Sunday, January 26, 2014

New from TAS: "A Song for the Girl with the Almond Eyes"

In his brilliant treatise on screenwriting, appropriately enough entitled Story, Robert McKee makes a simple but stunning observation; if a writer changes one of her characters, she changes the story as well. Likewise, changes to the plot necessitate changes to the chief characters who act it out. In the best dramatic narrative, character and plot are so inextricably bound up, that to change one is to essentially alter the other.

Yet, how many genre outings have we all read in which, it seems, story and character are little more than menu items—traits and plot points chosen at random from Column A, B, or C—mechanically interchangeable cogs, fungible, generic “plug-ins”? To be sure, there are a lot of accomplished, very smart, and exceedingly well-compensated people doing this sort of assembly-line writing, seemingly building their stories with stencils and flowcharts, churning out their highly successful cookie-cutter products with impressive regularity.  I do not begrudge these writers their success; there’s clearly a place for what they do in the contemporary commercial scheme of things, though, the handful of them that actually give a rat’s tuchus should know that their books will never be reviewed on EFTBB. 

I was thinking about McKee’s observation as I approached, for what seemed the hundredth time, yet another reworking of my first novel. Changing the ethnicity and personality of the main female character necessitated a good deal of revision, not to mention a lot of continuity editing, though it wasn’t quite as tedious as it might have been. I have lived with this book for so long now, one would think I’d have grown weary of it, put it aside once and for all, and moved on. Yet something about it has retained my interest over the years. It was never badly written, only awkwardly structured with, perhaps, a bit too much philosophical padding. A good, lean story was always there, even if the narrator’s obsession with explaining everything made it look fat. (The original first draft of what became Last to Leave Parts 1 and 2 weighed in at 152,000 words!) In the beginning I had many stories to tell, and tried to tell them all at the same time; lots of ideas, too, which I simply couldn’t resist going on about. It took a while for me to learn that good storytelling isn’t so much about what a writer puts on the page, but what he has the humility, the courage, and the sheer ruthlessness to leave out. What is that oft-repeated advice about killing our beauties—or is it our darlings? (Ginsberg was it? I’ve heard it attributed to Faulkner as well.) In the end, effective self-editing is essentially an exercise in healthy self-criticism. The sooner a writer figures this out, the happier she will be in her chosen profession.

At 72,000 words, A Song for the Girl with the Almond Eyes is the new, leaner, sleeker iteration of a work that has occupied me off and on for the better part of a decade. A young man, coming of age in the suburban upper-Midwest of the 1990s, deals with overwhelming feelings of sexual obsession, and in the inevitable denial of his desires, a crushing frustration, which he must find a way to work through if he is to move on with his life. I have tried, in this novel, to elucidate an honest, thoughtful male perspective on sexual desire. My aim, as with everything I write, is to explore the human condition through those thoughts, feelings and emotions that accompany sexual experience and physical sensation. I categorically reject the oft-repeated criticism that, when it comes to telling stories about sex, “all men are assholes.” Certainly, some men are assholes—including a few portrayed in this book—but that’s hardly a fair indictment of the whole class of male authors. Admittedly, those in search of gossamer romanticism, candlelit seductions, hearts and flowers, sugar and spice, will not find it here; nor will most readers find the sort of blithely unexamined, facile adolescent obsession with merely “getting in and getting off” that characterizes porn. Some may complain that I have exaggerated, or even that, when it comes to recording dialogue among women, I don’t know what I’m talking about; but be assured this story is based in part on my own experiences, as well as things I’ve heard and seen while sitting at the edge of the crowd. It is, when all’s said and done a labor of love. As such, I hope it will not go wholly unappreciated.


Next month here at EFTBB, we’ll be getting back to a regular schedule of reviews and commentary.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Turn Me On Again: A New Erotic Anthology from TAS

I had hoped to dive feet first into the New Year. There are a lot of things I want to accomplish in 2014, including the completion and publication of three new titles in the first half of the year, along with the possible roll-out of The Erotic Writer's Thesaurus in e-book form in the second half. I still expect to meet my self-imposed deadlines for all these projects. Unfortunately, my momentum has been slowed considerably at the outset by some nasty viral thingamawhatsit, contracted, no doubt, over the holidays. Once I shake whatever this is, I will do my best to get EFTBB back on to a regular schedule, with at least two new posts each month.

In the meantime, it is my pleasure to announce the publication of a new erotic sampler anthology. Turn Me On Again--Tell Me Another Story features two complete short stories, as well as a copious excerpt from the very-soon-to-be-published novel A Song for the Girl with the Almond Eyes. The book is free this weekend on Amazon along with its older companion volume Turn Me On--Tell Me a Story.

Here is my introduction to Turn Me On Again. Enjoy, and stay tuned for more reviews and commentary upcoming this year on EFTBB.


There is a moment in every truly great cinematic seduction scene—perhaps no more than a split second of real time—when the action slows, coming nearly to a standstill, and everyone in the audience—voyeur and vicarious seducer alike—holds their breath. This is the erotic Moment of Truth. It can be defined by the subtlest look or gesture, a virtually imperceptible nod of the head, the tiniest hint of moisture on the lips, a furtive movement of the eye, the slightest flutter of lashes. It is, more often than not, a moment of acute indecision, the treacherous cusp of a psycho-sexual dilemma, the point at which our starlet is forced to choose her fate, overcome her ambivalence, and cast off the last of her inhibitions, or enter a convent to nurture regret and wonder “what if” for the rest of her life. Dread and desire, doubt and wonder play in her eyes, dilating like rising stars. We may almost see her lips becoming fuller; hear her breath deepening as she crosses that unseen threshold of surrender and abandon.

That scene, in all its mystical beauty and magic, is what I have lived for as a lover, as a voyeur, and as a writer. Getting to the very heart of that moment, to its most profoundly, ineffably fractal essence is what I strive for, however vainly, every day when I sit down to work.  Expressing the rich complexity of erotic sensation and the unique emotions accompanying them is the definitive test of my skills. For me the mystique—the fascination—of seduction is in the uncovering of soul as well as flesh. It is the thrill of the new, as garments are stripped away, and, with them, inhibition and the very will to resist. Yet, even greater is the pleasure of discovery as the deepest secrets of the heart are revealed, sublimed into the ecstasy of yes. Some have likened seduction to a game; if so, we are, in a sense, seduced by the game itself.

All the things that make for a great story, regardless of genre—compelling characters, their strivings, conflicts and contradictions, the obstacles they must overcome along their way—also happen to make for superb erotic narrative.  Ultimately, it’s the process of “getting there” that truly fascinates. Through the narrative of seduction, we enter a character’s mind, and discover the infinitesimal complexity of her emotions. There’s little interesting about sex that simply happens, as in most contemporary porn, without some engagingly human backstory, let alone any sort of realistic foreplay or believable seduction. The shallowest of human connections, sex at its most impersonal and coldly clinical, requiring no effort to obtain, holds little allure for the mature imagination. In fact, the most explosively radical, exciting thing that ever happens in porn is on that rare occasion when spontaneous intimacy breaks out on a set, when couples share a passionate kiss, or laugh together, or behave as if they were actually enjoying each other’s company.  

I hope that the stories in this collection will arouse, enlighten, inspire, entertain, and, yes, seduce. Though nothing I write may ever come near the deepest essence of the erotic Moment of Truth, the whole process of getting there, the aspiration, the striving, the hard work have themselves been exhilarating, a source of delight and purpose and immeasurable reward.  In the end, I hope those who come across these little tales of mine will find as much pleasure in reading them as I had in their creation.