I’m delighted to announce that my new release has arrived – inspired by ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ – and my own holidays on gorgeous Dartmoor.
Published by Wolfebane/Dragonblade – as part of the de Wolfe connected world.
Master of the Moor
A man tortured by brutal memories…
A woman determined to safeguard her liberty…
After more than twenty years in exile, Mallon de Wolfe—formidable, handsome, and with a shard of ice where his heart should be—is returning to Dartmoor.
A place vast, barren and perilous.
A place where secrets refuse to remain buried.
Mallon has vowed to conquer the betrayals of his youth, but faces new danger as his attraction grows for the mysterious Countess Rosseline.
Haunted by scandal and the shame of her bloodline, the newly-widowed Countess is without scruples. She needs a husband capable of securing her status, even if it means resorting to deceit and entrapment.
Is Mallon’s desire for her too intoxicating to be denied, no matter what the price—and can either escape the poisonous dominion of their past?
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 namesDavid 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.
LN Bey was a reader of erotica long before taking up the pen to write debut novel Blue. Attracted to the ‘inherent illogicality of BDSM’, as LN puts it, ‘the desire to be beaten, controlled and humiliated (or to do the beating) despite it making no logical sense’, Blue is a quest story, with a darkly twisted heart.
LN is adamant that what we read and erotically fantasize doesn’t always bear reflection in what we’d want to experience in real life. In fiction, in our imagination, we’re free, if we choose, to embrace situations we’d find too extreme, too distasteful or, even, too disturbing, in reality.
Speaking of early influences, LN explains, “My interest in BDSM is innate. I found power differentials and half-undressed perils interesting long before I had any idea how sex actually worked. Among the earliest things I read that were overtly sexual, and thrilled me to my core, were a couple of stories in mainstream porn magazines from a friend’s parent’s or older brother’s collection, I forget exactly. One was in an early-1980s Hustler, I believe, and was a very odd thing to find there: a story about a fem-dom slave auction, a dominatrix on stage, one man after another brought out, hurt, and humiliated, before being sold. It certainly got my interest.”
Much later, LN read Roquelaure’sSleeping Beauty trilogy, then Réage’s Story of O, Antoniou’s Marketplace series and Weatherfield’s Carrie novels. LN explains, “Although the styles (and intentions) of these four women authors differ radically, they each have a definite sense of erotic cruelty—consensual, yes, but often ‘consensual non-consent’. It’s about how the characters deal with the system they’ve agreed to enter. There is love, or something like it, in these books, but desire, and the drive to keep going, to keep pushing oneself, is the bigger theme.”
As LN explains, these novels explore total ‘erotic fantasy’ immersion (in particular, into situations which would be too strict for anyone to seek out in reality). Rather than promoting the safe, sane, and consensual in fiction, these novels embrace extremes, so that the ‘fantasy’ exists firmly in the imagination, rather than being a fantasy which the reader might choose to act out.
“Sometimes referred to as ‘chateau porn’ (but what I’ve always called ‘institutional porn’),” says LN, “They’re full of wealthy people, and take place in worldwide organizations that trade and train voluntary sex slaves, or variants thereof: Roquelaure’s world is a conquering castle; Réage’s a more local wealthy club. We follow entry into a whole new world, not just a new relationship.”
The dedication in Blue reads: ‘…to the four women who have cost me countless hours of sleep but showed me how fun it could be to put entire worlds, and all the filthy things that go on within them, down on paper: Molly Weatherfield, Laura Antoniou, A. N. Roquelaure and Pauline Réage.’ It is these women writers who, foremost, inspire LN Bey’s erotic fiction writing although, amusingly, LN admits that the impulse to pen erotica was primarily triggered by an air-freshener commercial!
“A woman is seen busily cleaning her sleek Modernist house, in preparation for a dinner party,” LN explains. “The guests all show up, two couples, and I remember thinking it was a little odd that she was the fifth wheel in this; she had no partner. They all look around, so impressed with her house and the food, but, being an air freshener commercial, they start to sniff the air, and we see the dog on the sofa and the fish frying, and then they all look at her, very disapprovingly. She sort of hangs her head in shame. And every time I saw it I felt this wonderful little tension, because it was obvious, to me at least, that she was going to have to be punished…by the guests!”
“It was the first fiction I’d written since, maybe, high school and I didn’t intend to do anything with it; it was just a hot little fantasy. But it kept bugging me—would this happen, this situation? For it to actually play out, the scene would either be non-consensual, or there would be a reason for all this to happen. I kept thinking about it, and I decided she would have to be ‘in on it’ — she knew beforehand that she’d be punished for infractions, imperfections. It’s what she wanted.”
This became the opening scene of LN Bey’s Blue, where the banality of suburban life meets the seemingly contrary drama of BDSM ‘theatre’.
LN recalls that the first drafts were full of head-hopping and clichés. However, through reading more erotica, taking Rachel Kramer Bussel’s online writing class, and experimenting with short story fiction, LN began to gain confidence, and refine skills.
Precision is a focus for LN, who admires this in Kubrick’s work, where the ‘loving, longing gaze lingers over small details’. As LN notes, Kubrick lingers not only on objects but on people (often using people as objects in his films) and on their conversations.
Of the many erotic artists loved by LN, several are graphic novelists: Crepax, MichaelManning, Eric von Gotha, and Stanton. “These artists create entire worlds, where liberties can be taken with reality, practicality, and consent. I also love it when highly skilled painters apply themselves to erotically themed works. I adore Saturno Buttò. A painter named Roberto Negrón did a fantastic series on B&D behaviors, and there is the work of photographer Araki.”
Other authors admired by LN are Donna Tartt, Thomas Pynchon and Margaret Atwood. Of Pynchon, LN says, “I love the twisty, screwed-up quests, taking unexpected directions, with multiple plotlines. You travel with characters who only briefly cross paths or just miss each other. I love his willingness to have important characters drop out early, and the book is suddenly someone else’s story. Mysteries are slowly uncovered, or added, and his language is incredibly colourful and rhythmic.”
Speaking of Donna Tartt, LN admires her use of minutia to immerse the reader. “So much erotica seems to lacks detail until the sex scenes,” LN regrets, ‘As if they’re taking place on an empty stage with no setting.”
LN is a fan the ‘epic quest’, naming 2001: A Space Odyssey, Excalibur, and Apocalypse Now. “Episodic, segmented, linear but winding, they’re exhausting to the participants, and for the viewer, feeling as if we’ve been right there with them. In comedies such as The Blues Brothers Movie and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, the quest explodes into absolute chaos. The latter has multiple quests taking place simultaneously, all inflicting insane, comic violence onto the world. What drives people to such extremes? The goals of these quests are all completely different; it’s the drive that fascinates me.”
“1970s erotic film rules my world: The Image, Story of O, the Tani Naomi films, and The Education of the Baroness. Cheap sexploitation movies,” LN declares. “There was a brief period, before the video format took over, in which ‘porn’ directors made sexually explicit, feature-length films with actual plots and some degree of characterization. They had budgets. They would, in their limited way, attempt to tackle issues: the psychologies of sexual power and submission, with varying degrees of consent (Tani Naomi films = 0 on that scale). They took chances! Considering how we can now find any filthy fetish recorded for the Internet, it’s amazing that such films aren’t made today.”
As her guests arrive for dinner, Janet is both fearful and aroused—because this is no ordinary suburban dinner party. Recently divorced and looking for something new, Janet definitely finds it when her friend Jon invites her to join an exclusive club of kinksters whose initiation is to be the host—and the entertainment.
Before the food is even served, she’s naked and on her knees, not to mention in over her head.
Kinky and sexy, intelligent and perceptive, Blue is both highly entertaining social satire and red hot erotica.
LN has written Blue from a position of knowledge, having been practicing BDSM for decades, in private. Meanwhile, in creating the group dynamics and small-group politics of the kink Scene, LN drew widely on the experiences of close acquaintances. “I’m interested in examining why some of us are attracted to dispensing or receiving the intense stimulations that others would call pain, or submitting our will and body to another (whether within the limits of safewords in real life or without them in erotica, porn, and fantasy).”
Blue’s protagonist, Janet, fears disapproval, and shunning — from her conservative family, her neighbours, and her co-workers. As LN admits, “These are the very things that keep me up at night. She fears being photographed, of there being a record of her perversion. I envy those who can be open about their kinks. Some of us simply cannot, which makes writing this kind of thing (or, rather, publishing this kind of thing) risky, though it is constantly surprising to me that, in this day and age, consensual habits still need to be kept secret.”
About LN Bey
LN has lived in various cities and towns throughout the American West and Midwest with spouse and pets in tow, pursuing various creative endeavours and playing interesting games. LN’s debut erotic novel Blue was released in 2016 and the three of five segments of the Villa series are now released. LN also appears in the following anthologies:
Best Bondage Erotica 2015, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Voted ETO’s Best Erotic Author of 2014, and a proud member of The Brit Babes, KD Grace tells us that she believes Freud was right. She says, “In the end, it really IS all about sex… well sex and love. And nobody’s happier about that than I am, otherwise, what would I write about?”
KD is pulled time and again towards the conflict between the light and dark, our attraction to what we fear, and our need to recognise both elements within ourselves. “Even the darkest characters struggle for balance, and that’s why so many of the villains in modern film and television are so wonderfully appealing,” explains KD. “The way out of the dark is neither easy nor is it straight forward. What happens in the darkness can be as powerful and as appealing as what happens in the light.”
She adds, “I love Phantom of the Opera for its powerful theme of darkness juxtaposed with light. From the journey underground comes salvation, as light and dark come together.”
Greek mythology has been a powerful influence on KD Grace’s work, being, as she underlines, ‘unabashedly sensual’ and so often portraying the ‘stark relief between darkness and light’. She comments, “Bernini’s Rape of Persephone sculpture is incredibly powerful. There’s terror, there’s lust, there’s sensuality, there’s the sense of flesh being dragged unwillingly into dark places, from which there’s no return. Once you leave Eden, you can’t go back. Once you’ve eaten the pomegranate seed, you can no longer live completely in the light.”
KD continues, “I’m fascinated with the journey underground, the journey into the realm of the dead, and the impossible tasks placed upon a mortal by the gods. That’s a huge part of the Psyche and Eros tale, as Orpheus goes into Hades to bring back his wife from the dead. Impossible tasks and going underground play major roles in my stories.”
KD Grace’s novel, The Initiation of Ms. Holly is a retelling of the Psyche and Eros Story, while her Pet Shop evokes the traditional tale of Beauty and the Beast (itself a retelling of Psyche and Eros). She notes her fascination with stories of the Greek gods’ seduction of humans, since those unions, of the Divine seducing mortal flesh, often result ‘in the birth of a saviour character’. As KD says, “Intimacy with the Divine brings enlightenment, on some level.”
She muses, “While we might admire Daphne for not allowing Apollo to seduce her, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she’d turned to him and said, ‘I’m all yours, just show me the mind of God.’ Fair exchange, I think. My online serial, In The Flesh hinges on the idea of the divine’s desire for enfleshment.”
KD is currently exploring the character of Medusa. As she puts it, ‘traveling into the darkness with her’ to gain understanding of how she came to be.
While drawing inspiration from Greek heroes, KD is similarly a huge fan of the comic book genre, with its larger than life characters. “Few people are more pleased than I am to see so many of the comic book and super hero stories being made into films. I love the way the hero is often blind-sided by the realization that there IS darkness in him or her, and there IS an appeal, and even more important, there’s a need for balance. I’m loving the new Netflix series, Dare Devil, and Jessica Jones. To me they’re classic examples of the battle for balance, which is one of the most powerful, most archetypal themes in storytelling.”
Although KD doesn’t dance herself she has used this in her novels, as a connecting point between characters. “There’s almost a courtship and an intimation of sex through dance.” Music has also played a role in influencing scenes in her novels. For instance, KD used Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in An Executive Decision, to accompany an angry masturbation scene. She adds, “Not the first movement everyone is familiar with, but the driving, pounding third movement.”
Like most writers, KD can’t help but approach reading as a source of instruction and inspiration, to improve her own craft. She adds, “I know some writers are afraid that they’ll be influenced by what someone else has written, but I think that can only be a good thing. I’ve no need to steal anyone else’s ideas, since I have so many of my own.” KD stresses, “One book that has changed the way I look at the shape of a novel and the way a writer can lead a reader in completely unexpected directions is Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s one of the most chilling novels, and one I’ve gone back to repeatedly as an instructional guide to what truly frightens us.”
Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mist of Avalon (and her Darkover novels) are other influential reads for KD, as is Diana Gabeldon’s Outlander series. Of the latter, KD admires her willingness to tackle sex that is realistic, including that which is uncomfortable or unsatisfactory (covering also the writing of rape). “Her lack of fear at describing sex at its worst, as well as at its most erotic, is something I’d love to learn,” she states.
The Tutor – by KD Grace
When physical touch is impossible, intimacy may become a powerful work of art or a devastating nightmare, but above all, it’s an act of trust.
Struggling writer, Kelly Blake has a secret life as a sex tutor. Celebrated sculptor and recluse, Alexander ‘Lex’ Valentine, can’t stand to be touched. When he seeks out Kelly’s advice incognito, the results are too hot to handle. When Kelly terminates their sessions due to what she considers to be her unprofessional behavior, Lex takes a huge risk, revealing his identity to her at a gala exhibition, his first ever public appearance. When Kelly helps the severely haphephobic Lex escape the grope of reporters and paparazzi, rumors fly that the two are engaged, rumors encouraged by well-meaning friends and colleagues. The press feeding frenzy forces Kelly into hiding at Lex’s mansion where he convinces her to be his private tutor just until the press loses interest, and she can go back home. They discover quickly that touch is not essential for sizzling, pulse-pounding intimacy. But intimacy must survive secrets uncovered, as their sessions become more and more personal.
For an entire month, beginning April 4th, for the first time ever, KD Grace’s The Tutor is on sale for 99c across all ebook formats.
Reviews and Buy Links for The Tutor
“I was amazed at how well the author fanned the flames without the characters even touching. From well-detailed interactions to the steamy interludes, this is a story that is blazing hot.” 5 out of 5, The Romance Reviews
“I fell hard for these characters…Each one has their own secrets and darkness, but they learn from each other…” 4 out of 5, The Jeep Diva
When she’s not writing, K D is veg gardening. When she’s not gardening, she’s walking. She and her husband have walked Coast to Coast across England, along with several other long-distance routes. For her, inspiration is directly proportionate to how quickly she wears out a pair of walking boots. She loves mythology. She enjoys spending time in the gym – right now she’s having a mad affair with a pair of kettle bells. She loves to read, watch birds and do anything that gets her outdoors.
KD has erotica published with Totally Bound, SourceBooks, Xcite Books, Harper Collins Mischief Books, Mammoth, Cleis Press, Black Lace, Sweetmeats Press and others.
Terrance Aldon Shaw (TAS to his friends) has written more than 70 erotic short stories, and is currently at work on a novel The Seven Seductions. His work explores the thoughts, feelings and emotions that accompany the erotic experience.
Having worked as a musician for much of his adult life, eking out a modest living as a singer and a classical composer, TAS stresses that music has been the primary influence on his writing: not just his love for classical works and grand opera but classical-influenced jazz and 70s rock, folk, bluegrass and country, hip hop and rap.
TAS asserts, “There’s nothing that equals the power of music to express emotion, to evoke atmosphere, and establish mood. This is why a film without a score often seems to fall short of its potential, lacking the full measure of visceral impact—just compare the scene in Jaws where the shark attacks the boat, first without John Williams’ music in the background, then with it. Whether conjuring a sense of existential anxiety and dramatic tension, desolation or euphoria, claustrophobic horror or the sublime vastness of space, nothing comes close to music.”
Comparing musical composition with that of writing, TAS underlines, “You have to be able to discern structure. Melody, harmony, and rhythm have to be coordinated to form a coherent statement. When I sit down to write, I consider the musical quality of the words, the prose-melodies that are created by the artful combination of words and phrases gradually built up into the literary equivalent of a symphony (that word, by the way, means ‘sounding together’). The way writing sounds when read aloud is important; if it doesn’t flow, if it doesn’t reach out and tickle the reader’s ear—if it doesn’t make music—it’s not ready to publish.”
As to how we make music with words, TAS advises varying the length of our phrases, never letting rhythms become too predictable, and avoiding repeated syntactical patterns. He emphasizes, “Understand that each word (or each note) carries its own innate energy, like a charged particle. If you arrange words carelessly, putting similar words too close together you drain them of their emotive power. Finally—and this is quite important, I think—don’t always play your music in the same key. Vary the mood and pace—especially in multi-chaptered works. Occasionally, dark clouds need to roll in and, sometimes, the sun needs to break through the dark clouds, if only long enough to keep the reader interested.”
He adds, “Great music has a sense of flow, an inevitable logic, leaving the impression that every constituent element is perfectly coordinated with every other. In the great operas of Wagner, particularly Die Walküre and Siegfried from Der Ring des Niebelungen, the music never seems to pause. I want that quality of sensuousness—that inevitable sense of flow—to permeate my prose and animate my storytelling .You can’t be a great composer if you only grasp what’s on the surface. You have to appreciate the way disparate elements come together. You have to see it all from the inside.”
TAS is profoundly near-sighted, which perhaps explains his desire to evoke sensory detail. As he comments, “When you’re a storyteller, everything you see and hear and touch has its own story.”
Nevertheless, he has a love of photography, sculpture and painting, and these have influenced some of his stories directly. In Night Vision, based on his own experience, the near-sighted narrator takes off his glasses and sees a jazz ensemble ‘reduced to its essential shapeless elements of light and colour’. As TAS explains, this gave him sudden appreciation of the nature of abstract art. He names ‘the intriguingly distorted figures set in the bleak urban landscape of Di Chirico’s The Disquieting Muses’ as an influence and Jackson Pollack’s Mural, which he believes ‘evokes its own strange multi-verse of fractal layers, like grains of sand under a powerful microscope’. As he notes wryly, “If you can’t find a story prompt there, you’re not looking.”
TAS points out that theatrical and cinematic works ‘all begin with the written word’. He comments, “I’m attracted to the same qualities in film that I find irresistible in books; an evocative sense of atmosphere, and sharp narrative focus (look at Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men based on the P.D. James sci-fi novel, or Kathryn Bigelow’s dystopian masterpiece, Strange Days with its seamless tracking shots and breathtaking leaps into the realm of virtual reality). I also appreciate intelligent storytelling that does not patronize the viewer with obvious ‘set-up’ dialogue or linger on superfluous detail: I am reminded of those long stretches of silence in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, so richly detailed—a perfect example of showing as opposed to telling. And then there’s that wonderful Pixar animated film Wall-E, where the poignance of the story is heightened by the lonesome stillness of an abandoned earth.”
He adds, “I also adore movies that engage my playful side (Charlie Chaplain’s City Lights and Modern Times, The Marx Brothers A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, Kevin Smith’s Dogma, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and absolutely anything by Mel Brooks. And . . . and . . . and! I LOVE Joss Whedon’s stuff for its intelligent ‘meta’ storytelling, its wisecracking archetypes, and its cheeky—very intentional—employment of bathos. These are all things I aspire to in my writing. Effective scene-setting through the evocation of atmosphere, an unblinking eye for crucial detail, and an uncompromising demand for clarity of narrative.”
He also muses, “I’m moved by great dancing in the movies and I admire those who can dance well—their gracefulness is just so often a mystery to me, I can’t help but be dazzled even as I’m sad that I can’t join in with them. In my writing, I often refer to dance, employing it as a metaphor, sometimes citing the techniques, or the physical characteristics associated with dancers.”
TAS asserts that he ‘categorically rejects magical thinking and superstition’, yet admits that tales of fantasy and magic have deeply influenced his own storytelling. Beyond early influences of fairy tales and myths, Shakespeare and the Hebrew Bible, he is drawn to ‘sweeping, mythic, quasi-poetic narratives’: Stephen King’s Gunslinger, and William M. Miller’s Canticle for Liebowitz (which he calls ‘probably one of the greatest sci-fi novels ever written, and certainly a great work of humanist fiction’).
TAS tells us, “Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber blew my mind apart and put it back together in the same revelatory instant—such beautiful, daring language! Reading Anais Nin is like soaring across the astral plains and never wanting to come down again. Imagica, by Clive Barker, is a creepy, atmospheric tour de force, while Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is powerfully thought-provoking, exploring the conflict between faith and science, politics, and sex. What all these books have in common is that they’re intelligently conceived, elegantly written, evocative, colorful, always—always!—feeding the reader’s intellect while stimulating the imagination. That’s the kind of book I love to read—and certainly the kind of book I want to write.”
Other books that have stayed with him are The Engineer of Human Souls by Czech author Josef Skvorevski, which he calls ‘a tragi-comic masterpiece of sex, politics and academia as seen through the bemused eye of a cynical college-English professor and political refugee’. TAS notes that Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, ‘with its deeply sympathetic yet relentlessly unblinking descriptions of suffering’ has influenced not only his writing, but his life.
Unsurprisingly, given his musical ear, TAS also has a love of poetry. He explains, “I came to deeply appreciate poetry through my interest in classical music, and the masterful settings of the great poets by modern composers, like Benjamin Britten and Ned Rorem. When I heard a setting of a poem that affected me, I went out and bought everything I could find by that poet, looking for things that I, too, could set to my own music: everything from medieval lyric fragments, Chaucer and Shakesperare’s sonnets, to Blake, Keats, Shelly, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Tennyson, to Walt Whitmann, Emily Dickinson, W.B. Yeats, Wilfred Owen, Vachel Lindsay, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, Sylvia Plath, W.H. Auden, Robert Frost, and Pablo Neruda in translation.”
He continues, “Poetry has taught me the importance of being concise and a sense of rhythm. I loved poetry long before I became serious about writing prose.”
In his writing, TAS gives us all that is ‘distilled within that secret place where love and madness meet’. He tells of what might have been; tales not only of mortality and desire, but of nostalgia, regret, isolation, loneliness and longing, lost inspiration and the search for one’s place in the cosmic scheme of things. These aspects he surveys through the lens of the erotic, inviting us to scrutinize ourselves as sexual beings: naked, vulnerable, passionate, longing. Only in so doing can we know ourselves.
As Mr. Shaw declares, writers ‘live in hope that what they write will have meaning, though it is almost always left to readers to find it’.
Works by the author
Terrance Aldon Shaw’s Moon-Haunted Heart comprises fifty short pieces, exploring the human condition through the lens of the erotic. See my review here.
Another of his short story collections is Take Me Like the World Ends at Midnight. As TAS tells us, “They say forbidden fruit is always the sweetest. These eight short stories are about the thrill of the unexpected; a handsome stranger’s touch in a dark theater, a night of passion with the most unlikely of mystery men; the sheer adrenaline rush of sudden contact; the silent promise of ecstasy.”
About the author
Terrance Aldon Shaw (TAS to his friends) lives in a 167-year-old farmhouse in the heart of southeast Iowa’s Amish country. His neighbours do not know what he does for a living. (Sometimes, he’s not quite certain himself.)
It’s like the promise of sex, inviting us in.
It pulls at your guts and prickles your skin, and works icy fingers through your blood.
It demands a visceral reaction.
How delicious is the sensation of fear, an echo of carnal pleasure. Like sexual desire, it titillates not only the mind but the senses. As we know, a good ‘scare’ is a wonderful aphrodisiac.
‘Horror’, as a genre, has a great deal of the erotic about it. It crooks its finger to entice you.
Here is the most intimate of relations between author and reader. You bring yourself to the page not only mentally, but physically. ‘Come closer,’ whispers the writer, ‘let me crawl inside you.’ In reading erotica, you beg ‘seduce me’. With horror, it’s ‘frighten me’.
And anticipation is all. You lick your lips, waiting for the ‘forbidden’, or to be ‘devoured’. You keep running, but you know you want to be caught.
Reading tales of horror is a masochistic act. It’s hard to say where pain ends and pleasure begins in those dangerous undercurrents, on the razor edge between light and dark.
The pursuit of sex, on the page and screen, is regularly equated with danger: be careful of where you go, and who with: they could be a ‘monster’ in disguise. It’s a recurring theme in horror films: the werewolf teen in ‘Ginger Snaps’ (2000); the alien creature in ‘The Faculty’ (1998); and the hairy beast within, as seen in ‘The Company of Wolves’ (1984) and ‘Red Riding Hood’ (2011). Appearances aren’t to be trusted.
In reading erotic fiction, we accept the apple of sexual self-knowledge. In biting its flesh, we may discover that which we wish to refute: dark fantasies of pleasure and pain, of voluptuous abandon, of wild promiscuity, of being ‘taken’ against our will. Between the pages, there are no bounds on sexuality, all is rendered ‘permissible’ by the veil of fiction.
Harking back to 19th century Gothic fiction, ghosts, family curses, vampyres, demons and superstitions dominated. An atmosphere of brooding unease was vital: one of mystery, pushing the reader towards their own state of ‘madness’.
The most famous example is Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’: darkly malevolent and laced with eroticism. Think of Jonathan Harker’s non-consensual ‘blood rape’ at the hands of the three vampyre women in the Count’s prison-castle.
He recalls, with shame and fascination, his temptation to submit: ‘There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with beating heart.’
There is the sensual portrayal of Lucy, most acutely rendered in her ‘undead’ state, and the slow seduction of Mina by the Count: a domineering, unfathomable stranger. The story is filled with references (veiled or explicit) to eyes blazing with desire, to blood, to submission, to death, to longing, to violence, to the devouring of flesh, and of course, to biting and sucking!
What other story, before or since, has so perfectly combined the luxurious pleasure of horror with eroticism?
For some, it is Sheridan le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ (written in 1872). It boasts similarly sensual passages, which hint at more than is explicitly written. Laura describes perturbing (rather orgasmic) sensations in the night, which we link to the presence of female vampyre Carmilla, coming to her room: ‘My heart beat faster and faster, my breathing rose and fell rapidly and… [it] turned into a dreadful convulsion, in which my senses left me, and I became unconscious.’
Carmilla opens a door to young Laura, awakening her to awareness of her sexuality. Once open, the door cannot be shut. Even when Carmilla has been staked and dispatched, Laura is haunted by memories.
In both stories, female sexuality is equated with ‘vampyric-bloodlust’: wanton, uncontrollable, and beyond civilised norms. It is as if, in succumbing to such a woman (or women in Harker’s case), we forfeit our very life-force.
In keeping with the age in which the tales were written, sexual pleasure is to be feared and resisted rather than welcomed. However, what danger can be more alluring than that of casting aside propriety and embracing abandoned, illicit sexual appetite? It’s little wonder that Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and all its descendants have enjoyed so many decades of popularity. The stories can be viewed as more than horror. They explore awakening: awareness of self as a sexual being; and understanding of elements previously hidden. Within the velvet embrace of sexual arousal and heightened sensation, a cloak of ‘propriety’ is lifted, allowing us a glimpse of self-knowledge.
As Jonathan Harker admits, afraid of what awaits him at the hands of the trio of vampyre-seductresses: ‘I doubt; I fear; I think strange things, which I dare not confess to my own soul.’
The monsters and supernatural seducers of ‘horror’ cannot be resisted; we are forced to succumb. Here, if nowhere else, we may embrace dual-edged fantasies.
As Stoker’s Dracula urges, inviting us further into the pages, and into the realm of the forbidden: ‘Enter freely and of your own free will!’
Sheridan Le Fanu: ‘Carmilla’ – a short story from ‘In a Glass Darkly’ (1872)
Bram Stoker: ‘Dracula’ (1897)
What I thirst for is not the reflection in the mirror but something beyond and behind, only visible when there is no light: a realisation of my shadow side.
Thoughts of revenge, debasement, danger, fear, pain and violence, is this my ‘real’ self?
It is, although other selves exist too. They have the daylight.
All are mine: dark and light.
As Jung said: ‘How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.’
My self beyond the mirror desires what cannot be spoken, and what cannot be attained. This ache may be soothed but it cannot be satisfied. Whatever I imagine, it will never be enough, for my desire is always to want more: to grasp at what is out of reach.
I walk a balancing act between light and shade, between my ‘civilised’ self and that which flickers and dissolves at the edges.
‘I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.’
― Sylvia Plath (Ariel)
In Joseph Kessel’s Belle de Jour (1928), Séverine knows well that her indulgence of her ‘dark’ self – which wishes to lose its conventional, public identity and surrender only to desire and sensation, without thought of consequences – endangers her ‘social’ self.
The story is best known through Catherine Deneuve’s portrayal of the icily beautiful housewife, in Luis Bunuel’s film (1967). Compelled by desires she cannot articulate, let alone share with her husband, Pierre, she is drawn into an alternate sexual world, choosing to spend each afternoon working at a brothel.
The greater her revulsion with her clients, the greater her satisfaction, yet she seeks continually, without finding true fulfillment. She experiences little ‘conscious’ choice, driven almost mad by her need to act out fantasies of masochism and debasement: to be forcefully subdued, to ‘lose’ her usual sense of self.
Her desires make no sense to her; she only knows that she must serve them.
The story’s tension lies not in her compulsions but in her knowledge that they are incompatible with her ‘other life’ and her love for Pierre. For him to discover the truth is inconceivable. She sends one of her lovers, Marcel, to murder the man she thinks will betray her and it is upon this moment that Fate twists the course of the story, turning the blade towards Pierre.
The shock of almost losing him drives Séverine to renounce her sexual yearnings and devote herself to the long-term care of her terribly injured husband.
The final tragedy is that her desire, and her shame, live on sufficiently to drive her to confess all and, in so doing, bring to pass the very reaction she most feared: Pierre’s revulsion and his repudiation of her. In the closing lines of the story, we are told that he refuses ever after to speak to her.
Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut, based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story, also examines ‘unbridled’ desires, including concealment of the truth and feelings of guilt. A woman tormented by relentless dark fantasies involving a man she encounters briefly, reveals the details to her husband: a scene intimately constructed in the film, whereby Nicole Kidman whispers her confession of her ‘raw self’ to Tom Cruise.
Aroused and resentful, he allows himself his own act of transgression by entering a twilight world: attending a secret, orgiastic gathering, at which he is an intruder. It is for this segment that the film is best known: its glitteringly dark, dream-like depiction of a sinister, masquerade sex party. Much is left unexplained, elevating the sense of danger.
What these books (and the resulting films) share is their portrayal of the lure of the forbidden. However much we experience and possess and taste, it is never quite enough, because our imagination always craves more.
We feel, almost instinctively, the seduction of what lies on the darker side of the mirror, where the norms of social behaviour no longer apply.
George Bataille (in Guilty) wrote: ‘Eroticism is the brink of the abyss. We’re brought to the edge by uncontrolled ecstasy. This is the stage of rupture, of letting go of things.’
Similarly, he said: ‘The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate, turbulent truth.’
And here it is. In fiction, we seek both to ‘escape’ and to ‘find’ ourselves. We seek an echo of our nature within the pages, while hoping also to set aside the constraints of ‘reality’: to ‘lose’ ourselves, as we do in ultimate moments of sexual arousal.
We want danger.
We want extremes.
We want the duality of pleasure and pain.
We want the forbidden.
In Japan, diners delight at the tingle of poison on their lips from the carefully prepared puffer fish, knowing how close they are to danger, to death.
So it can be with our erotic nature.
What greater triumph is there than to feel your mortality and to conquer it?
In reaching a heightened sexual state, we are of the flesh and beyond the flesh: we are corporeal and spiritual. We feel our mortality and we transcend it. At that moment of sublime ecstasy, we ‘defy’ death, becoming more than bone and blood.