Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, it stays light out until 9 o’clock… yes, summer is almost here! And as usual, I’ll be doing some big giveaways to celebrate my vacation. (Hope you get a summertime break, too!)
Also, for the first time, I’ve decided to release three short stories at the same time. Another first for me is making them available for pre-order. I know, so many firsts, it’s crazy! All three stories will be released on June 30th. But you know you want to be the first to read them, right? So pre-order right now!
The first story I want to highlight is an intensely personal one. I’ve mentioned this only briefly, but I lived in Senegal, West Africa for two years in the mid-2000’s. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer stationed in a very small village with all the usual amenities: a mud hut, a grass roof, a well, and a dirt road. And peanuts. Lots of peanuts. It was an incredible (and incredibly challenging) experience. This story is loosely based, not on actual Peace Corps service, but on something I observed during a short – but very informative – trip to the beach.
Senegal has a long Atlantic coastline – no surprise the national dish is fish stew over rice! It has charming coastal villages, brightly painted pirogues, and broad, white-sand beaches. Basically a tourist’s dream… especially if said tourists are also interested in sex. I am hardly an expert, but I saw with my own eyes that it’s the thing to do: both women and men engaging in casual vacation sex with gorgeous beachside companions.
As a young observer, I was disturbed by this. Especially given my background knowledge of poverty in Senegal, and the many dreams of foreign wealth I heard about daily. Of course I understood and sympathized with the young Senegalese – they were taking advantage of a rare opportunity to make some money. What I did not understand was the many European tourists who came down, not just for the sun, but for the sex. It disturbed me for the simple reason that those White tourists, by the simple fact that their currency is worth more, had huge economic power. Yet they carelessly reinforced a backward kind of modern colonialism. Taking what they wanted from an ‘exotic’ country, and not bothering to truly understand it. Money flying everywhere, all to create the version of Senegal that suited them – a version that includes beautiful, available, anonymous, and cheap (currency exchange, again!) sexual partners.
I’m all for sex work. Legalize everything! But only if sex workers are truly treated fairly, as equals providing a service to other equals. Sex tourism – at least as I observed it – is based fundamentally on the economic superiority of one person, and relative vulnerability of the other. Sad stuff, guys.
And not sexy. Yet, I wanted to explore it, shed some light on it. And also, you know, write a good story. What I accomplished, I think, is some of my best work yet. It sheds some light on this small sliver of Senegal, while also (I hope!) crafting what turned out to be a heartfelt, and sexy, love story.
I hope you enjoy! And remember to pre-order, y’all!
Sources for further reading about sex tourism in Senegal:
So while avoiding actually sitting down and writing – a common occurrence lately; creativity languishes when real-life pressures start compounding (the cure for which is plenty of TV shows, I have found) – I came across this treasure. Actually, it was highlighted on NPR (see this article) and I just had to give it a try. Yes, it is a newer, sparklier, just-as-hot and equally-as-much-fun, version of Sex & The City!
In Accra, Ghana.
And it’s fabulous!
All the quirky girlfriends are there, each one a personality condensed into essential character traits, yet still relatable as a person. Yes, just like our old friends Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte. They are modern women who want it all. Sophisticated women, educated in the USA and England, coming home to Ghana and its dubious relationship offerings. (Great business ops, though!)
In short, it’s everything Sex & The City was, and just as good now as when I used to do marathons with my own girlfriends in college. I love that some truths stay the same no matter when they come about – money troubles, annoying family, and hilariously bad dates certainly included! I love that it’s set in West Africa, where I spent some vivid years of my own. I love that the experience of participating in these romantic ups and downs of life is making the rounds of the world. It’s feminist, it’s fun, and it’s about time!
If you’re even vaguely curious, you must absolutely check it out. An African City – all on Youtube. Here’s the link to the first episode. Enjoy!
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.)
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…
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.
This story sent me out on a limb, one I don’t usually climb. The character of Buktu started out in my imagination as a pretty vanilla – if sexually voracious – girl, but pretty soon it dawned on me that that couldn’t be the case. Buktu was in there, and she had her own ideas. Those ideas, it turned out, centered on the admiration of another woman, not a man. Suddenly the story deepened and strengthened, as a complicated love triangle emerged from Buktu’s origins in the wrong place, in the wrong time.
(Luckily, she has a 21st century erotica author here to help her set things right!)
First, though, a little history…
(Sources are listed at the end. Click on any image to link to its source page.)
Timbuktu is a city straight out of legend. For years Europeans and Americans associated the name with inconceivable distance, foreignness, and inaccessibility. Before that, it was known as a center of profitable trans-Saharan trade, with a famous market for salt, gold, and slaves. In addition, Muslim saints and scholars called it home for centuries, making Timbuktu synonymous with Islamic piety, thought, and learning. It is a city of many mosques, tombs of learned saints, priceless libraries, universities, and schools for Koranic teaching. (Lately, tragically, many of these were destroyed by religious extremists. [See this CNN article on the subject.] However, the people of Timbuktu cling to their rich history and protected countless artifacts. Their bravery saved irreplaceable historic documents from senseless destruction.)
The famous Malian king Mansa Musa made his celebrated pilgrimage to Mecca in the 14th century, he passed through Timbuktu… leaving cascades of gold in his wake. A man of fabulous wealth and intelligence, his extravagant generosity brought the kingdom of Mali to the attention of Europeans, and Timbuktu along with it. (Mansa Musa – now that’s a character I’d like to read more about! Ancient Malian erotica, anyone?)
On the threshold of the Sahara desert, Timbuktu is extraordinary in its wealth relative to its location. The Niger river is some distance away from the modern-day city (which still thrives, by the way); on the outskirts there is nothing but scrub brush and desert. I had the good fortune to visit in 2008 – before the destructive gangs got to it – and admired that mysterious city for myself. It is a city of uniform color, built from the red-brown Earth beneath it, adorned with heavy wooden doors embellished with silver and brass. My friend and I spent a night out in the desert (an ill-advised, but adventurous trip with two lecherous Tuareg guides… all’s well that ends well, but it got hairy there for a night. Not recommended to young women traveling alone!), and in the morning we watched the sunrise over the Sahara. Amazing.
Actually, I lived in West Africa, in the arid Sahel region, for two years. In that time I came to understand a central theme of Buktu’s Well: water.
Without a steady source of water, life is impossible. Without water, Timbuktu could never exist. Water is the source of everything. And so water is the key to understanding the history of Timbuktu.
The clue to Timbuktu’s origins lies in its name. The most common version tells of a woman named Buktu (or Boktu, or Bouctou; whatever spelling you prefer), who lived near the banks of the Niger river. The “tim” part of Timbuktu could stand for the local word “tin” or “in,” meaning “property” or “belonging to.”This excellent article explains that, in that environment and in those days, property was synonymous with water. Therefore Buktu – whoever she was – must have had a well.
(The other suggestion that “buktu” means a person with a large belly button was, obviously, not as enthralling to my authorly tendencies as the story of a woman with a well… Luckily, writers of fiction get to pick and choose our sources!)
Water. When I lived in Africa, it was a tiny village with no electricity or running water. Every morning the women and girls would get up, gather their buckets, and head to the single village well. Together they pulled on the pulley rope, working in rhythm, hauling up full pails and divvying them up into the workers’ buckets. (I helped as best I could, but despite the time I spent there my arms never grew strong enough to really contribute. C’est comme ca…) Thinking of Buktu as a woman in charge of a well, she emerged as a strong character, both physically and emotionally. What would she have done to get that well? What depths would she have mined, deep within herself, to make that life-giving dream a reality?
And then, thinking back on the polygamous society of the region, it came to me: love. But she wouldn’t love her arranged husband; rather, her co-wife, Rama: young, sweet, and beautiful. What would happen, then?
(The idea of labeling a woman “lesbian” would have been foreign in those days, as it is now in many parts of West Africa. While gay men are attacked and widely detested, people have a hard time understanding two women in love. When a friend of mine tried to explain it, people just laughed and joked it off. Lucky for Buktu; had she been a man who loved other men, things might not have gone so smoothly for her.)
So there were all the elements, just percolating in my brain: Buktu, in love with Rama, and in need of a well. Together they struggle to make a life in an arid land. But that just isn’t enough for an erotica writer. Oh, no, it can’t be too easy for them – so a complicated love triangle emerged, organically, just as Timbuktu emerges from the ground.
It’s adventurous, and certainly different from most of my other stories. This one flew out of me during a long, feverish weekend, and it remains a surprise to me, how it turned out. I hope you enjoy it, as I did. Maybe it will take you to the mysterious land of Timbuktu…