Unite in the Dance

This morning I went to a spectacular belly dance event / brunch. Amateurs and professionals all performing to live music, glittering in their costumes, showing off all their favorite moves. As usual the dancers were a delight to watch; one was particularly hypnotic with her zills. For me, though, the best part of the event was the audience.

Belly dance has its origins in specific cultures of North Africa and the Middle East, but I believe it has truly become an international women’s dance. Women of all backgrounds, cultures, and body types have embraced it. Each dancer brings her personal take to the dance, elevating it from a cultural relic to a celebration of the feminine in all its diversity. You don’t have to look a certain way, think a certain way, or be from a certain place in order to belly dance; you just have to feel it in you.

There’s nothing better, for me, than to see women from diverse backgrounds coming together in dance. One of my dancer friends is Nigerian-American, bringing her West African flair to the stage. Another performer was Japanese-American; one came from Algeria, another from Ukraine, one of Mexican heritage, and of course some were good old-fashioned “American blend,” like me, the product of so many European ancestors we’ve lost track of where they came from originally. I sat by a charming older Chinese-American lady, and we chatted and bonded watching all those beautiful women dance. At the table next to me was a group of ladies (Somali, maybe) wearing headscarves. Later we all danced together on the open floor, along with the other giddy audience members.

Diversity, I think, means creating a space where we can all feel comfortable, where we all belong. As evidenced by the above paragraph, I come from a culture of jarringly specific labels, mostly in an attempt to be politically correct yet also open about people’s varied backgrounds. But better than pointing it out, rather celebrate it. Just love and appreciate this dance where we can come together, all of us, and share the stage.

Blog Hop!

I’ve been invited by the delightful Jolie Mason to participate in her ASPA blog hop! What fun! My contribution is a mini-snippet from my current work in progress, A Job With A View: Tokyo. More to come on that as it approaches completion, but basically Cassidy has signed on to be a personal assistant to the wealthy (and unknown) Mr. Watanabe in Tokyo, Japan. She’s not quite sure what this job entails yet, but it certainly involves more than the usual paper pushing. All she has to decide is how badly she wants it…

Read on for a collection of some of my favorite reviews left by readers. How I love getting reviews! If you’re inspired by any of them, go ahead and click on the titles to read more & see where they come from.

Enjoy the hop!

A Job With A View: Tokyo

Without another word he strolled to the window and stood, hands clasped behind his back, gazing out at the Tokyo panorama. Cassidy was confused. Was he really done with her? He just touched her like that, turning her on so much she felt the eager wetness dripping down her thighs, and then he told her to go? All she could hope was that he was saving something better for the rest of the week. Otherwise she and her hand were about to become very well reacquainted.

She dressed, bowed even though he wasn’t looking, and left. Aki smiled when she left the office. Clearly, Cassidy had done well. Her white-gloved chauffeur took her back to the hotel, where dinner was waiting. Cassidy didn’t go anywhere that evening, just sat, read a romance novel, and nibbled on vending-machine pocky.

Although she went to bed early, she couldn’t fall asleep for hours. As she tossed and turned, making knots in the sheets, Cassidy realized something surprising: she was totally enthralled with Watanabe-sama. Whatever else he asked of her this week, she would do it without question.

Reviews to check out:

… This isn’t run of the mill anything, but it’s especially not run of the mill for erotic romance… (for An Amazon’s Equal)

… I have to say: I find Guillaume’s writing style somewhat reminiscent of those classic author’s I so love—Hawthorne, Dickens, Heyer… Theirs were works dedicated to much telling rather than showing, but they did it so well. Long, flowing paragraphs of intricate portrayals to draw you into the worlds in which they wrote about… (for Lemons in Their Slippers)

… I rarely find writing that fulfills my need for beauty and sex. … I didn’t know that erotica could be this good… If you’re looking for erotica that is humane, literate, and intensely arousing, you could hardly do better than ‘Queen of Beauty’… (for Queen of Beauty)

The intimacy of making a baby combined with the taboo of a threesum makes way for a hot erotic short! Sarah’s anticipation of the events, with Jay’s basic mating instincts, and David’s romantic desire to please create a great balance of energy and storytelling.  (for Her Birthday Breeding)

Nipple necklaces: fabulous or faux pas?

So my husband and I spent last weekend in Vancouver, BC. It was gray, rainy, cold, and wonderful. While strolling in the adorable Gastown neighborhood, just after enjoying a  once-hourly serenade by the historic “steam clock,” we ended up outside a lingerie shop. The two mannequins in the window were wearing typical pretty bra-and-panty sets, one a particularly sexy scoop cup of the kind that exposes the nipples. And both mannequins sported jewelry I’d never seen before: nipple chains.

Okay, Canada. I’m game. Tell me more!

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One I saw in the shop window looked almost exactly like this.

These were not for pierced nipples, mind you, but kind of a necklace with wire loops that (I assume) are to be tightened around the nipple to hold it on. I thought they looked kinda sexy, if a bit impractical. (Wouldn’t it fall right off? I guess if you had the right nipples…) My husband sternly decried it as foolishness. Which makes me want to try it out, just to mess with him. That would make for one hell of an entrance. Hehehe!

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You can really see the wire loops here… I’m curious to know if they actually hold the stuff on!
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Another one was like this, a dangle with beads.

Needless to say, my interest was piqued. Further research reveals that indie artisans at the fabulous Etsy.com can hook you up with any number of nipple jewelry creations. If you like what you see, click on the pic and check it out! Or take a peek at these online shops:

WireWear

BoDivas

Nippleicious

Black Velvet

Bodacious Body Jewelry

Serenity in Chains

(There are a ton more artists and shops. Check Etsy out and see what else you can find!)

What do you think? Is nipple jewelry foolish, fun, seductive or laughable? Or all of those together? I’m thinking it would work for a fun boudoir photo shoot, at the very least! Also pretty sure they will be making an appearance in some of my future erotica. I can think of several interesting possibilities…

Death and taxes

It’s been said before, and bears saying again: taxes will always come for you.

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
— Benjamin Franklin, 1789

Okay, so why am I using precious blog space to whine about doing my taxes? Only this (and please disregard if you don’t use the American tax system; god only knows how you do it, but probably it is equally dismal if perhaps less outlandish): if you are a self-published author, indeed any kind of independent artisan, producer, or seller of stuff, you need a special tax form, the 1099-MISC. (MISC, of course, stands for “miscellaneous income.”)

And, to no one’s surprise, this little form is both depressing and a pain in the ass. You have to file it specially. It doesn’t fit into nice little boxes like a W-2. No free tax preparation program will do it for you; you have to shell out.

Being an upright citizen, I do try to declare all my income. Which in the case of my books is pitifully little, especially as the 1099-MISC gleefully has you list all business expenses (Internet, paper, shipping, whatnot) and – naturally – expenses come out way above profits. According to my tax man, this means writing is officially my “hobby,” and not a business. I could have told them that without the numbers the the hassle.

Still have to declare it, though, according to the IRS.

As I was sifting through Amazon’s seven-or-so different 1099-MISC forms (one for each country of sale… couldn’t they put that all together? Come on, what else are huge multinational corporations good for?!), I was feeling grouchy and wondering if it’s all worth it. I write because I love writing, and of course there is no small amount of satisfaction in getting reader feedback, honing and improving my craft, and – yes – I do get that delightful happy tingle when someone picks and purchases one of my books, among all the wonderful choices out there.

But doing taxes is so awful. Maybe my friend Sexscribbler has the right idea… should we just set it all free?

I’d love other authors’ tax stories, tips, and/or woes. What do you all think about this crazy, wonderful hobby/business?

Untold Stories of the Bible: the Queen of Sheba

 

This is a bittersweet post for me. It’s been a great six weeks, researching and sharing sexy history with you. I’ve connected with new readers, pissed some people off, and inspired some great conversations. Over 500 people entered the giveaway for a print version since I opened it a month ago. And now it’s all coming to an end. This is the last planned Ancients post for a while. That’s not to say there will never be more! But for me, this is a last hurrah before I must return to the mundane modern world.

So let’s bring it all back to an early source of inspiration (and questions) for me: the Bible. In particular, the Song of Songs…

(Sources are listed at the end. Click on any image to link to its source page.)

 

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A beautiful illustration from the Song of Songs, by artist Hans Erni.

In the Bible’s Old Testament there is an unusually erotic chapter, nestled in there between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah: the Song of Songs, also known as Song of Solomon.

As a girl sitting in church, reading through the Bible, this one immediately caught my eye. I spent many a Sunday morning reading it, wondering at the beautiful language, the poetry of love and longing, the sexual attraction that rose through the pages. You can read the full text here, but below are some snippets that stirred me during my churchgoing adolescence:

…Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; for your love is better than wine…

…I am dark, but lovely, you daughters of Jerusalem, like Kedar’s tents, like Solomon’s curtains…

…As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banquet hall. His banner over me is love.Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples; For I am faint with love. His left hand is under my head. His right hand embraces me…

…How beautiful are your feet in sandals, prince’s daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a skillful workman. Your body is like a round goblet, no mixed wine is wanting. Your waist is like a heap of wheat, set about with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, that are twins of a roe. Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are like the pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bathrabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon which looks toward Damascus. Your head on you is like Carmel. The hair of your head like purple. The king is held captive in its tresses.

How beautiful and how pleasant you are, love, for delights! This, your stature, is like a palm tree, your breasts like its fruit. I said, “I will climb up into the palm tree. I will take hold of its fruit.” Let your breasts be like clusters of the vine, the smell of your breath like apples, Beloved, Your mouth like the best wine, that goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding through the lips of those who are asleep…

[more of that version can be found here]

Also, check out this artist’s stunning illustrations of the Song of Songs!

Hot stuff, right? (Especially if you’re reading it during an otherwise staid Presbyterian church service.) Of course, I had the same thought you did: what the hell is it doing in the Bible?! According to many Church sources, it was decided that this erotic union between a man and a woman – so clearly depicted in the love poem – was an allegory for God’s love towards the Israelite people. Though I am not a theologian, I find this hard to buy. For me, it’s clearly all about a passionate young couple, dreaming of one another and their future together in the most poetic words they can.

Which begs the next question. Who wrote it? And who is it about?

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Solomon meeting the Queen of Sheba, by artist Giovanni De Min (1789 – 1859)

As usual, history is unclear. The song is generally attributed to the celebrated King Solomon – as famous for his skills as a lover as he was for serving God. And one of his most famous visitors was the enigmatic Queen of Sheba.

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As imagined by medieval Europeans, from an illustrated manuscript in Prague.
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The Queen of Sheba on horseback, as depicted in an Ethiopian fresco.

Sheba itself is a mysterious land, so ancient that people are not even sure exactly where it was. Some scholars have suggested it’s in the Southern Arabian Peninsula, around modern-day Yemen. In Arabic legend she is named Bilquis; a name as lovely as the woman was reported to be. However, most believe that Sheba was an ancient name for the (also ancient, and fascinating) country of Ethiopia. There, she was known as Makeda, which is the name I chose for the queen in my story.

Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s legendary wisdom and knowledge, so she went to Jerusalem with an astonishing retinue. There, she tested King Solomon with hard questions, all of which he answered to her satisfaction. And, after giving her “all that she desired,” the queen went home.

Ethiopian tradition completes the story, stating that the queen gave birth to a son – Menelik – on the way home to Sheba. When he had grown into a young man, Menelik went to visit his father on his own, and ended up making off with the Ark of the Covenant. According to legend, the Ark’s final resting place is in Ethiopia. In addition, the Kings of Ethiopia are considered, to this day, rulers by divine right of their direct descendance from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Emperor Haille Selassie even enshrined the fact in the Ethiopian Constitution of 1955. This legend is also supported by the strength of the Jewish and, later, the Christian faith in Ethiopia. It is one of the oldest Christian lands on Earth, despite being surrounded by neighbors of different faiths. And the fascinating story of Ethiopian Jews is also one of the world’s many mysteries. Food for thought…

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The beautiful Queen of Sheba – a modern rendition.

The idea of a beautiful, intelligent, strong foreign queen, who takes all she wants from Solomon and then caravans home in style, is of course an appealing one for an erotica author. After a while, though, you get tired of writing about royalty; they get more than their share of the limelight. So I decided to focus instead on the unmentioned characters of Sheba’s magnificent entourage: the servants.

queenofshebmodern
She is also an empowering Black character of the Bible – one of many who go far too often unmentioned.

By placing Sheba in Ethiopia, I was able to draw on my experiences with the large Ethiopian-American community here in Seattle. I go out for Ethiopian food a lot. The spices, the tang of injira bread, the sensuality of eating with your hands, all brings to mind a country of rich history. And the women are beautiful, with their rich brown skin, dark eyes, curling black hair, and white traditional dresses. In designing the Sheban women, I thought of them and all the strength, beauty, and independence they portray.

In the end, this story emerged as one of the most romantic in the Ancients collection. A fitting tribute, I hope, to the eternal beauty of the Song of Songs; and the mystery of that fabulous, mysterious, ancient Queen of Sheba.Sheba cover SMASH

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Sources:
http://www.usccb.org/bible/songofsongs/0
http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/myths_four_sheba.html
http://www.ethiopiantreasures.co.uk/pages/aksum.htm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/cultures/sheba_01.shtml