If nothing else, literary criticism teaches us that binary dualities exist in every work of fiction. It’s possible for a text to be a collection of children’s stories aimed at adults; it’s possible for a narrative to be straightforward and complex; it’s possible for a story to be gay and Grimm.
Welcome to William Holden’s A Twist of Grimm: Erotic Fairy Tales for Gay Men.
Few people realize that the Grimm brothers were philologists who happened into folkloric research as a diversion from their academic studies. Excited by the prospect of preserving oral narratives, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm journeyed through rural Germany in the early 1800s, collecting and cataloguing the folk tales that are today known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
The original works were published under the title Kinder – und Hausmärchen in 1812 and proved so successful a second volume was released in 1815. The stories still enjoy phenomenal success in our modern, twenty-first century world. It’s fair to say that, since those halcyon days of the early 1800s, the Grimm’s fairytales have become part of our international literary heritage. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood have all entered our cultural identity through the Grimm’s Kinder – und Hausmärchen. Furthermore, as those stories have been appropriated into broader fictions (ballets, operas, films and Disney cartoons) it’s easy to see how they’ve shaped our collective consciousness.
Bruno Bettelheim, the Austro-American child psychologist, seemed to understand the importance of these narratives in his 1976 title, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Bettelheim, an exponent of Freud’s psychosexual theories of interpretation, explained how many of these narratives are rich with sexual imagery.
It’s at this point where the majority of us take a deep breath, shake our head in dismay, and then mutter, “I can’t believe they let kids read this sort of stuff.” However, the truth is that the stories were never intended just for children. Kinder – und Hausmärchen translates literally into Children’s and Household Tales. It’s a sad fact of our times that too many readers think fairy stories are only for children and only ever were for children. The truth is: they never were just for kids.
Mitzi Szereto published adult fairy tales in, Erotic Fairy Tales: A Romp Through the Classics and In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed. Kristina Wright published Fairy Tale Lust. Alison Tyler edited Alison’s Wonderland. And now we have William Holden’s appropriation of Grimm Tales: A Twist of Grimm: Erotic Fairy Tales for Gay Men.
This is a slim volume of short erotic gay fiction. Thirteen stories, each one based on a Grimm fairytale. The writing, as one expects from Holden, is a combination of ruthlessly efficient prose and homoerotic eloquence.
I started on “Joshua and his Many Men” a retelling of the Grimm’s original story, “Death’s Messengers.” In the original story, a giant fights and triumphs over Death. A passing youth helps Death to recover from his ordeal. As a reward, Death promises the youth that he will send messengers to warn him when it is his turn to be taken.
And Holden’s narrative follows the same structure. In this version we have a name for the youth (Joshua), and when Death’s messengers visit Joshua, they bring a salacious abandon to the story that was missing from the original.
“Death’s Messengers” is an allegorical tale. The story progresses to its conclusion with Death coming for the youth. When the youth protests that Death didn’t send the messengers he had promised, Death explains that the youth was visited by his brothers, Fever, Dizziness, Gout, Toothache and Sleep. Those five were his messengers.
On this level we can understand this working as a fable in the times of the early nineteenth century, where fever, dizziness and excessive sleep were precursors to death.
In some way, this personification of the abstract into the concrete works more effectively in Holden’s story, as Joshua is able interact sexually with Death’s messengers.
All in all, this is a fun collection of short stories. The only thing missing is an introduction to contextualize the collection. It would be interesting for Holden to say why he wanted to reinterpret these fairytales in such an adult manner, why he picked on these lesser known stories from the collection and didn’t touch the more popular stories and if there is any prospect of a further collection.But, even without that detail, the collection is a lot of fun and should help every reader get in touch with his inner child.
"Happy families are all alike," according to Leo Tolstoy. After reading Afternoon Pleasures, one might begin to wonder whether this is true of happy couples as well.
In this volume, Shane Allison has gathered seventeen explicit tales of gay sexual encounters, the preponderance involving men in long term relationships. True to its subtitle, the book serves up tale after cum-drenched tale about men enjoying each other's bodies. Quite a few of the authors interpret the book's title literally, writing of lust-filled, stolen afternoons in hotel rooms, trailers, log cabins, movie theaters or in one case, a museum.
This anthology includes some noteworthy stories. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it lacks variety. At least three quarters of the tales explore essentially the same scenario: a committed gay couple keeping the spark alive by inviting others into their sexual play, or by introducing new toys or activities, or by swapping roles. The style tends to be rather similar from one story to the next as well. With two exceptions, all the tales use a first person POV. Big, hairy bears predominate. The sexual descriptions almost universally involve copious amounts of bodily fluids. I found it difficult to keep the stories separate in my mind because of these commonalities.
One of my favorite tales in the collection was "Public Displays of Affection" by Logan Zachary, humorous fantasy that nevertheless manages to be very hot. Couple Quentin and Casey are both employed by the same museum and have trouble keeping their hands off each other during working hours. The situation comes to a head, so to speak, when they take delivery of a dozen anatomically correct male mannequins intended for a costume exhibit. The well-hung dummies turn out to be ideal play partners. Things reach an unexpected crisis when the museum's most important donor unexpectedly shows up to inspect the new exhibition.
Kyle Lukoff's "Something Different" was another story that kept my attention. A sub discarded by his first master decides to try being dominant for a change. The beautiful FTM transsexual he encounters in the BDSM club is more change than he'd bargained for, but both participants in the scene find a connection beyond the physical pleasure.
Although it is based on a similar premise to many other tales in the book, I particularly enjoyed "One Afternoon in the Bible Belt" by Jeff Mann, because of its skillful use of language and dynamic characterization. The narrator's a burly bear, a hot-headed good 'ole Southern boy, but his partner is a lean, self-contained Yankee. The eager young submissive they make into their "boy" for the afternoon is equally distinct.
Pepper Espinoza's "Tokens" also deserves mention, not only for its vivid characters (I loved Jake, the laid-back Mediterranean bad boy who hides his corporate lover's shoes in order to keep the man in his bed), but also because it deals with the beginning of a serious relationship as opposed to one of long standing.
Overall, though, the stories in Afternoon Pleasures are forgettable, at least partly because they are so much alike. I suspect that this may reflect the editor's preferences. It makes sense that he would accept stories that he personally found arousing. It's possible that his target audience (gay couples) would agree with his choices, of course.
If you decide to read Afternoon Pleasures, by the way, do not miss Shane Allison's deeply personal introduction, "Sex is a Cock-Ring Clad Angel." It's romantic, heartfelt and sexy all at the same time. Reading it, I have some sense of what Mr. Allison was trying to accomplish in this collection, and an uncomfortable feeling that maybe I'm looking at the book through too literary a lens.
If you're looking for commitment, happy endings, and lots of hot dick and ass, this may indeed be the book for you.
I just came back from the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, and while there I finished reading my review copy of Black Fire - oddly enough, right around the time I was gearing up for a panel about reviews.
One of the points that came up during the panel was how important it is to emphasize why something doesn't work for you, given that it might be a plus for someone else. I'll use the same example I used then: I can't handle gory scenes. Medical thrillers will never be my thing if I have to hear about the viscera. They're also incredibly popular, and people love them.
I like my erotica with a big helping of story. For me, much - in fact most - of the titillation is in the lead-up and foreplay. Scene erotica doesn't often work for me. It's a dive, rather than a slow wade.
So when Black Fire began with Landon Dixon's "Fitting Room" I'll admit I was a bit worried. It's not that the scene doesn't scorch - by no means is that the case - but the scene between a clothing clerk and a well-hung and fashion-conscious customer was immediate. I wanted more from the characters before the blowjobs and sweaty sex began. The sex is hot, the men were hot, but I didn't manage to connect. But if you're one who likes your erotica to launch from the springboard, you'll likely enjoy this piece just fine.
That said, the very next story, "Alex's Adventures in the Land of Wonder China Emporium" was as fun as it was hot, and the characters were incredibly well woven. Jamie Freeman has a whimsical re-telling of the Alice tale here, complete with musclebears Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Alex's attempt to head on back home is amusing - and hot - throughout. I'm a lover of the retelling of tales, and Freeman's erotic retelling is a blast. Definitely one of the more memorable stories.
"Mutinous Chocolate" by Tom Cardamone is another standout. Blurring the lines with a paranormal twist via magical chocolates that managed to titillate as well as deliver a bittersweet - pardon the pun - tale that was as moving as it was erotic. The sheer variety of the magical chocolates as they deliver sexual release to the character on a slow spiral of a breakdown is great. I want a box of these chocolates, and I hope Cardamone knows where I can place an order.
The theme of the erotica collection itself - Gay African-American Erotica - is presented in a range that doesn't shy away from some of the stereotypes, but doesn't wallow either. S.J. Frost's "Like a Dream" was my favorite of the collection. It's a great story of second chances and conveys a deft sense of the extra depth the closet often holds in the realm of the black male. There is a sense of the romantic, often lost in erotica. Garland Cheffield's "Tomorrow" gives us a club-culture snapshot, and delivers a wry and sexy story of a couple meeting in the frenzy of dance and music. But there's more - clandestine sex parties, boot fetishes, master-slave, college seduction and sex on the down-low. There's range.
The stories that had fleshed out plots were strong and definitely kept my attention. There's enough in here if you're like me and prefer your erotica to hold a tale while delivering the tail. If you're a fan of shorter, in media res scene erotica, then I think this collection will be all the stronger for you. It's a mix - like many anthologies - but didn't fall and stay trapped in cliché - a risk this theme might have easily presented.
The whole world is a bad neighborhood. Shit happens. Someone has to clean it up. And sometimes unexpected pleasure serves as a consolation prize.
This is the message of the stories in this collection, each featuring a lesbian police officer and a willing female civilian or rookie cop. It would be very easy for the contributors to a collection with this theme to write over-the-top fantasies about unstoppable woman warriors with bullet-proof flesh who rock-and-roll all night with sultry suspects, ignoring professional ethics. Luckily, none of the stories in this book is that kind of cartoon.
In "Dress Uniform" by Teresa Noelle Roberts, the narrator is a lesbian cop whose girlfriend has asked her to wear her uniform to a fetish fair. The narrator controls her temper, then explains:
I'm not a fetish, Lisette. My uniform isn't a cos-play outfit or a vest and leather pants. Every time I've spanked you, you've been spanked by a cop. By me. By a woman you say you care about. And if that's not good enough for you, if you need the fucking uniform, I don't know what to do, because I can't treat it like fetish gear.
The narrator feels used and misunderstood, but then she reflects on the nature of sexual attraction:
Sure, we happened to fit each other's fantasy look, but a lot of relationships started based on nothing more substantial than having an eye for curvy African-American women or redheads or tanned blonde athletes or whatever. Just because we each had a fetish for what the other wore didn't mean we didn't connect on other levels. We'd work this out somehow.
Lisette apologizes for pushing the narrator to accommodate her fetish, and the narrator finds a way to "work this out." She buys a "police uniform" in a fetish-wear store to wear for sex-play. In some sense, she agrees to play the role of sexy cop to please the woman in her life when she is not actually doing her job.
Several of these stories deal with the stress on family members, especially spouses, of police work. In "A Cop's Wife" by Evan Mora, the narrator gets anonymous telephoned threats for her wife Patrice, a Canadian cop who has captured violent sex offenders. As Patrice reminds her wife, the threats are a part of her job. Under the circumstances, sex between the two women is a life-affirming refusal to surrender to fear.
In "Raven Brings the Light" by Kenzie Mathews, another relationship story set in a harsh northern climate (Alaska), the schoolteacher narrator is shaken by a TV news announcement about the murder of a young woman she knew. The teacher's partner, a cop, "didn't want to talk about it when she finally came home."
The narrator explains her partner's background:
In Thomasane's family, no one ever dared to laugh or smile, much less talk.
The narrator even talks to her beloved rescue dogs. The two women bridge the gap between their communication styles by sharing traditional First Nations stories about Raven, a trickster figure who found a way to steal the precious light of the sun, moon and stars and throw them in the sky. It's a story of hope, and it's enough to convey the flavor of their relationship.
Another realistic story about an established relationship between a cop and her partner is "Chapel Street Blue" by R.V. Raiment. In this story, the cop is blessed or cursed with movie-star glamor, and she has to deal with a garden-variety horndog, the male cop she works with, while investigating the murder of a young sex worker by a more violent man. The cop's partner, the narrator, offers her the distraction of sex which ends dramatically:
A sudden surge and we are sliding sweat-soaked and laughing from the gorgeous peak, my lovely law-woman and I.
But that's not the end of the story, which concludes with a revelation about how this perfect partnership began.
The story with the grittiest emotional tone in the collection is "A Prayer Before Bed" by Annabeth Leong. Once again, the murder of a woman by a violent man is the catalyst that kicks off the plot. In this case, however, trust is in short supply between the woman cop investigating the case and the woman witness who knows she is instrumental to it. Sexual attraction is a spark between them from the moment they meet, and emotional intimacy follows slowly.
"Officer Birch" is about a woman cop whose "professional" distance breaks the heart of the lonely young lesbian who reaches out to her for recognition and guidance. In a bittersweet sequel to an unequal relationship formed in a high school, the officer responds to a love-note twelve years after it is pressed into her hand. The young dyke who has never forgotten her says bluntly: Whatever we are, whatever this is, is not a friendship. Whatever it is is intensely sexual.
Stories that feature BDSM scenes (as distinct from rough sex) include "Hollis" by Jove Belle, set in boot camp, and "Riding the Rails" by the editor, Sacchi Green, set on a train on which the spoiled fourth wife of a sultan must be escorted to Washington DC by a woman cop who encounters a woman she has known for years, a fellow-officer. In a claustrophobic, rhythmically-moving environment that no one can escape until the train stops, who will do what to whom else? The suspense builds to a climax.
In "Undercover" by Ily Goyanes, the narrator resents her assignment:
A lesbian rookie vice detective going undercover as a hooker. . . who woulda thunk?
The narrator has no desire to arrest johns when more violent offenders are at large. When a car pulls up and a woman with an air of command asks for the narrator's services, the undercover cop faces a dilemma: to keep the wire that will secretly record their conversation, or remove it and risk her career in law-enforcement. As things turn out, both women get what they want, and no one would dare penalize either of them.
In the humorous "Torn Off a Strip" by Elizabeth Coldwell, a woman officer is called to a party where a young amateur stripper deserves punishment--not for showing her body or for selling sex, but for supplementing her income with theft. The sex is hot, and the ending is happy.
Stories by Delilah Devlin, R.G. Emmanuelle, Andrea Dale and J.L. Merrow are gentler accounts of the routine stresses of police life and the challenge of a civilian who wants to seduce a cop.
In "How Does Your Garden Grow?" by Cheyenne Blue, a lush garden grown by an eccentric woman in the Australian outback is investigated by a policewoman who is really more interested in a different kind of bush than in digging up anything illegal. "Healing Hand" by Lynn Mixon features a woman in the witness protection program and the woman cop who wants to ensure her safety. In this case, the healing is mutual.
These stories vary considerably in tone, but all are memorable. This anthology is about sex for grown-ups, and about the nature and price of power.
Just don't steal it. You never know who might be watching you.
*Long sigh* Where to start?
Vancouver Nights is the third in a series of Charlie Heggensford Adventures. The first two are Fluffers, Inc and A Carnal Cruise. It follows Charlie the fluffer (if you don't know what that is, look it up) through a pet-napping caper in, you guessed it, Vancouver.
My motto is to judge a book for what it is. Vancouver Nights isn't literary erotica, so I won't hold it to that standard. It's more like reading a novelization of a porn flick made by one of those directors from the 1970s who actually tried to do a story. I know that it's fashionable to sneer at wank fiction, but a talented porn writer can get the reader hot and ready in a couple sentences, and I respect that ability. There's nothing wrong with a mindless, fun sex romp. Unfortunately, judged on the merits of porn, Vancouver Nights doesn’t quite make the grade either.
The dialog in the sex scenes is lifted right out of a porn flick. Most of the characters are porn actors, so maybe that would be okay in one scene, but since the thin plot is only there to string together many sex scenes, it gets old fast. The sex is repetitious and skimmable. If you're using it to jerk off, that might not matter to you, but since I was trying to read it as a novel, it mattered a lot. Besides, I know several sex workers, and the last thing they do in real life is walk around spouting porn dialog.
My biggest gripe with this book was the Chinese women who talked like Charlie Chan. Ugh. I'm surprised that the publisher let that go. Water sports and fisting I have no problem with but the racial stereotyping was offensive.
So how do I rate this? As literary erotica it would get a thumbs down review. As wank fiction, I'll give it a marginal sideways rating.