The Coming Together anthologies are probably one of the worthiest causes in contemporary literature. To date the single author collections have included M. Christian, Rob Buckley and Remittance Girl, edited under the aegis of the incomparable Lisabet Sarai. Anthologies of erotic short stories, that benefit charitable causes, allow readers to contribute to something worthy and enjoy the pleasure of erotic literature all for the same price. It’s like chocolate flavoured sex with a bonus of cash presented at the enormously satisfactory conclusion: it simply cannot get any better.
The proceeds from Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia will benefit the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). RAINN is the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization. It operates a national hotline, educates the public about sexual assault; and leads national efforts to prevent sexual assault, improve services to victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.
But Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia would be worth buying without the benefit of supporting a worthy cause. Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia is a bloody good book.
Because this is a collection of short stories, I’ll begin by saying that the quality is consistent and high, even though the approach varies in a range of eclectic styles and considered approaches.
"Rough Draft" is a perfect example of this eclectic approach, beginning in the style of a letter to a men’s magazine and starting to reveal the sexploits of a just-turned-eighteen narrator in the typical fashion of an ‘I-can’t-believe-it-happened-to-me’ exposition.
Sanchez-Garcia understands the reader’s needs and expectations. As the narrative is turning to the anticipated central sexual encounter, the author ends the first segment of the story and continues it as an example of fin de siècle erotica, complete with expository dialogue and the characteristic reliance on adverbs. The transition is abrupt, snatching the reader from the comfort of the established narrative with an abrupt reminder that the content is a fiction. And again, once the reader has continued in the fin de siècle, and become suitably immersed in the narrative, Garcia-Sanchez again stops the story and begins in another genre: fantasy erotica.
The playfulness of this approach is amusing and entertaining. More than that, because the central characters in each story are essentially the same, the illusion of the varying narrators suggests, despite the change of genre and styles, the events have the coherence of a thinly disguised truth. Seriously, this is an innovative approach to story-telling that surreptitiously breaks the fourth wall of the reader/writer divide by demonstrating the multifaceted nature of fiction contrasted against the perpetual constant of truth.
Or consider the second story in the anthology: "Natural Acts." This is a short excerpt from close to the opening of the story.
On the little kitchen table, next to a cold cup of coffee, a book of marine biology is lying open. On one page is a color photograph of a female deep-sea Anglerfish. She is large and bulbous, with unnatural teeth like a heap of translucent swords. A long rod of flesh dangles down with a glowing ball at its end. A very small male Anglerfish is fused into her belly permanently, like a benevolent parasite. On the other page, there is a color photograph of a limpet, which has anchored itself to a blue rock. There are other limpets fused to the top of it, like a small stack of party hats. Next to the book of sea life, is a thick copy of Dante's Divine Comedy. The young man's friend DeEtta has been writing to him, extolling him to read Dante, so that they can discuss death. "To understand Christian afterlife mythology, you have to know Dante," writes DeEtta, in impassioned handwritten letters. "It all comes from Dante." But the idiot howling of the young man's flesh for sex has drowned all thought.
This expository paragraph shows us the reading interests of the central character – a sexually frustrated individual who is trying to sleep and deny himself sexual release. And, as most readers will know, trying to sleep and deny oneself sexual release is a little like trying to juggle soot: it’s never going to happen.
As is to be expected in "Natural Acts," the protagonist falls into a torpor of dreams, and the dreams are fueled by the images from his recent reading material. This produces a contrast between the traditional corporeal human desires with which most readers could identify and the ‘natural acts’ of his fantasy. These are presented in a diverse contrast of narratives that are disquieting and remarkable: redefining desire and arousal in new structures that defy previous expectations.
If you’re not familiar with the work of Sanchez-Garcia then this title is an ideal introduction to his writing. If you are familiar with this author, then Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia should already be at the top of your have-to-have reading material.
Contributing to a worthy cause gives you a warm glow, but seldom does it heat you up the way the Coming Together books do. (The charity benefitting from the proceeds of this book is GMHC.org, an AIDS/HIV care and prevention organization.) Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl, edited by Lisabet Sarai,ramps up the heat especially well. Amanda seduces not only the libido but also the mind, sometimes subtly (although the sex is seldom subtle) and sometimes very blatantly indeed. In the editor’s introduction the book is described as “literary—and literate—erotica,” which is quite true. There are frequent literary references, and characters with backgrounds in (or aspirations to) the literary world, but the sure-handed quality of the prose—raw when it needs to be, even brutal, introspective at times, poignant, complex, and memorable—is what makes it both literary and literate.
I was especially intrigued by the variety of points of view in these stories. Often (but not always) female, occasionally older women with younger men, with a nice range of characterization from deliciously dominant to deeply submissive to downright surreal.
The first-person narrator of the opening piece, “Mind If I Sit?” takes full advantage of sitting next to a young, blond, somewhat nervous “golden boy” with a contradictory “rebel look” on an airplane. She has what it takes to get his attention; “Long legs: check. Flimsy mini skirt: check. Big tits in a low-necked blouse: double check.” Her copy of Kerouac’s On the Road doesn’t hurt, and is the first of many literary references that fit naturally into the flow of the prose. “I’m a capricious bitch,” she tells us. Newly turned forty, resolved not to “sit back in your comfort zone” and let life pass by, she’s a complex, arresting character, good company for the reader as well as the for guy who gets to share her under-the blanket games.
The narrator in the second story, “Real Irish,” has a very different self-image, at least at the beginning. She thinks of herself as a “middle-aged spinster” with indecently lustful thoughts about a good-looking Irish barista and a stream-of-consciousness novel eternally in progress. By the end, though, thanks to her best friend who resembles Botticelli’s Venus and lets nothing stand in the way of what they both want, her stream-of-consciousness has more to celebrate than her most lustful thoughts had imagined. The hottest threesome I can remember ever reading, and the most fun.
We also get a ruthless legal secretary with a “Daddy Complex”, a housewife whose secret is that instead of AA meetings, she goes off to wear a catsuit at a BDSM hideaway specializing in rubberists, and a girl who thinks she’s desperate for domination, pain, and humiliation from a stranger, but has the sense at last to resist a scene that goes too far, and the luck to get away.
In a few of the stories the sex is entirely in the minds of the protagonists, their lust no less arousing for being unfulfilled, with a melancholy tone that provides a contrast to more carefree encounters. In “The Vessel,” the point of view shifts between two not-quite-lovers, each so scarred by their pasts that they can’t believe the other could find them worthy of desire or love. ”Typing for Jack” begins with the woman losing her long-held virginity with a man she’s met at a funeral, but it’s Jack’s funeral (yes, that Jack,) and the defining act of her life has been typing the manuscript of his On the Road. For all her fantasizing, and all the opportunities Jack offered, she knew she could never handle his freewheeling sexual habits, so she handled only his manuscript, and takes cold comfort in a report that he was holding it when he died. And in “Sex with an Old Woman” the fifty-ish narrator can’t imagine her much younger male friend finding her sexually attractive, and tortures herself with imagining how repulsed he would be if he saw her naked. I kept thinking, “But fifty isn’t all that old!” until she revealed how much more than age her body had endured.
I was encouraged by a later story about a woman of fifty who is unabashedly “boy crazy, man hungry,” and thinks of herself (with reason) as “irresistable,” but there’s a dark undertone here as well. “The Adulteress” stalks her literary prey—novelists, poets, playwrights—and seduces them, married or not, with no difficulty. Adultery just adds extra spice. The sex is hot, raw, and described, by the woman writing it all down afterward, with explicit attention to detail a well as evocative imagery. Even at the height of arousal she thinks about what she’ll write afterward, how she’ll “frame this later on the page.” Truthfully, don’t all writers of erotica think sometimes about how we’ll describe sex even as we’re (almost) swept away by its delights? Should we feel guilty? Does it cheat our partners in some way, or does our secretly enhanced excitement intensify their own experience? The latter, I think, but who knows? In the case of the woman supposedly narrating this story, one even begins to wonder how much of what she describes really happened that way (in the context of the story) or is magnified by her writerly imagination. The nuances of this piece are tinged with melancholy, deftly written, and the final paragraph is a masterly handling of perspective. I’ll leave readers to discover that for themselves.
I’ve only mentioned nine of the twenty-four stories in this collection, even though all of them are just as worthy of consideration. Some, of course, will appeal to certain tastes more than to others. My own tastes run to literary references and older protagonists, but the book provides plenty of other viewpoints and scenarios that I found just as enjoyable. I should also note that several stories are of the science fiction or fantasy persuasion, and they’re worth an entire review of their own. I’ll just mention that one involves an orgy in heaven and another has a nice twist involving its deliciously snarky narrator. I may already have come too close to revealing “spoilers” about the other stories I discussed, though, so I’ll leave the rest for the reader to discover. And to savor, just as I did.
Over time as a critic of erotica, you learn that the hardest thing to write in this sub-genre is the act of sex without being a bore. For a number of years now, Remittance Girl (hereinafter known as RG) has been the mistress of solving this confounding problem by engaging with it in the most difficult possible way.
As her new collection in the series Coming Together demonstrates, the art of writing sex can be best accomplished by forging the simplest elements into a story that is driven by the most felt and honest of passions. Through the deft manipulation of a minimum of detail, she integrates structure, style, atmosphere and character into a seamless whole. The sex is not the objective of her stories so much as the inevitable, organic result. That result is almost overwhelmingly erotic as well as moving on other levels.
RG writes about hunger, that higher hunger of the body for the touch of another. It may be a rough and sometimes brutal grasping, but it has the honor and the feel of life, as opposed to the more deathly feel of compromise that marks pat formulaic writing, where the passions are winnowed out with decorous care but with less honest revelation.
That is the difference between soft romance that plays at the edges and symptoms of the heart rather than cutting to the actual pounding of that organ of the soul. Perhaps RG succeeds in this simple mode where most fail because no matter how brutal the world she depicts, it never yields to the lesser state of bitterness. Few authors in our time have that sort of strength.
The story that most captures the depth of RG’s vision for me is “River Mother,” about a young woman damaged by war the United States waged against the people of Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s. Set in that brutal aftermath, the verdant tenderness the author creates reminded me of what art and love are ultimately about, which is hope – the simple hope that life can survive the worst abuses of a petty, greedy and malicious world.
RG has unique powers of understanding the way people sense each other in the most literal way. She captures the way we see each other, hear each other’s voices and feel the first touch of a lover. Her blend of intelligence and sensitivity lend her stories a winning quality of rue. She knows that for every benefit there is a cost, for every gain a degree of loss and every freedom – sexual or otherwise – has its price. Thus in stories like “The Spy Who Loved His Wife” the principal character seems like a bantering cocktail sipper out of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.” That is until we, though not he, come to understand that he loses something of himself in gaining what gives him the most pleasure.
These stories are not parables, however, instructing us on the ways of the wayward. They are instead the indelicate, raucous, bawdy, tender, round-bottomed lustiness of the human heart. They invoke an actual tear from time to time just as they provoke a good deal of honest and playful laughter.
A little something should be said here for Lisabet Sarai who edited this volume in the “Coming Together” series, and who writes for Erotica Revealed as a critic herself. Writing is a small world and so it is altogether fitting that I acknowledge the gracious and generous gifts of both of these women as artists regardless of where they are published.
Erotica has enjoyed some very good writing in the last couple of years, which I believe is in large measure a function of some new insight that has come from able, intelligent, gifted and talented women such as RG and Ms. Sarai.
Editor's Note: All proceeds from the Coming Together series go to charity.
I’ve been a fan or Robert (Bob) Buckley’s work for many years now. The man is capable of penning a solid story and keeping his eroticism credible, relevant and entertaining.
There aren’t many authors who can claim such a mastery of the genre.
Buckley, as you may or may not know, has been a familiar presence at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association since the days before the internet was available on computer. His standing as a celebrated author, editor and general literary jack-of-all-trades has never been in doubt. However, for those who may have wondered about his abilities, proof of his genius is now available in the anthology: Coming Together Presents Robert Buckley. This is Bob’s second title of collected erotica.
This collection is darker than Buckley’s previous work but not unpleasantly dark. The stories have an edge that gives their content a racy quality.
Take, for instance, the first story: “Fortune’s Fool.” The reader is introduced to a journalist who’s been doing the right thing and is suffering the consequences of such actions.
Personally I believe that no good deed will ever go unpunished so I can sympathise with the plight of the unnamed narrator in this story. This is a reporter who is trying to expose a football-playing philanderer. This is a reporter who has finally uncovered the dirt on the NFL’s biggest dirtbag. And, as a reward, his bosses have canned him.
Unemployed, and then blighted by a debilitating RTA, the narrator looks like he’s hit rock bottom. However, the one good thing about hitting rock bottom is that there’s only one direction to continue.
This is from “Fortune’s Fool.”
This is first-rate erotic writing, written with a distinctly masculine voice. The stories are entertaining, well-paced and thoroughly arousing. Proceeds from Buckley’s title go to benefit Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (msassociation.org), which is a worthy cause in and of itself. However, getting the chance to enjoy Buckley’s writing is also a worthy cause because I think we all deserve to enjoy literature of this calibre.
"Damn it, Tracey," Joann snapped. She ran to the door to see if anyone had heard. "It's all clear."
Tracey sank into the corner of the room. She had finished herself off.
Now Tianna climbed onto the bed. She straddled my head and eased her heart-shaped ass down grazing my lips with her pussy. Delicate, coiled hairs tickled my nose and I almost sneezed. Then I felt her pouty lips lock around my cock. Her tongue flicking about my shaft was in stark contrast to the nuclear-powered suck that Joann gave me. Tianna was all tease and finesse. I felt my jism begin to boil again. Her pussy aroma was all musk and citrus and my tongue eagerly sought entry. I slurped along her vaginal walls then back to seek out her love button. I began to tease her as much as she teased me.
I was getting close and so was she. Now she rapidly reversed direction and lowered her cunt onto my cock. She rolled those hula hips while holding her hands above her head. Her pretty little tits jiggled and bobbed sensuously. I envisioned a rocket launch and my cock exploded inside her. Her belly convulsed as she cried, "Oh, yes, baby, baby, baby...”
In her introduction, Lisabet Sarai begins with a statement that I had to chuckle over.
“Not another vampire book....”
I have to say: every time I spot another vampire on the cover of a book I have the same sinking sensation. The “here we go again” of vampires does tend to wear a bit, and when you bump into the same old vampire tropes over and over (and over) again, it’s enough to make you swear off blood-suckers for good.
Which is why Coming Together: In Vein was such a pleasant surprise. It’s obvious that Lisabet Sarai is well aware of the tropes and has gone out of her way to collect stories that take at least a step (but usually two or three) away from the usual vampires – did I really just say ‘usual vampires’? – and bring something fresh to the collection.
Before I delve into the stories, I’d also like to take a wee moment to point out that this collection of stories gives you something you don’t see often in erotica – a good deed. Funds from the book go to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctor’s Without Borders) – so this is a collection worth scooping up for more than just the quality included.
And just to be clear? There is quality included.
Right from the get-go, we find ourselves in refreshing new territory with “Nixie’s in Love” (C. Sanchez-Garcia) who gives us a foul-mouthed German vampire on perhaps the narrower edge of sanity, whose human lover has found a novel solution to the blood-drinking, and is attempting to bring a normalcy back to their life (and a very fun dose of role-play and hunter-and-prey to their sex life). It’s fun, and lively (if you’ll pardon the pun) and a wee bit manic. Definitely not your typical vampire erotica.
Of a different tone is “The Taste of B Negative” (Cheyenne Blue), which is dark, full of an ethical snarl, and has a conclusion that left my inner revenge-glutton feeling fully sated. Lovely.
I’m also starting to learn you can always count on Xan West to bring you a phenomenal story that steps to the side and then trips up your expectations. “Willing” is brutally brilliant, a mix of sex, BDSM, and boundary pushing that leaves the reader breathless and unsure of the possibility of a positive outcome. “Willing” deliciously defies expectations.
“It’s Lovely, It’s Horrible” by Kathleen Bradean is another bravura performance in defying expectations from the reader and mixing up dichotomies. Fear and sex, lust and desperation, captive and hunter – the spin of this story is dizzying, leaving the reader so tied up in the chase that there’s little hope for escape. This is a story that turns “vampire” on its head – and satisfyingly so.
Lisabet Sarai’s own story, which concludes the anthology, “Vampires, Limited,” left me with just the right tone for the collection. A mix of blithe and dark, “Vampires, Limited” tells the tale of a woman who has been using the Vampire mythology to sell magazines – and turn a tidy profit. She is presented with the reality when hunting for a new cover model, and finds that there’s a reason it’s called mythology.
Coming Together: In Vein was a very welcome surprise. None of the stories felt familiar or typical (some even crossed into speculative fiction territory) and it was a very welcome reminder that given the right authors, even something that feels as “done” as vampires can – pardon another pun – gain new life.