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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

poisonI follow quite a few writers that I like on Twitter and through them I discover other writers that I might not otherwise be aware of. This has become something of a phenomenon for me, finding writers on social media, making their acquaintance and then feeling like you sort of owe it to them to read their work.

Sarah Pinborough (@SarahPinborough) is one of those whom I found via Joe Abercrombie (@LordGrimdark). Having followed her for a while (she makes me laugh every day and she pisses off Steven Leather) I finally found the money and the time to get one of her books and to read it. These things are more difficult than you might think when you’re writing yourself all day every day, looking at another book can become painful, especially if they’re better than you – which Sarah is. Still, I managed it, and I’m glad I did.

In the interests of full disclosure, I quite fancy Ms Pinborough* but I’ll try not to let that get in the way! *Grin*

Poison is part of a series of books by Ms Pinborough (Poison, Charm and Beauty) that re-tell well-known fairy tales but with a twist. Really, it’s more like an un-twist since anyone with a passing interest in fairy stories knows that the original versions of a lot of these tales were pretty goddamn fucking grim and they got cleaned up and Disneyfied over time. Ms Pinborough sets about putting the grim back into Grimm with gay abandon and it works incredibly well.

There’s a nuance here that you simply don’t find in the children’s versions, along with a wonderful way of playing along with and then subverting the kind of stereotypical expectations you have of the story. All the normal ingredients are there and a whole paragraph can tease you along with its typical, traditional, stereotypical nature before suddenly – BAM – subverting it and making you grin and chuckle like a loon.

The evil queen you almost sympathise with, Snow White is so sickeningly saccharine that you almost want her to get her comeuppance. The seven dwarves have an air of the friendzoned nerd boy about them and both Prince Charming and The Huntsman are as much a pair of dicks as the contents of their tights.

Things are further played about with by hints and mentions of other well-known fairy tales, crafting the appearance of a much wider fairytale world beyond the contents of the single book (or even the series). Talk of giants, mentions of Aladdin and genies, some horrible clues as to the final fate of Hansel and Gretel. It’s Shrek, as written by George R R Martin and while an enjoyable read you welcome the fact that it’s set far, far away because then it can’t get you.

There’s no happily ever after here, not really, not truly, not for anyone but it’s all the better for it.

There’s just not as much sex as The Sun claimed and while saucy it’s all a bit coy. Maybe two shades of grey rather than the full fifty.

SPIt’s a great book and it’s fantastic to see publishing houses willing to put out fantasy-type books that aren’t bricks you could clobber a policeman unconscious with. I hope more books of this sort of size, enjoyable reads that don’t overstay their welcome, continue to come out.

Style: 5
Substance: 4
Overall: 4.5

*I’m married, not dead. Besides, what’s not to love about a saucy former English teacher with a foul mouth who can drink you under the table?

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2125264_f496There came a loud and authoritative knock on the door.

Sometimes when you hear a sound like that, a rat-tat-tat on the door frame, the ring of the phone, you just know its something awful. Your stomach drops through the floor before you even hear the second knock or the bell tolls a second time.

This was one of those knocks.

“Shh.” I raised my finger to my lips and gave her a wide-eyed look of caution which she mirrored in her perfect, quivering eyes.

She backed up against the bookcase, swaying the leather-bound volumes as she sensed my fear, infectious and bowel loosening. For my part I stepped to the door and opened it on its chain, peeking through the gap at the person standing outside.

Severe is a good word. So is austere, even grim. I can never settle on what, quite, is the best word in these situations. Apart from the trousers and the sunglasses she could have been the stereotypical domme-secretary or imperious librarian escapee from Eroticopolis way. The badge put paid to that thought though. Flashing silver on brown leather, perfectly spaced helvetica:

“Amenda Wordsworth, literary division. Do you have a moment?” She looked at me over her sunglasses and my stomach dropped for a second time like the world’s worst rollercoaster, or an overworked simile falling flat.

I panicked.

I slammed the door in her face.

“Novella! Run!” I slammed my back against the door to try and keep the editor out, but I knew it was only a matter of time.

I lifted one arm to jab towards the window and watched her run, my perfection, my love, dear sweet Novella.

“This door seems a bit too strong and well protected for a flat in this area. I think it would be more realistic if it were battered and rotten.” I barely heard the words through the banging against the door, but it was enough.

There was a strange ripple and the door changed, cracking and splintering as the editor threw me into the room and onto the floor. The bookshelf rocked and heavy leather bound books tumbled and fell towards me like paper rain, transforming into paperbacks, the rarer volumes – from a lifetime of collection – exploding into lorem ipsum and scattering letters everywhere.

“Unauthorised fictogenesis, you’re in a lot of trouble, but maybe its salvageable.” She had one heeled boot on my back and I knew it was pointless trying to struggle, she was a Strong Female Character and clearly subscribed to Death of the Author – I shouldn’t push it.

In the mirror I could see the editor unholstering her gun, a massive, chrome-plated .44 Magnum Opus. Her heel ground into my back as she hand-loaded a couple of heavy looking paragraphs into the chambers. Then she stepped off me and moved to the window. I could still hear Novella on the fire escape, but she was endearingly clumsy and wasn’t getting away fast enough.

I struggled to my knees and watched the editor lean out of the window and line up her shot. I summoned every ounce of narrative agency I had left and threw myself against her. The first shot went wild, the leaden prose blasting an unnecessary bollard from existence on the street below. She backhanded me away though, smashing me back through what was left of the door into the barely-described hallway and all I could do was close my eyes tight and wish as I heard the second shot and Novella’s piercing scream.

***

I got away with a fine, twenty-thousand words of penance. ‘Due to past artistic contributions’ so the Publisher said.

Novella didn’t get off so easily though. She was stuck in limbo while they pieced her back together. She’d taken the paragraph to the face and fell three stories to the ground. The editor had called it in and after that it was out of my hands. I’d been in a cell, unable to do anything while they worked her over and it was only now I was allowed to see her.

I held her hand while the Designers unwrapped the bandages. It was horrible, not knowing what had happened to her. I closed my eyes and squeezed tighter as the wraps came off and finally steeled myself to open my eyes.

The horror of it was, she was even more beautiful.

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One of my sexy stories is featured in this anthology.

A phone app, a chance encounter and a ‘kiss chase’ through the streets.

You can get it

HERE

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Ellis_Warren_highres-1x3aYesterday me and the missus went up to The Smoke to see a talk/interview/book signing appearance-slash-chimera by Warren Ellis. A writer we both admire a great deal, responsible for comic book classics such as the post-cyberpunk Transmetropolitan or the comic-archaeology epic Planetary. More recently he’s been moving sideways a little into the more conventional novel, though his approach is anything but conventional. His latest novel is Gun Machine, a crime procedural novel with a few unique twists and turns, skillfully done in a way that makes me completely jealous.

The talk was held in Foyles in London, a fantastic bookshop of labyrinthine twists, turns and nooks that brings to mind both Pratchett’s ‘L-Space’ and the enormous book theme park Powells in Portland in the US. Unlike Powells Foyles is much neater and more organised for all its dead ends and packed shelves. An obsessive compulsive’s CD collection or a germaphobe’s kitchen. We were, eventually, guided to a fairly cramped back room where we sat behind some annoying tall people and tried to peer between them to see Warren and hear what he had to say.

There were plenty of people live-tweeting the event and so, being an inveterate contrarion I decided, quite deliberately, NOT to do so. That way I could come back to it a day later and see what stuck with me from the event, what had the most impact and meaning.

One of the things that struck me was how old and – relatively speaking – normal, the crowd was. It was held at 6:30 so I imagine a lot of people came direct from work. Still, there were a lot of grey hairs and a lot of suits and relatively few weirdos, freaks and nerds. Indeed our little row of pierced, painted, hipster, goth and hippy people we came with stood out like a sore thumb which was a weird sensation to have at an event you’d think would appeal to ‘your tribe’. It was a bit like turning up at Midian to find it occupied by Mormons. I guess it just shows how that generation of alternative souls have grown up, gotten jobs and now hide amongst the general populace like little cultural time-bombs waiting for our moment to strike. Comic-book sleeper agents.

Warren was ostensibly there to talk about Gun Machine but things rambled around a bit and most people there seemed more interested – perhaps unsurprisingly – in his comic book work. A few snippets also came out about the RED sequel and that Gravel had been optioned and that a film for that was still progressing. I felt that it might have been a little frustrating to be there to promote and talk about a literary book and end up talking about everything else you’ve done but Warren was perfectly polite and candid – that candid nature being the main thing that carries over from his internet demagogue persona into real life.

What had the most effect on me, personally, was how he described needing a push to move into prose and to get outside his comfort zone. How it took repeated and annoying insistence by a legacy literary agent to get him moving on Crooked Little Vein and then Gun Machine. He also talked about the differences and difficulties shifting gears between one kind of writing and another. The limitations of genre in prose (something he felt compelled to kick against) and the limitations of the panel/bubble structure in comics which keeps dialogue necessarily terse in the graphical format. He talked about how it was much easier to write an internal character in prose than comics and that it was possible to spend whatever time was needed in a book, rather than hitting the 20 page target in a comic every month – no more and no less. You can’t, in a comic, write ‘Tallow looks sad and thoughtful for twenty pages’ because its a waste of page real estate and the artist will murder you.

I’m transitioning too. From an independent publisher and writer of games to creative director, overseeing the work of others, having to mature and compromise my visions for commercial considerations (something that happens in comics with the likes of DC and Marvel). Warren also spoke about how writing comics needs a variety of different writing skills – something I’ve often thought true of games writing where you need to be equal parts fictive, technical, journalistic and travelogue.

Another interesting point was that of the undescribed protagonist. Something that James Herbert was referenced using in his horror books. This, again, is easier in prose (though it was mentioned also in reference to minimalist manga art) and lets the reader project themselves into the place of the hero. This was a deliberate choice when it came to Tallow in Gun Machine, leaving his race, features etc – everything but his world-weary fatalism – nebulous, allowing the reader to project.

Warren spoke of hating his own work and the difficulties he has, sometimes, writing. Something else that I think any writer worth their salt can empathise with. When you hear it from someone whose work you greatly admire however, it has more meaning and effect than hearing it from other hacks who haven’t yet had their break. I don’t think I know, or have come to know, any authors, artists or musicians whose work doesn’t benefit from their own self-doubt and worry. Social Media has allowed me to make a meaningful and personal connection with a lot of other authors and artists whose work I love and it has allowed me to look back at my own work and to relax. Getting to know your heroes can be disappointing but with fellow creatives I find it more… reassuring that we all struggle and strive the same way.

Change and challenge, new characters, new situations, these are things both I and Warren seem to relish. Kicking at the corners, pushing the envelope. When he talked about tracing back that feeling to his encounters with 2000AD (36 years young this week) and TV21 I found myself nodding along. I think 2000AD is a unique and powerful cultural touchstone of British alt-culture and seems to have had a profound and meaningful effect on many authors, comics creators, artists and musicians. We have never had the same wide-array of comic books that the US has but 2000AD has always been a compilation comic, throwing ideas around, seeing what sticks and what doesn’t, constantly experimenting and staying fresh. You can see how Warren – and many others – are affected by that and can compare and contrast that cynical realism and punk rock attitude that runs through 2000AD from the more mythological and bombastic nature of the superhero comics that otherwise dominate the medium.

I came away feeling closer to one of my heroes and more part of a broader community of creators struggling with the same issues and wanting to do similar sorts of things.

Also Warren recognised my wife, remembered her name and signed her book for her. Which was great!

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The next in my line of neo-pulp stories.

Wild explores the theme of the jungle hero, but from a different perspective than you might be used to.

The jungle still holds secrets. Some of them are dangerous, even deadly. Some of them defy our modern understanding. Some of them, like the pale, ghostly girl who runs through the trees, can save your life.

Lulu

Smashwords

DrivethruFiction

Coming to Amazon and other outlets within the next 24 hours or so. Search for my name or the title.

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I’m published in this with a nice, dark little tale of hidden justice.

LINKY-POOH

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Spot the difference (?)

There’s three articles from 2011 in Psychology Today that hit a chord given past drama and involvement in movements against corporate/community censorship. I’ll quote from them as some people can’t seem to get to the articles, but they’re here for those who can access them:

Why Gender Equality Does Not Always Work in the Bedroom

Do Men Want to Rape? Do Women Want to be Raped?

We Are All Sexually Intolerant

The majority of women have submission fantasies. From classic romanceThe Flame and The Flower to classic erotica The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to Twilight BDSM fan fiction, submission themes are immensely popular in cross-cultural female erotica. The fact of the matter is that most heterosexual women are wired to find sexual submission arousing–and so are most female mammals.

Even with the qualifier ‘most’ that is going to outrage some people. The idea that behaviours and preferences can have an instinctual or even biological basis seems abhorrent to some. We would not make the same argument about animals but humans are animals which places the rejection of (a degree of) biological determinism and evolutionary psychology within the same ballpark as the Creationist rejection of science on the grounds of ‘I didn’t come from no monkey!’

“I think this is one of the problems we’re having in romance in general right now: our heroes have gotten a little too PC. We’re portraying men the way feminist ideals say they should be—respectful and consensus-building,” muses erotic romance (EroRom) author Angela Knight. “Yet women like bad boys. I suspect that’s because our inner cavewoman knows Doormat Man would become Sabertooth Tiger Lunch in short order. In fact, this may be one reason why EroRom is gaining popularity so fast–writers feel free to write dominant heroes with more of an edge.”

This would explain the sudden, explosive popularity of the excreble Fifty Shades of Grey. Romance doesn’t transgress but erotica does. Bridge the gap and you can have a story that has the freedom to break these taboos and provide something to scratch the itch that some people want. If you’re breaking one taboo then it’s safe to break another. Combine that with the environment we find ourselves in, changed by the anonymity of the internet and the nature of exploding e-reader popularity and we have a way people can be ‘naughty’ without tipping their hand.

In humans, the hormonal vagaries of prenatal development appear to cause a substantial portion of men to be born with active submissive circuitry. These men find sexual submission as arousing—or, quite often, far more arousing—than sexual dominance.

Essentially, according to the article, in humans we are all wired for both dominance and submission. Our sexuality in regards to dom/sub exists along a spectrum. Women tend to get off on submission, men tend to get off on dominance but the neural circuitry for either predilection can occur in either sex. This is, according to the article/book largely down to prenatal development and hormonal exposure which is also linked, in some studies, to the chances of being hetero or homosexual. Again, the idea of these things not being entirely a matter of our choice outrages some people.

We’re all figuring out how to live in the first society in human history where women have such power, independence, and clout. But just as democracy has no effect on our basic taste preferences for sugar and fat, democracy doesn’t affect our basic sexual preferences for domination and submission.

And this cuts, I think, to a lot of the problems we’re having with the interface between feminism (at least the part that isn’t sex positive) and ‘geek culture’, New Atheism an other issues such as erotica publishing. Our desires and instincts change much more slowly than technology and culture and, perhaps, don’t need to change. Rather we need to understand and accept ourselves for what we are and be concious of it. Not to deny it.

The usual position of academic researchers is that female coercion fantasies involve handsome, attractive strangers who aggressively seduce women in a non-violent way, rather than rape them. Some women certainly have these fantasies. But you don’t have to look far on the Internet to find much darker and more violent female fantasies, involving ugly truckers, brutal sex, gang rape, even mutilation. In the Harry Potter fan fiction I read, Draco in particular always seemed to be raping girls. Tracie Egan, who we used in our epigraph, narrates how she paid a male gigalo to enact a forceful rape. During our research, we also encountered women who said they enjoyed role-playing rape—not aggressive seduction. So far, academic politics have prevented sexologists from taking an honest look at the true variety of women’s fantasies.

This is what worries me. How can we pursue a genuine understanding of human nature and sexuality if gender politics, emotion and denialism keep getting in the way? If shame and the fretting about ‘what people will think’ controls us then we have no chance. The media blitz around the suicides of two teenage girls, shamed over their sexual experimentation, also makes me think this isn’t a healthy way to go about things. We shouldn’t be ashamed, again, rather we should be aware.

But here’s something else worth considering—an interesting double standard in sex research. Researchers are in emphatic agreement that female sexual fantasies of rape do not under any circumstances imply that they actually want to be raped. (No argument from us.) On the other hand, what about male sexual fantasies of raping women? In the literature these have long been treated as signs of pathology and as leading indicators of criminal intent. There’s even research on how to eliminate male sexual fantasies of rape (not much effective research, however).

Ah now, this cuts to the quick of it. There is a double standard going on here. Of course we understand that submission or rape fantasies don’t mean the woman genuinely wants to be raped (outlying fringers notwithstanding). So why can that not also be understood when it comes to men? Is it because of this interpretation of men as dominant initiators that makes men’s fantasies seem more threatening? Is it because we see men as instigators that we regard their fantasies as dangerous? Why the double standard?

I don’t know the details of the case but to take an extreme example a New York policeman was taken into custody regarding a plot to kidnap and eat women. When I was working up the idea for Smithfield I did some research and there is a whole subset of fetishists into ‘vore’, cannibalism and so forth, most particularly ‘Dolcett’, a set of rather disturbing cartoons depicting such acts. We even had the case where a donor offered themselves up willingly to be eaten (Germany I believe). I’d argue that they were too unhinged to give meaningful consent, but it’s a good case in point to put before extreme libertarians!

Humans are WEIRD. Gloriously so!

We do think we should allow the maximum possible latitude for others’ private enjoyment of their fantasies through erotica–unless you want someone policing your own.

I’ll just electronically sign my name to that statement right now!

The academic landscape of sexual psychology is charred from ideological warfare, one of the primary reasons the field has progressed so embarrassingly slow. It’s also one reason we believed we could make a contribution: we don’t have any dog in this fight.

From a moral perspective, we have no stake in how the brains of men, women, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals actually turn out to operate. Whether male homosexuality is caused by genes or by Martian fairy dust makes no difference to their right to same-sex marriage. Whether Mother Nature bestowed men and women with identical brains or the evil demon Kracklefax fashioned female brains from sawdust and male brains from popcorn makes no difference to women’s right to equal opportunity. Whatever our neural wiring, we all have the right to equal justice under law.

OK, that’s a HUGE quote to shove in here, but it is – I feel – an important one. It pretty much describes my position on everything. I don’t care about and don’t believe it makes much of a difference, if any, to political and social issues why or how something is as it is, but I want to know. Just for the sake of knowing.

Several women have written to us insisting that the varieties of dominance porn found on the Internet–drunk porn, hypno porn, sleep porn, spanking porn, exploitation porn, teachers seducing students, coaches seducing cheerleaders (along with the erotica that self-identifies as rape porn)—are “actually rape, by definition. It’s a legal fact.” Ignoring the difficulties in applying legal definitions to works of fiction (“Hamlet, Batman, and Simba the Lion King are murderers, by definition. It’s a legal fact.”), it’s certainly unhelpful to use such a moralizing, ideological label when trying to figure out the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms of sexuality.

In short, this is the same sort of debate territory as ‘God Hates Fags’. You can’t have a useful or productive discussion with people who are operating on a faith belief. Whether it be religious or ideological. Some people can’t get past ‘Porn is wrong!’ or ‘Homosexuality is of the devil!’ and it should be a wake up call for both ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ that their cognitive bias leads their thinking.

Both “definitions” are rooted in fear—an authentic, instinctive, deep-seated fear. Conservatives fear that homosexuals are going to do terrible things to children. Liberals fear that male viewers of dominance porn are going to do terrible things to women. Fortunately, both of these fears can be tested empirically, and the jury is very much in. Gay men are no more likely to be pedophiles than straight men, being exposed to gay people doesn’t make you more likely to be gay, and kids raised by gay couples don’t turn out much different than kids raised by straight couples. And despite intense research efforts—including presidential commissions—studies have failed to demonstrate any link between viewing dominance porn (or porn in general) and the motivation to harm women.

Yet, like the supposed link between violence and videogames, people don’t want to hear it. They ignore meta-studies, cherry pick things that support their position and when the don’t get the results they want, commission more studies until they DO get the answer they want. That simply isn’t science.

If hardcore pretend-rape porn videos or extreme BDSM aren’t making men do bad deeds or treat women worse then the arguments against, say, sexy fantasy art or erotica writing melt away. The problem never seems to be the transgressive fantasy or sexuality itself but rather people’s attitudes to it and I would argue that it is the attitudes we need to change. Not the erotica.

There’s an awful lot of labelling in the academic study of sex. These days, liberal sexologists are worse culprits than the rare conservative ones. Perhaps because it’s easy for them to see the sexual intolerance in labelling homosexuality as “biological error” but difficult to see it in labeling male dominance-themed erotica as “rape porn” or labeling the investigation of differences in male and female desire as “heteronormative.”

I’m a hard-left, egalitarian and I can see this is a problem for the left/liberal bloc. In so many ways they have become what they hate. Judgemental, ideologically driven pricks who will brook no argument or dissent. This is how we end up with a situation where you can both be condemned for even suggesting some people like dominance/rape fantasies (and this isn’t a problem) and meanwhile EL James makes a fucking fortune selling borderline rape and dodgy BDSM to middle class mums around the globe.

It’s a conversation we need to have, a change in attitude. We don’t need vilification. We don’t need witch burnings. It’s shame that’s killing people, not sex or nudity or porn.

People want this kind of stuff and those bold (or naive) enough to provide it for them are going to do well.

There’s a lot of food for thought for Erotica/Romance writers and artists in these articles and if you can read them, I strongly suggest that you do.

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