Slow Down and Reclaim Conversation….

There is no substitute for eye contact. Or for someone else to do your laundry.

“Eye contact is the most powerful path to human connection.” ~Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation

Turkle is on to something and I slowly realize I am making a conscious choice to strive, whenever possible, to make sure all my friendships involve eye-to-eye conversation. Words have far more meaning and connection when there are the feelings of attachment and empathy that can only be achieved by the power of eye contact. Even if it is only via Skpe, the “mirroring” pathways in our brain are engaged and a deeper connection occurs.

Turkle reveals shocking studies. More and more youth in this day and age are accustomed to constant interruptions in conversation due to social media. So much so, the interruptions are not viewed as a bad thing but rather as another form of human connection. These interruptions provide an “out” for things folks want to avoid, and the overwhelming thing people want to avoid is boredom. Boredom is basically a warning sign when you come down to it. It’s  the mind is telling us  we have to pay closer attention to something… anything. At its core, that’s a good thing as it teaches us to take note to what makes us tick and pushes us to make new connections or learn new things. But if boredom is constantly swatted away by the allure of the phone and the online world, how are we to come to know ourselves? And in that, how are we to come to make meaningful conversations with one another?

This world is too fast paced if you ask me. People want instant gratification. I’ve said that numerous times at work.  The “meat” of a story has to be within the first paragraph, or three sentences, lest  you risk losing a reader.  More often than not, people want to be told what to do, not how to do for themselves. Focus is lacking and lulls in conversation are a bad thing. During the point in my life when I was online all the time, I learned that any “lull” in a conversation committed by me that was longer than 3 seconds would spark questions.  It led to more anxiety for me, which wasn’t good when you have an anxiety disorder. I’d worry for a split second that I wasn’t fast enough to reply. Many times I’d have to think before I would type or respond to a question. 99% of the time all I was doing was processing what I just read and was forming my thoughts. It takes me longer than most sometimes due to my Pure O. I think in pictures and metaphors. I absorb things slower.  My “lulls” would  spark questions of if I was multitasking. Who else was I talking to? What else was I doing? What was going on? Well…. nothing. I was thinking. Plain and simple. If you speak to me and it seems like I am not replying fast enough, give me a second. I am just flipping through mind mind and rotating my thoughts into words.  But this digital age has programmed a world where faster is better, and, when people lack the empathy found in face to face conversations, silence can be misread. Turkle mentions this. She writes:

“...people who chronically multitask train their brains to crave multitasking. Those who multitask most frequently don’t get better at it; they just want more of it. This means that conversation, the kind that demands focus, becomes more and more difficult.”  I can’t help but think that those who are constantly on the go, and especially our youth today with their crazy schedules, might expect others to be on the go too. That if they multitask, they expect, or assume, others are as well and are capable of functioning in that environment. Where I respond slower, an expert multitasker may be quicker to a reply. How does the movement from texting, to instant messages, to Facebook, to Twitter feeds, etc., affect people’s ability to slow down, form thoughts, and carry on  conversations, and can it be done without the interruptions? Youth today are experts in juggling multiple forms of social media. Turkle discovered that, for  people in their teens and twenties, the most commonly heard phrase at dinner with friends was “Wait, what?” Everyone is always missing something because they are not slowing down enough to pause, process, think and then respond.

I’d rather see kids looking at each other instead of looking at their phones.

I suppose that is why I love small groups at church.  They are highly focused. It’s why I love dinners at the dining room table with my daughter.  Togetherness breeds connection. A slower pace creates time to think before you speak.

It’s not easy to unplug from it all though. Just last night I was having a hard time with my necessity to  say good night to my best friend so to have my dinner and walk the dog. I kept wanting to flip my computer back open so to be in constant connection. I felt selfish for leaving.   Backing away from the world I was so involved in when I am home is strange for me, especially when it’s part of my job, but it’s giving me a lot more power to be a better person and friend. I’m less stressed now that I am offline more than I am online.  I feel like I have privacy.

Always being connected in the digital world leaves you  never alone and, in order to know yourself the best, you have to be alone sometimes.

Remembering Diagnosis Day

Playbuzz test by Monica Woods claiming to test for OCD. Looks like circles to me.

It’s the wrap up of #OCDWeekOfAction, an initiative of a UK based charity for those with OCD. So I invite everyone who takes those online OCD “tests” that cycle around Facebook to donate to support the mental illness they so quickly discovered they were afflicted with.

I’ve said it once and will say it again… it’s not funny anymore. I’ve pondered if I should get a thicker skin, if I should “lighten” up over these obviously fluff tests likely designed to  phish information from Facebook accounts… but I find I fail.  This is a mental illness I have watched get trivialized repeatedly. So my action, in what small corner of the web I own, is to say, again, please stop it. Stop degrading and spreading false ideas about what OCD is all about. It is not about your eyesight or color standards. It is not about perfectionism and attention to detail.

The tests for OCD suck. They suck because you’re alone in a room being asked a battery of questions, some which make no sense to your racing mind, all while your heart is flat on your shoes. You wonder if you will be leaving that doctor’s office “fixed” and “normal” or will keep on living a life “faking normal.” They are scary and confusing, and since you are not diagnosed yet, you are left with  hours (to days) of waiting as your symptoms get worse because of the anxiety you just went through. Then your results come back and you are staring down bottles of mind-bending, extremely powerful drugs that literally alter your personality.

But instead society has this idea that OCD is the kid to pick on in the “playground” of mental illness. It’s fun to say, easy for celebrities to make into a “designer” illness, and profitable to slap on tee-shirts and coffee mugs.

I wonder if folks who take these online “tests” on Facebook, and then proudly say they are 100% OCD afterward will remember the day of their diagnoses for all their lives. I’d like them to post on the blog in reply and let me know. And if you really do have OCD, post in reply and let me know if you remember the day you were diagnosed. Help to spread knowledge and crush the ignorance.   I remember mine. I came home scared out of my wits, angry as all hell, and for days later was sick as a dog. Since I was terrified back then of letting anyone know I had a mental illness I went on with life and suffered through work with debilitating migraines as the meds tried to work. Then I would sleep every second I could.

I had to be a wife, I had to be a mother to an infant, I had to “fake normal.” I had to try to forget the exact circumstance that woke this sleeping giant in me.

I have Pure O-OCD. I can’t forget as much as I want to and I assure you it was not the moment I took a “test” on Facebook.

But… I can vent to my corner of the world and ask again that OCD not be commercialized or trivialized. Think about the cancer a friend had, or the Alzheimers a parent died of, think of the darkest diagnosis in your life and how it impacted your family and friends, then think of what it would be like if that diagnosis was constantly disrespected. It’s not just disrespectful to the illness, but to the person afflicted.

Take the online GAMES  but when you go to post results be sure to mention that it was a fun way to see if you had quirk, to test your eyesight, or finickiness.  Call it for what it is. This mental illness would have a greater understanding and a lot more support if those who didn’t suffer from OCD helped to spread the word about what it really is.

I suppose I’m never going to lighten up about this. If I have the opportunities take a stand on it,  I will.

How to Build Sexual Tension in Fiction Writing

This is a totally inappropriate image for this blog topic. But it is how I feel today….

I am totally not editing today. I have the attention span of flea hopped up on caffeine, but the motivation of a snail. Not a good combination when you have to push a book out.  I’ve been cleaning instead. I  found this information on sexual tension and thought I’d toss it up on the blog.I learned something from it years ago. Perhaps those trolling the web may find it useful too.

Sexual tension is actions and reactions of your characters to each others chemistry both physical and emotional. It is your characters flirting with the limits of their relationship and the emotions of their partner. It’s where your hero touches your heroine and she trembles. Where he strokes her skin and she melts. Understanding body reflexes and reactions to all the senses is critical in good romance writing. All the senses must be involved to make a good scene. How does your hero smell, what does his feel like, how does the heroine react to his touch? There are twelve steps to consider in creating convincing sexual tension:

Eye to body– This is the fraction it takes for someone to size up the physical attributes of their partner. Instantly we know what attracts us, so your character should to. What do they see in their partner and how to they process it?

Eye to eye— Our attraction is connected to the eye. Only intimate people make direct eye contact. Prolonged eye contact in non-intimate people could be considered aggressive staring. Let the reader know what the character reads behind those eyes.

Voice to voice– In a scene this connects the reader via small talk and introduces a reader to how the characters relate. A hero who is staring at a heroine might walk up her and say he wants to sleep with her outright. That’s a fairly bold move. You’d either shock the reader with this voice-to-voice contact or perhaps the reader expected him to do that by how you built up the sexual tension in the scene. Think about how a character will sound in the moment. Husky? Throaty? Where the words moaned? Manipulations to the voice in sexual tension can speak volumes.

A far more relevant image because snails do not have hands.

Hand to hand–This intimacy is important. Throughout history social intentions were built around gestures of the hand. Look at the handshake what it means. Physically the hand is extremely sensitive by the amount of nerves involved, so be sure to pull in the sense of touch.

Arm to shoulder— This is a breaching of social circles by coming in closer than what is usually acceptable. Invading personal space to find a more intimate connection is a daring. Letting bodies touch crosses a threshold and brings the reader closer to a sexual intent. The character could be leaning in slightly then quickly backing off, or could brush brushing against someone he or she passes by.

Arm to waist–Who doesn’t know what hand on the small of a back means? It is a direct statement of sexual intimacy. It could state a deep interest or reflect disgust. How many times have you seen a woman arch away from contact as this as if to say “hands off!” This form of intimacy and can convey a variety of sexual tension, both good and bad.

Mouth to Mouth–You can count on physical arousal with this one, especially with your male characters, and it will occur or you have done something wrong in the sexual tension. Don’t under estimate the power of a simple kiss. There are several hot spots on the human neck that will automatically arouse. Don’t forget taste here either. The characters are kissing, each has to taste like something so consider, if it works well for the scene, to add that element. Be certain, however, that it doesn’t pull the reader out of scene.

Hand to head–I love this one. This is an intimate portrayal of trust. It’s difficult to not to see the meaning behind someone’s eyes when their hand and is holding your head, cheek, neck…

Hand to body— If your heroine doesn’t trust your hero this is usually the spot where you should break off the tension.

Mouth to breast— By now you may be approaching a sex scene or at least extreme intimate arousal. Here all senses come into play. For a male he is smelling, tasting and feeling all at the same time

Hand to genital–The characters have reached total bonding at this point. Your hero and heroine should be trusting each other enough to want to progress.

Genital to genital–the face to face, full body contact of making love.

Those are the basic to building up to sexual tension—go out and find a character to use them on.

Happy writing!

Reclaiming Conversation.

It’s rare that a book makes me leap out of the tub to post a blog, but just a few pages into this one and I knew I had to. It’s called Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle.

The art of conversation has died around us. I was never a big conversationalist to begin with but I sure did listen..a lot. I don’t hear many real honest to goodness conversations where people are talking with each other and not at or through each other. In this day and age human empathy and connection has suffered by placing windows and screens in place of eye-to-eye, face-to-face contact.

I spend most of my time in an online world. It’s a part of my job. I interact with countless people on social media that I will never see face to face. For many years I came home and social media was my world too, so much so, the first thing I did when I walked in my door was to make sure the computer was on and the alerts were turned up. But the online world is no substitute for being present before another person, and yet, we all succumb to it. We love the idea of being able to edit a thought before we say it and be as flawless as we can possibly be.

Things have changed for me over years. I started to get involved in small groups with my church.  I am less interested in social media and growing more addicted to God and small groups. I get a high from making connections and hearing the flawed stories of people face-to-face.

It’s 2017 and it took some time and a lot of prayer but I can say I social media is not running my life as it has for the last 9 years. My phone is used to make calls or send a text to one of a handful of people. When in a waiting room full of people looking at their phones, I’m the one looking at them.

I’m “reclaiming” my own art of conversation. That’s why I am going to read this book and post a blog when a thought strikes me. I sure hope this helps me learn a lot more about the conversation before my daughter gets to be the age where she wants/needs a phone. I don’t want her to be one of those tweens who never looks where she is going when she walks or who’s idea of hanging out with friends is sitting around looking at their phones.

Turkle writes: “The very sight of a phone on the landscape leaves us feeling less connected to each other, less invested in each other….Once aware we can begin to rethink our practices. When we do, conversation is there to reclaim. For the failing connections of our digital world, it is the talking cure.

Granted, it’s the digital age, but God made people so people can be known to one another. He did not make us to live alone. He did not create us to love in secret. He did not design us to hide from one another. He gave us empathy for a reason.

I know mine needs polish.

Does yours?

History of Silent Night (or how to annoy your brother)

Each Christmas presented an awesome way to annoy my older brother.

That I did so during church on Christmas every year didn’t matter.  In my heart, God has a sense of humor and I figured He was laughing along with me.

First off let me say the church I attend now, (Christ Church) rocks. Figuratively and literally. Besides the fountain of  Living Water that greets everyone as they come in, we’ve an amazing worship team and  Pastor John has a gift of stimulating the mind and the heart.  Currently he is teaching us about the history behind famous carols. Being a history geek myself I thought I’d polish up this old blog post and start not being a hermit to my fans as I have been of late.

My brother’s glare of warning every Christmas Eve when it came time to sing “Silent Night” could light brimstone. That glare was my cue, and he knew what was coming the instant the lights dimmed throughout the church. During high school I spoke German, and, being a teen and the annoying younger sister that I was, I thought it hip to sing “Silent Night” in its original language solely to bother my brother.

But that story is not my point, fun as it is to remember.

Christmas brings many creative stories about how this timeless carol was created. One being that a mouse munching the bellows of an organ forced the need for Joseph Mohr, a young priest assigned to a pilgrimage church in Mariapfarr, Austria, to compose something in haste in order to sing at the Midnight Mass. That story has more versions than can be counted at this point! It’s been sensationalized through the years in film and books, but the reality of this hymn is humble in its origins.

Yes, it’s a mouse riding a lobster but at least it’s from a Victorian Christmas card. Victorians had a thing for natural history and YOU try finding a picture of a mouse eating organ bellows…

“Silent Night” was written by Joseph Mohr in 1816; however it wasn’t until Christmas Eve of 1818, when Mohr visited the home of Franz Gruber, a primary school teacher and church organist, that it came into being as a carol. Mohr showed his friend the poem and simply asked him to write a melody for it for two solo voices, a choir, and guitar accompaniment.  Mohr liked what Gruber wrote and later that night, December 24th, the first stanzas of “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” were heard. Gruber’s personal account of how the carol was written doesn’t mention Mohr’s specifics for inspiration, but one supposition is that the church organ was no longer working forcing Mohr’s need for it to be written for guitar (some legends claim it was mice eating the organ, other claim rust on the pipes).

However a broken organ does tie into the tale by some accounts, as master organ builder Karl Mauracher worked at Mohr’s church several times over the years. While there, it’s possible Mauracher obtained a copy of the composition and took it away him. As a result the simple carol began its journey around the world in the hands of an organ builder and ultimately ended up into a church songbook prepared by Blasius Wimmer.

Many carols (as learned in church recently) were composed during troubled times. “Do You Hear What I Hear,” during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” when Christmas was illegal in the United States. “Silent Night” was no different. It was created and first performed after the Napoleonic Wars. The Congress of Vienna had created new borders and a new order for Europe. Salzburg, Austria suffered greatly during this time having to secularize due to losing its status as an independent country. In 1816, at the time Mohr penned “Silent Night,” its lands were divided between Bavaria and Austria. The local economy in Oberndorf by Salzburg suffered, causing a depression and forcing many into unemployment. Mohr was in Oberndorf at this time.  Witnessing these events his wrote “Silent Night” and penned the 4th verse as a plea for peace:

Silent night! Holy night!; Where on this day all power; of fatherly love poured forth; And like a brother lovingly embraced; Jesus the peoples of the world; Jesus the peoples of the world. (translated from the original)

The melody changed over the years. In December of 1822 the Rainer Family Singers performed the song at the Castle of Count Donhoff for Emperor Franz I and Tsar Alexander I of Russia.  Several musical notes were changed at this concert and the carol evolved into the melody we now know. By 1839 “Silent Night” was performed for the first time in America at the Alexander Hamilton Monument outside Trinity Church in New York City.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Without doubt it will be performed this holiday season in churches across the country and most likely sung in English… unless I happen to be home at the same time as my brother.

Old habits die hard.

Ein frohes Weihnachtsfest und alles Gute zum neuen Jahr!


What Nationality is the Phantom of the Opera?

Many are curious as to Erik’s last name, and therefore his nationality. Leroux doesn’t provide us with a last name to his famous monster however many assume Erik is French because Leroux set his novel in Paris. The truth is nationality plays a big role in Leroux’s Phantom.

Leroux writes Erik was born in Rouen, which would make him nationally French, but doesn’t give us a parental bloodline. He makes mention of Erik’s mother and father, but beyond a snippet of information about trades, locations, and attitudes toward their monstrous son, the reader knows nothing. What is obvious is Leroux loved German villains.

Leroux’s most faFlag-Pins-France-Germanymous villains were German. The Phantom of the Opera is not his most beloved work, nor is Erik his most popular character. That honor belongs to his novel Rouletabille  and his character Ballmeyer,  a German. Ballmeyer and Erik display frightening similarities: murder, hidden passages, tricks, and an obsession with genius and disguise.

Much in Leroux’s novel echoed the anti-Germanic sentiment that was still prevalent in Paris at the time he wrote Phantom of the Opera. Leroux chose the Opera Garnier which was, for many years, was anti-Germanic. The Paris Opera House didn’t host a German opera until 1890. Leroux’s commentary of the opera manager, M. Richard, as the “sole person who has any comprehension of Wagner” makes him a comical figure in the eyes of Parisian society at the time of its printing and further hints at the anti-Germanic sentiment at the Opera Garnier.

Leroux goes further into rooting Erik as a German/Germanic and portrays France’s anti- German sentiment in the novel as a whole. Leroux’s Phantom was gleaned in part from Svengali, an Austrian Jew who captures the love of an opera singer by transfixing her and molding her into a work of public musical admiration. (This from George Du Maurier’s novel, Trilby.)

During her captivity Christine asks if the “name of Erik does not point to Scandinavian origin.” Erik doesn’t reply other than saying he is a man with no heritage and no country. He took his name “par hazard,” or at great risk. This indicates that “Erik” might not be his actual name at all, or another form of detaching himself from elements of his persona he doesn’t care to acknowledge.  Even Leroux’s spelling of the name “Erik” points to German roots. As and aside, the choice of wine used throughout the novel is a Tokay which Leroux writes that Erik “himself brought from the cellars of Koensingburg,” further hinting Leroux’s route toward Germanic elements of his novel.

Overall Leroux wanted to create Erik as the foreigner among Frenchmen, in the same way he wanted a parallel between Raoul as the sexless virgin yet the leading male. Leroux wanted to craft Erik as the nation-less character while still creating a recognizably villainous character for the French: a German.

If anyone wants debate, the novel was also written at a time when Oriental thought was popular—echoed in the Persian, certain décor, even Erik as the Moor of Venice and his “yellow skin.”

Who is to say what nationality Erik was? This element of Leroux, however, is why I chose to make my heroine (or anti-heroine if you will) in my series of Germanic origin.

Christine Daae and the Class System in Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera

“Pride when there is a real superiority of mind…. Pride will always be under good regulation.” ~Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Often there are two themes in romance. A heroine lured into the dangerous world of the underground by the “bad boy” of literature,  or she has her eyes set on the life of a titled lady.

Christine Daae, in Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera, was a woman in limbo and trapped between two different classes: the aristocracy and the underground. She had to either choose the hero, Raoul,  and his aristocrat life or choose the anti-hero, Erik, and live in the world of deviants and freaks.

In reality, Christine belonged in the bourgeoisie–between the middle class and the nobility–where image was everything.  Leroux knew this and built his plot around it beautifully. Christine  was a social ladder climber–a heroine interested in furthering her career, but also drawn to the idea of a title. I don’t believe for a moment that Christine didn’t’ realize that marrying a nobleman would bring her social admiration.  She desired that popularity, but at the same time, wanted her career. Many readers forget–by marrying into the aristocracy, Christine would have had to leave the opera. Her life on stage would have been over. By resting comfortably in the bourgeoisie world, she could have it all. The career she wanted and the rubbing elbows with the upper classes that made her look desirable.

The bourgeoisie wanted the privilege of the aristocracy but also the freedom from their power and rule. Fashion was as important as outings to salons and the opera. They had to flaunt their status wherever they could. What better place for Christine then as the star of the opera? The bourgeoisie made sure they were noticed by the right people in restaurants, gardens, and boulevards. They mimicked whatever was in style at the time and placed etiquette first in order to mirror the noble image they wanted to obtain.

This is the perfect place for Christine. Here she stayed safe in an upwardly mobile class while desiring Raoul and his title, and at the same time furthered her career with Erik.  Image-was paramount in Leroux’s novel and he built much of Christine’s  internal conflict off this clash of the class system.

Your Mother Really Does Want A Medal: Médaille de la Famille française

If you really want to honor your mother today give her a medal.

Today, May 8th is Mother’s Day here in the States, but wait a few weeks and it will be Mother’s Day in France—May 29th.

Just like here, Mother’s Day, la Fête des Mères, is a day to honor your mother with something special. Children often create poems to read to their mothers or make them small gifts in school. Seems those pinch pots are universal. However the French take it one, small, (ahem) step further

France came about their Mother’s Day bit differently than the United States, where the holiday was created in 1915 by An Jarvis of Philadelphia. During the 19th Century France had a real concern—low birth rate. So they created the idea of celebrating large families. In 1908 la Ligue Populaire des Pères et Mères de Familles Nombreuses was created which honored parents of large families. The official holiday was established on May 20, 1920 with the Médaille de la Famille française a decoration by the government to mothers who successfully raised several well-brought up children and became a fixed date, the last Sunday in May in 1950.

The honor had three classes: the bronze medal for mothers raising four or five children, silver for six or seven and gold for those mothers with eight or more. For a mother to have this honor, they must be recommended to the local town hall. Next, an inquiry into the family would occur and, if favorable, a decision would be made as to if they deserved this honor. In 2013 the honor or getting the Médaille de la Famille française, was changed to require a family to have 4 or more children under 16.

It’s no surprise that it is one of France’s most popular holidays. The French have deep connections to their families and truly honor and respect what a gift being a mother is.

Happy Mother’s Day!



Happy Birthday Gaston Leroux!

To most a gun shot was an ominous sound, but to the family of Gaston Leroux it was reason for celebration.

Gunfire meant a novel was completed and a new legacy born. Every novel he wrote ended with a single shot fired out the bedroom window. It was classic Gaston Leroux: flamboyant, creative, quizzical and a bit…morose.

Gaston Leroux came into the world like any other boy on May 6, 1868. He was born out of wedlock at number 66 on the Rue Faubourg Saint Martin in Paris. His parents married a month later in Rouen and Gaston was eventually joined by his brothers, Joseph and Henri and their youngest sibling, Helene. His father, Dominique Alfred Leroux, was a contractor and his mother was Marie Bidault.

Gaston was schooled in Eu before heading off to study law in Caen. (Ironically meeting a young man there by the name of Philippe–a highly influential French noble whom would later bear the name of a character in one of his most famous novels.) There he graduated with honors at the age of eighteen. Following the death of his mother, Gaston was called upon to aide his father in the rearing of the younger siblings and became head of the Leroux family–much to his chagrin. He studied law to appease his family, but loathed every moment of it. Thankfully fate stepped in the way. When asked to be legal correspondent for the paper Paris, Leroux jumped at the chance. After covering a very high profile case he was approached by the editor of Le Matin and invited to be a regular reporter.

For thirteen years Leroux used cunning, wit, and his highly tuned skills as an observer to secure one fantastic story after another. He traveled at a frenzied pace living off the excitement of chasing a story. Gaston Leroux had a knack for journalistic coups, securing one coveted interview after another. While enjoying the high and exciting life, Leroux met and married Marie LeFranc. But he did not find the same comfort in marriage that he did in journalism. The union did not last long, and the parting was less than ideal. Marie LeFranc refused a divorce.

Undeterred, he continued in his travels meeting the love of his life, Jeanne Cayatte, in 1902. Despite Leroux’s reputation for being a notorious gambler and playboy, Jeanne Cayette was smitten. Gaston found a partner matching him in cunning and wit. It would not be until 1917 that he and Jeanne married, thanks in part to Marie’s death.

Leroux turned away from journalism in 1907, perhaps bored with it or just ticked off at the constant demands placed on him. Having returned to France after dodging lava during the eruption of Vesuvius, his much needed vacation was cut short with orders from his editor. Annoyed, Leroux greeted the bearer of these orders with some of his most famous words in reference to his current employer: “Shit. Go tell Bunau-Varilla, shit!”

Thus ended his journalism career and began his life writing popular fiction.

Thirty-three novels, screenplays and short-stories galore, not to mention countless rounds of ammunition, Leroux devoted his life to writing. When funds for his family ran short (due to a rather fine taste for the fast life and drink) he was known to shrug off the debt.

“I will just write another novel!” he would declare.

And so he would.
While The Phantom of the Opera is probably one of his most famous works, it is more popular with western culture. In France, it was the adventures of detective Joseph Rouletibille that were the most important of his writings. These works launched Leroux as a master of crime fiction. The Mystery of the Yellow Room has been acclaimed as the standard all locked room mysteries try to achieve. The Rouletibille novels were steeped in logic and twists and turns. It was not until the very end that the criminal was reveled and it always stunned the reader to discover it was the one person they least expected–classic Gaston Leroux.

None of these detective novels held his more famous signature–the love of the macabre. That would season his later works in particular, The Phantom of the Opera, notorious for its murderously vengeful and hideously deformed anti-hero, Erik. But Erik was not the only criminally insane and repulsive character Leroux cooked up. Balaoo was an oddly formed cross between man and ape, while Cheri Bibi was master criminal, not terribly attractive, but with a large heart nonetheless. And finally, one would be remiss not to mention Benedict Masson, a bookbinder in love with a beautiful woman. This woman, because of Masson’s visage cannot or will not, return his love. In the course of this novel Masson does suddenly find himself a handsome man, but at the price of lacking the ability to make love and give love. Oh, the irony!

Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera is a masterful piece of fiction, fitting in with the genre of gothic horror while at the same time to today’s reader, historical romance. It has all the elements of a monster novel with the tragic and bittersweet under tones of unrequited love. Leroux pulled together his love of symbolism and used all his tricks of misleading the reader to create this timeless tale.

He died of uriemic poisoning on April 27, 1927 and was laid to rest in Nice. When he died he took the secrets of his Phantom tale to the grave. Written in his classic journalistic style, Leroux opens the book by saying: “The Opera Ghost really existed.” Shortly before his death he was quoted as saying during a speech in Nice: “However fantastical my imagination it as always been anchored in something real. Perhaps that is why so much indulgence has been shown to my work, a work which has no pretences except to distract the reader without overstepping the boundaries of propriety.”

Does that mean Erik was real? Does that indicate that all Leroux’s fiction was based on fact? The reader is challenged to be the judge. What it does mean is that what you read is not always what you should believe.

And that is classic Gaston Leroux.


originallyposted at Unusual Hstorcals by the author.

Sex and Sexuality in Phantom of the Opera

Subliminal sex in Phantom of the Opera permeated all genres: Leroux, Susan Kay’s novel and Webber’s stage and film. Kay’s novel seems to be the reason so many view  Erik and Christine’s relationship as sexual. Webber only tipped the iceberg in this aspect, Kay sunk the ship.

Throughout Kay’s novel, she birthed a blatant sexual element into Erik and made him attainable by removing three critical details of Leroux: Erik’s criminal insanity, his scent of death, and his appearance of a  walking corpse. Eliminating these elements made Erik easy to picture and relate to. She took Leroux’s indication of Erik as a powerful seducer and brought it to life. There’s no doubt in Leroux’s novel that Erik had an odd ability to seduce, and there’s are sexual overtones. This was Leroux’s trademark irony shining through. His monsters were alluring.

Erik’s power of sexual seduction is apparent in Kay’s novel from the start. As an infant, Erik is able to pull a deep sexual response from his mother with the source of his cry. In response to his cry, his mother says it “brought tears to my eyes softly seducing my body that my breast ached with primitive and overwhelming urge to hold him close.”  Mothers worldwide can argue that’s a normal response, but I doubt will argue a seductive quality that alludes to a need for sex. Combine Erik’s powerful voice with Kay’s description of his non-corpse like body as “muscular, almost inhumanly strong” and you get your popular image of a built and sexually seductive Erik with tones that match Webber in that Erik’s deformity was facial only.

Presto…your sexy Phantom.

In Leroux’s novel, the Voice is paramount in indicating Erik as a sexual being in its abnormal range and power. Leroux gives him a highly masculine voice, that drips with sexuality and makes those who hear it swoon under its power. While at the same time he confuses the sexuality of the primary character when he indicates that Erik can actually alter the sex of his voice at will.  The Siren in Leroux’s novel was Erik, however in the original French text all the nouns in the section where the Persian is describing Erik as the Siren are referred to in the feminine, and with a highly womanly charm. Am I saying Erik was a woman or had feminine qualities? No.  Leroux blurred the sublimation of sex in his novel so one never gets a clear cut idea of how Erik identified with masculinity and femininity.

It’s a Freud thing.

Webber leans more toward Kay, or I should say vice versa as Kay based her novel not solely off of Leroux. The mannerisms in the 2004 movie and stage show, depict the Phantom seeped in sexuality. One just needs to study the hand motions during Webber’s Music of the Night, read his lyrics, or look at his imagery of the Phantom. They are all sexual indicators and somewhat Freudian as well.

Subliminal sex and the Phantom of the Opera go hand in hand, but what of its act? No one can argue that such an event was hinted at in Webber’s stage show and movie, however, I again turn toward Kay as the catalyst for the idea that a relationship of such was between Erik and Christine. She took Webber’s indicator, picked up on his plot hole and ran with it.

So let’s look at the role of actual sex in Kay’s novel, not the subtle subliminal elements. In both Kay’s novel and the original, it is Christine that is the driving force behind such notions, the instigator if you will. In Kay’s novel, she crosses the border between fantasy and gratification while spending her fortnight with Erik in his house. As she is listening to Erik she writes of Christine that his voice  was “answering pulses all over my body.”  Upon hearing his Don Juan, it arouses Christine in such a way that she explores her body until she finds a place on her she “never knew existed” and she reaches a climax that fills her body “with extraordinary sensation.” This is clearly Christine crossing the line between fantasizing about Erik, to sexually gratifying herself with the thought of him and the sound of his music.  Christine crosses barriers even further when she frets over telling Raoul of this experience remarking that “the knowledge I have begun to crave is not yours to give.” This is clearly an indication that her desire for more sexual contact is not with that of Raoul, knowing such would be forbidden. In terms of Christine in the Kay genre, she did have desires for Erik in a sexual way.

In the original, it’s not so clear-cut, but Christine was again the one with the sexual power. Erik was timid around her in his hesitancy to touch her and in his willingness to lie down like a dog at her feet. While a seducer, he was not a sexual predator. Christine held more sexual power over him in the novel then he did over her, apparent in the final “Pieta” scene when she clutches his face to her breast and kisses him on the forehead. Some may argue that Erik was violent with her so why not be sexually violent? He was a man deprived of a primal need and had tendencies to become violent to get his point across. He does, after all, drag Christine by the hair when she removes his mask and forces her to touch his face in a manner she didn’t wish to do.  Erik wouldn’t be a sexual predator based on the fact that his methods for violence were very detached and hands off.  This matches his madness. Erik refers to himself in the third person, detaching one part of his persona from another.  His torture chamber and the Punjab lasso are both weapons that don’t require intimate contact with its victim. (Contrary to popular understanding the Punjab is not a hangman’s noose or a lariat. It can be thrown lasso-style, but is usually a max of three feet in length and requires two hands to actually kill.)  Rape and sexual violence require intimate contact with the victim. A contact I don’t believe Erik had the power to understand given the state of his madness.

The movie leads more to the viewer imagination in terms of sexual contact, but the indicators are obvious. You have an overly sexy leading man and a virginal appearing leading woman in a situation that indicates a sexual moment could have occurred. This is in reference to the scene after Music of the Night and Christine’s notorious missing stockings… I believe this was just an editorial mistake, but still, it opened the debate. Naturally with how sex and sexuality are viewed in this day and age, many assume that Raoul and Christine had sexual contact during the period of time that lapsed before the Masquerade scene.  It could have happened given the time period… not every young woman was devote in her religion and held to the belief of being virginal. Raoul, via Leroux’s descriptions in the novel, was painted as virginal; however, nobles of that time period wouldn’t be so. It would be very unusual for Raoul to have been a virgin at that time.

Was Erik virginal? I will argue that statement should be, was Erik sexually versed? I believe he was. This goes beyond Leroux to the realm of realistic character development in addition to some plot holes Leroux put into his novel.

Erik was 50 years old at least. In reality, which all authors need to draw from whether they want to or not, a 50-year-old male does at some point in his life become sexually versed. Maybe not through the actual act of sex, but through puberty. It happens and it can’t be prevented. Erik would have gone through and we already know Leroux created him in part as a sexual being. I believe Erik knew how to gratify himself. This is how you delve into the mind of a character and make them realistic. Erik would have had physical longings for the gratification that comes from sex, however, I doubt he would have engaged in the actual act (with Christine).

Creating a realistic character also means invoking realistic responses.  Erik was a corpse-like, stank, was hideously deformed and…mad.  These elements in such a time period would have made him unattainable. No woman would want to touch him unless…. (I will explain that later). I can go into my rants about social classes and Christine, but basically, Christine was looking for a social realm Erik didn’t exist in. And, while she desired him on one level, she was horrified and repulsed by him.

So was he a virgin? I say yes, but not clueless on how to woo or gratify a woman (or man) for that matter. I turn you toward this past travels and the cultures he was involved in. He was versed in many traditions. He had more than just casual contact with women, but ultimately being able to gratify himself sexually with a woman was out of the question due to his curse. (Kay was the one who created him to be a recluse, using servants to attend to him while he lived in the opera house. Leroux clearly states he took to his own needs.)

Erik could very well have taken the company of a lady prior to Christine in these two plot holes: The first, his famous footstool in box five. Traditionally only women requested footstools for opera performances. This request can be viewed numerous ways. Erik could be merely playing with Madame Giry’s mind here and building the illusion of his ghost-like status,(remember he liked to manipulate the mind). Or, seeing as he was insane and had elements of two personalities, he could have requested the stool as his own means to believe he wasn’t so alone. (think imaginary friend). Or…seeing as he had a life before Christine who is to say there was never a woman in box five? One will never know. I can safely believe it was not Christine due to timelines in the story and social classes again.

But the most curious plot hole indicating Erik and relationships with women comes from his outburst when Christine unmasks him “Oh you women are inquisitive things.” If he had no contact with women how would he know? Plus his comment of  “When a woman has seen me as you have she belongs to me.” Could this mean that he controlled women in the past? Was this just a reference to Don Juan? Did he have close enough contact with them to be so intimate as to reveal, with his will or against it, the most delicate part of himself: his face?

Subliminal sex belongs in the novel and in its progeny. It’s hard to write Gothic and historical romance without it. To what level, and with whom is the question. My reasoning for not believing in a healthy sexual relationship between Erik and Christine stems from the quasi-mother/father relationship they each yearned for in the other.

I believe Erik was a sexual being and sexual relationships were, are, and should be a part of any tale that is continued with him so long as it is handled in a believable way. I may have contradicted myself by saying that, when before I said women wouldn’t touch him. Christine, for me, did not have the backbone in any genre to look beyond what she needed or wanted from the relationship to give to Erik what he needed and desired. That is not to say another woman would do the same.

Creating Erik that is a sexual being is not easy, especially a Leroux based Erik. All these elements belong in Phantom and are a part of its Gothic roots.