A Chance EncounterbyTonyDowse©
It's strange how life deals us our cards with such totally random haphazardness.
I began writing what I have since come to call 'The Eros Collection' some twenty five years ago, and of course when I started I had no idea it would eventually become anywhere near as large as it subsequently has. I don't remember what actually prompted me to start writing the stories but I have always enjoyed the actual activity of writing and, as I have explained in the essay titled 'Explanation', have also always been mystified by society's strangely prudish and even censorious attitude to sex. So with hindsight I suppose it might have been inevitable that at some stage the synergy between those two aspects of my character would combine to push me towards writing about that part of our lives.
However, there was never any intention that any of it would be published; it was just something I did for my own private entertainment and enjoyment; a 'hobby', like stamp collecting, or some such innocuously harmless activity.
Then, sometime after my fortieth birthday I had an idea for a novel - on a subject totally unrelated to sex - and began writing that. When it was finished I sent out feelers to a few agents and, much to my surprise, one of them actually found me a publisher. It wasn't a great book and I doubt anyone reading this collection would have heard of it, but if I hadn't written it there would never have been a reason for this account of the resulting delightfully thrilling chance encounter.
Of course first-time authors are two a penny in the publishing world and most of them subsequently sink without a trace, so once my agent had got me signed-up and the process of editing and re-writing the work ground slowly onwards he pressed on with his other deals, leaving me to personally respond to the various requirements of the publisher. But then, a few days before the actual launch date he reappeared, or at least he phoned me. It seemed that someone from the publisher had reconsidered the potential for my book and had asked if I had written anything else they might be interested in.
By that stage I had been connected to the Internet for a few years and although not a frequent user had of course, like any red-blooded male, occasionally trawled through a few of the millions of sites dealing in pornography. While doing that I had discovered there actually was quite a vibrant readership for both the mildly, and even the more blatantly pornographic stories. So, although I had thought that the quality of much of what I had come across seemed pretty ordinary I admitted that yes, I did have something, but said that I doubted that what I euphemistically called 'Romantic Pornography' would be of interest to our particular publisher.
There was what I can only call a stunned silence for a few moments, then, to my surprise the agent said although he agreed he also doubted if this particular publisher would be interested, he did have contact with one who just might be. He asked me a few questions about what I meant by romantic pornography and although I said nothing about the actual volume of what I had, I outlined what had prompted me to write on the subject, the way I went about it and gave him an outline of a couple of the story-lines.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, he asked me to print out a copy of a few of the shorter ones for him to have a look at.
As I said, all this happened just a few days before the launch of my novel and I had already been booked to do a tour of various states to coincide with that, during which I'd have interviews with various reviewers who'd received advance copies, give readings and talks to assorted book groups and also attend book-signing sessions in several key retail outlets. Of course the agent wasn't accompanying me but as he did have some business meetings in one of the cities I was scheduled to visit we decided that rather than send the material by mail I'd take it with me and meet up with him in a week's time. So, having done the printing I slipped a couple of copies of each of the stories I'd selected in the bottom of my briefcase and started getting things ready to take off on the whirlwind tour.
For some unexplained reason I was to start with a three day trip to the West and then work my way back across the country, ending up two weeks later in my own city, where the publisher expected the major market to be. After what seemed an interminably long flight I was met at the airport by the publisher's representative who drove me to my hotel and then suggested we sit down with a coffee and go through what they had planned for me.
For someone previously unused to such things the programme looked pretty daunting, but the young man assured me he'd be accompanying me for much of the time and said that if I just concentrated on talking about my book he was sure everything would work out just fine. He also pointed out that my last evening in town was quite free, but that rather than just leave me at a loose end he had obtained a ticket to a rather prestigious art gallery's new opening. He said the option was mine, if I felt like going I'd be very welcome, but if by then I preferred to just have a quiet evening alone, that would be fine too.
The following days were pretty much a blur of talking, signing books and responding to various interviewers' assorted questions and even the one occasion that proved to be significant got lost in the confusion of events. But finally they were all done and as I headed up to my room I thought that at least I'd be better prepared for the rest of my trip and having showered and changed I settled down to a much needed drink - and it was only then that I remembered the ticket to the art gallery function.
I was in very much of two minds about it; on the one hand I was tired from all the talking I'd had to do and could have quite happily settled myself in front of the TV for the evening - on the other, I quite liked Art, at least some of it, and as my flight out wasn't until around the following mid-day, even if the night should prove to be a late one, I would still have plenty of time to get a good night's sleep. So, guessing that an art gallery would provide little more than the obligatory 'nibbles and drinks', I rang room service for something a little more substantial, and having eaten, went down to enquire how best to get to the gallery's address.
It turned out to be no more than a five minute walk away, and as I had no wish to find myself being one of only half a dozen people attending I took a circuitous and leisurely stroll and when I got there I was pleased to see that there was already quite a crowd of people inside. Maybe the publisher's representative had alerted someone to the fact that I might be turning up, certainly I had no illusions as to the level of 'fame' I had achieved after only a couple of days in the city, but when I presented my invitation to the woman at the door, she turned and quickly attracted someone's attention. 'Mr Frobisher is here!' she said in what I thought was a rather unnecessarily loud voice.
A shock-haired woman of middle-age bustled through the group standing immediately inside the door-way, the hem of her voluminous caftan-like dress swirling around their legs as she headed towards me. 'Ah, Mr Frobisher, we're so pleased you decided to join us.' she exclaimed with an almost equally megaphone-like volume.
'Stewart will do fine.'
'Well Stewart it is then - I'm Marion, one of the partners in this rather hopeful enterprise. May I ask if you are a collector, or just a lover of the Art?' she asked in an only slightly lower tone of voice.
'I have one or two originals, but mainly copies I regret to say.'
'Well Stewart, who knows, if your book does exceptionally well maybe you will find yourself able to indulge just a tad more freely.' she replied with a perhaps over hopefully beaming smile. 'We artists, in whatever field our particular talents lie, must band together.'
'Keep the philistines at bay, you mean?' I responded with what I hoped was a conspiratorial grin.
'Exactly so Stewart, exactly so! But now, a drink, then I will leave you to browse around - you never know, something might just take your fancy - there are several pieces that are not really that expensive. And if you do see something you like, make sure you let one of us know, so we can reserve it for you.' she added.
So, a minute or two later, with a glass of wine in one hand, I began to make my way slowly around the gallery.
It didn't take me too long to realise that much of what was on display was certainly not for me - I have never been able to either understand or fully appreciate the more extreme end of modern art, and that seemed to dominate the showing. But, off in a rather less well attended section there were several pieces in a completely different style, more figurative abstracts - a couple of which I thought were positively sensuous.
I had been standing there for several minutes, toying with the idea of maybe actually purchasing one or other of those two, when I realised that somebody had come to stand alongside me. Glancing briefly sideways I saw that it was a young woman, a young woman who, for some reason or other I thought I recognised - but of course I knew that that was not really possible, so I was about to turn my full attention back to the paintings, when she spoke to me.
'Excuse me if I'm wrong, but it is Stewart Frobisher, isn't it?'
The sound of my name made me turn - and then I took a proper look at her. She was mid-height, with straight, long dark hair, a small and attractive oval face that had slenderly arching eye-brows above a pair of intelligent, wide-set dark brown eyes, then a small straight nose and a full-lipped, and at that moment amusingly smiling mouth. 'You don't remember meeting me, do you?' she said when she saw the obviously blank look on my face.
'I'd be telling a lie if I said I did - but I know I have seen you somewhere before.' I replied.
'It was in the Green Room, at the TV station.' she prompted.
And of course that was more than sufficient to remind me. 'Of course, of course it was - your name is Millie, but you have to admit you looked rather different that time.' I added as I took a better look down over the rest of her undoubtedly elegantly dressed, and equally undoubtedly femininely curvy body.
She had been another of the several guests appearing on the mid-day chat show that had been one of the many appointments during my second day in town. There were five or six of us, plus the TV station people milling around; some checking make-up, others briefing each of us as to what we could expect to happen, others apparently more aimlessly busy. If I recalled correctly, she was included because she had recently returned from an overseas trip where she had won a totally unexpected medal for her proficiency in one or other of the various, and at least to me meaninglessly named, martial arts competitions. As she had then been wearing the shapelessly white pyjama-style performance outfit, not the very attractive, black, short-skirted cocktail dress she had on at that moment, I thought my lack of immediate recognition was perhaps justified.
She smiled. 'Yes, of course I did - but as you remembered my name, you're doubly forgiven. So, are you interested in Art, or are you, like me, just here as part of the promotion package?'
'What package is that?'
'Ah, you're obviously not - it's just that several of us who have been on the show this week were told we would be expected to also turn up here tonight. As I said, it seems it's part of some pre-arrangement between the producer and the woman who owns this gallery. But then as you're from out of town I don't suppose they could rope you in in quite the same way.'
'Well maybe I was, just by a different route.' I said, explaining how I had come to receive an invitation from the publisher's agent. Then added that perhaps those of us who had been hijacked should stick together for mutual protection - which made her laugh, a softly deep-throated sound that actually sent little shivers of pleasure spiralling through me.
'But -' I then said, indicating the pictures in front of us. '- although the rest of the show doesn't really hold too much appeal for, I do quite like both of these.'
'Yes, they're really quite sexy, aren't they!' she replied.
'Well, the word I was using was 'sensuous' - but 'sexy' will do just as nicely. So you like them too?'
'Oh yes, I'd be happy to have either of them hanging on one of my walls. So, if you had to make a choice, which one would you pick for yourself?'
It was the question I had been mulling over when she first spoke to me - and I was still undecided about the answer.
Each painting was of course done in a similar style; a swirling pattern of tones and shades that produced shapes that were faintly suggestive of a pair of bodies coiled about each other; one clearly female, the other, somewhat less distinctively, male. One painting using predominantly the blue-green area of the artist's palette, the other, more autumnal colours.
'I think it would have to be the russet and gold one.' I replied after a little further thought as to what would actually best fit in with the décor of my apartment.
'Ah, of course - the one where she's going down on him.' she replied without the slightest trace of embarrassment.
'I hadn't really seen it like that!' I protested unconvincingly.
She gave another of those darkly resonating laughs. 'Of course you did Stewart - and why on earth should you be embarrassed to admit it. Anyway, that's the one I like best too - so maybe we should toss a coin to decide who will get to buy it.'
'So even though that's what you see in the painting, you wouldn't mind hanging it on your wall?'
'Not in the least, in fact I love anything to do with the erotic Stewart - don't you?'
'Well yes, to be truthful, yes I do.' I replied - immediately thinking of the copies of the stories I had packed in the bottom of my briefcase.
'And, as you're a writer, I wouldn't mind betting that that's the form of it that you like best.'
I very much doubt that I actually blushed - but I might just as well as have - anyway, whatever look she saw on my face confirmed that her prediction had been completely accurate. 'I knew it!' she exclaimed rather more loudly than I thought really necessary. 'Is it published?' she added.
'Not yet - but it might be, well just a bit of it.' I admitted, but in a much quieter voice than the one she had used.
"Oh this is too good to be true!' she responded. 'I adore those sorts of stories, you must tell me all the details of what you're going to publish, so I can make sure I get myself a copy - and maybe you'd sign it, I mean if I sent it over to you?' she added as an enthusiastic afterthought.
'I think you're going a little too fast Millie - I haven't even shown them to my agent yet, that's something else I'll be doing later this week.'
She didn't seem to really hear my reply, or at least to not fully comprehend the entire sentence, but just seemed to continue on from where she'd finished speaking. 'Look, I'd love to hear all about it Stewart, really I would - but we can't talk here, why don't we just slip away and find ourselves somewhere to have a drink.' she suggested.
Now I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that the idea of having a young woman as attractive as Millie asking me to take her out for a drink didn't set other thoughts spinning through my head - but with the age-gap between us as wide as it was, I didn't really kid myself into thinking that a drink might lead on to other more personal activities. Nonetheless, the hotel was a mere few minutes walk away, and as I was a stranger in town it was the obvious choice of somewhere to go, so, as casually as I could do so, I suggested just that.
'Perfect!' she immediately replied. 'So, what are we waiting for?' she added, turning to leave.
'Shouldn't we let somebody know?'
'Oh I think people like us were asked just to make up some numbers Stewart, they'll never miss us.' she answered confidently.
So with that, we left - and a few minutes later, having collected a couple of drinks, were finding ourselves a secluded table in one corner of the hotel's cocktail bar.
'Now the next round's on me - so take your time Stewart, I want to know all about what and why you write what you do.' she said as she raised her glass to her lips.
I did likewise then explained that until a week or so previously erotica had been a purely personal thing, really no more than a privately conducted hobby of mine. 'It was only when my agent asked if I had written anything other than the book I'm out here to promote, that I mentioned erotica - and of course I never really thought he'd have any interest in that sort of thing. I won't bore you now with a long-winded explanation of why I do what I do, but I've never understood why society not only accepts but positively enjoys all the blood and guts themes, but frowns on stories which use sex as the predominate topic.' I added.
'Although I haven't analysed it quite as intellectually as that, I do think exactly the same way Stewart. So what sort of stories do you write, romances?'
'I suppose some of them could be called that, though I like to make my stories a bit more complex than just an outright romance - you know, develop the situations and characterisation rather more than I think many pure romances do, as least as best as I am able. But I also like writing in other genres too; I have done a couple with science fiction themes and then a much larger group that have supernatural happenings at their core. I've also tried writing in the feminine voice a few times - though of course I'm not at all sure as to just how well I have been able to do that.'
'You mean your wife doesn't read what you write?'
'I'm not married Millie - well not anymore, my wife and I divorced a couple of years ago now. But no, even then she didn't ever read anything that I wrote. She really wasn't interested in that side of sexual matters.' I added weakly.
'Well I certainly am! I started reading what these days are called 'bodice-rippers' at school, then later on, when I found a few sites on the net that carry such stories, well I suppose that since then I have actually became a bit obsessed with them. Do you know the sorts of sites I mean?'
'I have seen a few of them - that, plus a question my agent asked me, is what really gave me the idea that a few other people might be interested in reading at least something of what I had written.'
'Oh I'm sure you'll find there'll be more than just a few Stewart - some of those sites get quite fantastic readership.'
'But I doubt that too many of the people who read what appears for free on the net would go out and pay for similar material in a normal book store.'
'You could be right there - but -' she added as an afterthought - 'you could suggest to your agent that while selling some of your stories to a publisher you also put a few others on the Internet - you know, use those freebies to generate publicity for the books people would have to buy. I know that in the music business there are lots of start-up bands that do that kind thing now.'
'That's a very good idea Millie and I might just suggest we do that. But all this presupposes that what I've written is actually any good, doesn't it.'
'Well the agent should be able to give you some idea as to that Stewart.' she said, then remained thoughtfully silent for a few moments, before adding. 'Or you could find someone who has already read a lot of that kind of stuff, get them to read a few of your stories, then see what they think.'
As she finished speaking she held me with a steadily fixed but still questioning gaze; merely lifting one of those slenderly arching eye-brows and allowing one corner of her mouth to curl up to give her a quirkily lop-sided half-smile.