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lizardlez
The next contributor in the blog tour is L.C. Spoering.

Check out the interview:

http://lcspoering.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/forbidden-fruit-blog-tour-and-interview/
 
 
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lizardlez
05 September 2014 @ 10:17 pm
Note: Both Rebecca Lynne Fullan and Jean Roberta are contributors to Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire.  See more details at the bottom of the interview.
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JR: 1. You’re quite a diverse writer as well as an academic. How do you handle writing in various genres? For example, does your involvement in the theater world inspire your fiction-writing?

RLF: I have always liked to write all kinds of things. Everything cross-pollinates in a mysterious way that I don’t quite understand. I mean, often it’s what I call productive procrastination—right now, for example, I planned to work on my dissertation proposal, but I am writing this instead. I often play various kinds of writing and projects off of each other—sometimes with exciting success, and sometimes in a way that creates a tangled mess of getting nothing much done.

More interestingly, though, I find the energy of one kind of writing/thinking/brain work directly feeds the energy of other kinds. I don’t exactly know how to explain that, except that it's pretty clear that it happens. Last year, I was in the end throes of working toward my oral exam for my PhD, and I noticed that it was exactly ten years since I’d been in the same end throes with my undergraduate thesis—and both of these were the only times I’d come close to doing the poem-a-day writing challenge that comes around every April. I hadn’t previously associated the academic writing intensity with the creative writing intensity, but now that I see it, I think it’s not at all coincidental. My vague dream-project right now is some kind of little book that collects all the vibrant, off-or-on-topic creative activities that academics do as the flip side of their dissertations.

Theater and fiction, for me, are intimately connected. They are the most vibrant forms of story-making I engage with. Theater, I think, can remind me that all story-making is collaborative, even though fiction can seem like one singular product from one singular brain. We are always creating with and for others, even when we don’t know who those others are or will be.

JR: 2. I once promised my long-term female partner that I would never write about her (or a thinly-disguised version) in my fiction. Have you and your partner made any similar pact?

RLF: Interesting! My wife and I (just married this summer, hooray!) have made no such promises, perhaps because we are both writers, and story-making and eroticism are not necessarily discrete, separable things in my mind, nor, I think, in hers. Aside from this, I never base my characters off of real people in a wholesale way, where you could say—oh, look, it’s me!— though certainly character traits and little quirks and aspects of real life sneak in. I find it distracting and too much of a burden to be working from life in a more direct way.

It is tricky, writing about women having sex with each other, because I assume that people will be like, my, you have sex with a woman, you must have this kind of sex in this way and what you’re writing in erotica must be exactly what you like/do/want, etc. And of course that’s very layered and complicated, both true and untrue. I think erotica can feel embarrassing—to read, to write—precisely because it calls the question of all of these dynamics and atmospheres and tones which are erotically charged in other types of writing, but which can veil themselves if the sex is not explicitly present and part of the story’s purpose. For example, there’s a dangerous feel to the world of “Our Woman,” and I am serious about what the story (and its danger) are exploring politically, but there’s also a desperate atmosphere because that’s sexy to me, and, since it’s now in an erotica anthology, presumably to others. Erotica can reveal that, can make the nuances of desire explicit and sexualized, and that is something that makes me nervous, although obviously I have some commitment to it as well.

That’s a bit off-track from your question, but it has to do with the feeling of high personal stakes that may have led to the pact you and your partner have—and while my wife and I do not share such a pact, I think we can both feel those stakes.

JR: 3. Is there anything about you that would surprise your readers?

RLF: Oh my, I hope so. I mean, I hope I even have readers of the sort who have made any impression of me beyond reading whatever piece I have in whatever forum they encounter it.

I suppose a casual reader might be surprised about the breadth of my work and my tastes. So far, I have not used pen names for anything, though using them can also be a fun and liberating choice for a writer. But I've chosen not to because I am one person, who wants to write about Catholicism and about fucking and about literature and about various other things—and I want to stand by my own complexity, and I figure other people are also very complex and will appreciate seeing that in me. I have always been struck by the idea that being pure is being made of only one thing. I’m not pure. I’m not made of only one thing—and I reach out in that truth about myself in the hopes that others share similar truths and want such truths made visible in ways they are often not.

Beyond that—I don’t know! I sometimes do canning projects, even though I have a little New York City apartment kitchen. My favorite color is red.

JR: 4. Do you have any phantom careers: jobs or roles you like to fantasize about that you haven’t pursued in real life?

RLF: Sure! When I was a little kid, I wanted to be the first actress-who-wrote-her-own-plays on the moon. I have, at this point, written a play that I've also performed in, but I have not done it on the moon, and, though I don't know if it would deter me from the adventure of space were it directly available, I do get motion sick now that I'm an adult and so find the actual imagined process of space travel more daunting. So I don't know if “on the moon” is in the cards for me, though I suppose only time will tell.

When deciding to pursue an academic career, one of the motivating factors was that it was the most delineated and realistic career path I could at all see myself enjoying. That's obviously ridiculous, given how difficult it is to get academic jobs, etc., but it's also true. My career desires are very impractical and unstructured, for the most part.

JR: 5. Your story, “Our Woman,” is a powerfully believable fantasy. Would you like to explain what inspired it? I’m sure our readers would welcome an excerpt!

RLF: Thank you so much for that description—I am very pleased that you find it so. It's hard for me to  remember the precise inspiration for the story. Honestly, I think my first thought was that I wanted to write an erotic piece that had an edge to it, psychologically, sexually, atmospherically, and that I wanted to feature fisting. You know, the deep thematic stuff first.

As the story developed, though, I realized it really was about these impossible power dynamics we find ourselves in, and the ways in which violence and coercion can disrupt and prevent the kinds of loving personal connection with others that most of us long for-- but then also how person-to-person relationships can interrupt, change, invert, and inspire political choices and moral stance. The narrator, Lacey, grows up, as we all do, in this astonishingly unjust and violent and strange and confusing society, but grows up processing it as normal and ok-- as, I think, most of us do-- and eventually she's offered a choice to understand more of what is around her or continue in her ignorance. That choice is catalyzed by her personal relationship to Sarah, who is enslaved as a political prisoner and given to Lacey's family, and certainly by erotic desire, and I think that's also pretty common and one of the awesomely powerful things about sex-- it can pull you out of what you know, what you expect of yourself and the world. That doesn't have to be good or life-giving, but it certainly can be.

Sarah and Lacey's father, the other two characters of import in the story, have both relinquished their political pasts because of the harsh repression those pasts have brought on them, and that process puts them into this terrible relationship to each other as slave and master.

Here's an excerpt for you, from the moment when Lacey learns that Sarah is a slave:

“Our Woman is not a slave,” I said. “She wants to be here with us.”
The man chuckled and didn’t say anything else on the subject. The next time Our Woman and I were alone I burned with shame and questions and startled visibly when she said my name.
“Lacey, will you come help me peel these potatoes?”
I walked over and picked up a potato and a knife. My hands shook. I set them down again. Our Woman was peeling steadily, not looking at me.
“Why do you think I have a brand?” she said at last. Her voice was calm and almost kind. “Why do you think I am called ‘Your Woman,’ instead of by a name? You have heard other people speak of their Women and Men. You must have understood before now.”
“I didn’t,” I said. It was a lie, but it was also not a lie. Our guests were so infrequent: the whole pattern of life I understood was contained among my father and Our Woman and me. “I thought—I thought you were Our Woman because you loved me. I thought you wanted to take care of me.” I heard my own words in the silence, childish, need-swollen. I picked up the potato and the knife. I began to peel. “Please tell me the truth, Woman. Do you—” I was struck with the horror of it, the obviousness of it—“Do you have a name? Have you had a name all along, for years—”
“Yes,” she said. “I have a name. I had one. I haven’t heard it since the war.”
I peeled furiously and sliced the top layer of skin off of a finger along with the potato peel. Our Woman put her hands on mine. She took the knife from me and laid it down.  My cut finger burned and stung where she touched it. I looked at her face, and while her voice and hands remained so steady, her face was not calm. It was a wilderness of feeling.  She squeezed my hands hard and I gasped with the pain. I thought of how she was always near me, with knives, with fire, with water, with rocks.
“My father trusts you,” I said, wondering.
“To an extent,” she answered.
“To the extent of me.” I paused, trying to choose my words carefully. “And I trust you to the extent of me.”

Leave a comment on any post in the Forbidden Fruit blog tour to be entered into a random draw to win one of these great prizes. Prizes include a paperback copy of Girls Who Score, lesbian sports erotica edited by Ily Goyanes, Best Lesbian Romance 2011 edited by Radclyffe, Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories edited by Sacchi Green, an ebook of Ladylit’s first lesbian anthology Anything She Wants, and a bundle of three mini-anthologies from Ladylit: Sweat, A Christmas to Remember, and Bossy. All of these titles contain some stories written by the fabulous contributors to Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire. You must include an email address in your comment to be entered into the draw.
Forbidden Fruit: stories of unwise lesbian desire is available direct from the publisher, Ladylit (http://www.ladylit.com/books/forbidden-fruit/) or from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Forbidden-Fruit-stories-unwise-lesbian-ebook/dp/B00N55URLO/, Smashwords, and other good retailers of ebooks. Check out http://www.ladylit.com/books/forbidden-fruit/ for all purchasing information.

Next stop on the blog tour: http://lcspoering.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/forbidden-fruit-blog-tour-and-interview/
 
 
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lizardlez
15 July 2014 @ 01:02 am
Outline of nameless (so far) book about censorship in Canada, 1980s to the Present

  1. Roots: The Legal Basis of Censorship in Canada


  • Licensing Act, UK, 1662, bans publication of certain material (a lingering effect of Puritan rule?)

  • Society for the Suppression of Vice founded by William Wilberforce, 1802

  • Introduction of a compulsory education system in Britain & its colonies, 1837 – growing concern about reading-matter that could be read by  women, children, the “lower orders”

  • The Obscene Publications Act (“Lord Campbell’s Bill”) 1857, grandfather of all subsequent legislation, including a later Obscene Publications Act in Canada, 1959


  1. The New Feminism


  • The legacy of Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy and other “First Wave” feminists, leading to the vote for women (nationally in 1920, earlier in some provinces & territories) , and the legal definition of women as “persons”

  • Brief overview of Second Wave feminism, which began with printed works of theory (Thinking About Women, The Female Eunuch, Man’s World, Woman’s Place, The Dialectic of Sex, The Politics of Housework, the works of Andrea Dworkin, et al.), circa 1968-1971.

  • Founding of provincial “action committees” and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women following the report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, 1968

  • The rise of a Dworkinite definition of sexually-explicit material as inherently oppressive to women (not present in the earliest “Second Wave” theories)

  • The clash of feminist advances (e.g. liberalized divorce, women’s greater access to relatively well-paid jobs) with the “sexual revolution” as defined by heterosexual men

  • The rising visibility of gay men and lesbians after the Stonewall Riots in New York, and the decriminalization of sex between men in 1968 under Pierre Trudeau’s government

  • Second-Wave feminist demand for protective laws as parallel to “First Wave” feminist support for age-of-consent laws, legislation against prostitution and the banning of alcohol.


  1. The Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s


  • Conflict at “Sex and the State” conference at Barnard College, U.S.A. 1982

  • The rise of AIDS in the 1980s

  • Bath-house raids

  • The Minneapolis and Indianapolis Ordinances, drafted by Dworkin and McKinnon, 1982/83

  • The Charter of Equality Rights, Canada, 1982

  • The Body Politic (Toronto, 1971-1987) on trial for obscenity, 1982 (first charged 1977)

  • The Fraser Report on Pornography and Prostitution, 1985

  • Books ordered by Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium (Vancouver) first stopped at the border by Canada Customs (1987)

  • Trouble at the Third International Feminist Book Fair, Montreal, 1988: shots fired against “appropriation of voice/culture” as well as “porn” (despite the presence of erotic publications)

  • Broadside magazine (Toronto, 1978-88) as opponent of “appropriation”


  1. The Wars Expand: The 1990s and Beyond


  • The split in the Women’s Press collective (Toronto) over “appropriation”

  • (possibly) The withdrawing of Herotica 7 (with a theme of interracial/intercultural sex) by the collective of Down There Press in San Francisco, 2003, as part of the lingering feminist opposition to “appropriation”

  • The trial of Bad Attitude magazine (Boston) in Canada: the Butler decision, 1992

  • The banning of Exit to Eden (Hollywood movie based on Anne Rice erotic novel of the same name) by the Saskatchewan Film Classification Board, 1994, based on provincial legislation

  • The ruling that Canada’s laws against “keeping a common bawdy house,” “living off the avails of prostitution,” and “soliciting” are unconstitutional, 2010

  • Current conflict over laws regarding the sex trade, and vagueness of censorship laws

  • Conclusion: no final definition of subjects that deserve to be banned or censored is possible.

This is what I have so far. I don't have a deadline, a schedule or a contract. If the outline meets with approval, it should give me enough to do for the next year.
 
 
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lizardlez
15 July 2014 @ 12:53 am
During my time off from teaching, I have kept up with my posts for other blogs, written reviews and produced an outline for the book that the director of the local university press wants me to write about censorship in Canada in the 1980s & 90s.

I never have enough time to write fiction. Several calls-for-submissions are staring me in the face, but so are the remaining books I feel I should review while their plots are still fresh in my mind.

I need to re-read (and make a detailed outline of) Death by Silver before I teach it for the first time in September.

The transfer of most of my books from the home library to my amazing shelf-lined office at the u. is about 3/4 finished. I will never have such sturdy shelves at home: planks half an inch thick, resting on metal screwed into concrete-block walls. I have six shelves on one wall, and five each on the other two. It is a library to last for all time, unlike the five shelves at home made of particleboard that are bending and swaying under the weight of books.

I've already discovered the inconvenience of having most of my books at school rather than at home -- can't use them at home unless I plan ahead. This will have to be my strategy. I wrote a brief piece on The Perfumed Garden (originally written in Arabic in the late 1300s/early 1400s, then translated into English by Sir Richard Burton) for the Circlet Press series on "dirty books" that have influenced current erotic writers. Unfortunately, I was told there is no room for my piece until next year. Well, if it never gets sandwiched in anywhere on the Circlet site, I can probably find another use for it.
 
 
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lizardlez
11 July 2014 @ 08:48 pm
Hadrian’s Lover by Patricia Marie Budd (New Generation Publishing, 2013).

Imagine a world that has fallen into chaos because of overpopulation and global warming; according to many, this future is unavoidable unless drastic measures are taken to prevent it. Now imagine Hadrian, a land of peace and plenty in a newly-temperate zone in what was once Canada, including Hudson Bay. This country features gender equality, political stability, a “green” economy, universally-accessible health care and education. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

This is the setting for a fantasy novel that functions as a political allegory. The four founding principles of the nation are: “Hadrian’s chosen lifestyle is homosexual; Hadrian is a safe haven for homosexuals; Hadrian’s goal is to create and maintain a stable human population; Hadrian will create an ecologically sound balance between humanity and nature.” All babies result from officially-approved in-vitro fertilization, or else they are aborted. The logic behind this reversal of orthodox sexual morality in the world as we know it is that social systems run by heterosexual males are driving the human race to the brink of extinction through violence, including the rape of the earth. This argument is hard to refute.

Despite the apparent strangeness of a culture in which all children are raised by same-sex couples, and teenagers either date same-sex classmates or decide they are not “ready” for a sexual/romantic relationship, the characters are believable. Families consisting of two “papas” or two “mamas” and their one or two children are shown to be close and nurturing – except in exceptional cases.

The author is a high school English teacher, and high school students are in the forefront of a plot about sexual awakening and social control. The story of Todd, a neglected boy with a widowed father, is told partly in chapters by a traditional third-person narrator, partly in news clips by a journalist, Melissa Eagleton, and partly in court transcripts that reveal the flaws in a social system designed to eliminate “deviance.”

What happens to Todd, who at first appears to be a “late bloomer,” is heartbreaking, but the narrative style avoids melodrama. Todd’s dilemma is echoed in the lives of the two “papas” who take an interest in him, Geoffrey and Dean. The reader gradually learns that the relationship between the two middle-aged men began years earlier when Geoffrey rescued Dean from one of the “re-education camps” in which young people suffering from “sexual confusion” are “helped” to discover their latent homosexuality and become fully-functioning members of society. Unfortunately, a past that includes “re-education” is much like a past designation as a “young offender:” it carries a stigma which keeps the “re-educated” out of the most prestigious jobs for life.  The alternative to a “cure” is worse:  exile to the outside world, where disease, starvation and violence await, or assisted suicide.

What raises this tragedy above the level of a sermon is the richness of the secondary characters. Everyone involved with Todd has a recognizable motive, and most of the characters have good intentions. Even the camp administrator whose hatred and abuse of Todd are far beyond the guidelines of “therapy” in Hadrian is not simply a cartoon villain; he is a complex man with his own tragic past.

The nation-wide scandal with Todd at the centre results in the much-needed liberalization of Hadrian’s laws and culture. The novel ends on a realistically hopeful note, although the effects of a lifetime of social conditioning are shown to be impossible to shake off just because the zeitgeist has changed. The reader (like the viewer of a tragedy, according to Aristotle) is moved to compassion.

Although this novel works as it was clearly intended to do, I would have liked to know more about the lesbian citizens of Hadrian. In general, this novel doesn’t meet the Bechdel test (invented by the cartoonist, Alison Bechdel):  there have to be at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than males. On the level of style, this novel includes typos, dangling modifiers, imprecise word choices, and an excessive number of exclamation marks. Most of these are fairly easy to skim over, but they give the book an unnecessarily amateurish look.

Despite its flaws, this book is a must-read that bravely tells the truth about “underage” sexuality. As the author explains in the foreword:
“Out of respect for the LGBT [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] community I do not want to dull the edge of sexual discrimination created by the graphic nature of the sexual scenes in this book regardless of some characters being under the age of eighteen. I have turned the tables for a reason. I want the heterosexual community to understand what it would feel like to have the very essence of one’s being rejected by society. We need to understand what it feels like to have others HATE us just because the way we love is deemed abhorrent.”

Amen to that.
 
 
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lizardlez
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I'm back from New York, where I attended this event -- featuring books published in 2013. See the photos of nominees who read from their work.

The entire trip was very cool, even though I didn't win anything. Here is the list of winners in each category:

For Bisexual Fiction: The City of Devi by Manil Suri (W.W. Norton & Company)

For Bisexual Non-fiction: Anything That Loves: Comics Beyond Gay and Straight, edited by Charles "Zan" Christensen (Northwest Press)

For Bisexual Speculative Fiction (Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror/Etc.): Pantomime by Laura Lam (Strange Chemistry)

For Bisexual Teen/Young Adult Fiction: Inheritance by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

For Bisexual Biography/Memoir: The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler's Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia by Alden Jones (Terrace Books/The University of Wisconsin Press)

For Bisexual Erotic Fiction: The Reunion by Adriana Kraft (B & B Publishing). [Note: My "bawdy novella" of the 1860s, The Flight of the Black Swan, was nominated. Obviously I was disappointed that it didn't win, but I have a high regard for Adriana Kraft's work. Must read this one.]

For Bisexual Book Publisher of the Year: Circlet Press and Riverdale Avenue Books were TIED for this, so the two publishers (Cecilia Tan and Lori Perkins) both got awards.

For Bi Writer of the Year: Shiri Eisner, author of Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution (Seal Press).

So now everyone here who is not sure what to read next has a list of books to look up!
 
 
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lizardlez
Of White Snakes and Misshaped Owls: Volume One of the Charlotte Olmes Mystery Series by Debra Hyde (Riverdale Avenue Books, 2013)

Reviewed by Jean Roberta

This slim book is a marvel of historical fiction. Told by Joanna Wilson, the “companion” of Miss Charlotte Olmes, detective, it is clearly a lesbian-feminist take on a Sherlock Homes mystery. However, this tale is much more than a trendy type of fanfic.

Even aside from nineteenth-century notions of how ladies should behave, Miss Olmes and Miss Wilson must cope with the corruption of New York City in 1880, when Tammany Hall controls the police force as well as the city government. Chinatown is a “different world,” into which white Americans rarely venture. A glamorous woman of mixed race, Miss Lynette Tam, seeks out the woman detective to tell her that her “employer,” Mr. Keane, is missing. She wants him found, and she has good reason to avoid the police.

Charlotte Olmes immediately understands what Miss Tam will not say aloud: that she and Mr. Keane are more to each other than a doctor and his assistant, and that Mr. Keane is a good soul who gives help to whoever needs it. Who would want to harm him? In a city seething with crime, gangs, corruption, and racism, who wouldn’t?

Charlotte and Joanna call on their butler, Mr. East, to provide them with masculine companionship as they explore dangerous places at night, and Charlotte disguises herself as his male friend. Charlotte tells Joanna (and the reader) the traditional Chinese tale of Madame White Snake as a way of explaining the cultural background of the mystery.

The resolution of the mystery is unexpected, yet plausible. Between outings to the morgue, to rough taverns and to a Chinese feast, Charlotte and Joanna seize the chance to free each other from their corsets in the privacy of their home. The sex scenes are startlingly intense, yet because few New Yorkers of the time would suspect two “ladies” of such behaviour, they escape detection themselves while investigating the secrets of others. Their own social position reminds Charlotte and Joanna that appearances are usually deceptive.

The story is colourful, true to its setting, and satisfying on several levels. Charlotte and Joanna emerge as three-dimensional characters who are competent and level-headed without being superheroines of fantasy. Their power to right wrongs is realistically limited, but they are determined to find the truth, even if they can’t change the world. This reader looks forward to their continuing adventures.
 
 
 
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lizardlez
03 May 2014 @ 03:35 pm
Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers by Steve Berman (Lethe Press, 2014)

 by Jean Roberta

Here is a teenage boy’s description of his friend’s Stepfather from Hell in “The Harvestbuck,” first story in Steve Berman’s recent single-author collection:

“As I make a sharp turn, the wheels kicking up bone-white sand, the headlights wash over a figure standing among the trees.

Rick’s ranger uniform is filthy and unbuttoned. He’s tied sticks to his head. They can’t be real antlers. He’s grinning at me. “Heard you like black boys, Sean. Come back soon for Brent—he’ll be a right Jack of Spades when we’re done with him.” He laughs.

I tremble and floor the Jeep at Rick. The wheels sputter in the loose sand. He’s gone. Gone but I hear his laughter behind me as I’m driving too fast down this little path.”

Is the narrator hallucinating? Is Rick actually a demon, or the Horned God? The reader can never be absolutely sure, but anyone who remembers adolescence will recognize the menacing adult, the spooky atmosphere in the woods at night, and the reckless driving.

This collection of thirteen uncanny stories is hard to classify as “young adult” because it seems suitable for adults in general, but the central characters are all young and queer. Most are serving time in high school, hoping to survive long enough to reach the age of majority while coping with real and metaphorical monsters.

The Red Caps in the title are an elusive band that are always off-stage, but the narrators of the stories collect souvenirs of them, such as red caps. The name also suggests a euphemistic term for pills which could cause hallucinations.

In “Most Likely,” Roque and his sister Leo are trapped indoors by rain while spending summer vacation at the beach. Looking at a magical school yearbook, Roque discovers that the captions say what his classmates actually think. This might be considered the sign of a curse, but the unexpected honesty leads Roque into the car (and the arms) of the boy he has a crush on, who has come to the beach to find him.

Teenage fickleness has its place in these stories, as in “Bittersweet,” in which Dault runs around with the “gingerbread boy” while his boyfriend Jerrod is grounded by foot surgery. The title of “Three on a Match” says it all.

By far the funniest story in the batch is “Gomorrahs of the Deep, a Musical Coming Someday to Off-Broadway.” Greg, the narrator, has a boyfriend in school, and their relationship is tolerated by their classmates and teachers. However, Greg doesn’t want to push his luck. He is alarmed when his boyfriend announces his plan for a presentation in English class:

“I’m going to do a whole presentation—not some sixth-grader’s book report—on the homoeroticism in Moby Dick.”

Greg tells him: “You might as well sing it.” This is the cue to turn the rest of the story into a kind of musical comedy.

Two stories that are fantasy from beginning to end, and not necessarily about teenagers in a modern sense, are “Thimbleriggery and Fledglings” (a lesbian retelling of the Swan Lake story) and “Steeped in Debt to the Chimney Pots” (an ambitious, atmospheric tale about a hard-luck young man who falls in with bad company—the fairy folk—in Victorian London). These two stories are well worth reading, but they seem only marginally related to the stories about magic that arises from the ordeals of contemporary teenage life.


These stories are accompanied by illustrations by various artists which could have been drawn in notebooks by several of the young narrators. Altogether, this collection is greater than the sum of its parts. It will suck you in like a phantom lover or a dream that seems more real than your waking life. The storyteller’s magic still works.









 
 
 
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lizardlez
22 November 2013 @ 04:09 pm
 The topic du jour on the 10-writer blog "Oh Get a Grip" (www.ohgetagrip.blogspot.com) is "Fairy Tales."

Here is one I wrote several years ago.


NAME-FINDING, or THE CLEVER TRICK

by Jean Roberta.  2,530 words.
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    Welcome to my fireside, my dears.  You might recognize the old story I am about to tell, though every storyteller tells it differently.  It’s not a pleasant tale, but that is probably because it has come down to us from a dark time, much like our own.  A whiff of brimstone was in this tale before I got to it, so please don’t blame the teller.
    Once upon a time, an ambitious young man left the cottage where he lived with his parents and his fifteen brothers and sisters, and set forth to seek his fortune.  The first person he met along the road was a priest.  “My son,” said this holy man, “serving God is the greatest joy that man might know.  Come with me and shun the temptations of this world.”
    But the young man answered, “It is not for me, Father,” and continued on his way.
    The next person that the young man met was a weaver and tailor who could make fine cloth and sturdy garments.  “You seem lost, my son,” said the weaver in a kindly tone.  “The only security a man might know,” he philosophized, “comes from the skill of his hands.  Come with me and I will teach you to clothe the world.  Learn well, and you will never lack bread.”
    But the young man answered, “It is not for me, sir,” and parted from him at the next turning.
    The third person that the young man met was a fine lady riding a fine horse.  “Will you serve me, young man?” she asked with a twinkle in her eyes.  “My husband is very old and very rich.  He will pay you well if you are strong and able.”
    “Gladly, my lady,” answered the young man.  At once she dismounted and led the young man into a secret opening in the woods that she knew of so that he could mount and show her his riding skills.  She was well pleased, and said that he would be her personal servant.  She did not ask his name, but named him Ready.
    Ready served the lady for a year and a day as he cherished his ambition:  he planned to become her next lord and true owner of all the old lord’s demesne.  Soon after Ready became head cook in the lady’s household, her husband fell from his chair at dinner, gasping and moaning.  The lady had never seen him so lively, but alas, the lord died within the hour.
    Seeing Opportunity at hand, Ready grasped it firmly along with one of the lady’s ivory mounds as she knelt by her husband’s body, pulling her bodice even lower than it was designed to be worn.  “Marry me, ‘Titia,” he declared.  “Now you will be truly mine.”
    “Unhand me, low-born stud,” she responded.  “Since you no longer know your place, you must leave this house at once.  My fertile hills and shady valleys are not for the likes of you to command.”
    So Ready departed in despair, still wearing the lady’s livery.  Even his name was not his own, and so he set forth again to find his fortune one way or another.
    At last he was too hungry and thirsty to travel further, so he knocked on the door of the wizard who lived at the edge of town.  “Welcome, son,” said the half-blind and white-bearded wizard, who believed he saw a likely young man standing before him.  “I will keep you and teach you all my secrets if you become my assistant and promise to take my place when I am gone.”  Even powerful wizards can become lonely without human companionship.
    So Ready stayed on as the wizard’s assistant, although he was not allowed to cook anything other than potions for spells.  At length he grew restless.  “Teach me, Father,” he beseeched, “to turn base metal to gold.  Or at least to turn a nightingale into a beautiful lady who will do my bidding.”
    The wizard laughed.  “And why, my son,” he asked, “do you want a golden cauldron?  Or golden wheels on our wagon?  This is a foolish wish.  And as for the beautiful lady, she would soon turn back into a bird which would not even sing to your liking.  A wise wizard seeks the knowledge of what is,” the old man explained to his pupil.  “Did you not once tell me that you wanted to find your true name?”
    But Ready was not satisfied with such answers, and he left the wizard’s house the very next day.  The wizard had named him “Wantit,” and that seemed like the last straw.  So the young man took some straws from the wizard’s thatched roof, and hid them under his shirt before he left, hoping they contained enough magic to help him find his fortune someday.
    Wantit returned to his home village and married the maiden next door.  She was both kind and fair, but Wantit treated her harshly because she was not a fine lady, nor had she brought him a rich dowry.  Instead of providing him with land, fine horses and wealth beyond measure, Wantit’s wife had only a generous heart and the skills of her body.  And so Wantit reluctantly sought out the weaver and became the oldest apprentice in the village while he did whatever odd jobs came his way to provide for the little ones that Mrs. Wantit kept bringing forth.  Wantit felt no admiration for this magic trick which all women seemed to know.
    In due course, Mrs. Wantit died of a broken heart after bearing several babies who did not live long enough to be christened.  Wantit was left alone with his eldest daughter Avaricia, who was as bold as she was beautiful.  “Do not despair, Father,” she told him after the untimely deaths of her mother and all her brothers and sisters.  “We have each other, and we can seek our fortune together.”  Avaricia dutifully kept house for her father, but every day she kept watch for the King and his courtiers, who liked to hunt in the nearby woods.
    One day the King’s retinue rode into the village square to announce a competition to be held throughout the kingdom.  “Hear ye, hear ye!” bellowed the King’s loudest lackey.  “the King is seeking a bride for his son, Prince Horndog, who has come of age to beget a legitimate heir and prepare for his future responsibilities.  Only the fairest, the purest and the most accomplished maidens will be considered for this great honor, but maidens of humble birth may apply.  Bring your daughters hence.”
    What a clamor and bustle this announcement produced!  Parents pushed their daughters forward, from the youngest girls to the oldest spinsters.  “Show your ankles, dear,” mothers were heard to whisper to their daughters, while fathers muttered, “Unlace the top of your bodice, daughter, that your beauty may be seen.”  One maiden stuffed her shift into a basket and set fire to it to protest the King’s treatment of women as objects, but her father and brothers promptly stomped out the flames and dragged her away, announcing to the whole village that if she remained unwed for the rest of her life, she could find no shelter under their roof.
    Wantit and Avaricia pushed their way through the crowd, ignoring the glares of their neighbors.  “Your Majesty and company,” announced Wantit, “my daughter is the finest maiden in the land.  Her hair is black as raven’s wing, her cheeks are as pink as rosebuds, and her breasts are like bowls of cream topped with ripe strawberries.  Her hips are round and full for easy childbearing, and between her legs there lies a deep well--.”
    “Enough, man,” replied the King’s lackey, even as he marveled at the damsel and her doting father.  “Fair she is, but a damsel fit for the prince must have special talents.”
    Avaricia herself blushed, which did not happen often.  But before she could speak, other villagers called out their daughters’ accomplishments:  “She can spin and weave!” “She does fine embroidery!” “She can brew fine ale!” “She can cook a feast for the King!”
    Wantit felt that he would die if he could not become father-in-law to the prince.  He knew that the King always needed more money to pay for a new war.  “My daughter can weave straw into gold!” he shouted.  Avaricia was as astonished as everyone else.  She barely knew how to spin wool into yarn.
    “Very well,” said the King’s lackey.  “She shall be brought to the palace.  If she fails to satisfy, she will beheaded and her father will be driven from the kingdom.”
    “Oh, I will do everything in my power to satisfy His Highness,” murmured the blushing Avaricia in her most girlish tone.  And so she left the village in her best gown, made by her father, with the straws from the wizard’s roof tucked in her bodice.
    That evening, Prince Horndog came to the chamber where Avaricia awaited her fate.  A spinning wheel stood in a corner.  “Lovely one,” grinned the prince, rubbing his codpiece.  “If you can perform the trick that was promised, you may please me for the rest of your life.  It distresses me so to see maidens lose their heads.”
    “Your Highness,” replied the damsel, unlacing her bodice, “mine is in no danger.  It will be my pleasure to show you many tricks.”  And so she boldly removed her gown and all her underthings, carefully keeping her lucky straws out of sight.
    The prince was so dazzled by Avaricia’s beauty that he promptly offered her his royal scepter to hold and to kiss.  In return, he asked her to give him her jewel of great price.  (The prince was no cleverer than he needed to be.)
    “Husband,” boldly answered the minx, “I am but a poor girl and cannot give you such a treasure, but I can make your scepter disappear in the snatch of a moment.  And in the course of time, I can give you your heart’s desire:  an heir to inherit your kingdom.”
    The prince accepted Avaricia’s offer, and she showed him tricks all night long.  When morning came, however, he commanded her to spin straw into gold as her father had promised.  She was frightened, but did not despair.  “Sire,” said the young lady, “I cannot perform tricks by daylight.  After the clock has struck midnight, I will do all that Your Highness wishes.”
    That night, the prince left Avaricia alone to work her magic, but ordered his servants to spy on her.  As she sat forlornly by the spinning wheel, an ugly little man with glowing red eyes appeared beside her.  “Give me your worthless straws and I will help you, wench,” he growled in the voice of a vicious dog.  “The promise which brought you here will be kept by first cock’s-crow, and you will pay for it.”
    In spite of herself, the damsel shuddered.  The little man gave her a smile which made him look immeasurably more evil than when he first appeared.  Known evil is really more frightening than that which is completely strange, and Avaricia feared that the little man was familiar to her.  “If you cannot guess my true name in three tries,” he warned her, “I will take your firstborn child to raise until he is fit to rule according to my will.  And then all will be under my power.”  Avaricia was dismayed, but she had no desire to lose her head, and so she agreed.
    By morning, the room was filled with shining golden threads which lay in great skeins like the hair of angels or the wigs of the King’s favorite mistresses.  The prince and his father the King were overjoyed, and the prince’s wedding to Avaricia was arranged at once.  All the church bells in the kingdom rang out the good news, and there was joy in the land.
    Princess Avaricia cleverly set to work producing a baby, and she was brought to bed in a remarkably short time.  Three days after she was blessed with a son, her chamber was filled with golden light as though it held piles of magic thread.  The princess shuddered.
    “Fear not, daughter,” murmured a soft voice.  “It is I, your mother, come to guard you from harm.”  Avaricia gazed in wonder at the radiant ghost who hovered at the foot of her bed.  “I am your guardian still, as I was in life, and I have come to tell you what you must know.”  The ghost bent over her daughter, who wondered if she were still dreaming, and whispered some motherly advice in her ear.  Then she kissed Avaricia and her infant grandson, and vanished without a trace, leaving only the scent of spring violets.
    No sooner had the princess soothed her baby son back to sleep at her breast than the ugly little man appeared, filling the room with red light as though from a great fire.  “The child is mine,” he gloated, “mine by right.  Unless you can tell me my name.”
    “Let’s see,” mused the princess.  “Could it be Hairy Lowballs?”
    “No,” growled the little man.  “You don’t know it.  Hand over the child.”
    “Well then,” said the princess, holding her son tightly, “surely it must be Saggybutt?”
    “No, no,” snarled the little man.  “You lose.”
    “Then it could only be Sourforeskin,” cried Avaricia in triumph.  The little man was so angry that he stomped a great hole in the floor, and fell through it in a cloud of fetid smoke.  He was never seen again by anyone who wished to tell of it.
    The very next morning, as the princess lay contentedly suckling her babe, guards came to arrest her on suspicion of witchcraft.  The prince, after hearing the report of his servants, had decided that he did not want a wife who knew more tricks than he did.  His father, the King, took pride in his son’s common sense, and he commanded that the princess be examined and tortured as justice demanded.  And so the baby prince was given to the care of a wetnurse, and Avaricia was burnt so thoroughly that after the wind carried her ashes away, there was nothing left of her to be seen.  And the name of Wantit was never heard in the kingdom again, but perhaps all those who once lived under that name have found their true names at last.
    After a month of deep mourning, Prince Horndog was betrothed to a maiden so innocent and modest that she often forgot her own name and had to ask for her own whereabouts.  She and the prince were married forthwith, and from that day on, she was guarded so well that she always knew who she was.  The prince and princess had many children, and they all lived together as happily as could be expected until all the prince’s gold had been spent on royal mistresses, and the War of Succession broke out.  But that is another story.    

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lizardlez
11 October 2013 @ 10:53 pm
Sigh. After waiting weeks to find out if this review would appear in The Gay & Lesbian Review (glossy mag, also available on-line: www.G&LR.com), I was told that the editor cut it down considerably. So here is the uncut version for anyone with an interest in Jeanette Winterson's fiction.

Editor complained that I gave away too much plot. IMO this should whet the appetite of anyone who would enjoy the novel, not kill a reader's interest.
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The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson (Grove Press, New York, 2012).


This beautifully-written, heartbreaking novel about the 1612 trial of the “Lancashire Witches” is based on a contemporary account by lawyer Thomas Potts: The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancashire. The word “wonderful” had a considerably less positive meaning at the time than it does now, and Potts’ account  is hardly objective. Potts shared the official government view of “popery” (Catholicism) and “witchery” (broadly interpreted) as set forth by the very Protestant King James, who wrote a book about demons as part of his mission to rid both England and Scotland of every form of spirituality he considered “perverse.”

Jeanette Winterson’s account is hardly objective either, and she explains in an introduction that she has tampered slightly with the historical facts. She is known for her historical fiction, in which love between women is often a major plot element. In this novel, the independent Lancashire gentlewoman Alice Nutter (an actual person) is acquainted with William Shakespeare, whom she had formerly welcomed into her house in London, “like a northern woman.” Generosity is Alice’s strength and her fatal flaw.

While living in London, Alice was introduced to the Dark Arts and a beautiful fellow-traveller, Elizabeth, with whom she had a passionate affair.

While watching The Tempest in the company of its author, Alice remembers a crucial conversation from years past:

“’Did you sell your soul, Lizzy?’

‘The Dark Gentleman will take a Soul. It need not be my own.’

‘I doubt another will go to Hell to pay for your pleasure.’

‘You do not believe in Hell or Souls, do you, Alice?’

‘I believe that you are changed.’”


Alice maintains a kind of sensible, modern skepticism while surrounded by obsession and hysteria in various forms – as well as by supernatural elements such as a speaking skull that predicts Alice’s grim future.

Despite Elizabeth’s clear intention to sacrifice Alice to “the Dark Gentleman,” Alice feels a lifelong obligation to shelter Elizabeth and her family in Lancashire, which has become a refuge for “witches” and Catholic refugees from the persecution of traitors following the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were intended to blow up the English Parliament.

By 1612, Guy Fawkes had been caught, identified as the ringleader of the plot, and executed. (And  through the centuries, he became so identified with diabolical rebellion against authority that masks in his image would be worn by the Occupy movement in North America post-2008.) Thomas Potts, however, as the king’s bloodhound, is in Lancashire to sniff out the remaining traitors.

The novel establishes the atmosphere of the setting by introducing readers to hills and forests, often shrouded in mist, that seem to have their own wills: 

The north of England is untamed.  It can be subdued but it cannot be tamed. Lancashire is the wild part of the untamed.”

Individuals who wish to remain as free as wild animals seem to gravitate to Lancashire. Twilight, or the gate in which daylight gives way to night, is the time when spirits become visible in a place where they are always present.

Unlike the dangerously simple-minded Thomas Potts, the local magistrate, Roger Nowell, is an educated local landowner who at first treats Alice with grudging admiration. When she asks him whether he is not “fond of King James,” Nowell explains his position:

’He is a meddler, and when the King is a meddler, the rest of us must be meddlers too. Do you think I enjoy sending old women and their crazed offspring to the gallows?’”

Alice’s response is that she will not help Nowell to do his work. His rebuttal is that he will not help her either.

Alice’s chaste but intense love for a mutilated priest, a survivor of the Gunpowder Plot who is hiding out in Lancashire, seals her fate. Christopher, the fugitive, tells her that he has always loved her, and she returns the feeling, despite her equally passionate devotion to Elizabeth in the past. The modern term “bisexual” doesn’t seem adequate to describe the broad force of Alice’s love for kindred souls.

The net tightens around Alice as she and Christopher desperately plan their joint escape. Roger Nowell’s willingness to use torture to enforce the law, even against suspects for whom he feels a certain respect, is disturbingly characteristic of his era.

The ending of the novel is Shakespearean, but written in the simple language of a traditional ballad. Winterson is so good at casting spells that it’s fortunate for her that she doesn’t live in an era when “witchery” was a dangerous hobby.

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