Academics will tell you that the title of the book is the most important part of the text. This is the area of the book that a reader first encounters. The title initially catches the eye of the reader – sparking their interest or otherwise – and suggesting a flavour of what is to come within the pages of the text.
And so it seems a shame that Girl Crazy!, an otherwise exemplary anthology from the marvellous Cleis Press Inc, is flawed by its title.
Yes the anthology includes some intensely exciting tales. All of them are well written and every one – without exception – is designed to stimulate the brain as well as other vital organs. The over-riding theme of the anthology is erotic exchanges between women and other women: some lesbian, some bisexual, some just too curious and horny for their own good. The anthology includes authors who most readers will have encountered previously (such as Sommer Marsden, D L King, Jean Roberta, Jacqueline Applebee, Kristina Wright, Catherine Lundoff, Cheyenne Blue and Sacchi Green). There are also less nefarious authors – I’m including here those whose fiction I haven’t personally encountered before – all of whom provide outstanding narratives that are erotic, exciting and eloquently executed.
Yet the book’s title leaves a lot to be desired. I am aware that there has been a Gershwin musical of the same title, which opened on Broadway in 1930 and was committed to film in 1932 and 1943. I also know that the pop band Hot Chocolate released a single with this title which got to #7 in the UK pop charts in April 1982. However, Girl Crazy! in the context of a title to an anthology of erotic fiction doesn’t seem to be an intertextual reference to either of those items.
I’m assuming here that Girl Crazy! takes its title from the modern usage of the word ‘crazy’ suggesting enthusiasm, infatuation or mild obsession (rather than straitjacket insanity or the taking-your-pet-goldfish-for-a-walk-type of mental illness). I’m OK with this vernacular terminology, even though I sincerely believe this idiomatic employment of the adjective reached the peak of its popularity in the late 1970s or early 1980s. What I’m not comfortable with is the reductive use of the word ‘girl’ to describe women who are mature enough to be in control of their sex and explore their sexuality. To me, this just sounds derivative and somewhat demeaning.
You may be reading this and thinking: “Take the stick out of your arse, Ashley. It’s just a title!” However, if I began to review this article and cheerfully referred to the authors as a bunch of “crazy girls,” I would be (deservedly) pilloried for:
Which all sounds like I’m having a rant – and that’s most likely because I am.
However, I have never come across a Cleis anthology I didn’t enjoy and I only stress my distaste for this book’s title because I don’t think it’s worthy of Cleis’s distinctive brand of top quality, balanced erotica. I also think the title is especially not fitting for this collection of intense and arousing well-structured stories.
Take, for example, Sommer Marsden’s beautifully stimulating story “Spitting Seeds.” Sommer is a fantastic author who never fails to blend beautiful prose with a lyrical ability to excite. “Spitting Seeds” manages to capture the erotic thrill of daring to do the forbidden without making this oft-visited scenario seem either trite or gratuitous. “Spitting Seeds” is a fantastic story, yet the characters, although presented as alluring young females, could not reasonably be described as ‘girls’ unless they were being spoken about by some leering old uncle.
D L King’s “Tasting Chantal,” is an intense encounter in the New York BDSM club the Whip Handle. The mature dominant protagonist, Neela, finds herself in the company of the delightfully submissive Chantal. The dialogue is sharp; the intimacy is passionate and powerful; and as Chantal is 23 years old and Neela is her senior, it would only be the most condescending misogynist who described either of these characters with the epithet “girls.”
Please note – none of this is being said as an indictment against the contents of the book. The fiction in these pages is outstanding and exciting. The compassion and sympathy in Jean Roberta’s “Getting It” is beautifully realised, gloriously stimulating and truly heart-warming. The humour and verve in Kristina Wright’s “Muddy Waters” is refreshing and a pleasant contrast to the intensity of passion and emotion in her characters’ erotic exchange. The realistic characterisation in Catherine Lundoff’s “Wine-Dark Kisses” will leave the reader sure they know Janeece and Ingrid more thoroughly then they knew their last lover.In short, Girl Crazy! is a wonderful book and well worth buying: it’s just burdened with a terrible title.
This big collection of very short stories provides all the standard scenarios of lesbian sex, and many that are non-standard. The characters have fast but orgasmic hookups in all sorts of moving vehicles, on their way to somewhere else. They also do it in various cramped spaces and luxurious surroundings. The number 69 is a witty reference to a sexual position (or activity) which can function like speed-boil on a stove.
If you’ve ever read any lesbian erotica, you are guaranteed to recognize some of the names of contributors. The following have contributed more than one story apiece:
Cheyenne Blue, Shanna Germain, Sacchi Green (the editor), Roxy Jones, Jessica Lennox, Catherine Paulssen, Giselle Renarde, Sharon Wachsler, Fran Walker, Anna Watson and Allison Wonderland.
The beauty of this book, of course, is that if you don’t like one story, you can move quickly on to the next, which might have just the ingredients you crave. Something here is likely to appeal to everyone who has ever been sexually attracted to a woman.
In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I have a story in this collection, “Signature.” My piece, of course, is like a drop of water in the ocean. Even if I hadn’t been honoured to have a brief vignette of lesbian life accepted for this volume, I would have been honoured to review it.
These stories include a surprising amount of detail and suspense, which quickly gets resolved. In some cases, two women have to get it on within minutes before something else happens: before they are discovered, before they have to appear onstage, or (in one story) before they marry each other in a public ceremony.
Despite the social acceptability of lesbianism in some of these stories, the theme of sudden sex seems to work best in a context of secrecy and rebellion against the norm. Cheyenne Blue sets the tone in the first story, “Look at Me Now, Your Holiness!” The narrator thinks:
If only the pope could see me now.
My face is mashed so far into Christie’s pussy that my world consists of curls of hair and bitter salt.
The pope continues to be an imaginary witness to the scene until Christie and the narrator are both satisfied.
The theme of being watched by disapproving observers continues in “She Writhes Beneath Me” by Roxy Jones. Here the narrator describes what she and her sweetie “don’t notice:”
When we finally venture downstairs, eyes blinking in the light craving coffee and day-old pastries, we don’t notice the glances of our shocked, sleepless neighbours at first as they pick at their Frosted Flakes, but then it swells up behind us like massive waves of jealous whispers and their hollow eyes betray the hours they lay still, listening with cold, blue envy. They wonder, I imagine, how we were entwined, whose sweaty skin slid on sheets, whose knees were spread and held, whose face met the sky with a growl and a whimper as we arched up off the bed like we had learned to fly.
Most of these stories are plausible descriptions of sex-on-the-fly, whether the participants are long-term lovers or momentarily compatible strangers. The characters meet, greet, shed their own and each other’s clothes and make sexual contact with admirable efficiency.
Several of these stories are mini space-operas based on the reliable plot premise of an all-female crew in the close quarters of a space ship. In “Oh Captain, My Captain” by Cha Cha White, the captain of a group of space pirates discovers that the vessel they have boarded runs on sexual energy. To get things moving, of course, someone has to come.
“Floating in Space” by Dena Hankins begins claustrophobically: The airlock hatch bumps my shoulder, trying to close. I swallow at the sight of Cyfal’s asscheeks bisected by the safety harness’s straps. The two women manage to work around the physical awkwardness of their situation, as do many characters in more realistic stories about plane and train travel.
Few of these stories take place in fantasy worlds, probably because brief stories about “sudden sex” don’t allow much room for worldbuilding. Nonetheless, “In the Sculpture Garden” by Cha Cha White, which begins with the different reactions of a man and a woman to a beautiful female statue, moves quickly to a conclusion that seems to come from Greek mythology.
In a parallel story, “Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes” by Lucy Felthouse, another female statue in a garden attracts attention and arouses lust, but in this case, the character transformation is more believable.
Several of these stories could be classified as erotic jokes. In “Autocorrect” by Evan Mora, a text-message conversation between an employee and her supervisor goes awry due to modern technology or some higher power:
Hi, Cris, are you coming to the meeting at 4?
I’ll be there!
Great. Please meet me in my office in 5 minutes so we can have a brief cunnilingus beforehand.
I have no words. I typed conference and my phone changed it. I am so sorry.
I’m on my way.
The mortified narrator thinks: I’m going to be fired. No – first I’m going to be brought up on sexual harassment charges, and then I’m going to be fired. Luckily, what happens in the office is much better than the narrator dared to hope for.
A few of these stories, such as Sacchi Green’s “Snowbound,” are about sex as a means of staying calm in a crisis. As in the real world, fear and suspense make each minute seem longer than it would seem otherwise.
Altogether, these stories produce an impact out of proportion to their length, possibly because they seem to occur in real time; it takes approximately as long to read one as it takes the characters to reach nirvana. These stories are ideal for reading in brief intervals or waiting-periods, or for sessions of mutual reading-aloud. So much for the old assumption that women’s lust – unlike men’s – has a long, slow fuse.
The whole world is a bad neighborhood. Shit happens. Someone has to clean it up. And sometimes unexpected pleasure serves as a consolation prize.
This is the message of the stories in this collection, each featuring a lesbian police officer and a willing female civilian or rookie cop. It would be very easy for the contributors to a collection with this theme to write over-the-top fantasies about unstoppable woman warriors with bullet-proof flesh who rock-and-roll all night with sultry suspects, ignoring professional ethics. Luckily, none of the stories in this book is that kind of cartoon.
In "Dress Uniform" by Teresa Noelle Roberts, the narrator is a lesbian cop whose girlfriend has asked her to wear her uniform to a fetish fair. The narrator controls her temper, then explains:
I'm not a fetish, Lisette. My uniform isn't a cos-play outfit or a vest and leather pants. Every time I've spanked you, you've been spanked by a cop. By me. By a woman you say you care about. And if that's not good enough for you, if you need the fucking uniform, I don't know what to do, because I can't treat it like fetish gear.
The narrator feels used and misunderstood, but then she reflects on the nature of sexual attraction:
Sure, we happened to fit each other's fantasy look, but a lot of relationships started based on nothing more substantial than having an eye for curvy African-American women or redheads or tanned blonde athletes or whatever. Just because we each had a fetish for what the other wore didn't mean we didn't connect on other levels. We'd work this out somehow.
Lisette apologizes for pushing the narrator to accommodate her fetish, and the narrator finds a way to "work this out." She buys a "police uniform" in a fetish-wear store to wear for sex-play. In some sense, she agrees to play the role of sexy cop to please the woman in her life when she is not actually doing her job.
Several of these stories deal with the stress on family members, especially spouses, of police work. In "A Cop's Wife" by Evan Mora, the narrator gets anonymous telephoned threats for her wife Patrice, a Canadian cop who has captured violent sex offenders. As Patrice reminds her wife, the threats are a part of her job. Under the circumstances, sex between the two women is a life-affirming refusal to surrender to fear.
In "Raven Brings the Light" by Kenzie Mathews, another relationship story set in a harsh northern climate (Alaska), the schoolteacher narrator is shaken by a TV news announcement about the murder of a young woman she knew. The teacher's partner, a cop, "didn't want to talk about it when she finally came home."
The narrator explains her partner's background:
In Thomasane's family, no one ever dared to laugh or smile, much less talk.
The narrator even talks to her beloved rescue dogs. The two women bridge the gap between their communication styles by sharing traditional First Nations stories about Raven, a trickster figure who found a way to steal the precious light of the sun, moon and stars and throw them in the sky. It's a story of hope, and it's enough to convey the flavor of their relationship.
Another realistic story about an established relationship between a cop and her partner is "Chapel Street Blue" by R.V. Raiment. In this story, the cop is blessed or cursed with movie-star glamor, and she has to deal with a garden-variety horndog, the male cop she works with, while investigating the murder of a young sex worker by a more violent man. The cop's partner, the narrator, offers her the distraction of sex which ends dramatically:
A sudden surge and we are sliding sweat-soaked and laughing from the gorgeous peak, my lovely law-woman and I.
But that's not the end of the story, which concludes with a revelation about how this perfect partnership began.
The story with the grittiest emotional tone in the collection is "A Prayer Before Bed" by Annabeth Leong. Once again, the murder of a woman by a violent man is the catalyst that kicks off the plot. In this case, however, trust is in short supply between the woman cop investigating the case and the woman witness who knows she is instrumental to it. Sexual attraction is a spark between them from the moment they meet, and emotional intimacy follows slowly.
"Officer Birch" is about a woman cop whose "professional" distance breaks the heart of the lonely young lesbian who reaches out to her for recognition and guidance. In a bittersweet sequel to an unequal relationship formed in a high school, the officer responds to a love-note twelve years after it is pressed into her hand. The young dyke who has never forgotten her says bluntly: Whatever we are, whatever this is, is not a friendship. Whatever it is is intensely sexual.
Stories that feature BDSM scenes (as distinct from rough sex) include "Hollis" by Jove Belle, set in boot camp, and "Riding the Rails" by the editor, Sacchi Green, set on a train on which the spoiled fourth wife of a sultan must be escorted to Washington DC by a woman cop who encounters a woman she has known for years, a fellow-officer. In a claustrophobic, rhythmically-moving environment that no one can escape until the train stops, who will do what to whom else? The suspense builds to a climax.
In "Undercover" by Ily Goyanes, the narrator resents her assignment:
A lesbian rookie vice detective going undercover as a hooker. . . who woulda thunk?
The narrator has no desire to arrest johns when more violent offenders are at large. When a car pulls up and a woman with an air of command asks for the narrator's services, the undercover cop faces a dilemma: to keep the wire that will secretly record their conversation, or remove it and risk her career in law-enforcement. As things turn out, both women get what they want, and no one would dare penalize either of them.
In the humorous "Torn Off a Strip" by Elizabeth Coldwell, a woman officer is called to a party where a young amateur stripper deserves punishment--not for showing her body or for selling sex, but for supplementing her income with theft. The sex is hot, and the ending is happy.
Stories by Delilah Devlin, R.G. Emmanuelle, Andrea Dale and J.L. Merrow are gentler accounts of the routine stresses of police life and the challenge of a civilian who wants to seduce a cop.
In "How Does Your Garden Grow?" by Cheyenne Blue, a lush garden grown by an eccentric woman in the Australian outback is investigated by a policewoman who is really more interested in a different kind of bush than in digging up anything illegal. "Healing Hand" by Lynn Mixon features a woman in the witness protection program and the woman cop who wants to ensure her safety. In this case, the healing is mutual.
These stories vary considerably in tone, but all are memorable. This anthology is about sex for grown-ups, and about the nature and price of power.
Just don't steal it. You never know who might be watching you.
There are a number of effective ways to remove lipstick stains from a collar. The most popular method is to dab against it with a moist cloth. Don’t rub – this only makes the stain more difficult to remove. The correct action should be similar to “blotting.” If the stain proves stubborn, moisten the cloth with alcohol and then repeat the “blotting” action. Pre-washes are advised (fabric permitting) for those marks that have become ingrained between wearing and laundry day. If the mark proves really stubborn (and again, fabric permitting) it’s suggested that a dishwasher detergent is used because these contain powerful de-greasing agents. Failing all of the above, a specialist cleaner needs to be brought in.
Of course, the most effective way of dealing with lipstick stains on a collar is to educate the woman you’re kissing to put her lips on flesh rather than fabric. It’s not that difficult and examples of this fabric-friendly practice occur with pleasing frequency throughout Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia’s Lipstick on Her Collar.
In case the title hasn’t given it away, I’ll explain here that Lipstick on Her Collar is an anthology of lesbian erotica. Coming from those clever people at Pretty Things Press, including 22 scintillating short stories from an impressive collection of authors, Lipstick on Her Collar is one of those books that offers something new each time you slide between its pages.
At the beginning of this book, Cecilia Tan introduces the short stories as though she is guiding the reader around a party and this is possibly the most apposite way of looking at this collection. The anthology begins with a warm welcome that is provided by Cheyenne Blue’s sensitive and witty “The Hairy Matchmaker.” Cheyenne Blue’s short fiction is invariably hot and she draws characters with a realism that makes them live and breathe. Julia Talbot, with “Straight Seams,” narrates an entertaining yet intense story that shows how two women come together through their interest in looking breathtakingly beautiful. The stories in this collection are as diverse as the guests at any well-planned party. They vary from the exquisite literariness of Andrea Miller’s “Holy Fruit” – which shows that vanilla does not have to be synonymous with mundane – through to the commanding thrill of Jean Roberta’s “My Indentured Slave” – a story that shows the most acceptable and fulfilling way of exchanging goods for services.
The consistent motif through these stories repeatedly shows femmes and butches interacting in the way that femmes and butches best interact. That said, as anyone who has ever read an anthology from Pretty Things Press should know, all of those interactions are deliciously varied in their dynamics, mechanics and execution.
The title story of this anthology comes from Sacchi Green’s own contribution to the collection. “Lipstick on Her Collar” (the short story) is set in Vietnam at the end of the sixties. Following Ms Green’s typically efficient narrative, the story introduces a femme journalist to a butch WAC sergeant and allows their relationship to develop. Sacchi Green is clearly conscious of the era’s climate in relation to this story. The sixties was not the most inclusive time for anyone who operated outside the boundaries of heterosexuality. That undercurrent of homophobic hostility tightens this story and its tension comes from a combination of the malevolent dangers posed by the VC and the more subversive threat to individual freedoms that epitomised this non-inclusive era.
All of which lends credibility to the background against which the two central characters meet. It gives their developing relationship an edge of nobility as the reader begins to appreciate that these women are fighting their own battles for freedom – separate and unsupported by those exchanging bullets in the battles around them.
Lipstick also appears on the collar of Rakelle Valencia’s protagonist in “That’s Horse Breakin’.” This short story returns to the familiar territory of the previous Green/Valencia anthology Rode Hard Put Away Wet. Valencia writes butch cowboys with an authenticity that could leave a studious reader saddle sore – and smiling because of it. This bittersweet tale of a butch woman, who can control the most powerful beasts but can’t control a flirtatious femme, combines innate eroticism with humour and pathos.If I was to write about every story in this anthology worth reading, I would just be reiterating the table of contents and spoiling all the surprises contained within a damned fine book. Aside from those I’ve mentioned previously, Lipstick on Her Collar also includes fantastic fiction from the wonderful Shanna Germain, the talented Teresa Noelle Roberts and the ever-glorious Rachel Kramer Bussel. There’s a lot in this anthology and, because of their exceptional quality, the stories are likely to remain with the reader a lot longer than any lipstick mark – regardless of where that lipstick mark has been placed.
How does one evaluate a collection subtitled True Lesbian Sex Stories?
Originality counts as one of my top criteria when reviewing fiction. A startling premise, a setting or a conflict I haven't encountered in the past, will immediately predispose me toward enjoying a story. Can this be applied to real life tales, though? To a large extent, we don't choose our experiences, although authors will clearly exercise discretion in selecting the events to recount. Still, given the fantasy-oriented nature of much erotica, the more creative and unusual premises often tend to be the most implausible.
How about the arousal generated by the stories? This is a highly personal criterion, depending as it does on one's own sexual proclivities. A couple of tales in this collection definitely pushed my buttons, especially “The Insatiable Travel Itch,” by Evan Mora, which brilliantly exposes the narrator's frustrated fantasies, and “Delinquents,” by Catherine Paulssen, a gorgeously sensual first-time tale. Given my usual tastes, one might have expected me to mention some of the kinkier offerings, such as Mia Savage's “Kat's House,”Danielle Mignon's “Are You My Mommy?” or Cheyenne Blue's “Nurse Joan.” However, I have no experience with and relatively few fantasies about F/F dominance and submission, so these titles had less of a visceral effect on me than I would have guessed.
Writing quality, then? No problem here. With one or two exceptions, the offerings in Wild Girls, Wild Nights are as well-crafted as I'd expect from an award-winning editor like Sacchi Green. Vivid descriptions, believable characters, variety in subject and voice: if this were a fiction anthology, I'd have no reservations about giving this book a definite thumbs up.
But therein lies the rub. For the most part, these tales read not like true confessions, but like fiction. They have initial hooks, plot arcs, conflict and resolution. Real world experience is messy, confusing, and usually inconclusive. Ambiguity reigns. There's no ending, happily-ever-after or other. These tales, however, are mostly polished, self-aware, self-contained nuggets with a point and a punch-line.
Of course, this isn't all that surprising. Most erotic authors mine their own sexual adventures in creating their fiction. One gets into the habit of focusing on some details and glossing over others, ramping up the heat and playing down discomfort or insecurity, twisting the outcomes in directions that make them more satisfying for readers. I've certainly done this myself, in dozens of stories.
Then there's the fact that perceptual experience is notoriously difficult to recall accurately. It's generally not possible to give an accurate account of past events without “filling in the blanks,” whether consciously or not. When the experience in question occurred decades ago (as is obviously the case for some of these authors), the imagination-to-fact ratio increases dramatically.
When I recall my first Sapphic experience now (after more than thirty years), I remember only a few salient details. If I were to recount this for a book, I'd have to recreate – or invent – almost all the context. And then there would be the temptation to change the outcome – the fact that this woman, a dear friend, and I have never talked about that one night again. That doesn't make a good ending, after all.
So I don't fault the authors in this book for producing stories that feel like – stories. However, that makes me admire the few authors whose accounts really did feel more like “being there.”
“Higher Learning” by Charlotte Dare fell into that category. I liked this account because of the unconventional relationship between an older woman returning to college and a much younger student who is nevertheless old enough to know what she wants – and what she's doing. The uncertainties of the older narrator come through clearly and ring true. Every woman, after a certain age, wonders how she could possibly be viewed as desirable. Most of all, I appreciated the fact that the story ends with a question mark. The two women pursue separate career paths in different states. Neither wants to end the relationship, but will it survive the stress of geographic separation? Ms. Dare leaves us to wonder.
Another stand-out for me was Catherine Henreid's “Odds.” This story, set in Tel Aviv, has enough disasters in it that I can't help believe it. The quirky and unpredictable encounter between the narrator and her bisexual housemate, who is in some sense a total mystery, was both intriguing and arousing.
I've already mentioned “Delinquents,” about two girlfriends who experiment with lesbian sex while their parents are away. I strongly identified with the narrator's concerns about how this would alter the relationship – naturally, given my personal experience.
Finally, I have no doubts about the truth of Dawn McKay's “Hot Summer Nights,” in which the author, a military medic in what is likely Iraq, shares a single night of healing passion with an off-limits officer. The sense of risk, of desperation, of sorrow, that permeates this story make it one of the most intense in the volume.
“I'll see you around,” she said.
“Yeah.” I knew I wouldn't. So did she.
She left as quietly as she had come, slipping from my tent in the middle of a sandstorm.
I have to reserve special mention for Allison Moon's “Foxy and the Ridiculous Lesbian Orgy.” In terms of the activities it describes, this tale is by far the wildest in the book, and certainly one of the funniest. The events in the tale undoubtedly took place – because the author staged them in order to have some content for a live girl-on-girl storytelling event.
I had no story to tell, but the flyers had gone out, and time was short. I had no choice. For the sake of science – nay for the sake of art, I had to take matters into my own hands. I had to throw a Ridiculous Lesbian Orgy.
Now, I know what you're thinking. If you construct the context for a story, are you actually experiencing the story, or are just experiencing yourself experiencing the story, thus negating the veracity of the experience? If it's really happening but in an artificial context, does it count as “true”? I'm a writer, these are the things I think about.
I'm an author, and I think about these things too. Wild Girls, Wild Nights is a bit of an epistemological puzzle, all the way around. However, if your main interest is simply in reading some hot, believable, girl-on-girl tales, you won't be disappointed.