Ottawa
3 min

Hot and Bothered

MIX OF STORIES. Tulchinsky likes seeing writers progress. Credit: Image by Capital Xtra files

The fourth installment of the Hot & Bothered series, by Arsenal Pulp Press, offers a mixed but impressive range of stories – from hot to heartbreaking to lukewarm to cold.



The anthology contains short-short stories of 1,000 words or less that focus on lesbian desire, a format with advantages and drawbacks. The advantage for readers is that you can read the 66 stories in fits and starts, putting Hot & Bothered aside for a few days and returning later. The drawback is that this format makes it hard to build sexual tension, develop characters and entice the reader. Some writers do it much better than others. They succeed by hinting at details instead of cramming them in.



Many contributors make some sexy noises in their stories. Little Black Dress, by local Ottawa author Joy Parks, is a story about a lover who knows how to turn her girlfriend on. Tawanna Sullivan’s The Souvenir is set in a deserted subway car. The main character is going home and raises her eyebrows when a beautiful black woman and her openly intimate girlfriend get on.



The best stories take everyday situations and inject believable sexual tension, longing or sexual escapades. Other stories end up reading more like laughable pornography because the author can’t build the atmosphere in a few pages. The reader feels as though they’ve leafed through a dirty magazine ad section. Such stories are Dr Barrett Closes, by Claudia Berty and Muna Who Lives in a Church by Helena Settimana. One involves a surgeon who has a crush on the doctor she works with. The other has a sultry stranger living in a church near the protagonist’s home.



The editor of Hot & Bothered 4, Karen X Tulchinsky, who includes a story of her own, knows about breadth of stories. There are the requisite fetish stories about motorcycles, different types of fruit, bondage, domination and sadomasochism, but some of the better pieces don’t have much sex at all. Tanya Davis’ Best Bandanna concerns a woman who is tree planting and falls for another woman on the crew. In Motorcycle Confusion by lisa g, the main character decides to go motorcycle shopping after a bad break-up, and meets a scruffy, handsome motorcycle seller.



Tulchinsky has grouped many of the stories by theme. Characters come out, develop their first crush, have their first sexual experience, go on a first date, deal with break-ups and get over dry spells. Thankfully, only a few involve lesbian bed death. In Magnesia, by McKinley M Hellenes, someone ponders acting on their high school crush for a beautiful classmate. Lyn Davis’ A Letter to Aunt Peg is about discovering yourself through who you grow up with. In First Water, Then Light, Suki Lee describes a character longing for not sex, but intimacy. Friends and Lovers, by JL Belrose, is as sad as it is eloquent.



In addition to this mix, a few authors know how to pen a funny yarn. Carol Queen’s story, She’s Not a Lesbian, is one. Anyone who has either been closeted or dated someone closeted will get a well-deserved chuckle from this snapshot. Miriam Carroll, in Through the Secret Passage, understands the humour of sex. She takes an order of nuns, with names such as Sister Abbey Unabashed, and throws them into a sexual romp.



Some of the weak stories have titles that speak too loudly, such as My Fantasy is Dead by Midgett, Dreaming of Jennifer Connelly by Gabrielle Glancy and Lavender Shoes by Miljenka Zadravec. Either too rushed, confusing or simplified to a point of being flippant, these are difficult to read.



The mixed calibre of Hot & Bothered 4 stories may be because of the very success of the series. Since the series’ inception in 1998, readers have demanded more and more stories. And while not all Hot & Bothered authors work well in the short-short format, many authors, to their credit, are publishing for the first time. Half the content is Canadian and the rest is international. In moderation, Hot & Bothered 4 works when it raises more than just desire but describes transitions, yearnings and believable situations from a lesbian perspective.



HOT & BOTHERED 4.

Short Short Fiction on Lesbian Desire.

Edited by Karen X Tulchinsky.

Arsenal Pulp Press.

742 pages.