Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: Passion

Because eroticism is missing in our culture, I loved reading the uncensored prose in Passion: Erotic Romance for Women. Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, this anthology features 20 short stories written by veteran erotica authors such as Donna George Storey, Jacqueline Applebee, and Suzanne V. Slate.

When I say the book is more erotic than Fast Girls (also reviewed here), I mean it’s more about love and romance and all that good stuff. Fast Girls was about women living out their fantasies with strangers and lovers and becoming renewed through their sexual adventures. Passion is about women deepening their bonds with lovers and husbands, or with strangers. But in each story, love is paramount. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines eroticism as a state of sexual arousal. Eroticism is love disguised as sex. In my opinion, it's the opposite of porn.

Listen up guys: Passion is the book you should read and give to your woman. You get the Cliff Notes on what women want. And ladies, if Fast Girls was too fast, too hard or too graphic for you, you’ll find Passion a gentler, more romantic read.

What Rachel Kramer Bussel shows through the stories in Passion is how important good sex is for a woman’s well being. What is good sex? In my opinion, good sex is erotic sex, which comes from a place of love and desire, and involves communication and sensitivity to a lover's needs.

One of my favorite stories in Passion is My Dark Knight, written by Jacqueline Applebee. It’s about a “hopeless romantic” in East London who finds her very own black knight in the form of Omar, a cafĂ© worker who sweeps her off her feet. Through this smutty little story, Applebee addresses issues such as race and cynicism, turning modern day assumptions about the end of romance upside down. “I believe that chivalry still exists, I hope to find quiet nobility in the most random of places, and I believe that people who love each other can live happily ever after,” Applebee writes.

Another juicy story that says so much more than the sex it entails is The Silver Belt by Lana Fox. Here we’re introduced to Maya, a 35-year-old woman who has grown apart from her husband. Although the silver belt he has given her has become a symbol of her entrapment, an encounter with a handsome stranger helps her use the belt to set herself free. “Like arousal itself, he explained, the belt was a burden, but when she yielded to true passion, it released her,” writes Fox.

In Passion, sex is women's gateway to personal freedom and happiness. With “true passion,” women break through their own barriers and those between themselves and men. In Paris, Greece, London and America, the women in Passion live out their sexual desires, inspiring readers to follow in the pursuit of love.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Read: Fast Girls Are Not Sluts

Raunchy, juicy, lusty, and ultimately feminine in every sense of the word, the stories in Fast Girls: Erotica for Women are provocative and earth-shattering. The new book of erotica, edited by veteran New York sex writer and columnist Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press is a wake-up call for women (like me) who are not avid readers of erotica. Seriously, ladies. Read this book and expect to view the world in a different light. You'll no longer just be cubicle worker, waitress, mom, corporate queen or the good wife. You'll be a woman hyper aware of your own sexual power.

There's something for everyone in this collection of incredibly readable short stories: the single woman, lesbian, in-love girlfriend, devout wife, and horny college girl are all represented. Fast Girls ensures that no woman is safe from the fast girl she can become. According to Bussel, fast girls are not about being "shocking for shock's sake but following their passion, seeking out what it is that they need to be truly pleasured." As Bussel says: "What I love about these fast girls is that even as they are bold, daring and dynamic, they have a thing or two to learn about sex and themselves." Beyond the sex, the prose in Fast Girls is point blank in the tradition of crime fiction with orgasms in place of gunshots and knife stabbings. Nothing is censored, and the blood and guts is the naked flesh as a symbol for the vulnerable yet powerful woman revealed.

My favorite Fast Girls story by far is Waxing Eloquent by Donna George Storey. I love this story because it's multilayered with a solid tone of jaded sarcasm masking a college girl's insecurity. Storey also attacks the sanitized culture of L.A., which is rightly deserved. In order to get in bed with the gorgeous TV actor next door, the protagonist does a typically LA thing: she gets waxed. "I'm lying on a table in a salon in Westwood, waiting for some nice lady in a white coat to rip off all my pubic hair so I can go have a proper L.A. fuck with Cody himself." As a reward for her pain, she gets to bed the hot actor. "Thanks for keeping your promise to test me out Cody. That was one hell of a L.A. fuck," she tells Cody after they celebrate her second waxing that leaves not a hair in sight. To which Cody answers flatly: "Sorry Shannon. If any promises were kept, it's not L.A." Here the reader gets a slice of the twisted side of L.A. life served up in a smart, sexy vignette.

Another goodie is Winter, Summer, by Tristan Taormino, in which the protagonist's fear of intimacy is violently overcome through a one-night stand with a butch blond pool player she meets in a bar. Fireworks by Lolita Lopez concerns the explosions that occur between husband and wife when they decide to have sex on the sly at a family picnic. Married Life by Charlotte Stein reveals how a husband's secret sadomasochistic fantasies can be rudely awakened by a wife who's not afraid to play with whips and rope. In all of these, the reader is right there with the narrator as the hot sex and personal revelations occur. In Fast Girls, sex is merely an art that brings the participants into closer association with themselves. Each story is a healing for the writer and voyeuristic trip for the reader. In Whore Complex, by Bussel, the protagonist discovers more rewards as the personal whore of a very handsome, intelligent and dominating man than through her corporate day job.

Oh, and did I mention the scene involving menage a trois (and then some) in Fast Girls? There's the somewhat shocking Playing the Market by Angela Caperton that details how an everyday woman can become an instant prostitute, simply because she needs to pay rent in a downturn economy. Here the threesome is composed of two hunky men and one woman, while Communal by Saskia Walker gently plays with the idea of a foursome via steamy shower scenes in a college dorm setting. The women in Fast Girls are unafraid to push their own boundaries and test their limits. Perhaps the boldest heroine in this anthology is the protagonist in Let's Dance by D.L. King. Here an older woman makes the moves on a college boy with lustful force.

Not only is the prose in Fast Girls witty, raw and honest, the women portrayed within its pages are heroines. Forget about mainstream America when you read this book: there's not a single Sex in the City scenario in sight. A fast girl might love shoes, like the woman in Tess Danesi's story, Lessons, Slow and Painful, but they're merely impractical sex props for her pleasure. She lets her boyfriend knife the words "Fast Girl" into her back because she thinks his kisses are worth the pain. These fictional women know what they need to make themselves feel reborn, and they will go to any extreme to get there. Fast girls aren't worried about being "too fat" or whether or not they look like Julia Roberts; they're accepting of their own flaws and desires. Fast girls are willing to risk humiliation in order to find themselves.

In similar fashion to Whore Complex, there's a recurring theme of a reward for staying true to one's self throughout Fast Girls. In Confession of a Shopaholic by Jennifer Peters, the protagonist unabashedly carries her new sex toys on the bus, wining a handsome guy to take home to try out her new trinkets. In Waiting For Beethoven by Susie Hara, a 51-year-old woman aggressively pursues a pianist that's young enough to be her son, to her own exquisite benefit. I wish copies of Fast Girls could be delivered to every desperate housewife with the enclosed note: "You deserve more!"

Click here to read more reviews on the August 2010 virtual book tour for Fast Girls: Erotica For Women.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Relevant Conversation with Rory Leahy

Yesterday I met with Rory Leahy, writer and lead actor of the play, The Irrelevant Adventures of Jarvis McFadden, which plays at Cornservatory until September 4. I reviewed the play for Centerstage Chicago, noting the bumps, but ultimate promise of the American Demigods theatre company that Leahy is running. What stands out about the play is its positive, upbeat message: Stay true to your childhood self, no matter how much people and life beat you down! I was also excited to learn that American Demigods has a mission I can relate to: "To know how we as humans can aspire to be better than we are." It turned out to be a very relevant conversation, topped off by news about American Demigods' exciting slate of projects for 2011: The production of two plays by Chicago playwright Reina Hardy and a 24 Hour Theatre Project. I know a good thing when I see one, so don't touch that dial.

Marla Seidell: Tell me about the original production of Jarvis, which was mounted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign a decade ago.

Rory Leahy: I was in a group called The Penny Dreadful Players. We pretty much did our own thing with theatre. We didn’t have a faculty advisor: We were the blind leading the blind. Jarvis was first conceived in the late '90s, with another friend of mine, Tom Beach, who had the idea for the boy detective.

MS: How much of you is in the play?

RL: A great deal, although, I wouldn’t say Jarvis is based on me, it’s more like he’s inspired by life. If I had multiple personalities Jarvis would be one of them. Really I’m all of the characters, even the female characters, especially Michelle [played by Julia Beck].

MS: How so?

RL: She’s got that really nerdy thing, and she’s shy. She reads a lot, she’s not good at parties--she’s my grade school, high school self.

MS: Where did you grow up?

RL: In Edgewater [in Chicago], although I went to high school at Loyola Academy in Wilmette.

MS: So you're hardcore Irish Catholic.

RL: Yeah, my family is originally from the South Side.

MS: At what age did you decide you wanted to do theatre?

RL: I have always wanted to make things up and perform, even before I realized it was a profession. I was seven when I performed in a Christmas pageant. I had a small role as a shepard so I promoted myself to archangel, and got all the neighborhood kids together to put on our own pageant. We didn’t have a script but I phonetically dictated the dialogue to the other kids. I did that sort of thing for a while. The first play I wrote that I’m proud of is a play called Love Story, a political satire, that I did junior year of high school.

MS: How long have you been writing?

RL: Pretty much I’ve been continuously writing things, many of them awful, since I was 17.

MS: How often do you write?

RL: I usually devote my Saturday and Sunday afternoons to writing. Some weekends are more productive than others.

MS: What are you working on now?

RL: I'm working on a prose project, not connected to theatre. It’s a novella, which is premised on the notion of current events. In the story Barack Obama and Dick Cheney switch bodies, with Cheney in Obama’s body and the reverse, and the shenanigans that result.

MS: Tell me about your theatre company, American Demigods.

RL: American Demigods was officially founded in 2009, and we produced a play called Monks in Trouble [directed by Leahy; written by Marc Heiden]. It was a big hit, a lot of people like it, it was produced at the Apollo Studio Theatre. It was kind of a theological horror company, about a group of monks in a monastery, and the evil unholy force there.

MS: What do you want people to take away from Jarvis?

RL: I want people to see themselves in it--it relates to a broad spectrum of the audience. There’s a cheesy message about childhood innocence and that’s a good thing and people should not dismiss it. For most of us, youthful innocence gets ruthlessly beaten away. I want people to think of youthful ideas when they see it.

MS: Are you happy with how it turned out?

RL: Yes, I’m very happy about that. The cast embodies the characters really well. Anyone reading this that has $15 in his or her pockets and has a free Friday or Saturday night should definitely come. It’s pretty lighthearted with some dark moments. It’s a nice contract to doom and gloom in the theater medium.

MS: What are your goals for American Demigods?

RL: I would definitely like for the company to become one of the well-known storefront theater companies in the next few years. There are dozens of Chicago theater spaces and all are cranking out good material. A lot of them go on to great glorious things and die within five years. I hope that American Demigods is one of the ones that doesn’t.

MS: Tell me about how you picked the name, American Demigods, and about your mission.

RL: The reason I picked that name, is firstly, because it’s badass, and second, because I like stories about heroes and mythical things. We explore how to be good and how to be human, and how to be semi-divine. We want to explore what that [divinity] means. It’s obviously a mythical idea; it’s not normal. We want to know how humans can aspire to be better than they are. Whatever kind of theater we produce, even if its edgier and darker, we always want to create protagonists that are sympathetic, even if flawed, and we want them to be heroes to cheer for. Our name also comes from founding fathers [of the country]; they were called the American Demigods.

MS: What’s next?

RL: We’re doing a 1-day event on September 25, a staged reading of the play Erratica by Reina Hardy, followed by a burlesque show. And for 2011 we have three shows planned: In February or March we want to do a 24 Hour Theatre Project, with 4 playwrights, 5 directors, and 15 actors. We as producers will give the premises of the play, and the playwrights will have 12 hours to write short plays and the actors and producers will have 12 hours to put it together to perform on a Saturday night. It’s in the tradition of theatre bootcamp, trying to demonstrate you can really create something out of nothing under very difficult circumstances if you have the right talent and enthusiasm. For the summer, we’re planning to do Con Musical [a working title], a musical about nerd culture at Comic Con. Reina Hardy is writing the book and lyrics and the music is being developed by Matt Board. For the fall, the most likely contender is a series of one-acts I will write with a Halloween theme.

MS: It sounds like you really enjoy your work.

RL: It beats not doing it. I do it because I can’t really conceive of an alternative. I’m not really good at anything other than making stuff up and performing. I’m rubbish with math and science; I pretty much just do the artistic stuff.

The Irrelevant Adventures of Jarvis McFadden is performed at 8.p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, at Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln until September 4. On Saturday, September 25, American Demigods hosts a staged reading of Reina Hardy’s play, Erratica, at The Spot, 4437 N. Broadway, at 4pm. A burlesque show follows the reading.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cupcake Couture at Sprinkles

The original cupcake bakery, Sprinkles, which hails from Beverly Hills, opened its bakery doors in Chicago this week. The Gold Coast location is attracting long queues of eager patrons, ranging from texting tweens, to tots, moms and office professionals.

Situated at 50 E. Walton, sandwiched in between Rush and Michigan, with high-priced fashion in all directions, Sprinkles churns out chic and modern cupcakes, priced at $3.25 for a single and $36 for a dozen. On the exterior, brightly-colored stripes and giant replicas of Sprinkles cupcakes convey ultra hipness, whilst the wide glass windows are no less glamour-struck than the neighborhood.

Is it worth the wait? Part of the fun is people-watching and anticipating the final result. I watched kids peer in the windows and listened to adults debating over flavors and quantities. Finally, I got swept up in cupcake fever, feeling like Charlie waiting to get his hands on the chocolate bar.

Gaining entry into the fragrant-smelling bakery takes about thirty minutes, followed by another mini-queue involving selection and purchase. The artful cupcakes displayed in neat rows inside glass cases could turn a cupcake-hater into a lover. I decide on red velvet as my litmus test. After a bit more ado, my package is delivered in a little bag. I ask the woman who rings me up what separates Sprinkles from the rest of the herd. “We use the same ingredients you use at home, but of the highest quality: the best butter, milk, eggs, chocolate, etc,” she explains.

My little treasure of deep red-colored chocolate cake slathered in a thick slab of cream cheese frosting, topped with a happy little Sprinkles candy dot, is devoured within seconds. The frosting outdoes the cake. Sweet (but just sweet enough), soft and fresh, it tastes like a smiling 1950s housewife has prepared it--incredibly lick-friendly. The cake reflects the same quality, but I find it a bit too light and airy for my taste. I missed the dense, plush velvety texture I've sampled in Memphis. But on the whole, the cupcake does the trick of instantly creating a craving for more.

Sprinkles cupcakes come in over 26 flavors and the coolest thing is the seasonal aspect, just like fashion. Summer cherry (July 16-August 1) is a pure morello cherry cake topped with sweet cherry frosting. Black and white tempts in the form of a Belgian dark chocolate cake with creamy vanilla frosting, and banana allures through a fresh banana cake topped with creamy vanilla or bittersweet chocolate frosting.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m certain return visits are in my future. Sprinkles cupcakes make for perfect date or kid-friendly-activity material. This is couture for all kinds of folk.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

ArtSlant review: Andy Moore @ Gallery 400

This week, my review of Andy Moore's exhibition, John's Luv. I loved this hunk of burning love book. The show runs until June 12.

Some excerpts:

Urban life, in all its ugly, beauteous glory, is displayed like a dead animal lying on the side of the road. You don’t want to look-- it’s overwhelming and messy. But you can’t help it. The story sucks you in, and there you are: standing over a long table covered with black-and-white Galaxy Paper, thumbing through a book of paintings and words with white gloves on.

Where does art begin and where does it end? Perhaps art is infinite, like a circle, with beginnings and endings intrinsically interwoven. The book itself is a big, hot mess. In between the corrections and bandaged-up imperfections is a man coming to terms with art and love. Moore shows viewers that art is not out of reach. It is rife with mistakes, with starts and stops and returns and revisions. Art is like life, full of errors and trials, and life is richer when you examine it.

Romance, fear, loneliness and anger are wrapped up into this big book that viewers can spend a lot of time paging through. Moore doesn’t hold back or censor himself, and it’s this honesty that makes John’s Luv worth viewing.

Venue: 400 Gallery
ArtSlant Chicago

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My thoughts on Tony Hayward and his BS

I'm blogging a for a new snarky website called Sage Life. Today I published my first post, a summary of the latest news concerning the BP CEO passing the buck to American Bob Dudley. Here are some excerpts:

Tony Hayward is getting his life back. Forget gallons oil spilling into the Gulf. All that matters is that the BP CEO is safe and sound from the ‘harsh’ words of angry Americans.

In a teleconference with Wall Street analysts, Hayward made another flippant remark, in response to the criticism he’s been receiving: “They’ve thrown some words at me, but I’m a Brit. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” he said. If he’s he’s such a ‘tough Brit,’ why the hell is he passing the buck to an American? Perhaps Hayward suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. You see, it’s really not all about him, or his stupid ‘tough skin.’ It’s about saving the animals and Louisiana industries affected by the crisis.

Free from the fire and responsibility, Tony can go on a holiday, get a massage, or make a long list of callous statements he’s quickly becoming famous for. Oh, and he did make an apology yesterday. Big deal. Louisiana wants action and results, not bullshit.

The post: Tony Gets His Life Back

Related articles:


The Daily Beast

Friday, June 4, 2010

Freelancing down the bones

A fortnight ago, I was guest speaker on a freelancing panel at Northwestern University Career Day for the MA/MFA Creative Writing Program, along with Tony Adler from the Chicago Reader and Donna Seaman from Booklist. I gave the audience my 10 Tips for Freelancing Success, as well as a reading list.

Here they are:

Marla's Top 10 Tips for Freelancing

1. Network and expand your networks. Go to writer's workshops, conferences, Mediabistro events. Join local journalism and writing clubs such as SPJ.

2. Use your passion as starting points. Turn your interests into specializations. Mine are art, travel, food, and everything in between. Make a list of your Top 5 Loves, and go from there. Go to the bookstore and pick out magazines that correspond with your interests. Read, read, read!

3. Create a web presence. Get your name out there with a personal website, a Linkedin account and a Twitter page. I started out with a web page on, then Mediabistro and now, I have my own website. Even if you don't have clips you can create a webpage that lists your specializations and writing experience.

4. Pick up the phone and call an editor before you even send a pitch. See if the editor is interested in your topic and get a feel for the magazine's tone.

5. Believe in your idea before it sells. Do your research, write a killer query and then pitch, pitch, pitch, tailoring the pitch for each magazine. Don't give up until it sells or results in an assignment. Follow up.

6. Stay engaged with the community. Take underwater basket weaving classes if that interests you! Gets out of the house, do something that sparks a creative idea.

7. Finish an assignment way before the deadline, put it aside, and go to the movies. Then come back to it, and refine, rewrite, and polish.

8. Become a perpetual student. Read books on freelancing, journalism and writing to constantly improve your skills. Take online classes and attend writing workshops.

9. Keep an open mind about your areas of focus. You may start out writing about nightclubs and progress to investigative journalism. Don't be afraid to try a new beat. Constant change is one of the great things about freelance writing.

10. Stay true to your own vision and don't give in to the competition. By focusing on what you do well, you have a better chance of creating a successful niche.

Recommended Books

Get a Freelance Life, by Margit Feury Ragland
This book published by Mediabistro includes sample resumes and pitches, and step-by-step instructions for creating a freelance writing career.

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
This is not a book for journalists, but Goldberg's advice about keeping your hand moving across the page while writing is sage advice. Overcome your writer's fears with this book.

The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, by William E. Blundell
An oldie but goodie. Wonderful tips for features writing and developing stories that will have editors eating out of your hand.

Feature & Magazine Writing, by David E. Sumner and Holly G. Miller
A journalistic bible about the nuts and bolts of feature writing, interviews and story development.

Writing Down the Bones

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