Apparently there is nothing harder to write than a sex scene. (Wink, wink.) It’s either Henry Miller’s sweat (“she commenced rubbing her pussy affectionately”) or Pablo Neruda’s honey (“I want to eat you like skin like a whole almond”). Nothing in between. And that’s where I aim to come in. (Say no more.)
Dee Sinclair is not just a sex worker; she is a performer. She is featured in my last four books – My Bad Side, Anori, Aqaara and Mina – and embodies what sex in literature should be. In the words of Nancy Qualls-Corbett, she is “the bringer of sexual joy and the vessel by which the raw animal instincts are transformed…and made sacred.” (The Scared Prostitute, Nancy Qualls-Corbett.)
As Dee puts it: You know what I’m good at? I’m very good at balancing at the tip, my orgasm looming, you know, on those tender little nerve endings. And just when I might slide off sideways, before I reach that moment, letting that go and pushing harder, I stop, all taut and stupid, clinging to this moment like it might go on forever and keep it like that, everything at the tip, holding my hips high.
I try to make it a long leisurely thing, really thinking like that, and then slide into my mania again, and all I can see is the sex, just the flesh, naked and depraved, everything like I’m a kid again, and I’m holding it, holding it, staring ahead, lost, my hands digging in, snapping ahead, missing the steps as I come out of a dream and finally give in.
Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime, is thoughtful and entertaining. More than anything he paints a vivid picture of his relationship with his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. She is a fascinating character who defies societal expectations such as her willingness to tell stories of her life with her son: My mother would give me little bursts of her life, random details, stories of having to keep her wits about her to avoid getting raped by strange men in the village. She’d tell me these things, and I’d be like, Lady, clearly you do not know what kind of stories to be telling a ten-year-old. (64)
The Cx Trilogy
Neither does Dee Sinclair, the main character in my book, The Cx Trilogy, meet the norm when it comes to telling stories to her children: “The Obgum captured Space Enchantress Cx and took her to a metallic city above the jungle where she was stripped naked and put on display.” Dee sat on the floor between her daughters’ beds. “The Obgum grabbed her, touching all over her body, as they grunted horribly.”
“Why does every story have to have so much sex?” Calli, the eldest, protested. “You’re always talking about her breasts being fondled and getting penetrated, mother. We’re kids. You can’t say stuff like that to us.”
“Sex isn’t a bad thing, Calli.”
“It shouldn’t be in stories for me and Ashe. Ashe is eight years old. You’re not supposed to be talking about sex like it’s a super power.”
“Why not?” Ashe curled up into a ball and was almost standing on her head. “I think it’s fun.”
“Sex is procreation, Ashe.” Calli insisted. “It’s what adults do, not kids. Not kids.”
“Kids aren’t having sex in my stories,” Dee replied.
Brothers Grimm “The Goose Girl”
The Brothers Grimm produced a collection of folklore from the Germanic culture, featuring frequent violence, such as in the end of The Goose Girl: She deserves no better fate than to be stripped entirely naked, and put in a barrel which is studded inside with pointed nails, and two white horses should be harnessed to it, which will drag her along through one street after another, till she is dead.
Children’s stories have only recently been made sweet and clean, a by-product of American Puritanism, much of that led by Disney. Ironically enough, this is the same culture that has developed a morbid fascination with violence and sex. Repression is the darnedest thing.
Profound understanding is the goal in my writing. To share that with the reader. More simply stated, this might be called empathy. More thoughtfully stated, Saul Bellow put it like this: Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect in all sides – the seeming realities of the world. There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of. This other reality is always sending us hints, which without art, we cannot receive.
It’s not about thinking a thought, but feeling a thought. These are the moments that all of us have which transcend description, indelible moments that mark our existence. I was nine years old the first time I saw the palm trees of Florida out of my plane window. It wasn’t just being in the plane for the first time or seeing the lush green after leaving icy Canada; it was something more. It was magic. It was being transported to a place of dreams.
Years later, after an arduous camping trip on Brooks Peninsula, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, we were ferried back in a small boat through heavy wind and weather. The young man piloting the boat had lost sight of an important landmark, a massive rock which lurked beneath the surface. Just as he stood and wondered aloud, “Where is it?”, we rode slid into a trough and the massive boulder appeared, menacing, dripping thick algae, just behind the boat. The young man was speechless. A moment earlier and we would have capsized and drowned.
I vividly recall the death of my cat, Popo as well as seeing Aguirre Wrath of God the first time on a tiny black and white television. I don’t just remember these things. It is well beyond that. And more profoundly, because it is all in my head, I remember standing alone in a dark Paris apartment the moment I realized that a character I planned to kill off, Chantal Deschampes, decided that she would not leave the book.
She not only survived to the very end of The Sacred Whore, she even made a more recent appearance in Aqaara, Part Two of The Cx Trilogy. I realized that she was not a fictional character but a spirit that had something to say. That was when I knew I wrote.
In Until the End of Time, Brian Greene states that our only possibility of eternal life is through The creative mind, able to roam freely through imagined worlds, exploring the immortal, meandering through eternity, and meditating on why we might seek or disdain or fear endless time. (380)
God knows that I have striven for immortality in my writing. (I might even settle on one published work!) I have rummaged through my head and flailed away with anything I could find. My family’s distant interest in me has been a source of bitter inspiration. My father’s certitude of always doing the right thing has been a touchstone and albatross. I have pissed off many a person with my righteous thoughts. My terror of the darkness and deep waters has held me back as has my reticence and distrust of people.
I have channeled much of this into Dee Sinclair, a 30-something former sex worker who owns an exotic pet and who appears in four of my books, including My Bad Side and The Cx Trilogy.
Her mother was dead. Her sister was dead. Nani was dead. Everyone was gone. And she was alone. That was how she was used to it being. Alone. She just wanted this corner, Apollo with her, just Apollo, a place she could pull her knees into her chest and be quiet. That’s all she wanted. (Anori)
I deeply admire Dee for her courage and singular focus, for her intense devotion and fury, for her willingness to carry on, knowing that life is only there to disappoint. I desperately need to get her out into the world, to have her thoughts published, so that an audience might understand and care. She must be heard. She is my one and true child.
Most of my notes focus on the background of the story, derived from research, conjecture and reflection. They help me sort out my thoughts, especially in relation to the setting and tone of the book.
I write on anything I can find and then transcribe the relevant material to my computer when I get back home.
However I rarely, if ever, throw out my notes. I like them too much. My affinity is great as to be a misguided reverence, as if I believe they might be needed one day by researchers and archivists for the McPhedran Research Institute.
That or I’m just like my mother, who never threw anything out, including my letters home when I was nine years old at camp.
Given the scathing feedback from my (former) editor, it took me some time to get back at the first book of The Cx Trilogy, Anori. I’ve made it at last and begun the long toil. The current plan is to work on this concurrently with Fuck Pedagogy and see how their orbits might move the tides. Here are the opening pages at present. (Criticisms welcome!)
Dee held hard to the balcony railing as she looked down to Battery Park, all but empty now, neat rows of sandbags banked up against the grates alongside the Custom House, a single police car, its blue lights mute and slow, moving slowly away. They had stopped broadcasting the evacuation order hours ago. Zone A was closed.
The curtains lulled back as Dee slid the balcony door closed. There was a rocket ship on television. Great shards of curved ice calved off its sides, dissolving into a torrent of smoke and steam, as it slowly rose. The cameras cut to a distance perch across the valley, where the rocket could be seen rising from the barren landscape on a halo of brilliant white, a vibrating candle.
She went into the bathroom and turned off the faucet, Apollo lurching after her, his black-striped tail snaking over her shoulder, as he peered into the tub, now full of water. She grabbed at Apollo’s paw. “Want a bath?”
Apollo slid wildly on the tiles, slamming into the door frame as he bound into the living room. She didn’t know why she would even need the water. The storm had been too long hyped, like the one before, Irene. People had talked and tweeted, hoping for the disaster to get worse so they could make money pretending they cared. She watched the spectacle, the cameras now inside the capsule, giving a fish-eye view of the flight instruments, the oblong window to the pilot’s right and the blue-grey glow of her helmet at the bottom of the screen, the ubiquitous Infinity logo on everything. The vanishing rocket rose atop its teetering plume, transforming into a dot, the smoke, once thick, drifted into emptiness.
She changed the channel to the local news. This morning’s high tide was at 8:30 am. That tide surged over the walls into the city this morning, eleven hours ago. That tide has already been here. This tide is a full-moon high tide, just like Irene, only worse; it’s much worse. The weather guy was earnest, his sleeves rolled up, his square jaw pushed out for this soap opera apocalypse announcement. This is the one we have to watch. This one could be anywhere from 12 feet up to 14, 15, 16 feet. 16 feet! Think about that. In just 15 minutes. This is it. The surge is almost here.
“Hurry up.” She grabbed the cat’s leash and opened the door. “Before it’s too late.”
Apollo bolted ahead of her and turned tight circles until the elevator opened, and then pinned himself against Dee’s legs, his head against the silver wall until the doors opened and he could escape to the lobby.
“Apollo!” Hector, large against the glass doors at the front, bent down to Apollo. “My man.”
“Keeping the storm at bay?”
“You shouldn’t have taken the elevator.” He scratched Apollo vigorously down his side. ““They’re going to shut off the power, Miss Sinclair.”
“It’s 28 floors, Hector.”
“The eye of the storm just hit Atlantic City. That just happened.”
She leashed Apollo. “They keep talking about the tide.”
“You see the market. You see that?” He pointed out to the green awning that had flipped around on its moorings, its rusted metal ribs exposed, swelling in and out with the wind, a dying animal against the corner of the building. “You sure you should be going out?”
She thought about telling him how she wanted to see the wall of water coming down the narrows, the boats curled up into its majestic belly, the Verrazano Bridge hidden from view, the Statue of Liberty dwarfed in the shadow of the blue-black water as it rose higher and higher, even if she knew it wouldn’t really be like that. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He stretched his arm against the door, his jacket binding at his giant shoulders and pushed open the door. “Be careful, Miss Sinclair. Lady was killed by a tree today in Queens.”
When I look back on the jobs I’ve done, performance sex was the hardest. I don’t mean how I was judged, and even judged myself, because none of that means anything, or even the unpleasantness at times. Some people really do stink. It was more about making it real. It was rare when I could lose that control, not just have that half open mouth, and give what I knew was expected.
It was when I broke from that, that I got frantic, balancing at the tip, and felt like I might slide sideways, barely hanging on. I would push hard and then stop, do that again and again, all taut and stupid, clinging to this good side of the moment, and keep it like that.
And then I would right into like a mania, straight ahead, nothing else but plowing straight for that full-on orgasm, so much that it was almost I’m made me get mad and crazy, like I was a kid and wanted what I wanted, and would not let go, and skip ahead, my feet barely touching the ground, until I was in it and nothing else. It was really hard work, but there were those moments.
The Cx Trilogy is the simple story of leaving this planet. As common as this idea might be in contemporary science fiction – including everything from Star Trek&Star Warsfranchises to The Martian and Ad Astra – the central idea of abandonment, leaving everything that we know for a complete unknown, remains frightfully undeveloped. In other words, these films emphasize ingenuity and determination over the more likely issues of angst and despair once Earth Out of View Syndrome sets in.
The essential themes of nihilism and isolation are not only developed through character development and dialogue, but also in the speculative technology that identifies the desperate struggle to find identity when the origin of everything known is gone.
Second Skin (a synthetic anti-aging agent) and The Bearing (a ring-like portal to the internet) are prevalent throughout the first book, Anori, while The Hive (a fully immersive place of sensual pleasure) and boochies (doll-sized genetically mutated animals) are featured in Book Two, Aqaara, which documents the generational flight to the destination planet of Mina. All of these devices are intended to fulfill immediate individual desires and lead to division and isolation.
The use of speculative technology as a world-building tool, although present, is not as significant in the final book, Mina. The majority of the speculative devices have been in use throughout the trilogy, leaving the only thing new to build is the planet itself. (You can’t get more world-building than that.) The challenge with building another planet is our limited experience with distant worlds; we actually only have a few planets to use as models, this leading to a tendency toward arctic expanses, forbidding deserts and prehistoric beasts is hard to avoid. (See Interstellar, Dune & John Carter.)
I did use images of Pluto and Saturn for inspiration as well as the distant corners of Earth and settled on a highly volcanic planet with two suns. Water dominates the surface and so many of the life forms are water-borne, including the animal believed to be at the top of the food chain – a sort of hybrid leopard seal.
The ever-present sense of isolation is developed not only through the immense unexplored planet, but also through divisions in the mission itself. While a home-base, Ataa, is constructed on Mina, only a fraction of the people are invested in living there; groups venture off on long-term explorations while another large contingent elect to leave the planet altogether and continue their journey to another distant place. For them, the journey indeed is the destination.
Sex sells. And Dee Sinclair is all about sex. Not just a sex worker, she is a sex performer, taking high-paying jobs to perform for exclusively perverted clients in remote locations such as French Polynesia, Greece and Qatar.
She is an orphan girl, her only sister dead, an alcoholic, drowned. But she won’t talk about that. She won’t talk about anything except her exotic cat, a serval, named Apollo.
She doesn’t actually talk about Apollo either. She doesn’t talk about anything to anyone. She feels herself as distinctly separate, an adjunct, an afterthought, a second thing. She feels like she doesn’t belonged anywhere, except sitting alone on the fire escape. She knows that no one who really cares, that no one who would miss her. She just wants to be left alone.
Dee makes her first appearance in My Bad Side and then in Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy. She spends much of her time in the ice-choked emptiness of Greenland, a place she treasures because of its mind-numbing isolation.
And then she is suddenly being chased: Dee watched her hands flash up in front of her face, first one and then the other, fists clenched, just her pinkie out on her left hand. She had heard the helicopter come over the glacier, the rotors reverberating off the ice, sharp and then suddenly faded. She heard nothing now. She was mute. Not her footsteps on the hard ground, not her gasping for breath, not the truck door swinging wildly open, not the engine starting, nothing. Dust swirled up ahead, other trucks going to the launch tower. She couldn’t get the truck to go fast enough. The tunnel took forever. She heard something on the other side, helicopters again, as she headed to the tower. But she couldn’t see. There was only the dust and then Valerie on the edge of the first platform.
As the protagonist, Dee operates as the reader’s stubborn vehicle entering the impossible parameters of science fiction – the space ships, three dimensional internet, artificial skin, and most of all, the idea of leaving Earth for another planet. She doesn’t buy any of it. And neither does the reader. Until it is there and there is no denying it. As much as she (we) can’t accept it, it is there.
Dee works especially well for this book because of her personality. As hard as she tries to separate herself from everyone in the world, she becomes more drawn into a mission that aims to do just that – leave the planet altogether. The irony is that, in her efforts to be apart, she of course becomes deeply committed to the others on the journey into the emptiness.
Thematically, the book is a challenge, as it focuses on abandoning, and ultimately rejecting, our society for something else, and the impossibility of doing that. After all, wherever we go, we are still what we are. And so as impossible as Dee might be to access, it is because of that that she works as an excellent conduit for the book.
World building is writing hell. As incredible – even fun – as the idea might sound, it isn’t. By anything being possible, there is no place to start. Even if it seems like a matter of just picking and choosing and away you go, it isn’t. Not for me. While I might have the germ of an idea – such as using dark matter to fuel an inter-generational spaceship – fleshing that out is akin to chronic constipation. My writing practice is centered on the small things – an image or line of dialogue – and going out from there. It is an inductive approach to writing, finding the bits of evidence to create the whole, such as the serval image at the watering hole that begat My Bad Side.
I didn’t know what that image meant at the time, but I knew it meant something and used it to find what might be next.
Building worlds demands the opposite to my approach to writing, a deductive method, going from the big picture to develop the small, focusing on time machines or warp drives, creating a story from those. This is what grinds my flow to a halt. If I can’t see where I am – the details of what it looks like to live on board a spaceship – I am perpetually stuck.
I got into the world of speculative fiction by accident. The protagonist in an earlier book, Dee Sinclair, stumbled ahead and wondered aloud if she might venture on to something else. As far-fetched as her world appeared at the time – a sex performer holed up with her pet serval – it was nothing compared to Greenland where she witnesses a fledgling world constructed before her eyes. This is the outset of Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy.
The crux of the speculative/sci-fi genre is world building, something beyond what we live in today. It isn’t just a matter of a propping up a couple of rocket ships and having characters walk about in space suits. Every detail has to be in tune. My most effective world building elements in Anori are Holoweb and Second Skin because they were simple to envision – a three-dimensional version of today’s internet and a spray-on fashion statement – and only a step ahead of what we have now.
I raised the world-building stakes in the second book of the trilogy, Aqaara, where Dee boards a generational spaceship bound for a planet light-years distant. Daily life aboard the spaceship took a long time to create, not just the details of the sleeping quarters and gatherings places but, more importantly, the mindset of leaving Earth to never return. I was in the Highlands of Scotland while mapping out this world, a far cry from outer space but at least isolated and quiet.
I planned the design of the ship while hiking, soaking wet, through the silence, but could not attain a genuine sense for what it felt like to live in this space, to sleep and eat, to lose all sense of time with a lunar or solar cycle, to see people every day – there was no day! – and to not know when, if ever, the journey might come to an end. That took another two drafts – in Puglia and then New York – to get it so it seemed like it really was so.
The final book, Mina, demands a literal new world. That’s where I am now. The temptation to settle for lunar landscapes and prehistoric beasts remains hard to resist. After all, what do I know about another planet’s flora and fauna? I have settled on a leopard seal/hedgehog hybrid as the creature atop of the food chain, as well as string of camera-stealing starlings. Who knows what the deep seas will offer? Something astonishing should happen soon.
My challenge with world building has given me pause. As transfixed as I can be in the fantastic landscapes of science fiction – where absolutely anything is possible – the writing craft must remain the focus. In other words, while the visions presented in this genre might be spell-binding, the characters, dialogue and construction of the narrative remain the foundation. My aim in writing The Cx Trilogy is to bridge the gap between literary fiction and speculative fiction, and not just build worlds but build worlds where we can literally picture ourselves alive and wondering. We will see what Dee’s progeny find next.