Friday, March 25, 2016

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fetish Words, part 4 of 4

   The most interesting thing to me when I wrote "Unspeakable" was the discovery of a number of websites devoted to fetish words and the apparent prevalence of certain words on the 'fetish' list. For example, I found an entire forum where people wrote about their inability to utter the word 'sneeze.'  Something about the sound of a sneeze perhaps? The ejaculatory quality of sneezing?  At another site, I found people writing about their profound embarrassment at hearing (or worse saying) the word "tissue" (although Kleenex, several people pointed out, was not a problem.) "Stuffed up" was mortifying; "allergies" was okay. For one poster, the phrase "I have a cold" was taboo, but "I'm sick" was acceptable.
      Anybody out there have word fetishes? I'd love to know.
      And by the way, except for the one character in "Unspeakable" who reveals her fetish words during an embarrassing newscast, I never had any idea what the other characters' fetish words were. Not even the ones that eventually get carved into someone's very private extremity!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Speaking the Unspeakable, part 3

         Brother Barnett, of course reacts in a very different way. Rather than refuse to say his taboo words, he revels in using them while making impromptu public speeches—it helps, of course, that two of Barnett's fetish words are 'God' and 'Jesus'—he gets the double payoff of being able to verbally stimulate himself while to all appearances being a stalwart (if slightly nutty) spreader of the Gospel.
       In the story, the siblings acquire their taboo words through sexual abuse at the hands of a stepfather who uses them as a kind of psychological experiment.
       I wondered, however, if other people had private 'taboo' words and, if so, how the words might have become forbidden ones.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Speaking the 'Unspeakable' part 2

       Those were some of the questions that led me to write "Unspeakable," which began with the idea of a group of people whose sexuality has somehow been linked to certain 'fetish words.' I didn't want the words to have anything to do with sex. They needed to be just ordinary, run-of-the-mill words, just as a pair of shoes is a run-of-the-mill object to anyone except a shoe fetishist.
        How could such a thing happen and how would the various characters react? I thought shame, the debilitating kind that might make a person want to avoid sexual contact altogether, would certainly be one reaction. That's the case with the protagonist Christine, who narrates the story.  Shame also factors into the suicide of Christine's brother Andrew, whose death provides the occasion for her to reconnect with the wild and wooly Ricky Calloway.     (to be continued)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On Speaking the 'Unspeakable'...Part 1 of 4

         Years ago, I knew a guy who couldn't begin to function sexually unless his partner wore towering stiletto heels in bed. He kept a walk-in closet stocked with high-heeled shoes, each bought in several different sizes. When he brought a woman home, she had only to go into his private shoe store and find something that fit. His fetish, a not uncommon one from what I've heard, seemed pretty straight forward. Buy shoes, ask willing woman to put them on, and go to it!
         What about less common fetishes? A lot of people, of course, love dirty words and where else to scream or moan them but during the inebriating release of great sex? But what if the fetish words weren't dirty? What if they were banal, normal, every day words that we use all the time? And how could such a fetish come to be?
        To be continued...

Monday, May 30, 2011

On Cannibal Moms and Little Girls (and Boys) Under Glass

     Back in 1995, along with much of the world, I was transfixed by the widely publicized case of Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who murdered her two young sons by rolling her Mazda into a lake with the boys strapped inside. Smith gained notoriety by claiming that a black man had carjacked her vehicle and taken her sons, but after going on television to plead for their safety, she eventually confessed that she'd killed them, in part to free herself up to be with a wealthy local man who had no use for a 'ready-made family.'
      The story both horrified and fascinated me. How could any mother commit so callous and brutal a murder? What must those last terrible moments have been like for her children? And had they sensed, during their tragically short lives, that their mother was capable of becoming their deadly enemy?
      When I was invited to write a story for Richard Laymon's anthology BAD NEWS, I thought of the Smith case and decided to use a theme I've visited before--the 'Medea' mother, the cannibal mom who consumes her offspring without a flicker of remorse because they are, after all, an extension of herself and she may do with them what she likes. I felt I could do such a story justice, in part, because I know a little bit about narcissistic parenting myself.
     My own mother was a "southern bell' who came from humble origins. She married late in life for those times, but oh, what a marriage she made, leaping up the social ladder many rungs at a time when she snared my father, scion to a North Carolina tobacco family. As often happens, though, things didn't quite work out according to her plans. A marriage finally took place, a child arrived, but my father lasted only a few years before taking off. Eventually, he remarried--to yet another narcissistic belle, (but that's another story). My mother's fury at this final abandonment was terrifying and much of that cold rage fell on me--it was made clear that the failure of the marriage had been my failure, too. All contact with my father was forbidden because "if you have any love for me, you couldn't possibly want anything to do with that man."
     From the vantage point of my current life, of course, I see the enormous stress my mother was under, having invested everything in a marital project that proved a resounding failure. Having lost what she desired most, she clutched onto what was left. In "Girl Under Glass," Allison's mother does the same--in a submerged car filling up with water, she grips her daughter's arm.
      Thankfully, few narcissistic parents go to the extreme of murder/suicide. Most of them just kill their children's spirits. But for anyone who's ever existed behind the glass wall of a controlling person's ego, who's viewed the world from the perspective of a child prisoner, crashing through into the light of life is a formidable experience, never to be forgotten, never to be taken for granted.
     From that perspective, I like to think "Girl Under Glass" is an escape thriller with a really happy ending.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Madhouse, A Ghost Cat, and Wild, Storm-tossed Seas

          I remember being on a panel at a writing convention where the question came up: was there anything the panelists would not write about. My answer was that I would never write anything depicting explicit cruelty to animals. For one thing, when I come across a passage like that in a book (even if it's a great story by a favorite author) I immediately skip over it. There are images I don't want in my head and images I don't want to put in anybody else's head. So when Ellen Datlow invited me to contribute a story for TWIST OF THE TALE, an anthology of feline-themed horror stories, the first thing I crossed off my list was anything that had to do with causing pain or distress to a living cat.
       A spectral cat, however, was a different story...
       Some years ago, I had visited the town of Stromness in the Orkney Islands and found it an enchanting, if sometimes foreboding place--a tiny seaport town of narrow, winding lanes, austere cathedrals, and fierce seas that have claimed the lives of seafarers throughout the centuries. On that same trip, I also visited Glasgow, where I learned about the terrible custom in medieval Europe of walling up a live animal in the foundation of a house or church In order to bring good fortune to the builders.
      So I came up with the idea for a story in which the unjust and cruel fates meted out to two very innocent beings converge: that of a cat walled up in the fictional Dunlop House and that of Plush, a woman gifted with paranormal abilities who has been confined to an insane asylum as a result.
     And although I didn't set out to create a Gothic tale when I was writing "Walled," I realized later it's actually very much a Gothic story. The plot includes mental illness, the supernatural, a woman held captive against her will, illegitimate birth, isolation and betrayal, and wild and treacherous seas--all familiar fare to fans of the Gothic genre. The only Gothic tropes lacking were an element of the erotic and a male character or characters to play the role of rescuer or persecutor.
     I felt great empathy for Plush, whose life had been brutally constricted--as the lives of many women still are today--because of her poverty, lack of education, and gender. That she had psychic gifts that gave her visions of a world beyond our own only made her a more vulnerable target. And while I didn't envision what could be considered a traditional 'happy ending' for Plush, through her compassion for the cat trapped inside the wall, she gained a freedom from the earthly realm that I think most of us, on some level, long for.