Or should it be sex, death, and marriage? Hello from the depth of my creative cave.
I’ve been offline for a long time (sorry) trying to dig my way through this novel about Abigail, her husband, Ben, and his brother, Daniel, all of whom are caught in the love triangle that is a Levirate marriage (or yibbum as it is known in Hebrew).
It’s been slow going – unfortunately, I’ve thrown out somewhere in the region of 50,000 words – but I am now beginning to believe again that this novel will come to an end and will be published sometime this year.
I know, you thought this day might never come – but it has! I’m thrilled to announce that Her Neighbor’s Pleasure is now live and available for FREE download on a number of online retail platforms. Here are some of the places you can find it:
Amazon.com (the US site) is offering the book for free but annoyingly, Amazon stores in other countries are still selling the story at a price (it’s not much, but it’s not FREE!). For anyone outside of the US who wants a Kindle version of the file just log in to the members’ section of this site and you will find the files ready for download. For anyone else, please, please go to the retail sites I have listed above to get your copy – and tell all your friends!! The more downloads the book gets the more visible it becomes to new readers.
Anyway, it’s all very exciting and as always please consider leaving a review if you can – each one makes a difference.
Happy reading – I really hope you enjoy the story of Esther and Sholem. I know I did – but then, they’re like my new best friends now 🙂
It seems not everyone is preoccupied with Passover right now. Last weekend I was informed of a posting on the New York Craigslist’s personals section in which a frum couple are seeking an 18 year old woman to join them in some form of erotic play.
This information would be interesting enough in itself – you may not be aware that there is a sub-culture of religious Jews who seek other religious Jews via Craigslist personals (and probably through other means) for different forms of casual sexual encounters who discreetly flag themselves to each other by using the term ‘frum’ in their listings – but this news was even more interesting because the
person who posted the ad had used my email banner graphic (the pink one above) as one of their images!
I still don’t quite know what to make of this development, but let’s be clear about this: SHOSHA PEARL HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS POSTING!!!!
It is fascinating to think that this is real people doing something that Shosha may one day write about. And while posting on Craiglist for a menage a trois may not be in line with what most of our rabbis would suggest for maintaining shalom bayit, there are no real halachic transgressions going on. I am sure there are many people who would believe that this is not appropriate behaviour for a ‘good Jew’, but if we are talking tachlis on an halachic level, there’s nothing technically wrong with it.
It’s up to you to decide whether you think such a thing is OK or whether it should stay with the confines of fantasy.
Either way, let me take this opportunity to wish you a chag kasher v’semeach.
Continuing the subject of my last blog post regarding the conversations going on at the moment in the Orthodox Jewish world on the subject of sex and, in particular, what is good, what is forbidden: have you seen the new film ‘Sacred Sperm’?
Incredibly, my previous post neglected to mention this film at all (bad Shosha!) even though I had expressed hope that current discussions around sex might eventually reach out into the ultra-Orthodox sections of the Jewish world – the very purpose of Ori Gruder’s new film!
Gruder, an Israeli film maker who become a baal teshuva (newly religious) from around the age of 30 and now lives within a Breslav Chassidic framework, decided to make the film when he found himself struggling with how he should talk to his own son about masturbation and other topics around sex.
The film seeks to address the confusion, uncertainty and laws around a topic which is generally considered taboo within the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world – as well as many other environments.
As Gruder says in his interview with Haaretz: “I believe the rabbis feel the time has come to put these subjects on the table and talk about them.”
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see the film. I do not live in area where it has been released and it is not available on iTunes (plus I don’t download pirated films) so my ability to comment on the film is somewhat limited. But from the interviews and clips I have seen I am beginning to form a few thoughts:
This is an important development. I am thrilled that the film exists and that this topic is being raised within a haredi context.
This is a film made with love. I am delighted that it has been made by someone from within the community who respects its traditions but who is also willing to ask questions. Without having seen the film, I can’t know how far Gruder’s enquiry goes; perhaps, out of respect for the frum discourse, he won’t ask enough questions, but at least he is asking questions with the aim to inform, educate and clarify – and he is doing so from a position of understanding of, and sympathy for, the sub-cultural nuances.
What about women? My reservation about the film from all the promotional material I have seen is that it is appears to be male focused. While the prohibition on masturbation is, according to most poskim (arbiters of Jewish law), about spilling or wasting of seed – which only applies to male masturbation – when we use the term ‘masturbation’ we need to remember that it can also be applied to the self-pleasuring of women. It is not just about those sacred sperm.
We can talk about whether an unwavering expectation that the biblical prohibition against male masturbation will be kept (especially by young men) is either fair or right, but that’s a discussion for another time… and maybe a discussion for the film. What I would like to know is whether the film gives as much consideration to the drives, concerns and knowledge of women – young and not so young – or whether it lumps male and female sexuality together which, by doing so, will inevitably lead to neglect of the female perspective. It is interesting to know whether those who can step over the taboo of talking about male sexuality are also capable of taking the next step to talk about female sexuality. It’s a lot of steps.
I can’t wait to see the film. If you have seen it please let me know what you think and how it addresses some of these issues. I would love to know.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you compare some of the discussions in ‘Sacred Sperm’ with the conversations happening in the ‘Joy of Text’ it is clear that in some places there is an enormous difference between views held at the progressive and conservative ends of the Orthodox world. These differences in the interpretation and implementation of halacha (Jewish law) can be significant – and that’s even without stepping outside of Orthodoxy into the progressive Jewish movements (Conservative, Reform Judaism etc). I love that the Jewish world is so diverse!
In the meantime, here are some more clips about the film that you may find interesting…
Oh, and I forgot to mention:
I love Ori Gruder’s energy – so gentle, so positive.
If you follow me on Twitter you might remember just how excited I got about a new podcast called ‘The Joy of Text‘. The monthly podcast features New York-based sexual health therapist Dr Bat Sheva Marcus – who entered my universe in the past month (via the New York Times) and now she is constantly flashing on my radar – and Rabbi Dov Linzer who is Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei in Riverdale, New York. The podcast, moderated by Ramie Smith, is sponsored by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) and Dr Marcus, Rabbi Linzer and Ms Smith seem to be coming from a progressive Orthodox perspective – not a lot of chumras going on here!
The point of all this is that I am a quite simply delighted that the dialogue about sex in the Orthodox Jewish community appears to be opening up. I’ll admit that most of the conversation is happening in the more liberal edges of the religious world (Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist), but at least it’s happening. I am optimistic about a ripple effect. Who knows? Maybe one day these conversations will eventually reach to the furthest, blackest corners of the community.
So, here are the first two episodes of the ‘Joy of Text‘ if you would like to listen for yourself. The first I found full of interesting and useful information. The conversation was lengthy and in-depth and covered a good amount of material. I listened while preparing for a large Shabbat meal and by the end of the program I found myself hoping my husband would be home soon (!). (Unfortunately, as of writing this, the first episode does not seem to be enabled to be embedded, so here is the link again for you to listen.)
The second podcast was interesting but disappointingly short – although the discussion on condom use in pre-marital sex surprised me. I hope their usual practice will be to have longer programs. Perhaps we can all help by sending in questions for them to consider and discuss. I’ve started drawing up my list already…
My first collection of short stories, I Will Watch You, was published in the last week of January, but that just means the work is now really about to start…
It was wonderful to have the short stories finally published. The process took time, largely because I was learning my way around what’s involved in producing good-quality (which I hope it is!) self-published work.
With much of that learning curve behind me, my focus is returning to Tamar, the central character in my novella, the first draft of which is already completed. Tamar is divorced, a woman in her mid thirties who is looking for love and bursting with her own welling sexuality. How she manages to navigate the former while exploring the latter is the subject of the story. I look forward to it taking life.
In the meantime, expect a new piece of frum erotica to be published soon on Jewrotica. This one’s raunchy, so brace yourselves!
Finally, a special request: it makes a big difference to the Shosha Pearl project if you read, buy and REVIEW my stories. If you like them and have ten minutes spare, please drop a rating at your local Amazon or at Goodreads (the book will be listed from tomorrow). If you want to read them but don’t want to pay, you can always sign up to my mailing list.
I like to make a bit of a deal about how I created my own literary sub-genre: ‘halachic erotica’ (halacha is the Hebrew term for Jewish law). It sounds indulgent – and perhaps it is – but I allow myself to dwell on it for a number of reasons:
1. It’s true. I really did make it up and I am proud of my creation – in a nachas rather than ga’avah kind of way. (In other words, I am proud in a parental pride kind of way rather than the ‘I’m so great, look at me’ way.)
2. Talking about the stories in literary terms works to distract the minds of people whose stunned expressions betray their confusion/horror at hearing what I write about. These expressions articulate the shock people feel when they learn that these sorts of stories exist – and then five seconds later, the sense of bemusement that they had never before heard of their existence (mention Jewrotica and you get much the same response). Often, it’s as if they are offended at the possibility that they’ve been left out of a communal circle of confidence. Explaining that I made up this outrageous form of Jewish fiction seems, somehow, to make everyone feel more comfortable about a world in which halachic erotica exists – and their place in this newly reconfigured reality.
3. It’s like putting a ribbon around a gift. Giving these stories, which I try to make beautiful, their own special genus seems appropriate. Just as I try to create something that is a pleasure to read, so too do I want to honour them -and the characters that emerge from them – by giving them a formal place in the world. This might seem trite, but it’s how I feel.
With few exceptions, the stories that I write are about the intimacy that exists between a Jewish woman and her husband. They are about the sacred sexual power that desire and love can have for couples. They are about longing, tenderness, passion and obsession – states of being that are common to couples of all creeds and colours, including religiously observant Jews.
When I started on this creative path the lighting was dim. I knew I wasn’t going to write about anything that conflicted with mainstream halacha and I guessed that a lot of the stories would involve frum types, but I didn’t know much more. It’s been a surprise that the stories that have come to life from my keyboard so far have focused exclusively on religiously observant Jews – although from a distance this seems an obvious outcome. I am curious to know how things will develop over time.
In the meantime, it is exciting to watch these little tales of lust unfold before me. They contain elements of the unexpected that surprise and delight me as their creator – and I hope there will be readers who share my pleasure in glimpsing briefly into the lives of these characters.
Rich, poor, Jewish or not; we all share common human drives and desires. I enjoy showing that religious Jews, like the rest of the world, enjoy sex, share desire and dream of sexual reward. The only differences are the cultural and religious frameworks that govern how much of the broader sexual landscape they are exposed to (eg porn, popular discourse) and, to an extent, how far halacha will let them go.
Really! It means you can’t hold on to the anticipation any longer: you don’t have that moment to look forward to – and there is a chance that everything could be downhill from here.
Although we live in hope.
I made the decision to publish my short story collection about four months ago. Once I realised this was an option, I became very (very!) excited – and not just because it offered a legitimate distraction from my novella, which had been causing me – and continues to cause me – confusion. It also provided an opportunity to do something with stories that I was proud of, but which, until then, I had not really known what I should do with.
A woman with a mission, I edited and re-edited and then sent my edited stories to be beta-read by friends, family and colleagues. All this was completed within two months (about seven weeks ago). But then, inexplicably, the momentum stopped and my manuscript sat waiting. And it waited.
I chose my cover art two months ago. Time after time I revisited the image bank to check that I liked the picture, to see if it still worked – I did and it did. But still, I did not buy it.
Then yom tov happened. So nothing else happened.
One of the amazing things about Tishrei is that after all the yammin tovim, I invariably feel like I need to make up for lost time. And no doubt I do. So, this week I finally began to appreciate that my short story collection was never going to exist in the world if I didn’t get it out there. I heard my own call to action.
Two nights ago I bought the cover art. I was exited (you like?).
Last night I emailed the image and instructions to a friend who is arranging for a designer to put together a cover (thank you!). It was a difficult email to write, but I am grateful for the enthusiastic response my friend sent me. My shoulders loosened and the thrill came back. Excitement.
Today, in an unexpectedly brave move, I sent my manuscript to an editor. Now it is real.
I am that person who hoards their favourite chocolates for so long that they turn grey (or worse, green!) – and then has to throw them out. I am that person who puts aside a gift voucher for a special occasion, but leaves it so long that I wind-up wasting it on something I don’t particularly like because it is about to expire (or worse, it has already expired!).
Delayed gratification is delicious. But delay too long and it gets moldy.
So this week Shosha Pearl, the writer of halachic Jewish erotica, started taking her project seriously again. I’ve popped the last chockie in my mouth and it is oozing delight all over.
I have just finished reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. It’s been a long time in coming and was, frankly, embarrassingly overdue, but finally now I can put my hand up and say I’ve done it.
And it was awful, but not so much for the reasons I expected. More on that later…
EL James’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey‘ was a seminal (!) part of my journey towards deciding to write ‘halachic’ erotica. The enormous splash the book made in the mainstream world was fascinating in itself, but what was even more interesting was the slowly revealed news that observant Jewish women were reading the books. And enjoying them!
I have always been interested in erotic literature as a genre; not just for its content, but also to know who is reading it and what they like, and, of course, who is writing it and how well they are doing. The Fifty Shades phenomenom meant that all this information was being discussed openly and a lot – in the media and online. And I was consuming all the details with fascination.
One of the intriguing details that emerged at the time was that ethnic and faith specific erotica was becoming increasingly attractive. Christian erotic literature, in particular, was on the rise, which made me ponder whether there might be an audience for Jewish erotic literature. And then, right on time, came Jewrotica. I was suddenly incredibly excited.
Jewrotica provided a forum for people to explore erotic stories and ideas within a Jewish context. And it gave me confidence to think that my increasing interest in exploring erotic writing within a frum (observant Jewish) context. I wanted to write about and for halachically observant people, while making things accessible enough for anyone to read and understand.
In 2012 I wrote my first short story in my newly created sub-genre, halachic Jewish erotica, entitled ‘Little Secret, Big Secret’. Then, within a few months of Jewrotica’s appearance I wrote some more stories and Shosha Pearl was born.
Here’s my declaration: I, Shosha Pearl, am writing a novella. So, now you know.
There is diverse opinion on when it is best to announce to the world that you are writing a book. Logically, it would seem best to wait until you have finished something before you start talking about it (so as to avoid bringing on the ayin harah, the evil eye, and all that…or, more likely, just a great deal of embarrassment when it comes to nothing).
But all the commercially-minded author experts and bloggers out there recommend that you start releasing information about your work in the six months leading up to its publication.
So, with two solid months of dedicated writing (in between work, family, life, nonsense), with more than 25,000 words saved and with a publication target of before Rosh Hashanah, I feel OK about saying something to the universe.
Here are the details:
I am currently working on the first of what I expect will be a four-part series of novellas.
The books will focus on the sexual and erotic explorations of a thirty-something frum divorcee, Tamar Cohen. Her journey will survey the sexual landscape available to unmarried observant Jewish women who are prepared to bend some of the rules – or to go with the most meikil (halachically lenient) views – but who are not willing to step outside the bounds of halacha.
Tamar’s sensual explorations will also be coupled with a search for love, meaning and happiness. Of course.
All four books will be novellas, which means that each will be somewhere in the region of 30 to 50,000 words (roughly one third to one half the length of a standard novel).
The books will have sex, nudity and adult themes. So be warned!
I am hoping to have the first book out before Rosh Hashanah and then the second six months after that. I think the books will be fun. And hot. And perhaps even interesting. At least, I hope so…