Sunday, January 31, 2016

Review of 'Islands' by Richard V. Raiment

This is an extraordinary book, one of those rare stories that seem, in retrospect, inevitable, as if it had always been part of our consciousness, only waiting for a gifted author to do it justice. In voice and style, Richard Raiment’s Islands is clearly inspired by the classic adventure narratives from the Age of Sail, everything from Defoe to Stevenson. But there is much more here than a simple, action-packed yarn of late-17th-century British mariners, tossed up together by fate upon a remote island, struggling to survive in an alien land against the caprice of the elements and the cruel whims of the sea, battling pirates and slavers—as well as their own deep-seeded prejudices—in order to claim their dignity as men. Islands is also a touching, m/m/f polyamorous romance, a powerful philosophical novel, as wide-ranging and wise as it is trenchant and acutely observed; stylish, exciting, thoughtful, probing, beautiful, moving, wonderful!

Islands is, above all, the story of an inner journey, and though introspection comes at times with a shiny aura of anachronism—the relative ease with which the narrator questions the consciousness of his time, the cultural conditioning, communal beliefs, mores and taboos of a rigidly-defined class society—his struggles are—or ought to be—timeless and universal; the search for who we really are, deep within ourselves, as sexual beings capable of love in whatever form that love might take, without anyone to tell us we must be one thing or another—or enforce their sadistic, ridiculously rigid notions of theocratic ‘natural law’ and propriety upon us.

What makes a fictional character interesting—what makes a character great in the end—is their capacity to grow and change within a set of limitations that place them in situations of intense conflict. Raiment has succeeded most admirably in creating a world almost perfectly suited for the incubation of interesting characters. Beyond the physical setting, a small island somewhere in the tropics off the coast of Africa, two castaways must learn to live and work together—must learn to learn from each other—and find a way to coexist when one of the sailors, Peter, is gay (a “molly” in the parlance of the day) while the other, Tom the narrator, is a rabidly reflexive homophobe. Inner and outer conflict is inevitable, especially when a young woman—an escaped slave—finds her way into their world. Ultimately the two men—islands unto themselves—must find a way to bridge their differences, for, as Donne so famously put it, “no man is an island”—nor can anyone pretend very long to be so if they would be fully human. (Raiment’s title is a stroke of descriptive genius on many levels!)

Here, Tom reflects on what he has learned about himself and the world:

You have seen it all, I told myself. You have seen the children begging, the babes cast dead upon the midden, the infants sold for a pint of gin. You have the whores who lack for nothing, pox included, from the service of ‘good gentlemen’. You have seen the starved and hopeless driven for want of a loaf of bread, scarred by the branding iron, deported into slavery. And this girl here, who plays you still so gently, who restores the warm infusion of your cock? What of her? A slave she was due to be. A Soul born in freedom, born to the sun and the jungle or the open plain, born to a family who loved her, a source of grandparents’ pride, beloved of mother, father, aunts, uncles, siblngs, coloured by the sun in order that she might not burn, and beautiful.

What happened to her? You know the story. Dirty men, white or olive skinned, too often black, too, in breeches or in Muslim robes, men who stink, unwashed, foul-breathed with pox, toothless with scurvy, to whom she is but produce, or a beast, an infidel, a kaffir—a ‘soulless’ one, a piece of merchandise; such men trapped her or bought her. They were armed with guns, with torches, whips; she was armed with nothing but her wits. And they stole her.

Raiment’s command of period idiom is without equal in modern historical fiction. His ability to make the older forms of language work so consistently to achieve his present literary objectives is awe-inspiring.  This is an author who has clearly done extensive research, and knows his subject matter in and out, but never bores readers with unnecessary detail, and never wields his superior knowledge like a bludgeon to patronize the less well-informed. There is a graciousness and a humility that shines through every page, imbuing the storytelling with a rich and rare humanity.  

Enthusiastically recommended!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Now Available for Pre-Order: "The Moon-Haunted Heart"

So, yes, regular visitors to this site have been hearing me go on about The Moon-Haunted Heart for months now. I've shared several of the stories (see * below), revealed the first draft of the cover, and made regular updates to the Books By TAS page.

Now, I am at last delighted to announce, the wait is almost over. The Moon-Haunted Heart will be released across all platforms on February 12, 2016. It is now available for pre-order at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and at Smashwords (where it will be downloadable on ANY electronic reading device) and will soon be available from several other major retailers. A trade paperback edition will be available on launch day as well.

If you order through Smashwords, enter the coupon code MH48F at check-out and receive 50 percent off the list price of $4.99. This code is good through March 1, 2016.

The Moon-Haunted Heart

Sometimes, the truest stories are about what ‘almost’ happened; not what was, but what just as easily might have been. The would’ves, the should’ves, the could’ves, the haunting maybes and the melancholy might-haves are the fertile soil in which the most powerful and affecting fiction takes root. Then too, sometimes, the most intriguing stories leave a bit of mystery beyond the margins—small enigmas for the reader to ponder hours and days after the book has been closed. Sometimes, the shortest stories are the ones that stay with us the longest.

The fifty very-short pieces in this collection of mature literary fiction range from as many as 4,000 to as few as 50 words. The purpose of these stories is not necessarily to arouse, but rather to explore various aspects of the human condition through the lens of the erotic in a way that is both enlightening and entertaining.

There are brief vignettes—entire worlds conjured up within the space of an eye-blink—alongside more conventionally expansive narratives. There are a number of stories about the erotic dimensions of ‘disability,’ particularly visual impairment. There are pan-sexual celebrations—the hetero- and homoerotic along with the intentionally ambivalent. There are richly atmospheric scene-settings, effusive literary evocations, and casual pop-culture-inspired dialogues; orneriness and ecstasy, contemporary vulgarity and timeless transcendence standing cheek by jowl, low comedy, erotic horror and lambent exultation comfortably sharing the same space, breathing the same air, seeking the same truth.

Here are fifty stories from that secret place where love and madness meet. 

# # #

Stories from The Moon-Haunted Heart
first appearing on Erotica for the Big Brain
(with links)
(note that these stories were all subsequently edited)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How to Write a Review--and Why, Maybe, You Should

There's a constant tug-of-war between writers and their readers. Authors can sometimes go to rather grotesque  extremes in pleading for reviews--begging, bargaining, sweet-talking, flattering, cajoling, enticing, trolling, bullying, threatening, extorting, blackmailing (believe me; I've heard it all) . . . But how often are they truly satisfied with the notices they end up getting--especially the bullies, the extortionists, and the blackmailers?

It's bad enough that we want readers to appreciate what we do, to be entertained, but more, to find meaning in it, to like it, to love it, to shout their new-found passion for it from the rooftops. That most readers don't bother to leave a review does not necessarily mean that they weren't entertained or moved or excited or deeply inspired or powerfully turned on; it simply means that, after being entertained, the last thing the average consumer wants to do is sit down and write a book report, bringing back unpleasant memories of disastrous procrastination, coercion, and ultimate public humiliation from grade school a la some old episode of Leave It to Beaver  or The Simpsons . . .  If they wanted to write a review they'd be writers themselves, wouldn't they???

There's a notion--or would it be a stereotype?--of the critic as a frustrated creator, somebody who couldn't make it as an author or an artist or a performer, and now spends their time exorcising their pent-up disappointments on those who truly can achieve greatness. We all have our horror stories of laughably ignorant reviewers, barely articulate--if even remotely conversant with the basic language of story, music, or art--willfully clueless, invariably leaving a bad notice for something that 'disappointed them' or 'wasn't what they were expecting' while seldom appreciating the book or play or film or composition that was actually set before them. Most 'bad reviews' are of books that never existed, except in the wishful imagination of incompetents, wannabes and hacks.

Come to think of it, why would writers want reviews from people like that?

Because, alas, as I point out in the Afterword to The Moon-Haunted Heart:

 . . . the cold, hard, commercial truth of the matter is that without reviews, a book simply languishes on the shelf and ultimately dies for want of notice. Not exactly the kind of situation that encourages an independent author to spend the considerable time and intense mental and physical effort required to write, edit, format, and bring a new book to market.

And if writers do pour their heart and soul into their work, sending it forth like a beloved child into the world, can they be blamed if, ever so often, they long to hear of their offspring’s progress? If, on occasion, they allow themselves to imagine their love requited?

Writing can be a labor of love, but, for the independent author,  publishing is often an act of faith; it renders the creator vulnerable, placing their fate in others' hands. 

"But . . . but . . . but," I hear the naysayers neigh, "reviewing is time-consuming, and boring, and . . . hard!" (Really??? Just a minute ago, they were saying "those who can't, review.") 

So, here is a little crash course in effective literary criticism. A basic set of guidelines that I follow when writing reviews. I ask myself the following set of questions about the book under consideration. 

(1) What is it?

The answer to this question is factual, not subjective. Describe the thing under review, its basic taxonomy. Is it adventure, romance, YA fantasy? How long is it? What tense and point-of-view does the author employ? and so on and so forth. 

(2) How is it? 

The quality of the writing, the effectiveness of the narrative. The standards of usage, grammar, editing, formatting, presentation.

(3) How does it make me feel? 

What is my subjective, emotional response to the material? Is the story compelling--or not? How does it affect me? Am I impressed? Dazzled? Inspired? Turned on--or off? Or, perhaps, something else?

(4) What does it inspire me to think? 

What thoughts and ideas does the material call forth? 

(5) What do I believe other readers will get from it? 

(6) What is the ultimate significance of the book considered in the contexts of (a) its particular genre, and (b) literature in general? 

Note that I do not always answer these questions in the same order. 

With this simple interrogative template, one can--not necessarily easily--find a way to approach the writing of a thoughtful, literate review. 

And why should you endeavor to write reviews? 

(1) Because writing reviews can make you a better writer. 

Referring to the list of questions above, note that you are called on to describe something in both concrete and abstract ways. Think of the review as good practice for those descriptive passages in your next novel or short story.

(2) Reviewing can make you a better, more self-aware human being. 

You are required to search your own thoughts, where--surprise!--all sorts of interesting ideas tend to lurk. You consider your feelings--come to grips with your passions whether long-repressed, hidden or seethingly overt--and ultimately know yourself better. 

(3) Reviewing helps you to find yourself within the context of a broader community.

Sure, we all know about some reviewers who only seem to spout vitriol or take great pleasure in destroying people with their blithely wielded poison pens; but there are others who know how to edify and enlighten with their reviews, make connections that aren't always obvious to the rest of us, and help to strengthen the bonds of our writerly community. And when we understand that we are, indeed, a community of like-minded creatives, not in competition with each other, but always better off when we cooperate and encourage one another, we all come that much closer to success.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Review of 'Skin Effect' by M. Christian

The nine stories in this intriguing, highly-imaginative, occasionally maddening collection have a deeply personal feel to them. These are not easy, breezy reads: these stories require that readers take a journey—and the road is not always direct or level or smooth. A bit of effort is required—and sometimes, more than a single reading. But, in the end, the reader is richly rewarded with beauty and enlightenment.  

This isn’t ‘hard’ sci-fi or conventional genre erotica, but, indeed, something quite extraordinary: less Frankenstein’s monster genre hybrid than the precocious love child of an optimistic speculative fiction (Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov) and a mature, deeply self-aware  literary sensualism. If it must be classified, then I would suggest a brand new subgenre: call it  ‘techno-sexual.’

And what do we find in this brave, sometimes bewildering new world? Trans-humanism that does not—cannot—forget its humanity. Awesome technical capability with the aura of magic, though, in the end, it cannot assuage our deepest longings, our atavistic thirst for mystery.  Hyper-connectedness that cannot sate our hunger to touch, and feel, and remember, as in this extended excerpt from The Subsequent State:

“Now kiss your Goddess—” she said, but as she did, her voice throaty and hoarse, she did not finish, if there was anything she’d been intending to speak, because without thought, without any feeling, without anything but a need to touch her, this special woman who smelled of nothing but herself and the earth, who’d opened her life and her arms for him—for the first and only time in his life—he pulled himself up the sheets, rubbing his almost painfully erect penis along the fabric and kissed her gently, reverently, on that small, intimate, spot.

No spark, no burst, no roar, no scream, no stars tumbling down from heaven, no cracks yawning open from below, no sulfur, no pain, no suffering, no tears from Jesus, no slap from God: there was just the music of her, the throaty, deep, and glorious sound of her pleasure as it rolled and surged through her body, arching and pulling her hands away from her clitoris and nipple to grip, grab, and almost tear at the sheets.

When she calmed, when it had passed to gentle heaves and quakes, Josh pulled himself up and moved—patiently, slowly, naturally—up her full body to where he could wrap his arms around her, her breasts moving against his chest, to where he could look down into her eyes, still unfocused and distant from her release. There, in the slightly remote starlight of her eyes, he saw her seeing him: with nothing but affection, caring, welcome . . . and love.

The writing can be dense, knotty, sometimes overlong to a point where potential dramatic impact is diluted, the final ironic twists coming too little and just a bit too late to dazzle. Yet, the collection does have its share of truly amazing moments, inspired imagining, sparks of the ingenious. Prêt-à-Porter tells a marvelous tale of a futuristic garment that—virtually miraculously—adjusts to the desires and moods of its wearer. The Bell House Invitation  brilliantly takes the ideas of collective consciousness and cyber-community to their logical—and, perhaps, a tad disturbing—extremes. The Potter’s Wheel and [Title Forgotten] imagine worlds in which connectedness makes us omniscient yet utterly incapable of knowing our deepest selves.  

Enthusiastically recommended!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Whither the Erotic Writer's Thesaurus?

Undoubtedly, the most popular and frequently visited page on this site is The Erotic Writer's Thesaurus. It's a project I've been working on with intermittent enthusiasm over the past several years, and I have been gratified by the community's overwhelmingly positive response, as well as the following for my weekly posts about usage on Facebook.

Now, however, I need to make some decisions about the future of this resource. The 'beta' version on this site hardly reflects the vast amount of new information I've added to the master document over the past two years--and I very much want to share all that information. Originally, I had envisioned an e-book reference with full internal navigation and cross-referencing. However, there are several serious obstacles to the achievement of that goal:

(1) The Thesaurus would simply be too huge, with far too many hyperlinks to be viable as an e-book. It would actually be rather difficult and confusing to use. And without the resources and support of a major publisher, there is little practical way to realize the project either in print or electronic form.

(2) In either form, there would be no guarantee of sales, especially as in this day and age people can simply Google the wrong answers from various sites around the web. (Don't get me started on open-source venues, or those sites that seem to be geared more towards the display of advertising than the actual dissemination of accurate information.)

(3) I don't have the full time to devote to a project of this magnitude--unless I want to give up my writing career altogether for the next two to five years, along with pretty much everything else in my life. Writing is my passion, not data-entry. I am currently working on entries under 'I', and, although there are a lot of entries already included under the subsequent letters, there is still a considerable--and seriously daunting--ways to go.

So, what are my options?

(1) I can do a massive update to the page here on EFTBB, reflecting what I've collected so far. The main difficulty here is that I can't figure out how to include rudimentary navigation on a Blogger page. Existing links within the Word document have a tendency to go haywire when transferred to EFTBB. Thus, a lot of manual searching would be required on a user's part. And, of course, while this up-date would greatly expand the resource, it still won't be complete--and it might never be.

With this new up-date, I would split off the Notes on Usage section, making it available as a discrete page.

(2) I could possibly start a dedicated website for the resource, which should retain much of the internal navigation. I would also probably be able to offer the site's contents as a PDF. The problem here is that while I'm dedicated to offering this resource for free, I don't have the money to pay for a site out of my own pocket, nor do I want to sell advertising for it (thus becoming like so many other useless on-line 'data-deserts' as mentioned above.)

(3) I could turn the Thesaurus into a kind of quasi-open-source community effort, with vetted volunteer editors given the authority to add new entries and information. I would be happy to do this so long as my formatting conventions were adhered to within a margin of consistency. As to how I would do this, I don't yet know, and, given the severe time constraints under which so many of us live our lives, it might not be quite as practical a solution as it appears on paper.

At this point, I'm leaning towards the first (and by-far the simplest) option. But I would very much welcome any comments or ideas you, the site's faithful users, may have. Contact me at with your input. I won't be making any final decisions for some time, so there's plenty of opportunity to comment.



(Honestly! It's too bad. I really did like this cover!)