I Like It Hard – A publishing anniversary

Apologies for cross-posting, but… it’s a special day – and not least because it’s the general election and also the day James Comey appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Cover of I Like It Hard by Francis James FranklinMy novelette, I Like It Hard, was published by Less Than Three Press (who are currently having a sale to celebrate Pride month) this day last year.

After her brother Dan loses in the final of the XXX-rated Reality TV show I Like It Hard, Helen Arnold finds new purpose in life: enter the show herself—and win.

But no amount of training or advice from Dan and his lovers can fully prepare her for naked interviews, two weeks in a porn-studio villa, and weeks of nerve- wracking live sex shows—all while dealing with the capricious nature of the judges, who wield absolute power over the show and its contestants.

Being both bisexual and aromantic, Helen is used to dealing with people who don’t like or approve of her—and she’s never been the type to back down when life gets hard.

Excerpt

“Oh,” my mother said when I told her the news, her neutral response spoken through lips twisted with unconcealed distaste. “Well done.” My father mumbled agreement. Clearly, both were still distressed that I was taking part in the competition at all, and despite their words, they were disappointed I hadn’t been kicked out.

Not that they had been one hundred percent behind Dan, but their complaints then had been more about his dragging them into the media spotlight. Which they were used to by now, really, so that wasn’t so much an issue. With me, it boiled down to my being a woman. My poor Mum. She had triumphed in her acceptance of Dan being gay, and had even at times shown a reluctant pride in seeing him on television, but I baffled her. In her mind, my bisexuality was a phase, my aromanticism was just a fancy way of saying I hadn’t met the right man, and my determination to follow in my brother’s footsteps was pure perversity to spite her.

“I don’t know why you feel you need to do this,” my mum said, not for the first time. I think I must have heard it at least once every week since I had started my training in earnest. “You’re such a smart girl. You should get yourself a normal job, find a nice young man, get married.” Thus proving that she never listened to a word I said.

Dan grinned at my scowl. “Yeah, Sis. You know what, we should post a video of you on YouTube, standing in front of a blackboard and writing fancy equations. Then you turn round, look at the camera, and say, ‘I like it hard!’”

I chuckled at this. “Do you think I could make a career in naked accountancy? ‘All figures exposed — except the real ones.’ How’s that for a slogan?”

Mum glared at both of us. “This isn’t a laughing matter! No one will ever take you seriously if you do this. And no man will ever love you. They’ll see you as a slut to be used and discarded.”

Yes, my mum called me a slut. While pretending not to, but still. Sighing, I looked at Dan. “Let’s go. This girl needs to train hard if she’s ever going to be as big a slut as you.”

May 2017 Fairytales @AlinaMeridon

infinite haiku: silk caught in flies caught in silk ...The Enchanted Forest

After last month’s perverse and slightly disturbing foray into sexbottery, this month I wrote a lesbian fairytale romance between a bard and a warrior (hmm, what does that remind me of?), the warrior (a trans woman) being a knight on a quest and the bard being a singer of spells and a fugitive slave. Let’s have a blurb:

When fugitive slave Kari dares to enter the enchanted forest that her mother disappeared into years before, she stumbles across a wounded knight and uses her skill as a bard to heal. The pair find themselves trapped by the forest, and their only hope is to find the Silver Queen whose tears are the last hope for a dying princess.

Written in thirteen instalments (adding up to approximately 13000 words), it is written as a lesbian romance, but it’s also a fairytale fantasy with fairies and giants and other magical creatures.

  1. The Enchanted Forest: 1. Blood in the Water
  2. The Enchanted Forest: 2. What’s in a Name?
  3. The Enchanted Forest: 3. Hot Water
  4. The Enchanted Forest: 4. Waking Up
  5. The Enchanted Forest: 5. Knitting Needles
  6. The Enchanted Forest: 6. A Guide Book
  7. The Enchanted Forest: 7. Shining Armour
  8. The Enchanted Forest: 8. The Silver Knight
  9. The Enchanted Forest: 9. Dragon Slayer
  10. The Enchanted Forest: 10. Baby Blues
  11. The Enchanted Forest: 11. The Oracle
  12. The Enchanted Forest: 12. The Silver Queen
  13. The Enchanted Forest: Epilogue

I had fun trying to distinguish between different sorts of magic, with the bard singing rhymes to call on nature’s magic, while the wizard meddles with other-worldly stuff, and so on. Maybe one day I’ll explore this world and its magics properly. (The best books I’ve read for magical details are the trilogy by Lyndon Hardy.)

The Loveless Princess – An Aro/Ace Fairytale

Lilian Bodley’s The Loveless Princess, published May 2017, is a fairytale with an aromantic heroine. A heroine who is a princess, and a princess must love her prince. Everyone knows that…

Not all fairytales are romances. Fairytales often have very poor characterisation, and they’re mostly about a scenario and its consequences. There’s a lesson of one sort or another to be learned about life, and the obsession with true love winning the day is a very modern one. Cinderella is the classic modern fairytale (see Aromancing Cinderella) of the good-hearted girl being rescued by a prince, combining tropes such as True Love and Love Conquers All and Love at First Sight, leading eventually to a Happily Ever After.

But maybe it’s propaganda, much like the Catholic Church saying, “No matter that you suffer in this life, be good (and obey our authority) and you will be rewarded in the next.” Cinderella the fairytale is saying, “Be a good girl and obedient, and maybe one day a prince will carry you away to a life of bliss.”

It is the voice of patriarchy: “Be a good girl, and obedient, and you will be rewarded with marriage. Of course, if you are spectacularly pretty and have a godmother that can introduce you to high society, that may help you catch the eye of the prince – and a pair of stripper heels wouldn’t go amiss.”

Such is the power of our modern fairytale romance, that we demand it in real life too. Charles and Diana – how perfect! How tragic! How could he not love her? How dare he not love her!

The Loveless Princess starts with a fairytale wedding. Yes, it’s a political marriage, arranged without the happy couple ever actually meeting, but the expectation is that the handsome prince and the beautiful princess will fall truly, madly, deeply in love and be blissfully happy for the rest of their lives. If this were a fantasy instead of a fairytale, the bride’s mother would be saying, “Look, maybe you won’t love him, but try to make the best of it.”

But in a fairytale it has to be love. Even if he’s gay and she’s aromantic and the chance of either ever falling in love with the other is smaller than a fairy’s freckle.

It’s a little confusing the way The Loveless Princess uses “love” to mean essentially romantic attraction and “desire” to mean sexual attraction, because that gets in the way of a more subtle exploration of love and desire. On the other hand, this does reflect characters who barely understand themselves and feel utterly alone in a hostile world. I enjoyed the story, but I do feel it could have been done better. There is more world-building and character-development than a fairytale normally gets, but not enough to make it work as a fantasy.

Valentina Lisitsa playing Liszt's el Contrabandista while waiting for a train at St. PancrasAnd finally…

A couple of music videos for your entertainment: First, Valentina Lisitsa playing Liszt’s el Contrabandista while waiting for a train at St. Pancras.

Leontina Vaduva and Placido Domingo singing Caro Elisir from Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore at the Gold and Silver Gala at Covent GardenAnd second, Leontina Vaduva (a beautiful Romanian soprano whose voice I adore) and the incomparable Placido Domingo singing the delightful Caro Elisir from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore at the Gold and Silver Gala at Covent Garden.

that I had such wine
to summon the wrath
of a goddess

Posts

April 2017 Sexbots & Poetry @AlinaMeridon

I have been reading… Leona Carver’s Transformation

Transformation by Leona CarverLeona Carver’s Transformation (LT3, goodreads) caught my eye. I’m not sure I knew that it was the third novella in the series when I bought it, but I gave it a go anyway. (While it’s not really necessary to read the other books, it would probably be better to.) Lesbian romance and terraforming – what’s not to like? Plus, I adore the cover.

I dislike stories where the reader is well ahead of the main character, and nearly abandoned this at the start, but once the story shifted onto the planet I found it much more enjoyable. Not only the characters, but the careful thought that went into the science and technology of terraforming a hostile alien planet. (Reminded me a little of Sheri S. Tepper’s Hobbs Land Gods.)

I have been listening to… Elektra

I enjoy listening to BBC Radio, and two plays stood out this month. One was Catriona Knox’s Almost Like Being In Love. The main character describes herself as heteroflexible, in a very philosophical way, and finds herself falling for a lesbian. The script is full of the almost clichéd responses to this apparent change (or non-change) of orientation that you might expect, adding an element of not-quite-comedy to the romance. It’s really a sweet and simple tale of an open-minded ‘straight’ girl discovering she’s bisexual and everyone generally being in denial of bisexuality. What it isn’t, really, is what the description said: “What does love look like in a world of non-binary, gender-fluid, constantly hyphenated thinking?”

The other play was Sophocles’ Electra, which is all about Orestes and Elektra complaining about how evil their mother is. Never mind that Agamemnon murdered Clytemnestra’s first husband (and child, possibly), or that he sacrificed his daughter (and their sister) Iphigenia, or even that he’s been away for over ten years doing whatever it is kings do with captured slave-girls (he even brings one back with him), no, the only thing that matters is that their mother took a lover and killed their father.

It’s tragic, really. But it inspired this little tale of Agamemnon’s home-coming:

  • Cassandra, The ill-fated princess speaks; her last prophesy falls on deaf ears…

Salma Harek as EverlyI have been watching… Everly

Everly (2014) blends kick-ass girl, vengeful woman and determined mother in the talented and beautiful form of Salma Hayek. A desperate attempt to escape a life of confinement, abuse and slavery fails, putting her mother and daughter’s lives in danger. As a string of deadly assassins try to kill Everly, she struggles to guide her family to safety. Often dark, often funny, always brilliant.

Almost Adults filmAlso on Netflix, Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman (who were Carmilla and Laura respectively in the fantastic Carmilla webseries) star in Almost Adults, a delightful coming-of-age film with elements of humour and romance.

And the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One, was also much enjoyed.

National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo)

Last year I didn’t have a theme for NaPoWriMo (see April 2016 Iphigenia @AlinaMeridon) but in 2015 I had a theme of steampunk, and in 2014 (my first NaPoWriMo) I chose Supergirl – which started my poetic love affair with Kara El.

In the spirit of perversity, for April 2017 I chose the theme of sexbots. They are of course a recurring theme on this blog, in connection with my unpublished and ill-fated novella Alexis 5-1-8. I recognise that this is a subject that few are interested in, and one that is somewhat antithetical to poetry (sexbots being base sexuality versus the elevated refinement of poetry), but in challenging the assumptions about and the instinctive reactions towards sexbots, it’s intriguing to see the mirror they hold up to society.

sexbot
some mirrors reflect
too well

The following collection of poems and articles is not erotic. Sometimes there is humour, and sometimes darkness, but I have aimed for compassion and truth.

Sexbot Articles

Sexbot Poetry: Mythology

Sexbot Poetry: Sexbot as Lover

Sexbot Poetry: The Dark Side

Sexbot Poetry: The Sentient Sexbot

Sexbot Poetry: Objectification

Sexbot Poetry: Humour

March 2017 Trolling @AlinaMeridon

I have been reading…

Love and Friendship, based on Lady Susan by Jane AustenLove & Friendship is on Netflix. The trailer had me in hysterics last year, but I never managed to get to the cinema to watch it. It’s great fun, and Kate Beckinsale is gorgeous as Lady Susan. It’s based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan (free for Kindle), which I’m currently reading and very much enjoying.

Vagina Dentata by Lauryn PantsAlso free, Vagina Dentata may sound absolutely horrible – although it’s definitely worth reading the Wikipedia page on the subject (e.g., “In Shintoism the Ainu legend is that a sharp-toothed demon hid inside the vagina of a young woman and emasculated two young men on their wedding nights.”) – but it’s a beautifully written short story and full of humour. It’s also, no surprise, erotic and explicit.

Supergirl & Shipping & Trolling

After my complaints last month about Supergirl, my frustrations reached the point where I needed to have a more coherent rant: Another Super Rant – What the ’El? Apparently, tagging this as #Karamel made me a troll, e.g.: “Keep this crap out of our tags, troll!” I was almost tempted to reply, “Keep your shipping crap out my #Supergirl tag!” But that probably wouldn’t have achieved very much…

Perhaps the most interesting thing in all of this is the way people are so focussed on ‘endgame’ romances. In other words, the series needs to pick a romantic partner for Supergirl who will be her One True Love by the end of the final season, if and whenever that may be. In the case of Karamel, this means that Mon-El is here now and here to stay, and we may as well call the series The New Adventures of Supergirl and Mon-El – and if you don’t like that, then tough. Stop watching, you ‘salty, bitter betty’.

(Karamel shippers are fiercely protective of Mon-El. The absurdity of it is, if you swapped genders so that the hero, Superboy, was falling for a female Mon-El who constantly disrespected him, slept with people at the drop of a hat, frequently endangered lives and even sometimes beat people up for money… would there be any love at all for her? Can you say ‘double standards’? (*))

I think it’s not that I object to a soulmate per se, although it is a tired and severely limiting cliché, but the pairing has to be right. It has to make sense. And… er, why does it have to happen straight away?

Or at all?

Anyway, on a lighter note. Sort of. A year or so ago I wrote a Supercat poem, and now here’s a Supercorp poem:

In Lena’s arms she fell at last
and wept such bitter tears
“Why have I had to wait,” she asked
“so many lonely years?
For one to ease my aching heart
and soothe away my fears?

“I’m tired of men – their arrogance!
their blind and selfish ways!
I’d quit this planet were it not
for Sol’s sweet golden rays
So cold and dark the too-long nights
while waiting for the days…

“Hold me, Lena, keep me warm
you’ve sunshine in your eyes
The passion in your heart is bright
your actions quick and wise
Just promise always to be true
I’m sick from human lies.”

“Kara, love, my heart is yours
my soul and body too
I’d give up all I am and own
to spend my life with you
You are my hero, super girl
and love you true, I do.”

((*) I’m reminded suddenly of 7 of 9’s takeover of Star Trek: Voyager. I was already in love with Jeri Ryan from her Russian assassin on Dark Skies, so of course she was a welcome addition to the cast, but Voyager was growing stale and Janeway’s tedious and limited morality was never inspiring, and 7 of 9’s frequent rebellion was so much more fun.)

Oh no, not sexbots again!

I followed a link from Sententiaeantiquae’s A Fanciful Story with a Surprising Climax, about a man lusting after a statue of Aphrodite, to Philosophical Disquisitions and The Ethics of Robot Sex:

Whether robots should be treated with the same ethical respect as humans … depends on whether or not they display the external evidential marks of personhood. If they do, we should err on the side of caution and treat them equivalently to human beings.

A very interesting article, although I feel there are additional issues that need to be addressed – and are partly so in the linked article Is there a Case for Robot Slaves?

Slippery-Slope Objection: Even if it is not intrinsically wrong to create robot slaves, it does give rise to a morally worrying slippery slope. Specifically, it seems like it will desensitise us to the needs and interests of human persons, and will thus condition us to act callously toward them when they do not wish to do our dirty work.

Some arguments against the slippery-slope objection follow, but I don’t find them entirely satisfying. But certainly thought-provoking…

Posts

Winter 2016-17 Day is Done @AlinaMeridon

I haven’t been writing much lately. In part, my day job has been keeping me too busy of late, but mostly I’m weary about the state of the world.

  • Brexit left me feeling wounded and confused, and the determination of Britain’s politicians to follow that path to our doom, like lemmings off a cliff, is… well, understandable, but deeply saddening. And especially worrying, since:
  • Trump. Oh. Dear. God. Damn, America, I get that you weren’t overly fond of Hilary, but why would you vote for an immature, entitled, egotistical, bigotted, woman-hating white supremacist? All I can say is, thank God for:
  • Supergirl? Oh, dear. I mean, I know I bitched a little about the pseudo-feminism in Season 1, but Season 2 is a mess! It’s even more illogical than Season 1, and while it’s great to have Alex finding true love with Maggie, it feels a little excessive when Kara barely gets any character development. The truth is that Cat Grant was a necessary balance, a good and powerful human female influence, in a series otherwise dominated by aliens, soldiers and cyborgs. (“After losing Cat Grant, the world of Supergirl feels completely imbalanced. It’s almost as if the fictional Cat Grant kept all the very real writers in place. Because let’s face it: Cat Grant would stand up for Supergirl.” – How The CW gave Supergirl a second season, then ruined it) The closest we get in Season 2 is Lena Luthor, and she’s sadly under-used; instead we have to endure an inexplicable relationship between Kara and Mon-El. But it’s increasingly clear that the writers don’t really care about the characters or the artistic integrity of Supergirl.
  • [On the plus side, I’ve watched some great series on Netflix: 3% (Brazilian post-apocalyptic), The Expanse (space opera), Luke Cage (Marvel), Jessica Jones (Marvel), Cyborg 009 (anime), and others also, but these are all definitely worth a shot.]
  • Oh, and also, my computer broke. The Apple Store has pronounced it “beyond repair”. One silver lining here, though: I extracted an old MacBook Pro from a cupboard and have managed to get Ubuntu Linux working smoothly – I’m continually astonished by how well Linux works these days. I remember installing it onto my 486 off a handful of floppy disks, and having to spend days fiddling with X Server parameters to get the monitor to work. These days the only thing I fight with is EFI, but I won’t go into that…
  • And last, but not least, I made an intelligent (I thought) and innocuous (I thought) comment on a blog article that kicked off an entirely too stressful discussion/argument, which left me feeling emotionally battered. It has been three weeks now since I baled, and I haven’t found the strength – or given in to the weakness – to see how much worse it got.

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November 2016 James Bond @AlinaMeridon

Cold War Relics – A James Bond Adventure

One of the discussions that people often have about Dr Who is whether he could, or should, regenerate as a woman. For gender balance in the Tardis, she might then travel time and space with a male companion. Ultimately there’s no reason why this shouldn’t happen, though it seems unlikely that it ever will.

Earlier this year, Daniel Craig’s uncertainty over James Bond led to an inevitable flurry of speculation over alternatives, posing even the question of whether James Bond needs to be White British. Of course, the source material, Fleming’s stories, were suddenly a holy reference stating absolutely that James Bond has to be white, male and British (ideally Sean Connery) and a bit of an all-round bastard, in a suave and sophisticated way.

If the plots are absurd, and often the acting also, the spectacle of the films – the music, the exotic locations, the action sequences, but especially the stunt work (Die Another Day being a sad travesty of a Bond film from the moment the invisible car makes its appearance – or disappearance, rather) – makes them watchable.

The plots are also rife with misogyny, mainly through sheer inertia. (Anyone who isn’t Bond, M, Q or Moneypenny can and will be sacrificed or forgotten, and any women need to be beautiful and sleep with either Bond or the villain – or both.) There’s no real need, however, for Bond to be ‘a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,’ as M says; ‘a relic of the Cold War.’

Thandie Newton as James Bond

Thandie Newton as James Bond, 007
(With apologies for copyright infringement…)

There’s no real need even for Bond to be a man, except that people have a fondness for men who are sexist, misogynist dinosaurs. Just ask the next President of the United States of America.

So, it should be possible to have a female James Bond (Ah, Ms Bond! We meet at last…) – or, indeed, a female-identifying, polyamorous, pansexual, intersex James Bond – who kills bad guys and beds beautiful women…

for one little kiss
I would sacrifice my breath
and drown in your arms

double-o seven
the cold assassin enjoys
one more little death

james bond in heels skirts
many fearsome enemies
to strike at the heart

  1. The obligatory pre-credit sequence
  2. Moneypenny and the Quartermaster
  3. An exotic location
  4. A bloody business
  5. A new dress and heels
  6. The predictable card game
  7. An over-complicated death
  8. Search for the Secret Base
  9. The dastardly plan
  10. An explosive end
  11. Getting the girl

All About Freya

I was delighted to have a guest post from Freya Pickard, a fellow haiku poet and fantasy author. We share a love of dragons, structured poetry and Gilbert & Sullivan…

Cover of Insides by Freya Pickard

“I managed to retain my sense of humour throughout most of my cancer experience; it was only really chemotherapy that made it disappear… Most of my other writing is humorous, particularly if I’m writing about Dracomagan. But I do have a serious novel coming out next.”

Failed Again!

Two of my haiku were accepted for the December edition of Failed Haiku.

Posts

September 2016 Veiled Haiku @AlinaMeridon

The Veil

Henry David Thoreau, a poet and philosopher whose writings I wish I were better acquainted with, once said, “It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.” It certainly conjures up some interesting images, but I suspect the point he was making was that if clothing were simple, primarily functional and generally stripped of its layers of meaning, then we would necessarily have to judge people by who they are rather than what they wear.

Clothing is full of meaning. Clothing is seldom ‘just clothing’. Clothing is a cultural statement indicating power, wealth, identity and intention. It is a language, one of many spoken across the world and throughout recorded history, each with its local dialects. Cultural misunderstandings are easy and all too frequent: someone might make the statement, “I am a confident, independent woman and open – perhaps – to sexual advances from the right someone,” only for someone else to see them and understand instead, “I am a woman of no intrinsic worth and may be treated entirely without respect.”

Defenders of the veil (in its many forms) often argue that it’s ‘just clothing’ and people should be allowed to wear what they like. If people genuinely were allowed to wear whatever they liked, then there wouldn’t be such an outcry at public nudity. In truth there are rules upon rules of what is permissible. Some are enshrined in law, some are simply convention and fashion, some are tokens of cultural identity.

Arguments in support of the veil are so often presented in the guise of feminism (‘the liberation is in the choice’) or religious freedom that to speak out against the veil is perilous indeed. Intelligent people with legitimate concerns are reluctant to speak out for fear of an organised backlash from a religious mafia.

I am a feminist and I find the sight of a woman concealed head-to-foot, save perhaps for a glimpse of eyes, highly distressing. Does, I wonder, the woman have any real choice? Is she happy to be isolated from the outside world, or utterly miserable? Is she content to be the property of a man? Added to that is the offensive implication that men are unable to control their desires, or that it is the responsibility of a woman to conceal herself from the uncontrollable desires of men.

If you genuinely believe people should be allowed to wear what they want, then you should fight for the right for all people to wear what they like, and to be safe and treated with respect no matter what. In communities where the veil is the norm, a woman who chooses not to wear the veil cannot be assured of either safety or respect. Sadly, neither can a woman who does choose to wear the veil be assured of either.

Refusing the Veil by Yasmin-Alibhai-Brown

I have been thinking much about the veil this past month, and stumbled across Refusing the Veil by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who writes with the clarity and the passion of one who sees a hard-won freedom slipping away.

Alexis 5-1-8

In August I started writing a sequel to Alexis 5-1-8 without a real sense of where to take it, but it occurred to me eventually that it would be far better to rewrite much of the new material and thread it into the original story. Alexis 5-1-8 is now sitting at 24,000 words, edging into novella territory.

I sent the new version off to yet-another-independent-publisher – three weeks ago, and have heard absolutely nothing so far. Not even a receipt. Sigh… Getting very tempted to just publish it myself.

Failed Again!

On a happier note, four of my haiku were accepted for the October edition of Failed Haiku.

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