Thursday, November 14, 2013

Writing Descriptions

I'm blogging about this topic over at Samhain today!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fear, Trust and Submissive Safety

I recently read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. It's fascinating and valuable how-to book, offering techniques for protecting ourselves from violence. de Becker writes that the primary warning signal of danger ahead is the momentary feeling of fear. Not anxiety or suspicion, but actual fear. Too often we don't pay attention to fear because we're in a constant state of nervousness as it is, or we force the emotion away because it's impolite to take action on the basis of a hunch. This is a mistake. Predictive fear is based on a whole slew of subconscious observations, which we might dismiss if we attribute it to mere "intuition."

There have been a few occasions where I might have been in danger.  When I was a college student, I lived in a ratty apartment in downtown Denver. One night I get a knock at my door. I open it. A big man is standing out in the hallway. He holds a Bowie-type knife in his hand. I'm surprised, and a little nervous. Big man. Stranger. Knife. Night. But I don't't feel a jolt of fear. I ask him, "Are you wanting to hurt me?" He says no. He then proceedes to vent about a fellow apartment dweller who was complaining that he'd been playing his Pow Wow music too loud. Afterwards the big man with the big knife goes back home. So why didn't I feel fear? There were plenty of clues that I was not in danger, and my brain was evidently processing them subconsciously.  Like: The security system of the apartment pretty much meant he was a neighbor. So not some guy off the street. He was stoking his knife the entire time. My mind must have interpreted this stroking not as a threat, but as an upset guy handling a security blanket. His actions, his body language, the context, his voice, all made me believe he was just a lonely, scared man who was seeking friendly human contact. What didn't count was his answer to my question about if he was going to hurt me.

A few years later, I'm flying to San Jose for a job interview in Northern California. A young woman and I get to talking on the plane. She finds out I'm renting a car to head north.  She asks me for a ride to city on the way. I say sure. As we're deplaning, she suddenly informs me she wants me to take on another passenger. She has a friend, a man, also on the plane. I'm surprised and uneasy. I pause to think about this new development, and she smiles at me. Her smile is wide, and meant to be reassuring. The smile says, "Trust me."  I now feel true fear. Needless to say, I didn't let her, or her companion, in my rental car.  It's possible that this couple wasn't dangerous at all. But I still think they were.

And this close call brings me to the topic of this post: What can The Gift of Fear, full of great advice for the vanilla world, offer a sub in the BDSM world? Clearly the concept of respecting your fear isn't all that relevant in the kink sphere, given that fear is the extra thrill attracting many to BDSM. So how can the knowledge in de Becker's book protect the submissive?

First, by analyzing the concept of "trust" rather than "fear".

de Becker describes, in detail, a group of signals that let you know you may be in danger. These signals are the intellectual (and often subconscious) underpinnings of the fear emotion. The vulnerable sub is going to have to study those signals in the context of trust, rather than fear. I'll write about two of de Becker's signals, but in relation to BDSM play.

Forced Teaming: Translated to the BDSM world, this is a manipulation to "force trust". A sub who responds to such manipulation is in grave danger. Here are a few examples: A Dom is "owed" trust. A Dom "deserves" trust. A Dom has "earned" trust. A Dom is "hurt" because there's not enough trust.  A Dom is angry because there isn't enough trust. A Dom demands trust. A Dom claims there's a timetable for trust. Bullshit. To see how ridiculous these claims are, replace trust with the words "romantic love". Is someone owed romantic love? Is romantic love earned? Does romantic love have a timetable?

Trust, rather than love, is often the emotional currency of BDSM. Treat trust with respect, and expect your partner to do the same.

Discounting the word no: This concept obviously doesn't need recasting. I can't tell you how many times I've spoken to subs who played with someone who violated their limits or ignored their safeword. They're hurt and harmed. But after a promise to do better, they play with the same person again. And get into even worse trouble. There's no "three strikes and you're out" in BDSM. The kink game is a lot rougher and potentially more deadly than baseball. One strike is enough. Get outta there.

Unless it's by some mutually agreed-upon, in advance, mind-fuck or role-play scenario, "no means no" in BDSM, too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Vent: The Neverending Charity

Have you noticed the slew of retail stores that ask customers to "round up" their bill for charity? I've been asked to donate by grocery stores, the KMart, the plant nursery, eBay, and even the thrift shop! I don't say yes if it's a charity I've never heard of.  I like to research new non-profits, and donate to those I feel will do the most good with the least expensive bureaucratic infrastructure.

The plant nursery, for example, asked me to donate to a fine-sounding but obscure organization. I asked the clerk what the charity did. She replied, "The charity provides organic food, even to those who can't afford it." Isn't giving food to the people who need it the job of a food bank? I already donate to the food bank. So why is this charity (with a different set of directors and paid officers) better than a food bank? Because the food is organic? And you can't mix organic with chemically treated? Because possibly, maybe, if they are lucky, once in awhile, a poor person will get some? I'm not convinced this organic food charity even had a distribution plan. So yeah, I said no to the request to donate.

The stores pimping for charity are getting more brazen. "Rounding up" isn't good enough anymore. Last week the clerk at the Ross store requested my donation only in dollar increments. The charity was unknown to me, but it had children in the name. You can't say no to helping children, right? Yeah, well, I did say no. In the meantime, Ross crows about how they are "giving back".  Is Ross really giving back? Isn't the customer who responds to the request the one giving back?

I prefer the more generous approach of Kohl's, a dry goods type of store, similar to Ross. Kohl's sells adorable stuffed animals and high-quality, classic children's books near the checkout counters. All of the money goes to charity. I've bought tons of the toys--for my children, of course. Kohl's is truly investing in the charity. Kohl's does give back.

Colorado has frequent local tragedies, all of which require spur-of-the-moment giving. And I do. But I am pretty well sick of third-party, institutional begging.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Is BDSM Erotic Romance Really Romance?

A few weeks ago I asked a service company to come over to look at our air conditioner. As I was watching the guy poke around the unit, he asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a writer. I didn’t tell him I wrote erotica. Nope. I also didn’t tell him I wrote BDSM. Instead, I said, “I write romance.”

That got me to thinking: is BDSM romance fiction really romance? It can be. It’s what I try to write. BDSM stories can end with a Happily Ever After, just like romance; a BDSM plot frequently revolves around two people (or more) ultimately committing to each other.

Readers of BDSM fiction have a hard time reconciling BDSM with romance when the interaction involves sadism. That’s unfortunate. There are all sorts of ways to love and be loved. I realized readers freaked about sadism when Sterling, a sadist character in my first novella My One was viewed as the bad guy. He wasn’t a bad guy. He just wasn’t the right partner for my heroine.

I signed up with a blog tour operation last year, and after dozens of requests to host (mainy) paranormal, I finally said yes. I agreed for only one reason: the novel had a sadist character who was also poly. I asked the author to blog about sadism or polyamory in legitimate BDSM erotic romance. She didn’t, preferring instead to write about her hero being a better Dominant than the guy in Fifty Shades. I was disappointed.

Speaking of Fifty Shades, I did read some of “Master of the Universe”, the fanfic that gave birth to the mega-selling trilogy. I admit that I don’t read a ton of BDSM romance, because I’d like to avoid having my own experiences influenced by the writings of people who just talk the talk. Fifty Shades is a romance. Beneath the paper-thin, dark sheen of BDSM, the obsessed hero of Fifty Shades harks back to the tropes of Gothic romance.

Some strange books have jumped on the Fifty Shades bandwagon. Many of them are neither BDSM nor romance. I read one of them. This novella, reprinted as a novel with a black cover to take advantage of the hype (and in extra large letters to make it appear meatier) was only an unending series of swinger-style sexual encounters with some overtones of control.

Ahhh, but I’ve also seen signs of progress. I recently saw a stack of “Story of O” novels at the airport bookstore.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

To Serve or Not to Serve

I regularly donate blood. I'm donate at the local hospital blood bank. I'm healthy and I figure somebody's got to do it. Donation is a formal process. I make an appointment, and then drive across town, followed by answering invasive questions about my travel and sexual history.

The last few years brought a distinct change to this particular blood bank environment. It's a management issue. It starts with the receptionist. Recently, the receptionist glared up at me and asked, "Do you need something?" She acted as if I was a homeless person come to use the bathroom. I explained I was there to donate blood, which evidently she was not expecting. The bank was also not expecting a Bronco fan. I was ushered into another room where the walls were plastered with Steelers paraphernalia. The blood bank had become a mancave.  I was stunned by the lack of professionalism.

The person who would do the blood draw was training another phlebotomist.  The "experienced" phlebotomist started the training by taking an inkless pen to scratch my skin. "This is where I will take the blood," she told the new one. I was speechless. Who pre-injures like that?  Then the "experienced" one started showing the other worker various pieces of equipment on the floor. The new phlebotomist, kneeling on the floor,  kept brushing her head on my hand as she examined the equipment. I like to pet dogs and cats--but not strangers. I pulled my hand away, grossed out. The "experienced" phlebotomist then yelled at me for moving. Evidently, my scratched skin no longer acurately reflected the vein she had decided on.  Luckily, the blood draw went okay. Except the phlebotomist pair had to go run off to have lunch so I never got the usual survey about my experience to take home. After donating, I sat at a table to drink cranberry juice, have some snacks and read the newspaper. A different worker (the Steeler's fan?) came over to me and said, "Is there something I can help you with?" Again I was a homeless person. This time I'd wandered in the blood bank and was stealing food. I ignored her, seriously annoyed. She grabbed my peanut wrapper from the table and huffed off.

This sequential hostility and lack of professionalism had an impact. I was reluctant to donate again. I stalled for months. I finally convinced myself the world needed my (rather ordinary) blood. I vowed that if at any point I was mistreated I would walk out.

So I returned to the blood bank a few weeks ago. Unfortunately. So I showed the phlebotomist where I normally get a draw. She ignored my suggestion. Instead she said she'd found a vein she liked better.  She summarily stuck the needle in the crook of my elbow. I felt a horrible sting travel from my arm all the way down to my hand.  I nearly fainted. In all the years of donation, I had never felt anything like that. I told her it really hurt.  She did nothing. She didn't reposition the needle at all. She merely asked me if it was feeling better. I went through the donation in pain. I shouldn't have. Because she injured a nerve.

Nerve injuries take a long time to heal. If they ever do. For more than 10 days, my hand alternated between numbness and sparking electrical pain. The weakness in my hand was so profound that I couldn't even grasp a fork to cut meat.  I couldn't fold clothes, dance, put away dishes, make beds. I couldn't lift anything. Everything took twice as long.

It's been almost three weeks and the nerve still hasn't grown back completely.  My hand strength is back though, making my life easier, but I still have residual pain and numbness in my hand. I won't be donating blood there again.

I think there's an attitude by some organizations that carelessness toward volunteers is just fine. They believe that volunteers have a such a strong need for service that merely satisfying that need is good enough. It's not. It's true that I enjoy service, there are plenty of other ways I can volunteer. My ordinary blood will be appreciated somewhere else.

This holds a lesson for BDSM practitioners. Service and submission may be an intense need, but that desire shouldn't be abused.  The sub can easily find somebody else to serve.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Is Online BDSM Real?

I'm now getting back to writing BDSM fiction. Hurrah! The new novella will be exploring the difficulties in maintaining a long distance kink relationship. That got to me to thinking about online BDSM. There's a prejudice in the "real-life" BDSM community that these online relationships aren't real. I'm not so sure.

I'm one of those people who doesn't regard BDSM as being a more intellectual form of sex, or a superior sort of interaction. It's a relationship. Rules of emotion still apply. For that reason, examining long distance relationships of all kinds can be informative.

Consider Manti Teo. A gifted Notre Dame football linebacker, he fell in love with a girl he never met. They had a many months long distance relationship. It turned out the girl didn't exist. She was an elaborate fiction created by a male acquaintance of Manti's. That doesn't make Manti gullible, it makes him a person of imagination and faith.  His victimizer (aka a "catfish") was skilled and sensitive, but fundamentally cruel.

Exploitation in long distance relationships is a favorite topic of Dr. Phil. He focuses on women who are highly susceptible to flattery and attention. The catfish ensnares by setting up a fake online profile with stolen pictures, and sends the woman poems plagiarized from the Internet. These desperate women respond with love--and money. Long-distance exploitation happens in the kink world, too. They're called financial Dommes or loser Doms, not catfish. Perhaps my attitude is elitist, but a sub shouldn't send a Dominant money. Ever. A true Dominant will have his or her affairs in order. Why surrender control to someone who is unethical? Why submit to someone who doesn't have their act together? 

Maintaining long-distance relationships of any kind is tough, even for established couples. My husband and I once endured an 18 month separation. I'd moved cross country to the East coast to take a temporary job. He remained on the West coast. The whole experience was pretty awful. We were dirt poor and couldn't afford lots of phone calls. But we were committed to the relationship. We persevered. Fast forward a few years. The Internet came along. I experimented with cybersex. I had a blast, never fucking the same person twice. I had zero emotional connection to these guys (if they were guys). To my mind, cybersex was no different than improv, or enjoying a hot romance novel. But I soon discovered that my husband viewed my erotic entertainment as cheating. He certainly thought online was real. Of course I quit. As a side note, my frustrated desire to create cybersex scenes may well be the reason I write erotic romance now. It's a good thing my husband doesn't believe writing stories for a non-interactive audience is cheating.

Though I don't have any solutions on how to maintain online interactions, they can absolutely be real. They are as real as the care, sincerity, creativity and devotion of the participants. Kink or no.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Vaniller Thriller

About five years ago I wrote a science thriller. It had a lot of sex in it. I sent it off to agents and was stoked when two really, really famous agents (and dozens of regular agents) agreed to look at the manuscript. The famous ones even gave me some valuable advice--along with their rejections. I was flattered and grateful. Ultimately nobody wanted to represent me, though. All except for the one lady who offered me representation halfway through reading the book.  When she finished the novel, she said, "never mind".

Over the years I've been trying to make the book less of a "never mind". I started by reading and analyzing a bunch of science-type thrillers. I deleted a lot of the sex (sadly). Then I devised a mystical Dan Brown type subplot (not involving the Vatican or the Masons, thank you). I also toughened up my female protagonist. I finally finished refining the final draft of this lean and action-packed novel a few weeks ago.

When I'm close to finishing a story, I always have a recurring dream. I dream about packing stuff into boxes. In real life, filling up boxes for a move is an exhausting pain in the ass. But my packing dreams are anticipatory, pleasurable--a metaphor for the excitement of moving on to another project.

Unfortunately, this time, my packing dream was premature. When I collected all the chapters, and did a word count of my thriller, I discovered it was only 66,000 words! That's way too short for a modern thriller. I tried to tell myself a short novel was okay. After all, Michael Crichton's debut, The Andromeda Strain was 66,000 words too.

It's a bad idea for a writer to make up excuses for why it's okay to buck trends, or to compare oneself to some long-time, bestselling author. So after a day-long delusion, I gave up on pretending I was the new Crichton. It's back to the computer to bulk up my novel. I'll invent a few more characters, add a bit of fluff. I'm hoping to finish up my thriller in the next couple of weeks.

Then I'll return to writing some sexy (and short) BDSM novellas. I can't wait!