Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, October 28, 2016

Halloween - Scares and Lust Go Together

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page. 

Her new m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda Strain, and Outbreak. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Even more so than Christmas. I love the decorations, the candy, the parties, and the movies playing endlessly on TV all month long. I have recorded scads of Hammer Films and even a few Universal Pictures.  Today I'm going to watch "Horror of Dracula" and "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed".

Here's what I do for Halloween – I bake. I make gingersnaps, pumpkin bread, maple candy, shortbread cookies, sugar cookies with sprinkles, pizzelles and more. I buy mead. I make hot buttered rum and hot cocoa, sometimes with a dash of cayenne. In honor of the Day Of The Dead (Mexico), I sometimes make candy sugar skulls. Fall is soup time so I make turkey noodle, chicken noodle, leek and potato, and oyster stew.

Here's what else I do for Halloween - I decorate. I have a "Biohazard Research Facility" plaque hanging on the front door. Skull and ghost candles are scattered about the house. I don't burn them. I keep them as is and use them as decorations. My Yankee Candle votive holder depicting ravens at the entrance to a cemetery looks very classy. I use festive dish towels and oven mitts. I even have a black cat on a pumpkin magnet on the fridge. My large terra cotta carved Jack-O-Lantern sits outside my bedroom window. I use an electric light that flashes so that it looks like candle flame inside the Jack-O-Lantern. You can see it front the street. I should buy mums to place around it to give it that extra special fall look but I haven't bought any yet. I get out my snow globes. I have snow globes depicting scenes from the movies "Halloween" and "Fargo". I'm especially proud of the "Fargo" snow globes. One depicts the car crash scene and the other depicts the wood chipper scene. The "Halloween" snow globe depicts heroine Laurie Straud sitting on the floor in front of  a couch reacting in terror to seeing Michael Myers standing over her behind the couch brandishing a butcher knife.

You may think horror movies have nothing to do with romance and sex, but oh boy do they ever! There was nothing more exciting than curling up on my boyfriend's arms in the movie theater when Christopher Lee homed in on a nubile victim. It was more fun to be scared with someone to be scared with. I later attended a horror film convention every year in my hometown of Baltimore. I flirted amid discussions of dismemberments and decapitations in the Australian zombie horror comedy "Dead/Alive" and debates over which Italian director was scarier, Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci. I voted for Argento.

I met my husband thanks in part to horror movies. I met him at a science fiction convention that included panels on horror. When we started dating, I made him watch "Dead/Alive". I told him if he couldn't get through this movie in one piece we weren't meant to be together. He loved it! Every year on our anniversary we watch it. He teases me about my love for horror movies, but he often occasionally relents and watches one with me. Then we cuddle and I pretend to be scared. Just like when I was in college.

Horror movies and books  have their place in romance. Sex, too. Science proves it. Dopamine levels rise when we're scared, even in an artificial setting like a horror movie. Dopamine's nickname is the "cuddle hormone". So the next time you want a romantic evening, ditch "When Harry Met Sally". Choose Hitchcock's "Psycho" instead. And enjoy the cuddling – and more!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Their Words Live On

by Jean Roberta

Halloween is approaching, and this means (according to some) that the veil between this world and the next is growing thin.

For the ancient Celts, October 31 (or approximately this date in their own calendar) was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in), and it was the last day of the year. When Christianity was spreading throughout Europe and giving new names to old seasonal festivals, a Pope declared November 1 to be the feast day of all the saints, which made October 31 All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en. November 2 was declared All Souls Day, and it is still celebrated in Mexico as El Dia de Muertos, the day to honour all your loved ones who have passed on. (Picnics in cemeteries!)

‘Tis the season to think about the spirits of the dead, and whether they still contact the living.

Writers, in particular, tend to haunt their readers during their lives and long afterwards. William Shakespeare died on his own birthday in 1616, but his plots have circulated far and wide ever since. A writer’s death doesn’t change the relationship of readers to his/her words, but it ends the possibility of discussing them with their source, except in a séance. (“Will, when you wrote Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech, that wasn’t your own cynical manifesto, was it?”)

Too many writers have died since 2000, and I’m sure they are all missed by their fans. Since space doesn’t allow me to honour them all, I’ll just mention a few whose lives brushed mine, and who left us too soon, IMO.

In February 2003, I spent Reading Week (an annual break from classes for students and faculty in the university where I teach) in New York, where I took part in a reading from Best Women’s Erotica of that year in Bluestockings Bookstore. One of my fellow-readers was a writer and singer-songwriter known simply as “zonna.” She read from “What You’re In For,” an intense story of seduction in a women’s prison, and she invited members of the small audience to read the parts of minor characters. “Zonna” was clearly a performer, and she owned the stage. I was taken aback to hear that she passed away several months later. I haven’t been able to find much information about her, but I hope she is at peace.

In 2005, I was writing book reviews for an on-line site, “The Dominant’s View,” having been invited by “Kayla Kuffs,” whom I met in the Erotic Readers and Writers lists. I reviewed a witty book of non-fic, Painfully Obvious: An Irreverent and Unauthorized Manual for Leather/SM by Robert Davolt, a gay man and former Mr. Leather, who co-owned a bar in San Francisco. I spent Reading Week in that city that year, and took part in a reading from Best Lesbian Erotica. I was impressed when Robert Davolt showed up, and invited me to a queer bar down the street for a drink. He was perfectly sociable, and not intimidating. Later, I learned that he was diagnosed with cancer in April of that year, and by May, he was gone. When I first got the news from Kayla, I wasn't convinced, especially since her informants all seemed to be people from BDSM chat rooms with single names like Slavegirl.

I took the liberty of contacting Patrick Califia, another famous BDSM writer from San Francisco, and he snail-mailed me a copy of The Bay Area Reporter, a newsletter-style journal that included a long, respectful obituary of Robert Davolt. I hope he was welcomed to the Other Side by a chorus of adorable slave-boys.

In 2010, a famously reclusive American writer passed away, leaving a small but well-known body of work. J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories made such an impression on my daughter when she was in high school that she decided to name any future daughter she might have after a precocious young girl in the story "For Esme, With Love and Squalor." My granddaughter, Esme Stang, was born in February 2010. (I travelled to Toronto during Reading Week, when I met her two days after her birth.)

In 2011, the world lost a legendary pioneer in the world of modern lesbian literature when writer/publisher/archivist Barbara Grier passed away. I’m so sorry I dropped her torch.

I’ll explain. For six months in the early 1980s, I was a full-time employee of a collectively-run “alternative” bookstore which was literally underground, with a display window at ground level. I wanted to order more lesbian titles, including romances from Naiad Books, the company founded by Grier and her partner. I called the Naiad office in Florida and reached Grier herself. I placed an order, and we discussed ways to get the books across the Canadian border without interference from government censors.

I mentioned that I had typed up a list of lesbian books published since the latest edition of her own annotated bibliography, The Lesbian in Literature, came out in 1981. (The first edition of this list was compiled with Marion Zimmer Bradley in the 1970s.)

She said she was too busy to produce a new, expanded edition, and she hoped someone (me?) would continue this important work. For awhile, I actually tried to do this. I kept book titles and brief descriptions on file cards. In 1988, I ran off photocopies of my own typed, unofficial version of the new Lesbian in Lit to hand out at a local LGBT conference. Note that I had no access to a computer. By the 1990s, I realized that I couldn’t possibly keep up with all the new publications, and I hoped that information about writing with lesbian content was more accessible than when Grier and Bradley began compiling a list, beginning with the poet Sappho (circa 600 BCE).

Another notable lesbian writer, Victoria Brownworth, wrote a moving remembrance here:

Two other important women writers (both authors of fantasy/sci-fi) passed away in 2011. One of them, Anne McCaffrey, wrote a series of novels about the “dragonriders of Pern,” which I read in second-hand paperback editions. (Actually, there are 20 books in the series. I’ve only scratched the surface.) I loved her explanation in an interview that she moved from the eastern U.S. to Ireland because it was thousands of miles away from her ex-husband.

Joanna Russ, who also left us in 2011, was a more explicitly feminist and openly lesbian writer. She is probably best known for a novel, The Female Man, published in 1975, when Second Wave feminism was gathering strength. Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman named his annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction, “Heiresses of Russ.” I was honoured to be chosen as co-editor of the 2015 edition. (For more on the cultural significance of Russ' fiction and non-fiction, you could read my introduction, or Google her name.)

In 2012, I was shocked to read that writer/publisher Bill Brent of San Francisco had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge some time on the weekend of August 18-19. I had met him shortly after 9/11, in October 2001, when new copies of Best Bisexual Erotica 2, co-published by Bill's small press, Black Books (and Circlet Press of Cambridge, Mass.), were available to contributors, including me. He had stories in the Best Gay Erotica series from Cleis Press, and he also wrote The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men for Cleis. The bankruptcy of Black Books and of Bill's zine, Black Sheets, must have been a blow, but after that, he moved to Hawaii, and all those who knew him hoped the change of scene would do him good. On visits back to SF, he apparently didn't seem suicidal to friends. I wish them comfort.

In 2013, Rhodesian-born "British" writer Doris Lessing passed away. Although she moved to London in 1949, she always thought of herself as a colonial, an outsider with little formal education and no connections with the literary establishment. Nonetheless, when I began writing my Masters thesis on her five-novel "Children of Violence" series, I discovered a horde of fans, critics and academics who had discovered her before I did. When the final version of my thesis was handed in, it had a 12-page bibliography (single-spaced, 10-point font).

I always hoped I would meet her someday, and possibly even get her opinion of my analysis of her work. Now this can only happen on the Other Side.

I first encountered the fantasy writer Eugie Foster of Atlanta, Georgia, when we both had stories accepted for a doomed anthology of noir fantasy, Blasphemy, which was never published. By the time several other contributors pulled out of this project because it was taking too long, we were all exchanging messages in our own chat group, set up by the editors. I was the only one in the group who wrote erotica primarily; all the rest were writers of spec-fic. I found them intriguing, and they treated my genre with respect.

Later, I befriended Eugie on Livejournal and Twitter, where she posted updates about her beloved pet, a de-scented skunk named Hobkin. When Hobkin caught a respiratory infection, Eugie described her efforts (with her husband Matthew) to save him, but Hobkin passed away. Soon afterward, Eugie reported that she had been diagnosed with a rare form of sinus cancer.

Eugie's passing on September 27, 2014 (which I remember because it was the day before my own spouse's birthday) was unnerving, since she never lost hope of recovery, and continued to post tweets about her treatment almost until the end. Matthew Foster posted a brief announcement that she was gone, and added:

We do not need flowers. In lieu of flowers, please buy her books and read them. Buy them for others to read until everyone on the planet knows how amazing she was.

Here is a bibliography: fiction

Eugie and Matthew were both organizers of Dragon Con, an annual fantasy event in Atlanta, and Matthew has continued in that role. This con now features a Eugie Foster Award for the year's best fantasy story of 20K or less.

On the theme of fantasy fiction, a giant in the field was Tanith Lee of England, who claimed in introductions and interviews that writing was the only thing she ever did well enough to earn a living at it. (She was living with her parents when her first novel, The Birthgrave, was published in 1975.) I taught her novel, Night's Master (first of the Flat Earth series) in my fantasy literature class, Sympathy for the Devil, until the beautiful latest edition of that book suddenly became unavailable when the boutique publisher, Norilana, went out of business. (This version of the book featured stained-glass artwork by the author's husband, John Kaiine.)

I was able to find numerous second-hand mass-market copies (with cheesier cover art), but since I couldn't keep selling dog-eared paperbacks in class, I reluctantly replaced Nights Master with a steampunk mystery by two other writers.

I always hoped to meet Tanith Lee in a writers con some day, and discuss the publishing biz with her. Unfortunately, she passed away from breast cancer in May 2015. How ironic to die in the spring! However, she achieved an enormous amount before leaving this world.

In 2011, I received an email out of the blue from a legendary (at least to my mind) radical dyke of the 1970s, Jeanne Cordova. I recognized her as the editor of an early lesbian journal from California, The Lesbian Tide, which folded in 1980.

Her autobiographical book, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, was published in 2011, and she wanted me to review it. She had read my reviews in The Gay and Lesbian Review, and she thought I could do justice to her story. I was delighted.

I explained that neither of us could let the editor know we were in contact, since his policy was to let his stable of reviewers choose titles from lists of books received, and not to allow collusion between a writer and a reviewer. (In principle, I admire the integrity of this position.) I wrote the review, asked the editor if he could find room for it, and he did.

Later, Jeanne wrote to me from an email address under the name of her partner, Lynn Ballen, saying she enjoyed finally meeting me at a literary event. I was mystified. I wrote back to say that I was sure she met many people there, but I was not one of them. I hoped we could actually meet someday.

And then I read that Jeanne Cordova passed away from cancer in January 2016.

If I ever meet all the writers I would love to meet, it will probably be at a literary con on the Other Side that will be more fabulous than anything put on by mere mortals. I really hope that all the writers I've mentioned have vanquished the inner and outer demons they wrestled with in this world, and that they are enjoying what used to be called their "reward."

For those of us who are still here, their work is waiting to be discovered.

Eugie Foster and Hobkin (together forever?)

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Few Kicks

By Lisabet Sarai

Let me entertain you.
Let me see you smile.
Let me do a few tricks,
Some old and then some new tricks;
I'm very versatile.

- Stephen Sondheim, from Gypsy

I grew up singing musicals. When I was still in grade school, I knew most of the lyrics from "My Fair Lady", "South Pacific", "West Side Story", and "The Sound of Music". We had all the records (LPs, of course). My mom, in particular, used to play them while she was doing housework. I've always picked up songs and verse, without really trying. So I can still sing "On the Street Where You Live", "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" and "Tonight", as well as dozens more classics.

One of my mother's favorites was "Gypsy". I can see why, nowshe was a bit like Gypsy Rose Lee's mom, flamboyant and stage struck. (It was her idea, for instance, for me and my two siblings to perform on a local TV amateur hour.) As for me, I was fascinated with the character of the famous burlesque star. I must have known even at that young age that there was something naughty about Gypsy's vocation. (I've always had instincts about that sort of thing!) Anyway, I would belt out "Let Me Entertain You" while I was doing the dishes, in between renditions of "Have an Eggroll, Mr. Goldstone" and "If Mama Was Married".

As I was thinking about a post for the ERWA blog this month, I realized that the song above could be my author-ly theme. I don't write to become famous (it'll never happen) or to contribute to the canon of great literature (despite my fantasies). For the most part, I write because I want to entertain my readers - and myself. And like Gypsy, I'm very versatile. I write in a wide range of different styles and genres, depending on my mood.

Want serious BDSM romance? Try The Gazillionaire and the Virgin. Steampunk fantasy? I can recommend Rajasthani Moon. Do you like M/M stories? Pick up a copy of Necessary Madness or Quarantine. For lesbian erotica, sample The Witches of Gloucester. If vampires are your thing, there’s Fire in the Blood, my M/M/F vampire ménage set in Jamaica. Speaking of ménage, my backlist includes Truce of Trust (M/F/M with a touch of BDSM), Monsoon Fever (M/M/F historical), and Wild About That Thing (M/F/M contemporary) among other titles. I’ve written paranormal, suspense, science fiction, and hard core BDSM erotica. About the only genres I haven’t tackled are Western (though my short story “Spank Me Again, Stranger” is set in cowboy country) and sweet romance (though I’ve been tempted to try the latter, just to see if I could keep my nasty streak under control).

I've noticed that many authors seem to specialize, to carve out a niche and stick to it. Not me. I'm easily bored, I guess. Or presenting myself in a more favorable lightI like to challenge myself by attempting to write in new genres. At the moment I have one WIP that's paranormal (vampire and shifter), one that's a satirical retelling of Faust, and one that’s dark BDSM. If that's not versatile, I'm not sure what you’d call it.

There's another song from "Gypsy", sung by several of Gypsy's fellow strippers, called "You Gotta Get a Gimmick":

You can pull all the stops out
Till they call the cops out,
Grind your behind till you're banned
But you've gotta get a gimmick
If you wanna get a hand.
You can sacrifice your saccro
Working in the back row.
Bump in a dump till you're dead.
Kid, you gotta have a gimmick
If you wanna get ahead.

I sure hope that this isn't true. I'm too busy exploring to figure out a "gimmick". My stories have some common features and themes, I guess, but they are all quite different. That's both good and bad. A reader who has experience with one of my books doesn't really know what to expect from the next. On the other hand, for a reader who likes surprises... well, I can show her a few tricks.

(Maybe I should write a story that revolves around musicals...!)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sexy Snippets for October


Greetings, smut slingers!

The 19th of the month has arrived once more--as it usually does--so it's time for Sexy Snippets Day! I hope you've saved up some really steamy snippet to share.

The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.

On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link. No extra promo text, please!

Please post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!

Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!

Of course I expect you to follow the rules. One snippet per author, please. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I'll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I'll say no more!

After you've posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.


~ Lisabet

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Fiction Detox Diet: Or Where to Find the Real Meat in Writing

by Donna George Storey

This month’s column was inspired by another author interview I read thanks to the recommendation of Erotica for the Big Brain’s Terrance Aldon Shaw. TAS pointed me to “Back to School? How to get your novel published,” an interview with Jonathan Kemp (author of London Triptych, a novel about the lives of three gay hustlers in three different time periods) from Gasholder: The cultural guide to King’s Cross and beyond. The interview touched on some issues I’ve been thinking about as I continue writing and researching my historical erotic novel, in particular the meaning of "success" as a writer.

First, let’s get the title of the article out of the way. The interview with Kemp doesn’t really reveal new secrets on how to get your novel published, but rather advocates the values I think most of us here at ERWA follow in our writing: write a lot, be patient, stay true to your project, and do it for love not money. (For the record, if you are writing for the money and love doing that, that’s cool with me!) So clearly the interviewer or an editor decided to make the article more clickable with a classic “what’s in it for me?” hook for the wannabe writer-reader.

However, rather than get-rich-quick tips to finding a superagent, readers will find observations from Kemp’s experience teaching creative writing such as this:

Q: Do students think they’ll wind up famous?

A: There’s a lot of starry eyed-ness around creative writing; and yet what always drove me to it was the opposite. Jean Genet said, “the only two things a poet needs are anonymity and poverty”: there’s that sense in which the true spirit of literature is being compromised by capitalism, and the need to be rich and famous is driving the desire to write a book, rather than the need to express the human soul or psyche.

I myself am also nostalgic for the days that probably-never-were when literary writers did it for love alone and disdained profit or acclaim. From what I’ve read, even Genet dined out on his outcast celebrity on occasion. However, as writers we know that the hard work of storytelling does require some ego and expectation of reward to overcome all the obstacles inherent in the creative process. Writing for the market does not necessarily mean you’ve compromised your values, although it can. I’ve written dozens of stories for themed anthologies, which I’ve definitely shaped for a certain market, but tell myself I always put something true in my stories, something I want to say beyond the glory of a byline. Still I won’t deny that at an earlier phase of my writing life, the validation of publication was an important goal.

Perhaps it’s the lot of the fairly oft-published writer, but I don’t have stars in my eyes about authorship anymore. Publication, even by a “prestigious” press, isn’t enough. Writers have to earn my admiration. Frankly, these days I tend to avoid fiction, especially the ubiquitous bestsellers with “girl” in the title that invariably deal with murder, addiction, sexual abuse and other titillating violence that seems to be the surefire path to fame and riches. Good writing always makes me want to sit right down and start writing myself, but the predictability and sensationalism of these novels just makes me feel stupid, if I can even make it through the book (I often end up skimming). “Beautiful” writing doesn’t do it either. I need to feel my reading experience enriched my life and didn’t just show off how clever the author was. All too often, the mainstream fiction of today does not satisfy me.

Fortunately, I’ve found a steady source of nourishment in a different genre of writing: specialized nonfiction. I suspect that few of these authors have made millions. Still I regularly finish these books with a deep sense of gratitude for the love, care, and amazing amount of time and research these authors have put into their work.

I’m immensely grateful to Brian J. Cudahy for his books on public transportation in the New York Area (Under the Sidewalks of New York: The Story of the Greatest Subway System in the World and How We Got to Coney Island: The Development of Mass Transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County). His painstaking research and obvious love of subways and trains has recreated an important part of city life of one hundred years ago for me. Kathy Peiss’ Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture traces the history of cosmetics, once considered the lying trick of prostitutes but now seen as a way to express your “true self.” And Aine Collier’s The Humble Little Condom penetrates the silence around birth control, which is not only useful to get a sense of how a couple might control fertility in 1900, but puts the current controversy about this issue in perspective. These books have made me think about the world in new ways. I wish more fiction did the same. (In all fairness, some does, but not nearly enough).

Excellent and engaging writers that they are, these nonfiction authors are clearly privileging history and information over the effort of showing their brilliance as superior creative geniuses. I find this dedication to teaching us more about the human experience far more inspiring than the self-conscious pursuit of canonization as a literary genius. These authors rarely, if ever, make the cover of Time magazine a la "Jonathan Franzen: Great American Novelist." But for me, they have enriched and entertained and brought the past to life, magicians all. I’d like to thank them and the dozens of authors I’ve already consulted about life a hundred years ago for their labors of love. I appreciate what you’ve done more than words can say.

Write on!

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at or

Saturday, October 15, 2016

It's all funny until someone gets pressed to death

Imagine, it's three hundred years from now, and a little town in Poland is reveling in mischief, merriment and good old family fun, folks from the world over have come to dress up in costume. A funhouse is set up for the kids; it's a scale model of a crematorium. That's right folks! Come one, come all; kick up your heels and help us celebrate Olde Auschwitz Days!

What? That could never happen ... people celebrating an atrocity? You gotta be kidding, right?

Well, the comparison might be a tad extreme, as atrocities are weighed, twenty as opposed to millions. Still, in my adopted hometown, the "Witch City," Salem, Massachusetts, folks are midway through a month-long festival that owes its inspiration to just such a morsel of murder.

Proponents and fans of Haunted Happenings will spin it otherwise. We're just celebrating the spooky season and inviting all things that go bump in the night to come to Salem, bump up against each other and in the process bump up the local economy. After all, we're the Halloween capital of the world.

Hey, everyone celebrates Halloween, but not every town has a witch on a broomstick flying on the doors of its police cruisers. Witches and witchcraft: An ironic source of fame. Until fairly recently, it was a source of shame. Even after nearly three centuries, Salem was embarrassed by its history of judicial malfeasance that saw innocent folks railroaded onto the gallows. Well, most of them were innocent – wink.

Salem would try to redirect attention to its seafaring past when its ships sailed to the far reaches of the globe and returned to the infant United States with rare and exotic goods and ideas. So many ships that the Chinese thought Salem was a nation unto itself. So much wealth was brought in that tariffs collected in Salem accounted for a majority of the revenue that funded the federal government and spawned America's first millionaires.

Nah, that kind of history doesn't play on Jerry Springer. So, sometime around the 1970s, people from "somewhere else" with bucks to invest took a look around Salem and mocked, "You people are sitting on a gold mine."

Visitors pose at the Bewitched statue.
Kitsch and marketing led to what these days is the closest thing to Mardi Gras you're likely to find in the chilly Northeast. And like Mardi Gras, Haunted Happenings has a sexy vibe, but more of that in a bit.

First, let's take a refresher on Salem's claim to fame. Salem actually gets a bad rap – initially. The so-called witchcraft hysteria didn't begin in the port of Salem, but five miles inland at the farming community of Salem Village, now Danvers. Everyone knows the basic story, a group of adolescent and pre-adolescent girls, bored out of their skulls in the midst of winter and inspired by a slave/servant's spook stories got caught messing about with forbidden (occult)  things. In an effort to escape a good whupping, they began to throw various adult neighbors under the bus, and in those days the bus was called witchcraft. Most folks were skeptical at the girls' claims, but events began to snowball, if slowly, aided and abetted by well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning adults.

After local judges determined there were cases to be made, the judicial proceedings were taken over by William Stoughton, a high-ranking colonial official who had no legal training at all, and who proceeded to toss out legal protections for the accused, such as the right to counsel. He allowed accusers to chat with judges and allowed spectral evidence. Imagine a DA today telling a jury, "Ladies and gentleman, I can't show you the murder weapon, on account of it's invisible, but that's okay, just take my word for it."

It became evident early on that verdicts were foregone conclusions. Those who did not confess were sent to the gallows, but for one grisly exception.

Giles Corey was a miserable old guy whose hobby was bringing nuisance lawsuits against his neighbors. In a fit of pique he accused his own wife of witchcraft, only to relent and recant his accusation. Big mistake, then he was accused of witchcraft.

Giles may have been the source of that Groucho Marx joke: "I went to court to press my suit, but the judge said, 'You can't press your suit here, you gotta take it to a cleaners.'"

Well, Giles didn't want to get taken to the cleaners by the authorities. See, if he pleaded guilty to save his life, his property might well be confiscated and his sons would lose their inheritance.

So Giles, being law-savvy, refused to enter a plea, which blocked his indictment. The downside of that was the sheriff was allowed to torture him until he agreed to plea or confess. Giles got pressed like a cheap suit.

That is, he was made to lay on the ground and something like a coffin was placed on top of him. Then the coffin was filled with rocks to the point of crushing him. He endured three days of this before he expired. The tour guides will tell you it happened in Howard Street Burial Ground. But most likely Giles was taken just across the street from the old gaol, to what is now the parking lot of the Polish Catholic church, St. John's.

So, final tally, 19 executed by hanging, one pressed to death.

There is a large Wiccan community in Salem who claim these twenty as martyrs for religious freedom. Well, no they weren't. Any of them would have been content to allow the hanging of a practicing witch. A creature so foul in the eyes of God, that they would rather go to their deaths rather than name themselves as such. Nonetheless, it's ironical that Salem today hosts lots of folks who follow the old religion.

One year, an organization of North American vampires based in Montreal announced they would have their annual vampires ball in Salem. The protests that flowed from the local Witches in the form of letters to the editor were hilarious, particularly the one that scolded: let vampires into Salem and the town will go to hell. Okay, it's paraphrased, but you just can't make this stuff up.

One of the newer, popular attractions is the statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as TV witch Samantha Stevens, donated by TV Land. Nevermind that the series, "Bewitched," was set in a Connecticut suburb of New York City, not Salem. Also, Samantha is grinning more or less in the direction of where the witch trials were held and so that troublesome dichotomy again rears its hydra heads. Is this supposed to be fun?

That dichotomy is on display, uncomfortably one would think, everywhere in Salem, most notably in the understated memorial to the victims, dedicated by Elie Wiesel in 1992, the 300th anniversary of the hysteria, and which borders an alley of kitschy stores and a pirate museum – Arrrrgh!

No matter, Haunted Happenings has caught on in a big way. The largest crowds recorded came last year when Halloween occurred on a weekend. Is it fun? Sure it is. It's a fun outing for families. But it's even more fun for adults.

Even though we are often blessed with a stretch of Indian Summer in October, some of the costumes worn by young women literally fly in the face of the season. Last year, I made note of one striking young woman, hair so blonde it could blind you with reflected sunlight, wearing a black peaked hat and a black baby doll ... with heels. So many heads turned that it was a wonder there wasn't a slow-motion pile up.

When the sun goes down and the kids go home, the pheromones are as pungent as rum and candy corn. It is like a fog settles downtown as chill air contacts hot bodies.

Yes, Salem is a sexy town. I've set a few stories here, two of which included sex scenes in the Old Burying Point.

You wouldn't want to 'hang out' behind Walgreens three hundred years ago.
Perhaps, in a way, that's the best balm for guilt, if indeed there remains any after so much time. Today romance rules in Salem as potential lovers try to cast spells at each other.

I live atop Gallows Hill. No one forgets my address. Already this month folks have approached me while I was walking my spirit dog (really she's a lab mutt, but she has one bright blue eye that freaks out the tourists), and asked, "Is this where they hanged the witches?"

"Nope. The foot of the hill ... behind Walgreens."

And then, in their expressions I detect a momentary letdown. As if something as mundane as a pharmacy chain could somehow subtract from hallowed ground.

I give them directions, send them on their way and then retreat to my home with my black dog and two black cats.

Happy Halloween, all.