Monday, February 14, 2011

Hustling: It'll Cost You

Here is my author's video, posted recently on Smashwords, Amazon, Facebook, and

This video cost me a dear friend. We had never met, actually. We had been email pals, an innocent philosophical conversation that somehow stretched out a couple of years, until he made the mistake of showing the clip to his wife. She had been aware of our correspondence. I never thought she might feel threatened, since he was happily married in Scotland and I am happily married in New York.

But the video suddenly snipped the line of communication. Even though in the clip I refer to my dry hustling days as sins of my youth - and indeed they are over 30 years behind me - suddenly she could not trust me around her husband. And there you have the price of con games: even if you no longer practice the fine art of manipulating men, even if you are well past the age of your average femme fatale, and even if what you wrote was mostly fiction, don't be surprised if some people will forever believe that everything you say is fiction, devised to deceive, seduce, and betray. The very act of hustling in a video adds to the impression of your arrant untrustworthiness. She'll say anything to sell her book! She'll do anything to part a fool from his money (or his marriage)!

So my friend's wife made him end our correspondence.

In the video I mention that the life of a con artist is lonely. Your friends can't trust you, and if your only friends are other hustlers, you can't trust them either. It may be fun to watch ingenious flimflammers at work, but be aware of the red light blinking overhead: there's a tragedy in progress.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Belle Du Jour De Trop

A propos of my last post, ("Tantric Dirty Stuff") where I complained that people were downloading Dry Hustle sample chapters and then not buying the book, a reader remarked that maybe most of the people downloading free chapters are men, and there was really nothing to turn them on in the first 50 pages except a slammin' good story and unforgettable characters and brilliant writing. I contacted Smashwords to change the free excerpt to later in the book, where we have the masturbating-while-watching-a-game-show scene. But Smashwords said they limit the sample to the beginning of the book, so.

I was musing today about many women's enduring fantasy of being a hooker.  What if I had to give myself to strange men, one after another, who made me do things against my will and generally degraded me? (Actually, I don't have this particular fantasy, preferring to imagine myself molested at sword-point by pirates. This is described in greater detail in my song "Can I Get On Top This Time," one of the mp3's offered for free download on Luis Bunuel made a classic movie about the whore perplex called Belle Du Jour. Catherine DeNeuve, a bored trophy wife, falls into a secret life as a call girl during the daytime. She is numb in her normal life, whereas being used by her male customers breaks through her catatonia and forces her to feel something. I guess living the easy life makes you yearn for abuse.

While "researching" Dry Hustle, I was aware that I was crossing into similarly dangerous territory, although at least I wasn't selling my body. But I was manipulating men's expectations of sex by pretending to be horny, and I definitely had the sense that I was degrading myself - that I was flirting with the subterranean culture of con artists as well as developing a twisted psyche and some upended values. Yet I had to pull myself back, because my fascination was too strong. Move another inch, and you're lost: over the rim into the lower depths. Or, to bring back the pirates, another step and you fall off the plank, to the mercies of the crocodiles below.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tantric Dirty Parts

This post was suggested by my experience with Smashwords, where I've noted a lot of people are downloading free chapters of Dry Hustle but few are buying the whole book. That led me to wonder: did they just want a quick orgasm, expecting the sample to be one of the "dirty parts"? I'm aware that some erotica is nothing but a chain of dirty parts, a reliable choo-choo of one sex scene after another. However, while there's puh-lenty of sex talk in my book, you have to wait for the sex: just as the dry hustlers' male victims have to wait for sex that may not be delivered in the end.

Yes, Virginia, there is sex in Dry Hustle: when it comes, it really comes - in multiples, folks. But you have to wade in a hundred pages before you hit paydirt.

So, is erotica better when the reader has to wait for the smutty bits? Or is erotica considered best when the sex is fast, cheap and easily had? I mean, do people who buy erotica not want to read a real book? Do they just want to be serviced? Therefore, which sex is better, in literature as in life? The instant, mechanical kind or the tantric kind?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hustlers R Us

I think my fascination with hustlers came from being raised without any practical defenses whatever. I was gullible, naive, inexperienced, guileless: a mark. And until I could learn to think like a hustler, I would always be a mark.

Survival techniques in a rough world were never taught by my parents.  In their view, you try to follow the path of righteousness, and avoid people who are aggressive, rude, obstreperous, or just plain bad. That leaves out a lot of business people. So if you want to make it in business, best to forget it. Take up stenography. My father never stopped saying, a propos of my career in the film business, "I don't know how you stand it. They're all such sharks. You should get out."

But I didn't, because I had studied other hustlers, and how they maneuvered. The more I understood and adopted their strategies, the stronger I felt in the world.

The first hustler I ever viewed up close was a boyfriend. He was exotic: a Jew, for one thing, and he was fierce. He never backed away from a conflict but just yelled louder than anyone else until he won. To a repressed WASP, this was fantastic! He stayed up nights plotting and rehearsing strategies, including me in, assigning me my roles. He taught me how to hold my own with those who would undermine or underestimate me. (He was also paranoid and manic depressive but that's another story.)

My second hustler was Marjoe, the faithless evangelist who was the subject of my 1972 documentary Marjoe. He never seemed to sleep either. He was always preparing his moves, setting up the barricades front, back, left, and right, because otherwise someone would take advantage of him while he was busy taking advantage of others. You could understand why: his own parents were thoroughly untrustworthy and tricked him out at every turn. I can't say that his modus operandi instructed me in any way, but he was a great case study in survival.

My third and last hustler, as I hit the extreme end of the spectrum, was Kristal who, unlike the other two, was actually and definitively a criminal. I never aspired to be a bunco artist. But, through absorbing Kristal's lessons (presented at length and unexpurgated in Dry Hustle), I learned how to read people and adjust my game plan accordingly. It made me stronger in dealing with the unavoidable adversaries who crop up in show business.

But I could never achieve the full mastery: that coldness that levies the stab in the back, the finishing blow, the chop to the neck. I couldn't relinquish that bit of humanity that my three hustlers had long ago sacrificed.   

I think my parents would have been proud of that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Empty Promises"

So what is a dry hustle? Kristal defined it in two words: "Empty promises."

A guy doesn't get what he paid for. He got set up.

An easy version of a dry hustle would be: the mark approaches you. He thinks you're a whore. He gives you some money up front, because you have to pay the baby sitter, or you can't get into your apartment to retrieve some cool sex toys and outfits because you owe $X in rent, or your husband is there but if you give him enough money to go out and get plastered all night, then the place is free for a romp, etc. etc. Then you give the mark a phony address, or you never show up at the place where you've agreed to meet.

But Kristal would never deign to play a whore. That was beneath her. Her theory was, the man was more invested if you made him think you never do this kind of thing, have sex with someone you only just met. You're a respectable woman, and the only reason you're making an exception in his case is, a) you're really, really horny or b) you're unbelievably sexually attracted to him, or c) you're falling in love with him ("there's something about you, it's crazy, I've never felt like this").

The latter line is what you use on a man whose fantasies are not merely sexual but also romantic. This type of man is sweet and credulous, the most profitable kind. You can keep the scam going for days, weeks, even months; as the relationship deepens he's buying you presents and lending you money, while you withhold sex because you insist you want the moment to be special. Maybe you want to lose 5 pounds, maybe you're waiting for that perfect nightie to arrive in the mail. (Oh no! It's the wrong size! He has to wait some more because you have to exchange it! Otherwise your first night of passion won't be perfect!)  He'll wait because you've pledged your love for him, and it may be that he's fallen for you, too. As time passes, he is certainly going to get more and more tightly wrapped up in the story you've invented about your life.

He's lucky if he gets even a kiss.

And then...what else? disappear.

Kristal herself was a romantic, in her way. She dreamed of finding that perfect mark who was rich and willing to marry her. Love was beside the point. Maybe she wasn't capable of it anymore anyway. So romance for her would be a husband who was crazy about her, lavishing money on her every whim. In short, he would be a mark for life. How romantic is that?!

This is wicked stuff, and pretty hard to stomach if you really like men, which I do and did. Call it my fascination with the devious mind of a criminal.  But more, I liked the revenge angle: the prostitute turns the tables on the trick, taking his money and giving nothing of her body or self-respect to him. She no longer gets hurt. It's his turn.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Henry Miller & Me

It was a given, in the writing of DRY HUSTLE, that there were going to be some sex scenes. Duh. This meant I was going to realize a long-cherished dream of rewriting Henry Miller.

When I was entering puberty, my family (two parents, four kids ages 9 to 16) embarked on a trip to Europe, starting in Paris. Our babysitter was 18 and very uninterested in childcare (she quit mid-trip). What did interest her was racy books banned in the U.S. Henry Miller's "Sexus" was one of those. She picked up a copy in Paris, intending to read it before she went back home so she wouldn't be caught smuggling it past customs.

We took a boat from Italy to Greece. I shared a cramped cabin with her, in which I commandeered the top bunk. I woke to the sound of sniggering. Climbing down, I sawmy two older brothers perched on either side of the babysitter on her bed, looking over her shoulder as she read some book.

A few months after we returned, I became 12. I don't know if this is a symptom of pubescence, but around then I started sneaking into other family members' rooms to look in their drawers. I found a "marriage manual" (sex guide) in my parents drawer. It read like a science book and thus was unmemorable. Still, no one had ever told me anything about sex so it was a start. I rifled through my brothers' drawers. I found books about male sexual development given to the boys by my parents. There were gross cross-section illustrations of the male genitalia and descriptions of erection and ejaculation. Again, highly scientific and scrupulously designed not to arouse anybody.

My brother Denny was trying out photography, developing his own prints in a bathroom upstairs. I found a stack of photos of individual book pages. He must have photographed the "dirty" parts of the babysitter's illicit copy of "Sexus." I stole them. My brother could hardly complain that they were missing: he would be admitting to his own crime of possessing them in the first place.

Locking myself in my bathroom I assembled the pages in order and read. What the hell was this? What was a "cunt"? It wasn't in the big dictionary in the living room. What was a "prick"? It sounded sharp. Why were people always "coming" and never going? And what was "fuck"? (This is 1959, yo.) The writing was blunt, crass even, but the text gave me a feeling of arousal, which was also new and inexplicable. Therefore, these pages held power.

I pored over them incessantly. I managed to put all the pieces together and figure out what each word meant and what these characters were doing, also incessantly.

Later, I was able to bring a critical eye to the writer's style. It seemed repetitious and sort of flattening. I'm aware now that there are some lusciously poetic passages in Miller's "Tropic of Capricorn" and that he was a much better writer than the "dirty parts" would lead you to believe. But I found I preferred "Lady Chatterley's Lover," after I stole my mother's copy.

When I came to writing DRY HUSTLE, more than a decade later, it was my turn. On one hand, my approach to the sex scenes was influenced by the bold tell-it-like-it-is style of Henry Miller. On the other hand, I thought I could do better.

Whether or not I did, Henry Miller had already trumped me by being banned.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Krystal Ball the Hungarian Tempest

The main character in my novel is based on the incredibly magnetic woman I met that fateful winter night in 1975 when I hired myself into a dance hall.  

(A digression: Cosmopolitan thought of me for the undercover assignment because I'd done a similar stunt for them some 4 years before. I dressed up as a man and infiltrated males-only establishments in New York, culminating in a trip to the Yale Club locker room. It helped that I was tall and thin; the unisex trend also helped so that in some cases all I had to do was sweep my hair back in a ponytail and glue on sideburns; and I was always accompanied by an actual male as a foil. I probably looked either gay or, at best, metrosexual. But no one ever suspected I was a girl.)

On this night I was dressed as a slut. Kristal was the only other dance hall hostess (I use the word "hostess" advisedly) who would speak to me, I suppose because I was new and, therefore, competition. It was clear pretty fast that I didn't know the ropes, so I wasn't that threatening. But I was young, and on my shift there were a sad number of fossils who didn't know what else to do with themselves. Hope for some client to turn up and pick you, dance with you if he's a gent, and then repair to a table in the darkness where you finish him off under the table.

"I don't do nothing like that," Kristal told me. "I don't touch it, never. Those others have no respect for themselves. And I make more money than they do."

I had never heard the term "dry hustler" before. It wasn't even in the slang dictionary. It may well be that Kristal made it up. It is for sure in the lexicon now.

I'll continue recounting my "research" adventures in future blogs.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Social Networking - Feh

Sent out a global email to contacts announcing the Dry Hustle e-debut. This was an amusing process because I had to leave out contacts who might be offended by the extreme lewdness of the material. That narrowed the list down to a paltry handful. All my in-laws and even my daughter had to be left out. My siblings are thoroughly inured to my outrageousness over the years (they are mistrustful, actually, that I really have become socially rehabilitated since I got married). So they stayed on the list.
It was also depressing to realize that, unlike my daughter Phoebe Lapine, I do not have 1500+ Facebook friends. This is a good point to plug her wonderful cooking blog, It's for twentysomethings who are struggling with tiny kitchens in their first grown-up apartments (hence "big girls"). William Morrow is putting out the cookbook - 100 recipes! - in May 2011.

Anyhow, in my email I begged everyone to download free samples or purchase the thing at only $3.99 from Amazon and Smashwords. I implored them to post reviews, too. Then I lurked on both sites to see if my friends were indeed my friends. So far there have been 2 free samples downloaded and 2 books sold. Lesson: don't check my accounts 5 times a day. It's sick. Twice a week is healthier.

Nora Ephron's personal advice to me was: when obsessing, go make some crepes. Excuse me while I adjourn to the kitchen.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Here Goes Nuthin

Today my raunchy first novel Dry Hustle was tossed into the world of e-publishing. This blog will follow the progress of my little fish in the big fat pond.

Dry Hustle accompanies two sexy female con artists on the road in bicentennial America as they prey on men and their wallets. The book actually had a successful run as a William Morrow hardcover in 1977 and Berkeley paper in 1978 but it has been out of print a very long time.

I hated the cover of the hardback, so it's been a pleasure to have it re-designed. Back in the day, I posed for the paperback cover at my editor's request. She admired my legs. Whatever else, they were long, and still are. And I got to keep the silver shoes from the photo shoot.

Stay tuned for future posts where I'll talk about the saga behind Dry Hustle and, inevitably, myself.

- Sarah Kernochan