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26 April 2009 @ 04:42 pm
Conference presentation  
Slashing the Slash: or (with apologies to Mary Balogh) Slightly Bisexual: The story behind Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander


{I thanked Eric Selinger and Bill Gleason for including me, a one-novel author (with another coming out in January), among all these scholars and bestselling multi-book authors; Michelle Buonfiglio of Romance B(u)y the Book, for supporting Phyllida from the beginning, giving me several guest-blog spots, and for turning Eric on to it. Without her I would not be here; Pamela Regis for giving me so much free publicity [she showed the cover in her presentation and has changed her definition of a romance novel because of Phyllida]; and the two Sarahs: Sarah Frantz of Teach Me Tonight and Dear Author; and Sarah Wendell (SB Sarah) of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. Both Sarahs have supported and enjoyed Phyllida, and SB Sarah wrote a wonderfully witty and hilarious review when it was first self-published.}

{I have sometimes described Phyllida as an m/m/f or "bisexual" Regency romance and I wonder how this fits into the conference's theme of American culture. The Regency romance is the most "English" of historical romance forms. Americans have always written "English" forms of literature, and I am American, and that makes my book part of American culture.}

When I set out to write Phyllida, I was lucky in the way that only unpublished first-time authors can be. I had nothing to lose, nothing to prove, and only myself to please. And that's where Phyllida came from: it was the story I wanted to read, to please myself, because it seemed to me that no one had yet told my story. I mean that in the literal way—my book that I wrote—and also in the autobiographical sense. It's said that every novelist's first book is autobiographical, and Phyllida is no exception. I often call it my fantasy autobiography.

***Please don't take offense at my use of terms like escapism or fantasy. I think all good writing is escapist in the best sense: it takes us out of ourselves, our lives, our very consciousness. You don't have to be trying to escape anything bad to enjoy the transporting feeling of entering another universe created by a talented writer. Similarly, fantasy, as I see it, can simply be what a recent post on the RomanceScholar listserve called "epic." It's fiction squared or perhaps cubed, raised to a higher power. Done well, it creates an obviously "false" world that reveals underlying and deeper truths.

The specific story that became Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander was inspired both by my reading of historical romance and by the relatively recent development called “slash fiction.” And there's a third parent too–-you see, I just can't get away from these threesomes: comedy. My writing voice is inevitably humorous. The best I can hope for is to write good comedy. I chose the Regency romance because it is usually lighthearted and droll. It suits my voice, the way Gilda in Rigoletto is a better role for a coloratura soprano than Carmen.

The biggest misconception I've seen about Phyllida is that it's the product of "good intentions." That I deliberately set out to write a sympathetic portrayal of a neglected, poorly understood and despised group—bisexuals. Let me say clearly for the record: I never had good intentions. I had only the most selfish of motives: to write my ideal romance. The characters are not meant to be "typical" bisexuals—I don't believe there is such a thing—and any transgressive behavior on their part was not meant to be "typical" of bisexual men now or at any time in the past. Their only "typicality" was to be archetypal Regency romance characters.

Now, what is slash fiction? It began with the original “Star Trek” TV show. Written almost entirely by women and for a female readership, slash takes an existing work and writes new storylines for some of the characters featuring same-sex relationships, usually man-on-man. The first slash stories were passed around surreptitiously at “Star Trek” conventions, woman to woman, a literally underground or at least under the table feminist take on the hammy, macho space opera. These stories, therefore, were simply the logical outgrowth of all that homoerotic subtext in "Star Trek," providing women viewers with what we most wanted to see: an explicit sexual relationship, so clearly implied in the show, between Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock. The term “slash” does not refer to cutting, but to the typographical symbol, that character usually found on the lower right of the keyboard. The slash was used to indicate which characters had the same-sex relationship. Those first Kirk-Spock stories would be marked as K / S.

Since that time, slash has become so popular that it has merged in ways I don’t completely understand with “fanfiction:” online unpublished stories written by fans of TV shows, books, movies, etc. Slash- and fan- are almost identical forms of –fiction and the terms are almost interchangeable. There is, of course, f/f slash, the prototype being stories based on “Xena, Warrior Princess.” It's always same-sex, because who needs more hetero love stories? There are slashes of just about any well-known and beloved story you can think of, including Georgette Heyer’s, even some based on </i>These Old Shades</i>, with the Duke of Avon and his friend Hugh Davenant enjoying the same-sex relationship. There's even, inevitably, a slash title, "Regency Fuck." [A play on a well-known work of Heyer's, The Regency Buck.]

What is the appeal of slash for women? “Forbidden fruit.” There’s even an online slash magazine called “Forbidden Fruitzine.” It’s frequently pointed out that the bulk of the audience for “Queer as Folk” was women. There’s been a long history of denial of women’s interest in the male body and male sexuality apart from a particular woman’s (barely) acceptable interest in a particular man’s relationship with her. Until recently, women couldn’t go to gay bars the way we do now. But just as in the past, when "ladies" weren’t supposed to know anything about sex or men, that didn't mean they weren't interested, and aroused.

But as m/m romances and slash are being written by women for women, there's one aspect of them that doesn’t appeal to me: it’s all “look but don’t touch.” Here are women writing about men having sex with each other, for the delectation of women readers, but all the main characters are men and the women never get any of that action. Now, I love reading about two sexy men falling in love and making love. But I can't write such a story. I may not always “identify” with the heroine in a romance novel, but I do like having a female point of view. As someone from the RomanceScholar listserve put it a while ago: "Where am I? (in this story?) Where is she?"

In many ways my training for this writing was my reading. Two specific influences were Mary Renault and Marion Zimmer Bradley and her sword-and-sorcery world of Darkover. In Renault's work I encountered the gay or bisexual hero for the first time: the honorable, masculine warriors of The Last of the Wine, and the idealized Alexander the Great of Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy. Zimmer Bradley was one of the first fantasy authors to feature a bisexual male character. Not some sort of wishy-washy, "am I gay or straight" tormented soul, but a sexy, tall, dark, dangerous swordsman. He was openly attracted to young men, but admitted to having the occasional moment of “impulse”—attraction, even marriage, to a woman. Oh, be still my heart! Years later, when it finally occurred to me that I could write fiction after all, I had my subject: The bisexual husband.

We're told to write what we know, and apart from my reading I knew very little. In my college years and after I hung out with the gay crowd, and I learned that men are more like each other than they are like women. That gay men, bisexual men and straight men are all from Mars. I don’t mean men and women are different species or that we can’t communicate—that’s the whole fun of romance novels, learning how. It’s just that I see a fundamental difference between men’s experience of being “in love” and having a relationship, and women's experience.

So the one thing I knew for sure was that I was going to write a Regency romance with a bisexual hero. What I was doing here is not technically slash. Slash takes a particular story: "Star Trek" episodes, These Old Shades, and particular characters, Kirk and Spock, Avon and Hugh Davenant, and writes new storylines that involve a same-sex relationship. But in Phyllida I slashed a genre, not a specific story or set of characters. And then, I slashed the slash. I introduced the hero as gay from the beginning, and showed him in love with a man and attracted to men—that's the first slash. But then I slashed again, writing a heroine back into this all-male paradise.

There are many elements of the Regency romance that seem to work well with slash. For one thing, the Regency comic romance isn't exactly a realistic depiction of the past. Is any comedy totally realistic? In a way, it was almost a disappointment to discover what a well-documented gay subculture existed at the time, because it meant my epic fantasy comedy was going to have to come down to earth occasionally.

Another element of the Regency romance I particularly liked was that alpha male hero. I wanted to give my heroine (me) what all romance heroines deserve: The man who's out of her league—in fact, he's playing for the other team! A Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Rochester. He had to be confident, maybe a bit of a swaggerer, which is why the coming-out story has no appeal for me as a writer. This man has long-ago taken his sexuality in stride and moved on. And here, again, the upper-class society of the typical Regency romance--that "disordered" or "corrupt" society that Pamela Regis discusses--works equally well whether the hero is straight or gay. In this world of wealthy and idle young men, gambling, drinking and dissipation are the preferred occupations, the idea of falling in love with a woman is despised as unlikely and demeaning, and marriage is a burden to be avoided at all costs.

***The traditional Regency hero often has a preference for a certain type of woman. Over the course of the story, he is surprised to find himself falling in love with a very different sort of woman. Again, gay or straight didn’t matter that much in this setting. I imagined my hero having a taste for big blondes. The fact that, in Phyllida, these were hunky blond men didn’t really change anything. There was still the fun of showing my hero discovering his growing love for his petite, "undistinguished brunette" of a wife. There was also the fun of contrasting the "love at first sight" story of the hero with his boyfriend—the sort of love that men tend to have—with the gradual, developing-over-time love with his wife that is the stuff of hetero romance.

It's when we get to the ending(s), the happily-ever-after(s), that the problems with my slashed Regency became apparent. Most romances end with the hero choosing a monogamous relationship. But here, whether my hero chose the man or the woman, neither option was going to work. If he chooses the woman, that's simply unbelievable and so politically incorrect. It's also unappealing to me as author and surrogate heroine. I like him gay, I wrote him gay, and I want him to go one having that exciting same-sex sex that turns me on just thinking about it.

But if he chooses the man over the woman: I think Lucy Ricardo on "I Love Lucy" said it best: "Waaaaaahhhhhhh." After I went to all this trouble writing the woman back into the slashed m/m story, he can't reject me! I mean, who's writing this story anyway? And this is the inspiration for my idea of the husband who gets to have it both ways, and the genesis of what Eric called a "fractal" novel that has it both ways in so many areas.

This also explains those various other "bisexual" marriages that populate the novel. In imagining what a double-slashed bisexual Regency romance would be, I had weighed a number of options, even started three or four novels left unfinished. They weren't "wrong," but they weren't "my" story in the autobiographical sense. So I didn't completely abandon them but used them in this novel as other examples of bisexual marriage. There's no "typical" bisexual, and there are many ways of making a ménage: this was a selection. I also admit to the opinion that every man—perhaps every woman as well—would have it both ways if he could, and to encouraging my characters to go for it as I wrote. I like to think of Ann Herendeen's fictional world as one in which all the women are handsome and all the men bisexual…

To quote from a New York Times article: [Sunday Styles section of March 15, 2009, "The Pleasure Principle," about One Taste, a San Francisco retreat that offers "orgasmic meditation" focusing on women's sexuality:]

" 'In our culture, women have been conditioned to have closed sexuality and open feelings, and men to have open sexuality and closed feelings. There's this whole area of resistance and shame.' "

This is a perfect encapsulation of the mission of the contemporary historical romance. We are writing love stories now, many of them sexual or erotic, about the past. But we bring a modern perspective on love and sex to what was so often "closed" and "shameful." Just as Georgette Heyer brought a 1920s or 30s sensibility to her depiction of the Regency, so I used the similarity between the 18th-century gay subculture and the 1970s of my youth to give a new perspective to the historical romance.

Especially in the area of women's sexuality, we can look at things in a more open way, acknowledging that, whether they were supposed to or not, whether they could show them or not, women have always had sexual desires. If I, a twenty-first century woman, find something arousing about a sexy man; if I enjoy the sight of him embracing another sexy man, chances are a woman in the past, even a lady, might have experienced such feelings too. If she could not admit it, I can. And my role as her spokeswoman, perhaps my duty, is to give her feelings voice, to practice the freedom for her that she could not enjoy then.

Finally, romance novels are congenial to the idea that people, men and women, can fall in love outside of their usual comfort zone or preferred type. In today's world, where men's sexuality is often defined purely at the biological level, where sexual orientation is said to be hard-wired, romance novels allow for the possibilities of love in all its messy, emotional and psychological ambiguity. We can, in fact, sometimes do, choose love with our hearts and our minds as well as with our lower body parts.

***Paragraphs marked were omitted in talk for time constraints

{Sections in curly brackets are last-minute additions to the prepared version in response to other presentations and/or because of my perception that they were now necessary.}

[Sections in straight brackets are explanations for readers now that I did not actually speak at the conference].

 
 
 
Chicken  Fried Jochickenfried_jo on April 26th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
I didn't understand myself and my own sexuality until I read slash. I never had any use for women in slash stories. I wasn't much interested, having read what others thought my experience should be for the first 34 years of my life, I had absolutely no desire to read that in my slash. My 'where am I' moment came when I realized I identified with the male characters. I wanted to be them and I inhabited them when I wrote them. I found it uniquely freeing and exhilerating to write about sexuality from a perspective free from slander, judgment or loss of reputation.
My experience is my own, I don't speak for anyone else. I have read others say similar things about their experience.
Also, my understanding of slash is the transgressive act of taking canonically straight characters and writing them as gay. To write a gay or bi character, is gay fiction and not slash. That is the understanding I have. There are a number of writers in fandom who've published former slash stories as gay fiction with degrees of success. I've read them and liked some. What makes them original slash fiction, to me, is HOW the characters are written. Men written from a uniquely female and fan oriented understanding of relationships.
ann_amalieann_amalie on April 26th, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your comment: "My experience is my own. I don't speak for anyone else."

When I say that I missed the presence of a female character in slash or m/m, that doesn't mean there's anything "wrong" with these forms of fiction. It's not a criticism of the genres. It's a statement of my emotional response to them.

My own (limited) experience reading slash and m/m fiction led me to want to write a different kind of story. But I had no expectation that others would "like" my kind of story, or identify with it. Of course I hoped some would, but it wasn't my motivation for writing. That was the freedom of being an unpublished first-time author. I could please myself.

I like your definition of slash: "taking canonically straight characters and writing them as gay." That's why I said I slashed the (sub)genre of Regency romance, not a particular story, and that it therefore wasn't technically slash. In the "canon" of Regency romance, the hero is straight--so, in a way, I felt I was slashing the genre by writing a gay/bi hero.

And I love what you say about how you "identified with the male characters. I wanted to be them and I inhabited them when I wrote them. I found it uniquely freeing and exhilerating..." That's the wonderful thing about writing. It frees us to be who we (really) are by inhabiting the fictional characters we create.

I hope you didn't take away from my talk the message that there's only one "right" way to experience fiction of any kind, slash, m/m or anything else. I meant entirely the reverse: that we each experience it in our own unique way. All I was doing was sharing my experiences of reading to explain where my book came from.

Thanks again for writing a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment.
Chicken  Fried Jo: beautiful death by ? gravyard_lore commchickenfried_jo on April 26th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
You are right, of course. I had a knee-jerk reaction to your written definition of slash. Slash is so subjective and personal. And what a wonderful experience to write the story you wanted to read. That is my goal in all writing or any of my creative endeavors. How sad that we must leave that behind or that it becomes a greater challenge when one becomes published/popular. I have no doubt that everyone responds differently to stories. It's inevitable.

I had the interesting experience of sharing one of my favorite slash stories with a roomy who is a gay man and a writer. I was trying to explain to him how transformative slash had been for me and how freeing it was to read stories written from my perspective. I wanted him to experience that too. But he had a very different response. He liked the writing, was very impressed by it but the story didn't move him. He couldn't get 'into' it. At first I was disappointed. But then, I thought, we all, as I said above, have different responses to fiction. Slash is a genre for 'me', but not everyone and I was sad and a little bittersweet about not being able to share that with him.

I do see your point about slashing the genre. The characters are, in genre, canonically straight. To write them as bi or gay would be slashing them. Took me a little time to sort through what you said.

If you ever want to read more deeply, I have several recs for stories that were lifechanging for me. Stories I return to that make me think and marvel at the efforts of authors, women, who take time to give, really give, something amazing to the genre.

Thank you for responding.

cfj.
ann_amalieann_amalie on April 26th, 2009 11:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad that we are re-connecting (reconciling?) over this. I just emailed someone about how "visceral" this whole subject seems to be, how uncomfortable it makes people.

The saddest part for me is if people perceive my reactions to something as criticisms of theirs. It's not arithmetic. There's not only one "right" answer.

I spoke with SB Sarah (of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) at the conference. We agreed that often the hardest distinction for people to make is when there's something they don't like about a book. That doesn't automatically mean it's bad writing. (Of course, it could also be bad writing, but that, to me, is much more about language, style and voice.)

It was becoming a writer myself that gradually opened my eyes. Francine Prose, in her How to Read Like a Writer, says that, for example, characters don't have to be likable, only interesting. But so often if we "don't like" a character, a situation or a plot we say the book is "bad."

Perhaps the most interesting thing for me in specific reactions to my book, is that the group one might most expect not to like it--gay men--does not have a monolithic response to it, any more than other groups do. Some gay men think it's a hoot that the hero gets to "have it both ways." Others, as expected, dislike the idea of a woman in the story. It's readers and writers of slash fiction and m/m (predominantly women) who tend to have this most "visceral" reaction.

Thanks again for "sorting through" what I was trying to say. And yes, please do send me your recs. I may not want to "read more deeply" (so many books, so little yada yada yada) but I would love to know what kinds of things were lifechanging for you.
Chicken  Fried Jochickenfried_jo on April 27th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)
I'm reminded again that I must take my time, must consider what's being said. Thank you for your patience.

Not an exhaustive list, but stories that changed the way I think about myself and think about storytelling:

Monogatari
By Winterlive
Fandom: SPN RPS - Jared/Jensen

An Alternate Reality story. Japan conquered the world and is divided into Shogunates. Jensen Ackles is the White Hound of Shogun Watanabe and is selected to take a Shudo Student. He chooses another white man, Jared Padalecki, a dedicated yet headstrong young Samurai to share his house, his teachings and his bed.

A beautifully researched and crafted story of love, duty and honor. Breathtaking.

The King of New Orleans
By _cee who goes by Traveller now
Fandom: Lotrips - Viggo/Orlando (other pairings)

When road weary photographer Viggo Mortensen takes his work to New Orleans to document the homeless children on the streets, he catches more than he thought he would in the form of a spirit, the King of New Orleans, Orlando.

This story changed me. The prose is breathtaking, the story is immense and yet so intimate. It's about love and loss and promises and mystery. It's an amazing and heartbreaking journey.

Into His Hand
By Drvsilla
Fandom: SPN RPS - Jared/Jensen

World Class Bull rider Jensen Ackles has been on the circuit for enough years to know the ropes of the PBR. That's why they send rookie Jared Padalecki along with him. Along the way they find victory and each other.

This story. THIS story, taught me the meaning of patience and timing. The prose is astonishing, lush, so very western, so very cowboy, utterly male. Drvsilla is one talented writer. The romance is slow growing, organic and very much a part of each of them. So tender, so raw and passionate. So real. Just, yeah. This one.


There are so many more. I'm sure I'll spend the next week coming up will all manner of 'must reads'.






ann_amalieann_amalie on April 27th, 2009 04:37 am (UTC)
Thanks for the reading list. That's a fascinating (and dangerous!) area you go into in your original comment describing how the characters are written in slash: "Men written from a uniquely female and fan oriented understanding of relationships."

Yes, I think that's a big part of it too, but controversial, at least from what I've seen on some blog discussions.

Also, just wanted to edit myself: the correct title of Francine Prose's book is Reading Like a Writer. There doesn't seem to be any way to edit my own comment, and didn't want to leave that botched title up there.
dr_laura_vdr_laura_v on April 29th, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC)
"I hope you didn't take away from my talk the message that there's only one "right" way to experience fiction of any kind, slash, m/m or anything else. I meant entirely the reverse: that we each experience it in our own unique way."

"The characters are not meant to be "typical" bisexuals—I don't believe there is such a thing."

I wonder if these statements about uniqueness and a lack of a "typical" kind of person of a given type could be extended to encompass a couple of other things you mention in your presentation.

You state that

"I learned that men are more like each other than they are like women. That gay men, bisexual men and straight men are all from Mars. I don’t mean men and women are different species or that we can’t communicate—that’s the whole fun of romance novels, learning how. It’s just that I see a fundamental difference between men’s experience of being “in love” and having a relationship, and women's experience."

I'm not sure what you think these fundamental differences are, but I don't think I can agree with you on this. I don't have any experience of feeling that men are "from Mars." Some men think in ways that I find a bit difficult to understand, but the same is true of many women.

"I also admit to the opinion that every man—perhaps every woman as well—would have it both ways if he could."

Are you saying that there's "only one "right" way to experience" sexuality, namely bisexuality? Or do you mean that everyone would like to have two partners (one of each sex)? Either way, I don't think this can be true, if only because it's such a generalisation. I admit I don't have any statistics to offer in support of my counter-argument. I also wonder where your opinion leaves asexuals.
ann_amalieann_amalie on April 29th, 2009 10:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, outed at last. The truth is I'm a humorist--or I try to be. I make exaggerated statements in order to get laughs.

This "conference presentation" I posted was fifteen minutes of genuine, honest opinion and background as to my worldview, desires, turn-ons, etc., that led me to write Phyllida (the reason I was invited to be a panelist with all these genuine scholars and authors)--tricked up to be entertaining. It was a way of showing that the style of the writing and my personal style are not entirely dissimilar.

But your questions do deserve serious answers:

1. I can't define the ways in which men seem to experience relationships differently from women. I can only say that it's the feeling I have from talking with men about intimate stuff, when I'm lucky enough to be so close to a man that we can do that.

I think these days more of us, men and women, are consciously working to bridge the gaps that the culture tends to set up between the sexes, whereas in the past the goal seemd to be emphasizing differences. So it could be that my feelings or experience or memory or whatever you want to call it will become rare, even obsolete over time, and that younger people won't have my experiences. I'm 54, and I suspect people in their 30s and younger simply don't experience men and women and their relationships the way I did in my 20s during the 1970s.

2. No, I don't think there's "only one right way" to experience sexuality. I'm not sure there's only one right way to do anything. (Humorous answers to this riddle welcome).

3. I think everyone would like to have a partner of each sex, but only by a very broad definition of "partner" and "sex." (Many people believe there are more than two sexes.) So, by this waffling, I mean that most of us, if we're in a monogamous relationship, enjoy having a friend or someone we can be intimate with (sexually or not) of a different sex than our partner. And yes, some bisexual people do see having a partner of each sex as an ideal.

4. Where does this leave asexuals? All alone by the telephone. Sorry.

This is why you can't analyze humor.

I truly am sorry if you felt offended or irritated by my "talk."

I'm not an expert on anything. I don't use statistics. I just write fiction. I make it up and I base what I make up on the way things look to me, from inside my no doubt very warped mind. Then I try to write it funny so that I get laughs when people read it or hear me talk. I got laughs at the conference. That was my goal.

One of the other panelists said to me after I sat down that I "shook the ground." He was impressed that I'd said all this stuff that was going to make people mad or at least uncomfortable.

And yes, there are are some things that are so offensive or serious or dangerous that we shouldn't make jokes about them. Finding those subjects and daring to work with them and being funny anyway--that is every comedian's goal. And if we fail the first time we just keep trying and trying...

Thank you for your forebearance.

dr_laura_vdr_laura_v on April 29th, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
"Oh, outed at last. The truth is I'm a humorist--or I try to be. I make exaggerated statements in order to get laughs. [...] I try to write it funny so that I get laughs when people read it or hear me talk. I got laughs at the conference. That was my goal."

I expect it comes across a bit differently in a spoken presentation, when people can tell more easily that you're shifting from more serious parts of the presentation to ones which are intended to be more humorous.

I'm 54, and I suspect people in their 30s and younger simply don't experience men and women and their relationships the way I did in my 20s during the 1970s.

I'm about 20 years younger than you, so I fall into that latter demographic. I've also noticed cultural differences e.g. when I was younger, I'd go on holiday with my parents to visit my family in Spain, and I noticed that there it was common for young adults to go around in big, mixed-sex groups. That wasn't something that I saw happening in the UK (though it's not as though all parts of the UK or of Spain are the same, so I wouldn't want to generalise about this). It makes me think that culture can play a very big part in emphasising particular kinds of differences and expressions of those differences.

"I truly am sorry if you felt offended or irritated by my "talk.""

I wasn't offended. I was just seeking clarification, really, of the few bits that raised an eyebrow. Maybe I should have prefaced my comments by saying that I enjoyed reading your presentation, instead of leaping straight in and asking about the other bits. Sometimes I forget to mention the positive reactions I've had to a paper/presentation because I'm more intrigued by the bits I'd quibble with/question, but I should try harder not to, as it probably gives a misleadingly negative impression of my overall reaction.

What you said about there having "been a long history of denial of women’s interest in the male body" reminded me of Erotica Cover Watch's campaign to get more men on the covers of erotica.
ann_amalieann_amalie on April 30th, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
No need to apologize. I vacillated over whether to post my "presentation" at all precisely because it is a spoken piece.

But then I thought, why not. And I was curious to see what it would read like. It's a dilemma because as I've said many times, Phyllida is a very personal book--my "fantasy autobiography." I can't deny the essential truth--for me--of the story. For example, I am genuinely turned on by the idea of being married to a stereotypical Regency romance hero who loves me but who is also sexually and emotionally involved with a man.

But since my voice is a humorous one, I also can't help seeing the potential comedy in the situation--the inverted Regency romance conventions of ballrooms and salons and gentlemen's clubs, etc.

The conference organizers are planning to publish a book of the proceedings eventually, and if that happens I intend to send in the long version of my talk. It's still the same kind of essay, because it's the only kind of thing I felt capable of writing, but I think there will be a slightly more even ratio in it between "serious" content and humor.

I don't think of myself as a philosopher, and I certainly don't think of myself as expressing the opinion of a huge number of other people. All I'm trying to do is write honestly.

ann_amalieann_amalie on April 30th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm feeling profoundly stupid. I mean, seriously clueless. Dear Dr. Laura V.--can you ever forgive me for not recognizing you from Teach Me Tonight and the RomanceScholar listserv? (I kept thinking "Hmmm...Dr. Laura V...who does that remind me of?" And not coming up with anything.)

My only excuse is that I've been at my day job (library cataloger) these past couple of days. My mind is so clogged with semicolons and Russian series titles and diacritics and Serbian government agencies and Chinese insects and the double-dagger symbol used to indicate a subfield in the OCLC cataloging program that I can barely see, much less think.

I wouldn't have been so flip if I'd made the connection, if only because I know you, from some of our "discussions" on the listserv, and from your many enlightening posts on TMT, as a scholarly person who looks at all this comedy and romance and popular culture in a serious and respectful way.

That said, I want to add a serious comment: I have what I think is a typical modern Freudian bias in that I think "everybody is bisexual," but only in the sense that we all have intimate feelings of some kind for people of "both" sexes. That doesn't mean we're all 50-50 bisexuals in our sexual relationships and it doesn't even mean that most of have sexual relationships with people of both sexes. It just means that (in my opinion) nobody is 100% "gay" or "straight."

I agree with the Eve Sedgwick's dislike of the either-or mentality, the desire to put us in rigid little containers and tape the lids shut. She saw sexuality as a continuum and so do I. Fritz Klein used a two-dimensional grid instead of the one-dimensional Kinsey scale, and there are even more complex and three-dimensional graphic representations these days.

Please forgive me for not recognizing you. It was lovely of you to read my blog and comment. The sooner I get back to my real job of writing sexy comedy, the saner I will become.

dr_laura_vdr_laura_v on May 2nd, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
Dear Dr. Laura V.--can you ever forgive me for not recognizing you from Teach Me Tonight and the RomanceScholar listserv?

There's nothing to forgive! It hadn't even crossed my mind to wonder whether or not you'd recognised me, because I didn't think it mattered much. I was rather focused on discussing some of the ideas you'd brought up in your presentation, but evidently my identity does affect how you interpret what I wrote.

I wouldn't have been so flip if I'd made the connection, if only because I know you, from some of our "discussions" on the listserv, and from your many enlightening posts on TMT, as a scholarly person who looks at all this comedy and romance and popular culture in a serious and respectful way.

Oh dear. This makes me worry that I came across as being disrespectful in my original comments, and that only my track record elsewhere would make you reach a different evaluation of them. I know I probably did come across as rather brusque because of the way I commented on just a few bits of the presentation.

I also didn't think you were being "flip" in your response. Maybe a bit defensive, but understandably so given that, as I realised later, I should have prefaced my queries with introductory comments which would have put them in context.

It was lovely of you to read my blog and comment.

I was very glad you decided to post it: it was very tantalizing to read about the presentations via Twitter and then brief summaries, so it's been a pleasure to be able to read a whole presentation. Pretty much as soon as I'd found it (via a tweet which mentioned that you'd put it up), I added a link to it at Teach Me Tonight, in the roundup of posts about the conference.
ann_amalieann_amalie on May 3rd, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
"I was rather focused on discussing some of the ideas you'd brought up in your presentation, but evidently my identity does affect how you interpret what I wrote."

Well, as I said, it's only that I've been having issues with people who sometimes don't see that I'm writing humorously, whereas I know you to be someone who does see that and then goes beyond that into the ideas. It's the dfference between someone who looks at a Picasso and says "Phooey. He got that all wrong. He put both eyes on the same side of the nose. He can't draw and he probably drinks too much to see straight"--and someone who says "Hmm. Interesting. He put both the eyes on the same side of the nose. I wonder what he's saying by that? It reminds me of the way my Aunt Rose looked when she was crying after Uncle Herb died."

I don't like to give the impression that I'm just making jokes and not saying anything "real." But at the same time I worry that people will take Phyllida too seriously, in the sense that they'll think I'm making statements about "all bisexuals" instead of doing what any novelist does: telling a story about individual characters who find a solution that works for them but might not work for other people.