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The Best American Erotica 2002by Susie Bright
Prepare to enter an erogenous zone.
Enlightenment and arousal await you inside with the best erotic writing of the year.
In The Best American Erotica 2002, Jane Smiley illustrates the singular escapism found in the gentlest caress, Maggie Estep relates the surprising sexual happenings in a detox clinic, Francesca Lia Block explores/i>/b>/b>
Prepare to enter an erogenous zone.
Enlightenment and arousal await you inside with the best erotic writing of the year.
In The Best American Erotica 2002, Jane Smiley illustrates the singular escapism found in the gentlest caress, Maggie Estep relates the surprising sexual happenings in a detox clinic, Francesca Lia Block explores the aquatic fantasies haunting a surfer, and Ernie Conrick introduces a tennis star and sex symbol who surrenders to an unusual coach. In these twenty-five stories you will also find cutting-edge work from other luminaries and from the Internet, where the next wave of erotica has matured into some of the most enticing writing around.
Susie Bright's experienced eye and wide-open mind deliver exceptional writing that will satisfy all tastes and preferences and the merely curious.
Jamie Callan, Maggie Estep, Simon Sheppard, Debra Boxer, Andi Mathis, Adelina Anthony, Pam Ward, Francesca Lia Block, J. T. LeRoy, Laurie Sirois, Robert Devereaux, Stacey Richter, Gary Rosen, Lucy Taylor, Anne Tourney, Jane Smiley, Ernie Conrick, Nell Carberry, Nalo Hopkinson, Poppy Z. Brite, Paula Bomer, Michael Stamp, Tsaurah Litzky, Alma Marceau, Shaun Levin
Read an Excerpt
Erotic lit has been a lot of things during the past couple of decades: a renaissance, a political football, the best conversation piece you ever left out on your coffee table. It's transformed itself from publishing shame to book business savior, from militant manifesto to supermarket special.
But for those of us who've been enjoying (or criticizing) the modern heyday of erotica, it's also been something else: one of the most compelling soap operas around. There's always a new character threatening to take over the room the Gothic babe, the safe sex mensch, or the cyber-amazon which one will be the star this year? In addition to the new kids on the series, we've got such stalwarts as the sensitive macho, the rebellious virgin, and the notorious diva who never dies the Whore with the Heart of Gold.
In the 1980s, erotic lit revived itself in rebellion, as the horny battle cry of the outcasts and the invisible. On one side, there were the pro-sex feminists who thought the best way to kick a double standard in the ass was to create their own juicy alternative. It was the erotic version of "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar," and this time the girl was in ecstasy, unapologetic and orgasmic.
The queer side to the new erotic wave was the spectacular growth of gay and lesbian publishing, which was much more outspoken. Again, it was all in the vein of "I Am (Name Your Label Here), Hear Me Roar, Sweat, Come, and Whisper Dirty Somethings in Your Ear."
Much of this early writing was first-person, confessional, and triumphant. This style did not make it as the darling of the literary fiction world, which considered the whole trend to be adolescent raving. You weren't about to see "Lesbian Coming-Out Stories" heralded as best genre of the year by The New York Review of Books. But like many genres that are disdained by the literary establishment, coming-out stories were a huge hit among everyday readers.
I look back at my first collection of erotica (Herotica, in 1987) and it's like looking at my teenage self so precocious and poignant at times, so ridiculous at others. It's a remarkably popular book even today, and I think that's because, for many readers coming into their sexual identity, it's still the perfect welcome wagon. These coming-out stories invite the reader to join a community that proclaims, "Yes, we're sexual, we're healthy, we're the future leaders of tomorrow, dammit." If you're someone who has heard only the dirtiest and most shaming messages about sex all your life, this is the enlightenment.
Nevertheless, as more and more talented writers explored erotic fiction, a bit of backlash began. It was a reaction to the sunniness of the coming-out formula, and I called it "porn noir." This was the attitude of the writer who said, "I don't want to be a role model, I don't want to be wholesome I 'came out' ten years ago, and it was hardly the highlight of my sexual career."
Porn noir peaked in the mid-nineties, and we started seeing a lot of dark stories, parables with erotic antiheroes, ambivalent endings and yes, bad sex. Yet they were still arousing the storytelling was irresistible. Authenticity was their watchword, and "keeping it real" meant not putting a cherry on top of every cum shot.
In this edition of The Best American Erotica, I'm seeing a new trend that goes beyond reaction or rebellion. Instead, it has to do with a changing viewpoint, a new authorial attitude.
The hallmark of the coming-out story was that it was told in the first person; it was autobiographical. When the porn noir craze hit, even though the author was not as optimistic as we had become accustomed to, s/he was still telling "his or her own truth," as it were. The "I" was still the most popular viewpoint for telling a sex story; the implication was still largely confessional.
Writers being the great liars that they are, no one wanted to "be themselves" for very long...how dreary. That confessional "Look Ma! Look Pa! I'm Fucking Myself!" thing was exhilarating at first, but it was a dead end after the early generations. Some writers are very private about their personal lives, and their own sexuality is often quite a departure from their protagonists'.
There are seven stories in this edition that portray a male point of view, in which the "I" is a man, or the third person is employed to show a decidedly masculine perspective. Six of these stories are written by women. It's the same on the other side; I have men who are writing lesbian and female-centric work as well. One of the "gay male" stories is written by a woman. Of course, since I'm sworn to secrecy, I can't even tell you how many of the author names you see on the stories are actually the gender they appear to be. Just keep guessing.
Now I realize that this wouldn't be big news in literary fiction. No one says to Joyce Carol Oates, "My god, it's incredible the way you write men's dialogue, how can you bring yourself to do it?" But in contemporary erotic lit, this is pretty racy. When Pat Califia first wrote Macho Sluts in 1989, she trailblazed this cross-gender viewpoint, but it's taken until now to become part of the erotic writing mainstream.
Not only is it a leap of writing sophistication, it's also been a departure from political correctness. Many women erotic authors have always been perfectly capable of writing male viewpoints and vice versa. But because modern erotic fiction has been so feminist in its roots, there was always an unspoken peer pressure to write as a woman, to show the woman's point of view, to interrupt the male monologue that seems to dominate every other part of the media.
Men who wrote erotica were discouraged writing female viewpoints because there was resentment there, in the spirit of "What the hell do you know, you patriarchal windbag!" After all, so many patriarchal windbags had already gotten published that the guilt trip worked as an effective shushing.
What's interesting now is to see women taking on male characterizations to make their stories come to light or gay authors using heterosexual sex to make a homosexual point, and so on. It brings to mind the words of filmmaker Gregg Araki, who once said, "I was so sick of directors who made gay-themed movies for a straight audience so I decided to make a 'straight movie' for gay people."
This flexibility in viewpoint has made erotic lit a lot more complex and unpredictable, which is the flavor of any good yarn. It's been satisfying to see women's stories where the argument for why women are entitled to have sexual feelings is not rehashed for pedagogical benefit. Instead, the characters do have sex, they do have emotions, but the story unfolds with all their contradictions building up our anticipation. The gay stories, in particular, are often so far away from the legend of "how I became queer" that when I find one of those coming-out confessions today, it brings a tear of seventies nostalgia to my eyes.
One character that's been particularly shaken up by this new candor and creativity is that old whore with the golden heart I mentioned at the beginning of the introduction. The fastest-growing erotica this past year has been the explosion of writing by artists who work in the sex business.
The obvious reason for the burgeoning number of sex-work stories is that so many people now count some sex work as part of their résumés. If you're living in Southern California, I would lay odds you've either worked a sex-related job, or you have a relative who does. We're not just talking porn stars here, but rather everyone from the warehouseman who trucks your dildos, to the sales manager for the printing press that delivers hardcore box covers. There are the doctors who work in clinics that cater to prostitutes and adult actors, and the lingerie manufacturers who wouldn't exist without strippers as their biggest customers. And that's all aside from the "talent": the models, the phone-sex operators, escorts, dominatrixes, and so on.
The peculiar American prejudice against sex work is that, first, it's for dumb people, and second, it's for the chronically horny and hard-up. Yet if you take a look at any of the books, plays, and films created by sex workers, you'll see that they're as articulate, educated, and outspoken as any group of nonconformists. They have the same highs and lows of libido as any civilian.
One of the best anthologies I read last year was Tricks and Treats, edited by Matt Bernstein Sycamore. The theme is sex workers talking about their clients. Once again, the "I" is used, it's intended to be autobiographical, and a few of the stories recall how the authors came into their trade.
Yet as the editor says in his introduction, "These stories are written as if we are talking among ourselves." He goes on further to explain the risk he took in showing a warts-and-all view of this world: "The media's most common portrayals of sex workers are of sex-crazed perverts or trapped victims....In a world that still views sex workers as primarily vectors of disease (literally and figuratively), counternarrative is crucial. Sometimes, however, sex-worker spokespersons end up oversimplifying sex work by showing only the positive sides. To me, this is as inaccurate as the talk-show host and the social worker who call us depraved or deprived."
Oversimplifying the great sin of the do-gooder, the sex-positive cheerleader, the optimistic assimilationist. Truth be told, it's the cry of someone who would just like to be understood and appreciated for a minute before the next tidal wave of sex-shame barrels up. And yet look where it gets you there's the initial applause for trying to play to the crowd, but it's only a matter of minutes before your façade is unmasked, and the calls of hypocrisy are thrown into the ring.
Fiction has always been the most transformative place to tell the truth. Storytellers aren't running for office; they're simply here to suspend disbelief. Writers don't have to take one side, because if they're any good, they'll make you step into multiple pairs of character shoes. Authors don't have to "do the right thing," because their most appealing hero can be the one who never does anything right. It's this empathy that arouses our convictions and sways more minds than a thousand stump speeches.
Erotic lit is getting messier every day, much to my approval. I'm relieved that the new erotica writers don't expect me to love them, or to become them, just because their story turns me on. Give me the soap, the lather, and all the dirt, because I'll stick around for the next episode, and the one after that. Coming-out stories have finally come clean and grown up, like all good genres should. I don't know what's going to happen next, and that's the biggest thrill of all.
Introduction and compilation copyright © 2002 by Susie Bright
Meet the Author
Susie Bright is the editor of The Best American Erotica series and host of the weekly audio show In Bed with Susie Bright on Audible.com. She has been a columnist for Playboy and Salon, and has been profiled in USA TODAY, Los Angeles Times, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, and Vanity Fair, among other publications. An international lecturer on sexuality and feminism, she won the 2004 Writer of the Year Award at the Erotic Awards in London. Ms. Bright lives in Santa Cruz, California.
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'The Best American Erotica 2002' does not disappoint! Here again, there is a story (or two, or more) for everyone....guaranteed to make your heart beat faster, your blood grow warmer, and your passion rise! Two stories in this edition are from the acclaimed 'Aqua Erotica' anthology ('Mer' by Francesca Lia Block & 'In Deep' by Simon Sheppard) which are delicious in their own right. Stories I recommend include 'Night Train', 'Backhand', and 'A Clean Comfortable Room'. One piece to keep in mind is 'Talk About Sex: An Orientation' by Jamie Callan, who teaches at Fairfield University, only a stone's throw across town from me. Susie Bright does it again! An excellent read, especially at bedtime! May I also add that the apple being held on the cover symbolizes 'forbidden fruit' if you know what I mean? Enjoy!