Gropes of Wrath with Shari Slade

Happy Independence Day! And how timely that we have an Americana theme for today’s post.

Now gather round, boys and girls, and grab your favorite floor pillow, because it’s storytime. Last week I stumbled upon and promptly fell in love with this picture of a couple during the Depression era:

Man during depression era

Look at his arms! His smile! I especially like how she wears her dress and shoes and bracelet and hair pulled back neatly, in private, while he has eschewed a shirt in public, unabashed for the camera. I love everything about it.

It turns out you can actually purchase a print of this image. The seller includes the following information:

Oregon, August 1939. “Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note Social Security number tattooed on his arm.” (And now a bit of Shorpy scholarship/detective work. A public records search shows that 535-07-5248 belonged to one Thomas Cave, born July 1912, died in 1980 in Portland. Which would make him 27 years old when this picture was taken.)

Twenty seven! I died, all over again. I don’t know why, but I did. Thomas Cave, in Portland. Plus, he lived a goodly sixty eight years so that satisfies the HEA addict in me.

AND, as if that weren’t enough awesomeness already, the lovely, gorgeous Shari Slade wrote me a vignette based on the photograph and she’s letting me share it with you…

It isn’t any cooler in the shade, but I can’t bring myself to sit outside with him. On display. He’d like to wrap his filthy hands around my waist and set me on his knee. I’d rather he drop the flap of our tent and tip me over his knee like a tea kettle. Make me sing for my supper.

Instead I am stroking my own leg, ankle to shin, shin to ankle. Letting my fingertips trail over sweat damp skin and imagining his callused fingers tugging off my shoe, his lips pressing into the arch of my foot, the rough whisker tickle of his mouth. That wicked mouth.

The light is slanting now and–Jesus–will that sun ever go down? Will it ever be dark again? Dark enough to lay back on that bedroll and…not sleep. Wait for him to drop his suspenders, shuck off the ruined dungarees I’ll scrub tomorrow, and smile.

“You been waiting for me all day. Haven’t you, love?”

He smiles behind my knee, along my thigh, into my navel. All lip twitch and whisker drag. My belly tight with anticipation, waiting for that smile to slide low, for his tongue to flick and slide. To find all my slick edges and polish them smooth.

Did we have supper? I can’t remember. I don’t care. It’s too hot to eat.

“All my life.”

I married him for that smile. Hopped into his pick up truck and rode him right out of empty-belly Backwater, where nobody smiled. Not at me anyway. Not on me, either.

His kiss tastes like chicory coffee and salt and copper pennies. Like a promise. Like everything I need.

*happy sigh* Thank you, Shari. As I told her, it really did give me goosebumps. If you are not already, you can follow her on twitter at @ShariSlade.

Happy 4th, everyone! Enjoy your celebrations, whether you are lighting fireworks or making your own :)

Posted in Writing Wonkomance | 17 Comments

He’s Just This Guy, You Know?

Yeah, having my post follow Mary Ann’s is like going from Kiri Te Kanawa to Rebecca Black, let’s face it. But I like to think there’s also a certain wonky poetry in the fumbling, barely articulate efforts of the neurotic to seek connection through language…which is the story of my life, but also brings me to the hero of my work in progress. This is a post about that hero, why I decided to write him, and why writing him is so damn tricky.

Ed. Oh, Ed. You are truly average looking. Five foot ten, brownish hair, brownish eyes, not especially fit. You’re well aware that if your life were a movie, you’d be played by Seth Rogen, not Robert Pattinson. You have a nice smile but your personality isn’t particularly winning, because you are a curmudgeon and have been all your life. Your two most significant sexual relationships have been with long-term fuckbuddies. One made it clear from the start that you were only to be her booty call, not the other way around. The other was mainly just too lazy to find another roommate after that first, drunken incident. They fucked, but gave no fucks about you, and you never felt like you got all that lucky afterwards. You enjoy your work as an aerospace engineer, but you tend to bring it home with you because you don’t have much else to do at home. You have some friends, but probably wouldn’t take a bullet for any of them…even in a role-playing game. You have no passion, Ed. No flair. You are no Zaphod Beeblebrox.

And that right there is why I decided to write Ed. All of that, the unlovely mundaneness of it. Geeky everyman, that’s who I wanted to start out with. A guy who was genuinely nothing special, who wasn’t hero material. The guys we all know in our lives, to whom we may well be married. Not a diamond in the rough. Just a regular ol’ rock. You can chip and chip and chip away, but all you’ll uncover is more granite. And that’s okay, because really, isn’t that what we all look for? Think of the functions a diamond might serve in your life; now think of all the things granite probably does for you on a daily basis. If you had to choose between them, you’d choose granite, because we might want things like sparkly earrings but we need things like buildings and roads. And maybe sometimes that comes with a bonus, like luxe countertops. Granite is for every day, but it doesn’t get much love because it’s a background material. We don’t notice it. Granite heros don’t get much action in romance novels, however, because we all want diamonds. My heroine is no different.

My heroine will need some time to shift her sights from diamond to granite. Because let’s face it, everyman isn’t that stellar a dude. And where Ed veers from normal, he does so in the direction of extreme geek/nerd, and although that’s the new hot in Romancelandia, in real life that can mean a guy who’s wonked beyond obvious lovability. That’s the problem, of course, with writing a guy like Ed. Ed doesn’t give me much to work with, much to show off. When he tries to act like a diamond, it just doesn’t work for him. In real life, it rarely does. You have to get to know Ed to love him, but books are short and this book in particular is novella length.

I can’t make him into a diamond. The heroine must come to see the intrinsic value of granite. In forty-five thousand words or less.

Ed is the most challenging hero I’ve ever written, precisely because he is not a hero. But he must become one to the heroine somehow by the end of the book, and even I’m not quite sure how he’ll achieve that. My deadline for figuring it out is July 8th, so wish me luck and if you see me hanging out on twitter this week, remind me I should be writing!

(The book, by the way, is The Principle of Desire, which will be the third in my BDSM nerdmance series The Science of Temptation. Oh, and in addition to his other normality, Ed has never had anything but the vanilla-est of sex before. The fact that this is the least of my concerns with him should indicate how many fits he’s giving me to write. Usually the kink factor is one of the trickier bits. This time? Pfft. Walk in the park. Of course he’ll do that, but how the hell do he and the heroine have a normal freakin’ kiss?).

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Nut — and also, poetry

One long summer in a mountain town in northern Idaho, my husband and I invented a game called “Nut.”

The days were incredibly hot, dry, and still. Air conditioning isn’t a common household feature in the mountains, and this heat was an uncommon fairytale that reminded long timers of some particular summer of their childhood decades ago. The town slowed down for it, steeped in it. We spent our days either drowsed in the shade, or with ice cream and our feet in the fountain in the middle of town, with icy beers in the local, cave-like bar, or skinny dipping in a creek rushing with snow melt.

After a day in thin air, soaked with sun, topped off with naps too hot to do more than drape one leg over the other’s, it would get dark, so dark, and the dry thin mountain air would not hold the day’s heat and a kind of delicious cold would creep over the town, like ice shards in the draft beer from the cave-like bar. After a day sunning on our rocks, moving hardly at all, sleep was unnecessary and the town, by mid-July, was fully nocturnal. We’d spend the first, navy blue part of the night with our sun-burnt skin huddled in fleeces, walking hand in hand through the little town listening to laughter as it banged from yards and front porches into the night.

Restaurants stayed open late, all the walkway lights stayed lit in the park, we were all as children, up past our bedtimes, giddy with the cold, getting away with pleasure.


What passes for conversation during the day doesn’t fit a life lived at night, and we needed a metaphor to carry us.

I promise I’ll get to Nut, but indulge me just a little, in a writerly way. Metaphor is from Old French via Latin, meaning carrying over, but of course, there’s that Greek bit in there that also means transfer, or between, or better, to bear.

It was the poet Caroline Forche, when I met her in a different mountain town, before I knew my husband, who shared a glass of sherry with me, the first I ever had, and explained that a metaphor must have a tenor and a vehicle—the tenor is what is described by the attributes borrowed from the vehicle.

Use them, she told me, when the words themselves are unable to bear what you are trying to say. A metaphor is to carry what is too heavy otherwise.

Later that evening, she read her poem The Colonel for the assembled, which is utterly devoid of metaphor and holds only a single, terrorizing simile:


What you have heard is true. I was in his house.

His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His

daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the

night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol

on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on

its black cord over the house. On the television

was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles

were embedded in the walls around the house to

scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his

hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings

like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of

lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for

calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes,

salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed

the country. There was a brief commercial in

Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was

some talk of how difficult it had become to govern.

The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel

told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the

table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say

nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to

bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on

the table. They were like dried peach halves. There

is no other way to say this. He took one of them in

his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a

water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of

fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone,

tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He

swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held

the last of his wine in the air. Something for your

poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor

caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on

the floor were pressed to the ground.


Consider again what Forche told me, in light of this poem. Metaphors are to carry what the language itself, the naked language, cannot bear, and here we are with a poem where the language is so naked it’s a telegraph, but what is in it is nearly, nearly too heavy, unbearable. She gives us that single simile, they were like dried peach halves, and then tells us, with regret that there is no other way to say this. And I think, I know, that the reason the Colonel’s ears were not carried into the vehicle of dried peaches, were not dried peaches, is because she had to invest them with action, with the ability to listen and catch his voice, keep alert on the ground, avenge the wrongs they represented, the murders they represented.

She could not let a metaphor bear this darkness, this weight, and had to apologize for the necessity of a simile, because there was no other way, the language failed in every other way to telegraph the horror of the Colonel’s display.

This is a kind of miracle, what she accomplished, but understand, it is only a small palmful of craft. A truth about how to smith words that is easily passed to another over a glass of sherry in a dark room.

We never need much more than that, really. A small knowledge we can hold in our hand that is meant to compress what can be carried no other way.

Nut is a game of words and imagination, that is simply played, easily understood during long nighttime walks, after the kind of lovemaking that leaves you more awake than not, particularly when the air is unexpectedly and deliciously cold and you are anticipating watching the sun rise over the mountains.

It begins like this:

I give you a nut.

Which, the partner accepts, and I always imagined a pecan in the shell—smooth and woody. The nut is kept and then you must offer a gift in return, and the rules are this:

It must be able to be held in the palm.

It can be refused, and if you do refuse what is offered, you must give your partner a nut.

It must be something you think your partner could not refuse, and must be described beautifully.

You cannot lie against your greediness. If you want it, you must take it.

You must remember everything you keep.

At any time, anyone can call “nut” and if nut is called, the players must recite everything they have been given, and if the list is complete, you have won that round of nut.

A round of nut cannot last longer than a day, or a night.

A partial round of Nut, then, may be played as follows:

I give you a nut.

I give you one of those expensive cakes of bow rosin you love, the ones that come wrapped in pink velvet and smell just like balsam.

I keep the rosin, and I give you the baseball card you sold too soon when you were a boy, the Roberto Clemente in mint condition.

I keep the Clemente, and I give you that little metal German pencil sharpener you lost, the one with the hawk embossed on the side.

I’m over it. I give you a nut.

And so you see, with nothing but plain words in the dark, something can be passed hand to hand, these vehicles meant to stand in for the tenor that is a relationship with another—where the relationship is a collection of paying attention enough to compress feeling down to an object that is rejected or kept. He tells me he knows how I feel about my music, I return with my memory of his childhood, he learns that my love of something he thought was important was only superficial. These metaphors pile around us, all night long, carrying everything else we meant to say, or would like to but might be too heavy for a beautiful respite of a night.

Craft needn’t be heavy, merely something beautiful to carry heavy things. In fact, it likely should be small, and explained well while drunk or post-coitally. It isn’t always necessary either—try first how much the smallest possible words can hold, then test the weight.  The smallest and most beautiful words, delivered without lying, accepted in greediness, regretted only if painful, unavoidable, awful, but still said.

A voice in the dark—I give you a nut.

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