Malin began exploring erotic fiction about five years ago, with the first piece she ever wrote accepted by Rachel Kramer Bussel for The Big Book of Orgasms, published by Cleis Press. “I doubt I’d have stuck with the genre if Rachel hadn’t plucked it up,” Malin admits. “Writing it was kind of a lark.”
Since then, Malin has created a wealth of captivating short-story fiction, often inspired by fairy tales, folklore and magical realism, exploring the themes of grief, isolation, alienation, connection, self-discovery, power dynamics and psychological expression through sex. She’s known for her originality, her powerful characterisation and her mastery of beautiful prose.
“Sharing my work with readers is a natural extension of writing. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the story and the reader. Without the reader, a story only gets a half-life, so submitting my work for publication has always been a natural part of the writing process,” Malin asserts. “As for what I’d like people to come away with…empathy I suppose. Or resonance. A sense of understanding — feeling understood and, more importantly, gaining an understanding of situations or people who may fall outside their realm of personal experience. My stories should feel like slices of other people’s lives that the reader can experience in some way.”
“The authors who inspire me — Angela Carter, Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson, Anais Nin — explore what it is to live, love, hate, and hurt, and they do so beautifully (and arousingly) with sex. They’re an intersection between the literary and erotic,” asserts Malin. “Their exploration of sexual themes occurs with fearlessness and frankness; it’s the lack of implied apology that appeals most to me.”
She adds, “The Magic Toyshop and The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter, have made me aware of my sexuality in a much more complicated way, while Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat has opened my eyes to my own lack of sentimentality, just as Affinity, by Sarah Waters, has made me aware of how deeply my empathy runs. Angela Carter’s emphasis on sexuality as mundane, profane and transcendent has definitely influenced my storytelling. Muriel Spark’s work has given me permission to be unflinching and unapologetic with my characters, and Sarah Waters has taught me to pay attention to physical and emotional details, which are often more telling than paragraphs of exposition.”
Malin trained as a ballet dancer with the San Francisco Ballet until she was 18 before moving into NYU’s acting program at Tisch School of the Arts and, later, to San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre. In her mid-twenties, she began to concentrate her energies on writing. Malin double majored in acting and English, and has a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature (focusing on the medieval period in Spain, France and England). She underlines, “My acting training (as well as the critical training I received during my MA) directly influences my writing in many subtle ways: particularly in how I approach characters and the circumstances that inform the narrative arc. I think of writing in terms of lenses and angles—sex is, very often the lens, but the angle is determined by influences, from things I’ve done and read.”
Malin tells us, “My fascination with form and narrative and, most notably, character is grounded in plays and staging.” She particularly notes Fool for Love, by Sam Shepard, for its ‘sparseness, violence and emotional interiority’. The play directly inspired some of the stories in Roadhouse Blues, Malin’s newly released short fiction anthology, published by Go Deeper Press. Malin also names David Ives’ Venus in Fur, for its ‘cleverly subversive viciousness’ and Prelude to a Kiss, for its ‘use of magical realism to examine a woman’s fear of death’.
“The SF Ballet’s production of Prokofiev’s Cinderella also touched me deeply,” Malin adds. “The Russian composers who drew from myth, legend and fairy tales have influenced me most: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky’s ballets have taught me about pacing and the need for emotional hooks.”
Malin admits that, in watching films, she tends to pay more attention to the actors than plot. She names The English Patient, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed Francis Ford Coppola) and Gilda (starring Rita Hayworth) as influential films for her writing, as well as Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt and Vertigo. “While they’re all very different, there’s something compelling in their emotional landscape: a tension and melancholic tragedy. That said, one of my favorite movies of all time is Clue; I love the ridiculous humor of it.”
Art is another important influence for Malin. She explains, “Often, a story will start as a central image and evolve from there. Edward Hopper’s paintings are a massive inspiration. All of them: his nudes, landscapes, and slices of observed life. His work has a human element and a loneliness that’s prompted much of my work, directly and subconsciously. Hopper is all over my Roadhouse Blues.
Malin is also a fan of Ansel Adams, Jack Vettriano and Jeanloup Sieff and the photography by Nicolas Laborie, Marc Legrange and Marco Sanges, as well as the wonderful studio portraits of Golden Era Hollywood.
Often listening to classical and jazz while writing, Malin says that it encourages her stream of thought. “Debussy’s Claire de Lune, Andras Schiff performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, are the aural equivalent of meditation,” Malin explains, adding, “I love early Tom Waits. Oh, my god, do I love early Tom Waits. And electroswing. like Caravan Palace, and regular swing, as performed by Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. I also love Billy Holiday and Nina Simone, and Medieval choral music (like the Tallis Scholars). Really, I’m all over the map.”
About Malin James
“I’m fairly boring in real life,” Malin jokes. “I love to knit and bake and do all introverted things with wild abandon. This restores my mental and emotional energy, for my work. I live with my husband and daughter, who are the loves of my life, as well as two lovely, meddling cats and many, many, many overflowing bookshelves. Outside of writing, I love to read. I would happily spend my life in books.”
Malin’s short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies for Cleis Press, including Best Women’s Erotica 2015 edited by Violet Blue. Her work has been narrated by Rose Caraway for The Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica podcast, as well as for anthologies for her company, Stupid Fish, including the #8Authors project, Libidinous Zombie. The Master, her fencing novella, came out with Sweetmeats Press in an anthology called The Athletic Aesthetic. She has recently released her collection of linked short stories, Roadhouse Blues, with Go Deeper Press. Read my review (with commentary from Malin) here.
Find Malin at www.malinjames.com
Facebook: Malin James
and on Go Deeper Press: www.godeeperpress.com