Sunday, February 28, 2016
Saturday, February 27, 2016
by Jean Roberta
I’ve been reading two related books about art in the cultural margins:
Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café Theater, edited by Holly Hughes, Carmelita Tropicana, and Jill Dolan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015), a standard-sized paperback, and
The Only Way Home Is Through the Show: Performance Work of Lois Weaver [one of the founders of WOW Café Theater], edited by Jen Harvie and Lois Weaver (published simultaneously in 2015 by Intellect Books in Bristol, UK, Live Art Development Agency, London, UK, and the University of Chicago Press). This is a large paperback coffee-table book, full of photos and illustrations.
I volunteered to review these books about the history of an amazing, grassroots women’s theater collective in New York City, which has survived despite the odds since 1980. I went to one of their performances in February 2003 when I was in New York for a reading from Best Women’s Erotica at Bluestockings Bookstore.
The WOW performance was topical and full of energy. (The official paranoia that followed the events of 9/11 was soundly ridiculed.) The performance space was not a conventional theater, but the intimate venue suited the subject-matter. I was able to find my way there alone because of the good directions provided by a local arts publication.
The acronym WOW originally stood for “Women One World,” and it stuck. There was clearly some overlap between the WOW collective and a more overtly political group formed in 1990s New York: the Lesbian Avengers. Kelly Cogswell, who wrote a book about the Avengers after the group’s demise, met and entered a long-term relationship with Cuban-born writer Ana Simo, who wrote a fairly structured, Checkovian play about painter Frida Kahlo and the assassination of Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, which was performed by WOW. The versatile writer Sarah Schulman was also in both groups.
All these books about performance art with clear feminist and lesbian themes do a remarkable job of capturing something ephemeral: a zeitgeist, or the spirit of a particular time and place. Nonetheless, the women who were interviewed for the books claimed that their shows have rarely been reviewed in the Village Voice, let alone The New Yorker or The New York Times. Apparently, WOW stayed below the media radar for decades.
Both WOW and the Lesbian Avengers functioned as collectives with no government ties whatsoever. (This impresses me, as a Canadian.) The WOW women who were interviewed for the two books explained that they decided early on not to apply for government grants from funding bodies such as the National Endowment for the Arts because the application process would take up valuable time and energy, the applicants would probably be refused, and if they were accepted, they would have to conform to the funder’s rules. In other words, they would be forced to tone things down.
Can revolutionary art ever be accepted by the cultural mainstream? Much cultural history shows that this happens a lot, especially when the radical art is no longer cutting-edge (e.g. jazz, Impressionist paintings).
Here in Canada, every struggling writer/artist I know has applied for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts (the Canadian equivalent of NEA). “Explorations” grants, in particular, seem intended for experimental art created by fledgling artists. (As a published writer, I’m not eligible for one of these.)
Is radical art more accepted in some countries than in others? There are mixed reports. The recent claim that African-American actors are not adequately represented in the list of Oscar Award winners raises the question of whether racism in Hollywood has persisted in subtler forms than in the era of Gone With the Wind. (Apart from the arts world, however, there is nothing subtle about unarmed civilians being gunned down by uniformed police officers, as documented by concerned bystanders with cellphone cameras.)
Here in Canada, the survival of the film industry is more overtly political, since Canadian filmmakers have traditionally relied on government support in various forms, including tax deductions. When the right-wing government of the province I live in abolished the Film Tax Credit here, the local film industry died.
Who becomes famous, where, and why? The claim has been made that lesbian fiction-writers are routinely ignored in the U.S. media, but not in England, where Sarah Waters and Jeanette Winterson are widely known, and where a lesbian poet, Carol Ann Duffy, was made Poet Laureate. Canadian culture, as distinct from U.S. culture, is rarely mentioned in these discussions, but I could point out that two lesbian novelists here, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Irish-born Emma Donoghue, currently seem as visible and well-reviewed as any of their straight male brothers in the field.
It would be interesting for someone to do a survey of “successful” writers (whom I would define as those who can live on their royalties) in various countries in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, and sexuality. Do gay-male writers (being men) have greater access to resources than do lesbian writers, all else being equal? If so, where?
Even if someone had the time, energy and funding to do this survey and publish the results, conservatives could object that talent has nothing to do with identity politics, and that artists without talent will always be rejected by the reading/viewing/listening public, or at least by the gatekeepers who represent the public’s best interests. Feh.
When I write my review of the books about WOW, I’ll be doing my part to alert readers to a performance-art scene that deserves to be better-known. But then, I'm probably below the radar myself.
Friday, February 26, 2016
by Jean Roberta
Please forgive me for not posting anything on my assigned day. I have a post planned, and I'm hoping it won't be too discouraging, since it's about unrewarded writing (or writing which has to serve as its own reward).
Life intervened with mysterious insistence. This morning, the furnace in the basement of my house sounded like a buzz saw which could be heard from the second floor. I seriously wondered if it would explode while Spouse and I were at work. I considered cancelling my classes, then compromised by calling a plumbing & heating company and rushing home as soon as possible to meet the repairman at my door.
Repairman examined the furnace, which was quiet, and found nothing wrong. Nothing. The loudest thing in the house was our guard dog, a little Pomeranian who barks at strangers.
In due course, I was told, an invoice will be mailed to us for the repairman's visit. Since he left, the furnace has been as quiet as a cat burglar.
Then I had to meet my Teaching Assistant to go over some student assignments.
Then Spouse filled me in on an ongoing situation at her work.
As long as the sun rises as usual, and my roof doesn't cave in (fingers crossed), I will post something here on February 27.
Posted by Jean Roberta at 7:45 PM
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
by Kathleen Bradean
If you're struggling with your writing, I feel ya. Family drama of ludicrous proportions has stolen my ability to write. (So much for the theory that one must suffer for art.)(Hey, that sounds like next month's blog entry. Hmmm.) Finally, I was able to drag a first chapter out of myself, but it kicked and screamed the entire way, digging it's claws into the ground. It's a mess, but at this point I've decided to leave it be and circle back to it when the rest of the piece is done.
Which leads me to the second chapter. First chapters are difficult, but second chapters have challenges. If you're writing multiple POVs, do you keep your reader in the same POV for one more chapter to acclimate them better to the world you've created for your characters, or do you switch to a "meanwhile, back at the ranch" scene? Do you stay with the same POV character or introduce new ones? I've read novels with both approaches. If I'm really invested in the first chapter, I get grumpy when I'm unceremoniously escorted out of a setting and given a bunch of yahoos to follow from then on. I keep waiting for the writer to get back to the "real" story. Sometimes, they never do, and then I'm really angry. But should you care about reader expectations? Or should you just tell your story? That's a decision that's up to you. As a reader though, I'm asking you to give me something in the new setting or characters that's as or even more compelling than your opening chapter so I lose that grumpy feeling quickly.
If you're writing a linear story with a single POV, then your next move is to follow your character on their journey. It sounds easy, but even that presents a quandary. Do you help anchor your reader by starting them off in the setting you established in the first chapter, or do you heed the advice to start a scene in the middle of action and plunk your character into a new setting?
This is what I'm struggling with. The first chapter was hard, and this second one isn't coming any easier. While I suspect that much of my fretting has to do with many things other than the story I'm trying to write, it's still effectively blocking me from moving on. I'm trying to convince myself that like the first chapter, I should simply throw whatever down to get on with it and take care of the mess when I'm done writing the first draft.
If chapter three is like this, I won't give up, but maybe instead of not writing because I can't seem to do it, maybe I'll not write because I think it's better to put it aside for a while.
Share your writer's block woes with me. You'll get tons of sympathy.
Posted by Kathleen Bradean at 12:00 AM
Sunday, February 21, 2016
By Lisabet Sarai
Friday, February 19, 2016
It's that time again! Time to share bite-sized nuggets of your steamiest stories. That's right. Today is Sexy Snippet Day!
The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.
On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link.
Please post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!
Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!
Thursday, February 18, 2016
FOR THE MEN
AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM
Publisher: Stupid Fish ProductionsSubmission Deadline: May 1st, 2016
Publication Date: Approximately July 2016
Astronauts discover a new, aggressive reptilian species. (alien breeding/world domination)
Include your full contact information (legal name/pseudonym, web address, mailing address and phone number) and a bio of 100 words or less, written in the third person. Do not list your previous works, or any contact information in your bio, because that would be boring. Write something fun, about you.
**If you are using a pseudonym, please make it clear which name you want to be credited as.
It’s a deliciously “dirty” job, but a writer of historical erotic fiction has to do it. As part of my ongoing research for my novel, I’ve been reading the romantic and erotic correspondence of couples whose private letters have been published due to their literary and/or historic value. Sometimes both sides of the correspondence have been preserved, but this is rare. Intimate letters tended to be destroyed by at least one of the partners; more often it is the man’s that survive. If the woman’s do, frequently the racier portions are missing, no doubt for modesty’s sake. Still, many fascinating examples of both lovers’ seductive words remain for our curious modern eyes to enjoy.
Napoleon and Josephine, Thomas Jefferson and Maria Cosgrove, Mabel Loomis Todd and Austin Dickinson, Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan, Elizabeth Bowen and Charles Ritchie, Maud Hart and Delos Lovelace, my voyeur’s list may grow further still as I continue my research. But I doubt new examples will challenge my main conclusion: Romantic love and sexual passion are timeless human experiences. Of course there are references to split drawers and dressing gowns in these letters, but the words and emotions truly transcend any particular time and place.
Most of all these letters prove that people in olden times--even prominent, “respectable” people--did enjoy sex, as much as the guardians of moral order would like to erase such evidence.
On that note, I must mention one unwitting member of this immortal erotic letter-writing tribe, a man named Godfrey Lowell Cabot, who was mentioned in a number of works I’ve consulted on sexuality in nineteenth-century America including The Humble Little Condom: A History and Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America. Mr. Cabot was from a very distinguished Boston family and a member of that city’s Watch and Ward, a group of gentlemen who reviewed pornographic images and writings in order to censor them for the good of the community. While protecting the lower orders from lustful thoughts and deeds in his public role, Mr. Cabot himself was the author of a number of intense sexual fantasies written in letters to his wife, Minnie. These letters are certainly the most transgressive (not to say “sickest”) of my sample—“dreams” wherein Mr. Cabot urinated in his wife’s mouth or was swallowed whole by her, his entire body pleasurably lodged inside hers. Of course, he wrote these fantasies in German, so perhaps that made them less obscene by Mr. Cabot’s measure. One does wonder if Minnie, reportedly a social climbing snob who complained of her husband’s incessant sexual demands, bothered to get out the German dictionary or was fluent enough to understand the “dreams” without such an effort.
In any case, there are some who question whether modern readers should intrude on a private, intimate correspondence by an otherwise respected historical figure. Perhaps they worry that the dignity of the personage and of the very value system that elevates great men over the rest of us will be compromised. Mr. Cabot is an excellent argument for openness because it benefits us all to know how hypocritical the guardians of public morals can be.
But most of the time, reading sexy love letters from the past is just plain fun.
My favorite example of historical love and lust comes in the letters James Joyce wrote to his common-law wife Nora while he was away on a long business trip in Dublin. The letters date from December 1909 and only appeared in print in Richard Ellmann’s Selected Letters of James Joyce (1975). Thanks to the Internet, we can read some of the letters in one form or another. I think they’re well worth reading for the boyish, uninhibited pleasure the letters convey. Joyce is not editing himself for public consumption, he is revealing his fantasies and desires to the woman he loves. Many call them “dirty,” but I would characterize them as “sincere.” Occasionally Joyce worries his “fuckbird” will find his fantasies perverted, a nice touch of reality, but although her replies have not survived, it is obvious she was a passionate partner in the exchange and not just doing it to keep him away from Dublin’s brothels.
However, rather like the controversial tampon scene in Fifty Shades of Grey, James Joyce’s “dirty” letters draw disgust for one natural physiological aspect in particular--his obvious joy in his partner’s farts during intercourse.
“You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. It is wonderful to fuck a farting woman when every fuck drives one out of her.” (Excerpted from December 8, 1909)
A goodly number of online commentators are really grossed out by this (they are less vocal about Joyce’s delight in the image of Nora masturbating while she defecates, but perhaps that one was too much to tackle in a public forum). Surely anyone who’s read Ulysses--and haven’t we all?--could have guessed that Joyce is a butt guy:
“He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.” (“Ithaca” chapter, Ulysses)
And dare I suggest that anyone who has experienced heterosexual intercourse knows that the insertion of a rigid penis into the woman’s pelvic region results in the passing of gas on occasion? Joyce’s celebration of his lover’s farts during intimacy could be seen as endearing, an unconditional acceptance of her body and all of its qualities in the throes of passion.
In American Taboo: The Forbidden Words, Unspoken Rules, and Secret Morality of Popular Culture, Lauren Rosewarne contends that farts and fart jokes are allowable in low humor genres and as a way to portray male characters as unrefined and undisciplined. However farts invariably decrease the sexual attractiveness of women. Desirable women simply never fart, although they are supposed to endure with patience the farts of their male partners. Above all, one is never supposed to couple a towering god of twentieth-century literature such as James Joyce with something as crude as farting.
Now, if you find farts during sex disgusting and unspeakable, that’s fine. One should be no more judged for that reaction than the opposite preference. But I’d also suggest that this glimpse into other couples’ intimate lives does give us a chance to acknowledge how sex and the taboo are closely linked. Rather than recoiling in disgust, why not wonder at the variety of humanity’s sweet perversity? And be grateful to these lovers whose words show us we are all connected through time in our erotic desires?
Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor
Monday, February 15, 2016
- Go Big or Go Home
- Make it Count
- Repeat Yourself
- Hold the Complexity
- Put it In Context