Editing: Killing the Sexy Bits

You have to be in the right mindset to edit. A cruel focus is needed. No matter how great the scene, image or dialogue, if it’s not completely on point, it must go. They call it “killing the babies”, and I suppose it is something like that, even if that’s as self-centered as all hell.

Dee’s sexuality is key to her character, but it is a subtle thing in Anori, unlike My Bad Side, because it is more speculative fiction than psychological, and as much as sex might sell, her tryst with the Oregon Park Ranger is done, only to appear here.

The waves rolled up on the beach in a long rattling rush. She thought she could see someone in the distance and waited and then walked back along the path to the ranger’s cabin. There was a light. She went around the side and tried to look through the little window and then ducked through the underbrush, getting stuck for a minute and stood there stupidly like she had to go to the bathroom, and came around the corner.

The room was empty, just a brown fabric couch and a television left on. She waited. A truck came down the road and pulled up to the house. And then he was there, the Oregon Parks Ranger, his shirt undone. “You look lost. Can I get you a drink? I’ve got beer.

There was a bedroom at the end of the hall, strewn and cluttered, piles of books leaning against the walls, heaps of clothing in the middle. The bed had an old lacquered headboard and long faded wood down the sides. She took off his shirt and then his pants. She had a desperate burning inside, along her stomach and thighs and into her groin.

She wanted him to go faster but he pushed her hands back. He was naked, his penis at her breasts and held her shoulders. She looked up at his face and chest and the wooden beams and white ceiling above. She was rigid, arching her back, grabbing his legs. He moved in a long cycling motion, pushing up high, going too fast and then slow. She wanted that back and grabbed at him. He pressed down onto her stomach and held her neck. She pushed into him faster.

“Holy fuck.” It was more of a wheezing, not words, and she started laughing as she crawled over the books, and he pulled her back and there was only a tightness, her skin blood-rich, trying to make it more, keep it like that, harder, everything stretching out, her head tilting back, peering into the chasm, ready to fall, and then nothing.

Writing Sex: Divine Sexuality

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.

My Small Quest for Immortality

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.

Impossible Character: Dee Sinclair

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.

Photo credit: Michael Nichols (National Geographic)

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.

The Impossible World of World Building

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.

Photo Credit: Michael Nichols, National Geographic

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.

“My Bad Side” theme song

Down the row of empty metal chairs/There’s only polished light/My bad side/The photographer at his best "My Bad Side" theme songI reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress/I reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress "My Bad Side" theme songEscape this picture of me/Where nothing can be seen/Broken light/My silhouette/Against her"My Bad Side" theme songI reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress/I reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress. 
"My Bad Side" theme songShe doesn’t accept/Thinks I need something else/As I reach back to touch/And wait for her to undress "My Bad Side" theme songA long way back/Holding to her light/Her hands on me/Reaching back to accept/My bad side/She reaches to caress

Writing Sex in ‘my bad side’

One of the greatest challenges in writing is getting the sex right, which was an especially difficult matter in my bad side, because it’s a key aspect of the novel.

“But now let us go to bed.” He pulled off my blouse and kissed down my back and stayed at my hips and held himself just away, me standing, legs spread, naked and had me play with his penis. I opened my mouth, my jaw down, pliant, and ran my nails across his stomach and neck, watching the pink trail up his cheek until he had my thumb and forefinger in his mouth, sucking like a baby, getting frantic. Screenshot (981)He pressed against me hard, knocking us onto the bed, desperate, burrowing into my breasts, his tongue sloppily out, like a honey bear, unable to slow his thrusting, faster, kissing and licking my ear and then quiet, trying to pull back, to look at me and then just grabbing as hard as he could. He had his hand on my face and neck, almost choking me, and then pushed all the way in. I grabbed the edge of the bed, pulling the sheet up in clumps. I kept him in that ecstasy, on the brink, tight, and he was trying to lift us all the way to the ceiling and then crazed, holding my leg up like a post.

He snorted coke and wanted me to pose again and held himself exact above me. “Who has been taking my bed from the place in which I left it? He must have found it a hard task, no matter how skilled a workman he was, unless some god came and helped him to shift it.” His penis bounced wildly, and went into me, doing knee bends, carrying us into the bathroom. My shoulder and head were pressed flat on the ceramic tiles, white against my face, a coiling of green vines and branches against my breasts. Screenshot (980)I was victorious over the Cicons. I vanquished the Cyclops, Telepylos and Circe. I have been to Hades. I have heard the Sirens.” He grabbed my waist, the cool of his ring against my bellybutton, and pinched my nipple, whimpered and was done. He filled the Jacuzzi with salts and massaged my back and shoulders and went down into my legs.“I have seen terrible Charybdis and Scylla. I was promised immortality by Calypso. I have come back to you.”

To Blog or Not To Blog: Is That Even a Question?

I have drifted from the blog, back to be my former non-blogger state; issues arose, conflicts, work and drink alike. Clifton Bar2I have felt guilty about leaving the blog on its lonesome, a confused guilt of sorts, because I don’t know why I should care about doing it. I don’t and then I do, thinking about things that I might post, some of them vaguely interesting, some not so much. girls shoooting it upAnd there are moments that I actually enjoy it, the process of making it work most of all, and apparently I’m supposed to be doing this so as I can raise my profile when, one day, my work might be in demand. Screenshot (977)But this virtual platform and the jabbering nonsense that it represents subjects me to doublethink, having to reflect on what is a worthwhile waste of time. IMAG3789It’s a meandering, endless thing, and so I’ve had it in the back of my mind that a thousand posts would be something, something irrelevant, but a goal nonetheless. 20150106_074058Which means I have only 376 to go.

Laurie Anderson on my plane

Laurie Anderson was on my flight to Los Angeles. 20140313_082016I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what. She looked so sweet and vulnerable. I mean, she was sitting in coach, just like us. I thought about what I would say, and considered offering her my condolences for Lou Reed’s death. But that was just stupid, an excuse to be a sycophant. So I said nothing. I didn’t even smile. 20140313_123728 - CopyStill…I really did want to tell her how much I admire her, her work, her voice, her wit. “I’m a big fan.” Yeah, I would probably say something like that. Our flight was delayed and while we sat waiting for a part, it occurred to me that I could give her my book.

Screenshot (1014)Yes, she might like it. After all, it has a strong female voice and some good cerebral bits on life and loss. But I didn’t have it with me…and it was a stupid idea anyway, another one.

The truth was it was a good thing Laurie Anderson didn’t have to deal with me pitching ideas at her while she was just trying to read, maybe sleep a little before we landed.

And yet…if I told her all of this. What then? Wouldn’t she laugh? Wouldn’t she say, “Oh, okay. Let’s see this book of yours. my bad side. It’s a good title. I like it. I like it a lot.” 20140313_130321 - CopyAnd even since I didn’t do any of this and just watched her walk away at LAX, there is still the chance she will read this blog. I mean, she would only have to search her name and scroll down a few dozens pages or so. And here it is!

And then I know she would smile to herself, look for my contact icon and write something like, “Hello. Let’s talk.”