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Sex-Positive Research for Sexy Mystery 'Bound to the Truth'

The armory
The Armory. 

 In case you missed it, the third book in the Dreamslippers Series has a sexy theme. Cat and Granny Grace must find out who killed up-and-coming architect Nina Howell. Her wife is convinced a libertarian talk show host is the murderer. Following the clues takes the dreamslippers into what in another novel might be labeled Seattle's "perverted dungeon" or "dark underbelly."

 But not in Bound to the Truth. After a decade in Seattle and a lifetime studying human behavior, my position is that there isn't anything inherently dark or perverted about sex. And by sex, I mean the activity engaged in between two consenting adults that may or may not have anything to do with procreation but could include any number of "kinky" behaviors. Spoiler alert: Through the course of the novel, Cat explores a shop selling bondage gear, she and her grandmother go undercover in a sex club, and several characters confer on lingerie and sex toys.

 Readers of the series will know this is not shocking new territory for me. As I've said on social media, book one was about religion and sex, book two art and sex, and book three politics and sex. Septuagenarian heroine Amazing Grace is sexually active and forthright about her trysts; twentysomething Cat is exploring her sexuality as a new adult. These women own their desires and act on them, apologizing to exactly no one.

 HUGE CAVEAT: The sex scenes happen mostly off-screen. This is NOT erotica. This is NOT porn. Sorry to disappoint you. Now, continuing on with the discussion...

 Readers of the blog know I've been highly critical of Fifty Shades of Grey, which utterly fails because rather than challenging its audience in any way, it allows readers/viewers to preserve their judgmental prejudices against the kink world and the presumed "broken" people who inhabit it. They can naughtily dip a toe into the world but then ultimately reject it, just as the vanilla protagonist does. With Bound to the Truth, I wanted to treat kinky people with the respect they deserve, rendering a realism that I hope not only transcends clichĂ© and judgment but results in fully developed characters and concerns. 

 While Fifty Shades served as a sort of negative inspiration, and my writing on this book started as a reaction against it, here's a peep show of my research sources for this book, all positive inspirations.

 News flash to any Emerald City resident who hasn't discovered this yet, but when Cat observes in Bound to the Truth that "Seattleites as a population must quietly be getting their freak on in the bedroom 24/7," that comes from first-hand experience. Enter the city's decidedly online dating scene for two seconds, yes, even as a middle-aged divorcĂ©e as I was, and you're immediately barraged with a cornucopia of kinky come-ons. After thirteen years straight of committed monogamy, it was eye-opening, to say the least. If you have single friends who are also dating, you compare notes and see the same. 

 I owe a debt of gratitude to Savage Love syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who not only writes intelligently, compassionately, and wittily on the subject of sex but also launched a brilliantly curated alternative porn film fest. I've attended a couple of Hump Fests, which seemed to both sell out, and I highly recommend them.

 When I wrote as a freelancer for several Seattle publications, I had the opportunity to interview University of Washington sex expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz. A well-respected academic with a long list of accomplishments, the occasion for my interview with her was the publication of her tell-all memoir, which chronicled her experiences entering the dating pool post-50. As you can see from my choice of subject matter and character, Dr. Pepper had an influence. The piece was one of my most popular, too. Originally published in Seattle Woman magazine, it was linked to by Crosscut, where it was in the top ten for traffic that year.

 While I never joined a sex club, I did talk with people who have, and I also toured The Armory in San Francisco. You might recognize the signature building in the image at the top of this post. The Armory is a sort of castle of kink. Tours are open to the public, and knowledgeable guides wearing nothing sexier than street clothes will lead you through many a porn set. The building itself is worth the price of admission even if you profess a distaste for porn; the Moorish castle was completed in 1914, with much of the stone staircases, wainscoting, and impressive corridors intact, not to mention access to an underground cave, Mission Creek running below the structure.

 I also toured the Erotic Museum of Barcelona, but who wouldn't do that on her honeymoon?

 The drag and burlesque communities deserve credit for shaping my thinking on sex. In Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, you can catch first-rate live shows in which respectful, supportive audiences embrace a diverse spectrum of lovely people on stage in various states of dress, dancing in a variety of suggestive ways. Most notably for me is Seattle's Nerdlesque. In fact, I'm still pondering my affection for and confusion over "burlesque Carl Sagan." Affection because he was one of my childhood nerd crushes. Confusion because I'm not attracted to women, but this gal was a dead ringer for my beloved astronomer, so...

 I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Laura Antoniou's mystery set in the middle of a kink convention, The Killer Wore Leather. And Seattle's sex-positive culture in general for its art shows, film screenings, articles, workshops, and overall work toward making sex something that can be talked about without stigma, shame, and danger. If we could free ourselves from those chains, then the ones some people put on just for fun become simply that.

 I hope you enjoy Bound to the Truth. You can pre-order it, and Amazon will magically deliver it to your Kindle on the day of release. Or Barnes & Noble will mystically transport it to your Nook. Or, or, or...

 Now tell me what you think of all this in the comments! What turns you on? I mean in terms of literature, people.

 


Take a Cue from the Spanish Lifestyle

Drinking water

Imagine a daily lunch that isn't spent eating microwaved food at your desk or rushed at a fast-food place but instead unfolds over the space of two hours, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, spent in the company of friends and family. This lunch includes wine and good, local food made from scratch, and it ends with fruit for dessert and the most amazing espresso you've ever sipped. No one's rushing or checking their watches. Everyone's laughing and talking and taking their time.

Welcome to Spain. 

Before this 2 pm lunch extravaganza, you might have had a sandwich snack around 11 at a local street cafe, with that glorious coffee, or maybe a pastry. Maybe that was the second time you ate that day, depending on when you got up, which didn't have to be early.

Coffee and pastry

After this 2 pm lunch siesta, you go back to work for another two or three hours, heading home around 6 or 7, when you might have a snack. Dinner then is as leisurely paced as the lunch was, maybe even more so, and it doesn't start till at least 9.

Adding the Spanish work day up, I'm getting about 5 hours of actual work. To Americans, this probably sounds appalling. But after working like a dog for 25 years, the Spanish work/life balance seems much more civilized to me. 

And so is what they eat. It's hard to find a fast-food place in Barcelona; they're all clustered around tourist attractions for a reason. Most of what you find to eat in Spain came from a farm or ranch nearby, and is presented in its close-to-original state, like the famous Iberian ham, carved right off the shank.

Shank

During my recent trip to Barcelona, all of my admittedly low-grade, not-serious-but-annoying digestive issues entirely cleared up. Sure, it was in part due to the fact that I was away from daily work stress, walking every day, and breathing in warm, Mediterranean breezes, but I happen to think the food - and a radically different food culture - had something to do with it.

For one thing, it's hard to argue with black squid ink paella...

Black ink paella

Or seafood soup. (And in the background, there's a right-sized dish of homemade ravioli. Next to it, a bottle of wine, which came with the meal, all for far less than we'd pay in Seattle.)

Seafood soup

For another thing, the amazing artisanal yogurt pictured below seemed to heal my gut in the space of a week. We imagined it was made from milk gently and humanely harvested from Pyrrenese cows who enjoy daily massage and are sung to by maidens playing lyres.

Yogurt

Next door to our apartment was one of many fresh food markets throughout the city, which is where most people shop. The procuring of food is not a chore done in one large mega-trip to a mega-store but rather woven into the fabric of your life, so that you're stopping in for fresh produce, meat, dairy, and bread as part of your daily walk route, and taking the time to chat with the vendors. There are small stores resembling the grocery stores in the States, but even they have barely any processed foods. For bread, you go to a bakery. For toiletries, you visit a farmacia.

Concepcion market

In the U.S., we're too prone to taking the quick route, turning our fad-food-of-the-moment into something packaged, with a long shelf life. Just think about the section now devoted to "gluten-free" packaged food in a lot of stores lately. As detailed in this New Yorker piece, gluten-free does not usually mean healthy. 

Unless you have a true food allergy or celiac disease, restrictive diets like the gluten-free one probably won't cure all that ails you. Believe me - I've tried them. I was a vegetarian for 13 years, and about half of that included stints of true veganism. I tried the wheat-free thing back in the 90s before the word "gluten" was used by anyone but nutritionists. I've gone fat-free, egg-free, and paleo. These diets might make you feel better for a short time, as you tend to be more mindful of what you're eating and avoid gut triggers like fried food and alcohol, but they inevitably lead to further restrictions, frustrations, and failure. 

In Barcelona, we cooked frequently, used fresh ingredients, didn't eat anything processed, and were the better for it. We also spent less money on everything, but especially cheese and meat, than we do in Seattle. We ate everything, and we still lost weight.

Balcony spread

What seems to be the key is admittedly harder than simply cutting out a particular food, and that's eating as a truly healthy omnivore. Supporting that would be a less stressful culture and much better work/life balance.

Good, local food and dishes made from scratch, eaten at a leisurely pace in the company of friends and family, and a working lifestyle that supports it. I know some of you are probably thinking right now about Spain's economy and saying to yourself that their lifestyle is to blame, but I'm not convinced of that. I don't believe it's necessary to sacrifice our personal health and well-being for the sake of the health and well-being of our economy. That doesn't seem like a logical correlation.

It's no accident that one of the chief tourist attractions in Barcelona is La Boqueria, an incredible food market where local food artisans have been hawking their goods for centuries.

Boqueria

Boqu nuts

  Boqu meat

Since I've been back in the States, I've tried to replicate the Spanish way of eating, with mixed success. It requires carrying a lot of food with me for the long work day, and I still eat at my desk, which is the only way I can fit in a workout. And yesterday the organic farm we subscribe to delivered its last box of the season. Since I didn't have the time to can, dry, and freeze the summer's bounty of foods, I'm trying not to panic.

What's your food story? Tell me all about it.