For the past two weeks, I've been in a kind of writing hell. I've been writing a very long short story called "The Splinter."
It's really the first time in any story that I have gone back, deleted over 1,000 word chunks and re-written. I had to do this because I kept reverting back to comfortable places to take the story. The problem was, this wasn't in the least where I wanted the story to go.
I also took on subject matter that, although I've danced around a long time, I never really tackled head on. I often use erotica as a vehicle to write about existentialism. But I've always dabbled with it in a vague angsty sort of way, a bit like Miller did. But he used sex to make the angst go away. I tend to use it to see past it.
I didn't want to make a statement with this story. I didn't want to "say" anything. I wanted to ask questions and let the characters answer in their own way. A bit like the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant.
So I asked myself the question: what is transcendence and how do we get there? I wanted to have this question play out in the rather dour, bleak world of a poor Irish Catholic neighborhood, somewhere in the Northeast of the US.
My main character Moira, is a girl who from an early age has practiced mortification of the flesh because the stories of Saint Theresa of Avila has deeply impressed her as having found the right way to coax an ascent of the soul. She describes it in four stages and it's the fourth that Moira yearns for:
The fourth is the "devotion of ecstasy or rapture," a passive state, in which the consciousness of being in the body disappears (II Cor. xii. 2-3). Sense activity ceases; memory and imagination are also absorbed in God or intoxicated. Body and spirit are in the throes of a sweet, happy pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, a complete impotence and unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, intermitted sometimes by such an ecstatic flight that the body is literally lifted into space. This after half an hour is followed by a reactionary relaxation of a few hours in a swoon-like weakness, attended by a negation of all the faculties in the union with God. From this the subject awakens in tears; it is the climax of mystical experience, productive of the trance.
Wikipedia's entry on Theresa of Avila
But basically, all three of the main characters in the story are searching for the same thing. Union with that ultimate something or someone. And, like the blind men touching the elephant, each of them think they have a different thing within their grasp.
The presence of the sane, pragmatic, if a little jaded, Catholic priest acts as the grounding mechanism. Keeping the story in a language that is understandable.
As I always do, I posted my story on the writer's list I belong to, ERWA. This was probably a mistake because I sort of knew that a lot of people wouldn't find the story erotic. But I needed the feedback and the criticism. It would be an understatement to say that no one damned the story with faint praise.
I had some strong reactions. Emails from ex-Catholics who couldn't praise the story enough, and something very close to hate mail from some very unexpected places; critiques that were downright vicious in tone.
What's worse, it became very hard to read the crits because almost no one was just "reading" the story. Whether they loved it or hated it, it certainly got under people's skin.
One critique, from a writer in the UK who I admire and respect very much, kept insisting that this was a cautionary story about a traumatized, possibly abused girl who was a self-harmer, and that I should say that to make sure everyone "got the message".
Another person was convinced it was all about addiction and that it was my responsibility to say that it was, so everyone would know.
A long, sometimes accrimonious discussion ensued about whether my story should be on the list or not - some people felt it wasn't erotica. One of the critiquers decided to discuss it further on an adjacent list for writer discussions. I use a pen name on this list - rg
rg's story walks an interesting line - whether what is being
experienced is religious ecstasy or an addiction to an erotic desire
The ecstasy is physically the same. The source of the desire is
I think that rg's story only engages with the erotic in part 2. The MC
believes that something was taken from her. She is no longer able to
perceive her own motives for inflicting pain on herself as pure.
Therefore the ecstasy she experiences has lost its innocence. It has
The strength of the desire and the experience of the rapture have not
changed. What has altered is the perception of the object of desire.
Appropriately enough in this Catholic setting, rg manages to associate
the erotic with the sinful. At the point that the desire is eroticised
it also becomes sinful - the MC literally acquires carnal knowledge.
Mike Kimera, Eroticism, ecstasy, sin and Remittance Girl's "Splinter",
Blog Post, March 19, 2008
The number of crits that came in from subsequent part posts was so overwhelming that I almost decided to abandon the story.
One crit in particular caused me a lot of grief. I use different POVs in different scenes. And a very well-published writer on the list told me that it bothered her; that in a 20,000 word story, I should stick with one POV only, or turn the piece into a longer one - a novel. I'm convinced that the change of POVs is integral to the story because, going back to the blind men and the elephant, there is no one answer to what this pursuit of ecstasy is or how one gets there. I'm also pretty convinced that although another, better writer, could turn this into a book, I don't know that I could.
Causes Remittance Girl Supports
Coalition Against the Trafficking of Women The Pleasure Project: A sex-positive organization working in the HIV prevention field.