Cunning Linguists Author Interview

This interview first appeared on the the New Smut Project blog on April 12th, 2022. See the original post here. NSP’s fourth anthology, Cunning Linguists: Language, Literature and Lechery, comes out May 18th (less than a month to go!). Paperback and ebook editions are available for pre-order now.

My first official interview as an author was thrilling in every sense; releasing a photo of myself (see below), including a potentially-identifiable shard of my face, was a scary leap. And the content of my response was so personal, I’m still unsure whether I told too much truth in it. It was the heaviness of my answer to the question of “What inspired you to write this story?” that led me to keep the interview brief. (For new readers of this blog, in short: the story’s about my wife, and she dumped me just after I submitted it.) Out of a menu of 7 questions on topics of erotic writing and sexy language, I responded only to the first.

And it wasn’t just the bummer breakup talk that gave me pause. The events surrounding the story’s birth and publication leave me more convinced than ever of divine fiddling in my tiny human affairs. Still, I’m not used to claiming those convictions publicly, and it feels funny to proclaim that THE BENEVOLENT UNIVERSE DID THIS FOR ME when speaking on my life and its recent turns. That’s why the offerings of gratitude at the end of the interview are phrased in the vaguest possible suggestions of faith.

But hey. Better too revealing than not revealing enough, right? As a smut writer, I’ll have to believe that, in baring my secrets, I’m doing something right.

Below is the full text of my interview, including a story excerpt and my author bio from the anthology.

“Real dykes don’t scissor. That’s just a porn thing. For men.”

That does it. She snaps the bond between her eyes and the screen, turning to me with those hawk-sharp eyes of hers blazing.

“Yeah? So now you’re the arbiter of ‘real’ lesbian sex?”

I thrust my chin out. “Yup. Sure am.”

I could banter about this for hours, but she isn’t in the mood. When she falls silent I sputter out, too. We sit there looking at each other.

But then, something flickers. I blink, and a new presence sits before me in the TV light. When she wraps a hand around my foot, I surrender to the tug. Before I can register our bodies’ rearrangement, our legs are intertwined, my housedress bunched around my waist, the faded cotton of my panties flush against the faded cotton of her sweats.

“Not a thing, huh?” she growls, digging fingers deep into the fat above my knee. Playful, but menacing. Is this the old Kiara, coming back to me?

I go on teasing. Maybe I can get a reaction I like. 

“Not a thing.” I grab her foot for leverage and grind into her, mouth gaping in a pornstar parody. “You like this? Rubbing pussies, that’s what turns you on?”

She shoots me a look, like you really wanna play with me? I stare right back and pop my tongue out, flush with courage. I do want to play with her. I want her to play with me.

It works.

-from “Planet Rolling Over” in Cunning Linguists

Peach Berman is a funky queer Jew who lives in wild hills of Northern New Hampshire. A lifelong scribbler and poet, Planet Rolling Over is her first work of fiction and first publication. 

 As an experiment in language-play smut, Planet Rolling Over winds around the imagery and themes of the book Kohelet (also known as Ecclesiastes) of the Hebrew bible. While most translations read “havel”, the book’s refrain, as “vanity”, and interpret Kohelet’s message as one of hopelessness, Peach draws upon a 2010 translation by Rabbi Rami Shapiro in which “havel” means “emptying”, and liberation replaces the futility of clinging. The story is a tribute to Peach’s first wife, the incomparable Plum Noir.

To stay on top of Peach’s writings you can check out peachberman.com, where she posts free samples of her dirty imaginings. And if you’re in the mood for some provocative (but not X-rated) nonfiction, check out her blog at trueloveforsale.com, where she dissects the intimate work she does for money. You can reach her by email at peachberman@gmail.com. She’s also on Twitter as @PeachBerman, but she doesn’t recommend the place.

What inspired you to write this story?

“Planet Rolling Over” is a celebration of my love for my then-wife, Plum Noir. The only named character in the story, Kiara, is a portrait of her. Many of the scenes are autobiographical, pulling real moments from our married life into a fictional backdrop. The state in which we first encounter Kiara and her wife, the unnamed narrator, mirrors the state of my marriage at its lowest points – sexless, resentful, drowning in depression. But the rebirth of the love bond that forms the story’s arc turned out to be pure fiction. Between the story’s submission and its acceptance in the anthology, our marriage ended.

At the time, I thought I was writing “Planet Rolling Over” as a vision of our future. As I worked, I saw us finding our way back to one another, passion bending our timeline into a circle. I didn’t know it then, but when this story left me it carried those possibilities away with it. In that moment of transformation, Plum and I both found the way to release ourselves from clinging to the husk of what we’d been together. We both got to walk away free.

This story was always bigger than me. The plan was never mine. I was always just a vessel.

I am forever grateful. 


And there you have it. Thanks for reading my big first interview. I’m so excited for the book to drop next month!

As a reward for your attentions, here are a few outtakes from that semi-anonymous author portrait photoshoot. Credit, thanks and limitless adoration to VPBRB for the camera work.

And yes, it was as cold as it looks!

My Real Fake Name is Peach Berman

True Love for Sale: An Origin Story

Start a blog, my writer-friend urged me. Just try it. Do it for practice, just to put yourself out there. Do it just to find out how it feels.

I refused.

I wanted to get published. I was submitting poems to literary magazines, obsessed with the notion that I would become a writer on the day that I was chosen. Someone with an MFA in poetry and the title of “editor” after their name would have the power to manifest my being, or to deny it.

I was casting nets in random directions, constantly on the lookout for any magazine that might have me and growing more desperate all the time. It wasn’t working. No matter how small or low-budget the magazine, my poetry wasn’t good enough to fight its way to the top of the pile, and though I kept on sending out submissions, deep down I knew it.

So start a blog, my writer-friend kept pushing me. Use it to let your ideas fly away into the world, unfettered. You can fabricate a throwaway persona, use the anonymity to dangle controversial thoughts, experiment with technique and test the appeal of narrative threads, all without risking your reputation.

I refused. I had other plans. Poetry was a dead-end anyway, I told myself. Only poets read poetry, and I wanted to reach a wider audience. My goal as a writer was to give the world something beautiful and new, something that it it needed and lacked. Endless attempts to publish my sub-par poetry was more about my own ego than about sharing joy with others.

If poetry was not the medium, what about fiction? People love fiction. Stories pull a reader in; you don’t need to be high-minded or literary to fall headfirst into a story. And the world would need my stories, because mine would be the stories that I always wanted to read, but could never find. I would write romantic fiction for people like me – people who are polyamorous, kinky or queer, or otherwise exploring their identities through relationship. People whose love traverses boundaries of race and culture, inviting all the rich and wrenching challenges that arise.

Just start a blog, my writer-friend urged. The books will come later but you have to start somewhere. Build a following first, and query agents once you’ve got something to show.

I refused. I refused and refused until one day I had this idea.

I wanted to be a writer, but most of the time, I wasn’t writing. Instead, I was working to earn a living, nannying during the days while pulling down extra cash in off-hours as a sugar baby to a married (and cheating) man.

I often mused about the meaning of my work, its place in the wider world. I saw myself as a small cog within the Love Economy, an invisible engine of mostly unpaid, mostly woman-powered labor upon which the rest of society depends. The importance and under-appreciation of childcare and other forms of care work are well-documented; considering sex work along these same lines is less common, but here I was, a living example of the overlap.

These analyses felt provocative, even profound sometimes, but I would never dare to share these thoughts with anyone. I was too scared of the social media-verse ripping me to shreds.

So what about a blog? I could birth a pretend self, use her as a mic stand for the stories that I wanted to tell but was too afraid to attach to my name.

My writer-friend liked the idea, and so did I. I made up the name Pauli Atomic, a catchy play-on-words that hinted at the blog’s sub-theme of polyamory, and a tribute to the great feminist trailblazer Pauli Murray. The title True Love for Sale came to me before I even knew about the Ella Fitzgerald song containing the same words. It was perfect. I bought the domain, and I was off.

Enter Peach

True Love was up and cranking, and now I knew the basic mechanics of running a WordPress blog.

It was time to start the “real” project, the one I had in mind before I concieved of True Love for Sale. My second WordPress site would be the homepage for the author Peach Berman, who would need a website once she made her publishing debut in the romance-erotica scene.

I started peachberman.com, set it up and started posting. The site looked great, I felt confident with the quality of the writing, and readers seemed to find my content pleasurable. The only trouble was that now I had two blogs, in addition to a full-time job and a high-input side gig. As I surpassed my capacity and hit the point of overwhelm, both blogs got neglected.

So I muddled along in that state for a while, posting and engaging determinedly under both WordPress accounts and falling behind on my goals for both. At the same time, I was working on a short story to submit to an erotic anthology by New Smut Project, my first attempt at writing fiction for publication. I called the story Planet Rolling Over, based it on my marriage to Marisol, and filled it with my hopes for rebirth and re-imagination of our passion as wives.

Then my life blew up.

Just weeks after I submitted the story, my marriage ended in a breathless whirlwind. When I found my footing on the other side, everything had changed. I wasn’t a sugar baby anymore; instead, I was giving up my polyamorous activity in order to settle down with one partner who made me feel safer and more loved than I ever had before.

A few months later, I heard back from New Smut Project. Planet Rolling Over, the swan song of my first marriage, would be published in their fourth anthology.

If scoring a publication was the threshold to ”becoming” a writer, I was in.

What Now?

My life has done a full 180 and a couple of backflips since I started this blog. The direction in which I’m now heading doesn’t fit neatly with this blog’s original vision. That’s okay – I’m happy on the other side. Six months ago I couldn’t have predicted the path that lay ahead of me, but now that I’ve started down it, there’s not one detail I would want to change.

So what lies ahead for True Love? Well, this irreverent experiment isn’t ready to die just yet. There are so many concepts that I dreamed up for this blog but never got a chance to explore, and I still plan to tease them out and post them here. But it is time for Pauli Atomic, my practice-run persona, to step aside and let Peach Berman take the wheel. True Love for Sale is staying online, and I intend to continue publishing here whenever I feel inspired to write more on these themes. But for the immediate future, Peach’s website is going to get the attention I’ve been denying it since its inception.

If smut isn’t your thing, I recommend you steer clear of my erotic literary at peachberman.com. But if you’re open to some wild naughtiness, then come along and check me out! And be sure to get your hands on my first-ever publication by securing your copy of Cunning Linguists, the fourth anthology by New Smut Project, coming May 2022 and available now for preorder on Smashwords and Gumroad. Bonus points if you leave a review!

And for those of you who are still hanging with me here on True Love, I would love (truly!) to hear from you at this moment. What have you appreciated as you’ve read and interacted with this blog? Are you left with any burning curiosities that you’d like me to address in future posts? Talk to me in the comments and I’ll be happy to oblige.

HUGE thanks to everyone who has read, followed, commented, and shared my content throughout the first round of the True Love experiment. And an extra-special round of thanks to everyone in my life who has inspired and supported this effort: VPBRB, TH, WC, BV, and the writer-friend who starred in this installment, VN. I’m forever grateful.

All love,

Peach

❤️🧡💛💚💙💜

Photo by RODRIGO AMATUZZI from Pexels

Am I a Tweeter? A Twitter? A Twit?

I thought I was a masochist, but I just joined Twitter, and I’m starting to rethink.

Follow me here.

Really, please. I’m not too proud to beg.

(Last week I was too proud to beg. A week on Twitter will knock the pride right out of you.)

Twittering feels like giving an open-access blowjob to 3 million people all at once. My jaw hurts and my brain screams like! follow! retweet! all night long.

Do you use Twitter to promote your writing? Do you find it effective? How do you manage its impact on your brain?

In conclusion, please go follow the Twitter page for me, your friend @Pauli_Atomic. Your support is greatly appreciated as it is now the crux of my self-worth.

As a reward, you’ll get to see a picture of my real face. I used a filter, though. Just a heads up.

Slamming on the Brakes at Our Intersection

This conversation is becoming a weekly ritual. Next month she turns thirty. I’ll be close behind. And we still can’t seem to make up our minds:

Do we want kids?

We trudge through the usual debate points and musings. “We’ll have to eat dinner at 5:30.” “We’ll be broke. We’ve barely got the money for the sperm.” “If we don’t, who will take care of us when we’re old?”

Then, suddenly, she calls up a different kind of trepidation. Says,

“You think I’ll make them hate being Jewish.”

Screeeech! Hit the brakes. Where did that come from?

“Baby,” I say. “No I don’t. You’ll be a wonderful Mom to Jewish kids. You already know the most important blessings…”

“No. I won’t be.” She pauses, considering something. “Maybe it’s just… it’s them having an identity that I won’t have. It’s too much. Being Black is hard enough, but Black AND Jewish… It’s a scary intersection.”

I blink. “It’s our intersection.”

She nods, slowly. “Yeah.”

She’s got a point. Would we be cursing our future children by deciding to have them? Is it fair, to put challenges onto our children that neither of us have faced ourselves?


On the coffee table in front of us a copy of The Color of Water by James McBride lies open, near its end. I have almost finished reading McBride’s telling of his mother’s story, in which she flees from her Orthodox Jewish family, marries a Black man, and raises twelve Black children. She overcomes the divide between the two communities that hold her life by destroying the Jew in herself, and never looking back. She changes her name, comes to Jesus, starts a church.

In my own family, I see the same pattern reflected. My eldest auntie married a Black man in the 1960’s and faced the rejection of her family and community for years. Though she never converted to a different religion, though she reconnected with my grandparents before I was born, she did not raise her son Jewish.

I remember my shock when I overheard her on the phone with her grown son in the week leading up to Rosh Hashana, explaining to him, “We eat apples and honey to celebrate a sweet new year.” My forty-year-old cousin didn’t know this simple tradition that was second nature to me by preschool?

One generation later, my aunt sends me pictures of her grandson lighting a menorah for Chanukah and reading picture books with Jewish themes. She is teaching him to take pride in his Jewish roots, and to understand that the history of the Jewish people is his history, too. But embracing one’s Jewish ancestry is not the same as being Jewish. I don’t know how my little cousin will identify as he grows. Will our traditions become his?

My wife and I have long since decided that, should we have children, we will raise them Jewish. They will be Black, of course. That part will most likely be determined by phenotype; it was never a subject of debate. We will raise our babies to be proud of their Blackness, to celebrate their heritage as descendants of the African diaspora. So why, I used to argue in the earlier days of our commitment, should the children we bring up together reflect her culture, her people, and not mine? Over time, she relented. It was a decision we reached before we married, and a condition of the marriage itself.

Our children will be free to reject Judaism if it does not suit them. Up to 70% of Jewish kids outside of the Orthodox community choose not to live a Jewish life when they grow up. And our babies will have more reason to reject the religion than does the average Jew. A wide majority Jewish communities in the US are white-dominated, and they harbor the same diseases as other white enclaves. It is unfortunately likely that the congregants of the synagogue where we enroll our children in Hebrew School will alienate them with racist comments, harassing them with questions like “how are you Jewish?” and “are you adopted?” Maybe our kids will want out of all Jewish spaces by the time they reach B’nai Mitzvah age at around 12, going through the sacred rite of passage into Jewish adulthood only if we force them, and withdrawing from the community immediately after.

And on the other side, how will their Black cousins and friends who are not Jewish shape their views of themselves? Will the same ugly conspiracies that have led me into tearful fights with my inlaws worm their way into my babies’ ears? Who will be the first to tell them that the Nazi Holocaust is a big lie, that their white mother is not a real Jew, that white Jews stole the religion from its Black rightful owners? Will it be family, a cousin they look up to? If those conspiracies don’t erode their sense of connection to their Jewishness, it may be that their Catholic elders will convince them that they are bound for hell until they come to Jesus.

None of these outcomes would surprise me. And there’s not a lot my wife or I could do to prevent them, or to protect our future children from the bone-deep confusion of belonging to two communities and feeling out-of-place in both– not a lot, beyond deciding not to have children at all.


For tonight, we run out of steam for the debate. She heads to bed, and I flop onto the couch to finish The Color of Water. In an afterward included for the 10th anniversary edition, McBride reflects on his family’s story with these words that feel uncannily apt, tonight:

I have met hundreds of mixed-race people of all types, and I’m happy to report that– guess what, folks– they’re happy, normal people! They’re finding a way. … The plain truth is that you’d have an easier time standing in the middle of the Mississippi River and requesting that it flow backward than to expect people of different races and backgrounds to stop loving each other, stop marrying each other, stop starting families, stop enjoying the dreams that love inspires. Love is unstoppable. It is our greatest weapon, a natural force, created by God.

James McBride, The Color of Water

I want to wake her. To rush into her quiet, shake her, tell her, “See! We won’t be failing our children by raising them. Our children can proud of who they are.”

“We will raise them in love and safety,” I want to tell her. “They’ll know a struggle that’s familiar to neither of us, it’s true. But they will know a peaceful home– they’ll know joy and healthiness that was also unfamiliar to us. We made it through our childhood hurts. They’ll make it through theirs, too.”

“Our children, our Black and Jewish children, if we have them, are gonna be okay.”

Instead, I resolve to show her in the morning. I tuck myself beside her, press my skin against her back, and join her sleep.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Shalom Bayit

You enter your bedroom.

It is dark, and I

am inside, singing

swaying with 

your infant son

against my chest. I 

am ten years 

younger 

than your wife 

and my voice is soft

and lullabye-pretty.

.

You move quickly 

into and out. I

turn my back, eyes

latching on the eyelids

drooping in my arms.

.

I mean you no harm 

and you mean me no harm. 

You take your shirt, 

go, and I continue, 

rocking in the dark room, 

singing.

.

(Shalom Bayit is a Jewish value. It translates to “peace in the home”, and describes familial wholeness and healthy connection in a marriage.)

To Love With Impunity

On my second night babysitting, the youngest of the three wraps herself around my leg and stares up at me with a jack-o-lantern grin.

“I love you,” she says, eyes huge and fixed on mine.

I smile back, but am surprised to find myself uncomfortable at the toddler’s love-declaration. I’m not ready for this yet.

“I’m glad to be here,” I tell her. She goes on grinning and staring, too little to feel any sting.

My intellect knows that she is right. Love is the default state for humans in proximity. We don’t need to know each other well to love one another. Young as she is, she understands this implicitly. She loves freely, with no thought towards protecting her heart. Time and maturity will take this from her, just as it does from all of us. As we grow we deaden our instinct to love automatically, transforming love into a formal exchange between committed parties– family members, the truest of friends, romantic partners who have put in some requisite number of months together.

But we had it right, were wiser when we were tiny children. Before we learned to defend our spirits’ connection sites, we understood that love bonds could be transient. That the giving and receiving of love was no weighty milestone. A one-time babysitter, the new kid in preschool, a puppy walking down the street– each of us once understood the joy of instant and simple connection, and offered it freely and widely to anyone who made us feel good.

But grown folks will do what grown folks do. Confronted with this child’s wise and open heart, I refuse to meet her in simplicity. Some part of me reads an imaginary contract in her words, her eyes, her smile, and rejects her instinct to trust.

I have spent a lifetime learning how to complicate the simple.

Is it too late, now, to uncomplicate it?

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

Pleasure to Meet You. Nice House!

What you need around here is what I offer.

I’m that little bit of extra that you need to keep your house from falling down. That spare morsel of energy, time, attention, care that you otherwise can’t muster. I am work, beyond what fits into one day for one woman. I’m your teammate, making it possible.

I’m a workday if you need one, a night out if you can spare one on occasion. I am the peace of mind that allows you to walk away from your children, knowing you’ve secured the love they need to make it through the day.

But if I’m not the structure of your days, I’m a shadow here. I do my work in secret. I cast soft eyes over your husband in a nearby hotel and send him home, those needs, for the moment, quieted.

You know me, or you don’t. Either way, I’m holding up parts around here. I’m taking the ends that don’t meet, and meeting them.

If you know my name, you trust me utterly. I’ve got your baby in my arms and your house key in my pocket. You exhale relief when I arrive, on time, on your stoop every morning. You feel safe when I’m here, like nothing is especially likely to go wrong.

And if you don’t know me, well… I’ve suspected for a while now that you at least know about me. Or at least, that some part of you does. That’s not to say that you know about me, per se. Just that you know that he’s got somebody. That he’s been entertaining a passing band of somebodies for years now. You’re smart. You know when you’re not alone in a room.

If you’ve ever heard my name, then you’ve heard your children screech it at the window glass in the middle of breakfast every weekday.

If you haven’t, I may or may not know yours, depending on how reckless your husband is. I never ask, but some spill eager with the facts of who they are. For the careful ones, I’ll address my love to a pseudonym, no matter how many years we spend getting together.

I only offer one service per family. If I care for your kids I won’t fuck your husband. If you trust me, you are right to trust me. And if you would hate me if you ever met me– well, you’d probably be right about that, too.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels