In the Colectivo


In Havana, the collective taxis near the capitol line up on the street that juts out from the Hotel Inglaterra, around the corner from its big patio café with its striped awning and wicker chairs, across from the Parque Central, down a small alley that leads off into the confusion of Centro Habana. There’s sometimes a man there expediting, and he looks at you impatiently, asking, “¿Pa’onde va?”

And you tell him Linea or Dieciocho and he points you to the right car. Or if the man’s not there, you walk from car to car, asking “¿Linea?” until a driver nods and points to his seat. There are always more cars for Dieciocho. That’s how it was on this particular night, and it seemed like I had to ask twelve drivers before I found one heading in the direction of Calzada and F, where I had my room. But a driver did finally nod, and since I was the first passenger, I slid onto the upholstered front bench and asked to be let off at Linea and G.

The thing about a colectivo is that the driver makes money by keeping it full. So if you’re the first customer, you wait until three or four more people pop their heads into the cab and ask “¿Linea?” Tonight it was taking time. Eventually, the driver got out to light a cigarette, leaving me alone in his car. This was normal.Continue Reading

The Color Master: An Interview with Aimee Bender


Certain stories never leave you. When I was six years old, I read such a story in Alvin Schwartz’s In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories: “The Green Ribbon.” In it, a young girl named Jenny wears a green ribbon around her neck and never takes it off. When her beloved asks, she says her green ribbon is a secret. Even after they marry, she refuses to give him a reason for wearing it. Finally, on her deathbed, she tells him to untie it—he does, and her head falls off.

In Aimee Bender’s new collection, The Color Master, she twists this childhood urban legend into “The Red Ribbon,” the story of a woman who begins charging her husband for sex and becomes infatuated with a shop girl who wears a red ribbon around her neck. Though no one’s head falls off, the influence is clear—both stories are ultimately about the secrets we keep from those we love.Continue Reading

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Screen shot 2013-08-08 at 7.49.11 AMHeyo, friends! Did everyone have an over-abundance of fascinating conversations since last session’s Q & A & Q & A? In my day job as a design writer I ask a lot, a lot, a lot of questions, and I find that even in a less personal, more professional setting there are few things better than connecting with someone interesting who wants to—or is willing to—share their work and/or life. These opportunities are genuinely special, and will directly or tangentially enrich your writing as much as your person.

And now, for something completely different.

#10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try

A few weeks ago I was eating lunch with a pal who, with little fanfare, announced his latest passion project. “I started writing a sexy novel,” he said. “I wrote 25 pages yesterday.” He’s been working on an entirely different book for quite a while now, setting daily goals and disciplining himself to get it done, and after this quick gear shift he had a magic touch and fingers that just would not stop. 25 pages in a single day?? C’mon! Such was, for him, the seductive power of getting caught up in naughty prose.

Now, to be immediately clear: writing erotica or romance is not inherently easier than any other genre. In fact, getting it right might just be one of the toughest literary challenges out there; both have been traditionally tabooed and stigmatized, oftentimes making them difficult subjects for both authors and readers to approach.

And, as such, it’s very, very easy to go horribly awry with this kind of text, aiming for lustful and ending up with laughable; “Argh” is used numerous times as climactic exclamation in 50 Shades of Grey, and last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex award, bestowed upon the most cringe-worthy stabs at fiction with an erotic edge.

Seeing as though this particular series is about experimentation, however, we’re going to give it a go. There’s nothing shameful about some harmlessly titillating trial-and-error from the comfort of our own laptop computers.

So let’s shake things up and get, you know—excited.

Y’all ready for this?Continue Reading

The Power of Suggestion: My First Time with D.H.Lawrence

Having grown up within various loops of the Bible belt, sex was not often a topic of conversation during my childhood—unless it was in the state-mandated sex ed class in fifth-grade (traumatic!), or the late-night whispers of slumber parties (distraction while someone’s bra was getting frozen). Had the idea of sensuality ever been mentioned, it probably would have been even more taboo.

College, however, turned things upside down, bringing in new ideas and people. Among them was a boy who sent me a Galway Kinnell poem and asked if I thought sensuality was impossible.

I never had an answer for him.

Continue Reading