Wednesday, March 30, 2016


I see her fear as she feigns frivolity.

I see her eyes flicker with fleeting hope.
Her halting stride falters; she flees
his next strike even as she runs
back to his hand.

He sees it, too, and
he sees that I see it, though
he never really sees her.

He only sees her belatedly elated smile,
struggling to surface from beneath
her innate loyalty and the weight
of a simple gold band.

Background image by Steven Straiton

About this piece

I wrote this tonight in response to the latest prompt on Three Word Wednesday
  • elated (adjective)
  • flicker (verb) 
  • halting (adjective)
In reviewing my own work, I picked up a valuable tip for new players: check which part of speech you're meant to be working with. In my first attempt, I used flicker as a noun and halting as a verb. (Oops. It's fixed now.)

If you're reading my work regularly, you'll know I spend a lot of time editing. Not tonight, though! So I'll probably go back and change this many times over before I put it in print.

 Three Word Wednesday

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Fall short

Sometimes when I lie
close by your side and I breathe
you in, I know:
I must confess. I search
your eyes and I taste
my words, let them fall
out. I discover:
my words will always fall
short of what I mean,
short of what you mean
to me.

About this piece

Most days I believe my words can capture anything I'm challenged with. (Except maybe fairy tales.) But there is one case where words are not enough, and this is as close as it gets.

Friday, March 18, 2016

My story is in English

I recently entered an unusual short story competition. It wasn't cheap, but it had an interesting format and the organisers promised we'd receive judges' feedback. It seemed like a good investment, so I signed up, then waited for the official start.

A few weeks later I received my three-part prompt: a genre, a character and a subject. I hated all three, especially the genre, and if I'd had these details earlier I never would've signed up. Worse, I only had a week to deliver up to 2500 words on this topic not-of-my-choice.

But I'd already paid, so I squeezed out a story. (Yes, I used that phrase deliberately. What came out wasn't pretty; it stank.) I hated it almost as much as I hated the prompt, but I thought about that promised feedback and submitted it anyway.

I expected the feedback to be critical and I hoped I’d find it educational. But my excitement at its arrival in my inbox today soon turned to disappointment: the judges hadn’t covered anything I didn’t already know. (They were right, of course; they just weren't as insightful as I'd hoped.)

My disappointment flared into frustration when I read this patronising little nugget:

…she can now listen to animals (which is telepathic by the way, not psychic)…

Um. Do you even English?

The Oxford English Dictionary includes telepathy as an example of a psychic power.

(Before you get cheeky: yes, the US English definition is the same—no excuse!)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

He said, she said

'So, you come here often?'
she asked,
smiling, as if she knew
the answer.

I lied,
smiling, as if I knew
something she didn't.

'Oh, really?'
she asked,
smiling, as if she thought
I was telling a joke she didn't get.

I lied,
smiling, as if I was telling
the truth.

'How come I never saw you?'
she asked,
brows furrowed, as if she didn't believe
my words.

'Were you looking?'
I asked,
brows furrowed, as if genuinely perplexed
by her lack of recognition.

'I guess not,'
she conceded,
smiling, as if she forgave
things I hadn't yet done.

'You should have been,'
I offered,
smiling, as if I wanted
her conversation.

'I will next time,'
she promised,
smiling, as if there would exist
such a time.

About this piece

I've been working on this piece since Robert Lee Brewer's Poem-a-Day Challenge in April 2012. The first day's prompt was a communication poem. Since then I've tweaked it here and there, always intending to save it for something big, such as a book or a competition. But I reckon it's ready to go live.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Review: Stories of Love, by Anaïs Nin (Cleo edition)

During my postgraduate studies in writing, I spent a lot of time reading about the great diarist Anaïs Nin. That’s right—not the author, the diarist. We were interested in how she delved into her thoughts and feelings and what she brought out of those strange dealings. I read so much about her person and her mind, but until recently I’d read none of her fiction or erotica. So when I found Stories of Love at the Lifeline Bookfest for a dollar, I was sold.

I then hesitated to read the book, not because I was worried about its naughty content, but because I was scared to be seen in public with such a cover—it showed a woman caressing her own naked flesh. I’ve heard you can’t judge a book by its cover, but no one said you can’t judge the reader! (I think this is one of the advantages of e-books.)

Anyway, I took the book with me to New Caledonia, thinking a French colony would be the ideal place to read such forbidden words. Surely no one would think poorly of me if I read it by the pool? Still, I chickened out of reading it poolside, instead only reading it on the boat and in our bungalow.

The book is a special edition created for Cleo readers as a free gift. (I wonder if it will become a collector’s item, since the final issue of Cleo was released just recently.) I’m not sure if the selected stories are a good indication of Nin’s entire body of erotica; I suspect they were specifically selected for their target audience—an audience that’s somewhat younger than my thirty-five years. Nin’s other stories may be wildly different, so I won’t write off her erotica just yet, but I’ll say this particular selection didn’t really do it for me.

Each story is beautifully written; I didn’t find myself cringing at any Mills & Boon-esque euphemisms. Nin touches on *cough* tender subjects such as first orgasms, polyamory, gender identity, and the very concept of intimacy. Each story explores physical love in a new context, but I grew bored with what was essentially the same story arc: a journey of discovery from unwholesome repression to blossoming sexual freedom.

Perhaps the stories failed to *cough* excite me because I live in a time where so many of the issues raised are no longer taboo in polite society. I understand how desire can make us insecure, but I don't know its guilt. I understand how it can be overwhelming, but I can't see it as shameful. The specific acts Nin depicts are not foreign to me—while her stories were groundbreaking at the time she wrote them, such tales are now shared freely on the web. It’s sad to think I might be missing out on the wonders of her writing because I’ve been conditioned to see nothing extraordinary there.

Perhaps my problem with these stories was the prevalence of words over elisions; my imagination was allowed no space to tease the tale into something that *cough* touched me personally. I guess this is always a risk with explicit prose, and more so with erotica.

Perhaps I detached from some of the tales because of the dark violence lurking beneath them. As a domestic violence survivor, I find nothing sexy about the prospect of partners wanting to hurt each other with the force of their desire. It’s an animalistic touch, but unlike the idea of wanting to consume a lover, which fascinates me, this one repulses me.

Perhaps I was turned off by the way all sexual acts, even those performed between two women, seemed constructed to satisfy men’s gazes—a dangerous lesson for the young women I believe this compilation was aimed at. It was a stark contrast to the womanly beauty that surrounded me in New Caledonia, where women of all shapes and sizes and ages and ethnicities revelled in the simple pleasure of donning tiny swimsuits, not to lure men, but simply to swim and sun themselves.

Or perhaps I’m overthinking it, and I simply overdosed by reading too many of the stories in a row.

While I didn’t love the collection, I didn’t hate it either, and it saddens me to think that fiction may no longer hold a place for uncomplicated journeys of sexual discovery. The market is now saturated with erotica about dinosaurs, werewolves, BBW, bikers and bears—none of the simple pleasure of expressing love in a physical way. But if that’s what the world wants, who am I to argue? It’s difficult to defend a genre I have no real interest in reading. (I have some interest in writing it, but only because I’ve heard it’s lucrative.)

As a bonus, here’s a terrifying and intense love letter Henry Miller wrote to Anaïs Nin during their affair. If you haven’t checked out Letters of Note, you’re overdue.