And Sometimes, It’s Beautiful.

Maybe it really is all about the emotions.

So as an academic, as somebody that studies slash fic, I’ve been pretty committed to the idea that our attraction to slash, as women, goes beyond the traditional understanding: that we like the emotional attachment we have with the characters, that they have for each other, and we feed off of that, use it to construct our narratives of [emotional] desire. That we read and write sex for the intimacy, for the connection between these male partners whom we adore, whom we construct as adoring each other.

As a reader, as a writer, that always felt like bullshit to me.

I mean, yeah, I want to read stories where the characterizations are right on, where Sam and Dean or Kirk and Spock act like themselves. And part of that characterization for me is each man’s great love for the other, their incredible affection and devotion that goes beyond the bedroom, yes–but almost always ends up there, too.

But yeah: I also read it for the sex. Well-constructed, physically plausible, scorching hot and loving (sometimes) or not (sometimes), hard and quick or slow and gentle: but yeah, sex is a big part [heh] of why I love slash fiction.

Exactly.

And in reading all of this academic commentary–much of it grounded in feminist theory, at least in part–I kept running into this notion that slash is girly, that’s teenage girl emotional, that we read for intimacy and not (most explicitly not) for Sam fucking Dean into oblivion. No no. Sex may happen, these theories often go, but, as women, we’re reading for the connection, just as we do when we read traditional, happily-ever-after heterosexual romance novels.

Again: bullshit. Because we read, we write, at least in part, to get off. To get each other off, yes? As Anna Feigenbaum argues in her brilliant and hilarious essay, “If Adorno Could Hear Us Now: Female Fans [Re]writing the Romance/Porn Divide in ‘Boy Band’ Slash Fiction”:

For every [slash] story that maps out a fairly conventional conflict-resoution, there are others that bare little resemblance to the ‘romance novel’ trajectory…For example, in Mel’s story Going Up?, *NSYNC members Chris and Justin share an X-rated ride in a hotel elevator…I doubt the reader is meant to interpret Chris’ demand, ‘I want your fucking mouth sucking my cock,’ as an eroticization of nuturance. Given the explicit depictions of sex and the lack of a developed emotional relationship in this story, I am inclined to argue that it in no way resembles a conventional, heterosexual romance.

Exactly. We read slash, we write it at least in part because the sex, the bodies within it, are fucking hot.

Yeah.

But I’ve read a couple of stories lately that reminded me that it’s not a simple choice of A-or-B, that there’s a sliding scale of sex and romance and emotion, a Kinsey scale of erotic/pornographic fiction. Sometimes, these stories whispered– even as I turned my head and tried to pull away–it’s the emotion, the angst behind it, that make the sex so hot.

And here’s the really fucked up part: both of these stories are Real Person Fiction. One AU [alternative universe], the other straight-up J2. Maybe that’s how they got me: I didn’t expect to find gut-wrenching, heart-breaking angst in the middle of an AU J2. Much less two.

The first story is Ygrawn’s “Private,” a J2 inspired by this incident at an SPN convention. Misha gets a little handsy with Jared onstage and damn, does Jensen not like that. But here’s the thing: Jared’s not his, not really. Not anymore. He should be with Danni. He knows this. But there’s something that reminds him of how it used to be, with him and Jared, gets the jealousy and the grief and the lust all mixed up in one, and, well.

What I love about this fic–what surprised me–is the emotion in it. The genuine sadness mixed in with the scorching, toppy!Jensen sex.  Yeah, the sex is great, but it’s great because it stings; everybody’s hurting in this one, especially Jensen, but it’s that angst which makes the brief respite of sex, the momentary return to what was and what will never be, all the sweeter.

The second is an AU J2 called “Half of Your Heart” by jojothecr. This one broke my heart with a hammer and came back for the scraps. Jensen should be with her. Jared knows this. And this time, every time, it’s supposed to be the last. But they keep coming back to each other, a few times a year, and she knows. She tolerates. And Jared will, too. Because even a few hours with Jensen are better than none. That’s good enough, for now.

I’ve never cried over fan fic before–any fan fic, much less RPF–but “Heart” had me weeping. Again, what makes it extraordinary in my book is the emotion: the pain and unhappiness that’s so tightly intertwined with the sex that the two feed each other, thrive off one another. And I didn’t know quite what to do with that, as a reader, except let myself get lost in the story and cry like an idiot when it was over.

So.

Maybe it is all about the emotion, sometimes. Maybe what I need to remember as a reader, as a writer of this stuff, is to embrace the Kinsey of it all, to avoid the easy, critical binary of it’s either porn or romance, A or B. It’s human. It’s messy. And sometimes, it’s beautiful.

Happy Hunting

I’ve put a new page up here on the blog: “Supernatural Fic Recs.” You can access it via the link in the navigation bar at the top of this home page. It’s just what it sounds like: some slash, some PWP, some not slash-y at all. I hope to keep adding to it as I go. In the meantime, happy hunting, and if you, dear reader, have recs of your own, I hope you’ll drop me a line.

Is that a plot twist in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

These are not the tattoos you're looking for.

So I’ve been writing a lot of S/D lately, but what I’m reading is what keeps me writing. Here are reviews of three S/D stories that I love as a reader and admire as a writer. These stories aren’t PWP [Porn Without Plot, for those of you just joining us], per say, but are relatively short and pretty fucking hot, if you know what I mean. You do? Good. Stay with me.

We’ve got “Binding” and “Kings and Queens and Jokers, Too” by astolat—both fantastic examples of the “ah, you don’t totally get what is happening here, but all will be explained” genre—and the more straightforward but mind-scorchingly hot “Ink” by norah.

Binding by astolat
So astolat is awesome, just on general principle. She’s prolific, talented as hell, and, as noted above, a master of the “ah hah!” genre. In fact, for that reason, this particular story is reminiscent for me of JackHawksmoor’s brilliant K/S fic, “Tired,” which past me reviewed here. [If you’re a K/S fan and you haven’t read this one, well. Do it.]

So yes, astolat’s fic is, in the general, great, but that knowledge can be really distracting. For example, while I was prepping for this post, I made the mistake of opening one of astolet’s short fics that I hadn’t read, and yeah. Wow. Go read “Seriously, Zombies.” I’ll wait right here.

Yeah. See what I mean? Damn.

Ok, back to “Binding.” It’s just after “Born Under A Bad Sign” in Season 2, and Bobby’s given the boys some talismans to keep the nasty at bay. Everything seems just fine until Sam and Dean find themselves, you know, having sex in the woods after a hunt with no idea why or how they suddenly can’t keep their hands off each other.

The plotting here curves nicely just at the right moment and all of the sex is hot, yeah? even if its origins are, at first, mysterious. Asolat plays really well here with the notion of the boys already being tightly intertwined, even before they start fucking each other. And damn, is there a lot of sex here. In the best possible way.

She also manages to monkey with the “oh my god, they’re brothers” factor so that the notion of Wincest feeds the story’s hotness [if that’s a word] in a very clever way. And it ain’t easy to write comedy, but damn, does astolat make it look so. This one is funny, incredibly hot (like backwards and forwards and halfway through), and sweet, when you come down to it. Sigh.

Kings and Queens and Jokers, Too” by asolat
So we’re working in the same genre as “Binding,” but the emphasis in this story is more on humor than explicit sex. In fact, astolat arranges things so that our not-knowing and the boys’ utter cluelessness about what’s happening first establishes and then feeds back into the hilarity.

As the story begins, the boys have taken down the trickster at last and go out to celebrate. But everyone they encounter–hotel clerks, waiters, random people in a bar–all treat them as a couple. Like, way more than usual. And it’s not just that people suspect that they’re gay–they are definitively read and treated as a couple, which kinda pisses Dean off, but hey. Doesn’t seem to be anything wrong, not really. Heh.

Bobby makes a fine appearance here as a deux ex machina who solves the mystery but can’t quite save the day. He also gets one of the story’s best lines: “Dean, where’s your hand?” Hee!

There’s less explicit sex here than in “Binding,” more shading and suggestion but somehow, astolat makes it hot. This one is fun, sexy, and a bit tricky–as is only appropriate–and these two stories by astolat make a nice pair, if you dig.

Ink” by norah
First, logistics: I stumbled across this story via Killabeez’s S/D recs. Her list is well worth checking out, though some of the links have expired.

So the “Sammy gets off on pain” thing gets me almost every time; for that reason alone, this one is kinda in my wheelhouse. What I dig about this story, though, is that, for once, Sam doesn’t have to be tortured, bitten, slapped, punched, stabbed, whatever to get the pain he needs. Nope. He just starts getting tattoos and, for some reason, decides not to tell Dean what he’s doing. That’s it, really, the whole set up–but damn, does norah spin it out into this lovely web of humor, sex, and takeout food. And there’s a lot of Sam–what does norah have Dean call it?–“polishing the pole” in this story, if you like that sort of thing. Which, yeah.

What I admire here is norah’s ability to craft a story that occurs totally outside of any hunt, or monster, or menace; instead, it’s tightly focused on Sam, his newly-discovered kink [and oh, how he hoards it], and on the question: how you can hide something from a guy you spend all day in the car with and who sleeps in the bed next to yours every night? For like, almost a year?

And yet it doesn’t feel like there’s something missing; in fact, I didn’t realize that there wasn’t a baddie here until I started writing about it. If anything, this story feels like a bit of a gift–time with the boys where you don’t have to worry about anyone’s safety, anybody’s emotional welfare, and can just enjoy some time inside of Sam’s head. Damn it, this story is fun. And that is fantastic.

Sick as a dog

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I’ve been sick this week, a weird combination of a cold and flu and general malaise. The one good thing about this craptastic state was that it brought me back to Road Rhythm’s truly excellent S/D story “Catch Your Death.”

In CYD, Sam is fighting the flu tooth and nail as he tries to convince Dean that the job they’ve stumbled onto in utterly un-scenic Columbia, MD is worth investigating. What seems like a simple salt-and-burn of a high school nerd murdered by his popular classmates gets complicated, fast; as Sam’s physical health deteriorates, so does the boys’ hold on what the hell is actually happening inside an abandoned apartment building. Of course, Sam is a terrible patient, putting what he reads as the job ahead of his own health. And, of course, the more that Dean tries to take care of him, the more Sam resists.

Know this: Road Rhythm has the boys down cold. In CYD, she trades on her understanding of Sam and Dean’s various foibles: their relationship to each other, to their jobs, to faith, to the supernatural things that they hunt. That’s what I dig about this story: it hinges at first on misreadings, mistakes, misunderstandings, but once everyone gets their collective heads on straight, the way that the plot (and the characterizations) unfold is logical and lovely.

She also has a very light touch with Sam. The story is rendered from his perspective and the Sam that she sketches from inside his sick, aching, and congested head is believable and sympathetic; he’s a mess and he knows it. Road Rhythm lets us see how physical illness brings Sam’s knowledge of his own mental and emotional disorder to the forefront and what that knowledge does to him, even from within a Nyquil-fueled haze.

As a reader who has more that a little love for Sam, I find this awesome. As a writer who finds herself pretty fucking stuck in Dean’s head–and unable to get a firm grip on Sam (‘s character)–I am utterly envious. [particularly because RR digs so nicely and hilariously into Dean’s head in “It’s All Very Meta,” another of her stories that I adore, but for very different reasons (and really should review, because RR will make you believe that Dean Winchester is a grammar and mechanics snob. She is *that* good.)]

Here, the story is the thing, first and foremost. There is some lovely fever sex, but it’s utterly entwined in the plot, in what’s happening between the boys and within the case itself. As a fledgling slash writer, may I say that I think this is terribly difficult to do, and even harder to do as well as Road Rhythm does here.

One of RR’s commenters over on the Sam and Dean Slash Archive suggested that reading this story is akin to watching an episode. I disagree: at some level, I found it more satisfying than that. Ok, yes, there’s a bit of sex, but the true joy came, for me, in the skillful way in which RR weaves the characterizations into the plot of the case and vice versa. This is just damn good writing, all the way around. If you’re a Supernatural fan who’s on the fence about S/D, check this one out; you can always skip the sex scene if it makes you squiffy, but I’m willing to bet that by the time you get to it, S/D’ll make sense–at least in the context of this story.

Standing at attention

I’ve come back to slash again, and so, of course, I need to write about it. Perhaps this is just a cheap attempt to stay away from my @#$@#$ thesis–most certainly–but, as a reader, I’ve found that I get something from writing about some of the stories that I’ve read.

As usual, a warning: the links below will lead you to K/S writings. What is seen cannot be unseen; although, as Spock would say, there are always possibilities, that doesn’t mean that you have to look at all of them.

Here are two of the best:

Tired” by JackHawksmoor

Here’s why I love this story: I didn’t understand it the first time I read it. It’s sleek and fast moving and demands that you read every damn word, and I got lazy. A lot of the story’s action occurs offstage–there are pretty strong inferences in the text, but the story requires a close reading to follow it through.

As the action begins, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are involved in tricky negotiations with many unpleasant people, and no one is happy about it. Kirk, in particular, begins to act strangely. When Spock inconveniently picks up on his captain’s apparent distress, Kirk has to resort to semi-desperate measures to keep the trains running on time.

To me, this story proved once and for all that good slash = good writing. It’s easy to write an impersonal sex scene; it’s much harder to build a complex and interesting story in which the sex is a key part of the plot. “Tired” is proof that fan fiction in general and slash in particular is a legitimate genre.

Full Circle” by Killa

I love this story. It’s the polar opposite of “Tired”–it’s lush, it takes its damn time, and it’s worth every minute. “Full Circle” picks up where the story “Turning Point” (*sniff*) left off. [Check out my review of “Turning Point” here.] K/S must live with the consequences of their choices (and their dumb-assery) in the previous story: Spock goes off to Gol to kill part of himself, and Kirk gets married, like you do when you’ve just had your heart broken.

One night, his panic attacks–which have been haunting him since he and Spock parted–take on a different turn, and he dreams of Spock in a way that he can’t hide (damn human plumbing!) and that his wife, Lori, can’t ignore. Soon, V’gr gets the band back together, and Kirk and Spock must figure out how to reconnect. To be honest, a big part of this story’s appeal for me is that it helps salve the wounds inflicted in “Turning Point.” It’s nice to see our boys get a happy ending–at least for now.

My favorite scene in this story has nothing to do with sex–instead, it’s an extended conversation between McCoy and Kirk in which James tries to articulate what’s happened between he and Spock. After V’gr is–defeated? sent to another plane of existence? whatever.–Kirk hides in the observation lounge and broods over the “this simple feeling” moment in Sickbay. Leonard (gods bless him) tracks him down and finally gets James to tell him what the hell is going on between Kirk and Spock.

It’s a great scene because Killa nails the Bones/James relationship, one that’s central to ST but one that we don’t see often enough. In this moment, it’s easy to understand why Kirk needs McCoy (The “I need you, Bones! Badly!” line from STMP not withstanding. Hee!), and what Bones gets from his friendship with both Jim and Spock. Looking back on it, it’s a hint of what Killa’s able to do in her angsty, emotional, but not-really-slashy novella Bitter Glass.

Both of these stories pay off, not only in terms of sex (though that’s there, too), but in terms of plot, structure, and character. It’s been hard for me to find stories that strike this balance just right, which makes these stories all the more laudable and impressive.

There’s no room for “logic” in “physiological” responses to PWP

…and how could I write about texts that inspire a physiological response without mentioning K/S? Damn it.

I’m not sure how I missed that connection earlier. Perhaps the thesis part of my brain is sheltering itself rather desperately from the part of my brain that’s interested in slash.

To that end, I’d recommend these very short K/S stories whose sole purpose, it seems, is to engender a very particular kind of physiological/emotional response in the reader. Each of these is an exemplar of  the “PWP”sub-genre of slash,”PWP” being  either “Porn Without Plot” or “Plot? What Plot?,” depending on your fancy.

Strong Medicine by Killa
Kirk’s been ill, but he’s feeling better. So much better, in fact, that he goes to the bridge to see how far he can push Spock to physiologically respond in public. As always, Killa gets the interplay between James and Spock just right. And there’s just enough plot here to make the reader feel as though you’ve done enough to earn the very hot (if all too brief) sex. A fine example of a “sex in a turbolift” story.

Master and Commander by Aconitum-Nappellus
This story has an utterly ridiculous premise: there’s very little hot water left on the Enterprise, so Kirk and Spock have to share a shower! Oh noes! But there’s enough steamy sex within and without said shower to make you forget about the silly way that the men come together. There’s a lot of focus on Kirk’s body in this one, which is a bit unusual; in most of the stories that I’ve read, the reverence is saved for Spock’s…body.

Feast or Famine by pepperlandgirl
Hee! I can’t think about this story without giggling. When the Enterprise is on a boring mission, having sex with Spock is the only way that James can expel all of his nervous energy. And the mission that they’re on is •really* boring. It’s understandable, though–who’d want to stare at a starfield when you could be staring (among other verbs) at Spock?

The Berriesby Jesmihr
This story is longer than the others that I’ve listed here, as it actually includes a plot. I’ve chosen to include it, however, because said plot centers on Kirk seducing Spock during a camping trip (don’t ask). But Spock screws things up by getting drunk on the titular berries–and Spock’s a fun drunk. There’s a lot of lovely hot sex and an emotionally satisfying and believable conclusion (if you care about such things). Plus, we get the great image of Spock as a wild, woodland god. Yes.

Having and Wanting by Varoneeka
A pair of stories whose titles come from one of my favorite quotes from TOS, a line of Spock’s from “Amok Time”: “You may find that having is not so satisfying a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often so.” Basically, Kirk is so hot that he’s screwed up Spock’s seven-year pon farr cycle. Spock becomes consumed with having Kirk, Kirk figures it out, and, as Eddie Izzard would say, sex is on, yeah? The only annoying thing to me in these stories is that we waste time dicking around with the “James and Spock are bonded” crap, which, for my money, is something that doesn’t belong in a PWP. But that’s me.

At the intersection of two triangles

Now a brief dissection of Jane Carnall’s story “Yesterday.”

This story builds on the events of the TOS episode “All Our Yesterdays” (AOY).  The premise is two-fold: what if Kirk had not rescued Spock and McCoy from Sarpeidan’s ice age? and what if Spock and McCoy were bonded? As a kid, I hated “AOY”; I remember my brother and I chucking pillows at the TV in protest as Spock did very un-Spocky things like eat meat and mack on Zarabeth (though I was bothered more by the latter than the former). The episode’s position within TOS’ mess of a third season did not encourage me to watch it again. However,  A.C. Crispin’s very excellent ST novels “Yesterday’s Son” and its sequel, “Time For Yesterday,” rescued and thoroughly rehabilitated the episode for me. Like the very best ST fiction, her novels are clearly written with love and, just as importantly, the stories she tells are tightly and logically contextualized within the established bodies of canon and fanon.

Anyway. Continue reading “At the intersection of two triangles”

“Too much of anything, Lieutenant, even love–“

I’ve reached a saturation point in my reading of slash. Not that my ardor has dimmed; rather, I am too overwhelmed, at the moment, to appreciate its charms.

I do want to write about a strangely satisfying little story called “Yesterday,” which features S/Mc; about a few stories that disappointed, like “Still Amok,” “Forget Me Not,” and “The Last Straw”; about a sub-genre of slash well represented by the story “The Berries,”; and about the pleasures tucked into the narrative construction of “Incident Report.”

But first, to come up for a little air.

Don’t point that thing at me, mister.

To help me puzzle through my sudden slash addiction, I’m writing brief reviews of some of the stories that I’ve read. In this post, I’ll be discussing a set of stories by Killa and Janet St. Claire.

Just a warning: the links below will lead you to K/S writings. What is seen cannot be unseen; although, as Spock would say, there are always possibilities, that doesn’t mean that you have to look at all of them.

At My Most Beautiful” by Jane St. Claire
A lovely, barely-slashy-at-all story that gets James just right. Really, it’s kind of perfect. The glimmers of desire are there, but James has other things on his mind. Like “Turning Point” (see below), this story posits a past James/Gary Mitchell relationship, which is fine–but I didn’t wholly buy into it; luckily, the story doesn’t hinge on this detail. This is a damn fine piece of writing. If you want a gentle introduction to the human birds and the Vulcan bees, start here. Continue reading “Don’t point that thing at me, mister.”