Lisabet Sarai

Tempted by Monsters

Muscular torsoWhen it comes to writing, I’m influenced by trends, but usually only in a negative way. If everyone is writing Mafia romance, or reverse harem, or billionaire’s babies, or hotwife/cuckold kink, my immediate reaction is to write something that twists the genre so thoroughly that it’s unrecognizable.

This doesn’t do much for my sales, of course; someone who’s looking for hunky alpha billionaires and pretty, susceptible virgins is not going to get off on

But I have to admit that I get perverse satisfaction out of torturing tropes. Furthermore, I find the exercise of turning fads on their heads to be an excellent stimulus to the imagination.

I’ve recently noticed a newly popular sub-category of monster erotica. The stories I’ve seen mostly feature big, bad, burly humanoid creatures – orcs, ogres, and the like – who have lots of muscles, enormous cocks and a strong partiality for barely legal girls in short school uniforms. Furthermore, these monsters get their jollies from punishing their sweet little victims as well as screwing them silly. As for the young ladies, well, they’re terrified, but when you’re a teenager you’re also so very horny…

And I have to admit, I’m tempted to try my hand at this sub-genre. I’m pretty sure I could nail it (so to speak), if I took it seriously. I’ve thought about a setting – too many of these take place in high schools, so I’d want something at least a little different – and come up with the notion of a run-down diner somewhere out West, where the cook and owner is an ogre. The heroine will be an eighteen-year-old headed to California, looking for stardom, but marooned on the highway to nowhere. Her old car dies and she’s stuck in the dusty, nearly deserted town, where she takes a job as a waitress to earn money for repairs. I see lots of opportunities for spanking and other chastisement in this scenario, as well as abundant filthy sex, of course.

Of course, this temptation isn’t helping me complete my work in progress, a novel which still has at least ten chapters to be written. Still, I find myself sketching out scenes while I’m swimming my laps, or waiting in line at the bank. If I keep following these lines of thought, I might not be able to resist.

Meanwhile… I thought I’d share a short, tongue-in-cheek tale that involves a monster, and speaks to the question of tropes. Enjoy!


By Lisabet Sarai

Laurel gazed out at the lake from the cabin porch and released another sigh. A full moon silvered the water. Little ripples murmured as they kissed the narrow beach. A gentle wind stirred the pines. Otherwise, silence reigned. She ran her fingers through her long, blonde locks. Pain knotted under her lush breasts. The night was achingly beautiful, but so very lonely.

Of course, she had wanted solitude. That’s why she’d fled, after Harold’s funeral. Her step children circled like vultures, ready to attack, determined to contest his revised will. She had to get away. Let her lawyers handle them She understood why her husband had cut them out and left his entire fortune to her. He was trying to assuage his guilt, to apologize for his failures. No amount of money, though, could ever compensate for those lost years.

She had always loved this place, buried in the forests of the Upper Peninsula, ten miles from the nearest settlement. “Aren’t you worried, Lauri, up there all by yourself?” her best friend Marissa had asked when Laurel announced her plans. “A woman on her own? What about wild animals? Criminals? Rapists?”

I’ve got the satellite phone, hon. And the Farleys in the next cabin are barely a mile away. Jim checks by every day to make sure I’ve got everything I need.”

The haunting call of a loon echoed through the stillness A chill shiver ran up her spine. During the day it was easy to forget how alone she was, but at night…

I’m fine, she told herself. There’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

A sudden noise arose, as if to contradict her self-reassurance, the crackle and pop of something moving through the underbrush along the shore. Shrinking back into the shadows near the cabin wall, she scanned the thick vegetation. The racket grew louder, snapping twigs and a huff that might have been the breathing of some great beast. A moose? she wondered. A bear?

She gripped the rifle Jim Farley had pressed on her. Laurel had no idea how to use it – what romance heroine would? – but the cold metal under her palm blunted the razor edge of her terror. If I just stay quiet, it will probably go away. She knew she should slip back into the cabin and lock the door, but fear held her paralyzed. Quite simply, she couldn’t move. Standing barefoot on the rough boards, wearing only brief shorts and a tank top – why bother with undergarments when there was no one around? – she’d never felt so vulnerable.

The intruder was close now. She could see the bushes shaking, off to the left. Any instant, it – or he – would burst into the clearing in front of the hut.

She found herself whispering a childhood prayer.

Ugh! Damn roots!” It was a man’s voice, confident and mature, deep and rich as milk chocolate, with a hint of a drawl that brought back memories from her youth. A decidedly masculine body stumbled out of the brush onto the beach. He pulled himself up to his full height – easily six three or six four – and gazed around him. Broad -shouldered and narrow-waisted, that lithe, powerful form set alarm bells ringing in Laurel’s mind and a current of heat swirling through her body.

No. It couldn’t be.

The interloper peered into the darkness and sniffed the air. All the lights in the cabin were off. He seemed not to see her. He raised his face to the moon.

There was no doubt. She would never forget those perfect cheekbones, that arrogant nose, that chiseled jaw. Moonbeams lit his bottomless blue eyes, making them glow like sapphires. A strangled moan escaped her throat. Her nipples beaded under her thin top and a growing hunger throbbed in her core.

Grant. Grant Steele. The one man she’d ever loved.

Laurel? Laurel baby! You are here, after all.” In two athletic bounds, he’d scaled the porch and stood towering over her diminutive frame. He was solid, real – this wasn’t one of her eternal fantasies. Without preliminaries, he gathered her into his arms. He smelled of balsam, damp earth and grease from his favorite french fries. The all-too-familiar scent left her limp and increasingly damp.

His firm lips pressed against her, mastering her in an instant. Molten need flooded her as he pulled her more tightly against his rock-hard body. His tongue invaded her mouth and tangled with hers, brazen and insistent. Meanwhile his always-bold hands traced her bountiful curves, kneading her well-toned buttocks and tickling the side of one full, tender breast.

Lightning sparked through her with each of his touches. His massive erection prodded her pubis as he continued to ravage her mouth. All she wanted was to sink to the ground and open herself to him. It took every ounce of will she could muster to push him away.

Grant – Grant – wait a moment, please!”

I’ve waited half a lifetime for you, angel. That’s long enough!” Nevertheless he backed off a bit. She pressed her hands against his chest, needing to catch her breath for a moment, to increase the distance between them. If she didn’t, she’d go mad.

Under his tight tee shirt, ridges of unyielding muscle rose and fell under her fingertips, like a bumpy road. She fought down a sudden wave of nausea. “Grant, how did you ever find me?”

Instead of answering, he bent to kiss her again, nibbling at the corner of her mouth, sliding his burning lips along her jaw, sucking on her earlobe until electric sparks sizzled down to her moist center. His hands busied themselves, too, slipping under the waistband of her shorts to cup her bare rear cheek.

The shock of his flesh on hers made her see stars. He kindled delight in every cell of her being, but she had to hold on, at least for a moment. She had to know. She trust her palms against his chest once more, ignoring the shudder that crept through her.

Grant! Please! Who told you I was out here?”

Nobody told me. I just knew. You’re my soul mate, Laurel. I always know where you are. Of course, getting to you might not always be that easy.” He glanced a bit ruefully at the biceps bulging out of his short sleeves, which were scratched and raw from fighting his way through the woods, then favored her with one of his irresistible, boyish grins. “But it’s worth it…”

The sight of his torn, pneumatic flesh made her a bit queasy. She ducked away before he could descend on her mouth once more. She wanted him – oh, how she wanted him, with the pent-up urgency of fifteen years apart! But first they had to talk. Communication was important. She wasn’t going to just give herself to him like some slut. She had to know how he felt, why he’d left town so suddenly after that night, so long ago…

Still. His soul mate, he’d called her. Passion flared in her heart and between her thighs. It was too wonderful to be true!

If you felt that way – why did you leave me – you know, after…”

After you refused to give me your cherry?”

Come on, Grant, you know we couldn’t. We were barely seventeen. We were romance characters. It’s just not allowed.”

He didn’t try to disguise the bitterness in his voice. “I ran away from the hurt. I thought I could forget you. That I could bury myself in other bodies and burn out the need.” With a gentleness that almost made her sob, he trailed his fingers through her luminous golden tresses. “And I tried, baby. Believe me, I tried. I whored my way from Mombasa to Bangkok. But you were with me the whole time. Every woman I ever fucked was really you.”

His crudeness made her own desire flare. “Oh, Grant…”

Then, when I heard your husband had died, that you were a widow now – I had to track you down. To make you give me what you’ve owed me for so very long… what we both need and deserve…”

He seized her with new roughness. “I’m finally going to make you mine, baby.” Her clothing tore like tissue paper under his assault. She sprawled backward onto the porch, bare as the day she was born. The night air, cool on her fevered skin, both thrilled and terrified her.

Her nakedness stunned him for a moment. He gazed at her with something like reverence. “God, you’re beautiful, Laurel! You’re a dream come true.” He dabbled his fingertips in her moist cleft, barely revealed by her gracefully parted thighs. “And so wet, darling! You want me as much as I want you.”

He knelt between her legs and she held her breath. The moment – the moment was coming. But she had to tell him the truth.

Of course I want you, Grant. I always wanted you, no matter what I said or did. That night up on the hill above town – you have no idea how much I wanted you to be my first. How difficult it was to say no.”

I should have been.” Anger and regret both rang in his voice. He was fiddling with his jeans, trying to get his zipper open. Laurel held her breath. “But it’s too late now.”

She propped herself up on her elbows, her eyes glued to his fingers. “No, Grant. It’s not.”

What?” He sat back on his heels to stare at her. “What are you talking about?”

Harold – he – well, let’s just say that he and I never consummated our marriage.”

You mean – are you trying to say….” he whispered.

Yes, my love. I’m still a virgin.”

Praise the Lord and the saints!” He dragged her back into his arms, kissing her all over. “I can’t believe it. After all this time… Oh, baby, I’m going to make it so good for you, so very good. Just lie back and let me take care of everything!”

With exaggerated care he settled her onto her back once more. Her legs flopped open and her musky aroma pervaded the atmosphere. Never in all her thirty three years had she been so drenched, so aroused, so ready.

Grant gave her a devilish grin. He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it over his head to reveal his naked torso.

Laurel screamed. Terror drowned out every erotic thought, every lascivious sensation. “No! No! Get away from me!”

The vision before her was more monster than man. Unnaturally smooth, totally hairless skin stretched taut over the swollen contours of his massive pectorals. Puffed-up deltoids merged into the ballooning biceps she’d glimpsed earlier. Ropy veins twisted around the contoured flesh of his arms, like tubing installed to nourish some artificial life form. Below his nipples, his abdomen rippled, wavy crests and valleys, all hard and burnished. The sight made her ill, made her weak. She closed her eyes, unable to bear the horror.

Laurel, honey. What’s wrong?” Grant bent closer to her face. One rubbery nipple brushed against her own breast.

Aye! Get away from me…!” Crab-like, heedless of the splinters embedding themselves in her bare butt, she scooted backward, trying to get away from that unbearable ugliness and the awful fear it kindled. Fear was her only reality now. She clambered onto her feet, stumbled down the porch steps and raced off into the night.

Of course, Grant could have stopped her – he outweighed her by sixty or seventy pounds, easily, and he had all those muscles – but he was so astonished by her reaction that he didn’t even think about it. What was wrong with her? All the women he’d had over the years had raved about his physique. He’d expected Laurel to go weak with lust, as they had…

He shook his head. She had always been a bit nuts. A virgin at thirty three! Maybe she wasn’t his soul mate after all.

Meanwhile, Laurel crashed through the forest, heedless of the branches tearing at her naked flesh. Her only thought was to put distance between her and the disgusting reality of Grant’s over-inflated body. She ran and ran, until she was totally lost. Finally, when her strength failed her, she collapsed on the mossy bank of little stream that ran through a moon-dappled clearing.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she gasped for air. Sobs shook her ripe, vulnerable body. Was she crying for her lost love? Her lost innocence?

Gradually her breathing slowed. She drank deeply from the crystalline rivulet, to soothe her raw throat. Then she lay back and closed her eyes, focusing on the faint sounds of the night and the sweet, spicy scents of the nature. Gradually a kind of peace stole over her. She had escaped. She was free.

Her fingers drifted to her bare sex. She was still wet, still tingling with residual want. Not for Grant, though. Never. Dreamy and relaxed, she stroked her moist folds and savored the ripples of sensation kindled by that light touch. Perhaps she didn’t need a man at all.

The sound of breaking branches roused her from her erotic reverie. Grant! But whatever was forcing itself through the underbrush was bigger than Grant, more powerful.

Her heart in her throat, Laurel rolled onto her knees. She was ready to run if she had to, but for the moment curiosity held her fast.

A hairy form at least seven feet tall burst from the trees into the open area and stood, sniffing the air. The beast stood on its hind legs like a man, but its immense stature and shaggy pelt made it clear this creature was not human. Its tufted ears swiveled, trying to locate the source of Laurel’s shallow breathing. Saliva dripped from its maw, which bristled with vicious looking teeth. Meanwhile, jutting from its groin was a rigid and very human-looking male organ – aside from the fact that it was half again as long and thick as any penis that had ever appeared in an erotic romance story.

The creature’s ferocious growl changed to some more ambiguous vocalization when he finally noticed Laurel’s naked form crouched on the earth. He took a step forward, his erect member bobbing like a conductor’s wand. The rhythmic motion held Laurel transfixed. Rekindled lust flickered through her, tightening her nipples and moistening her virgin cunt.

Her fur-covered companion made another sound, grunting with a rising intonation that seemed to signal a question. He took yet another step in her direction.

He didn’t seem inclined to attack her. Laurel almost wished he would.

Finally, worn down by too much terror, frustrated with waiting, she flopped over on her back, raised her knees and gave the creature a good look at her wet and gleaming sex. Enough was enough.

Come on, big boy. Let’s see what you can do.

Reader Beware

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

To what extent are we authors responsible for protecting our readers from negative emotional experiences? Any fiction runs the risk that it will make readers uncomfortable. Indeed, some books do so intentionally. (Have you ever read anything by Chuck Palahniuk?)

Can we assume that readers are mature enough to walk away from books that offend or upset them? Or do we need to provide warnings when some content we write might trigger unpleasant memories, cause emotional distress or violate personal norms or expectations?

Society at the moment is so hypersensitive, politically correct and litigious that some publishers bend over backwards to avoid ruffling reader feathers. My publisher tacked the following warning onto the blurb for my 2014 erotic romance novel The Ingredients of Bliss:

Reader Advisory: This book contains female dominance and submission, anal sex, public sex, ethnic slurs, threats of violence and a scene of attempted rape.

Actually, the book also includes M/f D&S – wonder why they didn’t mention that?

Personally, I felt this warning was excessive. I wouldn’t have objected to mentioning the attempted rape (by a criminal character, also responsible for the “ethnic slurs” – the heroine is Chinese), but lumping that together with anal sex? This is clearly identified as erotic romance, folks! You get what you pay for.

I just finished reading a humorous MM erotic romance from the same publisher that has the following warnings:

Reader advisory: This book contains mention of physical abuse and a racist comment.

I saw this when I started the book, and I tried to notice these supposed red flags. The only “racist comment” involves a character who’s deliberately trying to seem like a nasty person asking an Australian citizen of Turkish ancestry where he’s “really” from. If there was any mention of physical abuse, it flew right by me.

The question of racist language in literature is particularly thorny right now, in midst of Black Lives Matter anger. I take very seriously the notion that language has power, that it shapes our perspectives and prejudices (as well as reflecting them). On the other hand, I believe we need to distinguish between the prejudices of the author and those of her characters.

I have a speculative fiction story I wrote not long after Trump was elected, envisioning deliberate attempts to foment hatred between ethnic groups. One of the main characters is a young Vietnamese woman, the other a Black man. They live in their respective ghettos, in a near-perpetual state of war. The story uses some very strong negative language, with each character hurling racist epithets at the other. This is important to the narrative. It illustrates how the two have been taught to view one another.

When I posted an excerpt from this work, I received some ferociously critical comments about the language. Without the racial slurs, however, the story wouldn’t work. It would be neither genuine nor effective.

Then there’s the recent movement to ban historical classics like Gone with the Wind, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird because of their racist content. The racism in these books probably does reflect the authors’ own attitudes. One has to remember, however, that these views in turn mirror the beliefs and assumptions of their times. It makes no sense at all to castigate an author for racial prejudice when she was embedded in a society where racial inequity was an unquestioned norm.

Far better to use such books as examples that illustrate how much more aware we have become. Language perpetuates belief which in turn influences language. Banning these books in an attempt to insulate people from offensive content throws away an opportunity to observe, analyze and learn about this dynamic.

Besides, these books are not mere racist polemics. They’re powerful, engaging stories with memorable characters. They have enduring value which I believe is not negated by their admittedly racist elements.

Would I object to a reader advisory mentioning the racism in Gone with the Wind? Probably not, though I’d wonder if a brief warning is in fact too superficial. Far better, perhaps, to include a preface discussing the issue in greater depth, including its historical aspects.

Of course, most people don’t read prefaces.

Do they pay attention to reader advisories?

One reason I dislike advisories is that they prime the reader to look for certain story elements. In some cases this can interfere with suspense or surprise. In The Ingredients of Bliss, I wanted the reader to be shocked when Le Requin attacks Emily Wong. The reader advisory spoils that.

Very occasionally, though, I will include an advisory on the books I self-publish. If the book is a reprint, I want to be upfront about that. No reason to aggravate people who’ve read a previous edition. And for my most recent release, Incognito, I included a rather extensive reader advisory, because the novel is marketed as an erotic romance but severely strains some of the genre’s conventions.

Reader Advisory: This novel is an erotic romance featuring a committed relationship and culminating in a wedding. Nevertheless, the main characters participate in a wide range of taboo sexual activities, both together and separately.

I felt it necessary to include this because I’ve experienced the ire of some romance readers when they come across any behavior they consider to be “cheating”. If readers consider monogamy or fidelity to be a fundamental requirement for their romance, they should definitely steer clear of this book!

So this warning is more about marketing than anything else. I really don’t want to offend readers or make them unhappy. (And I don’t want them leaving bad reviews!)

On the other hand, I also believe that the people who read my books are adults who won’t be permanently traumatized if they encounter something that’s personally objectionable or sensitive. If something squicks or triggers them, I hope they’ll simply stop reading. Close the book. Turn off the app. They are, after all, ultimately in control.

My Secret Life

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

When I published my first novel, I didn’t realize how profoundly it would change my existence. After all, I’d submitted to Black Lace on a whim, intrigued by the fact that someone might be interested in reading stories inspired by my forbidden fantasies and my real-world sexual adventures. Since my book took place in the mysterious and exotic orient, I devised a pen name to match, with a hint of foreign glamor.

I even concocted a fake biography for “Lisabet Sarai”. The only child of a Lebanese belly dancer and a French army officer stationed in the Middle East, Lisabet split her childhood between the souks of Marrakesh and the cafés of Montmatre. As a precocious teenager, she danced for princes and sultans, one of whom financed her higher education. As much in demand for her exquisite erotic poetry as for her sensuous danse de ventre, Lisabet has traveled all over the world, capturing her impressions in her daring stories. Her dozens of lovers remember her with nostalgia and affection, years after their brief but incandescent liaisons.

Little did I realize that Lisabet would take on a life of her own.

There are some grains of truth in my tall tale. I did perform as a belly dancer in my youth. I’ve visited every continent except Australia, and now live in Asia. And I did go through what I like to call my “sex goddess” period, in the golden age after the invention of the Pill and before AIDS, when I seemed to be overflowing with sexual exuberance which I shared pretty broadly. I like to believe that if my former lovers think of me, they do so fondly.

However, my public reality is far more prosaic than Lisabet’s. I’m in my late sixties. I’ve been happily married for nearly forty years. I work in teaching and tech, occupations which do demand a certain sort of creativity, but which call on a different set of skills than my erotic writing. Most people who know me have never heard of Lisabet (though I occasionally fantasize that some of my friends or family might actually be Lisabet’s readers, without my knowing).

Although I’m genuinely proud of my body of work, stretching over more than two decades, I can’t brag. I can’t even tell most people. Both my parents were avid readers—it’s no accident I’m a book worm—but they went to their graves not knowing about my alter-ego. They wouldn’t have disowned me or condemned me or anything like that, but I know my preferred subject matter would have made them uncomfortable. Once I went so far as to inscribe a print copy of Raw Silk (second edition) for my father, intending it as a birthday gift. At the last minute, I returned the book to my hidden stash of author’s copies, recognizing that my dad’s peace of mind was more important than my own desire for recognition.

Meanwhile, the need to keep my alternative existence a secret has become far more critical since I took up residence in a fairly conservative foreign country with strict anti-pornography laws. I love my adopted home and enjoy living here. If I were exposed as the notorious Lisabet Sarai, I could be kicked out, even put in jail. So I take precautions. I use a different computer for my Lisabet work and communications than for other tasks. I encrypt all my files. I don’t use the same social networks for my two identities. I never do anything related to Lisabet on my phone. I bite my tongue when someone starts talking about self-publishing.

I have friends here who are literary, creative types. I am so tempted to tell them about my carefully hidden career. I really have to watch myself. After more than twenty years of writing and publishing smut, I want to shout from the rooftops, give away copies to friends and family, do signings and readings like other authors. I don’t dare.

So my existence as Lisabet Sarai is pretty much limited to the cybersphere. I email. I blog. I participate in the Erotica Readers & Writers Association lists. Very rarely I get the chance to meet some of my erotica colleagues in person. When I do, it’s a tremendous high.

I love connecting with fellow erotic authors. To be honest, I feel closer to many of my on-line friends in the erotica community than I do to my meat space acquaintances. I suppose that’s because with them, I can be honest. I don’t have to hide behind a veil of respectability. I can be myself—experimental, iconoclastic, taboo, still chronicling the thrilling variations of desire even though I’m a senior citizen.

The thing is, Lisabet Sarai really is me, a hugely important part of me that I have to keep a secret from most of the world. It’s difficult, even a bit painful, to conceal my true nature. I’m grateful that with you, at least, I don’t have to hide.

Seven Minute Read

Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

Long before sex, there was reading – one of my first joys.

My parents began teaching me the rudiments when I was four and a half. I still recall the blaze of pride when at five and a half I made it all the way through “Dick and Jane” on my own. I had a library card at six, and after that, there was no stopping me. My parents tried, with limited success, to instill a sense of balance. An obedient little girl, I’d go outside to play when they insisted, but I’d be back as soon as I could manage, sprawled on my bed and lost in ancient Egypt or revolutionary France or some colony on Mars.

Through the trials of my life, books have offered constant companionship and intimate comfort. As I age, I console myself with the notion that even if my body fails me, I’ll always be able to read.

Lately, though, I see alarming indications that reading may be going the way of the dodo and the dinosaur. So-called “new media” – predominantly visual – appear to be replacing written text as the preferred way to communicate information. Instead of user manuals or product specifications, companies offer video tutorials and testimonials. College textbooks have a lower text to graphics ratio than ever before. Mobile phone and tablet “apps” use icons for control, eliminating the need for reading or typing. Point-of-Sale systems use pictures or bar codes, not product names, to identify merchandise.

Even the New York Times appears to be following the trend. I receive a daily email with the day’s top headlines and links to the corresponding articles. Over the past few years, I’ve notice more and more of the links lead to videos or slide shows as opposed to text articles. And if you do follow a link to an actual story, you’re assaulted with video ads left and right.

In the so-called real world, I work as a professor. I used to assign reading to my undergraduate students from text books or original sources. I’ve completely abandoned that. I have learned from experience that my students either will not do the reading, or will not understand it. They do not even read my assignments. Instead, they ask me questions whose answers are clearly explained in the (very carefully crafted) instructions.

When I send students an informative article about some technical topic, they want to know if I have a link to a YouTube tutorial.

Yes, I know. I sound like a perfect curmudgeon. All my examples are anecdotal. However, research confirms my observations. According to the American Psychological Association, in 2016 twelfth-graders report spending an average of six hours per day on online activities, reading two fewer books each year in 2016 compared with 1976. Approximately one-third did not read even one book (including e-books) for pleasure in the year prior to the 2016 survey, nearly triple the number reported in the 1970s.

An American Academy of Arts and Sciences survey found that the average time American adults spent reading for personal interest declined at every education level from 2003 to 2018. The largest absolute decline occurred among those with advanced degrees, with the average falling from 39 minutes per day in 2003 to 28 minutes in 2018. The largest proportional decline occurred among Americans with less than a high school education, where the average time spent reading fell by more than half, from 18 minutes per day to eight.

Eight minutes per day reading for personal interest? Can you detect my tone of disbelief?

Meanwhile, have you noticed the recent trend to subtitle online articles and blog posts with estimates of the time they’ll take to read? “Twelve minute read.” “Seven minute read”. “Three minute read.” Does anyone other than me find this disturbing?

First of all, I object to the notion that reading is somehow interfering with other, more important activities. Heaven forbid that you spend too much time reading! This will only take you a couple of minutes, is the implication. Then you can get back to your Facebook feed or your streaming TV series or your Candy Crush.

Second, these annotations suggest that one pass through an article will be enough to assimilate its content. There’s no recognition of the fact that sometimes, you need (or want) to re-read, to re-think and re-evaluate.

Finally, seven minutes for whom? Each of us reads at a different pace. Some of us need more time to understand, others less. Who is responsible for coming up with these measurements, anyway?

I have to admit, I don’t spend as much time as I used to reading for pleasure. Still, I’m always in the middle of at least three books, and I typically devote at least half an hour before I go to sleep to one of them.

Written language is an incredibly efficient method for conveying information. Although there’s a theory that one picture may be worth a thousand words, I don’t believe visual or aural media alone can match the depth and complexity offered by written communication. This is at least partly due to the fact that unlike video or audio, reading does not have to be sequential. You can always go back and reread if you miss something, want to confirm something, or simply want to enjoy an especially well-crafted paragraph a second time.

I worry that society will suffer due to the decline in reading. There’s not much I can do about this social and intellectual trend, however – except to encourage the kids in my life to love books as much as I do.


Mindless Smut

Image by Andrea Altini from Pixabay

When I started publishing erotica, more than two decades ago, my work tended toward the more literary end of the genre. Reflecting on my personal erotic adventures, I wanted to explore the nuances of desire, the ways in which lust challenges and transforms us. I was particularly fascinated by the emotional and spiritual dimensions of dominance and submission. Indeed, along with fellow ERWA member S.F. Mayfair, I edited a collection of BDSM short stories in 2003 entitled Sacred Exchange.

If you pick up any of the tales from my first decade as an erotica author, you’ll find an earnest focus on conflict, characterization and language. There’s sex, of course, but less than you might expect given the genre label. I was at least as interested in the experience of arousal as I was in its consummation.

Writing serious erotica was hard work. Furthermore, as time went on, I began to feel as though I was repeating myself, rehashing the same themes, especially when dealing with my first love, S/M. For recreation and relaxation, I started publishing what I would label as “mindless smut”: stories without any deep message in which all the characters are perpetually horny and gleefully eager to act on their carnal impulses.

Much to my astonishment, and somewhat to my embarrassment, I discovered these uninhibited and rather superficial tales sold fairly well. Furthermore, creating them was a blast. Once I’d decided to slip into smut-monger mode, the words just flowed. I’d never succeeded before in writing any sort of series, but my outrageous, somewhat silly novella Hot Brides in Vegas had barely hit the shelves when I started getting ideas for a sequel. Eventually the Vegas Babes series grew to five volumes of mindless smut.

In fact, writing this sort of fiction does require some craft. Although you (of course) need to include a lot of sex, you also need variety. If every scene involves the same activities, eventually even the most dedicated one-handed reader will get bored. I’ve noted in a previous post the importance of escalation. As the story unfolds, the sex scenes should become more intense and/or more taboo. Even porn needs a story arc, with a big climax (or ten!) and a happy ending for all. Every chapter should push the characters closer to the edge – or maybe I should say, pull them deeper into depravity!

I just published a brand new piece of unmitigated smut entitled Alex in Tittyland. It’s a loose (in several senses!) parody of Louis Carroll’s classic with a harem theme, inspired by discussions with a young male friend. In the process of penning this story I realized once again (1) how much fun it is to let my sexual imagination run wild and (2) how much thought is nevertheless required in order to create effective porn.

But it was still a lot easier than writing erotic romance or historically plausible steam punk.

I have to admit, however, that the prospect of producing nothing but mindless smut makes me uncomfortable. It feels too easy, and yes, a bit exploitative. In addition, I suspect that much of the audience doesn’t care in the least about premise, plot, characterization or even grammar. They’re just looking for the dirty parts. While I believe that my emphasis on craft makes my smut more readable, I’m not sure that my efforts constitute a competitive advantage when it comes to sales.

So I’ll probably continue to swing from one extreme of erotica to the other, delving into the emotional complexities of sexuality in one book, engaging in orgiastic fantasies in the next.

Adaptability is always a virtue, right?


Covering Your Assets

All things considered, I much prefer self-publishing to working with a publisher. I like being able to put out books that don’t fit neatly into someone else’s genre pigeon holes. I appreciate not having to fight with an editor, especially about whether the sex I write is too raw or explicit, or whether I can include LGBTQ interactions in what is primarily a heterosexual romance. Given my busy real world schedule, I’m glad I don’t have to write to someone else’s deadlines. That might make me more productive, but at this point, I really don’t need or want the stress. And of course, I’m happy to get a bigger slice of the pie for each book I sell.

For the most part, in my view, self-publishing is a big win. There’s one area, however, where there are pros and cons: the question of covers.

Every book, self-published or not, needs a cover. And both marketing research and personal intuition suggest that the quality of the cover does affect sales. With all the books available, you need a cover that will grab a potential reader’s attention and communicate the essential qualities of your book – all in a fraction of a second before her eyes flit to the next book on the page.

Having a publisher responsible for your covers is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it relieves you of a lot of work and/or expense. On the other, sometimes you have to accept a cover you really don’t like. Most publishers do solicit author input on cover art, but they may have considerations other than the story, related to branding, imprints, series, etc. And I’ve observed (unsurprisingly) that the covers coming out of a particular publisher have some tendency to look alike.

When you self-publish, you have much more control, but you must either purchase a cover (pre-made or custom) or create one yourself. I’ve done both, but I have a pretty limited budget for third-party art. I don’t expect to make a lot of money on my writing (which is more of a beloved avocation than a career), but I don’t want to go into the red. A couple of covers can easily eat up my royalties for a month.

So I’ve been making many of my covers. And I admit, it can be a painful process. I think I have the necessary imagination and artistic perspective, but my practical skills are extremely basic. I also seem to have the devil’s time finding stock photos that satisfy my needs.

Still, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years. Here are a few rules of thumb, based on my observations and experience.

Readability is critical

E-publishing platforms require you to submit a high resolution cover (for instance, 2000×3000 at 300 dpi), but in fact most readers will see your cover as a thumbnail 200 to 300 pixels wide or even smaller. It is essential that they can read the title and the author name, even at this very coarse resolution. It should also be possible to identify the primary images in the cover.

Just for the heck of it, I grabbed the “Trending” covers from the Smashwords home page today.

These thumbnails are only 125 pixels wide (click on the plus at the upper right to see actual size) – and some of the titles are close to illegible. (What’s the title of the middle book? The only really clear words are “in the”! And forget about figuring out who wrote it.)

Readability is influenced by font style, font size, font and background color and contrast. The “busyness” of the cover also has an impact; if there’s too much graphical detail the text can get lost.

You want a cover that’s dramatic, arresting, attention-getting – but readability is more important than any of these. The best way to insure readability is to examine your covers at very low resolution. If you can make out the title and author in an image 200 pixels wide, you’re probably doing okay.

Visually signal genre and story content

Most of us at ERWA write what would be considered “genre fiction”: erotica, erotic romance, romcom, horror, science fiction. Every genre has cover conventions, typical styles and image content used by many books. Chick lit, for instance, tends to use cartoonish drawings in bright colors rather than photo-realistic imagery. This is often true of cozy mysteries as well (though the image content will be different), but not more serious mysteries. Romance covers usually feature photos of the protagonists, often though not always in an embrace. Naked, muscled, headless male torsos are also ubiquitous.

Here’s a quick screen capture from my romance publisher, Totally Bound.

The color schemes often signal the sub-genre, with darker shades for suspense or paranormal. For some reason romance covers also often have a lot of background detail as well. It’s very common to have an image of the setting, whether it’s a city skyline or a windswept prairie, behind the central figures.

Erotica covers, of course, tend to push the envelope, focusing in on seductive body parts as much as on faces. The covers are intended to arouse the reader, hopefully without attracting the scrutiny of the censors.

If you are creating your own covers, you need to decide how closely you will follow the current trends. You want readers to be able to identify what sort of story you’ve written, but you don’t want your cover to blend into the crowd.

This is a tough guideline for me to follow. First, many of my books don’t fit neatly into a single genre. A lot of my work straddles the fuzzy line between erotic romance and erotica. I also work in many secondary genres: sci fi, steam punk, paranormal, and so on. I struggle to create covers that capture the essence of my titles.

Sometimes it may be more important to you to convey the tone of the book than the genre. I recently published a new edition of my M/M paranormal erotic romance Necessary Madness. Although this novel is definitely romance, in the sense that it focuses on a single developing relationship (and even ends with a wedding), its a rather dark book that includes some very intense episodes: horrific visions of disasters, scenes set in a psychiatric hospital, and satanic rituals.

Here is the original cover, from Totally Bound, a very traditional romance cover, without much indication of the paranormal sub-genre. (I should say that I was able to choose the images of the heroes as part of this design.)

Here’s the new cover I created. I’ve focused much more on the paranormal aspect here. There’s even an echo of horror, which in fact is fitting to the story. I don’t even include an image of the second hero.

I don’t know which cover is better, but they definitely send out different signals.

Be distinctive and original – but not too subtle

Those of you who’ve known me for a while are quite familiar with my contrarian tendencies. Hence I’m more likely than not to stray away from the genre norms in choosing or creating my covers. Sometimes, though, it’s possible to be too subtle.

Here’s a cover I adore, for the first edition (2016) of The Gazillionaire and the Virgin, created for me by Willsin Rowe.

This is pure BDSM romance, sweet as well as hot, which turns the Fifty Shades of Grey stereotype on its head. Willsin deliberately designed this to visually echo the original Fifty Shades cover, with the gray necktie.

I thought this idea was brilliant. However, in retrospect, I doubt anyone else noticed.

In contrast, here’s the cover I did for the second edition, which was released on Valentine’s Day.

This cover screams erotic romance (at least to me). Furthermore, even though there’s not a handcuff or riding crop to be seen, I think (or at least hope) that the positions of the man and woman, and their expressions, suggest a power exchange relationship.

Series covers need a visual theme

For most of my writing career, I wrote standalone titles. I honestly couldn’t imagine writing a series; when I finished a story, it felt complete and I didn’t have any ideas for follow-on books.

A few years ago, that somehow changed. I found myself typing “The End”, then almost immediately starting to dream up new situations and characters in the same fictional world. My longest series so far, Vegas Babes, includes five books (and I have some rough ideas for a sixth, if I can ever find the time to write it).

If possible, the covers in a series should have some similar elements, to communicate the fact that this is somehow a connected set of titles. However, when I wrote the first Vegas Babes book, Hot Brides in Vegas, I didn’t realize this would be a series. Hence I had to adapt the later covers to the mood and visual theme of the first book cover: mostly blank background, beautiful women, and a specific set of fonts.

Of course, one advantage of self-publishing is that you’re never stuck with a particular cover. It’s fast and easy to change the cover on Amazon or Smashwords. (Good thing, too, because sometimes the censors will force you to make a switch!) Still, retrofitting a cover to match a series theme isn’t a trivial effort.

When I started The Toymakers Guild, I had a three-book series in mind. Here are the first two covers. Much more similar than the Vegas Babes, but I’ve actually had considerable difficulty finding appropriate foreground figures. I still haven’t located a woman for the third cover (though that won’t be an issue for a while!)

For erotica, expression is more important than bodies

Since most of you write erotica, I’ll end with this guideline. This is purely a personal belief. I do not have any evidence to support it. However, for me, sexy bodies or poses do nothing to excite my interest unless they’re accompanied by a genuinely provocative or aroused expression on the part of the models.

Here are a couple of my favorite covers by other members of ERWA.

I love both of these because of the emotions I read in the women’s faces. In the Hired Help cover, the woman is believably transported by lust. At the same time, there’s an aloofness that matches the character in the story.

The main character in the Nina cover has a more ambiguous look. She’s not sure what she’s getting into – but she thinks she likes it!

In my view, if your cover characters look aroused, your readers will be, too.


An Insane Plan

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

My husband always tells me that I need to learn not to over-commit. After forty years together with me, he knows very well how hard it is for me to dial back my goals to realistic levels. For example, I can’t seem to resist volunteering for a task when it’s needed, especially when I know I can do a better job than most people. I try to keep my promises realistic, but I’m fundamentally an optimist. Even when I have a long to-do list, I figure I can slip in another task or two without any negative effects.

So, during January, I’ve promised my readers to release four books, all paranormal, all at the intro price of 99 cents. This is a total of about 150K words.

Just to be clear, I don’t have to write these books. They’re all titles that have become unavailable, either because of a publisher’s closing or my deliberately reclaiming the rights. Still, self-publishing isn’t an instant process. I have to reformat each manuscript to the style template I use, and of course I do editing on the way. For books that were previously with my British publisher, I often need to change the dialect from UK to US English. In many cases, I need to replace the blurb and excerpt at the end (“If you liked X, you might also enjoy Y”) to use a more recent book, or one that is in fact still available.

Next, I have to consider the question of covers. In two of the four cases, I like the old covers too much to change them, even though that might help sales. For one book, I’ve bought a pre-made cover. The longest and most challenging volume, though, a 50K paranormal erotic romance novel, has a new title, and I wanted a new look. So I’ve spent hours futzing around with Gimp and CorelDraw, trying to create something that looks half-decent. It was really depressing when one of my cover artist friends told me my cover was a mess and that the font which I loved so much “sort of says 50’s tiki bar flier” to him. I didn’t agree, and kept the font, but I spent more hours trying to clean up the worst flaws in the images. (In all fairness, it’s the most complex cover I’ve ever attempted, a combination of three different images.)

Then there’s writing the blurb, picking out the keywords, creating a media kit with excerpts and so on, tracking down the buy links as they appear and saving them in the media kit, sending the kit out to bloggers, announcing the release on my own blog and to my email list… assuming Amazon doesn’t kick my book to the curb for keyword violations or some other such silliness!

Meanwhile, I’m working full time. I am still adapting to the new job I started last October, which may well be the most demanding position I’ve ever had – especially since I’m at least twenty years older than most of my colleagues. Some days I don’t even have time to check my Lisabet email.

Am I insane? Probably – but in fact, I’ve managed to put three of the four books out there (the latest hitting the virtual shelves next Wednesday) and probably will do the final one, a 15K short with the pre-made cover, this weekend. So maybe I’ll succeed after all.

Hubby will say this is just going to encourage more insanity. I’m sure he’s right.

I’m a strong believer in keeping all of my work “in print” if I can. Given how long it takes me to write something, there’s no way I want to let it languish unread (and unpurchased). Alas, I still have a significant backlog of books that are temporarily not for sale, including a couple of my best sellers.

Looks like next month is going to be packed with releases, too.

Yeah, crazy, I know. But I do so love to see my books, my babies, out where people can get at them.

The Plot Thickens

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

Does erotica need to have a plot?

Some people will answer with a resounding negative. If it gets me off, they’ll argue, then I don’t care whether there’s a story – a plot would just distract me from the dirty details.

I respect those whose opinions differ from mine, but as far as I’m concerned, erotica sans story is just sex, without anything at stake – and that, to me, is boring. To keep me interested – and aroused – the sexual activities in an erotic tale need to have some kind of impact on the characters involved. The characters don’t have to be in love; indeed, some of the most fascinating erotica I’ve read involves people who detest one another. There doesn’t need to be any sort of commitment; a one-night stand can offer the most luminous, intense sex you’ve ever experienced. But somehow, the sex has to matter. At least one of the characters needs to be changed by the erotic encounter. They need to feel something new, want something that’s different from what they wanted before – often something wilder or kinkier or more extreme. Without this, sex becomes repetitious, mechanical and uninspiring.

Plot is essentially a set of events that causes characters to change. In erotica, those events often (though not always or exclusively) involve sex.

All plots are driven by conflict, which in the simplest case can simply be a discrepancy between the current situation and the desired situation. Jim is a virgin consumed with hopeless lust for his voluptuous next door neighbor. Jenny has discovered her boss’s stash of femdom porn, but doesn’t know how to let him know she’s ready to be his mistress. Maria and Marilyn have been best friends for years, but neither dares to take the next step toward intimacy.

Erotica can also involve external conflicts, for instance a kidnapping by a cruel but horny villain, or a plane crash in the middle of the jungle that leaves the characters struggling for survival. In many cases, though, erotica plots focus on the sexual trajectories of the protagonists.

One common and effective erotic plot pattern is initiation. The main character is gradually introduced to new activities or desires that at first seem shocking or scary, but which soon become central to her sexual identity. My first novel Raw Silk falls into this category (as do many other BDSM-themed books). It’s a journey of discovery as the heroine Kate comes to understand her submissive side and learns to surrender to her Master. One of my favorite erotic novels is K.D. Grace’s The Initiation of Ms Holly, about a seemingly ordinary young woman who’s sucked into the twisted world of a secret sex society, only to find that their outrageous behaviors unexpectedly match her natural inclinations.

A related plot outline is seduction (or perhaps, “corruption”), in which an innocent character is, in Larry Archer’s words, “brought over to the dark side”. Sometimes the innocent is actually a virgin, but often he or she is sexually experienced but “vanilla”: a married and monogamous couple turned on to swinging; a straight man or woman lured into a same-sex relationship; an all-American male tempted into donning lingerie and high heels. My Sin City Sweethearts is a classic seduction tale. Eighteen year old twins Marcella and Madelynn move away from their small-town, overprotective family to attend college in Las Vegas. Annie and Ted, their polymorphously-perverse upstairs neighbors, take it upon themselves to give the inexperienced co-eds a true education.

A third familiar erotica plot might be labeled liberation. After divorcing her cheating husband, a woman blossoms into a sexually insatiable MILF. A shy, nerdy IT guy gets a new roommate who’s irresistible to women – and who’s happy to share. I’ve used this plot pattern in The Slut Strikes Back, among other tales. Lauren is a faithful wife, until her husband complains about her powerful libido. He tells her to find someone else to satisfy her, setting her free. Before long, she’s getting it on with the pool guy, the UPS delivery man, a pair of strangers she picks up in a bar, even her son’s wrestling team.

One aspect shared by all these patterns is escalation. All three provide motivation for increasingly intense, extreme or taboo sex scenes. As I’ve argued in another post, escalation is an essential ingredient for effective erotica. Readers continually want more. They also want variety. Hence you need to lead both your characters and your readers deeper into depravity, step by step. If you start off with a double penetration or a severe caning, what will you do for an encore? The patterns I’ve mentioned naturally lend themselves to increasing levels of intensity – both physical and emotional.

Sometimes, of course, plot can get out of hand. I have a feeling that’s what happened in my steam punk series The Toymakers Guild. There are aspects of all three patterns – initiation, seduction and liberation – in the two novels I’ve written so far, but there are many other plot elements, including mind-control, recalcitrant sex toys, cut-throat competitors, romance, murder and revenge.

I may have gone overboard. On the other hand, there’s one advantage to not sticking to the patterns: unpredictability. There are thousands of erotic initiation tales; readers know what to expect. I like to think that my readers will be continually – and pleasurably – surprised.

I really don’t think that would be possible without plot.

Steering a Series

Image by Artist and zabiyaka from Pixabay

Marketing data consistently indicate that series sell better than single titles. That’s not all that surprising. If you can hook a reader on your characters and your fictional world, they’re going to want to return for repeat visits.

Due to my abnormally strong craving for variety, I’m probably less susceptible to the appeal of a series than many readers. Even so, I devoured the Game of Thrones books (and I’m still desperately hoping against hope for the next one), so I understand the effectiveness of spinning multi-volume tales. I’m a sucker for Stephanie Plum’s antics, too, though those books are so similar to one another that it hardly matters in what order you read them. (Janet Evanovich has just published the twenty seventh installment of Stephanie’s adventures. It’s hard for me to get my mind around that!)

For the first decade and a half of my writing career, I wrote only standalone books. Somehow whenever I got to the end of writing a novel, I felt that I had nothing else to say. I actually did leave the door open for a sequel to my MM dystopian sci fi novel The H-Gene (2012, originally entitled Quarantine) but I could never motivate myself to start writing it. When I wrote “The End”, the curtain closed and it was time for me to move on.

Then in 2017, something shifted. I published a light-hearted, smutty novella (Hot Brides in Vegas) which did quite well. After Hot Brides, I planned to return to more literary projects, but I found I had lots more to say about the Vegas babes. Whenever I thought I was done, new and outrageous notions popped into my mind. The next thing I knew, I had written five books, two of them close to novel length.

The Vegas Babes project was accidental. For the past two years, however, I’ve been working on a deliberate series. The Toymakers Guild is intended to be a trilogy. I just finished the second book, The Journeyman’s Trial. I’ve learned a lot in the process. In particular, I’ve discovered that writing a series is really hard!

Writing the first book probably isn’t much different than a standalone novel, except that you’re constantly juggling ideas, deciding what to use now and what to save for later books. I know some secrets about my characters that I plan to reveal eventually, but when? I don’t want to bring out the big guns too soon.

The second book introduces all sorts of difficulties. One big issue is consistency. When you write as slowly as I do, you tend to forget earlier details. What is Archie’s last name? What color are Amelia’s eyes? Which side of the Master’s face is disfigured due to his tragic accident? Questions like this come up all the time, and of course, I can resolve them by going back to the first book or the earlier chapters. What I worry about are the details I don’t check, especially related to the (frequent) sex scenes in the series. What have I forgotten that I’ve forgotten? I remember reading an erotica novel in which the heroine had her first anal experience… in two different chapters! I shudder to think I might make a similar mistake, and that readers might notice.

Another question relates to character development. Unlike some series, The Toymakers Guild follows the same set of characters through multiple books (adding some new ones along the way). I need to show these people growing and changing over time, based on their experiences. If they remain static, the books will be both unrealistic and boring. On the other hand, there has to be continuity – changes in the characters’ thought patterns or behavior can’t be so radical that they’re implausible.

A third point is the need for escalation. Escalation means holding back at first, starting gradually, then building up the tension (both narrative and sexual) as the book, or the series, continues. To keep a reader engaged, you need to continually up the ante. This means that the challenges that face the characters in Book Two need to be more serious than in Book One. Book Three should put them in yet more desperate straits. Meanwhile, if you’re writing erotica, the sexual situations in Book Two should also be more extreme, intense, or unexpected than in Book One. You don’t want your readers to get bored.

Possibly the trickiest aspect to the series challenge is deciding how to integrate back story. How much of Book One should you recapitulate in Book Two? In an effective series, it should not be essential that a reader start at the beginning. An author needs to give sufficient details about past events and relationships that the current book makes sense. More than once I’ve tried to read a series book out of order and found it incomprehensible because I didn’t have enough information about the background. At the same time, you don’t want to bore readers who did read the previous books by retelling too much. You certainly need to avoid the dreaded info dump in the early chapters; whatever clues you do provide should be scattered through the new narrative rather than concentrated in one place.

It’s a delicate balance. The ideal situation is to have some beta readers who’ve read the earlier books, and some who haven’t. Alas, we all know how hard it is to find any beta readers at all.

Anyway, I’m in the process of editing The Journeyman’s Trial, which should be out by the end of the month. Meanwhile, I’ve started juggling ideas for The Master’s Mark, which is intended to round out the trilogy. I’ll never be George R. R. Martin, but I hope I can keep my readers coming back.

Sisters of Mercy

It’s all connected. If you leave God out of sex, it becomes pornographic; if you leave sex out of God, it becomes self-righteous.”

Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016

My high school friend Judith had the hair of a gypsy and the voice of an angel. Perched on a floodlit stool in the Two Moon Coffee House, there in the basement of the Congregational Church, she strummed her guitar and sang in her clear, pure soprano of love, loss, death and redemption. I huddled in the shadows, at the back of the audience, caught halfway between lust and worship.

Suzanne takes you down

To her place by the river.

You can hear the boats go by

And you can spend the night beside her…”

I was sixteen. I didn’t understand yet that a woman could physically desire a member of her own sex. All I knew was that something about Judith called to both my soul and my body.

With her jet black curls tumbling around her heart-shaped face, she could be wickedly merry one moment, in utter despair the next. Her poems spoke of revelations and tragedies. She wore long patchwork skirts, bright scarves, loose peasant blouses that revealed her pale, slender throat and hinted at her delicate breasts. When she sang about Suzanne, it was she I imagined, “wearing rags and features from Salvation Army counters”. I had a sense that she appeared my dreams, but I could never recall the details, a rarity given my usual vivid and memorable visions.

She was never my lover—back then, I couldn’t begin to imagine what that meant—but I believe now that she could have been. In the real world, I never touched her, but as the song says, I’d touched her perfect body with my mind.

I thought of Judith a few years ago when I learned that Leonard Cohen had passed away. I owned a copy of his first album; overflowing with teenage angst, I played and replayed his moody tunes. They offered glimpses into another world, a world of passion that was simultaneously physical and spiritual. Later, I read some of his poems as well as his haunting novel Beautiful Losers. I wrote a lot of poetry myself in those days. He expressed some of the same emotions I was trying to capture, with far more skill and depth.

She came to mind again last weekend, when my high school class celebrated its fiftieth reunion, back in the suburban town where I spent so many dream-filled, passion-ridden years. I’ve been poring over the photos from that event on Facebook. (Between my overseas location, Covid-19, and starting a new job, there was never any chance I’d be able to attend.) There’s no sign of Judith. I wonder where she is, how she’s managing, as we all approach our seventh decade.

I’ve reconnected with several old friends from that period in the run-up to the reunion. It was a bit of a thrill to hear from people who’d been important to me, whom I hadn’t thought about in many, many years. Some bonds do endure.

The quote from Leonard Cohen that opens this post appeared in one of his obituaries. There could hardly be a more apt description of why I write erotic fiction. For me, the sexual and the spiritual are intimately entwined. Throughout my life, sex has been a doorway into self-understanding and a deeper level of peace.

I sometimes fantasize about what it would have been like, to spend the night with my Suzanne. I have some sense the connection between us might have been reciprocal. She wrote a tender message in my yearbook, calling me “beautiful lady”, an appellation that I found astonishing at the time. If we’d stayed in contact, would our relationship have developed into something more than a high school crush?

At some level, it doesn’t matter. My memories convince me that spirit and flesh are not opposites, but two aspects of the same reality.


Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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