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Guest Post: Malin James on Stereotypes, Identity and Roadhouse Blues

Today I get to host the lovely Malin James. Malin’s writing style has always made me a bit weak in the knees. She can convey more power and sex in 5 words in a minimalist, gorgeous voice. Her story The Green Lady was one of my favorites in Under the Mistletoe. Today she’s here to talk about her new book Roadhouse Blues.

First of all, thank you for having me, Delilah. It’s wonderful to be here.

One of the most unexpected things about promoting Roadhouse Blues is keeping track of what I talk about, when and with whom. Between interviews, conversations, emails, social media and posts, I have the constant, nagging worry that I’ve already said whatever it is that I’m going to say. One thing does seem to keep coming up though, so I figured it was worth going into in a little more depth.

One of the best pieces of feedback Roadhouse Blues has gotten so far is that it subverts certain stereotypes. My writing process is pretty organic, so I rarely go into a project with a specific mission in mind. That said, there was something that I knew I wanted to do very early on—I wanted the stories to be about characters whose inner lives don’t necessarily match their outward appearances.

I’ve already talked a bit about the fact that Styx, the town the collection is set in, creates an external pressure that binds the stories together. It’s a socially conservative place in the middle of nowhere—the kind of place where it’s often easier to just do what’s expected of you. It’s the kind of community that is so small that the consequences of challenging the status quo can be huge. So, with a few major exceptions, most of the characters don’t openly challenge it…but that doesn’t mean that they privately conform.

That’s where I go Joe, the good ol’ boy mechanic whose marriage is quietly and lovingly non-monogamous; and Liz, his boss and long term lover; and Luke, the high school football star turned diner owner who plays his private life extremely close to the vest; and Maybelline, the stripper whose relationship to sex is complicated and deeply internalized, despite the fact that it’s her job to perform an exaggerated portrait of female sexuality. In fact, that notion of performance is at the center of it all—how do we identify, and do we choose to perform that identity or keep it hidden?

That’s where stereotypes get interesting. For some characters, like Liz in “Down & Dirty”, stereotypes are a burden—something she actively chooses to defy. She owns a garage at a time when women don’t even pump gas, and she takes a deep, carnal pleasure in her body’s raw strength. She takes the stereotypical idea of what it is to be feminine, balls it up and eats it for lunch without ever compromising the complexity of her identity and sexual needs.

Other characters, like Luke in “Truck Stop”, use stereotypes like a mask. Of all the characters in the book, Luke is the one who is most conscious of the bifurcation between his public image and his private life. Because of that, he deliberately plays up the stereotype of the ex-athlete, business owning, pillar-of-the-community to shield aspects of himself, specifically that he is a gay black man in a “shit-kicking Christian town”.

Unfortunately, choosing to remain closeted is nothing new, especially since the reality is that being openly gay is still dangerous in parts of this (and other) countries. Given where he lives, Luke is instinctively aware of the danger that his sexuality could put him in, so he chooses to remain closeted…but not so deeply closeted that he doesn’t know himself.

There’s nothing delusional or stereotypically tortured about Luke’s relationship to his own sexuality. He owns his attraction to men. He’s at ease with the fact that he’s had gay sex, and that he misses it. He misses that part of himself. And yet, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what acting on it could cost him, so, unlike Liz, he uses a stereotype to protect himself. But that doesn’t mean that he owns his identity any less than Liz. He just owns it privately, which is why, every now and then, he allows himself to indulge. That’s what “Truck Stop” is about—Luke setting aside the safety of the stereotype to engage in truly hot, authentic sex with another man.

I’m not trying to imply that stereotypes can’t be dangerous, because they can, especially when we don’t question them. Stereotypes are why we have hate crimes, misogyny, profiling and pretty much every cultural phobia you can think of. Stereotypes are the illusion that we have even the first clue about a person based on how they look, and they are very often wrong.

And yet, stereotypes persist, and because they persist, they pose an even more insidious threat, because if a person buys into the stereotype that describes them, it can flatten the glorious individuality that is every person’s right, and twist them away from their far more complicated, authentic self. Self-awareness is the answer to that—self-awareness and autonomous self-ownership, regardless of how a person defies, or uses, any given stereotype.

That’s why I wanted my characters to move seamlessly through the world they live in, while remaining aware of, and faithful to, their private realities. Sometimes, that reality manifests internally, as it does for Maybelline in “Marlboro Man”. Sometimes it’s flagrantly displayed, like it is for Liz. And sometimes it lands on a halfway point between the two, and that’s where Luke sits.

Stereotypes, identity, performance, authenticity. These are some of the basic human factors we all confront as we find our way in the world. If there’s one thing I’m proud of in this collection, it’s letting my characters navigate what the people around them think and expect, and then decide for themselves how they want to respond.

And now, here’s a snippet from Luke’s story, “Truck Stop”.

Excerpt:

Luke didn’t really think he’d see Jim again. Between the fluster and the blushing and the chemistry, it was pretty damn clear that trucker Jim was into guys. It was also pretty damn clear that he didn’t know what to do about it. Once upon a time, Luke had been the same. All red-faced awkwardness and bright, shiny eyes. He knew how rough it could be. Sometimes moving on was easier. At least, that’s what he’d told himself.

Luke spent the rest of the afternoon taking orders and fixing food. Jack was off his game, over-salting chili and under-cooking fries. Too many doubles, Luke figured. He’d have to make him cut back, but, in the meantime, it kept Luke busy, which helped him forget about sexy, bright-eyed truckers. He did a fine job too…until Jim came back a few minutes before close.

“Hey,” Jim said, shoving his hands in his pockets. He looked like a sheepish kid. “Ran out pretty fast this afternoon. Sorry about that.”

“No worries,” Luke said, ignoring everything south of his hips. “Here. I owe you some change.”

Luke opened the register, but Jim shook his head. “No, keep it. Call it a tip.”

“Okay….” Luke slipped the money back and quietly shut the till. “So, what brings you back?” His voice felt strong and deep in his chest, like all of him was there. That should’ve worried him, but the worry didn’t make it through the good.

Jim took a deep breath, like people do when they’re going to be brave or very stupid. “I came back to see you.”

He took off his hat, a gentleman come a-courtin’ with rumpled hair, like he’d just rolled out of bed. Luke’s pulse jumped. He was standing in a room with a fine-looking man, and the room was full of windows. Anyone could see.

Luke cleared his throat. “How about some pie?”

Their eyes met. Thick, caramel silence.

“Yeah,” Jim said. “I’d like some pie.”

Luke flipped the closed sign and locked the door. It was pretty goddamn clear they weren’t talking about pie. His hands shook as he lowered the blinds. He never lowered the blinds. He was too wary of being set up. Trucker comes in, makes sexy eyes…next thing you know, you’re getting punched in the head. Jim could be fucking with him, or trying to steal his till, or just looking to bash gay guys in the act of being gay, but Luke didn’t think so—not with the way he ran out and came back. Luke didn’t think so, and he was willing to take the risk.

By the time he got back to the counter, Jim had taken off his jacket and was sitting at the counter, tight and sharp as a wire. Luke got the coffee pot and brought over a mug. Jim touched his hand.

“Better not,” he said and smiled. “Haven’t been lucky with coffee.” His hand stayed on Luke’s, pale and rough, clean beneath the nails, as his eyes filled with a soft, silent pleading. Luke thought about all the good, wholesome, down-home sex he never got to have, and the last of his caution slip away. He leaned in, drawn by those pretty, pleading eyes, but Jim got there first.

Jim kissed him, hard on the mouth, like he making an important point. Luke stiffened—not turned off, just surprised—but Jim hesitated and started to pull away. Luke put his hands on the other man’s back and pulled him back in. They didn’t talk. They barely breathed. They mauled each other right out of words and the mind to speak.

Jim dropped to his knees. Luke tried to pull him up, but the younger man stopped him with those big, bright eyes full of let me and please. Luke let him go and leaned back against the counter. Jim unbuckled his belt like a kid on Christmas day. He had no idea if the guy had even seen another man’s dick, but there was something sweet about finding out.

 

Author Bio:

Malin James is an essayist, blogger, and short story writer. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, Bust, MUTHA, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Medium, as well as in podcasts and anthologies for Cleis Press, Sweetmeats Press and Stupid Fish Productions. Her first collection, Roadhouse Blues, is now out with Go Deeper Press. Find out more at malinjames.com.

Buy Links:

 

Blurring the lines between reality and fiction: RJ edition

I hope you guys enjoyed my guest post with F dot Leonora about the ways in which Meg and I are similar and different. Today, Malin James is hosting the counter-part to that post–all the ways in which my husband and RJ are similar and different.

RJ(1)

I’ll give you a sneak peek of a similarity

They both have curly hair. When my husband’s hair is freshly washed and he hasn’t messed it up over the course of his day, it curls into these perfect ringlets I’m a little heartbroken neither of our daughters inherited.

Discover all the ways I blurred the lines at Malin’s blog, and enter her contest to win a copy of Capturing the Moment by leaving a comment telling me who your fictional crush is.

Book Review: Chemical [se]x, edited by Oleander Plume

Chemical [se]x

When I first heard about Chemical [se]X, I was intrigued.  An entire book of erotica with the common theme of chocolate?  Yummy.  I bought it, but had not gotten around to reading it.  Then, a few weeks ago, I listened to Rose Caraway interview Oleander Plume and Tamsin Flowers about the book.  Once I heard the podcast, Chemical [se]X moved up to the #1 spot in my to-read queue.

I’m so glad I read this book.

During the podcast, Oleander talks about how she wrote a story about aphrodisiac chocolates and posted it on her website for free.  Then she thought about writing a sequel.  The idea then evolved into an anthology with the erotic chocolates as a common theme.

Much like Tamsin’s Alchemy xii erotic serial, Oleander’s idea is something I haven’t seen before in erotica.  While anthologies have a common theme, there’s nothing tying the individual stories together.  With Chemical [se]X, while each story works as a stand-alone, the connecting thread took the collection as a whole to a new level.  I want more anthologies like this.

My husband and I often read different erotic books as we have different turn-ons (with a few exceptions, like Alison Tyler), but our shared kindle account means that we can see and read the books that the other has bought.  When I was reading Chemical [se]X, my kindle account would tell me that I was last at a different page because I learned that my husband was reading it at the same time I was.  Much like the way we eat chocolate in real life, I devoured Chemical [se]X and my husband is slowly savoring it.

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I’ve mentioned before that I read a LOT of erotica.  With some exceptions (basically anything I review on this blog or authors I squeal about on a regular basis) this means I have zero issue reading erotica in public because I’m a bit desensitized.  I read using my kindle app on my phone which means I’m likely to read anywhere and everywhere.

I started reading Chemical [se]X in a very long line of Christmas shoppers waiting to be checked out, beginning with the story that started it all; “Chemical [se]X” by Oleander Plume.

“You really don’t find it hot in here?”

“No, the air conditioning is really cranked up today. If you’re too warm, blame yourself for wearing those dopey socks.”

Despite his protests about the temperature, he shrugged out of his lab coat, then stood up to sharpen his pencil. I checked out his butt, it was cute, taut, and round enough to fill out the back of his faded jeans quite nicely. Another fantasy filled my head, this one of Wyatt’s naked ass bent over my knee, slightly pink after a paddling by my hand.

I was feeling a little flushed by the time I was checked out.  I knew I should stop reading Oleander’s story in public.  But it was so good I couldn’t NOT read it and I had to hit the grocery store in the basement of the mall I was in before I could go home.  I’ve never been so turned on while riding an escalator before in my life.  I don’t expect to ever have that singular experience again, either.  Gold star for you, Oleander!
Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 10.46.33 pmOleander also contributed one of my other favorite stories–“Coffee Break”

My brain screamed at my mouth “Spit that out, some weird shit is happening,” but I literally could not stop, the chocolate had a hypnotic effect on me. Once I finished the entire piece, I stared at Zak while I licked the melted bits off my fingers. That’s when I noticed his skin was the exact same color as the chocolate, and I had the overwhelming urge to lick him, too. All. Over.

Zak and Ryan have the best banter in the book.  They are an odd couple of co-workers with Ryan just NOT GETTING half of what Zak means when he uses words like “pansexual.”  But by the end of the story there is an electric m/m/m threesome.  Bonus point for an interracial coupling–there aren’t enough of them.

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Jade A. Waters’ story “The Connection” was the story that resonated the most for me.

“The Connection” is about a couple who have lost their way from one another.  Aubrey buys the aphrodisiac chocolates, hoping that they might help her and Terrance find that old spark.

Aubrey wanted to wait for Terence, but she ached to know what these chocolates could do. Lifting the lid, she admired the six candies inside, each piece waiting for her in a black and white polka-dotted foil cup. The store clerk had explained this decorative packaging as specific to the premium box, “guaranteed to satisfy” or her money back tomorrow.

How could she resist?

I’ve been married for almost nine years, and I’m the mom of two children.  One of the realities of a long term relationship like this is that there is a lot of ebb and flow to the sexual connection, especially post children.  Jade nails how frustrating the isolation is, and how scary it is to reach out.

When I read this story, all I could think about was reading it out loud to my partner with some chocolate truffles nearby.

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“Bittersweet” by Malin James is the most lyrical story in the anthology.  Malin has a talent for paring a story down to its most  essential elements that is almost poetic.

I study Iain’s strong, broad back and wonder if I should stay for one last fuck. My head is all for leaving, but my cunt…my cunt wants a final go. Absentmindedly, I pop a truffle in my mouth. It’s smooth and dark with a spikey, citrus finish. Not at all what I’d expected—more bitter than sweet. Not really to my taste. And yet…each receptor in my mouth shivers.

I loved the flow of the story from the narrator’s ambivalence to the way that her sexuality is taken in a new direction with the chocolate stimulus.

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“The Stranger” by Tamsin Flowers is special for many reasons.  I knew to expect hot sex–that’s a given with Tamsin.  What I hadn’t expected was a story set in the deep South with such a pitch perfect voice.  A Southern voice is easy to screw up and hard to get right.  She nailed it.

I didn’t know how to say it to him. He was a stranger and eating the chocolate had made me desire him. I was suddenly overcome by a longing more intense than I had experienced in years. I put my hand to his groin to see if he was hard. Of course he was, and through his pants I could feel that he’d fill me up and then some.

Tamsin leaves ambiguity in the story that made my imagination run wild–why was he there? where did he go from there?  Did McGrindle’s carry the special chocolates or were the women the stranger left behind praying for lightning to strike twice?

Honorable mentions go to

“Dinner for Three” by L Maretta for a really hot f/m/m threesome.

“Friendly Neighborhood Drug Dealer” by Ella Dawson for writing the finals week hookup I wish I’d had as an undergrad

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should confess that when I finished the anthology I had a craving to write a story with Oleander’s aphrodisiac chocolate.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed that she decides to do a sequel so I can write and submit one.

A bunch of lovely authors…

lovely blog awardThe very lovely Lace Winter nominated me for the “One Lovely Blog Award.”  I’m going to accept-and use this opportunity to heed Alison’s call to arms

What if we promoted each other in little surprise ways like this—posting covers, pimping stories, sharing the wealth. Read a book you liked? Put up the cover and a link. Discover an author you think is fabulous—give an unexpected shout out, an unplanned review.–Alison Tyler

I’m going to tell you about 15 authors I love.  If I tag you, carry on the award or not as is right for you 🙂

The rules of the award state that I must thank Lace for nominating me.  Thank you, sweetie.  But more than that, thank you for becoming a friend over the past few months.  I’m so glad to have met you–and hopefully I’ll meet you in person one of these days.

The award also says I need to share 7 things about myself my readers don’t know.  I don’t often talk about my non-writing life here, so I thought that would be fun to do.

about me

1-I suffer from pinterest addiction.  I’ve yet to try something worthy of a Pinterest FAIL blog, but my ambitions almost got the better of me with Ms. 6’s birthday party earlier this month.

IMG_9445Pinterest Success!

2-I don’t speak Mandarin.  However, both of my girls are learning it, so I’ve picked up a few words here and there.  Today when my aircon repair guy was on the phone with my landlord I could make out the words I, you, can’t, this one/that one, and because.  Which is just enough knowledge to make me panic–hearing “can’t” over and over from a repair man when my air conditioning isn’t working and it’s in the 90’s was freaking me out.  Other words in my vocabularly include the words for “I don’t want to,” which my three year old whines ALL THE TIME.

3-For all that I’m an expat and have traveled all over the place now, the truth is that I never flew on an airplane before I was 20 years old.  I was TERRIFIED the first time.  Now it’s old hat.

4-I told my husband I was buying the new Taylor Swift album for Ms. 6’s birthday, but mostly I bought it for me.  He saw right through it.  Kind of the same way he saw through it when I  bought tickets “for her” to Taylor Swift concert earlier this year.

5-I spent my childhood wanting to be Kristy from The Baby-Sitter’s Club book series.

6-If I had a better voice and less stage fright I would love to be a Broadway star.

7-I picked a bad partner the first time I had sex.  He invited me to his room to WATCH ANIME and I was naive enough to think that’s what it meant.  When I realized he had other ideas I decided “eh, why not?” and we had sex.  After it was over, we realize that I’d bled.  My reaction was to sigh because I didn’t have a pad in my purse.  HIS response was to say “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to bleed--I could’ve put a trash bag down or something so you wouldn’t stain my sheets.”  Like I said–I did not pick a good partner.  But I did get a good story out of it, so there’s that?

Now we get to the good stuff–I’m going to tell you about some of my favorite authors.

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1–My very first story acceptance was from Rachel Kramer Bussel.  She has a new collection of essays out called Sex and Cupcakes.  It’s currently sitting on my Kindle waiting for me to get through this insane week so I can dive in.

2–The next editor to accept my work was Alison Tyler.  If you’ve read my blog you know I LOVE her work.  She has a number of recent releases–including a story in Filthy Housewives, edited by Violet Blue.  My favorite novellas from Alison are Those Girls and Those Boys–Sandy is one of my favorite fictional Doms.

3-I have to say that Sandy is ONE of my favorite fictional Doms because I just got a sneak peek at Tamsin Flowers‘ new project Alchemy xii, and given the chance, I don’t know if I could pick between Alison’s Sandy and Tamsin’s Harry.  I’ll post a review a little closer to the release date.  Tamsin also wrote Zombie Erotoclypse, which contains “Peeping Zom”-which contains the only Paul Revere reference I’ve ever seen in an erotica story.  I have a degree in History, so I think we should all take a page from Tamsin’s book and throw in clever lines like that one.  If you like your zombie erotica aurally, check out Rose Caraway reading “Red Hot Zombie Cock” on the Kiss Me Quick Podcast.

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4-Speaking of Rose Caraway, have you read The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica?  It’s my current pick for best erotica anthology this year.

5-Pillow Talk is a collaborative effort brought to us by Tamsin Flowers, Malin James and Jade A. Waters.  It’s so great to see a conversation between fellow erotica authors on topics like how their writing has evolved to be more selective about which details to include in a story and which to leave to a reader’s imagination.

6-Malin James‘ blog should be required reading for anyone interested in sex.  Her recent post “Ownership: On Sexuality & Feminine Relations” really resonated with me.

7-Jade A. Waters is a new author to me, but I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, including her story in the upcoming Lynn Townsend anthology Among the Stars.  I really enjoy hearing her opinions in Pillow Talk and on Twitter.

8-Lynn Townsend caught my attention with “Full Frontal Neighbor” in  The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica.  I subsequently read her novel Roll, which I loved.  I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of Blues in early 2015.  Lynn recently edited her first anthology and Among the Stars is going to be so awesome.

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9-I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Sommer Marsden.  I started reading Sommer’s work because she came so highly recommended by Alison.  I quickly became a huge fan of her clever twist endings.  Her new book is The Mighty Quinn, also on my kindle.  (Have I mentioned how crazy this week is? CRAZY busy).  I also loved her story “The New Girl” in Skirting the Issue  , “Appetizer” in The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica, and I’m looking forward to seeing her story in Coming Together: For the Holidays.

10-Janine Ashbless grabbed my attention with her story “Three Legs in the Evening” in The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica because I’m a Greek Mythology fangirl.  One of my daughter has a middle name pulled from Greek Mythology.  I’m super excited to read her new release Cover Him with Darkness.

11-Delilah Devlin edits some seriously hot anthologies with alpha males.  I  loved her antho Cowboy Lust, .  I’m currently reading Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors .  If you prefer Firemen, she also just released Five Alarm Alphas .

12-I’m a sucker for erotic fairy tales, and Kristina Wright has edited A Princess Bound,  Fairy Tale Lust, and Lustfully Ever After.

13-Lace Winter (who tagged me for this post) is not yet a published author, but I’m certain she will be soon.  She’s been posting excerpts from her WIP, and I can’t wait to read the whole thing.

14-I know Sophia Valenti‘s work from Alison’s anthologies, and her story “A Lesson in Lust” in Skirting the Issue is one of my favorite F/F stories.

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I’m going to leave  #15 empty—tell me who I should be reading that I haven’t discovered yet.