rush out and buy the book now. This is one that you’re going to treasure for a long, long time as you enjoy your happily ever afters.
What happens when you begin an erotic novel with a fascinating and provocative premise, and then invite some of the most prominent authors in the genre to serially contribute individual chapters? The result could be inspired chaos, a kaleidoscope of erotic visions and fractal views of the main characters through the lens of each writer's unique style. Alternatively, the novel could end up as an incoherent and annoying muddle. Unfortunately, American Casanova is more the latter than the former, though it does offer occasional flashes of brilliance.
Maxim Jakubowski sets the stage and introduces the protagonist in the intriguing first chapter. Giacomo Casanova, burdened by the decrepitude of old age and the bitterness of lost loves, drifts into deathly sleep in Venice in 1798 and awakens in 2005. Reveling in his renewed vigor and youth, he immediately resumes his old ways by seducing an apparently innocent Italian girl who works at the local cafe. Christiana mentors him in the strange and outrageous ways of the modern world, as well as regaling him with the pleasures of her flesh. She accompanies him to a mysterious private party where the sexual excess of the guests shocks even his debauched sensibilities. It is here, at this lascivious ball, that Casanova first glimpses the intoxicating woman he calls Athena, leashed and collared, clearly a slave, yet with a beauty and presence that pierces even his jaded heart. As Athena disappears, he vows to find her and make her his own, thus beginning the quest that will drive (albeit in fits and starts) the novel to its conclusion.
The first few chapters unwind themselves in a reasonably consistent and satisfying fashion. Christiana helps Casanova discover the source of his invitation to the ball, the enigmatic Power Company. When he makes his way to their headquarters to confront them, he is drugged and abducted. He wakes on an enormous ship, a sort of floating dungeon, where he is forced to watch Athena being abused and debauched, even as he himself provides perverse entertainment for the ship's passengers. Christiana reveals herself to be no innocent, but a lustful slut who tops and bottoms with equal zest.
The ship docks in Key West, where Casanova escapes and nearly drowns. By the time he makes land, he finds that Athena (or O, as she turns out to be named) is being auctioned to a vicious punk rocker, Toby Faith. Along with D, one of the slaves from the dungeon ship, and with the help of a local cowboy, Casanova pursues Faith's caravan, driven by his need to possess O.
At this point, the narrative begins to fall apart, careening wildly from Key West to New Orleans to Seattle to San Francisco and finally to New York. Each subsequent chapter introduces new minor characters, who pop in and out of the story, changing roles and tugging the flow of the tale out of its main channel and into weird, distracting eddies.
Mark Timlin's chapter begins the dissolution by starting to tell the story from O's point of view. Before too long, there is also a thread narrated from D's perspective. We lose the pleasure of seeing the modern world and its sexual extremes through the eyes of Casanova, a cultured gentleman from another era as well as a sexual predator, and with that loss, much of the grace and intrigue of the tale.
Mitzi Szereto violates the perfect image of O by turning her into an idiot. She sends O on a benighted quest for enlightenment, seeking a God that she identifies with Kurt Cobain among bemused drug addicts and religious fanatics in Seattle. Then Michael Hemmingson's chapter layers on the wretchedness, filth and degradation in his characteristic neo-Beat style.
The plot thickens to the consistency of sludge as new chapters introduce yet another secret society, The Order, which exists to liberate and rehabilitate slaves from the clutches of the Power Company. D, Christiana, and various other characters reveal themselves to be double, or perhaps even triple agents, in this worldwide battle for flesh and souls. Casanova (who has by this time become almost passive, suffering lust and torment as he again and again catches up with O only to lose her) realizes that he has been brought back to life by the Power Company for some obscure purpose. This intriguing concept, alas, is never elucidated, although we discover by the end of the novel that O is also a revenant, the famous submissive of Roissy who has been brought to life in the new millennium after an untimely death in the 1950's.
Maxim Jakubowski makes a valiant attempt to tie up loose ends in the final chapter, which includes dark echoes typical of his writing. The final scene returns to Venice, with satisfying unity that is sorely lacking in much of the book.
As a single narrative, American Casanova lacks coherence and focus. On the other hand, from such an assemblage of erotic luminaries I would expect some beautiful, disturbing or evocative writing, and I was not wholly disappointed. Thomas S. Roche delivers an arresting chapter in which an aroused and conflicted Casanova chastises O and wins her devotion. John Grant's chapter includes one of the most intense sex scenes in the book, a coupling between Casanova and Croy, the in-your-face black DJ/chauffeur/body guard who works for the Order. And Sage Vivant's chapter, early in the book, provides a deliciously ambiguous encounter between Casanova and a woman who might, or might not, be a resurrected ex-lover from his own time.
I was ultimately disappointed by American Casanova. I can't help but wonder about the motivations of some of the authors as they fashioned their chapters. Building on someone else's plot twists and characters must be quite difficult, but I know from past reading experience that these writers could have done better. I had the sense that some contributors were playing a game in which each tried to outdo predecessors in offering ever wilder and more outrageous characters, events and interpretations. Certainly, in many cases, there seemed to be little consideration paid to the narrative as a whole.
Although the cover glosses the book as "An erotic novel directed by Maxim Jakubowski", it's clear that he exercised very little direction over his contributors. The result is a novel that I suspect is quite different from what Maxim imagined, based on the glimpses provided by his initial and final chapters. That novel, I think, I would have greatly enjoyed.
With the phenomenal success of 50 Shades of Grey, it's inevitable that new fans of erotica will start looking around for more BDSM to whet their appetites. (Not that BDSM and kink are the same thing, but let's not get too pedantic) Anything for You is the kind of book I hope they'll pick up. Interesting characters, kink of all kinds, and yes, even a touch of romance because the focus here is on couples who play well together, in a very naughty sense.
When I open a book and see this sort of line up of contributors, I know I'm in for treats.
Like Riding a Bicycle • Lisabet Sarai
Borrower Beware • Heidi Champa
Anything She Wanted • Neil Gavriel
Tails • Deborah Castellano
Teppanyaki • Janine Ashbless
Greasing the Wheels • Madlyn March
Interview • Talon Rihai and Salome Wilde
I Tend to Her • Justine Elyot
Apple Blossoms • Emerald
Big Night • D. L. King
The Guest Star • Sinclair Sexsmith
Exposure • Elizabeth Coldwell
New Games on a Saturday Night • Teresa Noelle Roberts
Notes from Her Master • Kathleen Tudor
Lap It Up • Kay Jaybee
What If • Angela R. Sargenti
Petting Zoo • Rachel Kramer Bussel
Normal • Charlotte Stein
Everything She’d Always Wanted • Ariel Graham
Look at these writers! Lisabet Sarai, Teresa Noelle Roberts, Rachel Kramer Bussell, Chalotte Stein, D.L. King, Emerald, Janine Ashbless, Heidi Champa, Kay Jaybee, Sinclair Sexsmith... It's like picking an all-star team roster from the erotica hall of fame. Or is that infamy?
But that presents a quandary as I usually talk about a couple stories in an anthology that stood out, when every single one of their stories is worthy of mention. So do I talk about the names I recognize, or do I feature names I don't know as well or are new to me and talk about their equally wonderful work? Sorry all-stars. You know I love and admire your work, and your stories in this anthology were all examples of why I seek out your names. But let's be honest, many of you are my friends or at last friendly acquaintances and none of us like the feeling of a closed club, especially when it comes to shout-outs in reviews. So here are the writers I'll be looking for in the future:
“Interview”by Talon Rihai and Salome Wilde isn't written as a regular prose story. A slave and his mistress trade off sections where they talk about their relationship. You get the story of how they met and how their relationship evolved. What I enjoyed the most though was how healthy this relationship comes across. Anyone who thinks BDSM is abusive would have second thoughts after seeing the affection between these two. Toward the end of the story there's a revelation that shocks the slave, but from everything that came before, you know it isn't going to change the core of this solid and loving relationship.
“Anything She Wanted”by Neil Gavriel started with one of the best opening lines in this anthology and just got better from there. I love a story with a sparkling sense of wit. From later in the story:
It’s one thing to fantasize about it, to dream of what your girlfriend would do with your ass if she could only read your dirty mind, but it’s another when you’re faced with seven inches of pink reality strapped to her pelvis.
Hah! Now you have to read more, don't you? The power dynamic between this couple is sexy and fun as they discover and experiment together.
Some of you are going to have a lovely time reading Elizabeth Coldwell's “Exposure.” Older woman, younger man. She's clothed, he's naked. And her friends are over for drinks. It isn't my fantasy, but it's sure a fun one. Who wouldn't want a buff young stud to rub your feet when you get home from work? Hmm. I may have to rethink that "not my fantasy" bit.
“Tails” by Deborah Castellano features a couple with sexual fluidity that's refreshing and just genderqueer enough to pique my interest. “Greasing the Wheels” by Madlyn March is a revenge tale, sort of, with a few twists. “I Tend to Her” by Justine Elyot has light medical play, a very nice and welcome bit of kink just when I thought every story in the anthology was going to be BDSM. “Notes from her Master” by Kathleen Tudor is sort of Hansel and Gretel following breadcrumbs through the woods – if the woods is an airplane, the crumbs are notes from her master in the sub's book and carry on, and the witch's house is... Okay, it's not Hansel and Gretel at all but it is a high-flying fantasy. If you're into the art of the slow tease, and some near-food fetish, then “What If”by Angela R. Sargenti is going to be a story you relish. (I really didn't write that terrible pun on purpose.) And for those of you who can't get enough of collared slaves being pushed to their limits by a master, read “Everything She’d Always Wanted”by Ariel Graham.
You know those car commercials where they say things like "Professional driver. Do NOT try this at home?" Yeah. About that. Many of these stories have something you could try at home with your lover. So if you find yourself squirming over a passage in a good way, maybe you should. And who better to play with than your other half, your significant other, your willing and obedient slave?
Q: What’s the difference between oral sex and anal sex?
A: Oral sex can make your day. But anal sex can make your whole week.
OK. I know it’s an old gag. But it still makes me smile. And I reiterate it here because this anthology, depending on how quickly you read, is likely to make your whole week. Maybe even your whole month.
The book comes from Cleis Press – market leaders in producing well-written erotica for discerning readers. The book has been edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel – an editor who knows how to collate, edit and balance a collection of dedicated erotic fiction. And the content has been written by some of the most respected names in current erotic writing, including DL King, Tenille Brown, Emerald, Erobintica, Thomas S Roche and Laura Antoniou (amongst many others).
Ordinarily I’d dip between stories in an anthology and share a little from this one and a little from another. But, rather than spoil any surprises, I thought it would be more appropriate to consider a single story. Randomly, I selected ‘Everybody Knows’ by Giselle Renarde.
You know when you’ve just given a blow job and then you take the subway right after and you feel like everybody knows?
That’s me, sitting on this faux-velvet seat, smelling like come and feeling so conspicuous I could hang myself. The scent doesn’t go away. It sticks to your hair, doesn’t it? And your skin.
Sex is in my aura, gossiping with other passengers, telling them things that aren’t true. I’m not a slut or a whore, though I’ve been called those names too many times to count.
There’s a guy all in black standing by the doors. I know he’s looking at me while I pretend to read subway posters. Every so often, I glance his way, really subtly, catching outlines of his bulky body. I imagine shouting, “What are you staring at, motherfucker?” but I second-guess myself. Maybe he’s not looking at me. Maybe I’m wrong. Hey, it happens.
I loved this opening. Renarde’s narrator is directly addressing me, the reader, which suggests an elevated level of intimacy – ideal for a story that touches on the elevated levels of intimacy associated with anal erotica. The characters are well-drawn. The backstory, although only present in allusion, is lingering here from the opening lines. “You know when you’ve just given a blow job and then you take the subway right after and you feel like everybody knows?”
The quality of the writing continues to excite and intrigue. This is a description of Asher, being observed by our narrator Stephanie:
There’s so much pain in his storm-gray eyes. He’s huge, and still he seems beaten down, like the world won’t stop trampling him. I don’t really know what to say, or how to make him feel better, so I kiss him.
He pulls away, and I feel like an ass.
My heart is pounding in my ears, and I stare at the swirls of chocolate sauce on my fancy-ass latte. I always move too fast with guys. I jump in with both feet—except with Yaro and Mike.
Renarde is setting us up for a delightful anal romp later in the story and the cues are all here. More importantly, we get a convincing sense of Asher, with the storm-gray eyes and beaten down by a world that won’t stop trampling him. Even that unemotional refusal of Stephanie’s kiss makes this character compelling and vivid and wholly believable.
Then there’s the sex.
His skin tastes like anxiety. It’s a vibration between us. I wish I knew how to put him at ease, but I don’t so I keep sucking his fingers until his breath grows shallow and his eyes burn dark.
He pulls his fingers from between my lips and kisses me. Now I’m the one who can’t breathe. I always imagined him kissing me softly, but this isn’t soft. He cups the back of my head in one big hand and crushes my mouth with his. I can’t catch my breath. His tongue is battling mine.
There’s a warmth in my belly and it moves down my thighs as Asher backs me into his bedroom. He’s neat and tidy and he doesn’t smell bad, and I love that about him. I love everything about him.
“His skin tastes like anxiety.” There’s poetry in this description that elevates this writing from above the mechanical to something that reminds us that sex is a revered act. Renarde’s narrator describes intimacy with the skill of an expert storyteller who has gained the trust of the reader with an honest and credible voice from the opening lines.The standard of writing through this anthology remains consistently high. The focus on anal intercourse is made clear in the title and subtitle. And each writer delivers content that is exciting, competently presented and a pleasure to read.
These days romance rules the publishing world. Romance is the fastest growing segment of the industry. Every day, it seems, a new romance e-publisher opens calls for submissions, hoping to cash in on the romance bonanza. I just read (I'm writing this review in May) that Amazon.com has announced their very own romance imprint.
The romance genre has diversified and matured, admitting explicit sex, kink, GLBT characters, ménage and more. It has become far less stereotyped and constrained than it was even a decade ago. However, one firm requirement remains, written more or less in stone. All romance must have a happy ending. The protagonists must overcome the obstacles that separate them and have at least some prospect of a delightful future in each other's arms.
Of course, in the real world, relationships aren't necessarily like that. Furthermore, erotic intensity isn't necessarily linked to that sort of happy connection. Freaky Fountain's outstanding volume Bad Romance explores love affairs that would make the average romance author throw up her hands and run away screaming.
The contributors to this collection aren't afraid to explore the darkest aspects of desire. They break taboos left and right. The book includes incest (both consensual and non-consensual), rape, physical abuse, humiliation, drugs, cutting and castration, as well as more conventional BDSM scenarios. It's not for the faint of heart. I do not believe that the authors were aiming at shock for its own sake, though. As suggested by the sub-title, these stories actually do focus on the relationships between the characters. The relationships may be painful, twisted, frustrating, even deadly, yet they still fulfill some need. The characters know they should walk away, but they don't. Lust, and sometimes love, overwhelms reason and they find a kind of release in spite of all the darkness.
Practically every story in the collection is exceptional in both conception and execution. Jeanette Grey opens the book with the amazing “Bleeding Red,” the story of a painter and his former model, how they devour and destroy each other but cannot let go:
There's the sound of glass on the pavement, the ground littered with tiny shards. I can still see them on the back of my eyelids as they close, and then instead of ice, there's heat. Groaning into a kiss I know will only hurt me, I stare into blackness and taste hot skin. I feel tongue and teeth, and I bite down on his bottom lip, exulting at the tang of copper salt.
More subtle, but equally devastating, is Chris Guthries “Three Days in Summer.” It begins with a woman begging for a man's attention and ends with her discarding him. Over the course of the story, the power shifts, as the woman satisfies her yearning to be abused and the man becomes dependent on her submission.
“Maleficent” by Lydia Nyx is probably the most depraved tale in the collection and yet one of the most arousing, in spite of its violence and copious bodily fluids of every sort. The story is a compelling reversal of the vampire-meets-soulmate trope so popular in normal romance. Homicide detective Darius is seduced by an infinitely cruel and kinky dancer in a club. In Jordan's presence, under his tutelage, Darius discovers how savage and perverted he can be. The bloody finale is horrible yet compellingly erotic.
Jordan dropped to his knees in front of him. A dull blue light shone down from somewhere up above – blue, like they were under water, drowning. The light gleamed on Jordan's hair and filled his freakish eyes...The light glinted on the silver rings Jordan wore – a skull, a cross, a jagged winged dragon. He watched Jordan's tongue slide around the head of his cock, the tip hard and pointed under the ridge, the flat caressing the rest, then all of it sliding past his lips, into the molten recess of his mouth. All sensations were amplified almost to the point of pain.
Not every story in Bad Romance reeks of this sort of drama and evil. Some, like Anya Wassenberg's “The Affair” and S.L. Johnson's “Love Letters” focus on the banal but very real pain of attraction in the face of incompatibility – the way we sometimes seek out exactly the wrong person. “Sam and Jessie” by Ben Murray is a funny tale of two lovers who fight constantly despite their mutual affection and lust, each striving for the upper hand. It remains humorous even when the real nature of their relationship is revealed. Maxine Marsh's “Coma” portrays a “relationship” between a bereaved doctor and a woman who is immobilized but retains some level of consciousness – a truly extreme case of being unable to communicate with one's lover. Ryder Collins' “Her Heart is a Screen Door, Too” is a strange, almost poetic description of a woman who is always victimized yet remains open to love:
These are the things that Homegirl remembers from that night; these are not the only things that happened and some of them may not have even happened because Homegirl's been so drunk she's hallucinated from the drink like Toulouse-motherfucking-Latrec at least twice before that night. So it's possible that some of it's all made up.
It's possible, but I know it's not made up.
One feature of this anthology that I particularly enjoyed were the “afterwards.” Each story is followed by the author's bio, plus some comments on the genesis of the stories. I found some of these almost as fascinating as the tales themselves.Bad Romance will not be to everyone's tastes. It will offend some readers, not only because of the extreme scenarios it portrays but also because it most definitely does not qualify as “sex-positive” erotica. I'm not really comfortable myself writing the sort of violent, dystopic tales featured in this collection. Actually, I feel a bit guilty that I enjoyed the book so much. But I couldn't help it. Bad Romance is both outrageously hot and a literary treat.
Oh the weather in this book is frightful, but the romance is as warm as hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire. This collection of stories by seven mistresses of erotic romance would be an excellent Valentine’s Day present for the right reader, preferably accompanied by roses and chocolates.
These stories are all competently written, and the sex scenes are plausible and arousing. This reviewer wouldn’t expect anything less from the writers assembled here. However, the theme tends to restrict the plots of these stories, each of which focuses on a woman in love with a man – in some cases, since childhood.
In several stories, the heroine is conveniently trapped with the man of her dreams in a confined space by the fury of nature. Having to face each other forces the hero and heroine to reveal their true feelings, which include mutual, irresistible desire. Several of these stories end with a promise of marriage, one ends with an agreement about childbearing, and several end with a hope that geographically-challenged lovers will agree to live together in one place for the rest of their lives.
To a large extent, these stories are driven by the romance formula rather than by the characters. Personal misunderstandings keep the lovers apart until a climactic moment, while most social and political conflicts in the real world are kept out of the world of the story. Monogamy is an unquestioned ideal, and heterosexual identity is taken for granted.
Responsibility for housework and disagreements over money are nowhere to be seen.
My favorite story of the bunch is the whimsical “It’s Not the Weather” by Alison Tyler, whose erotic stories are often set in Los Angeles, in and around the unreal world of the movie biz. The heroine here is a weather girl (meteorologist) who first works with, then lives with, a moody scriptwriter from New York who prefers the four distinct seasons of the U.S. east coast to the endless sunshine of southern California. The weather girl is so tired of revolving-door relationships and so determined to make this one work that she goes far out of her way to help her boyfriend feel at home and ready for sex, even after she learns that he is using her as comic inspiration. In due course, she gets the happy ending she deserves.
This story shows a witty approach to the seasonal theme of this collection and to the broader theme of heterosexual romance, yet it doesn’t break the conventions. Alison Tyler’s characteristic light touch prevents the heroine’s dilemma from descending into melodrama.
Subterfuges and plot devices that show the hand of Fate are too prevalent for my taste in several of the other stories. In “One Winter Night” by Kristina Wright, Susannah returns to her home town for her sister’s wedding after having left in a blaze of scandal, several years before. She protects her pride by pretending to be respectably married, even though she is divorced.
Susannah’s strategy makes sense when she arrives in town, wondering if the other townsfolk still see her as a Scarlet Woman who has returned to cause trouble. However, the revelation that Susannah (neat use of the name of a slandered Biblical heroine) is able to form a “legitimate” relationship with her former lover, now single and determined to win her back, only occurs near the end of the story, when it is too clearly intended as a means of removing the last barrier to a happy ending. Why Susannah would continue keeping her secret when she has every reason to admit the truth is unclear and unconvincing.
In “Hidden Treasure” by Sophie Mouette, a security guard and a tour guide in period costumes are conveniently trapped by a storm in an historic mansion. So far, so promising. However, two clownish intruders break in to retrieve the “treasure” promised to one of them by his deceased grandmother. When the “treasure” influences the budding affair between the guard and the guide, the reader’s credibility is stretched to its limits.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Marilyn Jaye Lewis and “Northern Exposure” by Isabelle Gray are both grittier stories about clashing desires in marriages based on love. In Lewis’ story, a chronic disagreement about when (whether) to have a first baby gets neatly resolved, and the reader can only hope that there will be no long-term resentment as a result. Isabelle Gray’s story is probably the most heartbreaking in the collection, and it looks like a serious response to Alison Tyler’s story about lovers who each want to live in a different physical and cultural milieu.
“Six Weeks on Sunrise Mountain, Colorado” by Gwen Masters is literally a cliff-hanger. The plot premise (celebrity recluse rescues the journalist who tracked him down in the wilderness) is one of the most unusual and dramatic in the book. Here is the first meeting of the hermit on the mountain and the woman who has risked her life to find him:
He found the woman at the foot of the ravine. Even in the moonlight, she looked pale as a ghost. Blood covered her forehead and a bruise was already flowering under her right eye.
Luckily, healing of various kinds takes place during six weeks of hibernation in a snowbound cabin, when the man and woman come to know each other.
“Sweet Season” by Shanna Germain includes the most creative sex scene in the book, in which seduction accompanies a hands-on lesson in turning sap into maple syrup. The sights, sounds and smell of the setting are almost palpable. The author’s bio explains: “Shanna Germain grew up in upstate New York with a pitchfork in her hand, maple syrup on her tongue, and more first loves than she can count.”This collection would certainly appeal to lovers of traditional romance with explicit sex, but it is uneven. Unfortunately, the restrictions of the genre result in some awkward and predictable writing strategies. The diverse and changing nature of heterosexuality in the real world provides plenty of raw material for fiction. The static world of romantic cliché leaves me cold.
Rachel Kramer Bussel offers this year's best bondage erotica in an anthology sure to excite your senses.
If you're a fan of female submission, there are many stories here for you. “The Long Way Home” by Elizabeth Coldwell leads off the anthology. “His Little Apprentice” by the UK's fabulous Jacqueline Applebee, “Foreign Exchange” by Evan Mora, “Closeted” by Emily Bingham, “Vegas Treat” by Rachel Kramer Bussel, “The Cartographer” by Angela Caperton, “How the Mermaid Got Her Tail Back” by Andrea Dale, “Stocks and Bonds” by Rita Winchester which is a delightful story of a couple at play, “The Rainmaker” by Elizabeth Daniels, Teresa Noelle Robert's tactile and sensual “Do You See What I Feel” will all thrill fans of that scenario. “Truss Issues” by Lux Zakari closes out the book. One or many of these are sure to please anyone into female submission.
Janine Ashbless offers an interesting tale where the man is bound, but he still manages to get inside of the head of a young woman on the verge of discovering her sexuality in “The Ingénue.” “Reasoning” by Tenille Brown is a stand out story of a woman simply fed up with her boyfriend's behavior. Lisabet Sari's “Wired” is another tale of a woman dominating a man, with some ingenious use of workplace items for bondage. In the “Lady or the Tiger” by Bill Kte-pi, who is dominating who is up for you to decide. Jennifer Peters finds an inventive use of saran wrap in the delightful “Sealed for Freshness.”
There are a few lesbian tales in this anthology, including Dusty Horn's “Subdue,” “The Apiary”by Megan Butcher, and my favorite offering, “Helen Lay Bound” by Suzanne V. Slate.
For fans of voyeurism and male on male action, Emerald offers “Relative Anonymity.”There's a little of everything here for fans of bondage. I recognized many of the contributors and found some new names to look for in the future, which is always a joy. From traditional restraints - stocks, corsets, and shackles - to everyday items turned to exciting and inventive uses - saran wrap, wire cables - there's a lot here to get your kinky mind whirling on the possibilities.
Best Bondage Erotica 2012 is a sizzling collection of twenty one exciting, erotic bondage stories from a plethora of talented authors. Familiar names include the incredible Elizabeth Coldwell, the wonderful Kay Jaybee and the sensational Teresa Noelle Roberts.
It’s a superb collection that contains something for everyone from those who are new to the idea of bondage through to those who are seasoned professionals with a length of rope and a willing partner.
This is from “Melting Ice” by Shoshanna Evers.
Amanda stripped off her slacks and cotton button-down blouse, kicking off her low heels. Sitting tucked away in her underwear drawer was her favorite toy: a pink dildo with rolling beads in the perfect place, and an attached clit vibrator that looked like a bunny, the long bunny ears buzzing to life and the entire dildo rotating enticingly as she flicked on the wireless remote, checking the batteries. She shut it off. Save it, she thought. For the bondage.
There was no need for lube; she was so wet the length of the dildo slid inside her easily even as it stretched her. Next she pulled her tightest jeans over her naked cunt, trapping the vibrator in place against her flesh. Holding the grey wireless remote in her hand, she brought it with the handcuffs over to the bed.
Amanda in this story is eager to experiment with solitary bondage. Not knowing Evers as a writer, and because this story is first in the book, I thought there was an air of uncertainty and anticipation that comes with the narrative. To me, it felt like the same air of uncertainty and anticipation that comes with any bondage encounter.
Is this going to end well? Will Amanda be safe and satisfied? Rather than answering those questions and spoiling the tension of the story, it’s enough for me to say I shall now be looking out for more of Evers’s work.
This is from “Cumaná” by Helen Sedgwick.
First he lifted my left hand. I felt rope tighten against my skin. He pulled my arm up to the top corner of the bed, securing it somehow. I held out my other hand obediently, and he guided it toward the other corner, fastening more of the rope around my wrist. I lay there, waiting, tensing against the knots that secured my hands above my head. One by one he took my ankles and pointed my feet to the corners of the bed, spreading my legs wide open. Moving slowly, deliberately, he tied them down. I strained against the rope, but it was tight. He made no sounds, no more movements. My heart was racing.
Aside from illustrating the exquisite quality of writing, both these examples show that the core appeal to bondage is the relinquishment of control. Bondage is about an embracement of helplessness. Bondage is an investment in the trust of a sexual partner to deliver satisfaction. This is a recurrent concept illustrated in the following example from Valerie Alexander’s “Insurrection.”
I waited breathlessly for it then. Instead he walked around me, studying my body. Then he pulled up my bottoms, untied my wrists and tossed my bikini top at me, walking away before I’d even put it on. I showed up at his cottage that night and begged him to fuck me. Begged for real for the very first time, shameless, desperate and horny.
He’d just shrugged and smiled like sure, he’d do me a favor, and tied my hands behind my back. Then he pushed me face first into his sofa, lifted up my miniskirt, and fucked me from behind while I bucked and screamed with the hardest orgasm of my life.
And the theme of control is illustrated equally well in the psychological bondage demonstrated in Billey Thorunn’s excellent story “Pawns.”
She was his for two hours. No quickly checking her email, no getting a glass of water, no nothing without his permission or instruction.
So now she was in the kitchen, wearing red patent-leather pumps and a checkered blue apron over a clingy black teddy. She’d done up her makeup as she would if she was “getting slutty to go out,” and Gabriel had done her hair that morning, standing in front of her while she lay on her back in bed. He’d pushed into both her and the mattress, back and forth until he came, leaving both her hair and the sheets sweaty and disheveled.
Every story in this collection is hot, passionate and exciting. Each of them explores a facet of bondage in a way that makes the whole idea of sexual torment and restriction sound irresistible and appealing. For anyone who has never experimented with the thrill of restraint, this collection of stories provides a taste of every risk you’ve been missing.
In the foreword to this book, Midori asks:
But what’s life if not lived with some risk? Behind every reason for avoidance of erotic adventure and sensual fulfillment lies fear. What do you fear? Does the thought of unbridled pleasure frighten you?If the thought of unbridled pleasure does frighten you, then avoid this book at all costs. If however, you’re intrigued by the prospect of relinquishing control and enduring unbridled pleasure, Best Bondage Erotica 2012 could be the ideal way to start the New Year.
In the wonderful introduction to Best Bondage Erotica 2013, Graydancer promises truth – truth that can be embarrassing or uncomfortable as well as thrilling, truth that transcends the overt activities of bondage and discipline celebrated in this collection. I gave a mental nod, understanding the point exactly. I know, from personal experience, how deliberately choosing restraint can shatter fears and defenses, deliver new insights, rearrange reality. I was eager to dive into the book, anticipating more than just the clever and creative kink Ms. Bussel reliably delivers in her anthologies.
Best Bondage Erotica 2013 partially fulfills Graydancer's promise. Some of the tales touched me deeply. Some of the others left me feeling a bit cheated, focused as they were more on the actions of bondage and submission than on the emotional impact.
Of course, after the introduction, I had, perhaps, unrealistic expectations.
I particularly appreciated Valerie Alexander's “The Moons of Mars,” about a non-traditional relationship between a charismatic gay astronomy professor and his female assistant, who is hopelessly in love with him. Their strange accommodation partially fulfills the fantasies of each, and in the process binds them more closely to one another than most lovers.
I also loved“Public Spectacle” by D.L. King, an exquisite vignette that provides an inner snapshot of a female dominant using her slave in public, highlighting the love and trust that illumine the humiliation and pain.
I can sense the people around us. I know they can feel the transformation too. They have seen the plain Jane you wouldn't look twice at on the street transformed into an object of desire. As her submission deepens, she will become even more desirable, and I will become even more desirous of her.
Evan Mora's “You Can Look...” is another deliciously depraved F/f tale in which the most important bonds are the ones that connect the dominant and submissive protagonists.
“Tying the Knot” by Tiffany Reisz, in which a dominant fiancé is summoned on the eve of the wedding to remind his frantic and nervous betrothed what's really important, uses humor to expose the way submission can be a mechanism for coping.
War is a terrible truth. Three of the twenty two stories in the collection have military themes. All deal, in different ways, with the healing power of BDSM. In “This is Me Holding You,” by Annabeth Leong, a female soldier struggles with guilt, fear and incipient despair as she prepares to return to duty. Andrea Dale's moving tale “Steadfast” features a heroine trying to reawaken the desire for dominance in her wounded, Iraq-veteran husband. Louise Blaydon explores the out-of-time quality of BDSM encounters with her story “Interlude for the Troops,” in which an Army captain seeks the solace of surrender with one of his comrades.
Peter says nothing, but then,Tom doesn't expect him to. They both know that. His hands are bound at the small of his back with a length of rope that rasps at the skin, and the position thrusts his shoulder blades up and out painfully, like thwarted stubs of wings. The floor of Tom's little medic's hut is hard and unyielding under his knees and yet, somehow, these are comforting pains, compassionate hardships. Tom controls them, after all. It is out of Peter's hands.
The original bondage in Giselle Renarde's “Tree Hugger” involves bungee cords and a huge, rough-barked tree trunk. Ms. Renarde's vivid descriptions pulled me into the story, even as the sensations bring her protagonist into a new kind of communion with nature, and her lover.
“Passion Party Purgatory” by Logan Zachary stands in a category of its own. This totally filthy, over-the-top fantasy (that's a compliment!) features a sadistic and highly inventive host (Charles) who “entertains” the husbands of his wife's friends in his basement recreation room while the women are upstairs enjoying a Tupperware-type sex-toy party. Is there truth here? I suppose the fact that the Charles' straight-as-an-arrow victims discover that they're aroused by bondage, pain and homoerotic activity might count as a revelation. Anyway, the story definitely made me sweat.
The editor's own story “Foot and Mouth” concludes the collection. Rachel Kramer Bussel paints a chilling but arousing portrait of deep masochism and its perverse satisfactions.
It's not the wealth of lovers he's had before me on whom he's honed his Dominant skills, either. It's that he wants each time to be better than the last. He wants it to matter. He wants me to feel it not just on the tender surface of my skin but inside, deep down, all the way, where it counts. When he takes out his knife and traces it along the swell of my breast, he wants me to wonder, even for a split second, if he'll be careless – or, worse, careful – and break the skin. He wants me to wonder, when he tells me he's bringing guests while I'm all trussed up, if he really is, and how many. He wants me to be uncertain whether he'd actually try to get his gigantic fingers insight my tight but eager ass without lube.
Ms. Bussel's truth is uncomfortable indeed – both literally and figuratively – and yet in it's own way transcendent. I couldn't identify with the particular physical torments her Dom inflicts, but I definitely recognized the emotions.Overall, Best Bondage Erotica 2013 offers BDSM aficionados a wealth of kinky fun – with sufficient instances of deeper insight to satisfy even a picky reader like me.
Fantastic has several meanings. In the context of Cecilia Tan's new anthology, the word refers to fiction which has elements of the supernatural or the futuristic. At the same time, “fantastic” also serves as a superlative, a synonym to “wonderful,” “exceptional” or (in today's parlance) “awesome.” I have no hesitation in using the word in its second sense to describe this collection. Cecilia Tan and Circlet have winnowed down a set of more than five hundred submissions to present eighteen of the best erotic science fiction and fantasy stories that I, at least, have read in a long time.
This anthology is noteworthy both for its originality and its diversity. The tales range from Arinn Dembo's exquisitely lyrical “Monsoon” to Thomas Roche's hilarious satire, “The Night the New Hog Croaked, Or the Lascivious Dr. Blonde: A Romance”. Kal Cobalt's “The Lift” is pure cyberpunk, set in a world in which the lines between human and machine have become tragically blurred. “The Caretaker,” by Fauna Sara, offers a deliciously traditional fantasy world inhabited by unicorns and their virgins. “The Bridge,” Connie Wilkins' contribution, gives us a war-scarred veteran who encounters the mythical Green Man, while Catherine Lundoff's “Twilight” presents a sassy, modern half-vampire who meets her match in the sexy descendant of a legendary vampire slayer.
Several of the stories contemplate the distance, or lack thereof, between man and animal. In Robert Knippenberg's “And What Rough Beasts,” a faddish treatment that allows humans to become part animal results in the gradual disappearance of homo sapiens. Jason Rubis' enigmatic and disturbing “Circe House” considers transformation from human to animal, from male to female and back, as a sort of extreme fetish.
Any contemporary volume of erotica is likely to include some BDSM, and this collection is no exception. However, in the hands of these Circlet authors, the themes of surrender as a gateway to freedom; pain as a precursor to pleasure, become newly exciting. Corbie Petulengro's “The Harrowing” concerns an evil sorceress who exacts a ransom of sexual servitude from a brave female warrior, teaching her young slave how to accept her craving for submission and suffering. “Marked,” by Cody Nelson, one of my favorite stories in a book full of candidates, presents an odd plague that confers heightened sensuality and sensitivity upon its sufferers while at the same time condemning them to horrible pain if they touch each other.
“Zach forcefully unclenched his teeth and slowed his shallow breathing. He rubbed his aching cock against the mattress and felt its steady throbbing. He moved his hips rhythically under Brendan's hand. He let the pain wash through him, felt its circuit flow from point of contact to point of contact, butt to belly to breast to arm to hand. He felt the electric pricks and tingles and bites. And he relaxed his mind and invited the pain in.
Something changed then. The pain didn't go away and didn't abate, not one bit. But it was no longer something to be feared and shunned. It was searing and gorgeous and wonderful, and Zack found his body racked with laughing sobs at the joy of it.”
In the end, Zack is cured – only to realize that he still wants the lust and the pain that he has left behind.
There are many more wonderful stories in this volume. “Music from My Bones,” by Anya Levin, explores a different kind of submission, in which a woman allows her body to be played as an instrument in a performance of sexual ecstasy. Jean Roberta's “Smoke” entertains the notion that Lucifer was a woman, with all the attendant implications. “Nocturnal Emissions,” by Joe Nobel, is a delightfully sensual chronicle of an elderly Christian priest in the sixteenth century who comes face to face with the old gods and his own suppressed carnal desires.
“The Gantlet,” by B. Lynch Black, offers a parable about the dangers of too much control, set in a classic sci-fi dystopia. Renee M. Charles' “Opening the Veins of Jade” gives us oriental magic and feminine power. Argus Marks' “Copperhead Renaissance” is a creepily erotic picture of mutual addiction. “Venus Rising,” by Diane Kepler, takes us into the familiar territory of android sex toys, but adds an ironic twist. Last, but hardly least, Carolyn and Steve Vakesh offer the clever, funny “Capture, Courting and Copulation: Contemporary Human Mating Rituals and the Etiology of Human Aggression”, part of the dissertation research of a young dragon sociobiologist. (“We are educated, politically correct dragons. We do not eat humans anymore.”)
Normally when I review anthologies, I don't mention every story. Usually there are at least one or two that are better left in the dark. Often I want to allow the readers to discover some of the tales on their own. In the case of this collection, every author deserves a mention, for all of the tales are exceptional for their craft as well as their creativity.
Best Fantastic Erotica is, indeed, fantastic. I'm hardly surprised, since every Circlet anthology that I have read or reviewed deserves the superlative. For Cecilia Tan, every Circlet Press book is a personal labor of love. It shows.
I’ve been reviewing erotica for more than six years. During that period, I’ve probably read and passed judgment on at least fifty titles. (I’ll know exactly one of these days, when I finally find the time to update the publishing history page on my web site!) I wouldn’t be surprised if a quarter of these titles began with “Best”. Sometimes I wonder whether anthology editors or publishers just lack originality. Wouldn’t “Worst Bisexual Alien Leather Erotica” attract more attention?
Seriously, though, when I open another “Best” collection, I tend to do so with a barely suppressed sigh. Rarely, in my experience, do erotica anthologies deserve the superlative. Most commonly, erotica collections will have a few stories that are stellar, a few that are appalling, with the remainder being predictable and workman-like but unmemorable.
Richard Labonté’s collection more or less fits this pattern.
On the positive side, the stories in this anthology are surprisingly diverse given the narrow theme. Bondage includes rope, leather, silk, latex, hand-cuffs and even live snakes (more on this below). The essence of bondage is constraint, whether self-imposed or inflicted by another. The authors in this collection explore the broad limits of this definition. There are several tales – Larry Townsend’s giddy “My Eighteenth Birthday” and Simon Sheppard’s uncharacteristically light “The Man Who Tied Himself Up”– in which the main characters accomplish some amazing feats of self-restraint. Then there’s Doug Harrison’s sweet and satisfying tale, “The Harness”, which demonstrates that bondage isn’t just for bottoms.
My favorite tale in this collection is Shanna Germain’s “And Serpent Becomes Rod”. (I notice that Ms. Germain has received top kudos in several of my recent reviews.) The protagonist in this story, a wealthy submissive so jaded that he has become impotent, treks through the jungle to the summit of a volcano in order to meet the shaman-master whom he hopes will cure him. The shaman lives in a shack lit by hundreds of candles and inhabited by dozens of snakes. The snakes bind the man while the master takes him and makes him new.
When he stepped back, I tried to follow. The snakes held me there with a raised head, the slip of a tail along the curve of my balls. Everything drew up tight. Still. I bowed my head as much as I could without losing my breath. I waited for the man that I knew would save me.
...Something flickered at the crack of my ass. Snake tongue? Man tongue? I moaned, low in my throat.
The story is vivid, intensely physical, and unrelentingly arousing. What impressed me, though (other than the creative notion of using snakes as bonds) was the clear connection between sex and spirit. This acknowledgment that bondage might mean something, might be something beyond a mechanism of arousal, is missing in most of the tales in this collection.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Hot, anonymous sex is great, and gay fiction especially seems to like to celebrate it, as illustrated by Bill Brent’s enjoyable contribution, “Keeping It Under Wraps”:
We catch our breath, staring at each other and grinning like idiots. Soon we will leave this couch and become separated by ever-growing number of men, miles, days, years — but right now we’re just two blissed out guys, happy to be together in this room, no longer horny.
Bondage can be dangerous, though. It’s not the sort of thing one wants to undertake at the hands of a stranger. Bondage can also be a route to enlightenment, but few of the authors in this collection seem to view it this way.
A disturbing number of tales in the collection feature non-consensual sex and bondage. Perhaps the most extreme is “Marking Territory” by Sean Meriwether, about a petty criminal being pissed on, beat up and sodomized as punishment for double-crossing the boss. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would find this arousing — not because of the acts themselves (hey, I’ve fantasized about golden showers) but because of the absolute cruelty with which these acts are inflicted. Then there’s “The Taking of Brian Krowell”, which details a carefully planned rape. I have to admit that even though this story by Shane Allison left me queasy and uncomfortable, I was also aware that its remarkable portrait of a man driven to violence by frustrated lust made it one of the better stories in the collection.
His dick tensed in my mouth, beyond my tenacious lips, cum surging through his black body, willing or not... I left him stained with his cum, my cum, my spit, his jelly. Done. His never was my now.
TruDeviant’s “Number Twenty-Four” offers a similar scenario, a neglected and abused fag obsessed with a baseball player. In this tale the rape, though vivid and visceral, full of sweat-soaked uniforms and locker room odors, is nevertheless only fantasy. Does that change things?
At some level, all fiction is fantasy, though in some cases this is more obvious than others. Certainly the sex slave in the temple of the Owl Goddess in David Holly’s slightly ridiculous “A Gift to the Rising Dog Star” is pretty transparent, as is the world-weary dirty old man in “Norceuil’s Garden” (Andrew Warburton). In many cases, the fantasy aspect of these tales subordinates the story. There’s no real plot. The characters exist only to act out the author’s fetish. I might find a story arousing, but afterwards, when the tale releases me, I’m empty.
Some of the stories in this collection are well-written. A few show noteworthy originality. All in all, though, this anthology does not, in my opinion, completely merit its title. “Gay Bondage”? Certainly. “Erotica”? In some cases. But “Best” would be better reserved for a collection that more consistently challenges the mind and stirs the heart, as well as exciting the senses.
I suppose it was bound to happen. I review Best Gay Erotica nearly every year, and I've always enjoyed it. This year, meh. It feels a little flat to me. It also seems a bit short at twelve stories and a graphic.. hmm. Can't call it a graphic novel. A graphic short story, perhaps?
Anyway, let's hit the highlights.
Simon Sheppard is a reliable writer, which sounds like an insult but isn't meant that way. His stories always grab me with wit, great writing, and deliciously raunchy scenes. His “Your Jock” is - deep inhale - evocative. You can almost smell it. And yeah, I'm a girl, but this is raw nerve erotica that makes my writer's eyes green with envy.
I'm waffling on “Sunday in the Park” by Jamie Freeman. On one hand, it's well written and interesting, but on the other hand, it seemed to lack that male energy I anticipate. But maybe you don't want your sex hyped up and in your face. Maybe you like it a bit more laid back. In that case, you might want to dive into Shaun Levin's “Foreigner's in Stiges” too, which is all kinds of lovely, lyrical, and melancholy.
“Translations” by Roscoe Hudson hits hard on the brutish German in uniform fantasy, but it hits that mark well. Intellectual, but rough too. If I ever meet Roscoe though, I'll have to ask him if you'd really use the more formal Sie instead of the more familiar du when a guy is ramming your ass. Yes, that's the kind of strange thing I muse over while reading erotica.
The rest of the anthology isn't bad, not by a long shot, but I've been spoiled by years of incredible stories all jostling for my attention. Maybe I just read too much erotica. However, while on a personal level I might give this a sideways rating, Best Gay Erotica remains one of the most anticipated anthologies of the year for a good reason. Just because all the stories didn't hit the right note for me doesn't mean they won't work for you. So I'm going to give it thumbs up, even if those thumbs aren't fully erect.
Cleis Press’ annual Best Gay Erotica anthology has a unique approach. Editor Richard Labonté culls the submissions and sends the first cut on to a guest judge, insuring that there will always be a fresh perspective on the selection. This year poet and novelist Emanuel Xavier puts his stamp on this consistently outstanding anthology series.
When Emanuel first contacted Erotica Revealed about a review, the request came to my email rather than our usual submissions address. Thinking swiftly, I shouted DIBS! and snatched it out of the queue before anyone else even knew it was available. I suppose I should feel a twinge of guilt for that. Let me check. Nope.
Arden Hill’s “My Boy Tuesday” was a good choice for the first story. Yes, it’s a hot BDSM tale guaranteed to get your attention in all the right ways, but what I enjoyed the most about it was how fresh the character was. This was no stereotypical leather daddy. He wears his fingernails long and painted and has a closet full of drag clothes. Make no mistake though; this genderqueer top is in charge. This story puts you on notice that what follows won’t be predictable or part of the same old erotic routine. It also shows that despite the reputation of this genre, writers of erotica produce quality stories that can make you think as well as get you off. Be prepared for both.
Tickle torture is one of the BDSM variations I rarely see in lesbian or heterosexual erotica, but it crops up in gay erotica occasionally, so there must be an audience. My cousin once sat on me and tickled me until I got sick. (All over him. Hah! Served the bastard right.) so I know how sadistic ticklers can be and how quickly a victim can be rendered helpless. Obviously that killed any erotic potential for me, but Wayne Courtois’ “Capturing the King” will probably fascinate anyone into extreme tickling.
Horehound Stillpoint captures the essence of online cruising - the frustration with flakes and picture collectors- in “Donuts to Demons” with breathtaking precision. Yeah, I’ve heard the litany of complaints about CraigsList personals from friends, but never distilled into prose like poetry. Although I’ve seen Horehound’s name many times before, I had to flip back to his bio to verify that hunch. Ah yes, he’s a poet too – it shows in his writing- although he quotes dear friend Trebor Healey’s work instead of his own. But after this sharp, funny intro, the story takes a meditative, bittersweet turn into memories of the real man who got away, or who was too elusive to be caught. This may be the story that had Emanuel Xavier “...curling into bed with my cats.” Deftly delivered, this was one I went back to after I finished my initial reading.
One of the frustrations of reviewing an anthology is picking just a few stories to highlight even though there’s a lot to talk about in this offering. Charlie Vazquez’s “Rushing Tide of Sanity” is an incredibly hot BDSM scene. Tim Miller’s “Sex Head” has me vowing to catch one of his performances. (He’s listed a guest at the Saints and Sinners Literary Conference in New Orleans this May. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see him there.) I first read Jeff Mann’s “Snowed In With Sam” in his collection A History of Barbed Wire. If you haven’t read Jeff’s work, this is a good introduction. If you have, you’re probably a fan too. Shane Allison’s “Confession Angel” is a series of short scenes that flow together beautifully to create a larger picture in a mosaic of memory. Jason Shults’ “Minimum Damage, Minimum Pain” is about the guy who, thank god, got away, but oh, how his boy energy lingers in the mind late at night when you reach for the lube. In “Funeral Clothes” by Tom Cardamone, it’s a sad race to see who can abandon the relationship first. And if you like a story dripping with summer sweat and the heat of public sex, Andrew McCarthy’s “Underground Operator” is sure to get your pulse racing.
One of the strengths of this year’s Best Gay Erotica is the depth and breadth of characters that reflect gay lives not often featured in stories. I’m sure this is due in part to Emanuel Xavier’s guidance. These are not token tales, though. Each one had to make Richard Labonté’s first cut. As Emanuel points out in his preface, it’s difficult to prove any anthology truly contains the ‘best’ work out there, but in my opinion, this edition is pretty damn close.
James Lear, author of Palace of Varieties, The Back Passage, and The Secret Tunnel serves as the guest editor for this year’s edition of Best Gay Erotica. The guest editors are perhaps the strength of this series. While a reader can expect well-written erotica every year, the selection of stories reflects the guest editor’s interests, making each year unique.
So what do you have to look forward to this year? Desire, cross-dressing, poetry, and hot fantasies, but mostly, a lot of longing for what was or what will never be.
The anthology opens with “The Changing Room“ by Bradley Harris. Kyle is seventeen, gay, and lonely. He goes to the mall in search of a pair of sexy red underwear and finds an admirer in Joe, a store clerk. Kyle returns to the store to try on clothes and underwear in the changing room while Joe watches him. They play out a long seduction, discussing in detail what they’ll do when Kyle turns eighteen. The sex talk is just an excuse though. They both need to feel wanted, and inside the changing room, they are. It’s probably the best sex that never was.
When I read Tulsa Brown’s “Temporary,”it reminded me of a line from the movie The Sting. “I'm the same as you. It's two in the morning and I don't know nobody.” An ex-con dishwasher and a pre-op MTF chanteuse are two lonely people thrown together in a moment of danger late at night in a closed restaurant. Afterward, out of relief, or maybe just because they both want company, they treat each other with tender sympathy. Beautifully done.
Jamie Freeman’s “Don’t Touch” is a wonderfully told story. The narrator sees his crush everywhere, but it’s never really the man he wants. When he hooks up with another man, it seems he’s trying to relive that one perfect, painful moment where his crush let him almost have what he wanted.
In“The Opera House” by Natty Soltesz, Britt and Cody either don’t want to admit it, or can’t come to terms with their attraction to each other. As they inch toward a sexual relationship, they reassure each other that they aren’t like the fags who live a couple blocks away. But when Britt starts to hang out with another guy, Cody is jealous, and baffled. A bit of push and shove a few nights later evolves into wrestling, and the boys finally cross the last boundary. The aftermath is more confusion and anger. This story will ring true to anyone who’s struggled with their identity.
There are other excellent stories in this anthology. Jeff Man always delivers a great tale. Xan West, Gerard Wozek, and Simon Sheppard also contribute wonderful pieces. Year after year, the Best Gay Erotica series delivers on its promise of quality erotic fiction without ever being the same as the years before.
In his forward, Richard Labonte comments that this is his fifteenth year editing The Best Gay Erotica. It’s my third year reviewing it for Erotica Revealed. He states that his goal is to present stories blending sexual intensity and literary craftsmanship. Our goal at Erotica Revealed is to review erotica as literary fiction. Every year, this makes for some of my favorite reading.
Hank Fenwick’s “Holiday from Love” is a bittersweet look back at what might have been but never could be. Beautifully executed story with so much truth to it that you’ll inevitably think back to something like it in your own life. Regret was never so sexy.
The title of “I Wish” by Richard Hennebert makes it seem like fantasy fulfillment, although it’s reality for some. The narrator breaks free of mind-numbing domesticity for a night out with the lads that ends at a sex club where his wish is fulfilled.
Simon Sheppard switches between the points of view of an older couple and the hustler they pick up in “The Suburban Boy.” People get off on all kinds of weird stuff, but resentment is a new one for me. And yet it was so skillfully done that this was one of the stories I thought about well after I’d finished the book, and re-read several times.
Sometimes, sex is all in the mind. In Jimmy Hamada’s “fifteen minutes naked,” a man poses naked for a photographer. The photographer reflects nothing back – no desire, not even hints on how to pose. He lets his mirror do that. The model tries to get a response but only manages to turn himself on.
Every reviewer has writers they look forward to reading. Jeff Mann and Trebor Healey are friendly acquaintances as well as favorite writers. “Smoke and Semen” (Mann) and “Frazzled” (Healey) made my writer’s heart pang with envy, but as a reader I was, as always, in awe.
Contributions by Natty Soltesz, David May, Robert Patrick, Shane Allison, Tommy Lee “Doc” Boggs, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Thom Wolf, David Holly, Jamie Freeman, Jonathan Kemp, Rob Wolfsham, and Jan Vander Laenen, fill out this anthology. Each is worthy of a read, or two, as you find something that speaks to you.
In the preface and the introduction to Best Gay Erotica 2011, the two editors explain how much the publishing market for male/male "porn" has changed since this annual anthology debuted in the 1990s. Consulting editor Kevin Killian claims:
I came of age in a different world. How different was it? It was so long ago that I wrote a pornographic book without having previously read one, and I acted in a porn film without having ever seen one. I didn't know what I was doing in either case, but thinking about it now, I suppose early on I conflated sex with representation or vice versa.
Killian goes on to quote theorist Jean Baudrillard that in the current age of the internet, “there is no longer any pornography, since it is virtually everywhere.”
Series editor Richard Labonte comments on the demise of raunchy print magazines for gay men, some dating back to the 1970s, where at least one generation of gay-male erotic writers (or writers of gay-male erotica) first aired their fantasies in print.
Both editors ask whether there is still a need for anthologies such as this one in a world where (in Killian's words) "gay sex is fashionable and mainstream." Killian also points out that "sex sells," and it is used to sell every product on the market while distracting the public from social issues such as war and poverty. Both editors come to the conclusion that there is still a place for a book of sex stories that can be privately enjoyed by individual readers.
Amidst the loving descriptions of men's bodies (ripped, powerful or boyish) and cocks (long and slim, short and thick, monstrous, curved, veiny, with and without foreskin), there is actually a lot of discomforting contemporary reality. Although Kevin Killian claims that the U.S. war against Iraq haunts these stories as AIDS haunted gay-male erotica of the 1980s and '90s, the persistent homophobia of mainstream American culture is a clear theme in the stories by American authors, and it heightens the contrast between American culture and that of the stories set elsewhere.
Most of these stories reveal a society in which male-on-male lust is both widespread and denied, where real and virtual male bodies are easy to access (especially on-line or in porn videos), yet where a conservative establishment seeks to force all non-heterosexuals back into the closet, or (preferably) out of existence. While the technology in these stories is different from that of the 1970s, the fear, secrecy and distrust seem unchanged.
"Attackman" by Rob Wolfsham and "Bodies in Motion" by Johnny Murdoc both deal with the sweaty, homoerotic world of school sports. In "Attackman," a skinny skater-boy named Alex likes the crude attention of Max, the star attackman of the school lacrosse team. (Alex is supposedly a nineteen-year-old, but the dynamics between the two boys, the interest of their male English teacher and the constant presence of a Greek chorus of other jocks all reek of mid-adolescence.) Eventually the attackman attacks the school Gay-Straight Alliance in a semi-literate letter to the school paper before attacking Alex, once more, for being a "faggot" and for getting him in trouble with the school administration, which penalizes hate speech. Max can't leave Alex alone, and his motives become clear even to him.
"Bodies in Motion" looks at the love-hate relationship between a school jock and a school geek when both of them return to the same school as a science teacher and an assistant coach. This time, the geek is cautious and distrustful, and the jock feels rebuffed until the two men have an honest talk.
The most gripping depiction of this type of relationship is in "Saving Tobias" by Jeff Mann, a kind of modern-day Walt Whitman who sings the praises of the untamed men of the Virginia mountains. The Tobias of the title is both charismatic and repulsively self-satisfied:
His name befits him. Tobias. It's Hebrew for 'God is good.' God has been good to him indeed. So far. Handsome blond giant, wealthy, talented, powerful, he's as magnificent as Oedipus must have been a few hours before the truth, before the kingly fool thrust the pin of his mother's brooch, his wife's brooch, into his eyes. The truth can do that, certainly. Put out the eyes, splinter the soul, castrate, eviscerate, shatter. The truth is what I bring tonight.
So who is the "I" who stalks Tobias, a homophobic Republican senator? A vampire from the Scottish highlands whose lover was killed before his eyes in 1730. Derek the vampire is a kind of avenging angel who wants to save Tobias from his own ignorance and hatred while showing him the suffering for which Tobias is responsible. And while he's at it, Derek wants Tobias' blood and his ass.
Tobias is horrified when he realizes that his gun can't save him from bondage and worse. The violation of his flesh appears to dramatize Tobias' worst fear, but he eventually reaches the peace he has been unconsciously seeking. Of course, he expresses his surrender in Christian terms.
The theme of an encounter with a beloved enemy continues in several other stories.
"I Sucked Off an Iraqi Sniper" by Natty Soltesz (the title says it all) and "Hump Day" by Dominic Santi show the universal vulnerability of working-class men (however butch they may be) to political and economic forces beyond their control. In both these stories, lust and empathy transcend cultural differences.
In "Shel's Game," the young narrator was originally lured into a Dominant-submissive relationship by the balding, stocky, middle-aged Shel who used a sexy young man as bait. The narrator's first scene with Shel leads to many others which are both humiliating and thrilling. The narrator comes to realize that Shel, whom he ignored at first meeting, knows a few things about how to get him off.
In "Closet Case" by Martin Delacroix, the narrator explains his aversion to hypocrites:
Call me a jerk, but I have a problem with closeted guys, these so-called 'bi-curious' men. Deep inside most are gay, I believe, but they're scared to admit it. So they lead the straight life, looking down on us poor faggots. When the urge strikes they'll sneak off and slum with the queers, but an hour later they're back with the wife and the kids, safe and happy.
When the narrator, who has a fully-equipped "sex room" in his house, picks up a man who claims to be both married and inexperienced with men, the outcome seems predictable. However, there are several twists in this story. Both characters prove themselves to be untrustworthy but more compatible than they first appear.
Limited space does not allow me to describe every story, but each one is memorable in its own way. There are stories by Shaun Levin, Simon Sheppard and Shane Allison here, as well as a disturbing tale by Boris Pintar, translated into English from Slovenian. Remember "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, a classic of southern-gothic fiction often taught in college lit. classes? This story is a gay-male European version.
The anthology begins and ends with two strong stories. It opens with "Beauty #2" by Eric Karl Anderson, about a bug-chasing fan and an AIDS-infected Dom who remains dignified and resolute in decline. The concluding story, "The Last Picture. Show" by James Earl Hardy is a fascinating look at the career of an African-American porn star, seduced away from his original dream of writing the Great American Novel. Instead, he becomes a tragic hero who finds love only to lose it too soon.The sex is this book is fully-described, but it is not a distraction from bigotry, injustice, generation gaps, power-struggles, or misunderstandings. These stories (including Jeff Mann’s vampire story and Shane Allison's dream-montage) tackle reality in all its complexity.
Opening up an anthology from Richard Labonte is like snuggling into a comfortable blanket you’ve had for years. I know exactly what I’m going to get – a quality anthology with solid narratives (and spicy moments, if it’s the yearly Erotica anthology). I was a little surprised to find the introduction – by Paul Russell – talking about editing the anthology. Then I remembered to put my trust in Richard, and read through Paul’s introduction, and was left with the impression I was in for a treat.
Paul Russell’s introduction was wonderful – a reminder of how furtive and lost we gentlemen of a certain age were before the grand invention of the internet. Finding anything gay used to be so impossible. Physical books, magazines, and actual films projected on actual screens were miles away from where many of us were, and even if we were in the grand metropolitan areas we still had to be so careful.
Now the digital gay offerings are huge. Easy. So, Russell asks, why would we still bother with print?
The answer – and the story, and the memories from that story – was a minor delight that was unexpected from an introduction (and I won’t ruin it). Unintentionally or not, the bittersweet tone of the introduction set up a vibe for me that carried throughout the anthology. Not in a bad way – I’m of the opinion that a bittersweet romance (or a bittersweet erotic romance) is one of the harder things to pull off well, but all the hotter for the admixture of potential loss. There’s also a great sense of triumph in the stories – often coming first from a more forlorn place.
I’m not saying that Best Gay Erotica 2013 was sad. There were definitely some fun and flirty stories (“The Farmer’s Son,” by Karl Taggart, made me giggle at its own self-efficacy), but it was in the tales that had that bittersweet yearning that I really found the collection gained cohesion. It’s not often you can say an erotica anthology was moving, but this one was.
No surprise that Jeff Mann’s “Daddy Draden” was so erotically charged with a BDSM flare that walks the line between poetic and visceral – but the aching tone of probable dissolution in the story was stunning. I had to pause and reflect after the story, and felt – as always – a little in awe of Mann’s ability to take his tales to so many different emotional places.
The first story, “The Pasta Closet” by Davem Verne, had a kind of sad victory to it. Again, this didn’t cheapen the story at all – quite the contrary – instead infusing it with a powerful image of those grown men who live in the closet, and those who find ways to give them release.
Not bittersweet, but still on the theme of the passage of time and how things change was Larry Duplechan’s “Big Chest: Confessions of a Tit Man.” I adored this short biopic, and the glimpse into the life of an (to be quite frank) incredibly hot fellow that had more of that sense of triumph to it.
Tom Mendicino’s “A Little Night Music,” and FA Pollard’s “Game Boyz” and Erastes’ “Drug Colors” move through different times and places and – again – these aren’t exactly joyful tales, but they’re erotic, and well put together.
I’ve often said that one of the things about living my gay life openly, of which I am most proud, is being one of the walking wounded. None of us are unscathed, and though I’ll quibble with the oft-spoken “that which does not kill you” platitude, I will say that there’s a real sense of coming through as well as coming out to all of these tales, and I’m glad to have read them. I may need to go find something fluffy and light now, but I certainly don’t regret the time with this anthology in the least.Thank you, Richard and Paul – that was a great collection.
It’s fair to say that most people see change as something inspiring nervousness at the least, or outright fear at the worst. People don’t often do well with change, and people like things to stay the way they are. I think that’s something we queer folk can understand – the oppositions we face are generally built upon that fear: different is scary, change is unwelcome.
So allow me to tell you that there’s a major change with Best Gay Erotica 2014, and that you shouldn’t fear anything.
Richard Labonté is a literary hero of mine. The man has been at the helm of the Best Gay Erotica titles since 1995, and I’ve long known that any anthology I pick up where Richard has had a hand involved is going to be a good one. More, I’ve been lucky enough to work with him a few times, and every time his guidance as an editor has been fantastic. Cracking open a Labonté book is a happy habit, and one I’ve grown accustomed to.
Richard has hung up his hat for the series as of this anthology.
I read that in the introduction by Larry Duplechan with my mouth a bit open. In my head I was still stuck at the notion that Richard Labonté wouldn’t be leading me through the anthology, and it took a bit to get past. I gave myself that moment, then read the rest of the introduction.
I’ve read Larry Duplechan in more than a few anthologies, and I know to expect great things from his stories, and by the time I got into a few of the tales in the anthology, that knot of worry about change had unraveled, and I was happily enjoying the collection that Duplechan has built. Moreover, the judge for the collection is none other than Joe Mannetti, which definitely strikes the right tone, no?
This anthology, like the many Best Gay Erotica titles that have come before, has a solid mix of well-known writers and new (or new-to-me) authors. There’s a real range present, and I was quite happy to see that range get some really fresh takes.
“The Piñata Conquest” springs to mind here. Boot LS puts together a really fun scenario here, and fans of spanking and bondage will all have a good time with this story of a fellow who is made to endure the gang-spanking (and reward thereafter).
Some of the stories drive a straight line (pardon the pun), such as “The Power Man,” by Lee Hitt, which involves a blackout and a hot electrician flipping all the right switches, but even those straightforward tales of men hooking up in moments of kismet are enjoyable and well-written.
In fact, I found myself smiling through many of these stories. There’s even a lovely conversation-free comic mid-way through the book, “Everybody’s Doing It,” by Dale Lazarov (script) and Jason A. Quest (art) that is sure to make you smile – the ending is nigh upon heartwarming.
Similarly, my day-job in the mall made Huck Pilgrim’s “Five Finger Discount” chuckle-worthy, with a hunk of a mall-cop and a petty thief getting his come-uppance in more ways than one. If only the mall-cops in my mall looked that edible.
None of these stories are misses. Fans of threesomes (and moresomes), bondage, hairy fellas or smooth fellas, hook-ups and long-term relationships, and lovers of a fine range of kink are all going to find something here, and it’s all done with a strong eye for flow and cadence of the tales in the greater whole.
Am I sad to say goodbye to Richard Labonté? Of course. It feels like the end of an era to me, and if it wasn’t for Richard championing the first collection in which I ever had a story printed to Cleis Press, I doubt I’d have even begun my own writing career. I’ll probably always have a wee pang at the lack of his name on the cover of this beloved series. But change doesn’t have to be scary or a bad thing at all. And Larry Duplechan proves that beyond a doubt with his debut turn at Best Gay Erotica 2014.
Give him a hearty welcome. It’s obvious he cares about the job.
Maybe I’m jaded from reading so much erotica for so many years. Or maybe the Best Lesbian Erotica series, compiled every year since 1995, has set me up to expect every story to be brave, experimental, poignant or multi-faceted.
Whatever it is, the latest edition seems to have an excessively high ratio of sex scenes to plot, character development and settings. Of course, you could say. It’s erotica. In all fairness, these stories are well-written. In this sense, the series consistently lives up to its title of Best Lesbian Erotica, if “best” means written by competent professionals to produce the desired effects.
Here is my beef, as far as I can explain it in words: things have changed.
When the series was launched in the mid-1990s, graphic descriptions of lesbian sex were harder to find than descriptions of sex between men and women, or men and men. Sex involving transgendered folks was rarely even imagined. (To a large extent, this is still true.) As Tristan Taormino, original series editor, explained in her first introduction, references to lesbian sex before that point were characterized by euphemistic lines like the famous description of the consummation of a lesbian love affair in The Well of Loneliness (1928): “And that night, they were not divided.”
In 1995, detailed accounts of what could be done to stimulate, tease, torment or satisfy women’s most sensitive parts were a fairly radical thing even in a heterosexual context. When the graphic sex was woman-to-woman (or when it involved more than two female bodies), it was downright revolutionary. Anyone who remembered the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s was blown away by the vulgar, joyful, “male” (according to some feminist definitions) energy of this stuff, yet it was clearly not written by males. For one thing, the erotica in the Best Lesbian Erotica series showed a knowledge of female anatomy that few male writers (who are not also medical doctors or transmen) seemed to have. This writing looked like a message straight from the clits of the Amazon Nation. Or maybe from the g-spots.
The high-energy, high-impact quality of the erotica in this series has been maintained, but erotica has diversified since the 1990s. Probably more to the point, explicit sex has slithered into relatively “mainstream” fiction, including lesbian novels and short stories. “Mary fucked Sue” (and/or vice versa) is no longer the kind of plot which would get a lesbian writer kicked out of every lesbian-feminist community as well as her blood family.
I love the Best Lesbian Erotica series, and I have felt deeply honored to have my stories included in past volumes (in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009). However, it becomes painfully obvious over time that there are only so many ways to describe female plumbing and the things that can be done to or with it. Lesbians have sex, and we also have lives. My favorite lesbian fiction is the kind that acknowledges what sex is like in a complex, real-world context – or on Planet X.
In short, I would like to see a little more depth and diversity in the lesbian erotica of the second decade of the 21st century. I’ve probably been spoiled.
To give an example of the sexual descriptions in this collection, here is part of a scene from “Hot Yoga” by Anne Grip, a story that moves from a yoga session to a sex club:
The next thrust was so deep it made her scream. Or sing. Or cry. Tears poured down her face. Or snot. Or lube. Or come.
The theme of we-shouldn’t-do-this-but-we-can’t-help-it runs through several stories, including the ironically-named “Vacation” by Ali Oh, in which the lovers must be discreet in an overcrowded family home:
She doesn’t do this, not in her mom’s house. After a whirlwind of movement, I’m perched on the counter tiles, boxers on but stretched to allow her mouth. She wrenches my legs apart and pushes me against the cabinets. Her head is between my legs and I grab a handful of her hair as my blood heats up, and I feel myself get wetter as her tongue circles my clit, as she flicks languidly up and down, over my slit.
In story after story, women burn, melt, thrust, gush, gasp, stretch and scream. Reading this book is like watching a sex show combined with an opera. As in past editions, several contributors to this one are performance artists, and it shows.
The most memorable stories in this volume contain something besides (or instead of) uncontrollable lust. The opening story, “Touched” by Amy Butcher is a brilliant take on a standard “coming out” trope: the schoolgirl crush. There is no sex at all here, if “sex” means genital contact, yet one girl feels as touched by divine energy as Saint Teresa of Avila, and the reader believes her.
“Blood Lust” by Giselle Renarde features a mysterious woman whose back is as covered in graffiti as a bathroom wall, all cut into her flesh. She shows the narrator how to add her own mark without leaving a single drop of blood on the carpet. This scene looks like an acting-out of the impossible deal in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: the merchant owes the moneylender a pound of his flesh as collateral, but the merchant’s clever female lawyer (disguised as a man, of course) points out that the contract doesn’t allow for the spilling of blood. In the world of Renarde’s story, pains morphs into pleasure, and the unbelievable becomes real.
Speaking of female blood, “Skin Deep” by Anna Watson is a realistic look at that touchiest of lesbian characters: a butch having her period. She doesn’t want to talk about it, but her understanding friend-with-benefits knows what she needs.
There is a refreshing amount of humor in some of these stories. “The Produce Queen” by Michelle Brennan is a lightweight anecdote about a woman’s fondness for raw vegetables. It’s not a new topic, but the author has a deft touch.
“Maid for You” by Deborah Castellano and “On My Honor” by D.L. King are entertaining scenes starring service submissives. In Castellano’s story, the “maid” is a friend-of-a-friend who shows up unexpectedly like a fairy godmother who materializes to relieve the narrator’s stress after a day of work, and in D.L. King’s story, the submissive has gone to a sex club on “uniform” theme night dressed as a Girl Scout.
“Never Too Old” by DeJay is the last story in the book, and it perfectly complements “Touched.” In DeJay’s hilarious romp, a sixty-year-old butch is taken aback when her “wife” of over thirty years discovers the world of sex toys.
On a more serious note, Sharon Wachsler’s “When You Call” is a subtly heartbreaking story about a disabled woman’s realistic fear of being left (again), and the patience of her committed lover. “How He Likes It” by Xan West, “Envy” by Lulu Laframboise and “Neck Magic” by Nancy Irwin are meditations on the emotional complexities of BDSM.
But if you like your lesbian erotica focused on a steady, uncomplicated climb to an earth-shattering orgasm (or several), there are plenty of hot quickies here. The one-handed stories work perfectly well. They might even work better for some readers than the more nuanced stories I prefer.
This annual anthology remains the gold standard of the genre.
Best Lesbian Erotica is an annual anthology first launched by Cleis Press of San Francisco in 1995 to fill a gap in the published erotica of the time. This year’s edition includes fresh stories with the hallmarks of the series: much sensory description, including juicy metaphors and a high concentration of explicit sex, gender-play, and more-or-less realistic plots (few fairy godmothers or other supernatural elements and no guaranteed happy endings).
As this year's guest editor explains in her introduction, these stories are a departure from a certain school of lesbian erotica, especially poetry, which sprang from the lesbian-feminism of the 1970s and was loaded with "tons of dolphin and mango imagery." There is not a dolphin or a mango in sight here, nor do any of the characters in Best Lesbian Erotica resemble cats or flowers: two other worn-out cliches in lesbian written and visual erotic art.
Several of these stories blend intense sex (often with a Dominant/submissive flavor) with vividly-described physical and cultural settings into a gestalt which is greater than the sum of its parts and which seamlessly combines plausible action with symbolism. Certain stories feature specific settings which are integral to the general effect.
Catherine Lundoff's "Spoonbridge and Cherry" (reprinted from her own lesbian story collection, Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing) is about a three-dyke sexual adventure on a whimsical, giant sculptural image of a spoon with a cherry, designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen for an outdoor sculpture garden in Minneapolis.
Isa Coffey's "The Bridge," despite having an over-used title, is a fiercely distinct description of an encounter in a car on the Coronado Bay Bridge in San Diego, which seems to have a magically aphrodisiac quality. The two women in the car are a white femme and a black butch who passionately explore each other’s limits before they learn each other’s names, and they are soon joined by a police officer and two interested onlookers. The excessiveness of the multi-woman pileup on the bridge is made convincing by the narrator's response to the sounds of traffic, the full moon above and the restless water below.
Aimee Pearl's ironically-named "Where the Rubber Meets the Road" is about the allure of rubber and leather at the Folsom Street Fair in September in San Francisco. In keeping with the setting (a daytime display of fetish and BDSM paraphernalia, available to all onlookers), Pearl’s story is about playful exhibitionism and experimentation, not high-stakes challenges or compulsions.
"And the Stars Never Rise" by Missy Leach takes place in the media-conscious culture of West Hollywood; it involves being stalked, “hosed” (secretly photographed without one’s consent) and photographed in a sexually-compromising situation as punishment. It would work well as an X-rated episode of “The L Word”, the lesbian soap opera set in Los Angeles.
D.L. King's "A New York Story" is a haunting tale (literally), set in a brownstone in the Greenwich Village of yesteryear, and it refers to a history of closeted lesbian desire. The building, which feels like home to a single woman who lives there for most of her adult life is essential to a relationship which could actually last forever, in extreme contrast with the immediate, get-it-while-you-can flavor of the tricks in many of the other stories.
Peggy Munson's "The Storm Chasers" is set in an atmospheric small town where Pennsylvania meets Ohio, where Amish teenagers plunge into a "storm" of extreme sexual experience during "Rumspringa ('running around'),” described as: “the window of time when they can break the Amish rules before deciding if they want to get baptized."
Munson's stories have appeared in Best Lesbian Erotica every year since 1998, and her style has come to seem characteristic of the series. Here she demonstrates her ability to capture characters in a few deft sentences by describing Ellie, an Amish girl hell-bent on worldly knowledge, from the viewpoint of the baby dyke who wants her:
". . . suddenly, she puts the tip of her sneaker over mine, rubbing the rubber together. Burn, I think. Burn rubber. I'm thinking about masturbating in my bedroom with the plastic handle of this big pink makeup brush I fuck myself with, listening to albums she has never heard: I want to bring her into my world. But we just stay there, poured into molds of ourselves hardening, our breathing startled by its perpetuity."
These girls are simultaneously rebellious and representative of their generation and their backgrounds. Like the other characters in this volume, they want more than simple sexual release, and they are more than their demographics.
As usual, several other veterans and rising stars of lesbian erotica are here: Rachel Kramer Bussel, Radclyffe (owner of Bold Strokes Books, a lesbian press), Betty Blue, L. Elise Bland (Mistress Elise, former pro-domme and stripper from Texas), D. Alexandria, Shanna Germain, Jacqueline Applebee, Alicia E. Goranson, Roxy Katt, Tamai Kobayashi, A. Lizbeth Babcock, Valerie Alexander, Anna Watson. Amazingly, several other stories in this volume are first publications by novice erotic writers with talent. Each story has its own appeal, and all deserve to be carefully read—assuming that readers can be intellectually pleased by the kind of fiction which is intended to distract the mind.
Best Lesbian Erotica has spawned imitative series from other publishers and helped to inspire the cross-fertilization of lesbian fiction in various genres (erotica, romance, mystery, suspense, fantasy, sci-fi, history, biography, etc). These stories can’t satisfy every taste or adequately address every issue that arises in real-life lesbian social space, and some readers would undoubtedly have made different selections from the mass of submissions which pour onto Tristan Taormino’s desk every year. However, the series continues to be innovative and genuine, and the stories tackle the raw, messy stuff of lesbian life with exceptional literary skill. Ya gotta read this stuff.
Best Lesbian Erotica ’09 is to be the final collection of lesbian-focused erotica to come from under Tristan Taormino’s editorship. Taormino founded the Best Lesbian Erotica series back in 1995 and has repeatedly thrilled readers with short stories from a collection of gifted writers who can best be described as world-class. Best Lesbian Erotica ’09 is no exception and, once again, she presents an anthology of stories that are hot, heady and filled with all the thrills that readers have come to expect.
The anthology kicks off with Jean Casse’s splendid story “The Virgin of G.” “The Virgin of G” explores a relationship between a couple from different religious backgrounds. Ordinarily religion can drive a couple apart but Jean Casse uses it in this vibrant and vivid story to bring her protagonists closer together.
Lisabet Sarai’s “Velvet” is a wicked tale of attraction and satisfaction at a software convention. Lisabet has the ability to bring her characters to life and present them in glorious and rich detail. This story of headhunting, seduction and burgeoning romance is as typically exquisite as is to be expected from the divine Lisabet.
The inimitable Shanna Germain, “On Snow-White Wings,” is equally capable when it comes to pushing all the right buttons. “On Snow-White Wings” is the bittersweet story of love found and lost and replaced by hope. Powerful writing.
Jean Roberta does not usually approach her erotic scenes in a way that can be described as “gingerly.” However, with her excellent story, “The Placement of Modifiers,” it’s fair to use that word as a vague description without giving too much away.
Teresa Noelle Roberts’, “Tough Enough to Wear a Dress,” reveals a tender story that remains hot and horny whilst addressing the artificial differences we all employ through our choice of clothes.
The thing that always startles me with these collections is that they are such an undiscovered talent of treasure. I have had many friends say to me, “Why are you reading a book of lesbian erotica when you’re not a lesbian?” (NB – They don’t use these exact words. I’m paraphrasing for the sake of clarity).
Most of the people I’ve encountered (that is, those people who haven’t read any of the Best Lesbian Erotica anthologies) assume that the stories within are either a collection of lurid masturbatory fantasies or a canon of extreme feminist propaganda.
The truth is, the Best Lesbian Erotica series is (and has always been) a collection of outstanding stories told by outstanding storytellers. It’s true that the focus is on lesbian relationships and the erotic content is invariably arousing. It’s also true that the stories lend themselves to positive feminist criticism because the absence of traditional male roles in these erotic stories leads to a direct usurpation of the stereotypical male taking over his supreme position in the narrative’s patriarchal hegemony. But that doesn’t mean the anthologies are nothing more than lurid sex stories. And no honest connoisseur of these collections could dismiss them as pro-feminist propaganda.
If you’re unfamiliar with Best Lesbian Erotica, rush out now and order your copy. If you are familiar with the series, convert a friend by buying them the latest edition. Good storytelling is always an absolute. Good storytelling transgresses the arbitrary conventions of typical gender roles. Best Lesbian Erotica ‘09 shows exactly what good storytelling looks like.
There is an awful lot contained within the pages of Best Lesbian Erotica ’09. This is a wonderful collection of girl-on-girl stories that will warm the winter for every reader and start 2009 with a very enjoyable bang. The only problem I can see is that Taormino has raised the bar pretty high for when Kathleen Warnock takes over this series with Best Lesbian Erotica ’10.
This annual anthology, originally edited by Tristan Taormino and a consulting editor, is now edited by Kathleen Warnock and a consulting editor. This year, the guest editors are the three members of an all-female band, BETTY. As Kathleen Warnock explains in her introduction:
How did I get here? I knew Tristan when we were both starting out as writers, and on the downtown New York city queer and women's rock/literary/whatever scenes. I bought copies of her 'zine Pucker Up, and thought I might try to write some of that lesbian erotica stuff. . .
In that monumentally creative downtown scene, I sometimes ran into Tristan at a popular lesbian rock party called Fragglerock, where woman-fronted and all-girl bands were featured, and fabulous musicians played in all-star pickup bands, doing tributes to their godmothers and godfathers. One night, I watched Elizabeth Ziff of the band BETTY lead a Queen tribute that included about forty people doing a cover of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' with a full chorus.
Ya had to be there, I'm sure. Series editor Kathleen goes on to explain why she invited BETTY to choose the stories for this edition of Best Lesbian Erotica:
Songwriters have the task of telling a life or a moment in a couple of dozen lines. It's a form that requires form, as well as style, craft, tempo, rhythm and talent to pull it off successfully. So I approached Elizabeth (who had moved on to work on a television show you may have heard of: The L Word), and she told me she was being treated for breast cancer, and recommended her sister, Amy. And, well, if you've got Elizabeth and Amy, you've got to have Alyson.
Later in the introduction, the editor notes
a strong international wave of submissions this year: this volume contains the work of writers from Ireland, Australia, Sweden, France and Germany (as well as someone who lives in my neighborhood).
Introductions like this always leave me with mixed feelings. Incestuous relationships among creative types who are all in the same "scene," however defined, shouldn't shock anyone. And lesbians who have been "out" for more than one relationship are aware of belonging to an army of ex-lovers; sometimes it seems as if every one of us is less than six degrees (i.e. six dykes) away from every other one of us.
But still, can a New York editor who inherited the position from another New York editor and who shared the honor with a local band honestly claim that the series has an international scope?
When Kathleen Warnock first experienced BETTY in the 1980s, much of the soundtrack of this reviewer’s life was provided by a three-woman band from the Canadian prairies, where I live. They were/are known for their beautiful harmonies, and their song, "The Woman Warrior," was at one time an anthem for Canadian lesbian-feminists. But it seems unlikely that they will ever be asked to guest-edit an anthology such as Best Lesbian Erotica. I’m just saying.
Now I've said all that, I'll admit that no one's taste is objective. By definition, taste involves discrimination. The stories in this year's BLE are all competently-written, as usual, but otherwise they are a mixed bag of cliches, poetic but porny descriptions of sex with a near-absence of plot, fabulous topical humor, witty fantasy, insightful realism, and spiritual allegory.
My favorite stories in this collection are by previous contributors to the series. "Jubilee" by Betty Blue is an atmospheric piece about a backwoods preacher, a "passing" butch who attracts women as honey attracts bees. Ruby, a juicy blonde damsel in distress, asks the Reverend for salvation, and her prayer is answered. The plot twist at the end surprises both the reader and the Reverend, who is reminded (like us) that everyone has a secret.
Probably the most memorable story (because it is the most unusual in this context) is "Uppercasing" by Charlie Anders, a San Francisco writer who chronicles (or satirizes, if that's possible) the local genderqueer/postmodern performance art scene. This story first appeared in Fucking Daphne: Mostly True Stories and Fictions (Seal Press, 2008). In this comic story, a farm girl from New Jersey named Daphne Gottlieb goes to San Francisco to find "herself," and finds a performance artist by the same name who takes her under her wing.
The more famous Daphne explains "uppercasing" to her protegee:
'We're all born with normal capitalization, but our task in life is to create the block-caps versions of ourselves. And most people never even try. Most people stay mostly lowercase, their whole lives.'
The narrator (the more lowercase Daphne) asks "if she had succeeded in becoming DAPHNE GOTTLIEB. . . But she said no."
In order to help her namesake achieve an uppercase identity, the narrator consents to be tattooed, exposed, bound and fucked in various public places as a kind of doppelganger or other-half of her mentor. Daphne the mentor, however, teaches the narrator to expect the unexpected.
"Self-Reflection" by Tobi Hill-Meyer is a powerful fantasy about a transwoman's encounter with her future self. The catalyst that brings the future self into the present narrator's life isn't explicitly described, but by the end of the story, it seems clear that the narrator is less likely to commit suicide. While relationships between aspects of the same person are often presented as dangerous expressions of narcissism, this one is literally life-saving.
On a slightly more realistic level is "Blood Ties" by Alex Tucci, about a lifelong, near-incestuous attraction which is finally consummated after a wise mother-figure has written a prophetic letter to be read after her death.
"Lives of the Saints" by Holly Farris is a hilarious surrealistic look at a sexual fetish which is parallel to a traditional Catholic fetish for virginity as a sign of spiritual purity. On the feast day of an obscure female saint, the saint and her lover/tormentor show up in the kitchen of a troubled modern dyke to give her a message.
These are the stories I will probably remember long after writing this review. Then there is a set of lush, lyrical sex fantasies on familiar themes: sex at different times of day ("The Rendezvous Series" by Colleen C. Dunphy), first-time lesbian encounters ("In the Sauna" by Stella Watts Kelley and "Tasting Chantal" by D.L. King), a fantasy in Home Depot about a handywoman ("The Kitchen Light" by Nicole Wolfe), multi-person trysts ("Shameless" by two authors, Kymberlyn Reed and Anais Morten, "Thanksgiving" by Molly Bloom), a travelogue about dykes-on-bikes before Stonewall ("Girona, 1960" by Stella Sandburg), a tale of seduction in a library by a wheelchair-bound narrator ("Pinup" by Vanessa Vaughn), a story about the eroticism of hair ("Brush Strokes" by Elizabeth Cage), one about a kind of role-reversal ("Ridden" by Natt Nightly), one about sex on camera/film ("Flick Chicks" by Allison Wonderland), and one about a mysterious woman who could be a stalker, a phantom or a hallucination ("The Purple Gloves" by Gala Fur, translated from the French).
"From the Halls of Montezuma" centers on the narrator's intense, immediate reaction to a butch stripper who performs in the uniform of the U.S. Marines with a more traditionally femme counterpart in a club before turning her attention to the narrator. This fantasy is well-paced, well-written and satisfying for all the characters, including the narrator's supportive friends.
Like other stories set in specific locations or cultures, however, this one seems to need a footnote. I wonder how many readers outside the U.S. would recognize the title as part of the anthem of the United States Marines ("From the halls of Montezu-uma/To the shores of Tripoli/We will fight our country's ba-attles/On the land and on the sea").
Erotic stories with very specific references have their own charm; they can appeal to readers who have been there as well as to those who haven’t, and who therefore find the setting, the culture or the kink exotic. People have specific kinds of sex in particular contexts, and the context can be crucial. However, the references need to be clear to the intended readership.
The two stories I would have eliminated from this anthology are "Sexting: One Side of a Two-Way" by Kelsy Chauvin and "Amy's First Lesson" by Dani M. The latter is a traditional classroom fantasy in which a young university instructor shows her baby-dyke student the ropes. This story shows promise, but this ground has often been covered before, and with more style (if the fantasy is obvious wish-fulfillment) or more complexity (if the story is presented as realistic). "Sexting" is essentially one side of a generic telephone conversation. Future editions of BLE might well include evocative stories of encounters or relationships told in text-messages, but this one looks like a script that simply falls flat on the page.Best Lesbian Erotica continues to be one of the better annual "best of" anthologies. As a series, it is still deliciously ground-breaking (as in "the earth moved") and trendsetting, but not everything in it meets the same standard.
Where to start discussing this collection of goodies?
Normally, I review the Best Gay Erotica release and Jean Roberta reads Best Lesbian Erotica, but this year we switched to keep things interesting. While Jean probably has some nice things to say about Best Gay Erotica, I'm so glad that I got to read this.
As I read through an anthology, I bend down the page of a story that interests me. When I read the final story of Best Lesbian Erotica, nearly every story was marked by a bent page. That should tell you that Best means something in this case; it's not just a title. I read a lot of erotica. I get burned out. And yet, page after page in this book is marked.
So again, where do I start to discuss this anthology? Do I mention the anticipation of reading the contributions by Xan West (“My Precious Whore”), Sinclair Sexsmith (“A Quick Fuck in a Shadowed Corner”), or Catherine Lundoff (“Tree Hugger”) when I see their names in the table of contents? And oh, how they delivered. Xan and Sinclair each have a talent for powerful sexual imagery in hot dominance scenes. Catherine's forest ranger was the right balance of authority and down to earth sensuality, but the narrator got a huge smile from me for keeping her focus on what mattered to her.
As mentioned in the forward, many of the stories in this year's anthology feature butch/femme couples. Is there anyone as endearing as a sweet butch under the spell of a hot femme? Giselle Renarde's “Pointed Nails and Puppy Dog Tails” is laugh out loud funny with some hot foot worship by a rockabilly goddess, while in DL King's “Walk Like a Man,” it's the rockabilly boi who gets taken for a ride in his cherry 1958 Mercury Park Lane by a femme who knows what she wants.
In Kiki DeLovely's “The Third Kiss,” a woman uses social media to seduce the woman sitting across the table from her in a coffee shop. Is this a comment on how we're losing the ability to look someone in the eyes and talk to them? Or is this just the latest spin on the fine art of love letters? Is standing under a balcony really all that different from sending an instant message? Maybe the language changes, but in the end, conquest is conquest.
I must mention Betty Blue's “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” In a short story, it's hard to build a fantasy world, but Betty Blue manages to do it in style with a tale of a cross dressing girl and the exotic dancer she loves to watch. Rich in detail, with a hot sex scene, this tale will enthrall lovers of the fantasy genre and maybe convert a few readers too.
Do you want more? Yes, there's so much more. Artists, women in uniform, a tantalizing glimpse into life in India, basketball, ex-sex, latex, desire, love, and lust. How can you not love this book? Two thumbs way up.
Contributions by Renee Strider, Anamika, Xan West, Kiki DeLovely, Betty Blue, Sinclair Sexsmith, Kristy Logan, Kenzie Mathews, Giselle Renarde, Charlotte Dare, D.L. King, Theda Hudon, Nairne Holtz, Catherine Lundoff, Gala Fur, Sarah Ellen, Rachel Charman, Erica Gimpelevich, Heidi Champa, and A.D.R. Forte.
Oh, I am a happy reader tonight! Best Lesbian Erotica 2013 sits on my Kindle, just finished, and I’m in the warm afterglow of some great stories. How to choose which ones to talk about?
I’ll admit to being a flat out sucker for stories like “La Caida” by Anna Meadows, “Homecoming” by Anamika, and “Crave” by Fiona Zedde that take me to other landscapes so rich in sensual delights that I can smell the air and the food. I share a longing for older butch women as the narrator in Sonya Herzog’s “I Have a Thing for Butches,” or younger butches with active imaginations as in Penny Gyokeres’ “Morning Commute.”
If you’re in a more reflective mood, “She Never Wears Perfume” by Sid March is lovely. “The Invitation” by Maggie Veness also evokes longing, but not quite as melancholy. “Daffodils” by Sally Bellerose is sort of also about lost love but the part that enchanted me was the recognition that even comfortable sex with a longtime lover can be renewing.
As much as I enjoyed the offerings in BLE this year, my two favorite stories were, surprisingly, paranormal tales. It’s so difficult to world build in a short story but both “Woman-Time,” by Rebecca Lynne Fullan and the unusual but effective “Underskirts” by Kirsty Logan managed to create wonderfully evocative tales.Every year I wonder how the Best of Collections are going to measure up, but with the guest editors helping to choose stories a theme always emerges that makes it a very different experience each time. Once again, Kathleen Warnock has brought together an anthology worth your attention.
One of the wonders of Best Lesbian Erotica is the range of women depicted in these stories: Desi, black, white, femme, butch, cancer survivors and disabled, skater girls and knitters – even skater girls who knit. What unites this disparate group of folks is desire and hot sex.
Since this is a Best Of anthology, there’s really no such thing as a bad story here. It depends on your taste. Do you want an unlikeable narrator who gets hers? Try Sharon Wachsler’s “Imaging.” Like BDSM? Xan West’s “What I Need” is intense, while DL King’s “Big Lesbo Cupcakery” is told with a lighter heart. Or maybe you like intense longing of the heart along with the sex, in which case I recommend “Run, Jo, Run” by the always good Cheyenne Blue or “Stich and Bitch” by A. L. Simonds.I’ll admit I was hesitant about the last entry, “Mommy Is Coming” by Sarah Schulman and Cheryl Dunye because it was in screenplay format, but it’s more readable than I thought it would be and it definitely evokes visuals.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Marcy Sheiner published the first Best of Best Women’s Erotica. “Best of the Best” is one hell of an accolade to foist upon anyone’s shoulders and I honestly don’t envy Violet Blue having to judge which stories from the Best Women’s Erotica series should be placed in the compilation title Best of Best Women’s Erotica. Yet Ms Blue has managed this task with style and aplomb and I can’t see any stories in this collection that don’t deserve such elevated praise.
The collection is prefaced by a highly personal introduction from the editor, which is as arousing and well-paced as any of the stories included. It then moves onto Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Animals”: a tour-de-force encounter that celebrates the physicality of sex in a powerhouse rush of literate erotica. This is followed by Kristina Wright’s “Call Me,” an obscene phone call that successfully uses dialogue to impart conflicting ideals of taboo-breaking and arousal. And then there’s Teresa Noelle Roberts’ “Voice of an Angel” which imbues a deliciously unreal sexuality and passion to baroque opera.
I could go on, listing author after author, and producing an incredibly dull review that is the antithesis to an incredibly exciting collection. Instead, I want to focus on two stories that highlight the diversity of this anthology whilst illustrating its phenomenal power to consistently arouse. The titles are “Heat” by Elizabeth Coldwell, and “Chill” by Kathleen Bradean.
“Heat” is a story of sultry, smoldering passions. Coldwell writes with graphic intensity that hurtles the reader toward the satisfying conclusion of this sweat-fuelled fantasy. The simmering tension between the central characters is exemplified by the following extract:
When I think of Ian, I think of heat. The heat of the sticky days of summer and sweaty sheets. The heat of the flame that draws in the moth. The heat of passion, and shame. I think of that sultry August night, and the things he did tome, and I still hate him—and I still want him.
Coldwell’s story is written to inflame. The story produces a warmth of welcome arousal as well as the uncomfortable glow of embarrassment. It’s an erotic encounter that many will find reminiscent of tasting forbidden fruits: a discovery that the flavor is so delicious it should be forbidden.
This contrasts with Bradean’s treatment of arousal in “Chill.” Here the story dwells on a single and uncommon fetish. The fetish, as suggested by the title, includes an extensive use of ice cubes and an emotional distancing that enhances the story’s powerful premise.
It wasn’t healthy, this thing, this need. I’d go for months without it, and then I’d be on the phone with a client, or at dinner with friends, and I’d yearn for the cold. Thinking about it would make my breasts ache. I’d cross and uncross my legs, and fidget in my chair. Sometimes, I’d take an ice cube from my drink, put it into my mouth, and excuse myself to the ladies room, where I’d rub the cube against my clit until I came. Then I’d smooth down my clothes and take my seat, and no one would ever guess. But it was never a really good orgasm. It was a shadow, a knockoff, a little something to see me through.
Bradean’s use of language is as cold and clinical as the fetish that drives her protagonist. The story employs such intense description it blends the heat of arousal with the chill of the fetish, accumulating in unprecedented peaks and troughs of physicality.
And I mention these two stories because they show the perfect balance Violet Blue has achieved in this anthology—selecting stories that can warm the reader, or chill them to the core—without losing sight of the focus that these stories are written to arouse.
There are other stories in this collection, and a collection of respected names from the genre including Kristina Lloyd, Donna George Storey and Kay Jaybee, all of whom deserve their place in a collection entitled Best of Best. If you don’t regularly subscribe to the annual collection of Best Women’s Erotica, you’d be foolish to miss out on the Best of Best Women’s Erotica 2.
This is the second compilation of stories from five years of the annual Best Women's Erotica series. Considering the flood of story submissions that are sent to the editor each year, and the number of published stories that found their way into all the volumes from 2006 through 2010, choosing stories for Best of Best Women's Erotica 2 must have been a challenge.
In general, these stories are polished and effective in delivering sexual frisson in a variety of styles. However, this reviewer prefers two editors to one for anthologies like this: a series editor for continuity and a consulting editor for a different viewpoint. Two heads together would have interpreted “best” less subjectively.
The anthology opens with "Animals" by Rachel Kramer Bussel. In this story, the female narrator tells the man in her life that she wants to be treated like an animal. He responds beyond her expectations:
With just his bare hands, he became an animal for me, one who wouldn't take no for an answer because he didn't even speak any language, let alone English. He became exactly what I hadn't known I needed until then, his paws digging at me, burrowing deep inside, stretching not only my pussy but my boundaries as he bit and dug and pinched and thrust.
This story sets the tone for the collection, which is not exactly leather or noir but is beyond sweet romance. Kathleen Bradean's story, "Chill," is one of the more extreme fantasies here, since it focuses on necrophilia. (Luckily, no characters are actually killed in this story.) It is told by a female narrator who wants to be the succulent corpse herself, if only temporarily.
"Call Me" by Kristina Wright and "Voice of an Angel" by Teresa Noelle Roberts are both about the erotic appeal of the human voice. In "Call Me," a woman who thinks she is making an "obscene call" to her boyfriend learns that she is seducing a stranger. The mutual attraction between her and her "wrong number" seems likely to create complications in her formerly monogamous relationship.
In "Voice of an Angel," the female character is a costume designer who must design perfectly-fitting breeches for a male opera singer, a countertenor with the kind of high but powerful voice that used to be characteristic of castrati, singers who were mutilated as young boys to prevent their voices from deepening. Despite stereotyped assumptions about men with high voices, Daniel the singer is attracted to Jessie, the costume designer who must touch him during fittings. While she is thrilled by his sexual attention, she can't reach the release she wants until he sings for her.
The fine-art theme continues in "Just Watch Me, Rodin" by Cate Robertson, in which an artist pushes his model further and further for his art, and she shows him that she can deliver all that he could want. In "Amy" by Heidi Champa, a Dominant man torments his former lover by sending her DVDs that record the submission of other women.
In "Rear Window" by Scarlett French, (a reference to the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller by the same name) a woman who has just moved into a new city apartment is inspired by the sight of two men in another apartment. Apparently they are tricks, not established lovers, and the thrill of discovery extends to the witness, or voyeuse. In "The Upper Hand" by Saskia Walker, an older woman discovers that a group of young college-age lads has been spying on her, and she resolves to make them pay.
On the theme of voyeurism, or one-sided fantasizing, "Another Assignation with Charles Bonnet" takes a woman's fascination with a man she doesn't know to the ultimate extreme. She is determined to find him again by his smell alone, and she succeeds.
On the theme of literary or cultural allusion, "Fly" by Valerie Alexander is a brilliantly sexual interpretation of that classic children's story, Peter Pan. In this version, Peter is an irresponsible boy who kidnaps the virginal Wendy from her bedroom, watched by Tiger Lily, a completely different kind of girl, the one he has overlooked. By kidnapping Wendy, (who really doesn't mind) Tiger Lily is able to lure Peter into a confrontation. The magic trick of "flying" in the original story takes on another meaning:
What I want, she [Tiger Lily] thinks, is to fly. And then it's happening, his cock pushes into the initial tightness of her pussy, demanding and inexorable yet torturously slow.. . Already she's beginning to throb as they start to thrust, his heat and his hardness driving her up and up into blinding wet bliss, and then they're really fucking, faster and faster until at last Tiger Lily is flying.
Erotic punishment is predictable in a collection like this. "Becky" by Kay Jaybee is a classic BDSM fantasy about an office where female employees are spanked by their male boss. "Penalty Fare" by Jacqueline Applebee is a more unusual story about a rushed, clandestine encounter on a train, the female passenger's penalty for boarding without a ticket. "Cruising" by Lee Cairney is an atmospheric story about anonymous sex in the dark woods where a woman is not supposed to invade the local gay-male "cruising" area.
My least favorite story (based strictly on personal taste) is "Heat" by Elizabeth Coldwell. If "Becky" is a fun fantasy about erotic pain and humiliation on the job, Coldwell's story is a grittier and more realistic version. In this story, the narrator is working in a pub during an unusually hot summer. In the absence of the easy-going owner, a hardass manager arrives and immediately warns the two barmaids that he will not tolerate any slacking off, and he will be watching them. As the heat and the tension mount, they both come to hate his contemptuous scrutiny, yet the narrator can't help wishing he would fuck her. When she gets her wish, nothing changes between them. He is still the boss, and he makes it clear that he doesn't consider her special. He doesn't give her any promises (or contact information) before he leaves, yet afterward, she seeks him out in all the places where he might be working. Urggh. This story is all too believable, and this is a tribute to the author's descriptive skill.
Another story that disappoints, although it is effective in its own way, is the mysterious "Lost at Sea" by "Peony." The narrator begins with questions:
Has it been that long? The clocks and the calendars are conspiring once again. Surely not? Have I been wandering, trapped in this haze, paralyzed by the thought of you? What day is it?
None of these questions are really answered as she seems to be submerged in an altered state of consciousness brought on by sexual surrender to an unnamed "you."
In general, this volume is guaranteed to appeal to fans of the series. Besides the stories mentioned, it includes work by Alison Tyler, Donna George Storey and Kristina Lloyd, among others. The passion can almost be tasted.
Anyone who is at all familiar with Singapore, in reality or reputation, will find the concept of Singaporean erotica rather difficult to believe. Who could be publishing erotica in prudish, politically restrictive, cleanliness-obsessed Singapore, where one can be fined for chewing gum or not flushing the toilet, where I once saw a movie ("Cave Girl" with a young, nubile Daryl Hannah) so severely censored that characters showed up in the credits that I'd never seen on the screen? In fact, the publishers of Best of Singapore Erotica received special permission from government censors to produce and sell this book, with the stipulation that it had to be sealed in cellophane to protect those who might be offended or corrupted by its salacious content. It was with considerable curiosity that I tore off the wrapper and began to sample what the authoritarian city-state had to offer in the way of sexy writing.
What I discovered was a collection of stories, essays and poems that help clarify why Singapore has a sex-hostile reputation. Legal restrictions on homosexuality and other "deviant" sexual acts are only the beginning. The obstacles to satisfying sex in the city-state appear to be many and formidable: ferocious upward mobility and a punishing work ethic; shortage of affordable housing, which leads to young adults living with their parents in situations with little privacy; traditional values that favor security over romance; and finally, a complex, multi-racial class hierarchy with social distances that are near-impossible to bridge.
In spite of, perhaps even because of, all these barriers, some of the authors represented in this volume do succeed in creating arousing and emotionally involving tales that I would classify as erotica. One of my favorites is Ricky Low's "Clean Sex," in which a successful young Chinese businessman falls in love with an Indonesian housemaid, only to lose her when she's accused of stealing the expensive presents he has bought for her. Another highlight is "Naked Screw" by Alison Lester, which portrays an initially confrontational but ultimately sensual encounter between a free-spirited ex-pat who likes to walk around her apartment without clothing, and a traditional South Asian laborer who claims that her nakedness offends him. Meihan Boey's "A Dummy's Guide to Losing Your Virginity," in which she chronicles her methodical approach to finding and bedding her first lover, is a clever comic gem:
"Feel free to fit us both into any convenient category of human behavior. Rest assured, I will not complain. Complaining, I find, is the refuge of the weak and unimaginative who have neither the courage to put up with shit nor the wherewithal to get out of it."
"And Then She Came," by Jonathan Lim, is a creepy yet unquestionably sexy story of a helpless student "not sober enough to be superstitious," who attracts the attention of a voracious female ghost. Aaron Ang's "A Perfect Exit" is a sweet, sentimental and finally surprising story of geriatric lust. I also enjoyed "Self-Portrait with Three Monkeys," by Chris Mooney-Singh, although it is more a character study than a story, the heroine a middle-aged career woman who consoles herself for her loveless couplings with an orgy of art. Another notable contribution is Weston Sun Wensheng's "An MRT Chronicle," a wry commentary on the trials of being young and horny in a society that offers no privacy at all.
Some of the other stories in this collection, however, made me suspect that the authors had not had much opportunity to sample currently available erotic literature. Some entries like Robert Yeo's "What We Did Last Summer," Gerrie Lim's "Walking the Dog," and Emilio Malvar's "Expeditions in the Twilight Zone," are dispassionate essays about sexual topics that are moderately intriguing but hardly engage the senses or emotions. Other tales like "Do You Have a Toothbrush?" by Lee Lien Mingmei, Rachel Loh's "Body Drafts," and Felix Chong's "Dancer from the Dance," are little more than descriptions of sexual encounters, with little if any plot. I suppose that in Singapore, the impact of simply having sex might be enough to make a story seem worthwhile, but for a reader who has been spoiled by the likes of M.Christian, Alison Tyler and Marilyn Jaye Lewis, just sex is not sufficient. Finally, there is Richard Lord's "The Phoenix Tattoos," which has the makings of an incredibly intriguing story, but which simply ends without resolution, intensely frustrating, for this reader at least.
Best of Singapore Erotica also includes a handful of poems. Most are, in my opinion, undistinguished, however Jonathan Lim's Speedo Dream is an exception, a sleek, streamlined homoerotic meditation:
i could not breathe
air whispered thinly around me
whispered sins that sounded like heaven
i longed to lick the salt off that skin
coat the smoothness with mine
All in all, Best of Singapore Erotica is uneven, but worth reading, not only for sensual thrills but also for cultural education. Although some contributions seem amateurish, the editors deserve respect for making an attempt to foster the development of erotic writing against considerable odds.
I noted that the book is available online from Amazon.com. I can't help but wonder if it arrives securely wrapped in cellophane.
What do women want? Freud’s perennial question recurs again and again in my wanderings as a reviewer through the thickets of contemporary and classic erotica. Violet Blue’s latest anthology of erotic fiction by women, and presumably for women, offers a possibly surprising answer. Women want the thrill of an anonymous encounter, the sensual high of breaking taboos, the peak experiences of pleasure or pain without the complications of a long-term relationship. Almost all the stories in this excellent volume fall into the category of sublime quickies with near strangers. One might almost call the anthology “erotic non-romance.”
Violet Blue sets the tone with her compelling introduction, “For All the Johnnys.” She begins by telling us that introductions are boring, but then treats us to a smoldering and possibly true account of sharing a lap-dancer with her fuck buddy and maybe-lover, Hacker Boy. “I never saw Johnny again,” she writes, “but I wish I could read this entire book to her.” The tale reeks of alcohol and come, garnished with tattoos and desperation, but it is sexy as hell.
Jacqueline Applebee’s “Penalty Fare” offers a furtive blowjob in the cramped bathroom of a train, an exchange for a deliberately lost ticket. Jordana Winters’ “Peekaboo” gives us a plain Jane who discovers at a sex club how much fun it can be just to watch. Saskia Walker’s lovely “Winter Heat” offers a bit of sweetness as a woman reminisces about her first orgasm, but still, it’s at the hands of a young man chance met at a bus stop. EllaRegina’s prize-winning story, “The Lonely Onanista” is an original account of a woman who lives inside the Washington Square Arch and screws any passerby who knows how to find her.
One of my favorite stories in the collection, probably because it taps into my own fantasies, is Xan West’s “Please.” The narrator meets an intriguing guy in a bar, and he fucks her, body and mind, in the bathroom.
“Here are the rules. I do what I want to you. You don’t touch me without permission. If you want me to stop, you say ‘stop.’ That is the only word that will stop me, but if I hear it, I will stop immediately. I won’t do anything to harm you, but I may want to hurt you a little, and I definitely want to fuck you. Are you game?”
Imagine hearing these words from a stranger, and then discovering, at this stranger’s hands, the purest pleasure, the truest release, that you’ve ever known. In a sense, this story distills the essence of what Violet Blue is trying to present – the intoxicating notion that the ultimate sexual experience waits for you, just around the corner, in the most unexpected places, with people that you haven’t met but who are destined to fulfill your dreams.
Of course, there are some stories in Best Women's Erotica 2008 that don’t exactly fit this mold. In “Strangers in the Water,” R. Gay’s narrator returns with her uncomprehending American husband to her native Haiti, to the river where her grandmother conceived her mother in a furtive tryst with a fugitive. Alison Tyler’s “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” is a high-spirited romp that will make you want to return to college. Donna George Storey takes us back to the Japan of her novel, Amorous Woman, in the elegantly sensual story “Wet.” “You Can Do Mine,” by Cerise Noire, gives us a couple who have been living together for a while, pushing their limits. And then there’s A.D.R. Forte’s deftly-written tale, “Mercy,” about three co-workers whose pair-wise relationships meld into a scorchingly original ménage.
“Picture the cast of characters: Rhys — dark hair just a little too long at the neck, tie loosened slightly because it’s hot here at the hotel bar, pretty-boy mouth set in that unintentional but totally fuckable pout so at odds with his seriousness; Kyle — half a head taller than every man in the room, blue eyes, wearing the power suit to end all power suits; charisma and control in different ways.
And me, staring at both of them over my glass of cabernet, my mind so deep in the gutter I’m afraid I’ll need scuba gear to find it and drag it out again.”
Finally – well, not finally, because I haven’t covered every one of the excellent stories of the book since I want to allow you to discover some by yourself – still, I have to mention the strange and poetic “Lost at Sea,” by Peony. This story is hazy and potent, like a dream; I read it three times and I still wasn’t sure that I understood it all:
“You. A synapse fires inside my head. Somewhere near the surface I can see a faint glow fractured by surface ripples. I must be a long way under. We shouldn’t have. We did. It’s done and cannot be undone. We’re on the other side of that which had grown so large between us, the lust that devoured us, swelled fat from the absurdity of it.”
In a way, this tale echoes the exhilaration and desperation of Violet Blue’s introduction. This is what lust can do, these stories say: strip you naked, rip you open, leave you with scars that you will finger longingly in the future, when your lover of the moment is long gone – remembering.
Best Women’s Erotica is an annual anthology offered by Cleis Press. For the past several years, the editor has been Violet Blue. I believe this will be her last BWE. While the strength of this series may be partially due to the occasional change in editorial vision, I’ve enjoyed Violet Blue’s years at the helm. If this is indeed her last BWE, she’s chosen to go out on a high note.
In a Best Of anthology, you’d expect every story to be well written, and Best Women’s Erotica 09 delivers on that promise. So the stories that work for you are going to be the ones that speak to your desires. Lucky for you, there’s a wide range of fantasies covered here – finding joy in her body, pleasuring his, taking control or giving it up, forbidden fruit, and role playing.
“On Loan” by Lauren Wright and “Fast Car, Not For Sale” by Trixie Fontaine are at opposite ends of the forbidden fruit spectrum. In “On Loan,” the woman goes to a hotel room for a tryst set up by her husband. The man waiting for her turns out to be her father’s best friend. Wright handles the reality of the awkward situation believably, and then lets the characters use that to make the fantasy even more forbidden and tasty. In “Fast Car, Not For Sale,” the character seduces a barely legal boy with the assurance of a woman who can handle turbo-charged power.
“Switch” by Vanessa Vaughn is a sweet, hot look at gender play. At home, gender roles often reflect tradition rather than the contemporary mores of society, and Vaughn uses this to her advantage.
Exhibitionists and voyeurs will enjoy Elizabeth Coldwell’s “Live Bed Show,” “Waiting for the River”by Kris Adams, and “Decorations” by Sommer Marsden.
If power exchange is your thing, “Lucky” by Xan West, “The Bitch In His Head” by Janne Lewis, “Good Pony” by Scarlett French, “The Girl Next Door” by Kay Jaybee, or the “Secret History of Lust” by Donna George Storey will fulfill that need.
And for those looking for just some good, hot, sweaty sex, “Snug Designs” by D.L. King, “Cardio” by Elisa Garcia, and “What If” by Cheyenne Blue are a good place to start.One of the things that impressed me most about this anthology is how varied women’s expressions of desire have become. Sometimes I wonder if we’re daring to have wilder fantasies, or just getting bolder about sharing them. I think it’s the latter. Somewhere in this anthology, you’re bound to find a story that either grabs you by the libido or gently strokes it to wakefulness. Either way, you’re going to enjoy yourself.
According to the introduction of Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica 2010, editing anthologies is a lot like professionally tasting chocolate. I can embrace this opinion because I’ve worked with some editors who seem equipped with nothing more than the skill to masticate, and most of those types often appear to have a mouth that’s filled with brown stuff.
Not that all editors are like that. I can name at least three I’ve worked with who aren’t like that. Four, if you include Violet Blue with whom I don’t think I’ve worked, but who has always struck me as a dedicated and competent professional. And Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica 2010 shows (as always) that she is capable of producing a world -class anthology of high octane erotica brimmed to bursting with exciting explicit fiction.
Alison Tyler’s “In a Handbasket” is a witty tale of ostensibly mismatched lovers finally finding each other. Kay Jaybee’s “Equipment” is a raunchy yarn of one woman switching roles on her partner. Emerald in “Shift Change” is tempted by an Apple and shows that computer repairs are not always interminable drudgery. I could go on and praise the abilities of Sommer Marsden, Angela Caperton, Kristina Lloyd or Rachel Kramer Bussel and a host of other sensational authors. This really is a wonderful anthology of highly-charged stories that are filled with surprises, sex and scintillating scenarios.
So, call me a curmudgeon, but I always wrinkle my nose with disapproval when I see the words ‘women’s erotica’ on the cover of an anthology. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing else annoying about the title. The word ‘best’ deserves its place. The date 2010 (even though I’m reviewing this title at the arse end of 2009) is close enough to be accurate. But I have to shake my head with dismay at the words “women’s erotica” and wonder if this isn’t an anachronistic holdover from an antiquated age.
As I say, the stories in this anthology deserve the word “best” because they’re all bloody good. But why do we need to differentiate between ‘women’s erotica’ and other erotica? (Notice there that I didn’t say “men’s erotica.” There are no titles out there that I can find that market themselves as ‘men’s erotica.’ There are some books listed as ‘erotica for men’ but that is semantically and pragmatically different. Presumably the reason there is no ‘men’s erotica’ is because it’s a known fact that men can usually tug off to nothing more erotic than the memory of partially glimpsed underwear in a launderette). But referring to a collection of world-class erotic stories as “women’s erotica”strikes me as labeling for no good reason.
In the publishing world it was once commonplace for people to discuss “women’s fiction” as a separate genre. The term referred disparagingly to romantic stories, usually with ubiquitous purple prose and an obligatory “Happily Ever After.” The term was seldom used as compliment and even Ms Blue, in her introduction to BWE 2010, suggests that the sight of too much florid euphemism is enough to send her heading to Harlequin HQ with a pitchfork, a can of gasoline and a road flare. Which makes it all the more puzzling as to why the term “women’s erotica” is so warmly embraced.
Could it be that this collection is only for women? Admittedly, the possessive ‘s’ in the title would suggest as much (in the same vein as the words women’s clothes in clothing stores and women’s studies in academic disciplines) but I personally think this is unlikely. I thoroughly enjoyed reading BWE 2010 and I’m guilty of being very male. I’m so male I drink beer, never go shoe-shopping and drive a Ford with a stick-shift. That’s how very male I am. If I had any interest in competitive televised sports I’d be exceptionally male but I can only honestly carry a stereotype so far.
Admittedly, the stories in BWE 2010 have all been written by women, but does the author’s gender ever make a difference to the style or quality of the story? Literary theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes famously said, “the author is dead.” Barthes assertion has been used predominantly in literary criticism to indicate appraisal of a text from the reader’s interaction solely with the words, rather than a mystical relationship between the reader and the distant (and invariably unknowable) author. It’s an attitude that makes sense to me. It also circumvents issues of whether the author is a man, woman or kangaroo.As I say, it’s hard to understand why such a wonderful book of stories should be blighted by such anachronistic and arbitrary labeling. Nevertheless, I would urge every aficionado of erotica to overlook the title and simply rush out and buy a copy of the book now. It’s good writing and won’t disappoint any woman (or man) who enjoys quality erotic fiction.
Using the superlative “best” in an anthology title sets the bar high. Picking up this volume, a reader has the right to expect every story to be exceptional – in concept, in craft and in emotional impact. Some of the tales in Best Women's Erotica 2012 definitely deliver on this promise. Others, however, do not.
The collection begins with the sensual and original “Drought,” by Olivia Glass. A woman driving through the parched hills north of San Francisco while fantasizing about her lover is brought to a halt by traffic jam. She pulls over, abandons her car and climbs to the summit, where the physical world, as well as the inner world of desire, take on a new perspective.
The blades prick through the thin fabric of her shirt. The breeze whispers to her, across her. She slides her skirt up her legs and settles it around her hips. The wind teases her, gently. Her left hand drifts across her breasts, slowly stroking her erect nipple.
She has never been so awake or alive; her nerves are naked wires, her skin the wet pavement during a lightning storm. Her mind frees itself, expands. She feels as if a fault line along her breastbone has come apart, and now she is open to the air, her lungs expanding like slick balloons into the dusty ozone, her heart throbbing.
“Drought” is both gorgeously written and deliciously hot, a perfect pick to lead off a collection of “bests.”
“Tweetup,” by Louise Lush, comes next, a light-hearted, clever tale about the latest variety of cyber relationships.
He smiled. “I like your tweets.”
I laughed. “Now there's a twenty-first century compliment!”
The heroine encounters an on-line admirer and despite her real-world shyness, finds herself living up to the racy identity she's adopted in her forays into the Twittersphere. The story, though simple, satisfies with its good-natured, unpretentious lustiness.
K.D. Grace comes next, with her outrageous voyeuristic fantasy “Eddie's All Night Diner.” Ms. Grace's heroine gets her kicks sitting panty-less on her bench at Eddie's, watching the other customers flirt and more:
What starts as the old I'll-let-you-taste-mine-if-you-let-me-taste-yours ploy rapidly evolves into oral sex on a fork, tongues darting, lips smacking and teeth just barely grazing the flash of stainless steel as they devour sweet tart creaminess. A generous dollop of meringue topples slo-mo off his fork down into his colleague's generous cleavage.
One night a stranger invites himself into her booth and subtly dares her to become an actor instead of a spectator – with his enthusiastic participation. Not since the sixties movie “Tom Jones” has food been made so sexy!
Next in the book is the astounding “Pleasure's Apprentice” by Remittance Girl. In measured, polite, almost distant prose, the author introduces ex-college student Rebecca, who's found work in a traditional company that repairs and sells silver artifacts. Working under the tutelage of taciturn, authoritarian Mr. Pierce, Rebecca learns to polish spoons and make tea for the sales staff. It turns out that her gruff, forceful supervisor has other things to teach her as well:
It seemed to Rebecca that he held her like that for an eternity, but it couldn't have been more than a few seconds. She had the sensation that somehow, she'd just stepped off a ledge and into thin air. It lingered until, with her ass pressed tight against his hips, she felt the slow and strangely frightening press of his cock as it came alive. With his free hand, he covered her breast easily. At first the pressure was warm, gentle, but it grew into something demanding and raw. He squeezed until she squirmed, and, when she did, his other hand pushed down the front of her skirt, massive fingers wedging into the space between her legs and cupping her roughly.
“Pleasure's Apprentice” captures the gradual build-up of sexual tension better than anything I've read in years, as well as offering a fresh take on the nature of dominance and submission.
These first four stories raised my expectations for more of the same. Most of the other tales in the collection don't come up to the same standard, though. They are, for the most part, quite competent stories (although two tales which I won't name exhibited an alarming lack of control over POV, and one had me quite confused by just whose voice we were hearing). They include plenty of sex, including voyeurism, BDSM, ménage, and even a bit of gay eroticism. I enjoyed many of them. But they were far from the best erotica I've read, even the best I've read this year.
Two exceptions are Amelia Thornton's “Dolly” and Zahra Stardust's “Lolita.”
The former is a stunning first person narrative by a submissive whose “Daddy” has given her a real live doll to “play” with. The tale is shocking, even cruel, but I found its evocation of interlocking fetishes incredibly compelling.
The latter has the luscious, hazy sensuality of an opium dream. Like “Dolly,” it explores the eroticism of complementary fantasies, in this case those of a young woman and a much older man.
Now Lolita is sitting on a couch opposite a man in a hostel in Tehran. He is watching her eat watermelon that is wet and heavy as a swollen clit. The juice is leaking down her chin and she is spiting out the seeds, but they are landing on her top, already carelessly stained with juice, or on her bottom lip.
He is watching her curl those lips into a half smile to the side of her mouth, which is a bleached pink, and how somehow this makes her cheeks glow. He watches her undress him with her eyes, lazily exotic in a way that is impossibly beautiful.
Probably I am judging this collection too harshly. Many of the stories I haven't called out as appropriate to the title are nevertheless worth reading. The book includes tales from many of my favorite authors - Elizabeth Coldwell, Kay Jaybee, Tsaurah Litzky, Sommer Marsden, Jacqueline Applebee – as well as entertaining contributions from authors new to me, such as Chaparrita and Valerie Alexander. If you buy this book in the hope of reading some engaging, sexy stories to be consumed and then forgotten, you will get your money's worth.
If, on the other hand, you take the title literally, and open the book seeking erotica that truly stands out from the crowd, erotica that is extraordinary, you might, like me, be a bit disappointed.
Good book. Great stories. Must buy.
Cleis Press make a quality product. The content is skillfully selected and meticulously edited by a competent expert in matters erotic. The stories themselves are written to the highest standard by authors of renown.
Best Women’s Erotica 2013 is no exception.
Including stories from the likes of Janine Ashbless, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Alison Tyler and Charlotte Stein, it’s a collective of respected names and powerful, passionate prose.
I’ve been fortunate enough to review several Best Women’s titles over the years. Having enjoyed each of these books I thought that this time I would dip into the work of an author I hadn’t previously encountered.
Thank you Violet blue for introducing me to the writing of Krissy Kneen.
Krissy Kneen’s story, "Susanna" first appeared in Triptych; an Erotic Adventure, published by Text Publishing Australia. It’s a complete story that deals with one young woman’s association with the erotic world through Auslan – the Australian sign language used by the deaf community.
I happen to be fascinated by sign language, so this story hooked me instantly. I am intrigued by the relationship between hand movements and cognitive understanding. To some extent I suppose this is a non-verbal extension of the Saussurean relationship between the sign and signifier. But, in truth, I’m simply fascinated by the idea of communicating silently and studying an interlocutor with the rapt attention I normally reserve for Shakespearean plays or high quality porn.
Kneen’s story seems to accommodate this level of prurient interest.
David was a good lover, expressive. His fingers demonstrated to her what he could not say. His mouth, passive throughout the day, was put to better use in the evenings. His lips formed shapes that spoke to her body as words could not. His tongue found ways to express his desire without the use of vowels and consonants. She learned from him a language of love that was as utterly different from the general machinations of sex as Auslan is different from English itself.
It’s an innovative approach to an erotic story, made all the more powerful because it makes the reader focus on the content of communication rather than way communication is expressed.
And, because verbal communication is such an integral part of our sexuality, the following is far more visualised, as the reader is shown the physicality of this powerful scene where Susana loses her virginity.
He seemed amazed by her, amazed by her virginity and her body’s impatience to be rid of it. His face so close to the part of her that no one else had ever seen, watching her. He made the sign for slow down, both hands held out as if to measure the surface of something reclining, the right hand tilting up as if to halt her progress. Slow down, slow down, but even the act of signing was too much of a pause for her. Susanna lifted her hips, taking the stop sign of his hand and pressing it into herself. So much slipperiness. So much sensation, the joy and pain of it fused, too much to bear, her blood slick on his fingers, his body quickly pressing forward into the path that they had newly discovered. He shifted; the gorgeous pressure of his pubic bone pressing where only moments before his tongue had been. Blood on her chest where he took her breast in his fist, blood on her face where she kissed him. She opened herself to him in a pact of spilled blood and when he came there was a second tearing, the condom destroyed, the pact sealed with the jet of his seed finding its way into her, a glorious tragedy, and they remained fused like this, slippery with sweat and blood and ejaculate and every movement of his hips fed her hunger again.
There’s a lot of damned fine writing in Best Women’s Erotica 2013. Susana is only one of eighteen sensational erotic stories that make this anthology a perfect way to start the new year.Or, as I said at the start of this review: Good book. Great stories. Must buy.
What makes an erotic story memorable? You know the stories I mean, the ones that stick with you long after the book is closed (or your ereader is turned off). The stories that you recall days or weeks later with a frisson of arousal or a glint of joy, even when you can't quite summon the title or the author's name. What is it about those haunting, persistent tales?
For me, it takes something special. An original and surprising premise. Unusually intense, believably evoked emotion. An atmospheric environment that mirrors and amplifies the nature of the characters or the events. Or particularly creative and skilled use of language, the sort of consummate craft that triggers delight, admiration and envy, quite independent of the story content.
It's not the sex. Let's face it, even in real life, the thrills of physical stimulation and release, no matter how exquisite or overpowering, fade quickly from memory. What stays are the psychological, affective and spiritual aspects of the experience – the sense of connection or of transgression – the bittersweet knowledge that pleasure is always fleeting – the terrifying flare of understanding as you discover truths you'd always hidden, even from yourself. The stories that manage to capture these complexities and consequences of sex are the ones I'm most likely to appreciate when I read them, and to recall later.
The latest volume in the Best Women's Erotica series includes a few of those stories.
Please don't misunderstand me. Every tale in this collection is well-written and at least moderately hot. If you're looking for two or three hours of stimulation, I recommend this book highly. Both Ms. Blue and Cleis Press are known for producing high quality anthologies. (The explicitly labeled “Uncorrected Proof” I received had far fewer errors than many of the published ebooks I've had inflicted on me lately.) But for the most part, I found these stories to be mere diversions, tales of fantasies fulfilled that may well get you off, but which won't hang around tickling your imagination later.
Which tales will I remember from this book? Certainly I'd have to include Lucy Debussy's unusual “Mary Lou,” which features a woman masquerading as a man and working as a stoker on a steamer. I found the gender-bending premise as well as the unabashed sensualism of this story delightful, even if it strained the bounds of plausibility a bit.
Then there's “Her Forest, Her Rules,” by Laila Blake. The heroine in this tale is a member of a club that enacts fantasy scenarios each weekend, rather like the Society for Creative Anachronism. In the midst of the forest, where her group normally plays, Amy – or Amariel, as she calls herself, when acting her chosen part as an elf-woman – is taken captive by a guy with a sword, a man she's never seen before. Their banter and their connection are just delicious, a reminder that role-playing frequently reveals much about our true selves. The setting, tone and characters of this tale are all enchanting.
Another favorite was Sommer Marsden's “Gentleman's Valet,” a BDSM tale involving a married or at least long-associated couple. Looked at in one sense, there's nothing very remarkable about this story. I've read dozens of scenes with the same elements – paddles, alligator clips, and a viciously hard fuck. What distinguishes it, in my mind, is the portrayal of the dominant's emotions. D/s stories frequently focus on the sub – her fears, her paradoxical desires, her satisfaction. Ms. Marsden's story reminds the reader that doms are in it for their own satisfaction as well as for that of their subs – and that the sweetest experience a Dom can offer his submissive is the knowledge that she has pleased him.
In the gorgeous writing category, my top pick goes to Rose de Fer's “Nyotaimori.” I'm quite certain I've read at least one story with same premise: a woman bound upon a table and used as a presentation platter for food – in this case, sushi. (It's possible that I'm thinking of this exact tale, although it's not listed in the credits for previously published work.) However, this author brings the scene to life with painstaking and mouth-watering sensory detail.
My eyes betray nothing but gratitude for his offering as he places the tiny soft egg against my lips. With only the slightest movement I part them just enough to taste the salty juice with the tip of my tongue. It is heavenly. I close my eyes as I slowly draw the egg inside my mouth, bursting it with my teeth. It's only one little taste, one tiny bit of flavor, but it makes me sigh with pleasure. It mingles with the delicious scents all around me. The fish, the ginger, wasabi and soy sauce, his wife's perfume.... I feel myself growing even damper against the flask of sake, and I clench my inner muscles to intensify the sensation.
Reading this story, I was reminded of my first taste of sushi, after a lover had described it to me as “an orgasm of the palate.” I also loved the pan-sexual quality of this tale, the way eroticism seeps into every sensation and desire expands to encompass every act and every gender.
Speaking of gender, I want to mention Nikki Adams' story “Chrysalis,” which chronicles an encounter between a high-achieving, domineering, lesbian lawyer and a sexy, feminine, pre-op transsexual. I found this story intriguing, although a bit overwritten. One doesn't encounter trans characters very often in Cleis' female-focused collections. The story is memorable because of its differences, not to mention the way the experience shatters the main character's self-confidence.
Finally, I loved Alison Tyler's “Close Shave.” Ms. Tyler's tales are always a guilty pleasure for me. More than any other story in the book, this one – where a cheeky girl wanders into a barber shop and demands that the studly young barber shave her pussy – pushed my personal buttons. Having recently reviewed Ms. Tyler's erotic memoir Dark Secret Love, I saw new depths in this barely-disguised fantasy, echoes of actual events and real people who made a difference in her life.
Rereading this review, I see that I've mentioned six standout stories. Out of a total of seventeen, I guess that's actually pretty impressive. Every anthology has stronger and weaker contributions. Every reader will resonate with different tales, depending on her own preferences and kinks. Not every story in this collection will stay around to haunt you. But I'd be surprised if you didn't find at least one or two that will.
Beyond Desire: A Collection of Paranormal Stories features many well known writers and a few who are new to me. The cover promises that “Ghosts, vampires, shape-shifters, succubae, demon lovers… there is no end to the mysteriously exciting ways the paranormal force of human desire defies reason – and death – by fearlessly embracing the eternal nature of love and the darkly potent power of sexual lust,” and that, “Between the covers of Beyond Desire, the paranormal is not fiction as it honors the undeniable real way desire dares to transcend all limits.” This rather verbose prose, bordering on the purple, unfortunately reflects some of the writing to be found in this anthology. Thankfully, several stories are much better than that.
Bonnie Dee’s story "Three Wishes" made me laugh. A woman discovers a genie in a bottle. Knowing how wishes can backfire, she matches wits with the genie to get exactly what she wants, and maybe a little more.
"Tropical Temptress" by Sage Vivant celebrates the goddess that lies within women. While the main character sees erotic situations, the real driving force comes from her imagination and her will. Call it magic influence or simply recognition of her own nature, it’s a refreshing change when a character seizes the power of her sexuality instead of passively waiting for someone to bring it out in her.
M. Christian’s "The Tinkling of Tiny Silver Bells" is a difficult case. As with many of his stories, it’s brilliantly written and a delight to read. But is it erotic? I didn’t find it particularly so, but on the other hand, I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t really care.
"When Aborigines Dream" by Michele Larue, translated from French by Noel Burch, is simply incredible. A dream plague robs white men of their sexual vitality. The rich, distant wife of a victim goes in search of a cure and finds instead a developing hunger for sex that she never had before. This is the kind of story I can read many times and never tire of. I’d love to read more from this writer.
The paranormal is a popular theme in erotica because it can deliver an experience rich in sensuality. Unfortunately, this anthology is hit and miss. Several stories bordered on purple prose, recycled romantic erotica clichés, or simply failed to use the sensual trope of horror and erotica to elicit even a frisson of interest. Sex isn’t sexy just because someone comes. It has to get under the reader’s skin and rev up the libido. While no one is going to like every story in an anthology, I had hoped to find more to enjoy.
It’s a real joy to read well-crafted bondage stories. There are many to choose from in The Big Book of Bondage, exploring female submission, male submission, and some same sex pairings. If you like group sex, threesomes, slut-shaming, and other kinds mixed with your bondage, you’ll find a story here for you.
One thing I enjoy so much about Sommer Marsden’s work, and in particular her story “Butter the Bird,” is how well she captures everyday life. There’s real craftsmanship going on here that it may take a writer to appreciate, but readers will enjoy how this slice of life heats up to a nicely decadent tale.
“Cute Boy gets Squeezed” by D.L. King explores the erotic potential of vacuum beds (although I can’t fathom another reason for using one). I’ve always been fascinated by them and she certainly makes it sound fun. This is a different kind of bondage than rope or handcuffs. If you like rubber or latex you’ll really like this kinky, fun tale.
I can’t think of a single Alison Tyler story I haven’t liked. She’s one of erotica’s rock and roll stars for a reason. Her “Burned” has amazing imagery and gets under your skin in a good way.
Kristina Lloyd’s “The Bondage Pig” was a little weird, but I was so fascinated I just had to see what would happen next. Then it got really interesting. Such an imagination!
Those are only a few of the worthy contributors. From Donna George Storey to Thomas Roche, many names are well-known in erotica. With twenty-five stories, this anthology is a little longer than most, but there wasn’t a single weak story.
I have to admit that I went into this collection a little unsure. It’s not that I don’t trust Cleis or Shane Allison – I know their work well and know they do strong erotica – it’s that, frankly, I’m sick to death of college athletes in erotica. The Big Man on Campus isn’t remotely erotic to me, personally, and I find the closeted swaggering lugs to be vaguely enjoyable to watch at best, and incredibly annoying at worst.
So I tried to check my own internal baggage here when I stepped into the collection, and that made the stories like the ones I was expecting a bit more fun to read. But the big thing is that I didn’t have to do it all that often.
Don’t get me wrong, the handsome strapping college studs are near-constant in many of the stories, but more often than not they aren’t the character telling the story, and the authors do a good job of letting you know the effect those studs have through that narrator’s voice. There are also more themes at play here than would perhaps occur to the reader at a glance. While yes, there’s a lot of secrecy running about – guys who aren’t out, and/or don’t want to be (“Big Ten” or “Physics Professor Proves Kinky”) – and sometimes that blurs even further to blackmail for grades or a job (“Making the Grade,” or “Meeting Expectations”) – most of the stories are actually the starts of relationships.
This isn’t to say that the erotic charge in all the stories is off. That’s not the case at all, and having read Cleis anthologies in the past that Shane Allison has edited, I knew from the first step I was in for some hot scenes, and every story absolutely gives the reader the hot moments they’re looking for. Again, this does lead to a few stories that are more scene than story, but I know that’s a popular vibe, so again I’ll tuck away my love of foreplay as personal, and note this as a likely strength for many readers. More, there’s some kink, some submissive stuff, a few sweatier and raunchier tales (“The Jock and the Professor”) – enough, I think, to please a wider audience than I would have expected.
Is there original stuff here? Yes. Particularly clever was “TILF” by Martha Davis, putting a writing student in the class of a hot teacher and having the student try to seduce the teacher with his writing assignments. For the kink lovers, “Leather Dreams” by Dominic Santi had a nice progression to it and the erotically charged reaction the character has to leather was well written and felt real. I also liked the sweetness of “Robin’s Hood,” by C.C. Williams, which had a softer side to it, a tale of coming out and acceptance among peers that was nicely placed in an anthology that otherwise was a bit more rough and tumble.
Jocks abound, of course, as so often the Big Man on Campus is exactly that – the burly, strong, popular athlete. There was a good range of sports, though – swimming, football, wrestling, basketball – and also enough variety to the physicality of the men involved that it wasn’t just buff blond jock after buff blond jock. There was even a solid mix of racial diversity, which is always a welcome breath of fresh air.
All in all, Big Man on Campus was a pleasant surprise for me. Enough of the stories strayed far enough away from what I expected them to be that I had a good time with the collection as a whole. And the stories I was expecting didn’t read too much like a stereotype or a rehashing of old ideas. There was freshness even when the professor was approached by the handsome athlete for a better grade, and that’s not an easy task.
I’ll probably always have to remind myself when I see “Jock” or “College” anthologies that I should back off on my own preconceptions before I open the book, and Big Man on Campus was a good reminder of that.
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.
I just came back from the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, and while there I finished reading my review copy of Black Fire - oddly enough, right around the time I was gearing up for a panel about reviews.
One of the points that came up during the panel was how important it is to emphasize why something doesn't work for you, given that it might be a plus for someone else. I'll use the same example I used then: I can't handle gory scenes. Medical thrillers will never be my thing if I have to hear about the viscera. They're also incredibly popular, and people love them.
I like my erotica with a big helping of story. For me, much - in fact most - of the titillation is in the lead-up and foreplay. Scene erotica doesn't often work for me. It's a dive, rather than a slow wade.
So when Black Fire began with Landon Dixon's "Fitting Room" I'll admit I was a bit worried. It's not that the scene doesn't scorch - by no means is that the case - but the scene between a clothing clerk and a well-hung and fashion-conscious customer was immediate. I wanted more from the characters before the blowjobs and sweaty sex began. The sex is hot, the men were hot, but I didn't manage to connect. But if you're one who likes your erotica to launch from the springboard, you'll likely enjoy this piece just fine.
That said, the very next story, "Alex's Adventures in the Land of Wonder China Emporium" was as fun as it was hot, and the characters were incredibly well woven. Jamie Freeman has a whimsical re-telling of the Alice tale here, complete with musclebears Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Alex's attempt to head on back home is amusing - and hot - throughout. I'm a lover of the retelling of tales, and Freeman's erotic retelling is a blast. Definitely one of the more memorable stories.
"Mutinous Chocolate" by Tom Cardamone is another standout. Blurring the lines with a paranormal twist via magical chocolates that managed to titillate as well as deliver a bittersweet - pardon the pun - tale that was as moving as it was erotic. The sheer variety of the magical chocolates as they deliver sexual release to the character on a slow spiral of a breakdown is great. I want a box of these chocolates, and I hope Cardamone knows where I can place an order.
The theme of the erotica collection itself - Gay African-American Erotica - is presented in a range that doesn't shy away from some of the stereotypes, but doesn't wallow either. S.J. Frost's "Like a Dream" was my favorite of the collection. It's a great story of second chances and conveys a deft sense of the extra depth the closet often holds in the realm of the black male. There is a sense of the romantic, often lost in erotica. Garland Cheffield's "Tomorrow" gives us a club-culture snapshot, and delivers a wry and sexy story of a couple meeting in the frenzy of dance and music. But there's more - clandestine sex parties, boot fetishes, master-slave, college seduction and sex on the down-low. There's range.
The stories that had fleshed out plots were strong and definitely kept my attention. There's enough in here if you're like me and prefer your erotica to hold a tale while delivering the tail. If you're a fan of shorter, in media res scene erotica, then I think this collection will be all the stronger for you. It's a mix - like many anthologies - but didn't fall and stay trapped in cliché - a risk this theme might have easily presented.
In fictional worlds it appears that vampires are becoming endemic.
Etymologically we could trace this back to the folklore fuelling Lord Byron’s Giaour (1813), which, purportedly, was one of the many elements influencing Polidori’s Vampyre (1819). Polidori’s Vampyre was a catalyst for myriad vampire projects, including stories by the likes of Nikolai Gogol and Edgar Allen Poe, as well as Bram Stoker and his archetypical vampire story: Dracula (1897). We could follow the vampire’s rise in success through the twentieth century until, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, literary vampirism had become ubiquitous across the majority of representational media.
The Vampire Diaries and True Blood are just two of the vampire-related TV shows that now take over from where Angel and Buffy used to reside on our TV screens. No doubt you, dear reader, would be able to suggest others. Similarly, the Box Offices are groaning under the weight of the successful Twilight films. Franchises like the Underworld movies continue to produce entertaining narratives. And, I believe, The Count still patrols Sesame Street.
Or, if we remain with the written word, we could contemplate Anne Rice’s consistently well-received output with The Vampire Chronicles, (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, etc.), Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse stories (which have been popularised as the aforementioned True Blood series on TV), or Laurell K Hamilton and her stories of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter (Guilty Pleasures, The Laughing Corpse, etc.). Or we could go back to the phenomenal success of Stephanie Meyer’s previously referenced Twilight saga.
As the title of this month’s reviewed book suggests, Blood Sacraments (Gay Vampire Erotica) is an anthology of erotic gay vampire stories. And the existence of so much vampire literature raises the question: why are we so obsessed with vampires?
It’s argued that vampire stories are appealing because they suggest a willing surrender to dark but pleasurable forces. Vampires are renowned for advocating and endorsing illicit pleasures (late nights, excess, indulgence, voracious promiscuity, life without responsibility, etc.). These activities are elements we, as civilised members of society, are supposed to eschew in favour of their responsible alternatives (early nights, moderation, temperance, judicious and selective sexual relationships, etc.). However, if a character indulges in illicit pleasures because they are under the thrall of a vampire’s spell, it means they have a legitimate excuse for their errant behaviour: “I didn’t want to have all those pleasures. It was the peer pressure of being a vampire that made me do it.”
But if this vapid excuse is the subtext beneath why we read vampire stories, what does it say about us as a society? Ignore the implications of avoidance. If the original trope of the vampire novel has always been a sanction allowing the reader to succumb to forbidden pleasures, does the ubiquitous nature of current vampire literature suggest that this condition has become near-universal? Does this mean that we’re all prey to the same desire to enjoy forced pleasures?
It’s a worrying question. But, I suspect, the answer is comparatively simple. I believe we read vampire stories because they offer a familiar landscape of entertaining escapism.
It used to be that the first half of a vampire story would be a lengthy exposition: a treatise where the author attempted to convince the reader that the concept of vampires was a tenable possibility. The propagation of this suspension of disbelief has diminished over time so that such enormous exposition is no longer needed.
In most cases readers accept the vampire fantasy more easily than the author. Authors fret over the credibility of the world they are building and the balance of belief against bullshit. But, as a reader, all we need are a couple of subtle clues (‘Did you see the Count flinch when I showed him my crucifix collection?’ or ‘Did you see the Count lick his lips when I cut myself shaving?’) and we know we’re in vampire territory. For those of us who are fans of the genre it is a delightful situation. We’ve accepted the existence of vampires as soon as we read the word in the title and pick the book from the shelf. We are in a position where we can enjoy the pleasure of the maximum amount of vampire story with the minimum need for setting the reader up to accept that, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
This means, in an excellent anthology such as Blood Sacraments, edited by Todd Gregory, the reader can enjoy the indulgence of a lot more vampire narrative and a lot less expository text. Todd Gregory exploits this development to maximum effect.
With this being an anthology I don’t want to ruin the reader pleasure of any story. It’s fair to say that Gregory has selected wisely and the anthology represents a broad range of contemporary talent, all of whom are capable of producing thrilling vampire stories balanced with a sufficiently gay erotic content as to make them appropriate for the title.
Xan West provides a powerful and passionate account of vampirism and BDSM in "Willing." In "The Morning After," Lawrence Schimel provides his usual blend of wit and seductive prose as he skilfully introduces an ingredient of humor. And in "Kells," the inimitable Jay Lygon twists the familiar story of unrequited infatuation into something darkly amusing and adorable, all at the same time.
If the vampire myth is really our society’s subversive urge to be forced to enjoy illicit pleasures, then Blood Sacraments is one illicit pleasure that is well worth enjoying. A good anthology, populated by some excellent writers. In short: it’s bloody brilliant.
In her introduction, Alison Tyler informs us that Bound for Trouble is the tenth bondage-themed anthology she has edited for Cleis. It's hardly surprising that this collection sparkles with kinky energy and glows with heat. Ms. Tyler definitely knows what she's doing. At this point in my editing and reviewing career, I'm fairly difficult to impress, but I believe Bound for Trouble will delight anyone who finds D/s content arousing.
What's so great about this book? Diversity for one thing. Almost every story attacks the theme from a different direction. There are M/f, F/m and F/f tales in almost equal proportion and even one M/m contribution. Some authors write about long-established couples, some about casual playmates, some about just-met strangers. Meanwhile, the bondage mechanisms explored range from classic ropes to robots to symbolic chains made out of paper.
Ms. Tyler's own story, “Sitting Pretty,” keeps the reader guessing. For the first few pages, you have no idea about the identity or even the gender of the narrator. Only at the end do you begin to understand who he is and what he wants. This tale is both beautifully crafted and deliciously transgressive. Who would have imagined that allowing one's hair to be cut could be an act of submission?
“Magic Boots” by Amy Dillon offers one of the most insightful takes on fetishism that I've encountered in a long time. To arouse and entertain her foot-worshiping husband, the narrator secretly buys a pair of expensive, outrageous high-heeled boots they've both admired. As she wears the boots around the house before revealing them to her spouse, trying to break them in, she discovers her own perceptions and desires changing.
Complementary fantasies play a key role in several of the tales. In Benjamin Eliot's exquisite “Unwinding Alice,” the female of the title enjoys being tightly bound and locked in a closet for hours. Her husband confines her in order to please her; he finds the notion far scarier than she does. Meanwhile, he lives for the sight of the rope marks her trials leave behind. Their kinks are distinctly different, but interlocking, providing satisfaction and peace to both.
She flings her arms above her head, and I see the lines on her skin flow north with the motion. She's striped and crossed and dotted with the evidence of my control and I groan. Because seeing that evidence robs me of my current control. I'm powerless against the unwound Alice. I'm humbled by her strength.
The healing potential of dominance and submission is another common theme. Annabeth Leong's “Paper Chains,” Theresa Noelle Roberts' “Ropenosis,” K.Lynn's “Business Wear,” all feature submissives wound tight by worldly responsibilities or hidden fears. Paradoxically, bondage sets them free.
Sommer Marsden's brilliant story “What She Has” struck me as one of the most realistic in the collection. The subtleties she portrays in the relationship between the submissive narrator and her Master, the ebb and flow of envy, anger, fear and love, amazed me. How can love and cruelty be so closely intertwined?
In contrast, Giselle Renarde's delicious fable “It's Not a Scrunchie” is pure play, a man's wildest fantasy made manifest in the person of a voluptuous, uninhibited gal who just happens to like tying guys up.
The mood in Bound for Trouble is lighter than in some of Ms. Tyler's anthologies (her Love at First Sting comes to mind as an example of darker, more ambiguous BDSM), but these authors don't spare the rope or the rod. Nearly all of the stories are entertaining. And a few will linger in your mind, long after you've closed the cover or turned off your e-reader.