Monday, April 30, 2007

Last night I dreamt about Brad Pitt.

Unfortunately, it wasn't what you might think. of hot, sweaty images that left me with the sheets twisted around my body and drool leaking into my pillow, I dreamt about me giving Brad Pitt parenting advice.

No joke.

Yes, I really do write erotic novels, even if I can't dream them!
I have had erotic dreams about celebrities that really surprised me, though. Such as Mick Jagger. I mean, how can I dream sexy things about Mick, but not Brad? There's so much more to work with there!

Oh, and the other one that shocked the hell out of me was my erotic dream (years ago--no, decades ago!) about John Travolta. At the time, I thought he was creepy and weird (now I find out he's gay), but I had a sexy dream about him. Ugh. That still gives me the creeps.

What about Johnny Depp? Gerard Butler? Daniel Craig?

No. I have to pick Mick Jagger and John Travolting. Who's next? Tom Cruise? (Please, no!)

Okay, so 'fess up. What celebrities have been in your hot dreams?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dirty Dictionaries

When it comes to writing sexy historicals, there’s a fine line to be tread between “understandable to the modern audience” and “accurate”. Our very own Lacy Danes has a lovely page of historical sex terms. One of my chosen references is the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, which I think is a later edition of an older 1750’sish dictionary. It’s mostly cant and rhyming slang, which as an Aussie I am particularly at home with. I often tell my husband to answer the “Eau de” (pronounced “ohdee”), which frequently gets a puzzled look, but “eau de cologne” rhymes with “phone”. Great if your hero is into that scene, which the original title page describes quite well:

A DICTIONARY of Buckish Slang, University Wit
and Pickpocket Eloquence

Your heroine is either taught this by a lover, is a pickpocket herself, or hung around with her brother and his university friends....

Another resource I use is The big book of FILTH: 6,500 sex slang words and phrases (ISBN: 0-304-35350-7). This is great. It dates every usage of the word, down to the decade. (It also has 30 pages of alternative words to “penis”.)

Which brings me to the problems of being accurate. Some of these words sound very silly: “torch of cupid”, “pizzle” sounds a bit odd. Even “limb” or “master of cockshire” is weird.

What’s a writing girl to do? The alternative is to get medical which is not always the best route to take. I mean, why bring the clinical into the erotic? But the best part is that there are words in modern day use that have been used since the 17th century. A happy, Anglo-Saxon, four-letter word.

People might think I’m vulgar, but hey, at least I’m accurate.

How do you deal with historical sex terms in your work? Readers: what words have made you howl?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Words of Wisdom

Somewhere along the way I stopped being the new kid on the block. I am now, ahem, a multi-pubbed award-winning author, so why do I still feel so clueless? I mentioned on my response to Kate's Balls post that I'd had a breakthrough when I realized that the characters, and not my readers' expectations, would determine the love scenes. So what else have I learned? Here's a distillation of my wisdom from the past six years or so:

Don't write for the market. Who knows what it is anyway? I imagine each publishing house has a special room where a chained, foul-smelling beast lives. Every year there's a ceremony where a virginal editorial assistant is sacrificed, and after slaking various appetites, the beast lifts its dripping maws. Assembled executives tremble in fear. Some weep and soil themselves. Next year, menages with dyslexic men in Regency heroes are Navy Seals are in...

Keep the story going.
Now I get very intolerant and ranty about writers--and we've all met them--who smirk and simper, I'm a storyteller. Because god knows if you describe yourself as a writer you're one of those litfic snobs no one reads and whose heroines fling themselves under trains. But, yes, you do have to keep the story going, and that doesn't necessarily mean straight narrative, but everything should be there for a purpose.

Only contest judges care about formatting. Editors like a legible, seriffe font, and reasonable margins. And, oh yes, very, very good writing.

Go with the majority vote of your critique group unless you're absolutely convinced you're right and they're not. For instance, if four out of the five say, to a woman: I'm sorry, but I really don't think the heroine would feel like having sex minutes after she's seen her village destroyed and her kitten eaten by the hero's mastiff, and while she's in labor--take note. If one says, I don't like the heroine's dress, ignore her. But you might wonder why that stuck out like a sore thumb for her.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. This really means obeying your inner laziness. You want to make a particular point? Tell us. You are allowed to tell. It doesn't always have to be showing. For instance, sometimes, amazingly, people just walk into rooms. They don't have to stride, scamper, sidle, shuffle, limp, stagger, lurch, run, trot, sashay, swagger, and so on.

There is no right way to write or plot. You find what works best for you.

What are your words of wisdom? Do share!

The art, by the way, is Minerva Dressing (1613) by the female artist Lavinia Fontana.

Sign up for Jane and Janet's e-newsletter at and receive a free short story!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An Interview With the Eleven-Year-Old

I do my writing, as I often like to say, in partnership with my inner eleven-year-old. She's the one who contributes the innocence, bravery, curiosity, optimism, and giddy cluelessness, while all I have to do is back her up with a little true-life experience, a twist of syntactical sophistication.

Or so I like to say. In fact, I've said it so often that I was beginning to wonder if it were true.

I take some reassurance, though, from some of the posts on this august blog -- because it seems that many of us began to develop our erotic imaginations during that time spent on the cusp of girlhood and adolescence -- reading, dreaming, giggling, and wondering about The Big Adventure to... er, Come.

Would it really be as fantastic as everybody seemed to think it was? Would it feel a little like we sometimes felt when we and our girlfriends cooed over this or that really cute movie star? Or would it be more like the weirder, scarier scenarios that we (or at least I) only thought about alone in bed at night?

And would it really lead to a happy ever after?

I'm still touched by my memories of all that. When I read romance I'll even tolerate a touch of TSTL in the service of this eager bravado -- I mean, werent we all too stupid to live, before we began... living? (I've found, btw, that my friends who don't typically read romance are much more tolerant of this than big romance readers. Which would suggest that romance readers are smarter about these things -- or perhaps a tad more defensive... but that'll have to be another post.)

In any case, I'm glad to report that I recently got back in touch with my inner eleven-year old, by spending some time with an actual flesh-and-blood one during my recent east coast visit.

Call her Muse. I'd come to sleep on the fold-out futon in her room.

"You and I both have Kate Spade glasses," she observed -- which seemed a good enough way check in before launching into a heated round of speculation about what's going to happen in the forthcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (now that Muse's little brother has become such a good reader, they're a two-Harry Potter family; I guess their mom has to wait until the kids are asleep to get a chance to read it).

Muse agreed with me that Snape is really on the good side (I wrote about this last year on my own web page if you want to check it out). And yes, we found that we were also on the same page about how probably one of the Weasleys will die in the show-down with Lord Voldemort (we both think it might be poor, deluded, conformist Percy).

But what about the entirely admirable werewolf Remus Lupin? Muse and one of her girlfriends think he'll also get the axe, because it'll be in keeping with the myth of Romulus and Remus, where Remus dies.

Oh sure, I quickly replied. (Did Remus die in the Roman myth? Well now I know, anyway).

But now that Muse is of the age where she notices things like Kate Spade glasses, Harry Potter isn't really her favorite book anymore. Well, in some ways it still is, but these days it almost doesn't count, perhaps because it's been around for so much of her life and has become sort of like part of the family.

And Muse is starting to think about what's cool and exotic and a little further from home.

About a book about a vampire family, to be exact. I hasten to add that it's a good vampire family, with a gorgeous, moody, teenage son named Edward. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, is told by a human teenage girl named Bella who's in love with Edward (who, of course, is actually a lot older than a teenager -- oh, and who's also in love with Bella).

No doubt I've been living in some middle-aged romance-writer cave, but I'd never heard of Twilight, which Muse has read so many times that its (imo fabulous) front cover has fallen off. So the first thing I saw was the table of contents, with Muse's note that "vampires rock." Which was invitation enough for me to gulp down all 400 pages of Twilight during the weekend I spent with Muse and her family (luckily, Muse was busy with New Moon, the next book in the series).

And I'm here to tell you that Stephenie Meyer's vampires most definitely rock. Especially Edward, who for most of the 400 pages barely touches Bella -- so bravely, moodily, heroically concerned is he that he might lose control of his deep and dangerous, wonderful and mysterious and powerful vampire instincts and hurt the human girl he loves.

It's an astonishing performance -- beautifully paced and sweetly sexy in a way that I thought made total sense for a bright, alert reader on the edge of adolescence. And it's swooningly, overwhelmingly romantic, suffused with thrilled fearful anticipation, in a way I'm going to have to think some more about.

Because even though I write explicit stuff about grown up people, I know that I and my characters alike need to keep in touch with that brave yearning young self we all carry around with us.

So thank you Muse, for letting me touch base. And the rest of you out there might want to treat your inner eleven-year-olds to Twilight and its sequels.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Favorite Erotica and Erotic Romance

Over on Smart Bitches
They are talking about your favorite erotica recommended reads.
I though I would continue that list here.

I do have quite a few erotic romance authors that I read... Of course everyone on this blog is awesome… GRIN! I will try to mention others not on our list.

Anyway some of my favorite erotic or erotic romance books are:

The Lady Tutor by Robin Schone

Velvet Glove by Emma Holly.

Private Games by Tawny Taylor

Bound by Sasha White

Sanctuary by Eden Bradley (this novella is not out yet, but I know Eden, the novella is in the book Exclusive due out from Berkley in September and oh oh my!)

I also have quite a few Victorian erotic books that I love to read over and over again.
My Secret Life
The Pearl
The Romance of Lust
The Yellow Room
Autobiography of a flea.
most of these you have all heard me mention before on this blog. I love them! Shrugs.

What are your favorites?

Hugs and Kisses,

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Balls anyone?

BBC images

The first time I read Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey', I was a naive, imaginative 15 year old attending an English convent school. (rather like Catherine Morland really) Having five sisters who all had an unquenchable thirst for literature, I mentioned the book when I got home. My three older sisters started sniggering. Sister number two quoted this line:

"Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were mending;she began to curl her hair and long for balls."

They kept sniggering and I still didn't understand. It took me quite a few years to work out why something the great Jane wrote might be misconstrued. It took me even longer to write anything that was deliberately erotic myself.

What makes a writer turn to the erotic to push the boundaries of what is considered romantic or acceptable? I know I never meant to find myself on the sharp pointy end of romance. I just slid into it by accident by challenging myself to write the best sex scenes that I could even if they were dark, a little uncomfortable and definitely outside my personal knowledge.

I have a theory that you can't force yourself to write good erotic romance. Just because the market is wanting it, doesn't mean you should write it. My sexy historicals were always a little too dark, too unconventional and not quite right for any publishers (so far, that might change) But I think those qualities made me write better erotica.

What drew you to erotic romance? What did it offer you that steamy romance didn't?
I'm also wondering how the other Crumpets arrived here? Do tell.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Night time storytelling

As part of the research for the book I'm thinking about fixing to get ready to write, I borrowed a wonderful book from my brother-in-law who's an artist and a bit of a pack rat--he has a home crammed with many wonderful beautiful things, many of which he's created. The book is the Arabian Nights, published in 1928 and illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett (1901-1931).

We all, sort of, know the Arabian Nights or The Thousand And One Nights. The stories include the tale of Aladdin and other familiar characters, and are told by the intrepid Scheherezade who had the misfortune to marry a king who, after his first wife was unfaithful, beheaded all subsequent brides after the wedding night. He'd gone through three thousand until he married Scheherezade, who had the smarts to tell him a cliffhanger story, and so he kept her alive, night after night, to see what happened next. For a thousand nights she enthralled him and managed to have three sons in between (we suppose) storytelling. By then the king had fallen in love with her and made her his official queen, and she got to keep her head.

I love the image of the wily woman weaving and spinning words to survive. Although the tales are generally presented now as children's stories, I loved the Penguin edition I read, and of course lost, years ago--the unexpurgated, sexy version. The most famous translator was Sir Richard Burton, but I don't believe the stories were known in the Regency period, despite the fascination with the exotic.

What also thrilled me about them was the structure--the book starts with Scheherazade telling her first story and then story builds upon story; characters launch into their own tales, and so do their characters, and so on. That, I thought, was what narrative should be, and I stored that thought for, uh, several decades, until now. Complex, labyrinthine story telling fired by sex and death--well, what more could you ask for?

We've talked about early influences, but have you read anything where the formal structure fired you up as much as the words and stories themselves? Or have you read a good, adult translation of the Arabian Nights that you'd recommend?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ingeniousness Abounds

Okay...I know, I just know, that there are a bunch of you blog readers out there who have read lots of historically-set erotic (or otherwise very steamy) novels. Right? Riiiiiiight.

(Bertrice Small anyone?)

And I'm wondering....what was the most ingenious, interesting, and/or unique scene that sticks out in your head (I'm speaking scenes!) in which a character uses some sort of toy. Or sex tool.

I had a conversation about this very thing with Jane last year, and I was trying to figure out a way to have a vibrator in 19th century Europe. Not an easy thing to do. The best I could come up with was a wind-up one, but it seems to me that it would run down much too quickly for my heroines.

(I didn't put it in a book yet...but I probably will. Think it would work?)

Okay, so let's hear it from the peanut gallery. What did our historical heroes and heroines use for sex toys before batteries and latex?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tea and crumpets...

So, after me last post, I thought I'd cool off with a cup of tea.

Earl Grey, naturally. With milk. And sugar. Preferably raw. (OK, Jane, I've got my order in for National now! No really, I think I can bring the tea and the raw sugar and find milk in Texas, right? For the rest of you all, Jane supplied me with real tea last year at National.)

You know, I've been in search for the perfect crumpet since coming to the States. I don't get it, you can buy them by the bucketload in Australia in the supermarkets, why not here?

The best yet that I've had here is at the Crumpet Shop in downtown Seattle, near Pike's market and all that. Delicious, but when I asked whether they did mail order, they did not because their crumpets were made to be eaten fresh and wouldn't do well in the mail.

I've found a recipe on the internet to make them, but I haven't been game to try it yet. Maybe this weekend...

I do love tea parties -- and I have a number of tea pots (including one that is in the shape of a British mailbox and bright red to boot -- a gift, I hasten to add), tea sets, cute little china stands for goodies, and a few years ago -- too many actually, I hosted a tea party for friends. Here is the menu:

Cheese and crackers

Cucumber, watercress & smoked salmon sandwiches

Spanakopittes (spinach in filo)

English cream tea scones

(with jam, lemon curd, honey, golden syrup and butter or cream)

Chocolate taddies, Carrot Cake & Shortbread


And tea of course.

Note the complete lack of crumpets. (And I didn't make all these myself, puh-leaze. Who has the time? Maybe if Rachael Ray did a 30 Minute Tea Party, I'd take a crack at it.)

I really want to do another tea party. Currently though, my china cabinet is pulled out from the wall, and the china is piled upon the dining table silently telling me that keeping it in a cabinet does not keep it dust free. But now that the leaky window leaks no more, and the floor tiles have been sealed, it can go back.

My favorite tea of the moment though, is chai. I like the Oregon Chai mix as well (liquid as well as powdered) but my dad has made me the real thing too (as was taught him in India, or the ashram or somewhere). Yummy! Other than that, it's good old Earl Grey and that incredible whiff of bergamot.

Oh and nothing beats a Tim Tam Slam. Have you heard of these? Tim Tams are a biscuit (er, cookie) -- two rectangular chocolate cookies with chocolate cream filling sandwiched between them and coated in milk chocolate. Good milk chocolate.

So you bite off one corner and then the diagonal opposite corner, dunk it in your tea and suck. (Heh, and you thought I'd make it through a post without using a four letter word!) You suck until you taste warm chocolately goodness on your tongue and then you shove the entire biscuit (er, cookie) into your mouth, for the thing is melting.

Sheer heaven.

So what's your favorite tea and favorite tea time nibbly?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Hi all,
Sorry for the late post! I’ve spent the last few days racing around preparing for my first Romantic Times Convention. For example, a mere hour of searching today and I finally found the silver pen so perfect for signing posters. Actually finding time to write is beginning to look like a luxury.

On top of that, my daughter had dental work done today. In my day (how ancient that sounds), I got a needle for the pain. I think. Now, dentists want to ensure the experience is as painless as can be and pretty much knock the kid out. It's been interesting to spend the day with a slightly belligerent, seemingly drunk five-year-old.

On top of that I’m struggling with the manuscript in progress. The parts of the book moving at a snail’s pace? The sex scenes. The reason for this is because these scenes must reveal my hero and heroine’s vulnerabilities and emotions. Not only that, this is my seventh erotic historical romance. I have to push as deeply as I can to make the lovemaking unique. I want to find new words to express different experiences. Once upon a time, I thought writing would become easier. It made sense—as I apprenticed in my craft, I would grow and learn.

I never expected that the doubts would grow. I never anticipated that I would be pacing around the kitchen, tearing my hair out, trying to understand how to describe the experience of oral sex in a way that is unique to my heroine. And try to figure out what my hero is "learning" from the experience. What is he discovering about his past and his emotional future? And the poor man just thought he was going to have fun!

Now it’s back to trial packing for the conference. And I have some good news to pass along. My book Sin is a finalist in Passionate Ink's Passionate Plume contest, in the historical category. Passionate Ink is the erotic romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. I was very thrilled to get the news.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Are We Having Sex Yet?

There was an interesting post a few weeks ago, on the review and discussion web site, about whether there's a room in romance fiction for the extravagances of style we tend to associate with "literary" fiction - or whether romance readers prefer (and romance writers ought to be content to achieve) a narrative that’s clear, clean, and quick to deliver the goods. I recommend the discussion (and I was delighted to have a few lines from The Slightest Provocation chosen as one of their examples of lyrical description in romance).

But I prefer to think about these matters a bit differently. I mean of course I'm of the opinion that romance ought to be rich enough to comprise any damn kind of writing an author wants to try her hand at - aren't love and sex big and important enough to be approached from like a gazillion angles? But I'd like to take the discussion beyond the craft of description. Because taking time out from fast-moving narrative structure isn't just a matter of "literariness" or lyricism.

It's about trying to write about time itself. And for me, it’s also usually a way of writing about sex - which is, I think most of us would agree, a matter of timing.

So it makes sense that writing about sex has got to be a matter of knowing when to take your time and when to hurry. And writing a sexy romance is about finding or creating the style that catches the rhythm you need.

...there aren't enough tenses for all this to happen in, the past and the present fragmenting as they bop off one another...
This line - from a wonderful poem called "Erotikon" in a book of the same name by Susan Mitchell - expresses one of my core credos and favorite conundrums about sex: that it's never completely in the present or in the past. Because every moment in the present was once in the future and soon enough will become the past. Because how can anybody know exactly when anticipation becomes experience or experience becomes recollection (and how can any writer resist trying to pin it down)? And because when you're paying attention to each moment, when you're living it intensely and in the round (so to speak), your time sense gets confused, enchanted, or bent into new and surprising shapes.

I've been musing and meditating on this sort of stuff for most of my adult life - or at least since my late teens, since I first read T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland."

Well, I sort of read it. I mean I didn't read it all the way through to the end that first time; I stumbled and got lost among the weird arcane references. And anyway, I didn't see any point in going further when I was already so knocked out by those famous opening lines:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Being in the April of my own young adulthood at the time, I knew that "cruel" was exactly right for what I was feeling. And that although "stirring/ Dead roots with spring rain" almost hurt to read and think about, it was the good kind of hurt I was learning to recognize as "desire" (and to begin to consider how yearning is the flip side of remembering what you've lost, cherished, or almost forgotten).

So at least that first time I gave up on whatever Eliot was trying to tell me about European culture and mythology, and went back and read and reread about April and the lilacs and the spring rain about a hundred more times.

After which (well many years after which, and having dutifully finished reading and even sort of understanding the hard parts of "The Wasteland") I became a writer of erotica and erotic romance - a job that demands, imo, a constant state of itchy confusion about the linked mysteries of memory and desire, and of attention to verb tenses that have to be tweaked and stroked until they signal the sneaky permeability of the erotic past, present and future tenses. Not to speak of the conditional, past perfect, imperfect, and the subjective… because I also sometimes wonder if French came to be called the language of love because of the exquisite care their writers pay to all those shifts in tense and mood. Though of course there are also the strange and exotic things that speaking French does to your mouth and throat...

…which would be a different discussion. For some other time, perhaps.

But meanwhile, I’d love to know if anybody else out there thinks about these issues, and what they mean (or don't) for that narrative arc so critical to genre fiction.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Ooops...I'm a day late on this, but better late than never, huh?

Anyway, as is policy for all contests on The Spiced Tea Party, I utilized to generate the winner of the ARC of Unmasqued, and dum-de-de-dummmmm....the winner is.....

Amy S.!

Congratulations, Amy! Please email me at colette at colettegale dot com and I'll get your prize out to you!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Feisty heroines

We've talked quite a bit about man titty, what a real Regency gentleman, warts and all might have looked like and why images of women, even in Regency fashion mags, are all tall and skinny, but we haven't talked about the kind of heroine we like to read about in our erotic historical romances.

What makes her different from the heroine in a steamy romance novel? Okay, so she's likely to have more sex but what about her, how about how she presents herself? Readers don't like TSTL (too stupid to live) heroines so do they consider erotic heroines too stupid not to have sex with the first man, or men who ask?

It's an interesting question. Should the heroine in an erotic romance be more experienced sexually? Can you still get away with a virgin heroine learning about sex? In my opinion, you can. I want to read about heroines who make deliberate choices to have sex, understand the consequences of their actions and then hopefully fall in love by the end of the book.

I think that's why readers occasionally complain that some erotic romances are all about sex and people falling into bed with each other before they've even had a proper conversation. If my heroine makes a conscious and informed choice to explore her sexuality, then I'm quite happy to believe anything can happen.

One thing I admire about all the writers here is that they don't write dumb heroines. They write about real women who enjoy sex. and what's wrong with that? Is a heroine who is comfortable with sex and willing to be adventurous, bad, loose or immoral? Not in my book.

Pet peeves or praise for erotic heroines, anyone?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hands-on innocence and experience

For me, the most fascinating thing about the Regency-Georgian period is the huge amount of contrasts. Here's a fascinating one--along with the vast amount of pornography on sale Dr. Bowdler was busy at work cleaning up Shakespeare and concerned parents were strapping their lads into harnesses at night to prevent any involuntary--or god forbid, voluntary--sexual activity. The Victorians perfected the guilt and shame and all the rest of it that their parents and grandparents got things off to a flying start.

This lovely contraption was in use in the first decade of the nineteeth century in France. France, no less, home of the ooh-la-la and all the rest of it.

One of the biggest bestsellers in England of the eighteenth century was a tract published anonymously but enjoying multiple best-selling reprints:

or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution and all its Frightful Consequences in both Sexes
With Spiritual and Physical Advice to Those Who Have
Already injured themselves by this Abominable Practice
To which are added
Divers remarkable letters from such Offenders, to the Author,
Lamenting their Impotencies and Diseases thereby...

Thrilling stuff, and as you read more of the title page, you begin to realize that the book became its own one-handed reading material (something readers were aware of at the time and which surely added to its popularity). This book, that surely must have caused as much agony and guilt as wicked pleasure, predated the Victorians by over a century. Read more here.

And the contrast with this rampant, hysterical prudery? Obviously, all the porn and naughtiness. But also something far more profound, I think--the Romantic movement itself, with its emphasis on solitude and allowing emotions and imagination to run free, the contemplation of the mysteries of nature and love.

Thoughts, anyone?

Sneak Peek Time

I finally got Advance Review Copies of Unmasqued and it's only right that I share the here goes.

As most of you know, Unmasqued is my very erotic version of the Phantom of the Opera, as inspired by the Webber musical/movie version (not to mention Gerard Butler as Erik, the Phantom). I was always very disappointed that Christine left Erik and went off with Raoul, and so I decided to write the story as to why she did so....and with all the hot and heavy details about what went on behind the scenes that Webber (and Leroux) didn't show us.

Make a relevant comment on this post--ie, answer one or both of the questions below--and you're entered in the drawing. I'll pick a winner on Thursday morning, so you have almost two whole days!

Question: What is your favorite song from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Phantom of the Opera musical?


Question: How did you think the Phantom of the Opera should have ended?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Bad(der) Girls and Forbidden Books

The proposal I’m working on at the moment has for a heroine a former dominatrix, a woman cast out of polite society, who took to prostitution to survive, and now has made enough money to retire. She also carries a big grudge which is where the story gets to be fun. (Cross your fingers my editor likes this idea!)

Anyway, I thought I better do some research on historical dominatrixes, and did what I usually do: Google.

I came up with Theresa Berkley, who ran a brothel devoted to flagellation during the Regency period, and who apparently invented or commissioned the Berkley Horse, which enabled her to whip anybody, well, on any part of the body. I have yet to find a picture or a good description of this, which means I get to use my imagination!

However, the reference to her was awfully circular. From Wikipedia to the Deviant’s Dictionary entry on flagellation and back again, the text identical, and all referencing the same book.

Right, says I. Let’s see this book then. So a copy of it finally arrived on Saturday. I haven’t had a chance to read much of it yet, but this source book, Index of Forbidden Books is not that list that the Catholic Church once prohibited (although I’m sure all these books are on there) but a list of Victorian erotica complete with reviews, and with lots of side-trip details, like talking about the madams of various brothels, or sharing a short story. No pictures, alas, and the only extant copy of it seems to be a Sphere 1969 imprint, although Wikipedia again tells me that the original is in the British Library or Museum or somewhere. So I think it’s the real deal.

It still feels a bit circular to me, but the author is the guy they think wrote or edited My Secret Life, about a young Victorian man’s womanizing. And that book’s credentials have been proven.

In any case, the Index of Forbidden Books is cool in that it dips back to pre-Victorian erotica, and so we get to learn about women like Mrs. Theresa Berkley. Who in the code parlance of the day is known as a “governess”. Which phrase I get to have fun with in my current WIP.

Anyway, here are some titles plucked randomly from Index of Forbidden Books:

PRETTY LITTLE GAMES for Young Ladies and Gentlemen. With Pictures of Good Old English Sports and Pastimes, by T. Rowlandson, 1845. (Yes, that Rowlandson).

MEMOIRS OF ROSA BELLEFILLE: or, A Delicious Banquet of Amorous Delights! Dedicated to the Goddess of Voluptuous Pleasure, and her soul-enamoured votaries. (Ashbee’s review begins: “This is an insipid, tiresome book...”)

THE ADVENTURES OF AN IRISH SMOCK. Interspersed with Amatory Anecdotes of a Nankeen Pair of Breeches. By Terence O'Tooleywag, Esq.

MADAME BIRCHINI’S DANCE. A Modern Tale, With Considerable Additions, and Original Anecdotes collected in the Fashionable Circles. Now first published by Lady Termagent Flaybum.

OK, so somebody’s got to name they’re crazy aunt this or something similar!

I'm glad that the titles I made up for the erotica library in SHOW ME weren't too out of line!

Well, I guess I better stop blogging and resume work on this proposal. I decided on Friday to cut everything except the first half of the first chapter. This is what we call a “false start”, or if you’re under deadline (which I’m not currently), it’s called “Oh sh--t!”

Friday, April 6, 2007


Pam's blog yesterday (and Celia's earlier) reminded me of the time my younger brother asked my mother if her generation had sex before marriage.

I'm sure he thought: How could they? They're old. Stodgy. That sort of thing couldn't have happened back then. My mother, who grew up in England in the 1940s, gave this response: "There was a war on. What do you think?" As Celia said, we didn't invent this stuff.

Anyway, that started me thinking about mothers. My mother-in-law passed away earlier this week. It was very sad and it hurts very deeply. A former schoolteacher, she loved history, and whenever she'd visit, she would pull out some of my research books to read. Not the naughty ones, but ones on women's lives in Georgian and Regency England. She knew I wrote, but I was not quite prepared to reveal to my mother-in-law and my parents that I write erotic romance.

It was easy as an unpublished author. Then I sold.

For months, I tried to walk a tightrope over a pit of doom. I had revealed to both my mother-in-law and my parents that I'd sold six books. Unfortunately, I just couldn't keep the news to myself. It was the sort of thing that just wants to burst out or, at the very least, leak out when you least expect it. Then I had to quickly add that my books were well…hot and spicy. It wasn't too bad, I thought. If I didn't give my pen name, they couldn't actually read me. So I tried to artfully avoid giving my pseudonym, and that worked fairly successfully. But this last Christmas I was finally 'outted'. My husband and I were bundling up my promotional excerpt/calendars over Christmas. And when we went off to bed, my mother-in-law took one to read. Since these were intended for mailing, the excerpt was mild. Reasonably mild. But still…

Anyway, she loved it. She was a wonderful champion of my writing, even though other family members warned her that maybe she shouldn't tell her bank teller, her friends, her financial advisor, and the rest of the relatives. But regardless, news of my releases went into her Christmas cards.

I've been very fortunate to have a mother-in-law who was proud of my work and happily tooted my horn. I'm going to miss her very much. This isn't really a historically centered post, but I'd like to say that I hope for all of you, in any endeavor, that you have someone just as supportive behind you!

(The picture at the top is from

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sex and Power - a few speculations

My thoughts keep returning to Celia's bracing post of a few days ago - the zesty codswallop-and-guff language of it (you go, girl) but more particularly the wonderful roll call of Jane Austen's bad girls. Taken together, it's an impressive argument.

And it's an argument that adds up to strong evidence that Regency young ladies were a whole lot more knowing about earthy and bodily matters than a generation or two of trad regency novels have led us to believe - even though (as in the case of Austen herself) the young ladies might never have acted upon that knowledge.

And then there was Lacy's post about the Rowlandson prints, and also Kalen Hughes's post at History Hoydens - about V.A.C. Gatrell’s City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-century England and the case it makes for the ubiquity of those dirty pix as part of everyday Georgian and Regency life.

All of which makes it more difficult to accept what had been the standard (and beloved) image of the sheltered Regency miss - and prompting some Regency romance writers (at least on one loop I'm on) to cast about for historically valid ways to continue to write books in that chaste mode.

And leading me to wonder just what makes that image of the sheltered Regency miss - that mode, that mythology, if you will - so beloved in the first place.

And to speculate that the element that has been missing from the conversation thus far is power.

Because what makes the Regency so compelling as an imaginary landscape, I think, is that the more covert the erotics, the more naked the power relationships and the social inequities. In Austen at any rate, every character seems to wear his or her net worth and social consequence as though on a placard around his or her neck. Mr. Darcy's ten thousand a year; Emma Woodhouse's thirty thousand pounds... it's all clear on the nose on your face - and pointing to a map of power and a set of rules as elaborately explicated as you'd find in vampire horror fiction.

And also as available as a source of guilty pleasure, especially for someone like me, who got my novelistic chops from writing S/M erotica.

Comic S/M, I always hasten to add - but do I need to add it? The Marquis de Sade was often wildly funny, and in her essay "The Pornographic Imagination" Susan Sontag wrote about the deadpan Buster Keaton quality of some of her favorite hot literary texts.

I may never completely understand why inequities of power should constitute an erotic reading pleasure when they cause so much pain in the real world - when on the front pages they're a source of real-world shame and consternation, and to my mind quite rightly so. I'll probably spend the rest of my writing days trying to work this out.

But I do know that part of the answer to this question lies in the power of comedy and wit to deflate the excesses of power (at least on the printed page). Which brings us back to the traditional Regency, as Jane Aiken Hodge describes it in The Private World of Georgette Heyer:

We are all snobs of some kind, and it is comfortable to find oneself in a world where the rules are so clearly established, where privilege and duty go hand in hand, and a terrible mockery awaits anyone who takes advantage of position. This is a world, like that of Shakespeare’s comedies, where laughter is the touchstone and the purifier; where exposure to the mockery of one’s equals is punishment enough...
In the traditional (ie non-sexually explicit) Regency, the heroine's most formidable weapon is often her wit - or her wits. And I agree with the advocates of the traditional Regency that this quality is to be cherished. Absurdly powerful rakish duke meets absurdly clever girl; I'm on board for that.

But hey, that's where I came on board at the first place, and why I got into comic S/M.

And that's where the arc becomes a circle for me - sex and power talking to each other through the medium of humor. The power of wit and of erotic attraction as correctives to political despotism and overreaching - and also as their funhouse mirror reflections and the reader's fantasy ways of getting all the good stuff.

And that's the world I think that some of us crumpet strumpets and our friends have often espied lurking among the genteel teacups.

Which only begins to open this line of inquiry for me. But I'd love to know what you think. Have a crumpet.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Do they mean us?

Alas, the image doesn't have a lot to do with my post, unless we count father's sending daughter's to the right school, but in our quest to find portraits of real Regency men, here is the artist with his daughter. Isn't he fine?

My post takes me back to my favorite place, Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature and Fashions. In this case, September 1823. I finally got the opportunity to bid on a complete Ackermanns' magazine and I have it in front of me. It's very tatty but has all the prints and the text which usually gets thrown away. On the cover is a hand-written signature which is hard to decipher but it starts with Rev-which I assume means a clerical gentleman once owned this fine piece of literature.

Reading through the variety of articles and advertisements I was struck with how many of them were relevant to today. Adverts for insurance, hair products, soap, discussions about boys being boys, deliveries of Irish lace, miraculous potions to make your hair grown again and a great deal of humor.

My favorite article will definitely appeal to the crumpet strumpets. It's entitled: "Prospectus of a New Institution for the Formation of Wives" When I started to read it I thought it was a fabulous example of how feminism had changed our lives-and then I read on and realized it was definitely 'tongue in cheek' Basically it suggests that women were getting too educated and too uppity and that a new school headed by Madames Sober and Steady were resolved to turn out perfect wives. Here's a snippet.

"It cannot be denied that many women have distinguished themselves in the field of literature: still it must be admitted that this is not their proper scene of action...A learned wife may be considered about as useless a member of society as a learned pig. Indeed, the latter may be looked upon as the less injurious of the two; for all the loss the bluestocking grunter occasions to society...But the hapless progeny of a learned human mother must pine in ignorance and neglect while mama is preparing pap for babies of a larger growth or in reading for her evenings exhibition before a select circle of savans."

Ouch. Are they talking about us?

It suggests a school where young ladies fill their heads with more useful wifely tasks. I love this bit:
"Those fingers that once handled the goose-quill only, will then be permitted to explore the inmost recesses of the noble biped which furnished it."

And of course, we must all agree with this:
"Obedience to the lawful authority of man is among the first principles implanted in the minds of the young ladies intrusted to Mesdames S. and S. and they are accordingly brought up in the utmost reverence for the lords of creation, whom they are taught to consider as beings of a higher order"

Are they talking about Men?
Excuse me while I burn some feathers under my nose to revise me from my swooning fit of excessive laughter.

Finally, here's the fees list-complete with additions:
Board and Education 40 G's (guineas)
Lectures in domestic economy 10 G's
Higher branches of cookery 10 G's
Writing ,arithmetic and family accounts 6 G's
Roast beef and Plumb pudding master 6 G's
Butcher's lessons 4 G's
Drill-serjeant 4 G's
Ornamental needlework 4 G's
Lessons in washing and getting up fine things 4 G's
Curry powder by private lessons*
Entrance to the house 2 guineas, to the kitchen 1 guinea, to the larder 1 guinea and to each of the masters 2 G's.
N.B In addition to the articles usually brought by young ladies to school, it is expected that they be provided with, three pair of pockets, three large high aprons, a well stored housewife, a pin cushion, a clasp-knife and a nutmeg grater.
*This will be found extremely serviceable to young ladies intended for the Indian market."

Oh please...can I send my sons there?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Soothing the Savage Breast

Did that catch your attention? (wicked cackle).

What music turns you on or inspires your writing?

I like to write to opera, so Saturday afternoons, when the Met broadcast is on, are a very important time for me. Operas are about passion and over the top emotions and dying twice in a sack, so they seem a natural pairing with erotic romance. And there's something powerful and transcendent about the sheer athleticism and strength of the trained operatic voice, so Handel's Messiah is another biggie for me.

I also like the crossover recording For The Stars by mezzo-soprano Ann Sofie von Otter (who can sing in just about any way she wants) and Elvis Costello (who can sing like Elvis Costello).

In instrumental music I love Krystian Zimerman's recording of the Rachmaninov and Chopin piano concertos, passionate, melancholy, dramatic music. And there's a Duke Ellington recording I'm very fond of that my daughter seems to have spirited away.

How about you?