A guest post for the drollerie blog tour!  Enjoy- EGD

Dangerous Words

What is the most dangerous thing I’ve written? That’s always a moving target. I often write stories that deal with politics and religion. Some people say you shouldn’t, but that strikes me as absurd. Politics and religion are a part of life, so leaving them out seems insincere. Shakespeare wrote about politics, as did Mark Twain. C.S. Lewis hardly wrote anything that didn’t deal with religion. I try not to let my own views get in the way of an honest character portrayal.

But the most dangerous stories I write are about sex.

In college I wrote a short-short story called “WELCOME (a fairy tale)” that begins, “You know the story where a frog turns into a prince? Well, once upon a time I kissed a girl and she turned into a doormat.”

A week after it came out in the student literary magazine, a columnist for the campus newspaper excoriated the magazine for publishing a story that “condones rape.” And for 2 weeks I was the hot topic on campus. Much was made of the sentence “Sometimes I’d knock first, sometimes I wouldn’t.” And much should have been. I agonized about whether to keep that sentence in but ultimately made the call (rightly, I think) to skim the surface of the darkness it hinted at.

The only beef I have with the article is its use of the word “condone.” Perhaps I should not have expected college students to grasp an unreliable narrator. Or to read 3 layers deep instead of just 2.

Now I’m at it again.

Like religion and politics, sex is a part of life (essential to the continuation of the species and all), and often associated with conflict and emotional distress. But, of course, distress and conflict make a good story, whereas contentment rarely does. So I do tend to pay more attention to detail when the details are relevant to the character or the story. So healthy, fulfilling sex is portrayed off scene, or through the eyes of the jealous, slighted lover. But when consent is not quite clear, or when a struggle for power depends on the nuance of every touch–that is when the details are important to the story and must be told. The consequence ends up being that the more disturbing the sex is, the more graphically I describe it.

In Shadow of the Antlered Bird, I wrote a birth-of-monster scene about which one reviewer  wrote “if you’re contemplating becoming a mother, skip that page. Trust me on this.”

In the short story “Wood,” which will appear in the upcoming anthology Like a Sacred Desire from Circlet Press, I applied the same guidelines to my first, um, officially erotic story.  This is a hard one to discuss, because I feel like some readers need a justification for writing erotica, but others will feel I sell out if I give one. Personally, I believe erotica can have literary value, but I also know that erotic writing can get published without literary merit. But Circlet has higher standards than that, and of course my name would be on the finished work, so I decided from the outset that I would only do this if I could make it a good story, and one in which the sex was integral to the telling of the story and not just tacked on. The result was a tale in which an old witch uses illusion and sexual domination to exact revenge for something that needs avenging. You don’t find out what until almost the end, and whether she goes too far… well, you’ll have to decide that for yourself.

“Behind the Tower,” which recently appeared in the Drollerie e-book Straying from the Path, deals with a male-to-female transsexual’s first sexual act as a woman. Because of other circumstances it is an unhealthy, arguably abusive sexual encounter, but it serves a ritual function that helps her to become the person she was meant to be. A friend who read that story said it was hard to critique honestly, because the sex made her uncomfortable. I responded that it made me uncomfortable too.

Ultimately, if I ever write a story that opens old wounds for a reader, or leads to an angry mob coming after me with torches, then it won’t be because I questioned their leaders or their idea of God or gods, but because I wrote about incest, or a sexual power struggle, or an encounter involving ambiguous consent. But I also think these stories may be my best chance to write a story that helps someone heal, or to have an insight or understanding that they might not otherwise have had.

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