Sizzling short stories heat up lacy lingerie

Anne Broache

Laura Lippman still hasn’t told her parents that she has written erotica. The Northwestern graduate and author of seven mystery novels recently read excerpts from some of her sexier stories — and not at the neighborhood Barnes & Noble, either. At g boutique, a new Bucktown lingerie shop, a waiting audience nibbled miniature pecan pies and sipped champagne among black corsets and lace-fringed thongs while Lippman prepared.

Lippman, Medill ’81, joined novelists Vicki Hendricks and Lauren Henderson on Saturday at g boutique, 2131 N. Damen Ave., in support of “Tart Noir,” a short story anthology published in New York last October. Twenty additional women, from both America and Britain, contributed original stories. Most have published traditional crime fiction, but Tart’s editors encouraged the writers to transcend the conventions when it came to sex, violence and comedy.

“I think we’ve brought the sex back to crime writing,” Lippman says.

When Lippman reads, her chin-length blond hair, dark-framed rectangular glasses and pale mauve turtleneck sweater look more academic than her vixen-like prose might suggest. For her, the genre is still living in the ’70s and ’80s, when women entering the workforce often felt obligated to be more serious — and somehow better — than their male counterparts. She and the other authors have rejected too-serious heroines in favor of tough-but-tender neofeminist sleuths. Lippman calls her characters “part of a generation of women who could have more fun.”

Lippman began a 20-year career in newspaper journalism when she graduated from NU but says she was meant to be a novelist. Seven books, an array of news beats and a 15-month labor dispute later, Lippman made fiction writing a full-time gig.

Her first novel, “Baltimore Blues,” came out in February 1997 and launched a series of mysteries featuring the investigator Tess Monaghan, a former newspaper reporter. Since then, Lippman has collected six mystery writers awards and earned additional nominations.

Before she published mysteries, Lippman had a little-known stint in erotica. At the Tart reading, she shared stories she had published in the early ’90s under false or abbreviated names in two erotica anthologies edited by Michele Slung.

For her Tart story, “What He Needed,” Lippman had to abandon the Tess character. “Lauren (Henderson) told me to avoid my usual serious character,” she says. “She thought she was too much of a goody-goody for ‘Tart Noir.'”

Instead, she created an unnamed, seemingly innocuous character who, trapped by her own consumer habits and a clingy husband, plots an escape.

“She is tough, far tougher than anyone would imagine, seeing her on the train with her travel mug and her red coat, the one with the black collar,” Lippman explains in the forward. “Which makes her a true Tart.”

Tart’s characters would fit right into g boutique. Entering through a red corridor hardly prepares one for the high-ceilinged, baby pink room inside. Camisoles and panties — lacy, embroidered or tissue-paper sheer — pose on tables. Stacks of condoms in multi-colored packages look more artistic than practical when they’re in the company of foil-wrapped candles, gem-studded bracelets, spa-inspired lotions and “passion”-flavored chocolates.

“We decided to start this shop because there wasn’t a place where women could go and feel confident about buying everything that we have here in one place — upscale lingerie, the toys, the books,” says Chicago-native Cheryl Sloane, who opened the boutique four months ago with business partner Kari Kupcinet-Kriser.

Here, comfort prevails over shame or embarrassment. Lisabelle, an unassuming Highland terrier and honorary shop mascot, might scamper forward to greet patrons, while a saleswoman offers coffee, tea or assistance. A worn-out shopper might choose to sit in a back corner, where an electric pink sofa piled with pillows rests royally on a matching platform. A pair of oversized dice lies within reach, one covered with commands like kiss or nibble and the other with body parts.

On Saturday, Henderson opens with a micro-short story about a woman marveling a man who is urinating in a public place. Henderson recognizes the startling nature of her work.

“You can see people getting really, really uncomfortable,” Henderson said during intermission. “Imagine if you strolled into a Barnes & Noble and some girl is saying ‘cunt’ a lot.”

One excerpt Lippman read was more saturated with descriptions about furniture than flesh. Later, she teased the audience with an anecdote about summers in San Antonio — outside is too hot, but inside, the air conditioning is freezing.

“So I wrote a story about a woman who went to San Antonio and finally learned to warm up,” Lippman says with a hint of suggestiveness.

All that follows is an erotic excerpt laced with Mexican food imagery. As a mystery writer, Lippman can’t give away all the details.

After all, Mom and Dad might be out there. nyou