Monthly Archives: August 2012

named and shamed by janine ashbless

Janine Ashbless’s Named and Shamed is an original erotic fairy tale, set in a richly drawn fantasy world which parallels our contemporary time. The story is interwoven with mythological influences, excerpts from Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market,” and allusions to many different traditional fairytales and folktales. Janine Ashbless combines all of this and more with a light touch. Excellent writing, a wonderful narrative voice, great characters, and a strong plot move this naughty tale forward into another realm.

Named and Shamed immediately draws the reader in with the narrative voice of Tansy – a six-foot tall redhead who has found herself under a curse and an insatiable need for cock. There is no other way to put it, really, as Tansy would tell you herself. Tansy is a brilliant character, reminiscent of both the tarot’s fool and the archetypal hero. She sets upon a quest to free herself from the curse, taking the reader on a journey into a world of fierce eroticism and unapologetic sexuality, which confronts sexual deviance and kink, shatters taboos and boundaries, and ultimately frees and liberates.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the setting in Wildworld, a fictitious place that straddles both mythological and contemporary worlds, inhabited by humans and a wide range of Fair Folk, also called “Them There.” These characters are brought to vibrant life and provide an exciting and intriguing sexual and mythological context to the story. I was happy to discover that this setting is also featured in some of Ashbless’s other work. The story of how Them There is told in Wildwood. Her novella Bear Skin, in the erotic fairy tale collection Enchanted, also shares this setting.

The sexual and erotic scenes in Named and Shamed are very, very hot. The sex in this book starts within the first few pages and becomes increasingly varied and creative. There are no boundaries here, in fact, I’d say that that the story seems to delight in overthrowing limits and taboos and what may be considered sexually deviant. Because Tansy is so accepting, so receptive, so clearly enjoying her sexual adventures, she provides an interesting comfort zone for readers as they negotiate this wild and refreshing and uninhibited sexual terrain where anything, and I mean anything, is possible.

Tansy explains: “I want [sex] to be bigger than me, something overwhelming, something I have no power over. Like love, or the stars, or the ocean … that’s how the humiliating, crazy, slutty stuff works. It’s like a doorway into something bigger than myself. And a mirror, that shows me myself walking through that door. Because I know that it should be degrading, and that it’s not what I should be doing, and that it goes against all the rules, and that everyone will look down on me for doing it – and I still love it. It’s like the moment I’m really taken over, possessed, by desire. I’m touching something vast.”

Named and Shamed by Janine Ashbless is an extraordinary and unique story which explores the vast landscape of desire and sexuality as both doorway and mirror, deeply rooted in eroticism, mythology, fairytales, and fantasy. There is a good dose of humor throughout which balances the intensity of this story very nicely, and erotic drawings by John La Chatte illustrate the text.

Named and Shamed by Janine Ashbless
UK: £10.99
US: $17.95
ISBN: 978-0-9570037-8-1
June 2012, 390 pages
Illustrations by John La Chatte
Sweetmeats Press


Astronavigation by Michelle Augello-Page by barehandspoetry

This is an audio recording of my poem “Astronavigation”, which was published in Issue Six of Bare Hands Poetry. Be sure to check out Bare Hands Poetry on SoundCloud to hear the voices of poets from all over the world reading their work!

on fairy tales

Why are fairy tales still so popular? What is the lure of this particular form of storytelling? And further, how do we understand and process the meaning of fairy tales in our collective consciousness and our individual minds?

As a writer who sometimes works within the framework of fairy tales, I am extremely interested in these questions. As with all stories, fairy tales have grown from an oral to a written form of storytelling. In the retelling, the storyteller would often revise the tale, a tradition that continued when the stories were printed, and continues to this very day.

The framework of fairy tales demands this reflexive approach, and relies on the storyteller to reinvent the tale.  In the retelling, the familiar tale is processed by the author’s (and the reader’s) unique perspective, and filtered through cultural, historical, environmental, psychological, and socioeconomic contexts.

Modern fairy tales, now more than ever, depart sometimes drastically from the “original” form. And yet, these modern tales are just as much fairy tales as the ones we grew up with as children. Perhaps more so, because these modern tales understand the essence of this form of storytelling. The retelling and reinvention of fairy tales is the natural evolution of the form. It is in this way that fairy tales are kept alive.

When I was growing up, I had a very small collection of books. Most of these books were fairy tales. As I grew older, I began to find alternate versions of the tales I knew and loved. These alternate versions did not detract from my love of the “original” tale. In fact, they enhanced the story – the essential story – and provoked me to think more and to open my mind to different possibilities, different perspectives, and different meanings.

One of the books I had as a child was a Disney picture book of Snow White. I loved that book deeply. How surprised and pleased I was to find another version of Snow White! Then, I discovered the Grimm’s brothers tale. Whoa. Then, I looked a little deeper and found the unabridged Grimm tale! Mind=blown.

Since then, I’ve read countless versions of that same tale where the fairy tale has changed perspective, plot, and point of view. I’ve read versions where the Queen is the victim, and Snow White is the villain. I’ve read versions where Snow White outsmarts the Queen and doesn’t need the prince to save her; she saves herself. I’ve read versions where Snow White was a whore, living very disreputably with seven men!

The most interesting aspect to these alternate versions is that the fairy tale is still, essentially, Snow White. And that’s the way fairy tales work – before even getting into a new take on the old tale, I am coming to the story with a set of ideas and expectations. I know this fairy tale. And yet, with each retelling, the story continues to expand and layer meaning. It forces me to revisit the tale in new ways, with fresh eyes, and to expand in turn.

A couple of years ago, I was interviewed when I first published my story “The Kiss” in the Cleis Press anthology Fairy Tale Lust. In the interview, I was asked what made my story a fairy tale, and why I thought erotic fairy tales were so popular. My response was:

My story is a fairy tale by both the nature of the tale and the plot elements that constitute a fairy tale. Fairy tales are set in an alternate reality, where fiction is real, and the lie is truth. There is a certain suspension of belief that occurs in fairy tales; we believe that there is a wolf in the bed when Little Red Riding Hood comes to visit grandmother. In reality, such a thing would be too impossible to believe. But we understand the wolf in the fairy tale, not in the literal sense, but the wolf as a symbol, and all that represents. We understand that, as surely as we understand the phrase “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. It is language telling something essential, infused with metaphor.

Fairy tales are a way of teaching children how to work out issues, about showing them alternate paths, and allowing them fancies of the imagination and the certain pleasure derived from language and from reading and being told a story. An important aspect to fairy tales is the multilayered effect of the tale, which allows one to re-read any number of written tales with the basic parameters of one story. This is a very interesting way to tell stories, and features mostly in fairy tales, mythology, and folklore. The fairy tale is something flexible and organic, encouraging a continued re-visitation of the text, which should change in response to evolving perceptions of the self and the world.

“The Uses of Enchantment” by Bruno Bettelheim is an excellent book for those interested in the deep meaning and importance of fairy tales through a psychoanalytic lens. Fairy tales are written for children in our modern times, though we all know the Brothers Grimm and that fairy tales were often told to adults and have been sanitized for exclusive use in the realm of childhood. Therefore, in our present time, adults outgrow fairy tales.

I think that erotic fairy tales are popular because they are a place for adults to revisit the basic elements of the fairy tale story with adult content. The adult content still allows for the adult reader to connect with the tale, as a place to work out some of the mysteries and subtleties of our human experience. Sex is extremely mysterious. There exists an entire literature devoted to comprehending sex and even this falls short of tapping into fully understanding the sexual experience. So, it seems natural that we would turn to erotic fairy tales, and be interested in stories that work out certain issues, show us alternate paths, and allow fancies of the imagination, through language and the creative mental process of reading.

The framework of the fairy tale is a very interesting way to experience a story, for both a writer and a reader, which is why I think it continues to flourish as a medium of storytelling. These are stories we have known since childhood, stories that we have encountered since we first learned to read. These stories inherently contain archetypes, which speak to us on an almost unconscious level. These are simple tales with deep, deep roots.

And they change. And they are meant to change. In response, they provoke us to reflect, to expand our capacity for meaning, and to change as well.