Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review of 'Best Women’s Erotic of the Year Volume 1' (ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel)

Here we have twenty-two well-crafted short stories by some extremely talented women who prove that erotica is very much alive and well as the new century enters late adolescence. Thriving, in fact, and thrillingly diverse, pitching a big tent (pun intended) resounding with many voices. Still very much among the quick in spite of all efforts to pronounce it dead. Brash, defiant, alive and kicking—licking, kissing, sucking, touching, feeling, fondling, fucking . . .

And thinking, too! Rather a lot, as it turns out. These aren’t the braindead crayon-scribbles one used to find in cum-stained plain brown wrappers. There’s no bad writing here. It’s all good—and a surprising percentage of it is also very good, understatedly original, quietly trenchant, colorfully curious, probing, poignant, powerful, from Valerie Anderson’s Demimonde—an engagingly superb evocation of debauchery and kink in buttoned-up late-19th-century New York, to A New Canvas by Tara Betts and Drawn by Nic by Heidi Champa, both breathing in their cool inspirations from the gritty world of contemporary street artists. Jade A. Waters’ Ophelia the Second takes readers into the mind and heart of an infatuated understudy, while Starstruck by Lazuli Jones takes a similarly delightful journey into the mad-rushing thoughts of a fortysomething fan-girl at last meeting the object of her hottest teenaged fantasies—one hero, it turns out, who does not have feet--or anything else--of clay!

There are little one-act erotic romances (The Ropes by Elise King, The Wolf at His Door  by Deborah Castellano, The Assistant  by Tiffany Reisz), flights of fantasy made arousingly real (Date Night by D.R. Slaten, Flying Solo by Rachel Kramer Bussel, Matilda’s Secret by L. Marie Adeline, Alvin’s Night by Elizabeth Coldwell), salacious vignettes conjured from slightly-unconventional premises (Scents and Sexuality by Doriana Chase, Restitution by Ria Restrepo) and straight-up, no-frills sex-capades (Revisiting Youth  by J. Crichton and H. Keyes, Out of the Ordinary by Rose P. Lethe, Two Doms for Dinner  by Dorothy Freed).

I like those stories best whose authors seem to have done a bit of extra ‘interior spadework’, digging deep to the roots of character and emotion: Tabitha Rayne’s Enter Me, in which a woman, rendered deaf  by a terrible accident, endeavors to reconnect with her lover and the sounds of the past; Jessica Taylor’s The Altar of Lamented Toys, redolent with nostalgia and regret in a dystopian, post-pandemic world without batteries, Theda Hudson’s Lighting the Pyre, a treasurable snapshot of life in which a cancer survivor goes in for a tattoo to cover the scars and finds a way to re-engage with love and passion again,  and Rose Caraway’s The Carnalarium, a simple, sympathetically drawn story of letting go in more ways than one. Perhaps most pleasantly surprising of all was Waiting to Pee by Amy Butcher, a story in which diverse characters are so acutely, thoughtfully observed, yet so thoroughly, stealthily, unpretentiously entertaining as to catch the reader happily off guard. Magnificent!

Highly recommended!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Now Available: "The Moon-Haunted Heart" by TAS

Available February 16th, World-wide

The Moon-Haunted Heart (50 short stories)
by Terrance Aldon Shaw

in paperback at:

as an e-book:
Nook (Barnes & Noble)

(*) 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.

(To Selene--The Moon)

I cast my dreams upon the void
Like corked epistles on a chartless sea.
You who stumble upon these stories,
Tossed up, perhaps, upon some foreign, tide-washed strand
May, reading close, discern the cadence of my heart,
The tremblings of my naked soul in all its brazen brokenness;
Its studied stillness and unchaste aspiring;
Its manic, howling, vulgar, white-hot wants;
Its winking, tongue-cheeked, wry, bathetic eloquence,
Ebullient lust and blind enlightenment,
The ecstasy of flesh and sense,
Sorrow and exultation,
Languor, levity, despair,
Roaring blood and brimming brain—
All that is me—
Distilled within that secret place
Where love and madness meet.


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.

In his old age, W.B. Yeats famously remarked that “sex and death are the only subjects worthy of a serious mind.” While I think there may well be truth to that in an extremely broad sense, as I get older, I find myself earnestly exploring issues, not only of mortality and desire, but also of nostalgia, regret, isolation, loneliness and longing, lost inspiration and the search for one's place in the cosmic scheme of things.

The purpose of these stories—if they can be said to have any purpose beyond simply being for their own sake—is not necessarily to arouse, but rather to explore these aspects of the human condition through the lens of the erotic. If this seems contradictory, it may well be. “Know thyself,” the Oracle at Delphi famously declared, yet, if we are afraid to look at ourselves as sexual beings—naked, vulnerable, passionate, longing—our lives are not wholly examined. We do not truly know ourselves.

The fifty very-short pieces in this collection range from as many as 4,000 to as few as 50 words. There are brief vignettes—entire worlds conjured up within the space of an eye-blink—alongside more conventionally expansive narratives. The moods, settings, characters, and ideas found here represent many of the things that are near to my heart and seldom far from my thoughts: There are a number of stories about the erotic dimensions of ‘disability,’ particularly visual impairment. There are pansexual 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.

Writers live in hope that what they write will have meaning, though it is almost always left to readers to find it. If you find meaning in these stories of mine—if you find pleasure, joy, enlightenment, inspiration and encouragement in them—I wish you well.

Terrance Aldon Shaw