On writing my first novel, Girl With The Unicorn Earrings

Lorde’s ‘The Black Unicorn’ inspires a lot of Girl With The Unicorn Earrings

“The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.” –  Uses of the erotic: the erotic as power, Audre Lorde

In September, I finished the draft of my first novel Girl with the Unicorn Earrings. With yet a second storm brewing, I’ll be knee-deep in second draft edits and writing has been in invigorating experience. It’s unreal to complete a piece of work I’ve spent the last two years writing – during summer and winter breaks, while waiting for the copy machine at my ex-day job, on loose leaf paper in notebook after misplaced notebook. No matter how distracting life got, this story kept fighting to be written. And for good reason.

It is my hope that a tale about a young queer married poly couple exploring sexuality through alternative sex practices will not only stimulate reader’s senses, but get readers to start thinking outside the box when it comes to love, sex and relationships.

As much as I’d love the book to be picked up by a mainstream publisher, I’ve been coining it as queer erotic fiction for lack of a better genre. Girl with the Unicorn Earrings is my fiction – part personal diaries, part smut, part coming-of-age, all queer. All the while, I’ve been wondering where this book might fit in narrow book categories.

Is it a Memoir because it is a personal account of a journey or Fiction merely as a result of pseudonyms and renamed locations? Will it be placed in the small African-American section because I’m a black author or the LGBT section because it’s Queer Lit? Does explicit sex scenes instantly make it Erotica?

These are questions that have been milling around in my head for the past few months, but there is one thing I know to be true: this book is erotic – not just because it is riddled with hot sex scenes. It is erotic because it was written to tell a story that satisfies the senses.

Girl With The Unicorn Earring is a story of how protagonist Indigo came alive, mind, body and spirit, the summer she got married to her poly, bisexual partner Jordan and created intimate connections with words, food, travel, sex, submission, tarot, and much more.

From canoodling with a blind man in LA to devouring bacon avocado cheese burgers in Oakland diners to energetic sex and tantric orgasms in Santa Monica, Girl with the Unicorn Earrings captures those tangible moments of discovery and transformation. From cover to cover, Indigo steps out of girlhood into a married woman indulging in pleasure and the erotic for personal growth.

The day after I finished the first draft, it was no coincident that I internet stumbled upon Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the erotic: the erotic as power” (click link for full essay). Lorde’s ideas of accessing the erotic as a womanly experience and as an experience of uncensored feeling and joy is aligned exactly with what I hope to communicate with my book. Though I don’t fully agree with Lorde’s assessment of pornography “as a direct denial of the power of they erotic” (speaking specifically in regards to feminist and queer porn, which never ceases to take me on an erotic trip!), Lorde’s words reaffirmed the necessity of writing the erotic as a black woman and as a queer.

WOMEN AND THE EROTIC

“As women, we need to examine the ways in which our world can be truly different. I am speaking here of the necessity for re-assessing the quality of all the aspects of our lives and of our work, and of how we move toward and through them.

“The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects – born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our work, our lives.” – Lorde

I came into the erotic by being fully immersed in the work of woman – queer authors, erotica writers, traveling poets, black journalists, and political musicians. Reading the work of woman and being around woman who value and cherish the erotic has redefined what feminism and what being a woman looks like for me. Once upon a time ago, feminism only looked like being a separatism to me and my perspective on being a woman was loaded with displayed responsibilities – expectations of care-taking, playing docile and dumb as a form of flirtation – all that fucked up bullshit I learned that defines womanhood.

Now, for me, feminism is defined as an authentic expression of self. Being fully expressed takes time and unabashedly embracing womanhood takes time. I explore this concept in the book through Indigo’s character. She is modeled after the woman I admire, the woman who are willing to stumble and question in order to advocate for experiences of pleasure, and she is modeled after me, a young woman constantly seeking literary worlds in which to heal and create.

After Indigo gets married in NYC, she travels to the West Coast to visit lovers and attend Queer Writer’s Camp while Jordan travels on her own. Something I really like about Indigo’s character is that she is willing to step outside her comfort zone to grow. In California, she explores intimacy with a man for the first time since high school, comforts her traumatic childhood with her mother, and reflects on the journey of her polyamorous relationship with her new wife. With each passing page, Indigo discovers a queer, sex-positive world where she can shamelessly explore and indulge, much like myself.

RIGHTS TO JOY

“Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a book- case, writing a poem, examining an idea.

That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.”

“This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.”

“THE EROTIC FUNCTIONS FOR ME IN several ways..”

I engage in the erotic on a delay basis. I am surrounded by sex-positive images, not just because I am partnered with a leather sex-advocate, but because I choose to surround myself with images that reaffirm the things I am constantly denied – beautiful reflections of myself. When I know and can see that the female body is beautiful in it’s natural variety of shapes and sizes, I am empowered to create for the rights to joy. I experience joy in fully expressing the journey of my sexuality.

Through journal entries, Indigo writes about her evolving queer sexuality, learning something new about herself and her desires every time she unpacks her suitcase. Along the way, she tells tales of coming into her queer self in college, discovering Leather Woman’s culture and polyamory with her wife and learning about the BDSM scene in the basement dungeons of Brooklyn, NY. In the bedroom and beyond, Indigo discovers her multi-layered identity and ultimately, allows herself to start to experience a lifetime of love and joy.

EMBRACING THE EROTIC SELF

“WE HAVE BEEN RAISED TO FEAR THE yes within ourselves…”

“When we live outside ourselves, and by that I mean on external directives only rather than from our internal knowledge and needs, when we live away from those erotic guides from within ourselves, then our lives are limited by external and alien forms, and we conform to the needs of a structure that is not based on human need, let alone an individual’s. But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us,. then we begin to be responsible to our selves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.

“In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.

And yes, there is a hierarchy. There is a difference between painting a back fence and writing a poem, but only one of quantity. And there is, for me, no difference-between writing a good poem and moving into sunlight against the body of a woman I love.” – Lorde

When I began writing Girl With the Unicorn Earrings two summers ago, I was finally at a point in my life where I was beginning to accept and trust myself. I was beginning to trust that I could allow myself happiness. This is when the book really started to come alive. Bringing life to the book has taken time and has taken a lot of hard work. But as I work on the book, I am also working on myself. I had to move twice, leave my masochist non-profit day job, put Brown Girl Love on hold, set boundaries with my mother and get back into therapy to even begin to give myself the time to write and heal. And I am really grateful that I listened to myself. I have a fantastic, fan-girl partner who encourages my work and a thriving queer writing community that continues to help me grow and most importantly, I’m starting to feel good about myself. I’m starting to build confidence.

As a result, I’ve written a really kick-ass book and as I continue to search for queer, black literature, I realize I am writing a book I wish existed in the world. And the words of Audre Lorde continue to encourage and inspire me.

So what’s next for the book and when will you be able to read it?

I’ve created a Dec 30th goal for the completion of draft #2 and with the snow coming down hard outside, I’ll probably make some headway on draft edits of the first chapter in the next few days. I’ve taken on writing full-time since July so I’ve created many lists of literary agents and publishing companies, both big and small, that I will be pitching to in the New Year. I’m excited to start 2013 with a novel in tact and growing confidence as a freelance writer and a queer author. Until then, I’ll be writing, drinking plenty of hot chocolate and celebrating the fact that Barack Obama is still our president.

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