First Anniversary of Sex and Death in the world: Virtual Book Launch Reposted

I am reposting the launch videos in honor of the first anniversary of Sex and Death as a real-live-book-in-the-world-with-pages-and-everything.
In honor of this occasion I am going to do it up by hitting the Editor’s Guild Pot Luck.

For the rest of you who I am offering this: for each new review that goes up on Amazon, I promise to send you your very own link to the Nelson video of your choice.

To my readers: I love you all, thanks for indulging me.
To my editors and mentors, supporters and publishers: I wouldn’t be here without you.

To my hubby: I am sorry I forgot to mention you from the podium. It gets hard to remember everything when there are a hundred pairs of eyes on you. How about this instead?

I love you guys. MWAH.

Links to videos are mixed with text below. Scroll down to find the highlighted phrases that will take you to the videos that might interest you. Have fun!

The launch for Sex and Death in the American Novel was held at Benaroya Hall, Saturday September 8, 2012. In addition to the readings and short speeches, Maureen O’Donnell worked up an original tribal belly dance number to “Deformography,” by Marilyn Manson. I also had Michelle Badion, my first dance instructor perform two numbers with her partner Koa Hons.

After the formal program, people continued to mingle, I signed a few more books, then we danced to everything from “Suavemente,” by Elvis Crespo to “Rough Sex,” by Lords of Acid. 
It was glorious. I could not have asked for a more fun bunch to share the evening with.

I want to thank everyone who attended. You brought much appreciated enthusiasm about my book, excitement for the event and an open mind regarding my topics and musical influences. You guys really did make this night for me. Thank you so much.

Through this post, and the video links, I hope to lay out how the evening went so you may pick and choose what you might want to look at.

The lighting for one of the dance numbers was less than ideal for camera, but was wonderful for the live audience. My apologies in advance.


At 6:30 I signed books outside the Founder’s Room while people mingled inside. Here is a short compilation that also includes bits from Maureen’s dance if you just want something quick. This piece doesn’t include any of the speeches or reading and doesn’t show as much of the tango sections.

At 7:15 Michelle and Koa danced their first number while people gathered for the formal part of the program.  

Next, Maureen performed to “Deformography.” I can’t tell you how incredible it was to watch someone who already represented the spirit of my character Vivianna perform to music that represents so much about what it means to be an artist. The weirdo in me was finally given a visual representation and it was more exciting than I ever imagined.  

Katherine Sears, Booktrope CMO introduced me and I spoke, both are on this clip.

I missed a critical part in my speech where I was supposed to thank my husband for all the things he does that make this writing life possible. Amazing what you forget when you’re up there with all those eyes on you.

Michelle and Koa danced to “Oblivion,” by Astor Piazzolla. 

I read from the first page and then skipped over to the part that takes place at  Benaroya Hall.

Maureen ended the formal portion of the night.

After downing a bag of corn nuts*, a small but dedicated group of us left the Hall a little before midnight and headed over to Neighbours, a location that features prominently in the book.

Taking this picture was fun**, but it was also incredibly important to me that on the night of my book launch, both the Ladies and the dancers were out. To pay homage to Vivi’s spirit, there was no better way to celebrate. 

Afterward, as in the book, we hit 13 Coins.

It was so much fun to see all the places I featured in the book and show my editor Katie Flanagan exactly where certain events took place.

Two attendees were kind enough to post their thoughts on the launch and the book.

Tamsen Schultz: I especially appreciated her interpretation of my comments on music.

Isla Mcketta: Love the thoughts on the artistic sensibility as well as the more removed interpretation of the event.

*The launch preparation and execution were more work than my wedding! On launch day I didn’t eat or drink anything after the lunch the Gene Juarez ladies treated me to in the early afternoon. I signed, spoke, and danced my ass off (hairpins were flying, baby!) until midnight. At 12:30 am when we loaded up the minivan I was ready to chew the leather off the seats. I was not, however, willing to slow down long enough to hit a restaurant. Neighbours is only open until 4. Thank the good lord for Corn Nuts.  

** Do I or do I not have the most understanding and supportive husband in the world? I do. I do. I do.

Posted in Book Reviews, Erotica, Reading, Writing | 5 Comments


After the twenty-four-year-old in California who wouldn’t stop when I moved his hands and pretended I was asleep, I gave in and justified it because my ass was the only thing I could trade for a place to stay; after I did use that word when he suggested renting me out to the Mexicans—it would be safe, he said, someone would be standing outside the door with a machete; after that thirty-year-old guy in brown polyester pants left my friend on the side of the road because she was throwing up and I did nothing; after running away before his hairy arms dragged me back to the blue El Dorado with the white top; after knowing there were nice guys and still choosing to run around with ones who weren’t; after the night on that smelly boat when they took turns on two girls–one fourteen, one twelve; after the ones who said they loved me but still couldn’t listen; after the nights drinking when I just didn’t care what happened; after the guy from the salsa bar when I was 26, the one my roommate asked me not to bring over because he scared her, the one who said nobody loved him and I knew it would make him angry but I didn’t respond, but I did say that word while I pushed him away–softly, so as not to make it worse–and knew it was my fault when he did it; after several years and a man who said he loved me; after learning that I could speak and be heard…sometimes; after watching The Accused five times in a row; after two kids and eleven years and knowing I am too old for simpish bullshit, I still don’t know how to use this word, and I hate myself for it.

I also read this Posted in Memoir, Ugly Hard-to-Define Stuff | 8 Comments


Art Galleries. Ski Valley. Wal-Mart. Mountains that change color by the minute. Light that feels artificial–unreal. Sage. Prairie dogs. Beer Bottles on the side of the road. Strands of gift ribbon curl amidst the weeds and dirt and make me wonder why. Why is this here, why litter, why in such a hurry? Holes in the earth surrounded by scruffy brush, the tumbleweed would be its babies. Dirty thoughts. This place is contradiction for me. Creative energy. Calm, dense air and washed out sky. Vivid greens and soft greens. Dry earth. Cracks in the earth represent the splinters in my brain. More stories to tell… 

…and the light…it is impossible to capture, though I did try. 


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I pity the poet or novelist in this age of mass media, but my envy is frank and unconcealed for the musician, who is able to affect the audience with such emotional directness, a pre-rational manipulation of the nerves.
–Camille Paglia, “Sexual Personae: The Cancelled Preface”

“Nessun Dorma” from Turandot, Giaccomo Puccini
“Leper Messiah” Metallica
“O Foruna,” from Carmina Burana, Carl Orff
“The Mission” from The Mission, Ennio Morricone
“Kashmir” Led Zeppelin
“Dream On” Aerosmith
“The Boxer” Simon & Garfunkel
“Broken Crown” Mumford and Sons
“Rex Tremendae” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Orion” Metallica
“Wasted Years” Iron Maiden
“Fifth Movement: Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath” from Symphonie Fantastique, Hector Berlioz
“Hells Bells” AC/DC
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” Metallica
“Regnava Nel Silenzio” from Lucia di Lammermoor, Gaetano Donizetti
“Opening” from Glassworks, Philip Glass
“Crystal Voice” Tangerine Dream
“Fragile” Sting
“Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin

This playlist is posted on Spotify!

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In Praise of Cooperation

Most of you have seen my book trailer and know how much I love it. For those who have not, check it out here. The images and arrangement were done by the numinous Brian Short.

The music–which is seriously moving and one hundred percent relevant to my topic (grief)–was very generously donated by a musician named Phil Jourdan. When I first encountered this artist he was posting wonderful stuff about sex, writing and Jacques Lacan plus examining authors like Jonathan Franzen and Phillip Roth more officially over at Litreactor.

I also found that he was a musician who had composed albums working music around both The Recognitions by William Gaddis and Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. In my own novel I had worked the themes of music, freedom, and dance pretty intensely, so finding an artist who was doing both felt timely. Cool. Ness.

I then asked him if he would write for Line Zero, the literary magazine I was writing for at the time. He agreed to let us edit and reprint the blog post that got me so excited about his work in the first place. Since then he has been an advocate for both my work, as well as another author I admire: Jessica Karbowiak.

Later, when I was working with Brian to get the trailer together, I came across the song “Disappearing.” The music was absolutely haunting and I could not get it out of my head. This piece of music was important to Phil for personal reasons and not on any official album. Still I had to ask, because it was so perfect. The speed with which this artist agreed to let me use his music–the whole time refusing my offers of payment–made an impression.

There is a spirit of community that exists, especially here in Seattle, where writers, musicians, editors, teachers, all give freely of their time and expertise to those who are just starting out. In this instance, the spirit of camaraderie and generosity has extended all the way to the UK! I am so proud to be a part of a community of artists who are so willing to give of themselves to help each other.

Now it is my turn…

Phil is currently running a campaign with Indiegogo to fund the next album for his band, Paris and the Hiltons. At the moment they are almost halfway to their fundraising goal. I am hoping to boost that number. Stop by and consider all the fun things he is offering for donors.There is even an option where you can donate and he will sing to you in a dress!

Somebody has to take him up on this…

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Soul Signal Radio Podcast: Sex, Death and Spirituality

My July appearance on Soul Signal Radio was moved up to last night due to scheduling conflicts. There is an echo on my voice for the first few minutes but then it goes away.

The host, Leta Hamiliton, continued to bring me around to why I am compelled to write about the topics I do and wrangled me back to the topic of spirituality when I got too far off track.

This was a fun show and I hope you enjoy. Listen here.

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Author Interview: Jessica Karbowiak—In Praise of the Little Fish


                           Jessica K photo               

Jessica Karbowiak is an author I know through working with Pink Fish Press. I am happy for the fact that I had no say in publication decisions or the editorial process, nor do I have any financial stake in whether or not this book does well. I am really really grateful for this because I feel like everything I say about the book is at the same level as what I say about Marco Vassi or Erica Jong.


In addition to my admiration for the writing and decisions the author made about how to structure these narratives (something I find separates the books I like from the ones I rave about), I loved this book because it did something I have struggled to do for years, and that is to handle—but in a new and novel way—personal topics that as Jessica herself mentions, have been done to death. A couple of days ago I posted a book review on my blog. Now through Saturday April 27th, you can download the e-book for free on Amazon.

these things i know cover (3)


SM: This was a beautiful and unique book. What gave you the idea to mix in real events with stories featuring such different women as Ilse Koch (The Bitch of Buchenwald) and Saartjie Baartman? Did you use any models for the structure?


JK: When I started the collection, it read much like the old-school ‘navel-gazing’ of the Romantic period—that is, the whole first section dealt with my own traumas, my own losses.  When I think of the first section, I think of that part in Catcher when Holden Caulfield is sitting at the bar and gets really drunk.  Salinger writes:



I was the only guy at the bar with a bullet in their guts. I kept putting my hand under my jacket, on my stomach and all, to keep the blood from dripping all over the place.  I didn’t want anybody to know I was even wounded. I was concealing the fact that I was wounded sonuvabitch (195).



I wanted the arc or shape of the whole work to move away from the madness and isolation that trauma often causes.  I wanted to move away from The Concealment, and have the work flow much like the cover illustration flows—from the personal ever-outward into some sort of holistic spiritual place.  Moving beyond myself and my small hurts into the larger world.  This was so important to me, and why I chose to shape the collection the way it is including the creative nonfiction accounts of famous people who have suffered back to my own, hopefully more informed, little life in section three.  No formal models but my own weird movement, in writing and in life.


SM: The reviews on Amazon are all very positive. Two stories in this collection were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. What a great validation before the book ever came out. Since its publication, what type of feedback have you received from readers?


JK: Due to the lack of an agent and advertising know-how, the book has had little critical reception.  This often makes me sad—and let me clarify, not really from a bloated ego—just that I do think it’s a weird, sharp little book.  I wish it could reach more people.  But still, I am grateful to have it out there.  To move on to the next project.  I feel like for me, if Renda Dodge and Pink Fish Press hadn’t published this work, I would be paralyzed and still in that place of trying to write out this overall narrative.  That can happen.


SM: You open These Things I Know with the account of your rape. I appreciated your including the details that you did, especially the ones where you watch yourself from years later, judging the decisions you made. Much of that felt very familiar to me. In my own work I am only able to get events like these down in fiction, removing myself from them in that way, but also being able to see them more clearly for the distance. How long after it happened did you feel you were ready to write about this in any form?


JK: I wrote snippets about the topic of rape for years without any clarity or insight—I believe I was still in the middle of things, so to speak.  It took a long while, years even, to be able to write about trauma in a way I thought spoke to the trauma.  Like sort of trying to marry form and content in my own way.


SM: Had you talked to other women or read many other accounts before you wrote yours down?


JK: I’ve read lots of Survivor Tales over the years.  They never speak to me.  Like that quote from one of Joy Williams’ novels—one of her characters says something that speaks to this: “’I’m a survivor,’ she said.  ‘People dismiss me as a survivor.’”


SM: I completely agree, it seems like once people slap a label on someone; victim, survivor, whatever, it makes it so much easier to discount what they say. These words come with so much baggage already.


JK: I think this is where the danger is writing about The Big Things—people can easily dismiss you as writer. I’ve been told that these topics are so potent that writers can bring little to them that isn’t already done or there.  My favorite eloquent response is Bullshit.  Every writer I have ever admired writes about the big things, maybe through the small things, but yeah, it’s still there.  That’s what writing is.


SM: Exactly. A post I put up a few weeks ago where I reflected on what both Junot Diaz and Chris Abani do with material like this proves your point. It seems that the actual events are not really all that important, but more how they affect us and what we do with them that matters. This is why I was so impressed with what you did in this book. It was so mature, and magical. It made me think I could look at the events of my life and use them to make something that will matter as well.


SM: Who do you admire the most among writers and other artists? 


JK: I’m a Salinger fanatic—mostly his stories and novellas.  I love William Gay’s stories.  Junot Diaz is a more contemporary favorite. 





SM: Did I tell you that I got to meet him?This never gets old!I doubt any other experience will top that. He is one of my favorites and I’ve used him as sort of a virtual mentor more times than I can count. He gives incredible talks for young writers and is always reminding me to pay attention to what is going on in the world. I didn’t know we had this in common!


JK: I also love magical realism like in Marquez and Bombal—I can thank a UT-Austin professor, Pete LaSalle, for that.  I love Borges and George Saunders.  I recently got turned onto a Michigan poet, Robert Fanning. I dig his stuff. I don’t have any parameters—anything that tells a narrative in a way I can follow and appreciate.   I love poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction.  Not a real fan of plays, though.


SM: I am a writer and an editor; I know how much gets removed at the editing stage. Were there any topics that did not make it into the book and if so, what were these? 


JK: There was one snippet of an essay about my hearing that got cut out for clarity’s sake; the fact that I was born 60%-80% deaf and had to have an operation as a child which in turn led to Super Sonic Hearing.  It clouded the narrative’s purpose so my editor proposed either elaboration or omission.  Omission made sense.  Also, a narrative I wrote called “Lady of The Waves” got cut—it was about the 1900 Galveston storm in Texas and an orphanage.  It didn’t really fit.


SM: The cover artwork is striking. Can you tell me some about the image?


JK: The image on the cover was illustrated by my brother, Matt Karbowiak.  He is a carpenter by trade, but initially went to school for his BA in Illustration at The University of Hartford.  He did all the illustrations throughout.  He’s wicked good though he forgets to remember this sometimes.  It was a great collaborative experience.  I wanted the cover to show what I spoke about in terms of the shape of the collection itself—the rugged and beautiful terrain of moving outside of oneself.  I definitely think of it as a flowering of some sort, so that’s where he got the idea for a weird cocoon-ish woman.


SM: Your use of language is one reason I will read this book again, hoping to absorb something I can use to make me a better writer. I loved the way you worked so much hope in—especially at the last page. I am eager to know about anything new you are working on and when you will have that out.


JK: Hope is essential for me; I don’t feed off it or live by it desperately.  Most people who know me well think of me as cynical in relation to how people can behave, how we choose to treat one another. 


However, hope becomes, well hopeful and not a crutch through beautiful things in my life like my students, my animals, my teaching and my art.  These are the aspects of my life that never betray me.  So different from lovers, friends, family, myself.  I don’t know.  Then getting beyond heartbreak becomes an experience leading to wisdom and can be eased by these things, rather than the idea of hope erasing pain.  That doesn’t happen.


I’m percolating new ideas this year and moving beyond this first collection.  It is taking longer than I expected it to.  I’m not sure why this is—perhaps because the reception was small and people I thought would champion me chose not to, and some people who I didn’t know well became dear friends and confidantes by receiving my voice and work with loving-kindness.  Weird how that can happen sometimes.


SM:  As I spend more and more time working on essays and my next novel, I find it more difficult to balance promotion work with creative work. It is hard for me to switch from the introspective contemplative space to the outgoing personality I need for be for promotion. Since you are a writer I admire, and you are juggling career, work and promotion, do you have any words of advice?


JK: No advice.  I am horrible at promotion.  In some essential way, I feel like it is bullshit writers of small presses and books have to go through so many hoops to be heard or appreciated.  I have no delusions of grandeur; however, I bristle at the whole carnival atmosphere—like running in circles it feels like sometimes.  I take part when I can—I have a Facebook page (mainly devoted to my dogs), and I’m on Amazon, Goodreads, and a few other places.  I put my book out there for some small awards and hope it gets noticed.  I’m not holding my breath. 


I mostly rely on the kindness of people like you, Sarah (!), my editor and friend Katie Flanagan, and readers who end up claiming me.  I claim them right goddamn back.  Everything else falls away.  I’m not going to give up my day job—I wouldn’t want to—but we don’t live in an atmosphere where I could if I wanted to anyhow.  I’m a small fish.


SM:  Where can we see or hear more from you, I am speaking here mostly about how readers can get in touch with you and learn about your next steps.   


JK: I mostly show up online this year.  Google me if you like me.  Write me on Facebook.  I love hearing from people.  They tell me their own stories.  I value them and honor them in my own small way, I hope.  One awesome aspect of being a small fish is you are relatable to people, not anyone they cannot reach out to speak with or become part of their writing experience.  Because of this, I don’t mind staying a little fish forever.

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Book Review: These Things I Know

To prepare you all for my interview with the author and the e-book going free on Amazon Friday and Saturday, I am posting my review to get you good and ready.

Note the front cover…the original and haunting image…note the blurb by Phil Jourdan (LitReactor co-founder who recently spoke at Oxford on memoir writing)…note that the author along with one of the stories in this book was nominated for a Pushcart Prize!                                                       

For all of you who have been discussing writing projects with me, this is one to study for an example of what can be achieved when you do your own thing. You will also find the glorious vision of something that is always near and dear to my heart: a book that doesn’t fit. Is this a short story collection or creative non-fiction…is it, could it be…both? For all of you who have recently attended a writing conference populated with agents and editors telling you what sells, this is why you go with a small press.

This is the kind of book I read at least twice. Once for story, a second time to savor the language and as a writer I will go back a third time for study. These words make me want to be a better writer, a stronger woman, and a more compassionate human. The details in this book are so intense, the images, settings and situations are so vivid, they still pop into my head at odd times.

To read this book is to be shown, in a novel and interesting way, what it feels like to be in a fleshy, fragile, finite human body.

The poetic lines stayed with me even after I put the book down. The author’s observations were both universal and familiar and for this I am grateful. When I find my own thoughts echoed in the words of another person I know that I am not alone.

Scenes in this book call up images that are either beautiful or terrifying and for the places where they are both, you know you are dealing with an Artist.

Life changingly good books come along so rarely, this is one is a real gift.

Tell your friends, book groups, doctors, veterinarians, local booksellers and libraries then please return for the interview with the author tomorrow.

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I Finally Got It Up! Male Sexuality…the long awaited review

  –Google Books

“This is a book about the value of understanding. It assumes that when we oversimplify male sexuality or demonize any form of it, everyone suffers. It assumes that when men understand themselves, they feel less shame, and that when women understand men, they feel more connected to men and more compassionate.” 
            –Michael Bader, from the Introduction to Male Sexuality

If you are at all interested in looking past old assumptions about the minds and hearts of these wonderful creatures, this is the book for you. If you are just curious, you will still be rewarded by reading. At the very least you will come away with a new appreciation for the cum shot.

There was a time when I based what I thought about men’s internal lives on what I saw in porno movies, predators I encountered when I was running the streets and badly executed sexual experiences as a teenager. I am sure I was influenced to some extent by the jokes people made on TV and everywhere else about which head guys used to think with, or the bored housewife who contemplated what color to paint the ceiling while hubby was on top of her.

In contrast to this, there were always boys and men that I admired, and appreciated for their thoughtfulness and kind words at certain times in my life. I hoped, but I wasn’t convinced, that men were actually capable of thought and feeling while their sex parts were engaged. The ex-boyfriend reinforced this idea by saying all men ever wanted was to get laid and would lie, cheat, steal and sometimes murder to do it. One bit of advice I never forgot: “They all cheat. Put a man in a room alone with a woman who is ready to go. He. Will. Cheat. The smart ones just know how to keep themselves out of that situation.” Every single man I have told this to has confirmed the validity of the statement.

Depressing if you’ve ever taken on a relationship commitment that assumes you, the dutiful woman are expected to be faithful.

What I imagined went on in their minds went something like this: Gooood. Weeeeeeeeet. Soooooooooooft. Tight! Over and over until the big bang. The men I questioned did little to help. Whenever I asked what sex was like I got some variation of this: “Really good! Ummm. Like, it’s hot and wet and umm, even when it is bad it feels really good.”

Now I see I was asking the wrong question. I still wonder what things would have been like if I had read Marco Vassi as a teenager.

Common jokes and frustrations are explored in this book, from porn addiction, workplace aggression, infidelity, and what one might call plain old selfishness…He’s already done, and you Oh My Sister, were about to achieve full levitation. He might as well have dropped your ass on the cold hard floor. It’s Not Fair!!!*

Bader argues that this behavior might actually be a sign that he is more worried about pleasing you than you might assume as you lay dying.** He says that what the guy is really dealing with is an excessive concern about the wellbeing of women, beginning of course with his mother. This results in an additional sense of responsibility, and leads to an increase in anxiety which results in them ignoring their own feelings, and those of the women they are with.

If you’re like me you’ll have one eyebrow raised as you read this. You may even scratch your head and think, you mean he’s not just being a jerk because he has gotten away with it his whole life? By the end of the book, you might find the author makes an excellent case for at least considering the possibility that more is going on.

And if this is true, you’ve opened yourself up to everything else the book suggests. He introduces the notion that men are only allowed to show their feelings with women who are not equipped to understand everything about them; this burdens women and limits men in their emotional development. Huge! Did you know there were things called Men’s Groups? Awesome deals these…

Several topics in the book will benefit women directly. He addresses the power of fantasy (sex is all in the mind, baby) pathogenic beliefs–thoughts that cause you to do things that are unhealthy, and one of the most important: ruthlessness, a concept that means you must be selfish in order to get off. He says that excitement breaks down under worry or guilt. Ah-hah! So let go of those miserable thoughts, (often planted by advertisers) that plague the bedroom. Stop worrying about your breath, your jiggling whatever or the noises you make, and as the author encourages, stop worrying about him! You are already in bed, enjoy yourself and he will too.

Chapters that cover youth fantasies, rape fantasies (this one was a real eye opener and I suggest reading this very closely before jumping to conclusions as some other reviewers did) aggression and pornography, make this book really really valuable.

The examples he gives of patients he has seen in his thirty year career worked really well to make this book accessible. One example he gave was a man who liked to have sex from behind so he could be spared the inevitable (in his mind) look of disappointment on the woman’s face. *** Another was about a couple who were having sexual problems due to changes in the wife’s body. Neither one of them would stop to consider the reasons for what the other was feeling. The wife felt hurt because the husband refused to use extra lubricant as part of their bedroom scene, and the husband felt insulted because she was no longer able to get wet when she was with him. He felt that this was a reflection on him as a person. If you’re able to set aside whatever judgments are easy to make in this type of situation, the lesson about communication is a powerful one.

The reviews on Amazon are interesting. Some are in praise, some are angry, as if the author is trying to encourage deplorable behavior. It made me wonder how much the mass psyche is invested in the notion that male (or any for that matter) sexuality is a dangerous thing. The author is not saying that lying, cheating, and investing precious time in addictive behavior is admirable, but does give excellent reasons why these things happen.

The author agrees that wives have a right to be angry when husbands lie, or spend time away from home maintaining extra-marital affairs, or nursing fantasy relationships instead of putting that energy into their own real life relationship. The author also offers (again, setting aside the seductive need to judge) that the wife should be aware that real life may come with the belief, that home and his wife are where he has to face his failure, his inadequacy, his inability to truly make her happy. The fantasy women whether they are strippers, prostitutes, women behind a chat room screen or actors in adult movies represent a place t
o go to be free of all that and just enjoy themselves.

Because I believe that this book merely opens the door to a much larger discussion, I have included some links to other male writers who are thoughtfully talking about sex.

Marco Vassi: Gentle Degenerates, The Stoned Apocalypse, A Driving Passion, are all great places to start with this author. Even in his straight up porn he is more thoughtful than most other writers I have found.

David Steinberg: This article is worth a read and represents what is possibile when people are thoughtful. I will post more shortly on this very important author. Click on his name and check out his website, this is the best place to read his take on sexuality, art (he is a poet and photographer as well), and everything in between. His honesty and bravery remind me of Marco Vassi. The advantage with this author is that he is still alive and commenting on the culture we live in now.

Michael Castleman: Sexual Solutions and Great Sex. These books offer more specific discussions of particular topics.

David Guy: The Red Thread of Passion, The Autobiography of my Body, The Man Who Loved Dirty Books.

Jack RemickBlood is a mind blower and not for the faint of heart. I loved the way he handled sexuality, not to mention all that semen! The book was more than a little disturbing, but will leave the reader with so much to consider about art, sex, books and the human experience.

Junot Diaz: This is How You Lose Her

Phil Jourdan: This young blogger’s posts don’t generally cover sex, but this post rocked my world, and his write up on feminism for authors is well…I wish this had been available when I was first beginning to navigate the world. Click his name and visit his website. He also posted information on a dude named Lacan who offers one sidetrip you can take to get an entirely new perspective on all of this.

Ryan Snyder Ananat: Not much here specific to sex, though I have found that reading a guy talk this much about his feelings has a positive effect on my old delusions. Plus he is just scary smart this one. I expect to see a lot of great things coming from this direction in the near future.

*I had to include this anthem ‘cos I’m just weird that way. I am really really glad younger women are exposed in a fun and accessible way to the concept that they get to feel good too. When I was growing up, a girl’s job was to look pretty. Being good in bed meant making him happy. She was expected to lead him around and make him work for it, for that matter he is still expected to go to fucking Jared, but God forbid he catch on that you really liked it too.

**Michael Castleman in his book Sexual Solutions exposed me to the idea that many of them get in the habit of finishing quickly when they are young. It has something to do with worrying that at any moment they are going to get kicked off and will never ever get another chance. The whole idea of scarcity is another issue which is important to consider. If the word “slut” would just evaporate, maybe this problem would too? I know, not likely…

*** You mean he doesn’t just like the view? Isn’t this how people often talk about sex? One of the wonderful things about this book is how we get to look past the usual jokes and assumptions to get to a more thoughtful and productive place.

Posted in Book Reviews, Erotica, Memoir, Reading | Leave a comment

In Favor of the Sensitive Man


When I read Michael Bader’s book, Male Sexuality, Why Women Don’t Understand It and Men Don’t Either, I found validation for my need to understand men. This post serves as a precursor to my review of his book. The story below should lend context to what I will talk about in that review as well as back story for those interested in where I get my ideas.

Chris was what many people would call Poor White Trash. If you don’t know what this is code for just repeat after me: these people don’t count.

When I met him I was sixteen, he was nineteen. Through his eyes, through the confirmation of someone* believing in me to the extent that he did, through his example, his pride in me, I came to believe in myself.

With him I was not the fuck up who had ruined my family, that was what Straight taught me I was. Through his eyes I was someone who had values, principles and most importantly—a future. It took years, but eventually I began to take his belief in me for granted. I don’t know that I can emphasize enough where my head was when I left Straight. Their motto was, “We tear you down and then we build you back up.” This was a promise they only partway kept. When I left there I had no belief in myself and was convinced that I was doomed to fail at anything I attempted. My mother’s continuing threats to kick me out of the house if I messed up again didn’t help. She also had a special instinct for reminding me just how well and thoroughly I had screwed up by bringing up examples in the presence of her friends and mine.  

In the beginning, he was my best friend. We drove all over the state of Montana, burning through daylight, midnight, and every hour in between blaring Metallica and AC/DC until the sound began to distort through my little car’s speakers. We smoked unfiltered Camel cigarettes and drank Jolt Cola and didn’t eat anything but gas station burritos.

After a couple year’s worth of friendship, he became really good at what I think of as the Puppy Dog approach to flirtation. Once when I was talking to a group of people, he held my eyes through the entire event, then when someone asked him what he was going to do after he went home he continued to hold my gaze and said, “I’m gonna go home and jaaaack.” He drew the last word out to express frustration, but he was also making a show in front of all those people, how little he cared for pride, and how much of an affect I supposedly had on him. At eighteen years old, this was high praise. I also can’t tell you how much it meant to have someone separate my value and worth from my appearance and at the same time validate what I was doing by giving me his undivided attention.

Judge however you will.

When the relationship finally changed, we fucked wherever we felt like, whenever we felt like: beneath the Ponderosas at the base of Holland Lake Falls, at the far corner of the rest stop on the way to Helena, or in a parking lot in Great Falls at three in the morning. We went camping and ran around naked, we jumped off bridges, we talked about everything and nothing and spent many happy hours in silent enjoyment of the other’s company.

With him nothing I had done made me worth less than him, it made me tough. With him I was not ashamed. With him I was enough.

Chris was more damaged than I was.  He had spent time in jail. Both of his parents put together might have been as crazy as my mother.

Once he told me about the time he got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He was  finishing up when a strange man pushed open the door and began to shoot up. He was too young to know how old he was when that happened. At age five his father lost him at a concert and he had to go up to the stage to have someone make an announcement for his father to come get him. On one birthday his mother had to beg his father to stop and get him a birthday cone from Baskin Robbins, you know the ones where the scoop of ice-cream is on the bottom with a face painted on it in icing, and the cone is the hat. An argument ensued, his mother finally won, barely. Apparently this was too much to spend on a kid’s birthday. This may have been one of the only times he expressed disappointment with his father. Usually all I ever heard was that his father was a bad-ass who spent years in prison, had incredible drug tolerances, and had an impressive way with women. 

His mother was an alcoholic who routinely left the dinner table to throw up because she drank more than she ate. All these things he told as if they were a matter of course, nothing he couldn’t handle. Even as a kid. The way he told it, because of these things he was stronger than most people.

I am sure there were stories he never told me.

He was not as smart as I was**. He barely got his GED and was dedicated to a life of manual labor that allowed him to prove how tough he was. He did not read. He made fun of how much I read and could not understand why I insisted on dragging boxes of books to each new apartment we moved to. When he talked to people about me and my books though, he told them much I knew about and how I was going to do something big someday. He believed that women were supposed to be more intelligent than men (at least the ones who were not posing nude) and that a man’s job was to make use of his physical strength.  Here I must be honest in saying that something about that added to his charm. After so many years of feeling like I was inferior, this was wonderful. With him I was free to be me and explore what that meant without judgment or competition.

Somewhere in our fifth or sixth year together I got tired of fucking off at various odd jobs and decided I needed to settle down and work in an office like an adult.*** The quickest route I could see was a small college that offered computer classes, basically secretarial school. At this he expressed extreme displeasure, one of the only times he told me I was wrong. “Babe, you should go to business school or some big shit like that,” he said holding my eyes until I was forced to nod in agreement.  

He was more deranged than I was by a lot. When I met him he had already spent time in jail. He was tough. He walked tough, with his chest puffed out, he talked tough, using words like cunt, pussy, motherfucker and cock, a word he loved to drag out when he was telling a story. Grown men would follow him around, imitate his language, his mannerisms. They tried and failed repeatedly to compete with his stories. He had stories about everything from fighting with the school bully to drunken brawls at parties, or lurid ones like the time he and another guy screwed a prostitute at the same time.

He told stories that were usually both disgusting and riotously funny. One of the ones he told the most often was about a party in the woods where some guy got too close to the campfire. “See, the fucker’s shorts were nyyyylon, so the shit melted,” he held his hands in front of his crotch for emphasis, “to like his coooock, and all his shit! Dead serious.” Here he would take a break to puff on his cigarette, pick a random bit of tobacco off his lip, answer questions and then begin again with his hands flying, mimicking the movements of this poor guy as he hopped around in pain.

He also used the words cunt, whore and bitch with an emphasis particular to him. Porn and degrasion– his own word, one he pronounced with a snarling laugh in his voice– were his favorite topics.  He particularly liked to watch and talk about something he called “pulling a train.” This would be a scene where a woman would take one man after another. The higher the number, the better. Strippers were entertainment and I prided myself on the fact that it didn’t bother me that he went to see them. Why should I care? He told me every day that I was different, that I was smart, that he loved me and made a huge show of telling everyone he admired about my integrity, honesty and strength. What he saw in me were things he said made me unique and special. I was not like the strippers whose only function was to be pretty. Once he’d shot his load beating off thinking about them, they did not matter.  

He used to say, “Babe, you’re a rare breed.”

Sometimes he would make his voice into a child’s and stare at one corner of my mouth then lean over and kiss me just there and say, “special spot!”  Bouncing on the balls of his feet he would tip his head from right to left to show his delight.

He was sappy in unexpected ways. Many of the road trips we took were to see either one or both of our grandmothers. He got so attached to a cat I drug home that he wouldn’t hear of putting it down when it started attacking people–even when it attacked his grandmother. “Just the thought of it hurts my heart.” When I tried explaining that we could get sued if it tore some kid’s face off, he got angry and said, “This is why I told you I didn’t want it. I knew I would get attached!” He went on to tell about a dog his father had made him get rid of when he was a kid. He said he never wanted to relive that pain.  Dead serious.

After a few months together he told me that the time he’d spent in jail was for raping a classmate. But that was all a misunderstanding. Had been offered a deal that got him much less jail time if he pled guilty.  He explained that the alternative would have been to possibly lose his case and end up in prison for many years. I believed him–I wanted to believe him—and the story seemed plausible enough. The alternative was being intimate with, and in so doing, rewarding a person who had done something that is supposed to be unforgivable.  

If it was true that he had raped this girl, then she surely had the same bullshit in her head that I did. She would—because of him—have the same disconnect between her mind and body, and she likely also held the same fear of using the word no, or otherwise doing anything that would cause conflict in bed. If this was true then he was a monster and I was a traitor in the worst way.  Strangely I did not feel especially guilty, but I did see the irony in the situation.

People who had been robbed because they were walking around flashing designer purses, or had their cars broken into because they left wallets on the seat would make him laugh. He would then launch into a lecture about what he called vics. This was his word for victims. He hated anyone who came from a place of advantage. People who came from money, or pretty women who had things handed to them because of the way they looked merited at least five passionate minutes on how worthless they were. People who trusted other people, who expected good things to come their way, were stupid and just waiting to be vicked off, his term for being victimized. When anything like this happened he would laugh and say, “I knew it. Dumb fucker,” or “Look what that stupid cunt did. What kind of fucking,” here his voice would get really heavy to emphasize the word, “idiot leaves a $500 purse on the seat of their car?” His expression and tone of voice were a mixture of outrage and amusement that I have never heard expressed by anyone else.

Once I tried to talk to him about a movie I had seen where a girl let her boyfriend talk her into doing adult movies. The movie ended with her overdosing on cocaine. Anything like this where a woman made a bad decision started him on a rant about the bitches in high school that went for the guys who had the nice cars or did well at sports. These women were too stupid to know that men only used them, degraded them and then made fun of them behind their backs. How could these women be so stupid not to know what men were up to? “They are always lying, Babe. Always. Fuckin’ guy will say anything to get laid.” The movie The Last American Virgin made him shake and ball his fists up before he stormed out of the room.

As an interesting contrast, he liked to joke about men being raped in prison. We spent one depressing Thanksgiving Day with his best friend watching American Me. When one man was gang raped and then murdered by having a knife inserted into his anus before he was ripped open, Chris bounced to the end of the couch, one arm extended toward the television, “Dude, you see that shit?” His eyes were glowing.

I finally rewarded this man who was the first to show me what I was capable of by leaving him. The final years were the worst. While more and more porn came into the house, and he spent more and more nights out at the casinos and strip clubs, I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by having such a lax attitude about it all.

For the last half of that relationship I couldn’t sleep with him without feeling nauseous, depressed and empty afterward. I was gratefully distracted by my new college life, and the friends I was making who did not use words like nigger, cunt and spic in daily conversation. They had goals, and looked forward to the opportunities their education afforded them. I did the same.

I could not ignore the fact that even if I liked to think I was different, I was also a woman. Before my mother blew most of it during a manic land buying spree, I also had money for college and attended a private high school.

Growing up for me had as much to do with coming to terms with who I was in relation to that man and recognizing that I wanted more from life than what he had to offer as it did with seeing myself through his eyes. No matter what anyone might say about women who apologize for men who behave badly, I know that he made a real difference in my life. A positive one.

When I got out of Straight it was nearly impossible for me to hear anyone who didn’t scare the shit out of me. What he offered me amounted to a middle ground between the scary, the hard-core and the loving. By the time I was old enough to see how ugly the relationship had become, I was also strong enough to leave.



 * At this age I also met a woman who was in college and she took me on as a sort of charity case. This woman also deserves her own blog post. She stepped in when my mother was especially difficult to deal with and treated me with understanding and was firm in her direction. She did more for me in a practical sense than my mother ever could have.  

** This is true in the book sense. He was a master with people and dealing with crowds. He could usually size a person up pretty thoroughly upon meeting them and often his assessments were spot on.

* **He offered to support me while I focused on my writing, but I knew if I took him up on this offer I would change the balance of power in the relationship.

Posted in Memoir, Reading | 3 Comments