Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Praise of Passion

By M. Christian

I've been thinking about passion a lot lately.

Not a shocker, I know, for someone who – shall we say – has been swimming in a literary pornographic pool for quite a bit of time. But, bear with me, this pondering on my part may be worth your time.

Passion, in this case, has a lot to do with writing – but not necessarily about sex writing. Sure, I've written more than my fair share of bow-chicka-wow-wow fiction [see bio at the end of this] but having a passion for writing has zero to do with writing about ... well, passion.

Maybe it's where I've found myself but I'm concerned about passionate writing – not on my part, per se, but in lots of other places.

This all came to find when I put together my own humble contribution to the Coming Together project: Coming Together Presents M. Christian. Reading over all of the stories that make up the book – proceeds from, by the way, go straight to Planned Parenthood – I had a very odd feeling of ... coolness.

It's not that I'm not proud of what I write – far from it: in fact, many of the stories in my own collection for Coming Together I really consider to be my best. It's just that looking backwards at anything, let alone my writing, has never had any great allure. Every blue moon someone asks me to name my favorite story and, to be honest, I am totally flummoxed – usually resorting to the cliché, though very true in my case, "the one I haven't written yet."

But ever since Coming Together Presents M. Christian I've become very much aware of how much the world of writing has changed. In case you really aren't all that interested in my life's story – and even I'm not that interested in it – suffice to say that I started my Life In Porn back in the steam-powered days where "adult materials" were still printed on dead trees and the internet was just a geek's fantasy – shocking, I know.

Now my Coming Together book isn't that old, but even since it's come out it's felt that the world has changed and changed and changed again: so much so that it's hard for anyone, let alone writers, to know which end is up. Twitter? Everyone says a writer has to tweet ... but who knows what will replace it? Blog? You have to have a site ... but what kind of site is a dinosaur and what's state-of-the-art? Facebook? You must be on Facebook ... until it isn't hip anymore.

In this slippery-as-ice world it's natural that writers are feeling more than a bit ... nervous: you can't say what will work and what won't, and heaven help you if bet on the wrong digital horse (cough – MySpace – cough). As if this isn't bad, this Frightening New World has made a lot of writers into would-be marketing gurus, Internet experts, Facebook divas, Google+ zealots, tweeting maniacs, blogging furies ... everything but being actual writers.

Now, I'm not naive – I know that marketing is now an essential part of being a writer, the same way that keeping an eye to the ground for possible new hot genres is key, but what I'm talking about is a growing feeling that a lot of writers simply don't want to be writers anymore.

I have a friend – amazing, I know – who has been writing for a lot longer than I have. Not to disparage him but talking with him always depresses the hell out of me: he's done pretty much what everyone has told him to do: he has a blog, he's active on Facebook, he tweets like a spastic canary, he researches and researches and researches very bestseller about why it’s a bestseller, he gets reviewed all over the place, he has an agent who tells him what to work on next ... but he's miserable.

He's miserable because he doesn't want to write anymore. For him, writing has become a terrifying place where one wrong move, one misplaced step could mean the difference between the New York Times Bestseller List and that same agent not returning his phone calls. For him, imagination and ... you knew this would come up again, didn't you? ... passion are things he can't afford.

That, for me, would be hell. Sure, I want my stuff to sell – especially my Coming Together contribution as it benefits the wonderful work Planned Parenthood has done and continues to do – but I also don't want to follow my friend's path. Again, I am not a fool: if you want to get your work out there – even these days – you need to pay a bit of attention to what's selling or, in some cases, what your publisher wants or needs. But this does not mean sacrificing your passion for writing.

I love to write. I love to write pretty much more than anything else – include that, if you really want to know. Sure, I want my work to sell, but not to the point where I feel I have to write something I don't have (wait for it) passion for.

Like everything in life, it's a balancing act: the professional world of what publisher can and can't publish, and the terrors of marketing and promotion, and there and you simply cannot ignore them. But if you are a writer and you spend most of your time trying to create the Perfect Best Seller and not doing the book you want to do then why write at all?

Sex writing or not, if you are a writer never, ever forget about passion: without it what we do is just work. But with it, with wanting to write, to tell stories, to groove on the music of language, you are making something truly amazing – and nothing is better than that. Not even a Best Seller.

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M.Christian is - among many things - an acknowledged master of erotica with more than 400 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and many, many other anthologies, magazines, and Web sites.

He is the editor of 25 anthologies including the Best S/M Erotica series, Pirate Booty, My Love For All That Is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica, The Burning Pen, Guilty Pleasures, The Mammoth Book of Future Cops and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi) and Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant) as well as many others.

He is the author of the collections Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, The Bachelor Machine, Licks & Promises, Filthy, Love Without Gun Control, Rude Mechanicals, Coming Together Presents M.Christian, Pornotopia, How To Write And Sell Erotica; and the novels Running Dry, The Very Bloody Marys, Me2, Brushes, Fingers Breadth, and Painted Doll.

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Missing Alice

From Coming Together Presents M. Christian

Alice... When, exactly, did I first meet Alice? I used to think she'd always been there, somewhere in my life—even places where she never could have been—like cheering me on from the wings of a kindergarten play. Alice was like that. Once her orbit intersected yours she was somehow always in view.

Until, that is, she was gone—then there was a hole, a gap, where she'd been. A big hole, a really big hole, because that was Alice. Not because she was a big girl, though she sort of was, but because Alice never did anything simple or small.

Everyone I know has a story about Alice. We used to trade them. "Alice and the Drive-In." She'd rented this huge old projector, found a vacant lot somewhere and for a night projected cheesy old movies onto the side of the office building next-door. "Alice and the Morning High Tea." Yes, the invitations said nine AM for English tea—so we all climbed into hoop skirts and scarves and trucked down to her place to have high tea, because at that instant it was four PM somewhere in Great Britain. "Alice and the Ski Trip." Thermometers were boiling all over town, to hot to do anything but groan about how hot it was, and suddenly there was Alice—her little station wagon crammed with skis and snow gear. We never found any snow, of course, but it was cooler high up in the hills, and that was good enough for us. "Alice and the Baby Party." Can a gaggle of butches, dykes, and femmes have a grand old time playing Pin the Tail, Twister, Candyland, and Mousetrap? Do you really have to ask? "Alice and the Boating Party." The nearest water was a half-empty reservoir, but that didn't stop Alice. Where she got the boat and trailer was anyone's guess—but she did, so we had grilled fish, a simple white wine, all packed into that little rolling dingy. The party ended very late, with the singing of bawdy sea shanties, and the cops showing up to tell us to stop. "Alice and the Strippers." When she heard that a few of us had never seen another girl take her clothes off to music, she hired a flock of women to do just that—turning her little house into a nightclub for the night. She even had a sign made up, just for the evening. A friend kept it, proudly displaying "PUSSYCAT PLAYGROUND" in her living room.

There was something special about Alice—and not just her mischievous sense of fun. Other people, other girls, would have done that and it would have been obvious, forced: theme party screams for attention. But Alice? She didn't wear herself that loud. You knew she was enjoying herself, that was clear—but it was a cry of fun, and never for approval.

Alice was a big girl, as if a tiny little body couldn't contain all of her fun internal chemistry. In the shady, unlit, parts of my history—the few times that didn't seem to contain her glow— there were other big girls. Some of them smiled, some of then laughed, but there was always a kind of hunger about them— and not just for the cliché of food. They wanted their bigness to vanish, if just for a little while and be just like the other girls.

Not Alice. Alice was big in all kinds of ways—it suited her, and she suited us. If you asked us, the members of her circle, we'd just smile when we said her name: a big smile, as big as she was.

I didn't really like big girls. Not, that is, until Alice. My girlfriends and lovers had all been sprightly little things, elfin and lithe. Underpants like a doll's. Tiny sports bras on the floor in the morning, sex like a workout. One of them actually said, "—as good as twenty reps," when we finished having sex. They were nice, I had no complaints, but after—in the morning, or the evening (when it was a nooner) we'd end up staring across the bed or dining table at each other. One of them talked about an ex-girlfriend for three hours. Another complained about her mother for five. I thought seriously about going celibate for a while, if just to save my sanity from awful post-sex chatter.

For a long time Alice was in my view only through her parties and weird little events. I was usually brought along by other friends–never directly invited. Then I started to get postcards in the mail: dates, times, orders (or requests). She made them herself: all spray-paint and glitter. Must have taken her days of work for one little bash–but that was Alice: nothing cheap and easy or small. Getting that first invitation was a step, one I was surprisingly proud of when I walked in, for once not on the arm of anyone. It was something Roman and uproarious, I remember: a heckle fest to "Caligula"–a dozen sheet-draped dykes and a cheesy, big-budget porno film. I don't remember any details, just laughter from the living room as Alice and I sat in the kitchen, drinking red wine and talking.

We talked a lot after that. Alice would show up at all kinds of times, just to chat–or to haul me off to some little café, bookstore, toyshop, or party. One time we had a breakfast of pancakes and cheap coffee at a little diner then spent the day at a gun-and-doll show. Another time it was fresh picked blueberries and cream and a day at the museum. Once she left a fifteen-minute message on my answering machine, reading me a "delicious" part of a book she was reading.

She could have driven me nuts, of course, and after she woke me up at three AM just to say how pretty the moon was looking right then, I really started to worry that she would. But Alice was saved by being Alice–she knew, had some kind of built-in radar, when she had pushed too much, had crossed the line from wonderful eccentric to pain in the ass. One of the many stories told about Alice was about this radar, the way she was able to tune herself to whatever the situation called for.

I became fascinated with Alice. I was always a reserved kind of girl, holding everything back—skeptical and serious, cautious and methodical. I didn't think I was boring, but I was hardly the kind to have a rooftop party where the main event was dropping watermelons onto a bed sheet target, with smashed melon daiquiris after. Even my relationships were carefully thought- out, my dating planned out with all the passion of a military campaign. And when they ended, which they always did, I even planned out a careful, step-by-step, series of moves to recover my crushed self-esteem.

Alice was everything I wasn't. I remember one summer—the Godly Summer, we Alice-watchers called it—when she tried on religion after religion, going from Born Again to New Age in the space of a few months, trying out the lives they recommended. In the end she finally ended up giving away all of her books, bibles, candles and crystals in a Holy Garage Sale, proclaiming that if there was a God or a Goddess one thing was certain: he or she was really confused. I always treated religion as, well, something sacred—I was always being bushwhacked by one zealot or another, too respectful to even tell them to go to their respective hells.

Some of the Alice watchers confessed to me that they were waiting for the crash, the burn. I looked in their eyes when the stories flew and saw a kind of anger at her, that she could take big bites while they choked on nibbles. They hung around not because she was larger than life; they were just sitting in the stands waiting for the crash.

I wasn't one of them, more than anything because I knew that she had a large heart to match her appetites. I found out first hand when I was spectacularly dumped. The dumper in question was named Ellie. She was a fitness trainer at my local club. Unlike everyone else I'd even dated she didn't follow the plan. Right in the middle of our first few weeks of love and lust she started talking about picking out china, buying a cat, and moving in—and then like nothing, she vanished. I ran into her a month or so later at a street fair, with this lithe little femme on her arm. With a cold sneer she told me that she hadn't ever been serious about the two us, that it was all a game to get her "real" girlfriend jealous. Laughing, they had faded back into the crowd.

Some of my friends called, offering their support. One took me out to dinner, but all I could do was play with my food and sniffle. Alice ran my doorbell, grabbed me by the arm and hauled out to her little station wagon, the one covered with crazy-daisies and outrageous bumper stickers. She took me high up in the hills, never once saying a word. Finally, we ended up at the bottom of a dry, empty hillside. Still without speaking she got a big stuffed animal from the mountain of stuff in the back of the car and ran up the hill, balancing it against an old burnt log. Also from the back of the car came a battered leather case. In the case was an antique shotgun. Her father's, she said.

I'd never fired a gun before—and probably won't again. But that day it just seemed like the thing to do. For the rest of the day we shot at that poor big purple cat, until the hillside was dotted by wisps of cotton stuffing and purple fur. When she dropped me off she kissed me on the cheek, just once.

It was about that time that I realized I really loved her. That she was probably the best friend I'd ever had. Then she vanished.

***

Alice was mercurial, so it took quite a while for us to realize that she hadn't just gone to Burning Man, NYC, or taken a leisurely drive through the Southwest. Some Alice-watchers predicted that she'd followed something shiny out into the hills and that she'd just return when the sheen wore off. Others just shrugged off her absence by claiming that it was "an Alice thing to do" just pack up and disappear.

I didn't really understand how big Alice was until she was gone. Without Alice the world was dull, monotonous, predictable. Some of the Alice-watchers tried to recreate her parties and flair, but their efforts were clumsy and forced. I went to a couple, but the worst had nothing of Alice—and the best just reminded me of what she used to do so easily.

Her little apartment was empty. The manager didn't know where she'd gone. Her mail, mostly odd catalogs and a few scattered bills, was piling up. Rather than just have him throw them out, I took them, promising to give them to her when I saw her. The bundle of cellophane windows and brightly colored catalog covers sat by my phone for a week, like a promise that she'd come back and get them.

After a month, even the bitter Alice-watchers started to grow quiet and sullen. One of them, a chubby little dyke named Betty, whispered to me one breakfast as the other girls were laughing and clapping over some catty joke: "I hope she's okay." Her soft brown eyes said that she, too, felt the big hole Alice had left in our lives.

I put ads in the local queer papers, not really expecting a response, but better than doing nothing. I tried to find some relatives, thinking that maybe someone had gotten sick, had an accident or something, but her last name turned up zilch. I thought about calling the police, but a cop friend said that they wouldn't do anything unless there was proof of foul play, which there wasn't.

Some nights it got very bad. I'd come home to my neat little apartment and just stare out the window. Laughter made me think of her. Color made me think of her. I wanted to talk to someone, anyone, about how much I missed my friend Alice— and then got even more depressed when I realized the only person who'd understand ... was Alice. I tried to talk to the other Alice watchers about how much she'd meant to me, about how much I missed her, but they either gloried in the fact that she was gone or—like soft-eyed Betty—cried along with me.

One month became two, then three. Someone tried to organize a kind of farewell party for her, but nothing came of it. Too much like a wake, I guess. I kept asking people about her, running my ads and even going as far as putting up posters in a couple of bookstores. Nothing like "MISSING "or such, just in case she really had just gone off on some kind of wild Alice- quest, but rather "MISS YOU," enough emotion on an 81⁄2 by 11 sheet of paper (with tear off phone number of course, I am anal, after all) to hopefully get her to pick up a phone and call.

I knew it was bad when a few of the old circle took me out to dinner to ask me to just "let her go." It was the first time I'd ever had an intervention for missing a friend.

That night I looked back on the times we'd had together. I remembered her smile, the way she jumped up and down when she laughed. Her various hair colors and styles. Her Western phase, her punk phase, her dyke phase. I remembered one particular New Year's kiss. I remembered how she'd rubbed suntan oil on my back.

I suddenly realized how stupid I'd been. She'd wanted more between the two of us. Maybe she'd gone because I hadn't gone that extra step—I'd been blinded by the friend, totally not seeing the lover she wanted to be.

That wasn't the worst—the worst was that when I looked back on all those times together, I realized that a part of me had missed it as well. I'd just been frightened of stepping outside of my usual box. Alice wasn't just what I needed in a friend, she was what I wanted in a lover.

But she was still gone. The ache got even worse—now I was missing my girlfriend as well as the lover I wished I'd had.

Luck was something Alice believed in. Sometimes, when she had the choice between two things she'd flip a coin or roll some dice, happy to let fate pick a place to eat, a place to go, or who to follow out the door. I didn't believe in it myself. It was just averages, another law like gravity or inertia. It didn't know what was best, didn't work its magic to lead you down the best path.

Maybe. But that doesn't explain why, sitting there in the dark of my apartment, tears running down my cheeks, missing Alice so bad it was a deep ache in my chest, that Alice chose that one instant to pick up the phone and call me.

***

She came over. I tried not to appear too eager, but couldn't pull it off. When she drove up, her station wagon packed full of all kinds of strange stuff, so much I doubt if she could see what was behind or around her, I was peering intensely out the windows like a nosy neighbor. She bounded out of the car and up the steps, almost running.

My heart was pounding in my chest. I wanted to kiss her; scream at her "where the hell have you been?"; throw her onto the bed and have a fast, desperate fuck. I wanted to cry for missing her so much. She beat me to all of them. When I opened the door she kissed me, quick and hard on the lips and said, "I'm so sorry."

"That's okay," I stupidly said, when it was hardly that. "We were worried about you."

"Liar!" she said, tapping me on the nose as she scooted by, stepping quickly into my living room.

"Seriously, Al—we were worried sick. What happened?"

"Nothing," she said, standing with her back to me, looking out the window. "Nothing at all. I just hit the road for a few weeks to see who'd miss me." She turned around, smiling.

I wanted to say "You bitch!" and slap her fat face, but didn't. "Alice–" I began, anger making my chest tight.

"I really am sorry," she said, sitting down on my leather sofa, looking small, lost, and alone. "Really. I was just so alone– and no one seemed to care. I needed to just ... I don't know, 'get the fuck out of Dodge' or something. That wasn't the worst, though."

Something in the way she sat there, the way she seemed...smaller, as if she'd been diminished by her time away. My anger faded, making me dizzy. I walked over, sat down next to her.

She put her head on my shoulder, speaking softly, almost in a whisper: "I didn't miss anyone. I could have just driven and driven till my wheels fell off. Once I got out of town I didn't want to turn around. I didn't need to. There wasn't anything here that made me want to come back. I was scared."

My face grew hot, emotions mixing. It all got caught in my throat. I said, "That's okay," again and instantly regretted it.

"No, it's not," she said, pulling away from my shoulder. Her face was wet with tears.

I'd known Alice for...how long had I known Alice? Forever and a few days? I'd never seen her cry. I couldn't say anything. Instead, I did something I'd never done before—I did an Alice, something spontaneous and quick, something not thought but rather felt. I kissed her. I kissed Alice.

It was a short kiss, but it was a good kiss. I felt myself melt, just a little, as she did, too. She broke it, smiled, and tapped her own nose. "Liar," she called herself, softly. "I came back."

"I hoped you would," I said, again without thinking. It felt good.

"I made sure everyone had a good time," she said, turned to look down at her chubby little hands. "But no one did the same for me. I was everyone's good time, but not in a way that mattered. They loved me, darlin'," she said, flipping her hands like a hyperactive drag queen, "—but they didn't love me, did they?" Her shoulders sagged and she took a deep, ragged breath.

I wanted to say a lot of things, but more than anything I wanted to kiss her again. My thoughts were wild, banging around in my skull. I took my own deep breath and said the first thing that came to mind. "But you came back."

"No," she said, turning her head to look hard into my eyes. "I came back to you. I missed you."

***

Alice has been here a long time. So long it makes me feel like she's always been here. It's no longer my place, her stuff or my stuff—it's all just ours. We picked the cat out together, a butch little tabby that likes to attack our shoelaces when we get dressed in the morning. Last month we picked out china together; the month before that we bought a sofa—a nice, sane, sensible sofa.

It's good. It's very good. The best it's ever been with anyone. I wake up in the morning next to her, her warm, soft body making me smile—even today. We go to movies every now and then. We go out to dinner occasionally. We have a nice little life together, full of slow days and good loving.

But sometimes I sit in our living room, where we watch sitcoms and laugh along with them, and—sadly—I miss Alice, the wild Alice who left and never came back.

6 comments:

Michelle said...

Thanks for the excerpt...

Michelle B. aka koshkalady

joder said...

Thanks for the excerpt and your personal insights into your writing career. It is a shame that everything has become so commercialized. To succeed in anything nowadays you do have to treat it as a business which does diminish some of the joy. I see no easy answers or seeing things change anytime soon unfortunately. Find that bit of joy wherever you can and hold it tight for all those other more businesslike moments is all I can say.

joderjo402 AT gmail DOT com

Garceus said...

Hi M Christian!

Very cool to hang out with someone I was reading before I ever thought I could do this, you and Lisabet Sarai were big names to me before I ever showed up on ERWA. I have your craft book too.

You touched on a sore spot for me, a subject that I think about a great deal. When I was a kid I thought I wanted to be a professional writer and then other things happened and that never materialized and I'm very sure it won't. I keep wondering if I regret that or not. What you say about passion compared to doing a job or wearing a black beret hits home with me. I don't think i can be a professional writer, I think the level of dedication it would take is outside my karma. But also because my focus, as you point out in your article, is in some ways on the wrong things from a professional viewpoint. I never think about marketing or pormotion or genre much. I think about passion a lot. I like to shut out the world and disappear into the story. I'm working on a story i feel strongly about and I love to lose myself in it, and yet I know it probably doesn't have a future. I keep wondering why I'm doing it.

After a while you just have to love writing. You have to have it more than being a "writer". I think that's what we're talking about.

I read this interview once with Keith Richards and the guy asked him what went wrong with Brian Jones, why he came to a bad end. He said "Brian finally got to liking being a rock star more than he liked being a musician."

Isn't that the truth?

Garce ("C. Sanchez-Garcia")

M. Christian said...

Thanks, folks! So glad you liked my little piece -- keep up the writing and while you have to be a pro to get published never lose your passion!

Suzanne Graham said...

Thanks for your comments on writing with passion. I think it comes through to the reader when a story is written without passion from the author.

Annabeth Leong said...

I really appreciate your thoughts on passion in writing, like everyone else here. I truly love the act of writing myself, but I find it so easy to get distracted by panic about the rest. I recently had to really buckle down and revise something, and it was only possible when I decided it was OK to just forget about Twitter for a while so I could, you know, focus on the job at hand There's a frantic, panicked feeling to some of the social media stuff that isn't good for anyone. Perhaps ironic to say so as part of a blogging event, but I think all things must be balanced by passion, as you point out.

Also, as Garce said above, it amazes me to be part of an event including yourself, RG, and other masters of the art.

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