For full disclosure, Shanna Germain is one of my best friends. This is, in part, because she is a writer who thinks deeply about her craft and can articulate what it is that she does. In fact, we just had her on a live recording of Writing Excuses at Gencon, so you can look forward to her talking about how to write Love Scenes later this year.
For now though, here’s Shanna talking about her Favorite Bit of her newest sort story collection, The Lure of Dangerous Women. As a bonus, she gives us an excerpt. Woot!
When people ask me what I write about, my usual answer is “sex and death.” It’s mostly true. I write a lot of erotica and a lot of horror/fantasy, so it seems like my characters are always getting naked – if not in the bedroom, then in the morgue.
But here’s my deep dark secret: What I really write about is love. Not just romantic, starry-eyed love, but love as a human condition, love as a complicated emotional and physical response to the people in our lives. Difficult love that surmounts all odds. Love that is broken with sharp talons and mended with the breath of the mountains and broken again by small dark creatures with teeth. Love that limps into town, bleeding but still believing in the beauty of its own power.
Take The Lure of Dangerous Women, my recent collection of dark fantasy and horror. At first glance, it’s a book of sex and death, full of beckoning sirens, girls who beguile you into dangerous places, psychopomps ready to take you to the other side, auto-asphyxiation, and women who sling guns and songs and knives.
Yet, it’s also a book full of love. My favorite love story in the book is “Animal Instincts,” which seems to be about (wait for it) sex and death, but is really about two women bound by a love so deep it transcends their respective obstacles. Mags, the narrator of the story, is a highly functioning autistic who connects best with animals, while her partner Joan struggles with severe OCD. They’ve found a way to make their life work through compromise and understanding, but their safe world is about to be broken apart in unexpected ways.
There’s something Joan wants to tell me at dinner, but doesn’t. I wait for her to say what it is. It’s no use asking and I don’t have the right words anyway. After dinner, she cleans in that ordered way that she has and I shower again.
Almost always, we sleep in separate rooms – she can’t bear the filth that falls from us when we sleep; I can’t sleep with the noise of her breath – but usually we meet in her bed for a bit in the evenings.
“Joan?” I say it soft, my clean feet still on the bottom of the tub.
“Come into bed!” Joan yells from her bedroom. I am smiling even as I dry off. It makes me happy when she calls me like that, when I’ve been given permission to enter. It’s like our love has conquered something unconquerable, if only for a little while.
I step from the shower, dry off, and then walk carefully across the towels she’s laid down. Six steps from bathroom to bed, each of them centered squarely on the terry cloth squares.
From there, I can get into bed with her and she doesn’t have to worry about germs or dirt. When I slide beneath the covers, she turns on her side, puts one hand on the side of my cheek. Her skin is cool, like outdoor water.
“Kiss me,” she says. This is our ritual: she lets me know what she can handle by asking for it, and I comply. Her lips taste like soap and the mint of toothpaste and, beneath that, her mouth, the length of her tongue, tastes of butter, salty and rich.
While we’re kissing, she takes my hand and puts it on her bare, round belly. Beneath the skin, the child, our child, ripples and wriggles. I laugh against her lips and then pull away, just to watch the movement beneath her skin.
“The baby likes that,” I say.
“Yes,” Joan says. “Me too. Do it again.”
So I do, and I lean into her so that our bellies are together, and the baby’s wiggling makes me laugh, like tickling.
“The doctor came today,” Joan says when she has her mouth back. Our OGBYN comes to our house because Joan can’t bear the hospital, all the germs, all the dirty tiles, all the sick people. It was one of the things we asked her before we got pregnant, if she would come and see Joan here, in her own bed.
I lean up on my elbow. “She did?”
Her blue eyes are shiny as she puts her hand over mine. “It’s a girl,” Joan says. “A girl. One more girl in our family.”
“I knew that,” I say. I did know that, somehow. I have pictured the baby a hundred times, with Joan’s blonde curls and her blue eyes, in a pink and blue dress. Ten short fingers. Dimples when she smiles, and soft, small teeth, even though I know she won’t have them yet.
“Of course you did,” Joan says with a quiet laugh. My hand caught between hers looks like a skin sandwich; her pulse above and below. “Our little Seed.”
I curve my palm around the bottom of her belly, imagining a tiny red seed inside her, growing bigger and bigger. “Our little Apple,” I say.
“Macintosh?” she says. Her laugh is curls bouncing and wrinkles like love lines at the corners of her eyes.
“Mac’s a boy’s name,” I say. We haven’t talked about names before. We don’t want to jinx anything. Not too early. Not getting our hopes up.
“Could be either,” she says.
“True,” I say. I slip my fingers down, let one play around the indent of her belly button, which is disappearing day by day as the baby, as our daughter, grows inside her. “How about Ida Red?” I say.
“Oh, yes,” Joan says.
And Ida Red she is.
“Hello, Ida Red,” I say with my hand on Joan’s belly. I can see her already.
Of course, this is early in the story, when love still walks unbroken and unscathed. Will their love survive, even if they don’t? You probably know the answer to that. I am a hopeless romantic, after all.
The Lure of Dangerous Women: amazon |
Shanna Germain claims the titles of writer, editor, leximaven, vorpal blonde and Schrodinger’s brat. Her award-winning stories, essays, poems, novellas and more have been widely published in places like Absinthe Literary Review, Best American Erotica, Best Erotic Romance, Freerange Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, and Salon. Visit her wild world of words at www.shannagermain.com