Remittance Girl had a great post up today on writing characters with more depth and honesty. I think that’s really important in the genre I write in. Because of my degree in Depth Psychology I’ve thought a bunch about how I plan to write a larger curative into the tremendous wounds suffered by American women around sexuality post-Roe.
RG is one of the most honest writers I’ve ever met on the page. She is. I think if you want to swim in the literary end of the pool of Literary Erotica, you have to be. Honest.
It can take a writer many years to open sealed chambers of the heart, or sealed chambers of the body. My particular interest is in the “wounded feminine” internationally. It’s a big wound and I don’t really feel like writing from a Male POV around that. I’d rather hear it from males on the page.
Fear, Love and Loss: Izzy’s Questions
June 25, 2013 • 1 Comment
I don’t usually go in for blog memes, but Isabella E. Marks posed a great one on her blog, originating with this quote:
“Everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”
H. Jackson Brown Jr.
So, her challenge was: What are you afraid of? What do you love? What have you lost?
Personally, these are uncomfortable and revealing questions for me. But I think they are exceptional questions to ask your characters, when you’re forming them. And if the answers you come up with are too standard, too obvious, too pat, then you probably need to go back to the drawing board and conceive of a more complex character.
My answer to these questions:
What are you afraid of?
Not telling the absolute truth on the page as a writer.
What do you love?
The idea that real love exists, and will always exist.
What have you lost?
My illusions about men.
I have barely begun the process of unpacking the sexual realities of my generation of women, who grew up post-Erica Jong’s concept of the Zipless Fuck. My generation of women had many experiences with men. Some were good, some bad, some very ugly. You will always see truth in my fiction, to the best of my ability. I just recently posted a story on the list at ERWA called “Skinflicks” to very dead silence except for a few men. I know that my audience is men, because they have no idea what other men are like in bed. In me, they can.
One of the writers posted a song to me, onlist, as a reflection back about this piece. Spencer Dryden, a writer I much admire. It was this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhjYbfK9vrk
This is the story I wrote:
by Valentine Bonnaire c. June 2013 email@example.com
My generation was not only maligned in book reviews and attacked in
graduate school but we lived to see our adored and adorable daughters
wonder why feminism had become a dirty word.
She’s standing next to me with her belly like a giant moon at my
wedding. My old best friend. She’s at the end of the nine months.
It’s stretched so tight across her stomach I can’t even believe it,
this dress she’s wearing. Denim like some kind of a prairie costume
like little house. She’s like a moon, she can hardly walk, and she
came to my wedding anyway. She isn’t even married. Yet. I asked her
*why not,* you know, because it just seems like she should be. I know
that’s what I always planned on. I’d go to school and go to work
and find a husband. I mean that’s not why I went to college. I
wasn’t there to “get a man.” I was there to go to school. I let
my mind drift back to when we were fifteen, and it’s only fifteen
years later and here we are at thirty and she’s having a baby,
unmarried, and I really wanted a baby after I got married. It’s just
the way that we were going about things differed.
“Tina,” I reached out my hand to touch the denim moon.
“Don’t,” she said. “Everybody keeps trying to touch me and
I’m so sick of it.”
She didn’t bring Chris her boyfriend along. I’d never even met him
yet even though we lived in the same town. We’d drifted, Tina and I,
our lives going in two different directions after high school. I met
Chris at the hospital when she was giving birth and going through that
epidural and she was screaming “Give me something.”
I was standing there and I had this big bouquet for her in my arms. It
was one of the most amazing things ever, seeing her. She was shaking
all over involuntarily just after. Here she was, my best friend, and
she was having the baby we had both dreamed about as little girls. How
we were going to push our kids in strollers down the beach boardwalk
together and be Moms.
“He raped me,” she says later. “He told me, ‘I’m going to get
* * *
Tina’s got two kids now and they are so little. I’m married for six
years with increasingly more difficult jobs and my clock is ticking so
badly it’s screaming inside me. There is a little boy and a little
girl and they are barely blonde toddlers and when she calls me crying
into the phone about the guns and the threats and the walking on
eggshells I know what to do. I tell her about the Shelter, and I say,
“I’m taking you in.” It’s what my mother would have done.
I’d seen her do that when women came to our house crying over what
some husband or some boyfriend had done. Sometimes they had black eyes.
I wasn’t even a therapist yet. I just wanted a baby.
It scared me. Tina scared me. We’d gone through everything together
since we were fifteen and when Tito her first real boyfriend made her
get that abortion because *he just wasn’t ready to be a father,* and
when she had the next ten abortions or so before she met Chris and he
*did want to be a father,* I didn’t know what to think anymore. I
wanted the best for my best friend. That’s how women are. I wanted
her to have her dream.
“Those chicks are lesbians,” she said to me years earlier. “Quit
hanging out with them or you are going to get a reputation.”
We’d been in Junior High together, and I used to write poetry for the
tiny little school paper that was underground. We all wore those black
armbands. There were demonstrations and we marched around flashing
peace signs all the time. Personally? I was planning on Radcliffe,
because I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Being a lesbian had
nothing to do with it. I liked boys. Boys liked me too. It’s just
that, I guess I was more innocent or maybe I was smarter or maybe I was
going to wait for the right one, and besides, I didn’t want to get a
reputation. Tina had one by the time we were fifteen. She was known as
a *slut,* around school.
I guess I was going to try and be one of those smart girls like the
girls I admired most. Those poetry girls like Sylvia Plath or Erica
Jong, or like those girl’s fathers that I hung out with. They were
teachers out at the University. James used to bring me red roses in
those days, and his poems and he looked at me with those love-filled
eyes and he had a crush on me like Tito had on her. He was studying the
classics by then, when we were in school much later. He told me he’d
father the child the Art teacher planted inside me. The child the Art
teacher hadn’t wanted because he *wasn’t ready to be a father yet,*
It was James, when I was 21 who had said, “I’ve got a place for the
two of us,” when I was supposed to be staying with Tina and Tito at
their place and she was all over him, in his lap, making out, almost
stripping herself in the chair and doing a lapdance before they were
even named that and James took me to that empty apartment that had that
brilliant red carpeting all through it down by the beach for miles and
miles and miles across the floor. There was this bare mattress on the
floor and we made love to each other on that with a sleeping bag for a
blanket. He knew I was totally uncomfortable by the spectacles Tina
always made. There is some stuff you just don’t do in public, you
“Doll,” he said in the morning. “Doll, I feel great.” I’ll
never forget that morning because Jeffy came in. I mean he came
bouncing in like the cherubic angel he was and he was jumping and
pouncing all over the bed between us and it was going to be some kind of
threesome if Jeffy had his way because he always had his hands all over
me in those days, down on the beach, but he fucked everything and later
he even fucked Tina too, right after she broke up with Tito. Actually
he was a little like Iggy when I was always searching for Poetry Man,
I was naked, under the boyish sleeping bag cover and I could hear James
say, “Jeffy, get the fuck out,” so that put an end to that. James
spent so much time looking at himself in the mirror anyway. I mean a
certain amount of vanity is good in a man but…
“You want some pancakes, Doll?”
“Okay,” I said. “Pancakes.”
You know how your oldest friends float in and out of your life and there
is a certain jealousy you have about each other? Well, Tina and James
are like that in my life. I guess in some ways we compare ourselves to
each other. Through the big relationships.
Anyway, Jeffy was this quintessential rock and roller, you know the
kind, all those curls and tumble guitar strings and plastic picks and
he’d almost tumbled in and out of every bed in town by time we were
twenty five or so and when I heard he died at like 35, I thought to
myself, *Oh no…*
You can really like a guy a lot and not sleep with him you know?
That’s how I was most of the time. I used to fall in love really
hard, when I did. Really hard. Like with that Art teacher. So,
anyway, James came with this giant bag of mayonnaise and pickles and
potato chips and tuna and baloney and white bread and he said to me,
“You have to eat. You have to eat, and I’ll marry you.” I was in
tears. Tears. I had nowhere to turn.
I think I burst out crying again that night after he left because he was
really a good guy. Really a good guy but I didn’t love him, I loved
that Art teacher and he didn’t give a damn about me, not really. I
went to the clinic because he said he wanted to plant his seed inside me
but he lied. I called Tina and I said, “Tina…” and she said “it
won’t be that bad.” I called my mother and she said “My friend
Selina had 15 of those during the war. By the Germans.” And I was
like, “Mom, I don’t even know Selina.” And my mother never said
another word. Only that Selina had been French and strong. I was two
weeks late on my period. Two weeks. When I woke up I wish I’d died
when they put me out, but I didn’t. I’ve never been as strong as
Tina though. Not like that.
* * *
After Tina divorced Chris and they lost that cute little house in Morro
Bay she was living in a trailer park on the wrong side of the tracks. I
told her, “The way to get yourself out of there is to go to school.
You can get student loans for that. Family student housing.”
That’s what I wanted to see anyway, because she was my best friend.
She was jealous of my degree. She kept talking about it all the time,
and my salary. Well, I was jealous of her kids. I was jealous of her
stay at home Mom-ness and the string of guys with a mistiness in their
eyes. Guys love single moms. Sometimes. So, one night I got a phone
call from her.
“I met somebody.”
“I pierced my nipples for him.”
“Yeah, he likes it when I wear this little gold chain in between
I was just silent after Tina said that to me, I mean, *What was I
supposed to say…*
“He gets me so wet.”
“Do you know what I like to do?”
“He drives these race cars and he likes it when I read Story of O out
loud to him.”
I held my breath. I had read that at age fourteen. We were 36, that
“I like it when he makes me that wet.”
Hoagie is what she called him. He’d already raised two kids and he
was fifteen years her senior. He was taking Chris’s kids on because
he wanted them to have a father. I never met him. He lived on a big
old ranch in the hills. Tina never really had a job in those years.
There was always a guy. I mean, she had been a hairdresser while I was
in college. Sometimes she talked about how gross it was.
“How much are you making?”
“At your job.”
“Tina, I don’t discuss things like that.”
“I want to know.”
I knew she didn’t have any money and she had never gone to school
because she had been a mom first and I knew she wanted to know how much
I made because it was envy. Except, envy gets you nowhere in this life.
I really wanted to see her be able to stand on her own two feet if
necessary. Finally she coaxed it out of me. It was something like
$40,000 and she didn’t have a fucking dime to her name. I hated
saying it. I really did.
“He makes my pussy so wet.”
“Okay,” I said. “Listen, I have a really long day tomorrow.
I’m doing the art direction on the Book and Author section. I’ve
got to go.”
She had no idea what work was actually like. Dishes and vaccuuming were
work. Diapers were work. Fixing dinner was work.
It was years later that she told me about that first waitressing job she
was going to get at Hobston’s grill. The manager told her she could
have it for a blow job. Eventually she thought hairdressing would be a
“I had no idea,” I said to her. “That fucking asshole.”
“You know what I did?”
“I told him I was going to tell my Dad.”
I started laughing. “Good for you,” I said.
It took me back to her father’s little bachelor pad with all those
Hustlers of his we peeked in. He was one of those guys that collected
turquoise and had those big barroom painted nudes hanging all over the
place. You know the kind. All draped in Velvet with those longing eyes
and the come hither look. I guess the divorce from her mom had been
pretty hard on him, too. He’d come from Bakersfield. Land of the oil
men. He was kind of oily, actually. I remember how he had that leering
look in his eye when we were fifteen. For me, but I was way smarter
than that, even then.
Tina was one quarter Cherokee Indian, but you’d never know that by her
outward appearance. She was five feet tall, blonde and blue-eyed. This
came in handy later when she explained her version of racism to me when
she was dating a black guy named Kimball. That was after she left the
rancher who raised her kids. The one that made her pussy so soaked she
couldn’t see straight.
Tito had been her first big love. She told me when she was dating Tito
all she got were filthy looks when they went downtown. That was the
late, late 1970’s, so?
“Kimball,” she sighed. “I want him to dominate me in bed. It’s
his black skin I like the best. And that cock he has.”
“Oh, god. I came. He does that to me.”
“We can’t go out anywhere together though like restaurants.”
“Well how are you going to manage that?”
“He wants to do a threesome.”
“You could join us.”
“Tina, I don’t think so.”
“I’m just not interested in having sex with my old best friend.
Besides I only like guys. One at a time.”
I’d run into Tito over the years in town at parades and he would
always ask me about Tina. “She had two kids,” I said. “But it
ended badly. She’s happy now.”
“Where are your kids?” he asked. By then he was the head gardener
on the big estates around town. I wanted to say something like,
“That’s kind of personal, Tito,” but I didn’t. He always had
this way of looking down his nose at everyone, ever since Junior High.
“Hey have you ever heard from James?” I asked.
“He’s totally miserable.”
“I heard that.”
“Yeah, I wish the two of us had had kids.”
“Who is she?”
“She’s five feet and from Ceylon. I don’t even think she weighs
90 pounds. Funny how she can push a big guy like James around. She’s
working him to death.”
“He never even slept with her on their wedding night, we all got drunk
instead. Jeffy, StevieB and all of us. He had a lot of best men.”
“So what else have you been up to?” Tito asked me.
“Just work, it’s endless.”
“You should have a kid.”
“Thanks Tito. We’re trying”
Of course, Tito had no idea at all about how difficult working at the
Stantonsbury Star was. He had no idea about the world of executive men
that I dealt with on a daily basis or the hours. All he did was plant
flowers and trim hedges and stare at the sky. I had no plans to end in
the cesspool that was the female-filled typing pool, I mean, I really
didn’t. Talk about segregation. God, the women were bitches in there.
Towards each other. Especially if a slut was involved. Believe me,
there were plenty of sluts who figured out how to sleep their way up the
corporate ladder. Like Candy Benton in those little outfits. Everybody
hated her. It was like fangs. I thought we were all feminists in the
90’s, but no…..
“Honey?” I asked my husband, I think I was 40 that year.
“How are we going to bring the baby with us on the boat?”
“We’ll figure it out.”
Once a month, I used Planned Parenthood’s methods for fertility. God
I wanted a baby. I really did. I even had a little crochet cap that I
bought on a trip up to Canada that was going to be the baby’s in my
lingerie drawer. I’m not sure anything can replace the ache to be a
mother. I had to figure out a way to work less hours so I could do
that. I decided to go to grad school and change careers. It was during
the time Tina got all kinds of things pierced on herself. And tattooed.
Her kids were growing up fast. When she told me her daughter was
pregnant I sighed.
“Kimball makes me come so hard.”
“Tina, are you sure this pregnancy is…”
By then she had gone to school and was going to become a teacher. For
kids with autism.
* * *
After James got his divorce, he told me he’d slept with Jeffy and
StevieB when we were in our twenties. My mouth dropped open. Some
things you just never expect out of an old friend, huh?
“She never fucked me,” he said. “Not ever. Ten long years.”
“Oh my god.”
“She saw me as a ticket.”
“Hey I saw Tito.”
“I always hated that asshole. He’s so fucking smug. Tina was so in
love with him. That was her first abortion.”
“Remember when I lived in that carriage house?”
“I sure do.”
“James, what if…”
“Remember all those groceries you brought me?”
“What if it has been us instead?”
“I don’t know.”
“Hey have you heard anything about Jeffy?”
James was tearing up. Maybe we both were. He was going to be a pilot
out in Lancaster.
“That’s what you always wanted,” I said. “To be a pilot.”
“Hey have you ever heard from Tina?”
“Yeah, she’s going with a black guy. Got another divorce. I think
she’s really happy. She’s gone back to school too.”
“Tito asks me about her.”
“He’s going with this total drunk from high school.”
“Yeah, they got a house up near Alamitos.”
“Did he ever have kids?”
“Sometimes I feel really bad about what happened to all of us. I
mean, we never had kids, James, but you still can.”
* * *
Months later I went to visit James in Lancaster in his new house. It
was empty like his houses always were and there were socks and bicycle
parts littered all over the floor along with fast food cartons. I
smiled. Every since the divorce he’d fucked everything he could get
his hands on out in Lancaster. He was six foot threee and blonde as
they come. He’d gotten thicker over the years, almost softer in some
ways, and he had breasts almost. I felt like fucking him, for auld lang
syne, because, that’s how it goes sometimes. I knew afterwards that
we’d only revisit that place once, though. We drank a tremendous
amount of wine together and talked about everything as the harsh sun
fell behind the Joshua trees and the sand blew harsh across the barren
“You needed to sow wild oats,” I said. “But be careful, okay.”
He pushed what was the last of his blonde hair back from his forehead.
He was looking in the mirror just like he always did, checking out the
view. I smiled at him, stumbling around in those pajama bottoms and
socks. Some people never change.
“So tell me about all your adventures,” I said.
“It’s been a trip.”
“It’s all black chicks now.”
“Yeah I get them off sites in the web.”
“You know what they like?”
“Doggie style, and they like me to be the master.”
*Oh, my god,* I thought to myself.
“They’ve got kids, and sometimes they need help.”
“You are kidding me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You always did have all the experience in the world.”
“I guess I did. StevieB took me into a sex shop and showed me this
whole new world.”
“Oh my god. That would be just like him.”
“Check out this whip.”
“Oh my fucking god.”
“Come here, I want to show you something.”
He flicked on the computer at the desk and pulled up the youtubes of
black women dancing. All of them focused on these giant bottoms moving,
wearing g-strings. I asked him if he could just hold me. He did, in
the way that you hold somebody you’d loved a really long time ago. We
both had really bad hangovers, the kind where you don’t want to see
the light the next day at all, especially not that hot sun.
In the wild drunken fuckfest we’d had the night before, I’d said,
“Okay, hold my wrists behind my back and show me how it goes.”
He’d had a condom on and he *had.* We only used it for protection
from diseases because I couldn’t get pregnant anymore. That time was
coming to an end in my life. We never even kissed each other. He did
say once more, “Let me give you a baby.” But that was in the heat
of the night when people say many things to each other.
“I’m helping support a bunch of little kids out here now.”
“That’s so fantastic,” I said, tucking my head into the curve of
his big arm and resting my head on his chest. Tina had told me she
liked the contrast in her skin and Kimball’s, Maybe James liked that
too, I thought, with all those women he was fucking, as I stroked his
I remembered everything about us all the way back to high school. I
remembered the shy poet he was and the way he carried red roses to me
and how he’d asked me to be his girlfriend in so many unspoken words.
I remembered those pancakes he always loved and how he was always in
command of situations and how he always took care of me. It was like he
was ahead of me somehow, on everything. I remembered us at twenty, in
my apartment when he held me in his arms and told me, “I’ll be the
daddy.” And I told him the truth about how much I’d been in love
with that Art teacher, and I told him that it never would have worked,
and I knew that both of us had some tears in our eyes as I was lying
there, but we didn’t want to look and see, exactly.
It was just after that, that he said, “Hey Doll. How about if we go
get some pancakes?”
That’s when we hugged each other tighter than maybe we ever had. I
rubbed my foot along his funny old socks and those striped pajama
bottoms and I thought to myself, “What a guy.”