Author Influences : Donna George Storey

If you’re a fan of erotic fiction, you’re probably familiar with the incredible writing of Donna George Storey, where storytelling and scorchingly hot scenes combine in perfect harmony.

Donna tells us, “Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved the way a good story can transport me to another world, giving the magical sense of living another person’s life. I’d always been drawn to creating stories and characters of my own. I wrote a novella for my senior thesis in college, but then didn’t write creatively for another 14 years! In my mid-thirties, after a stint in academia and the birth of my first child, my urge to write creatively returned with a new intensity. I not only began to write with great passion, but began to read with a new eye and a new appreciation for the art and craft of storytelling.”

“Authors who impressed me at that time were women who had a confident and nuanced sensibility. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse amazed me for its keen insight into the magic of ordinary life and its effortless movement through the consciousness of  varied characters. Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Mary McCarthy’s The Group inspired me with their sharp wit and clear vision of the female experience within a male-dominated society. Their sensibilities and voices drove me to do the same, to the best of my ability — to report on the truth of the female experience, seeing the humor and the beauty in our lives.”

“I found that my storytelling always turned to erotic themes, and felt ashamed to be writing “dirty stories.” Serendipitously, at that time I came upon a trio of inspiring books: The Mammoth Book of International Erotica, edited by Maxim Jakubowski; Best American Erotica 1997, edited by Susie Bright, and Diane di Prima’s Memoirs of a Beatnik. These books showed me that erotica can be intelligent, challenging and mind-expanding, exciting to the mind as well as to the libido. Di Prima’s contention that “there are as many kinds of kisses as there are people on the earth” and her brilliant description of several kissing styles still amazes and challenges me to capture the truth of the erotic experience in my own work. I must add, however, that it’s only the first two chapters of Memoirs of a Beatnik that I liked—the chapters about her affair with Ivan that had plenty of romance and emotion. After that, the book devolves into what it apparently was—stories written for the rent money for a pornographic press. The difference between the two sections was instructive to me. I adore sex stories with some sense of attraction beyond the physical, but am impatient with formulaic writing. Di Prima did actually have an affair with a man like Ivan. I’m not saying all writing is autobiographical in the strictest sense, but that section felt very real. That’s what I aspire to in my writing.”

“I think it’s a myth that writers are solitary geniuses who create their novels from nothing. For me, writing is more like a dialogue with authors who’ve come before, and those destined to come after. There are endless possibilities for the imagination, revealing the secrets of our inner lives. Storytelling is about connection, about expressing experience as freshly and vividly as I’m able, so that I can reach out to my readers, sharing what we rarely can in our ordinary lives. I feel connected to my favourite authors and often pick up their works to “prime the pump” when I’m writing. If I’m having trouble with my concluding sentence or first line, it helps me to read several first lines of good stories. I don’t copy, but I get in the mind-space of “good first line” and it really seems to help! Above all, the vision and humor of Mary McCarthy, Virginia Woolf, Diane di Prima and Muriel Spark encourage me to give the reader my best effort and not hold back. I feel I write better stories, especially erotic ones, when I remember this is not about me, this about us.”

On the subject of film, Donna views it as the ‘premier storytelling form of our age’, alongside television. “When my not-so-mainstream novel Amorous Woman was published, a lot of people asked when the movie version was coming out. Not that they were totally serious, but a movie adaptation is the mark of an “important” work of fiction. I’m impressed by the collaborative nature of making a movie; it’s not just one person’s vision. A successful film requires so many different levels of artistry and co-operation. That helps me appreciate how a published work also involves various levels of dedication—editing, publishing, marketing, reaching the reader. Also, I’ve found “how to write screenplays” books more helpful for my fiction than how-to’s aimed at fiction writers. Robert McKee’s Story is an equally useful guide to writing a good novel. The focus on the structure of the story is particularly helpful, as I can sometimes get lost in the words when I’m writing.”

Lauren Bacall in ‘To Have and Have Not’ (1944) 

Speaking of the treatment of sex in film, Donna laments that the heterosexual male gaze tends to dominate. “Many ‘sexy’ movies don’t reach me emotionally. In considering the ones that have, my list includes In the Mood for Love (2000), Raise the Red Lantern (1991), The Lover (1992) and the conversation in the hotel lounge between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight (1998). I’ll add the “You know how to whistle, Steve, don’t you?” scene from To Have and Have Not (1944). What do they have in common? The exploration of the erotic through sizzling words and suggestive images, keeping the viewer suspended in a state of possibility. Actual sex scenes can destroy that magic because they reduce the act to two particular actors, whereas the moments before are tinder to the imagination. What happens off-screen occurs in our own minds and is more exciting than what we see.”

She adds, “My stories are explicit, but these films helped me realize that the sexiest scenes involve the building of tension and desire. It might not be a coincidence that the majority of the films I’ve listed are made in Asia and/or have an Asian theme. Nuance and suggestion tend to be more appreciated in Asia. Out of Sight is pure Hollywood, but they got it right at least in that one scene!”

Donna is currently researching a historical novel set in New York City, in the 1910s. “To my surprise, I’m finding the most exciting source material to be paintings from that time, in particular the Ashcan School artists, and the work of John Sloan. Photography captures things ‘as they are’ (although we know photography is an art… just look at Alfred Stieglitz) while a more impressionistic mode of painting was well established by the early twentieth century. While we might think that photographs would be a better source, to gain a sense of life at the time, I’ve found most to be stiff and posed, due to technological limitations. They’re great for buildings and costume, but a little bit low on life energy. The Ashcan School artists, however, were trying to capture the vitality of the city on their canvases; I think they succeed where photographs of the time didn’t. Photographs express the sensibility of photography, but for this project, I’m really impressed by the way John Sloan can evoke a mood, an entire personality, and a time period in a few lines or strokes of paint.”

Roofs, Summer Night (1906) – John Sloan

Donna continues, “Another theme in John Sloan’s work is his inclusion of the erotic voyeur’s experience within the painting or drawing itself. Japanese pornographic prints of the Edo period often included a figure spying on the lovers, and I appreciate how this adds an element of spice to the scene—as if our own sexual arousal is reflected in the watching figure. I’m thinking of Roofs, Summer Night (1906) and Turning Out the Light (1905). Sloan chooses scenes we might easily observe as a city dweller in less wealthy parts of town. Roofs is set on the rooftop of an apartment building where residents would sleep to gain relief from the summer heat. A man eyes sleeping women in their shifts, enjoying the exposed flesh; there’s no getting around the erotic implications. We can feel the voyeur’s desire for another man’s wife, a hundred and ten years later.”

Turning Out the Light (1905) – John Sloan

Donna notes that Turning Out the Light fascinates her in representing exactly what she wishes to do in her own writing: ‘peek into the bedroom window of the early twentieth century’. “I love how the woman is so voluptuous and eager to proceed with the evening’s activities. I love the subtle way that the man’s anticipation is shown, in his confident posture, and in the look the two lovers exchange. It’s smouldering. That one image inspires me when I need a little juice to keep going with a long and complicated story!”

“Last year I saw a staging of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable. I’d seen the film (2008) several years before and really liked it, but the acting in this particular stage version was excellent, giving me a new understanding of the power of dialogue in advancing a story. I’ve long been aware that dialogue tends to be the most arousing element in an erotic story. I try to step back and listen to my characters speaking to each other, as if I’m watching a play. So, the theatrical experience is an important part of my writing.”

“I acted as I much as I could in high school and in college, becoming someone else for a while. I’m sure that spirit lingers in my creative life.”

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and The Mammoth Book of Erotica Presents the Best of Donna George Storey 

Find her at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com

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Author Influences : Malin James

 

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 kind17465824._UY446_SS446_ 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 51M-N0h8tLL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_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, AffinitySarah 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.”

driversseatShe 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 81026and 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 CretienEngland). 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, event_venus_in_furpublished 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 actorsRita-Hayworth-Gilda-Poster 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.”

Edward Hopper Summer Evening
Edward Hopper’s Summer Evening

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.

by nicolas laborie - malin james
Malin James, photographed by Nicolas Laborie

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

malin james by nicolas laborie
Malin James, photographed by Nicolas Laborie

“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 Roadhouse Blues by Malin James jpgcompany, 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

Twitter: @MalinMJames

Facebook: Malin James

and on Go Deeper Press: www.godeeperpress.com

Author Influences : Tabitha Rayne

 

Tabitha Rayne lives with three two-eyed cats and one single-eyed cat, in the country, where she has the joy and heartbreak of rescuing injured animals. She feels certain that, if more people read erotica, they’d ‘reach out to their fellow humans more readily and world peace would ensue…’ #EroticaForWorldPeace

She declares, “My main motivation for writing erotica is to turn my readers on, and make them feel good about that. I also love to explore the inner workings of my characters, by bringing in their sexual and sensual experience. They usually have an obstacle to overcome (like the world dying around them, or a sudden, life-changing injury). It’s their intimate, inner world which drives my work. My writing doesn’t always end in sex or climax, but I like to think it’s always erotically charged. Hooray for erotica! I think it can be overlooked in terms of exploring the human psyche.”

Tabitha adds, mischievously, “It’s not all about the fucking…  though of course, it can be…”

Music is a huge influence in Tabitha’s work. She reveals, “If I want to feel horny, to get in the mood for a big fuck scene, I put on Whole Lotta Love by Led Zepplin. God, that is a sexy song. Honestly, I could go on for hours about music. I go to see bands and concerts a lot and get so fired up. No musical genre is excluded, from country to classical, rap to rock, folk to jazz, dubstep and drum n bass – I love it all.”

“If I ever need to be transported I listen to Chopin’s Valse 64 ,” Tabitha adds. “Then there’s the dark sublime grind of Be Your Dog, by the Stooges; this gets me growling with energy and desire. Music gets me so high. Really, I can hardly bear it. I go for music that grabs me and keeps me pinned – so much so that I panic if someone wants to have a conversation while the track is playing. Led Zepplin, Peaches, Aphrodite, The White Stripes, Handel, Mozart’s  Queen of the Night – from The Magic Flute… chills!”

“I played The Wolf And I, by Oh Land, over and over while writing a werewolf shifter story situated in the animal section of the museum. It was a very visceral story, strongly featuring scent and sound.”

Dance, too, has shaped Tabitha’s writing. “I adore watching rhythmic gymnastics – and ice dancing,” she explains. “I’m absolutely in awe of what humans can do with their bodies. It thrills me – absolutely thrills me – I sometimes pirouette around my garden, as if I’m a ballerina. I’m delighted by the aesthetic of the body being put through physical paces. In my stories, I often refer to the sinews and muscles moving beneath skin. The flutter of a vein, the rise of the chest. The poise of a pointed toe.”

“I saw Mathew Bourne’s version of Swan Lake. It utterly blew me away – it was so raunchy and sexual – beautiful and raw. The males as the swans really brought out a darker, more vicious, side which was delicious.”

Game On by Jack Vettriano

Tabitha’s writing has also been inspired by her love of Surrealism, especially Dali. “I get quite emotional when standing in front of an original painting,” she admits. “I love the sensuality that comes from the power of one artist and a brush. I’m obsessed by the artist/muse dynamic too. It’s a theme I explore over and over. I love the way art can capture a moment in time – especially if that’s a sexual moment, such as Game On, by Jack Vettriano. It makes me think of the electric atmosphere between artist and muse. I wrote The Conference as an exploration of this idea. I met the artist once, and tried to woo an invitation to becoming one of his models… to no avail. I also love Egon Shiele – oh there’s too many! Mucha – oh Mucha drives me wild too.”

One of Tabitha’s favourite films is Wild At Heart, by David Lynch. “I love the energy, passion and sleaze of it. It’s gloriously odd and earthy and sexual – and Nick Cage and Laura Dern are fucking hot. I love how Lynch makes you aroused and disgusted in the same moment. The need to add repulsion and, at times, shame into my work, perhaps that came as a result of watching films like this.”

Tabitha names the film Secretary as an influence on her BDSM stories, saying, “Seeing it portrayed so beautifully on screen was wonderful; it made me feel more comfortable about writing those stories. My work often delves into emotional trauma or mental health issues and how sex (and exploring your sexuality) can help.”

Speaking of her literary influences, Tabitha tells us, “Toni Morrison changed me. She was the first writer, for me, to have sensuality woven throughout every sentence – making it a rich part of her work, rather than a separate thing. In my own writing, I try to keep all things sensual. Not just when I’m writing a sex scene. I like the whole piece to have an air of arousal, of something impending.”

A lover of poetry, Tabitha expounds on Edwin Morgan’s beautiful verse. “It’s so sensual – shockingly so at times. His poem, Strawberries, has me gasping. Finding eroticism in daily things delights me.”

An extract from Tabitha’s The Gamesman

She watched as he kept lifting up logs to split and throwing them onto the pile to his left. His limbs swung in that cocksure way of a person at ease in his own physicality. Beautifully lubricated joints working in perfect unity with the muscles and bones surrounding them. The flex and glide of flesh beneath clothing and muscle beneath flesh. She was actually salivating as her eyes skated across his torso, then his ass, taking in the shape of his peachy cheeks, oh how she’d love to run her hands round and down into the waistband, and cup those perfect globes, feeling for the dip at his hip when he thrusted.

He flung a split piece of log but instead of picking up another straight away, he turned and caught her staring once more.

“Like what you see eh, lassie?”

Taken from British Bad Boys – a boxed set of stories written by bestselling and award-winning British romance authors. No one knows British bad boys better than they do!

Purchase here

About Tabitha Rayne

Tabitha Rayne has been told she is quirky, lovely and kinky – not necessarily in that order or by the same person. She writes erotic romance and as long as there’s a love scene, she’ll explore any genre. She also has a passion for painting nudes.

Tabitha is the designer of Ruby Glow – pleasure for the seated lady, a hands-free sex toy made by Rocks Off. Her Ruby Glow was nominated as ‘Most Innovative New Product’ by Erotic Trade Only, last year, and came second in Good Housekeeping magazine’s Annual Vibrator Reviews.

She has also drawn up plans for a perpetual energy machine using inverted pendulums, and is in the process of designing a hamster wheel: ‘it will be better for their little backs and smoother, for less nocturnal noise annoyance… yes, I have a noisy hamster’.

Tabitha’s novels are with Beachwalk Press and her short stories are included in anthologies from Harper Collins Mischief, Cleis Press, Stormy Nights, Totally Bound, Xcite, Oysters & Chocolate, Ravenous Romance, Burning Books Press, Velvet Books and House of Erotica.

In 2016, Tabitha was named ‘best erotic author’ by Erotic Trade Only, and is a nominee again this year. Last year, she also won the ‘EuphOff’ – a marvellous competition to award parody erotica. In 2015 and 2016, she was named among the Top 100 sex bloggers, by Molly Moore.

Find a full list of Tabitha’s books  here  – including Her Stern Gentleman – a 1950s romp, set on a cruise liner.

Read more from Tabitha at www.TabithaRayne.com and www.thebritbabes.co.uk

Follow her:

on TwitterGoogle + or Facebook

To find out more about the Ruby Glow, click here

Author Influences : Terrance Aldon Shaw

Terrance Aldon Shaw (TAS to his friends) has written more than 70 erotic short stories, 10001405_268601389969496_1314269374_nand 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.”

Terrance Aldon Shaw Moon-Haunted heart quote 2

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.”

Terrance Aldon Shaw Moon-Haunted heart quote 1

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.”

Terrance Aldon Shaw Moon-Haunted heart quote 3

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 callsprobably 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 The Moon-Haunted Heart (print cover image) 4 - Copy (4)human condition through the lens of the erotic. See my review here.

Eight Erotic Tales print (front) cover 1Another 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.)

 Find Mr. Shaw’s reviews, musings on the craft of writing and short stories on his site: Erotica for the Big Brain

Find him also:

On Smashwords 

On Amazon

On Facebook

On Goodreads

 

Author Influences : Krissy Kneen

krissy kneen author uncertain grace  

Today, I welcome Krissy Kneen. Although now focusing on fiction writing, she has previously written for theatre, for film and for television, and has directed documentaries. Inventive and provocative, she’s written across a range of genres, including erotica, science fiction, horror, memoir, and poetry.

Interested early on in Theatre of the Absurd, she tells us that ‘the obsession morphed into my love of surrealist novels’.

An enduring theme in her work is ‘coming to terms with being an outsider, finding a voice, finding other outsiders, and forming community at the margins’. Krissy explains, “In everything I write, there’s a longing for family and community. People say we only ever have one story to tell and that we tell it over and over in different ways. I really believe this is true. My latest novel, An Uncertain Grace is no exception.”

Badlands remains her favourite film, delving our quest for connection, and alienation from family. She comments, “It does so in such a poetic, minimalist way. I used to watch that movie over and over, and look at it structurally, and try to replicate that structure in my early novels.”

Speaking of her intent, she asserts, “I want a conversation with readers. I want to pose questions and then I want readers to go away and think of answers. This is how I interact with books I read and I love to share that process with others. I don’t have any answers because there are no fixed truths. All I ask of a reader is that they actively participate in the process. I want my book to be a different book to every reader.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 11.49.23Krissy explains that her love of literature began when her grandmother would pay her 20c for reading and reviewing books. She adds, “I moved on from stories about mice to Moomintroll, and by the time I hit Ray Bradbury I no longer needed the money. The books themselves became the reward. I started to write because books like R is for Rocket and S is for Space by Bradbury left so much space for me as a reader that I needed to add to the dialogue.”

Speaking of other authors’ influence on her writing, Krissy explains, “There are certain books that feel like they’ve unlocked something in my brain and I can feel more space freeing up. This is the most exciting thing for me. I felt it when I read Ray Bradbury as a child and that set me on the path to becoming a writer. Bradbury made me pick up the pen for the first time in a serious way. Before reading The Golden Apples of the Sun, I was dabbling, drawing my own picture books and writing little adventures, but Bradbury challenged me to be serious about the work. I was young but I was ready to be challenged.”

The graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, by Chris Ware, changed the way Krissy looked at the world, as did Here, by Richard McGuire. Most particularly, she is compelled by their use of nonlinear narrative. She asserts, “This was a revelation for me. I’ve felt the same thing reading Michael Ondaatje, who does amazing things with sentences. Anne Carson unlocked a new space in my brain with her poetry. Similarly, Maggie Nelson melted my brain with Bluets.”

Krissy is inspired by the way poets and graphic novelists play with form, ‘challenging what we think we’re doing as writers and making us want to engage with new forms of storytelling’.

Speaking of Lidia Yuknavitch, she tells us, “When I read The Small Backs of Children, things changed again. I felt her work physically, as if her words were pushing me, challenging me, encouraging me to fight back. She’s made me interested in writing my relationship to my family history, and has shown me new ways to approach the material. I feel challenged to start looking at genetics and family.”

krissy Kneen TriptychIt comes as no surprise that art has inspired Krissy’s work. Her family are visual artists and, as well as designing the sets for a couple of theatre shows in her youth, she enjoyed her own art exhibition. Her Triptych comprises three conjoined novellas, each named after, and referencing, well-known paintings: The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, by Katsushika Hokusai; Susanna and the Elders, by Artemesia Gentileshi, and Romulus and Remus, by Peter Paul Rubens. Krissy stresses, “I can’t seem to write anything without the inspiration of the visual arts.” An Uncertain Grace is inspired by a photo created by Sebastio Salgado, which holds a central position in her narrative.

Krissy’s latest release, An Uncertain Grace, is a novel in five parts, about who we are—our krissy kneen author interview uncertain gracebest and worst selves, our innermost selves—and who we might become.

Some time in the near future, university lecturer Caspar receives a gift from a former student called Liv: a memory stick containing a virtual narrative. Hooked up to a virtual reality bodysuit, he becomes immersed in the experience of their past sexual relationship. But this time it is her experience. What was for him an erotic interlude, resonant with the thrill of seduction, was very different for her—and when he has lived it, he will understand how.

Later…

A convicted paedophile recruited to Liv’s experiment in collective consciousness discovers a way to escape from his own desolation.

A synthetic boy, designed by Liv’s team to ‘love’ men who desire adolescents, begins to question the terms of his existence.

L, in transition to a state beyond gender, befriends Liv, in transition to a state beyond age.

Liv herself has finally transcended the corporeal—but there is still the problem of love.

 

Purchase from

Amazon UK

Amazon Australia

Text Publishing

 

About Krissy Kneen

Krissy has six books in publication (with Text Publishing and UQP) and a number of short stories and personal essays published in anthologies, newspapers and journals. Three documentaries written and directed by Krissy have been screened on SBS and ABC TV.

She tells us, “I’ve always gravitated towards work in the arts although I often threaten to quit my job and retrain as an astro-physicist. I may only be partially joking. For relaxation, I paint and experiment with symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast in fermented food experiments, most of which are deliciously successful. I am owned and operated by Heathcliff, the neighbourhood cat, who has adopted me and puts me to work as an inconvenient lap and an open-all-hours cat-restaurant. Bi-sexual by nature, I’m lucky enough to have captured and held on to the nicest and most attractive man in the world.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 11.49.23

 

Find Krissy at 

https://www.textpublishing.com.au/authors/krissykneen

www.krissykneen.com

www.furiousvaginas.com 

 

Chatting with Janine Ashbless : Angels and Dragons

I’m so excited to be hosting Janine Ashbless today, introducing the second in her Book of IBotE coverthe Watchers trilogy: In Bonds of the Earth. It’s a thought-provoking and immersive novel, setting new standards for paranormal erotic romance.  Janine’s authorial style is unforgettable. She likes to write about magic, myth and mystery, dangerous power dynamics, borderline terror, and the not-quite-human. She takes exciting risks in her storytelling; she’s innovative, and she brings fierce intelligence to all she writes. 

Cleis Press released the first in Janine’s series, Cover Him With Darkness, in 2014, to  outstanding reviews. In Bonds of the Earth is published by Sinful Press and has just been launched.

What do serpents, or dragons, have to do with the angels who fell from God’s grace? Read on…

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 13.32.38“Stretching up into the great vertical space of the tower, they had become a living helix of light—a caduceus coiled about the pillar of the world. I thought of all the legends from across the Earth. I thought of the Garden of Eden and the Great Dragon of Saint John’s Revelation; stories bookending the whole of human history.

Oh dear God—was this what they looked like before they took human shape? Giant golden serpents? Winged snakes? Is this what angels are?” – In Bonds of the Earth

Janine tells us, “This is a little story about folklore and wonderful writers’ serendipity—the kind of thing that makes my heart sing, as a confirmed pantser.

I’m writing a trilogy of novels about fallen angels. In the first, Cover Him with Darkness, my heroine Milja releases the damned Azazel from his five-thousand year imprisonment, and I mention in passing that the angels only took human form in Genesis/prehistory, when they acquired mortal women as lovers (thus incurring heavenly wrath, the Flood and so on).

What did these angels look like (if anything) before they became human, then? Well, the answer is in the ancient Hebrew texts, if you dig down. The very word “Seraphim” means “the burning ones” and the word is used in the Old Testament to denote both angelic beings and poisonous serpents. In the Book of Enoch it’s interchangeable with the word for dragon.

Seraphim were, according to Shinan and Zakovitch, originally envisaged as winged snakes Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 13.32.51with hands (remember that the Serpent of Eden is punished by being made to crawl in the dust, strongly suggested that it previously had other forms of locomotion).

So I went happily with that when filling in the details in the second book of my trilogy: In Bonds of the Earth. Now, my heroine Milja happens to be of Serbian ethnic origin, so I thought I’d have a poke round in Balkan folklore to find any specifically Serbian dragon lore.

And I came rapidly across the word zmaj (or zmey).

Zmaj are benevolent dragons with ram-like heads and winged, serpentine bodies, who protect the crops from the evil demons causing bad weather. Their blood is poisonous. They can change form and take on human aspect, and in this shape their obsessive interest is in getting into bed with human women. In fact, when thunderstorms threatened, Serbian peasants would go round the village and ritually chase the dragons away from young women in order to make them get on with their proper job!

Sons born of a Zmaj father and human mother are zmajeviti with shamanic spirit-walking powers. Many Slavic heroes both legendary and historical claimed descent from dragons.

These similarities with the fallen angels of Hebrew mythology, are—I assume—entirely coincidental. But they made me very excited and very happy! There’s an angel-child in my book and Milja knows just what to think. It all helps in adding depth to the story and to my characters.”

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More about the story

When Milja Petak released the fallen angel Azazel from five thousand years of imprisonment, she did it out of love and pity. She found herself in a passionate sexual relationship beyond her imagining and control – the beloved plaything of a dark and furious demon who takes what he wants, when he wants, and submits to no restraint. But what she hasn’t bargained on is being drawn into his plan to free all his incarcerated brothers and wage a war against the Powers of Heaven.

As Azazel drags Milja across the globe in search of his fellow rebel angels, Milja fights to hold her own in a situation where every decision has dire consequences. Pursued by the loyal Archangels, she is forced to make alliances with those she cannot trust: the mysterious Roshana Veisi, who has designs of her own upon Azazel; and Egan Kansky, special forces agent of the Vatican – the man who once saved then betrayed her, who loves her, and who will do anything he can to imprison Azazel for all eternity.

Torn every way by love, by conflicting loyalties and by her own passions, Milja finds that she too is changing – and that she must do things she could not previously have dreamt of in order to save those who matter to her.

IBotE coverBroad at the shoulders and lean at the hips, six foot-and-then-something of ropey muscle, he looks like a Spartan god who got lost in a thrift store. He moves like ink through water. And his eyes, when you get a good look at them, are silver. Not gray. Silver. You might take their inhuman shine for fancy contact lenses. Youd be wrong.” – In Bonds of the Earth

About Janine Ashbless

Janine’s books have been in print since 2000, with short stories published by Black Lace, Nexus, Cleis Press, Ravenous Romance, Harlequin Spice, Storm Moon, Xcite, Mischief Books, and Ellora’s Cave, among others. She is co-editor of the nerd erotica anthology ‘Geek Love’.

Born in Wales, Janine now lives in the North of England with her husband and two rescued greyhounds. She’s worked as a cleaner, library assistant, computer programmer, local government tree officer, and – for five years of muddy feet and shouting – as a full-time costumed Viking. Janine loves goatee beards, ancient ruins, minotaurs, trees, mummies, having her cake and eating it, and holidaying in countries with really bad public sewerage.

Her work has been described as:

“Hardcore and literate” (Madeline Moore) and “Vivid and tempestuous and dangerous, and bursting with sacrifice, death and love.” (Portia Da Costa)

Janine-Ashbless-photo credit David WoolfallLinks:

You may like to visit Janine’s website

Her blog 

Find her on Facebook

Or locate her on Sinful Press

Purchase In Bonds of the Earth from Amazon UK or Amazon US

From the Apple store or Kobo

Print copies from Sinful PressWaterstonesBarnes and Noble, and Amazon UK

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Siri Ousdahl: contradiction, paradox and CONSTRAINT – a review

Constraint is Siri Ousdahl’s debut in the genre of erotic fiction, although she has written prominently under an alternate author name for many years. She holds several prestigious writing awards and has worked extensively in publishing.

Within this, my critique of Siri Ousdahl’s novel, she joins me to discuss transgressive themes and the contradictions within our psyche. 

Constraint pulls no punches. There is no sweetening of the pill. It is a tale of kidnapping, siri-ousdahl-constraint-emmanuelle-de-maupassant-critiquerape, violence and humiliation.

Our natural response is outrage. How dare one human being treat another this way? The early phases of the story are written clearly with the intention to arouse this reaction from us.

We are told that Alex is a sadist and has always been so, musing, from the youngest age, on ropes, chains and controlled violence. As an adult, he rises to the challenge of exercising precise control. ‘He wants to work out how much he can darken her flesh without breaking her skin.’

It is from this position that Siri Ousdahl unravels her story: winding back and forth, through past and present, and presenting us, readers, ready to judge and condemn, with knots we must unpick.

What should be simple is not, because we are human, and to be human is to be a creature of paradox.

Siri, while no writer can ‘control’ the reactions they inspire in readers, your story clearly aims to manipulate strong emotional responses, shaping them in various ways as the tale progresses. In this way, where do you hope to lead your reader?

This is my first formal erotic writing. In my other world as a writer I’m committed to psychological realism, and my ambition is to elicit a complicated, conflicted reaction from my readers. Very little is unequivocally one thing or another, red or blue or green; everything is tints, shades, and blends. If our understanding of ourselves is at all realistic, it is full of unresolvable contradictions. I wanted to write a sex novel that reflected that.

When I decided to write a noncon BDSM novel, I was my primary reader, so the person I was challenging was myself. I wanted to write a book that was as morally problematic as Lolita and as sexy as The Story of O. I wanted to see whether I could balance unsentimental realism with the poetry of eroticism, telling a story that, ideally, would both repel and attract. I wanted to see how long I could stay on the tightrope without falling off.

siri-ousdahl-author-writing-quote-1Our psyche comprises contradictory elements. Linnea, we are told, is ‘an alloy’, stronger than the metals from which she is made. A powerful metaphor in the story is given through Linnea’s sculptures, which comprise contrasting, yet harmonising materials: hickory and chestnut or oak and walnut. They symbolize Linnea’s inner being. ‘There are three tiny knots… clustered like moles on a woman’s shoulder.’ This metaphor continues. ‘The twisting shapes hint at lovers entangled ankle to throat’, bound by fine steel wire, brass straps, clear glass bands, rough rope knotted. Linnea’s art is a visual representation of what she desires for herself: bondage and forced compliance. We are told that ‘wood fucks wood’ and that the scent is ‘musky, human’.

Later, we read that Alex and Linnea’s bodies are a ‘sculpture’, representing ‘blood and hunger’.

Siri, you use Linnea’s art to reveal her state of mind (both during her captivity and beforehand). Can you tell us more about your research into the art world and how you’ve used art to bring layers of meaning to the story?

As a child, I didn’t study art (though I drew a lot), but I was raised in a family that valued art, much of it carved wood and stone sculpture. I’m sure my mother would not be thrilled to know how often I touched the art, running my hands along the shapes, marvelling at the three-dimensionality of it, its gravity.

I knew Linnea was a sculptor almost before I knew anything else about her. She was strong-muscled and ‘saw’ with her hands. Her art needed to be nonverbal, because I’m entirely verbal. Her sculptures were very clear in my head from the start, and I wish I had some of them!

Her photorealistic paintings were a surprise to me, but as I spent time in her head, trapped in the siri-ousdahl-author-quote-writing-4enclosure, I knew she would become obsessive about the walls: that she would make art from this constraint, as well.

I did a lot of research into the women of the abstract expressionist movement, and I developed immense respect for them. A woman artist of the first half of the twentieth century – in any movement – was in a horrible situation: her work ignored or treated with contempt, expected to model for and/or have sex with the men who defined whether she would ever be taken seriously.

As we enter deeper into Constraint, we’re given insight into the mind of kidnapper Alex, and the subject of his fixation, Linnea. Neither are as they seem and, as the story unfolds, the paradoxes within their natures are made more explicit.

A central theme of the story is our inward battle: our desire for self-determination and our wish to surrender some part of ourselves, to forfeit control, to allow another human ‘under our skin’, even (or sometimes, especially) where we know that surrender has the power to harm us. Most love stories explore, to some extent, this contradictory push and pull. In Constraint, there is an overt ‘battle’ between Linnea and Alex.

We’re told that the attraction for Alex is the paradox of the situation: that he enjoys Linnea’s compulsion to fight him, while witnessing her simultaneous arousal, seemingly against her wishes. He enjoys the ‘battle’ yet also wishes ‘for her to want him as much as he wants her’. We witness Alex’s violence towards Linnea, yet also his tenderness. ‘She has rolled close to him in her sleep, with her hands tucked close to his ribs and her face pressed against his shoulder… He…turns his face into her sleep knotted hair and breathes and breathes and breathes.’

We also see Alex’s compulsion to lose himself to a place of otherness, of transcendence. ‘He snaps the switch lightly against his forearm. It’s barely a touch, and the bright sting is no more challenging than walking out into icy-cold air or biting into raw ginger, but a faint white stripe flares and flushes red, a color shift as sudden as an octopus shifting camouflage. He observes this siri-ousdahl-author-writing-quote-3with interest. He is dropping into the strange, abstract space where she stops being entirely real to him, where he stops being real to himself: the no-place that is all places, and their bodies become geometries and his body and brain divide themselves into pieces simultaneously dissociative and entirely, pulsingly, engaged.’

While whipping Linnea, Alex ‘…does not think as he builds rhythms, patterns… He switches to using both floggers, infinite eights overlapping. And faster, until he is breathless, fighting a strange wild laugh that is rooted not in his mind but his body’s work… Linnea is barely present in his mind; she is also the entire focus of all his attention.’

Meanwhile, we learn that, as a child, Linnea played games of self-torture for pleasure. ‘In her teens she started to make sense of it all. She read Réage, Millet, Nin, Roquelaure, McNeill; eventually (with a horrified blend of alienation and recognition) de Sade.’ Linnea ‘knew she longed for bondage and all the sorts of torment ingenious men and women had developed. She was hungry for the whip, the collar, marks.’ She ‘knows that her body will respond in complicated ways—as it always has been complex, pain and pleasure tangled like necklaces tossed onto a bed…’

In this way, they are sexually well matched. We are told that their ‘games and rituals’ are such as ‘their natures decree’. Linnea watches coyotes outside, dancing, playing, fighting, then mating: another metaphor for her relationship with Alex.

Siri, can you tell us more about the psychology of the dynamic between your siri-ousdahl-author-quote-writing-6protagonists?

 I was a lot like Linnea as a girl, with a high tolerance for pain and a craving for adventure that was not satisfied by my quiet upbringing. I did many dangerous and stupid things, all of them exhilarating. I was also a pain in the neck, for reasons I did not then understand: My mother says that I would ‘cruise for a spanking’, restless and clearly pushing rule after rule until I eventually did get spanked – ‘and then you would calm right down, happy and settled’ – which is how I remember it, as well.

My nature decreed what I wanted, even as a child. As I became sexual in my late teens, I found I moved effortlessly into BDSM, though I didn’t always understand how to get what I needed until I was in my 30s. As an adult, I have both topped and subbed for floggings, whippings, bondage, D/s, and many other things. When I write, I write from experience.

Despite this, I think I understand Alex better than I understand Linnea. Writing is basically a top’s game: I write something to elicit a response. I design a scene and then execute it and if I do it right, the reader feels things they didn’t expect. I am in charge, though the reader can always safeword out, put down the book and walk away.

In exploring the theme of constraint and freedom, we see the metaphor of inside and siri-ousdahl-author-quote-writing-6outside spaces – looking inward and outward. Linnea struggles against Alex’s constraint of her freedom, but we come to see that her constraint is also internal. ‘She’s a coyote in a leg-hold trap, chewing at her own ankle.’ When she asks what he wants from her, he laughs, evading, ‘because the answer is love and he cannot admit that’. Linnea evades, as well. ‘It is not the house and enclosure that blocks honesty; their constraints travel with them.’

Alex seeks tension. He ‘draws a narrow line around Linnea and longs for the moments she breaks past them… What hawk comes to your hand without training, without bribes and constraints…? How is this different than other, more conventional relationships?’ He muses that even true love is built from ‘unconscious accommodations, invisible chains.’

The non-consensual elements of Constraint are, by nature, disturbing, while yet having power to arouse. It is this very juxtaposition that makes the story compelling, since we are encouraged to examine paradoxes within our own behaviour. You’re exploring where many authors fear to tread. Siri, what inspired you to choose this theme, of our contradictory, paradoxical, self-destructive nature, and of the constraints we carry within us?

A correctly structured BDSM experience (or relationship) has clear rules and expectations, but many ‘traditional’ experiences do not: in most relationships, love and trust change meaning unilaterally, over time, without negotiation. A lot of BDSM fiction is actually terrible BDSM: even if the sex/play itself is safe, sane, and consensual – even if there are contracts – the characters lie, manipulate, gaslight, misdirect, and cheat their way into the relationship.

Alex is, at least, honest about what he wants, to the extent he understands it.

Having delved into Linnea’s romantic past, Alex challenges her lack of intimacy with siri-ousdahl-author-writing-quote-2anyone. She resists, saying, “No one is anyone’s.” Later, taunted by dominatrix Klee, Linnea asserts, “I am not yours. I am no one’s.” Klee responds, “So sad. We all belong to someone…”

We see Alex’s desire topossess’ Linnea, to make her love him, while this can never be true until she wishes it to be so, until she recognizes an emotional connection to him.

The relationship between Linnea and Alex progresses, through shared intimacies, until she feels that he is ‘seeing her, actual her, instead of whatever he usually sees when he looks at her’. We read that he sees ‘she is her own person’.

By the closing pages, he has accepted that his non-consensual treatment of her has been unacceptable, to the extent that he is willing to suffer any consequences (including imprisonment). He notes that he no longer has ‘certainty that his decisions are the right ones’.

Alex tells Linnea explicitly that he loves her and offers that she may choose what happens next, even if it means her turning him in to the police. He has the power to continue as he did, but recognizes his error in having attempted to force her love.

Meanwhile, Linnea admits to Alex that she believes he knows her as no one else does, and chooses to submit because it is what SHE wishes, not because it is forced upon her. ‘Her skin is her own. She is not afraid of him. She never has been; fear was never the thing that kept her here.’

Siri, did you consider other conclusions to Constraint or, for you, was this ending inevitable?

As with The Story of O, several endings are possible. This is the HEA ending, or as close as a story like this could honestly have – and it is dependent on where I typed ‘The End’. I can’t believe they bdsm-erotic-fiction-story-of-o-pauline-reagewill stay together as things are, but there’s a sequel I have thought about that starts six months from now, when Linnea has left Alex and ends up in Switzerland, using Klee, Berndt, Vadim (and others) to make sense of her experience. Can they return to one another after that? Depends on the next book.

There’s also a less romantic ending where she escapes or he lets her go and she returns to her life (or a life) without talking about this to the police – which is how women often address rape. And an ending where she does turn him in, and has to then deal with the fact that she will never be as satisfied sexually, as seen by her partner, as she was with him.  

Fiction, within the safety of its pages, invites us to explore what disturbs us, to process what is written and to respond. It asks us to reflect upon our own behaviour, our motivations and compulsions. The non-consensual theme of Constraint is liable to inspire controversy, reaching as it does into realms of discomfort for many readers. To anyone who would criticize the story as eroticism of rape, how would you respond?

It’s fiction. In what way is this different than reading book after book about a murderer? If someone is fucked up enough to think that an erotic novel gives them permission to rape someone, the problem is the rapist’s. That said, we do live in a culture permeated with sexual violence against women; the (substantial) percentage of women who like to read or watch noncon and dubcon erotica are as conditioned to this as the men who think it’s okay to rape. A hundred years from now, if we sort out rape culture, will books like this still be being written? I don’t know, though I have theories.

I am an intelligent, philosophically inclined woman who values honesty in interpersonal dealings. I am writing this book as a direct response to the artificiality of most noncon and dubcon fiction. Is it eroticizing rape? It is also engaging directly what what’s wrong with eroticizing rape. It’s a complicated stance.

Siri, your language is both precise and lyrical. Which authors have inspired you in creating your distinctive voice?lolita-nabokov

I was thinking a lot of Lolita while I was working on this. Nabokov never sets a foot wrong: every word is exactly calibrated. I was also thinking a lot about the French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet’s strangely opaque voice.

I’ve no doubt that readers will anticipate further works from you. Can you share what’s in store?

I do write fiction under another name, and some of Siri’s readers may recognize her voice elsewhere. I have thought about writing about Klee as a young woman in 1970s France: how did she become the woman she is? I was partway through the book when I read a recent Vanity Fair article about erotic novelist/octogenarian dominatrix Catherine Robbe-Grillet, wife of writer Alain (and what a strange coincidence that was). Robbe-Grillet has a lot in common with Klee, I realized.

siri-ousdahl-constraint-emmanuelle-de-maupassant-critiqueI’m also researching an erotic fantasy novel! Yes, research: I can’t bring myself to write anything without lots and lots of reading ahead of time.

Thank you once again to Siri for taking time to discuss her intent in writing and the complex psychologies of her work.

If you’d like to read Constraint, you’ll find it for sale, here.

You can also find Siri at Visconti Press

Read more from Siri on motivations in writing erotic fiction here, as part of the 130 Authors series.

You may also like to read critique of Constraint written by Remittance Girl, here, and by Terrance Aldon Shaw, of Big Brain Erotica, here.

 

Women Writing The Erotic: Part Three

erotic-fiction-women-writersIn this series (within the 130 authors survey), I’m sharing women’s views on exploring sexuality through fiction. If you haven’t already read Part One or Part Two,  it’s best to begin there.

Here, we look at what first inspired these women authors to tackle sexual themes, and the significance of gender to their work.

In writing erotic fiction, sex is the lens through which we explore our world and our identity. Our writing is a pathway to knowing ourselves: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In expressing our understanding of our sexual self, looking at how erotic impulse shapes us, we recognize that we are more than intellect, and more than emotion. We are also ‘of the body’.

Ina Morata tells us, “Sex is the medium I use to investigate psychological boundaries: my personal insecurities and fears. I explore who I am and see how far I can push myself. Erotica, more than any other genre I’ve worked in, allows me to do this without feeling contained or isolated. Writing erotica has been the best move I’ve ever made; I’ve evolved so much since I began.”

Remittance Girl urges us to write with honesty, and without fear, embracing whatever understanding of pleasure and eroticism is true for us. She notes, “Society offers rigid ideals of the right and wrong way to experience, pursue and satisfy desire… It’s hard to conceive of new eroticisms, because we fear that people will judge us if we veer too far away from the accepted.”

RG asserts “As writers, we all write a little of ourselves into our stories, and we all have a tendency to protect ourselves. This is especially true, I think, with erotic fiction. Our understanding of what is erotic, how to be erotic, how to ‘see’ pleasure, use pleasure, give pleasure seems to reflect so strongly back on ourselves.” She warns us to be brave in how we write, avoiding self-censorship through fear of judgement.

Meanwhile, writing the erotic can help in eroding sexual stigma, encouraging women, and men, to voice their desire more honestly. As Rose Caraway asserts, “I want to break down notions of sex being ‘bad’. We mustn’t be afraid or ashamed.”

First Inspirations and Influences

A remarkable number of the women taking part in the 130 authors survey have a background in the visual and performing arts, which they universally acknowledge as an influence on their writing. Jane Gilbert studied art history, as did Nya Rawlyns. Meanwhile, Renee Rose, Malin James and Adrea Kore trained in dance. Jade A Waters has studied circus arts. Madeline Moore has worked as a screenwriter for television, while Krissy Kneen and Tobsha Learner have worked in playwriting, and Adrea in stage direction. Jade, Malin, Lee Savino, Elizabeth Black and Suzette Bohne’ Sommers have also worked in theatre. I could go on…

Adrea Kore describes her search for ‘new and evocative ways of writing about feminine desire and describing the desiring female body’, influenced by her time as a sculptor’s life model, her study of dance and theatre, and her many years in stage direction. She notes her fascination with stories ‘of growth, transformation and dislocation, felt through and mediated by the body’ and ‘translating the physical arts into words: my experiences of dancing and life-modelling’. She relates, ‘…more arduously, carving out narratives of sexual trauma. Death. Then, the sensual pleasures. Sex. Light, dark, light, dark. lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-eroticAlways this dance, and writing has helped me embrace the totality in the supposed contradictions.’ – read more here

Tobsha Learner began exploring feminist/sexual themes while studying sculpture, before moving into playwriting. There she continued to delve sexuality and gender, and became inspired to write her first erotic short story collection, Quiver.

(find out more about Tobsha here, in my interview).

Krissy Kneen similarly began by writing for the theatre, alongside film, and comes from a family of painters and sculptors, which she cites as an influence. She notes, “There are so many facets of the erotic. I’m drawn to those which lead me to extend myself. I explore. The surrealists taught me to go beyond the knowable and I have followed that call.She stresses her ‘never ending quest to express sex as a growing changing thing’ and emphasizes her ‘desire to transgress’, saying, “I’ve been boundary pushing since I started writing about sex. I experience the world in a very physical way. It’s how I relate to the world in general.”

Malin James trained as a ballet dancer with the San Francisco Ballet before being accepted into NYU’s acting programme, noting that her acting training influences her writing in subtle ways. She states that her writing of erotic elements wasn’t a conscious decision but the result of feeling stifled by avoiding sexual themes. Malin says, “I write to explore and reflect experiences. I like digging beneath a constructed, social surface to get at an emotional reality.”

Donna George Storey describes her writing style as literary, feminist (focusing on the female experience) and realistic. She lived in Japan for three years, receiving a Ph.D. in Japanese literature, and her writing is influenced by Japanese poetics and the literature of the ‘pleasure quarters’. She states her desire to ‘report on the truth of the female experience’. Her storytelling ‘always turned to erotic themes’ and she believes that erotica can be intelligent, challenging and mind-expanding, exciting to the mind as well as to the libido’. She recalls being struck by Di Prima’s ‘brilliant description of several kissing styles’ [in ‘Memoirs of a Beatnik’], saying, “It still amazes and challenges me to capture the truth of the erotic experience in my own work.”

(more on first inspiration here)

The Compulsion To Write

Some women note a very early awareness of sexuality, and a desire to express this on the page. Cecilia Tan wrote on this topic in childhood notebooks and diaries, even from the age of six.

nya-rawlyns-erotic-fiction-quote-women-writersOthers discovered the liberation of writing much later.

Nya Rawlyns asserts, having spent ‘seven decades on this planet’, that writing is never passive. It is a ‘contact sport, dangerous, exhilarating, totally engaging’. She underlines, “I’ve worked at several different careers, and had an uncommon amount of tragedy and strife in my life. I have scars aplenty and I wear them with pride, along with the wrinkles of failure and the thinning skin of hope.” Nya notes her excitement at writers ‘peeling away the socially acceptable and revealing layer-by-layer the most intimate cravings of tortured souls’. She tells us, “I want to step far outside the boundaries of acceptable and explore the intersect of pain and pleasure, right and wrong, good and bad, need and desire.”

Elizabeth Safleur states,I can’t imagine writing anything that doesn’t involve sex on some level. Sex is part of the human experience. It’s one thing every human being has in common – either by avoiding it, being scared by it, recognizing its power (or not), having it, or trying to get it. How anyone can leave out such a powerful element in a story about love, I’ll never know.”

Cate Ellink recounts, “At a manuscript development week with other unpublished female writers, I realized that I was the only one comfortable writing fully depicted sex scenes. I began to see it as a strength, which gave me courage to move into the erotic genre and look at publication.”

Brantwijn Serrah recalls being ‘wildly curious’ about erotic novels. She tells us, “I read short stories first, as I imagine most do. Unfortunately, the first I read was incredibly disappointing. I felt so let down, I decided to write my own… and found compelling, emotive energy from the exercise.”lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-women

KD Grace comments that it was never her intention that her stories be only erotic, but that she has ‘always found sex to be a fantastic catalyst’. She asserts, “Few actions can change a story more dramatically than sex properly placed. I can’t imagine trying to tell a story without sex included. Neither can I imagine writing sex that isn’t an integral part of a story.”

Kay Jaybee admits to feeling surprised by her impulse to write erotic themes. “I had no intention of writing erotica that first day, sat in a cafe in Scotland at the age of 33. I was daydreaming out of the window, having not written a thing since I left university, when an idea suddenly came that was so naughty it shocked me. It wouldn’t let me go, so I wrote it down on a napkin. The story was taken by Violet Blue three months later. That was nearly twelve years ago, and I’ve never looked back.” She adds that it’s now ‘an obsession’. “If I ‘m not writing, I’m not me.”

Lily Harlem echoes this sentiment, saying, “I ‘have’ to write; it’s very much part of my daily life. I simply write because I love to.”

Telling Women’s Stories

One of Madeline Moore’s first erotically themed tales (writing as Madeline de Chambray) was for an anthology entitled Amazons: tall tales of strong women, about a woman who loses her breast to cancer.

nya-rawlyns-women-writers

Alexis Alvarez asserts her desire to see ‘female-centric’ portrayals of BDSM and sexuality in fiction. She explains, “Most stories, for all of their modern settings and vocabulary, remain stuck in a patriarchal mind-set.”

Donna George Storey emphasizes, “I definitely identify as a woman writer. One of the main reasons I write is because I believe we need more female voices in the chorus of literary expression. I know we are supposed to respect the creative effort of every artist and applaud a writer’s attempt to write across gender. When someone does this well, it is a pleasure to read (plus I applaud every effort to empathize with people who are different from ourselves). However, often, I find that when men write female characters, they don’t connect with the deeper aspects of the female experience. Women (and other groups discriminated against) have not had enough of a chance to share their own experiences honestly. Those are the stories I feel are worth my time to read and write.”

Malin James comments ‘being a woman is the only gendered experience of which I have first hand experience’. She continues, “There are issues, such as sexual abuse, reproductive health and abuse in relationships, upon which I take an entirely gendered view. My perspective on these issues is reflexively female and, while I strive for a balanced perspective, I honor and acknowledge that bias.”

Zak Jane Keir tells us, “I write as a woman; I identify pretty much as a woman and a feminist (this is not making any claims to superiority over men, transpeople or the gender fluid, just a statement that I am content to be me). I like to write about women and women’s sexual autonomy and their independence.”

Within and Beyond Gender

Cate Ellink asserts that she prefers to write from a female perspective, since it is the one she knows and feels confident with, worrying that an attempt at male perspective would weaken her storytelling. Similarly, Christina Mandara is adamant that she writes with strong identification as a woman and believes that, in writing men, she is less skilled than a male author would be.

Madeline Moore states, “Even when writing from the point-of-view of a man, I’m a female writer.” She believes, ‘the discrepancy between what men think women want and what a woman actually wants is enormous’.cecilia-tan-erotic-fiction-quote

However, a number of women authors note their desire to write without a predominantly female voice, preferring to focus on character, regardless of gender. Cecilia Tan underlines, The gender of the character is irrelevant. I’ve written more male protagonists than female, as well as trans characters and characters who magically change gender partway through. I’m biologically female, and my social identification is female, but my self-identification has never been particularly female/feminine.”

Madeline Moore tells us, “I’ve always written from a male perspective as well as female, just as I’ve always written characters of colour and I’ve written sexual orientations and fetishes that differ from my own.”

KD Grace raises an interesting point in her belief that writing from a male perspective gives her ‘permission to explore erotic themes more directly’.

A growing number of women authors feel the same way, choosing to write M-M erotic fiction, stating the motivation that protagonists can be more easily presented as ‘equals’, without navigating social baggage of the roles/expectations of M-F power balance.

Writing Our Own Truths jeanette-winterson-author-quote

Tobsha Learner notes the struggle to find ‘a sexy word for vagina – something that purrs as well as has claws’. Her comment is playful but she touches upon an issue at the heart of women’s writing of the erotic.

Our sexuality is multi-layered, and the ways in which we express our desire are just as complex. We are fluid. We are changeable. We are the tiger and we are the pussy cat.

We, as writers, are exploring the many facets of desire.

We are liberating our voices.

As the reader, you can liberate yours too.

Further Reading 

Coming Soon…

Writing Craft

Authors’ Recommended Reads

Author Inspirations: film, theatre, dance, fiction, art, music

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou, Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydCecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri OusdahlZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersKD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsSessha Batto, Rose CarawayTabitha RayneElizabeth Safleur, Devi AnseviK. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterLucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezLily HarlemMadeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertCharlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Lee SavinoElizabeth BlackFelicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoAmelia SmartsSue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson YoungEmma JayeDee Maselle, Christina MandaraSue LyndonRebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa WuJaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Women Writing The Erotic: Part Two

women-writing-erotic-fictionIn this series (within the 130 authors survey), I’m sharing women’s views on exploring sexuality through fiction. If you haven’t already read Part One, it’s the best place to begin.

Here, we look at recurring themes within erotic fiction. 

What do we find to challenge and empower us?

What motivates us to write within this diverse, often liberating, yet sometimes misunderstood genre?

Writing ‘sex’ is a pathway to understanding. We recognize that we are more than intellect, and more than emotion. We are also ‘of the body’.

In writing erotic fiction, we use sex as the lens through which we explore our world and our identity.

We, as writers, look at how sexual impulse shapes our motivations, and how it impacts our relationships.

We speak our desire and, in doing so, our voices only become more powerful.

At its best, erotica reaches far beyond formulaic parameters and the ‘comfort’ of perceived ideals.

At its best, there are no parameters.

Kristina Lloyd asserts, “The erotic disrupts, destabilizes and threatens order, both personal and social, and its power is widespread and pervasive.”

lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-truth-of-bodyChristina Mandara voices the opinion that women’s reading material is being dictated to them: a view shared by Sorcha Black, who believes, “The policing of women’s sexuality includes censoring what we read.”

While being receptive to critique (as would be expected in any genre) we, as authors, need to stand resolute in our belief that sexuality is a valid theme for literary exploration, and that we have the power to write as we see fit.

I.G. Frederick notes, with frustration, “It’s perfectly acceptable to use sex to sell anything from cars to beer, but we’re discouraged from examining the impact of sex on relationships in works of fiction.”

Many of the women taking part in this survey note commercial ‘constraints’ within the genre — such as are difficult to ignore for any writer seeking to earn an income from their work. However, we can argue that responsibility lies with us, as authors, to become less commercially risk-averse. If we write from a place of truth, we’ll find our audience.

Brantwijn Serrah praises erotica’s ability to play with possibilities, assisting ‘readers and authors in exploring new ideas about sexuality’.

Fiction Mirrors and Identifying the ‘Self’

In exploring the psychology of desire, how we behave ‘in the raw’, erotic fiction invites us to open our minds to all possibilities. It has the power to delve not just our fantasies but our truths. It holds a mirror to versions of our ‘self’ rarely let out in polite company; within that mirror, we gain deeper understanding.

nya-rawlyns-author-quote-erotic-fiction-literature-21st-century-emmanuelle-de-maupassantRemittance Girl, in her article, On Writing Erotica, explains her desire ‘to articulate the conflict within ourselves, to make sense of it, and then to reach out to others via the page’. Nya Rawlyns believes the genre has the power to ‘redefine how we see ourselves and our society’.

Sessha Batto emphasizes that her goal is ‘to trace a character’s growth, as revealed through sex’ and to ‘dig deeply into a character’s personality and motivations’, as ‘catalysts for growth and personal discovery’.

Malin James states,Authorial intent comes down to one thing: I want to understand.” She underlines that fiction ‘can reflect the human condition in all its individual, specific forms. It can explore the cause and effects that drive our lives and form our emotional realities.” She adds, “I write to explore and reflect experiences. I like digging beneath a constructed, social surface to get at an emotional reality.” – read more from Malin on her intent here and hereremittance-girl-quote-fiction-reality-author-erotic-fiction

Fantasy v. Realism

Fantasy (all the ‘what ifs’ of our imagination) is a well-recognised aspect of erotic fiction. If not here, then where else, can we explore ‘the forbidden’. As Malin James stresses, “While a great deal of erotica falls into a realistic vein, much of what people actually want is that which they can’t (or don’t feel they can) have in real life. This is why rape fantasies, incest and other transgressive sexual acts continue to sell erotica and generate clicks.” – more on ‘fantasy’ here

 Janine Ashbless sees fiction as ‘a safe area in which to let our darker selves, our fears and our desires, out for a little exercise…’

It may seem contradictory to seek out greater realism within erotic fiction.siri-ousdahl-author-quote-erotic-fiction-21st-century-emmanuelle-de-maupassant-sex However, the majority of writers with the 130 authors survey assert a desire to write recognizable, diverse characters, and situations, with psychological depth, to better allow readers to empathize, and enter into alternate possibilities.

Siri Ousdahl declares, “I’d like there to be a larger place for high-quality, graphic sex writing: fiction that is not coy, does not romanticize or trivialize, and is psychologically realistic.”

Tobsha Learner comments,I like to make my characters normal people with fallible, normal bodies of all ages. The premise being that lust, sex and love is not just something that happens to gorgeous under thirty year olds, with ridiculously youthful and beautiful billionaires.” She asserts, “There is a certain joyful bawdy finger up to the Heavens when such coup de foudres fall upon our heads, whether we be 80, 50, 30 or 16.”

Similarly, CA Bell declares, “I’d like to see sexy, real, and honest writing: no billionaires who can shag for hours and come five times a night.” In her own words, Elizabeth Safleur writescontemporary billionaire erotic romance with a lot of fantasy’ but admits that she’d ‘like to read stories that involve real people, who aren’t great at being together (yet) and figure it out’. She adds, “Instead of the sex being amazing right off the bat, what did they do to make it great? I’d like to read something that allows for insecurities… vulnerabilities can be sexy.”

Diversity

Krissy Kneen tells us, “I’d like to see a broader range of people represented, fat people, old people, the disabled, all types of sexual orientations. I’d also like to see more gender fluidity. I think the masculine/feminine divide is boring and needs to be retired. Manly men and femme women is a cliché that really must go.”

Zak Jane Keir is keen to see more trans characters represented in stories remittance-girl-erotic-fiction-quote(where the plot extends beyond the surprise reveal of them actually being a §transperson). She laments the ‘generic’ in erotic fiction.

Sorcha Black also asserts her goal of challenging assumptions about gender roles and sexual attraction by avoiding ‘stereotypes’. She explains, “A lot of my characters are sexually fluid and are also into kink. I don’t have to limit myself to what’s expected. It’s far too easy to paint caricatures.”

On the theme of ‘perfection’, Madeline Moore states, ”We’re all looking for it and when we’re in love we believe, for a brief time, that we’ve found it.” However, she laments that women often feel that sexual encounters should be ‘perfect’, while men have ridiculous expectations of ‘perfection’.

Lily Harlem underlines her interest in exploring flawed characters, ‘because no one in real life is perfect or makes the right decisions all of the time’. Meanwhile, Donna George Storey notes that fantasy sex is ‘soothing’ but that she’s ‘now trying to capture something more real’. She explains, “I appreciate that erotic fiction often explores a world where characters are free of sexual repression. You meet a gorgeous partner, fall into bed immediately, and the physical tobsha-learner-erotic-fiction-quoteexperience is fantastic even though you don’t know his/her name. The female version usually has the gorgeous partner falling in love for the first time in his life after the aforementioned great sex.” Donna asserts, “I’d like to see more celebration of the magic of sex between people who know each other well. I’d like to acknowledge that time and trust are important in creating a situation where great sex can happen. Couples who’ve been together for a long time are not necessarily bored with each other. They can go deeper, they can play, they know each other well enough to trust it will be mutually enjoyable.”

Cecilia Tan notes her aim to write ‘power dynamics between lovers’ and the ‘ways they explore each other’s inner lives, imagination, and fantasies’.

In the realm of BDSM themed erotic fiction, Nicolette Hugo would like to see ‘alternate sexuality explored more positively’, stating her irritation with ‘sadism being relegated to villains.’. KD Grace explains, “I’m sick to death of weak, cardboard women being written as subs and mean, unlikable, men being written as Doms (or, even worse, as really creepy, stalker types). I want depth, I want a connection that has more to do with what drives the characters, and with the chemistry between them, and less to do with the trappings.”

Zak Jane Keir expresses her desire ‘to share a worldview that isn’t entirely mainstream’.

Meanwhile, Adrea Kore reminds us, “Human sexuality is vast, varied, and complex. The spectrum of people’s turn-ons and kinks is almost verging on infinite. And so is writing about it. As authors, we don’t all have to be covering the same ground… there is room for diversity.” – more here

Themes: Identity

Many authors view ‘identity’ as a prevalent theme, often expressed through understanding of the self (and what motivates our behaviour). Cate Ellink describes this as ‘finding your place in the world’. Malin James notes that she is drawn by the fluidity of the concept of self, and ‘sexuality as a window into deeper understanding of ourselves and each other’.

Cari Silverwood asserts that her stories aim to make us question our ‘relationship with the world and humanity’, to the point where we are ‘uncomfortable and, even, disturbed’. She embraces writing fiction with ‘an inherent moral challenge’.

Remittance Girl, in exploring darker elements of human nature — ‘guilt, emmanuelle-de-maupassant-erotic-fiction-writing-quotemistrust, fear and emotional wounding’ — shows characters obliged to ‘reconstruct their identity in the light of what they’ve done’ –more here. We watch her characters push through their inner-sanctions, and see how they deal with the consequences. In this way, her work exposes our uncertainty and our inconsistencies.

Elizabeth Safleur states her fascination with the theme ofbecoming more yourself’, telling us, “Most of my women are fiercely independent… [but] often find it difficult to reconcile that quality with their submissive and other kink/BDSM yearnings. I’ve noticed a new pattern lately, which is people believing they don’t deserve love, not deep down. Who said writing isn’t cathartic?”

Brantwijn Serrah also explores the theme of identity, of ‘who we are in our most naked moments’. She asserts, “It’s amazing to me how much can be understood through our sexual self.” Nicolette Hugo similarly refers to ‘acceptance of self’ as a theme in her work.

Themes: Truth and Deceit

So many authors, across the centuries, have sought ‘truth’ and, conversely, examined the deceits we perpetrate.

Erotic fiction well lends itself to exploring ‘grey areas of morality’, as Tobsha Learner calls them: to the small lies we tell ourselves, to our unspoken motivations, to the ways in which we manipulate or make use of others. Nicolette Hugo refers to this ‘moral duality’ in her own work, alongside ‘the marriage of sex and violence’.

Donna George Storey states her major theme as ‘the lies we tell, whether malevolent or benevolent… and especially lies involving sex’. Donna explains, %22we-must-kill-the-false-woman-who-is-preventing-the-live-one-from-breathing-%22-quote-helene-cixous“I love exploring the slippery relationship between truth and fiction. The stories I value convey truths that spring from careful thought and deep feeling, truths we often keep secret from others and ourselves. Exploring those truths is what I aim for when I write.”

Sessha Batto views sex as ‘a vehicle of revelation, a way to expose characters when they are most open and vulnerable’. She writes sex to ‘expose the parts we tend to keep hidden’.

Themes: Freedom and Constraint

Another common theme for exploration is that of the nature of freedom (as explored in Siri Ousdahl’s novel, ‘Constraint’). We speak of sexual liberation as a form of ‘freedom’: to make our own choices, without inhibition or shame.

The pursuit of freedom is a preoccupation of my own, although I little realized it when I began writing, exploring the myriad ways in which women are ‘pinned’, ‘exhibited’ and ‘dissected’ by society.

Cecilia Tan takes this idea further in linking sexual expression to creative expression. “Just last weekend I was in a workshop for writers where I discovered that one of my main underlying themes is equating sexuality with creativity at a metaphoric level. My characters tend to be not only on a search for love and sexual gratification; this is usually tied up with their need for creative or artistic expression.”

cecilia-tan-erotic-fiction-quoteShe adds that the public versus private face of a person can exist not only in terms of their sexuality (how they express it to the world versus how they are in private) but their art form (dance, painting, sculpture, music, songwriting, writing, and so on).

Themes: Connection, Yearning, Trust

Tobsha Learner asserts, “The erotica reader doesn’t just want to look; they want to be in the skin of the protagonists. They need to feel the aching frustration and longing and then the blissful release of orgasm, both in the emotional, physical and sometimes spiritual sense.”

Tobsha underlines the importance ofpsychological foreplay’ in erotic fiction (a factor that is largely irrelevant to pornography) – more here.

Lily Harlem asserts her exploration of the ‘many complications that arise from the emotions of love and lust’ – a theme mentioned by many who responded to the 130 authors survey. A significant number underlined, as we might expect, interest in delving the complexities of connection and, as Malin James calls them, ‘social and sexual power dynamics’.

Kay Jaybee, alongside quite a few of the respondent authors, is fascinated by the BDSM world. She tells us, “I don’t inhabit that world, but the psychology of it, the dynamic of total trust that it requires, is an endless source of inspiration.” Meanwhile, Madeline Moore tells us that she writes about people who are ‘in a state of yearning’ or ‘obsession’.

sign-my-death-with-your-teeth%22-author-quote-helene-cixousThemes: Mortality

Shanna Germain notes her desire to break open the relationship between sex and death, to ask her characters ‘How are you going to handle this? Will you grow and change? Will you show your true self? Or will you hide?’ Malin James, too, finds herself returning often to explorations of mortality and ‘the relationship between sex and death’, as does Christina Mandara. 

Cultural Relevance

Shanna Germain underlines that, of all genres, erotica (and horror) most reflect ‘the mores of our current culture’. She tells us, “Sci-fi looks ahead, fantasy looks back, literary fiction looks askance. But erotica looks right at the now and says, ‘This is happening, in the streets, in the bedrooms, in the bars.’ Where will erotica, as a genre go? It will go where the culture goes. I hope it goes somewhere open-minded, joyous, and hot as fuck.”

As Remittance Girl asserts, “I hope that I can play some small role in the evolution of erotic writing and help, if only in a tiny way, to push it into the light, and towards being recognized as a fertile and unconstrained form of critically recognized literature.” She urges us, “We are adventurers. We are explorers. Be brave. Dare to write what frightens and unsettles us, as well as what delights us. In doing so, we may write words worth remembrance.” – more here

It’s time for us to write our own rules.

We can be whoever we wish to be.

Own your sexuality, own your voice, own your words.

In Part Three: Inspirations, influences, and the relevance of gender

Further Reading 

Coming Soon…

Writing Craft

Authors’ Recommended Reads

Author Influences: music, theatre, dance, fiction, art

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou, Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydCecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri OusdahlZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersKD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsSessha Batto, Rose CarawayTabitha RayneElizabeth Safleur, Devi AnseviK. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterLucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezLily HarlemMadeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertCharlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Lee SavinoElizabeth BlackFelicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoAmelia SmartsSue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson YoungEmma JayeDee Maselle, Christina MandaraSue LyndonRebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa WuJaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Women Writing The Erotic

women-writing-erotic-fictionIn this series (within the 130 authors survey), I’ll be sharing women’s views on exploring sexuality through fiction.

Which themes tug to be unravelled and explored?

What motivates us, challenges us, empowers us – as readers and as writers?

Women are not only the predominant readers of erotica but form the lion’s remittance-girl-erotic-fiction-author-quoteshare of authors, and our voices are growing louder.

More of us than ever are letting rip on the page, opening our sexual imagination. As we know, when it comes to erotic fantasy, it’s more fun when you’re sharing.

Women continue to face battle after battle for equal rights, respect and recognition, across every sphere imaginable, but when it comes to erotic fiction, our feet are firmly under the table.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we’re stepping into an age where we’ll have the freedom to read (and write) what we damn well like: within the pages of erotic fiction, and beyond.

In her interview with The Paris Review, Ursula K. Le Guin nailed it in saying: ‘Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.’

ursula-k-le-guin-women-writers-emmanuelle-de-maupassantThere’s still a degree of censorship, and traditional publishers remain somewhat cautious about stepping outside of the box, but, if we keep writing up against the boundaries, inch by inch, they will surely come down.

As Remittance Girl notes, on her website manifesto: ‘As a woman, I have inherited the burden of thousands of years of social, religious and sexual oppression. My understanding of self, my agency, my language and my sexuality were born, molded and twisted by that oppression. I am happy to have a discussion on why I write what I write, but I will not tolerate being told what I can or cannot write about.’

Brantwijn Serrah admits to considering using a pseudonym for her first title outside of the  genre, believing that preconceptions exist as to who can write what. She asserts, “Erotica, being conceived as a subgenre of romance, seems to be the realm deemed most appropriate for women to write, while adventure, fantasy and science fiction appear to be realms reserved for men. The perception that women are good for sex while men are the ones trusted with more “serious” business is an offensive and disappointing reality.”
adrea-kore-author-quote-erotic-fiction-sexuality-emmanuelle-de-maupassant

Remittance Girl comments, “Erotica can be breathtakingly beautiful because it’s about us at our most naked, our most vulnerable. It is an exposure of both our passions and our hideous flaws. Our destructive jealousy, our brittle pride, our hunger for what doesn’t belong to us, our need for the strange and the transgressive.

I’m keen to see men embracing erotica too: sending a big cheer to all men writing and reading sexually-themed stories (read more about male authors of erotic fiction here). However, when women write ‘the erotic’ it makes my heart sing.

Some would argue that gender is irrelevant to how we approach the page as writers, that we have the ability to portray any human being, from any time in history, and from anywhere. All that’s needed is imagination.

emmanuelle-de-maupassant-author-quote-erotic-fictionIt’s true that some elements of the human condition are universal. We all, surely, know what it is to love, to despair, to smile, or to regret. We know the fragility of life and we share wonder in the world we inhabit.

And yet, as women, aren’t we best placed to portray what it’s like to walk in our skin?

Double-standards, Repression and Censorship

As little girls, we’re taught all the things we should never mention, and never do; for many of us, it’s a lifelong journey to free ourselves of inhibition.

Adrea Kore reminds us, “Women writing and speaking about their own desire, being open with what gives them pleasure and turns them on … even finding the words for that is something that is still seen as taboo in corners of Western culture, let alone in comparison to cultures where women are more repressed ideologically, and socially.”

helene-cixous-author-quote-laugh-of-the-medusa-write-yourself-your-body-must-be-heardAs Cecilia Tan states,  “I was put on Earth to write but it wasn’t until I started writing erotic fiction that I found my voice. I want a world where sexual freedom, not sexual oppression, is the norm, and so I write about sexual pleasure and fulfillment.”

Ina Morata comments, “Sex is the medium I use to investigate psychological boundaries: my personal insecurities and fears. I explore who I am and see how far I can push myself. Erotica, more than any other genre I have worked in, allows me to do this without feeling contained or isolated.”

Adrea sees erotica writing, particularly as a female author, ‘as a political act jeanette-winterson-author-quote-books-fictionas well as a creative one’. She explains, “French feminist Helene Cixous phrased it beautifully in an essay called ‘Laugh of the Medusa’ – ‘Write yourself. Your body must be heard.’ I think this applies to all women’s stories, but particularly those around sexuality. The political aspect of it, the desire to confront and subvert, is a strong motivation for me – as strong as the desire to seduce and arouse.”

Brantwijn Serrah notes that her focus is on women’s pleasure and the satisfaction of ‘the sexual spirit we are programmed, as women, to suppress or deny’. She notes, “When I write from a male point of view, I’m aware of the disparity, the ‘privilege’ of men to express sexual interest while women still struggle with this.”

Lily Harlem explains that she loves to write heroines who ‘break the rules’, but laments adrea-kore-erotic-fiction-author-quotethat some readers have criticized her writing of female protagonists who lack ‘the same moral compass’ as themselves. She notes, “I call these cardboard cut out heroines. From my personal experience, people make crazy decisions when it comes to love and passion.” She asserts that ‘flawed, impulsive, manipulative heroines’ breathe life into fiction.

Elizabeth Safleur underlines, “Men and women are still pressured to conform to certain standards. What’s odd is how hypocritical those standards can be. Be attractive! Be Sexy! Attract a mate! Yet, not too much. The minute anyone takes full ownership of their attractiveness, sexuality and relationships, they are deemed too aggressive or too [insert negative label of choice]. Both men and women fall under pressure, albeit differently, to conform to others’ ideas of what is acceptable. I can’t help but tell these stories because I see (and have experienced) the cost of burying yourself and your sexual urges under layers of ‘I shouldn’t be like this’ or ‘I shouldn’t want this’. I hope people find kindred spirits in my characters.”

Writing Beyond Conventions

Almost half of the authors responding to the 130 Authors survey mentioned, to some degree, discontent with formulaic, restrictive expectations and publishing ‘rules’.

Shanna Germain asserts that she wants readers to ‘question assumptions’. She explains, “I like to give people a slant-mirror. Not a perfect reflection of themselves, but a could-be reflection.”

Nya Rawlyns adds, “Much of what passes for erotica today feels stale, too often reflecting romance tropes. Lust and desire, needs and wants… all have consequences. I’m interested in how an individual changes under conditions of denial or when personal and other boundaries are smashed.”

Similarly, Jade A Waters states, “Sex is transformative. I tend to take my characters on journeys of discovery, often as an echo of something I’ve learned in my own life.”

Erotica lends itself well to exploration of ‘grey areas of morality’, as Tobsha Learner calls them: to the small lies we tell ourselves, and to the ways in which we manipulate or make use of others.

Adrea Kore emphasizes, “Erotica writes into areas of the human sexual psyche and behaviour that some genres gloss over or shy away from. Erotica brings into the light contradictions between our inner sexual desires and our outward behaviour. What do we secretly long for, and to attain that, what lengths would we go to?” (more here)

In particular, kristina-lloyd-author-quote-erotic-fiction-21st-century-literature-emmanuelle-de-maupassantsome authors mention a desire to explore the realm of non-consent.

Christina Mandara laments, “I love non-consensual elements in erotica but the world at large has decided that this isn’t acceptable. It seems that women, particularly, must have consensual, hearts and flowers stories.”

Kristina Lloyd feels similarly that there is potential to explore ‘the erotic’ beyond the ‘shackles of romance conventions’.

As Anne Rice notably stated in The Guardian newspaper (2012), erotica writers seek freedom to explore. With particular reference to women, Ms. Rice states:As a feminist, I’m supportive of equal rights for women, and that includes the right of every woman to write her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys. The whole world knows women are sensual human beings as well as men. It’s no secret anymore that women want to read sexy fiction just as men do, and there’s a new frankness about the varieties of fantasies one might enjoy. So many cliches have been broken and abandoned. And this is a wonderful thing.” 

Sorcha Black believes that many books named as ‘too graphic or taboo’ are those aimed at women. She underlines, “The policing of women’s sexuality still includes censoring what we read.”

Malin James asserts that her writing of erotic elements wasn’t a ‘conscious decision’ but that she began to feel stifled by avoiding sexual themes. She notes, “It stifled my work and, as a writer, that sort of self-censorship was discouraging and unproductive. Censorship is a complicated issue and to ina-morata-author-erotic-fictionpreoccupy myself with it as I write would be to stymie the story before it’s even formed. While I acknowledge the reality of censorship, I try not to let it, or fear of it, influence my writing. I serve the story. If it trips censors, so be it. I have the luxury of pulling it and sending it elsewhere.“

KD Grace voices a view raised by a significant number of those who took part in the ‘130 authors’ survey: the lack of respect for the erotic fiction genre in the literary world. Ina Morata echoes this, saying that writers outside of the erotic fiction genre have challenged her, asking why she doesn’t write in a genre more ‘befitting’.

kd-grace-author-erotic-fiction-literature-quote-21st-century However, KD Grace stresses that this generates an attitude of ‘us against the world and circle the wagons’ and a real sense of camaraderie among erotica writers (with little of the petty jealousy I’ve seen among writers in some other genres).’ She feels the erotica writing community as ‘a family’, saying, “That encouragement has meant a lot to me through the years.”

Writing Women’s Sexuality

Adrea Kore remembers being in her mid-twenties, studying feminism and theatre, and dating a poet, when she discovered Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘In My Rose-wet Cave’. She recalls the image, of ‘being underwater, and yet botanical. Fragrant and secret. Hidden away, deep-hued and moist’. She tells us, “I was intrigued and delighted. And I began to search for more of this kind of writing, that could re-invent the feminine body, the feminine experience of adrea-kore-erotic-fiction-sex-sexuality-author-quote-taboo-underworld-emmanuelle-de-maupassantdesire. I think it put light on the seed already in me to find new and evocative ways of writing about feminine desire and describing the desiring female body.”

Tabitha Rayne notes that writing erotic  fiction, ‘felt like discovering a new colour‘. “I couldn’t stop expressing myself in the erotic. It was like opening a door to myself,” she asserts.

Donna George Storey tells us, “When I got the courage to start writing again as an adult (after getting my B.A. in creative writing and then taking a long writing break as I felt I had nothing interesting to say), all the stories that came out had to do with sexuality. I still find the erotic experience the one adrea-kore-author-quote-women-writing-erotic-fictionthing that truly inspires me to silence the inner critic and just write and enjoy the pleasure of speaking the unspeakable.”

Susan St. Aubin comments, “I’m interested in the mystery of human life, and sex is a big part of that, perhaps the thing that most illuminates the mystery.”

Rose Caraway, speaking of her work in audio narration of erotic fiction, tells us, “Together, we’re helping people awaken, at their own pace. Each story narrated acknowledges sexuality, our own and others’, because it’s being read aloud. Those words want to be heard, making us stronger, so that we can better express and own our sexuality.” (more from Rose here)

Adrea notes her fascination with ‘feminine experience of the world’ and stories ‘of growth, transformation and dislocation, felt through and mediated by the body’. She explains, “These were the things that I began to write about: Love and longing. Loss. Translating the physical arts I most loved into words: my experiences of dancing and life-modelling. Then, more arduously, carving out narratives of sexual trauma. Death. Then, the sensual pleasures. Sex. Light, dark, light, dark. Always this dance, and writing has helped me embrace the totality in the supposed contradictions.” (read more on this topic from Adrea here)

Kristina Lloyd relates this to her own journey, saying, “Through writing, I’ve learned so much about my own sexuality and desire. Writing has given me an understanding; it has allowed me to own a sexuality I’d been conflicted about and confused by when I was younger.”

Emerging Changed

Remittance Girl tells us that ‘all fiction carries the traces of its author’. She asserts, “The difference between really good writing and mediocre writing is not when the characters emerge changed, but when you know, as a reader, that the author has also emerged changed.” 

In writing, we gain greater understanding of our motivations, our pleasures jeanette-winterson-author-quoteand our fears. We emerge changed and, as RG tells us, we ‘expose something true’ of ourselves (more here).

Adrea Kore adds, “Language and ideas, once encountered, live inside you, and can effect changes, both subtle and catalytic. Words endure. And the feelings they conjure up in the body can endure too, leaving traces, imprints in the cells, the memory.” (more here)

Write your own truths, write your own pages.

Our voices are here to be heard.

READ ON – Women Writing the Erotic: Part Two and Part Three

Women authors tell us what compels them to write in the erotic genre, including the themes which refuse to lie quietly, their influences and inspirations, and the relevance of gender to their work. 

You may also be interested to read:

Also coming soon…

Writing Craft

Authors’ Recommended Reads

Author Influences: theatre, music, art, film, fiction, dance

Among the women writers taking part in the 130 Authors survey were:

Laura Antoniou,  Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea Kore, Tobsha LearnerKristina LloydCecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri OusdahlZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersKD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsSessha Batto, Rose CarawayTabitha RayneElizabeth Safleur, Devi AnseviK. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterLucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezLily HarlemMadeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodVictoria Bliss, Jane GilbertCharlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Lee SavinoElizabeth Black, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoAmelia SmartsSue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young,  Emma Jaye, Dee MaselleChristina MandaraSue LyndonRebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa Wu,  Jaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Under the Skin: with Tobsha Learner

Erotica.

Too formulaic? Clichéd? Predictable?

It’s impossible to lay these failings at Tobsha Learner’s door. Original in the extreme, she writes to explore, to fling open doors, to see where language might take her.

She is a risk-taker.

tobshaauthorshotRejecting typical notions of what constitutes ‘literary quality’, her own narrative voice is distinctly lyrical yet she also weaves a good tale. Ms. Learner is a story-teller.

British-born Tobsha originally trained as a sculptor of stone, before she began sculpting words. After around 25 years as a playwright, she moved into novels (thrillers and historical fiction) and her sexy, soulful fables, glittering with lashings of the erotic. Tobsha aims to deliver more than titillation. She delves the psychology of characters, exploring power-play and moral ambiguity.Her first collection of short stories, Quiver, has sold over 200,000 copies. Her latest novel, Picture This, is a study in corruption,quiver the erotic gaze and the creative process.

Tobsha, as writers, we process and refine our experiences, influences and thoughts onto the page, inviting our reader to then enter their own process of interpretation. As we know, there are some stories that change us forever. Years later, we recall how such books made us feel, even if we cannot recall the details. Which authors have stirred you to new understanding of yourself?

I tend to go for the DNA of plot. As a child, I was deeply obsessed with the Robert Graves edition of the Greek myths.

In my thriller writing, I’ve referenced a number of these consciously: Orpheus and Eurydice, the Minotaur, and Medusa.

tobsha-learner-yearnI lost my father when I was 16, while in the middle of studying King Lear for my O’ levels, so this play has particular emotional power for me. Various Shakespearian characters fascinate me: Ariel, Puck, Ophelia, King Lear (and his fool) and Falstaff (an incarnation of Bacchus really).

Many stories have thrown new light onto my own emotional experiences, as has some poetry. In terms of short story craft, authors who stand out for me include Greene, Dahl, Chekov, Bukowski, Nin, Poe, Maupassant, Lawrence, Turgenev, Nabokov, Isaac ben Singer and Wilde.

16171282I’m eclectic in my influences. Definitely, when I discover a new writer who has broken a rule, or who perhaps has an original onomatopoeia to her/his prose, it can be inspiring.

Which themes tug at you?

Each author has an emotional template resonating under each story or narrative, regardless of their conscious intention. For me, quintessentially, it’s free will versus determinism. In terms of my erotic writing, I look at how instinct and sexual desire can over-ride the rational.

tremble-by-tobsha-learner-paperback-2012Are you influenced also by film?

My original training as a scriptwriter (and my experience as a playwright) has influenced my writing, in that I try to make it as visually simulating and visceral as possible. I tend to like films with a magical blend of great dialogue and plot but which also use the craft of film making to tell the story: mise en scène, visual subtext, great editing and so on (such as in the early Coen brothers’ Blood Simple).

As a former sculptor, tell us your artistic influences.

I once played with the idea of basing an erotic short story around a very graphic 19th century sculpture of a male angel in Prague Caste. He was a very defined, handsome man with wings of about eight foot tall (everything in proportion!). I’m inspired in the moment but then it all gets fermented and used later in imagery far less consciously.

louise-bourgeois-maman-1999-steel-35-ft-in-height-tate-modern-london
Louise Bourgeois, Maman (1999) Tate Modern, London, 35 ft

I might be expressionistic (as opposed to cubist!). Certainly, as I get older this evolves like an underground stream of passing references and obsessions. I know I’m a little baroque in language (and I don’t necessarily like this about my work). I love the video instillation of Bill Viola, some of the drawings and sexual themes of Emin, and I really appreciate the cultural madcap commentary of Grayson Perry. When I was a sculptor in training, I was orientated to the narrative/figurative – with, I guess, similar feminist/sexual themes to Louise Bourgeoise. Lately, the abstract and more muted sublime has begun to appeal.

1710567Tell us a little about your writing processes.

I’ve developed a very specific writing process that really heralds back to my playwriting training at N.I.D.A [the Australian equivalent of RADA]. Paul Thompson was my lecturer and mentor then, and he taught us to breakdown each scene with ‘units of action’: what happens in that scene physically and plot-wise. Beforehand, I’d develop character backgrounds (for all characters – detailed for protagonists) as well as undertaking research and creating a plot line. I know this is very unromantic in terms of how people like to imagine writers sitting down to a blank sheet, weaving from their imagination, but I truly believe in the craft of writing (talent being about 10% of the equation, and the rest sheer bloody-mindedness and making the discipline of writing a daily habit).

Do you listen to music while you write?picturethis-cover-tobsha-learners-next-book-picture-this-will-be-available-on-amazon-from-november-2017

I can only write to classical music, without lyrics, but, at other times, I enjoy The Clash, T. Rex and Nick Cave.

How did you approach the writing of your latest release, Picture This, set in the art world of New York?

I interviewed a number of gallery owners and artists, as well as visiting locations. I drew on my experiences as a sculptor and observed artist friends’ ways of seeing. I explore the dilemma that all working creatives face, of ‘commerce versus the artistic soul’.

tobshaauthorshotTobsha Learner was born in Cambridge and raised mainly in North West London but has lived and worked in Melbourne, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. She is the author of three volumes of short stories (Quiver, Tremble and Yearn) seven 2116855novels and dozens of plays. Her latest release is Picture This. Besides writing erotic fiction, she is known for her historical fiction, and for her thrillers (writing as T.S. Learner  – The Sphinx, The Stolen and The Map).

Read more about Tobsha Learner here, in her interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, or view her chatting about her work here.

www.tobshaserotica.com

www.tslearner.co.uk

picturethis-cover-tobsha-learners-next-book-picture-this-will-be-available-on-amazon-from-november-2017More about Picture This

English instillation artist Susie Thomas finds herself investigating the supposed suicide of her female lover Maxine, a young sculptress, while embarking on an affair with notorious gallery owner Felix Baum.

Tobsha is among 130+ authors who took part in my recent series of articles on ‘Writing Erotica’. Find out more here.

Empress of the Erotic: an Interview with Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel interview erotic fiction writingEmpress of the erotic, Rachel Kramer Bussel, is an icon in the world of erotic fiction and blogging. Her credentials are unsurpassed. Besides contributing to more than a hundred anthologies and having edited sixty herself, her articles have appeared in the hallowed halls of the New York Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Time Out New York, as well as in Penthouse, Cosmo UK, and the Village Voice.

Rachel’s passion to encourage other authors has led to her conducting erotic writing workshops worldwide and, for five years, she hosted the In The Flesh Erotic Reading Series in New York City, helping introduce authors to the wide-eyed public. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies from the University of California at Berkeley.

Here, she reveals what inspires her to write ‘the erotic’, advice she shares with novice authors, thoughts on the current face of publishing and avoiding the ‘formulaic’.

Rachel, what first inspired you towards sexual themes, and what impact did the writing process have on you?

My first few erotica stories were largely inspired by events in my life. I’d been reading erotica for a few years without any intention of writing it. I was just curious. In my college years, just as I was exploring sex, including queerness and kink, dating women, discovering I was bisexual, I found erotica. Some of the earliest anthologies I read were the Best American Erotica series and Shar Rednour’s lesbian first time anthologies Virgin Territory I and II.

I seem to remember the writing coming fast and furious. I’ve always tended to think in full sentences, whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction. I never plotted back then (and rarely do now), but rather had a vague sense of where I wanted the story to go. I didn’t overthink the writing, or the process of sending it out, or using my real name. All of those could have given me pause, and maybe even scared me into not submitting my work, because I was in law school or had just dropped out.

It’s sometimes odd to me to read or hear one of my early stories, because of course there are things I’d do differently now. However, I like that I just dove right in, without stressing about all the what-ifs. It made it a fun experience.

Have your motivations changed since those first years?Best Women's Erotica of the Year Rachel Kramer Bussell erotic fiction interview writer author writing

I’m still excited about erotica, but I have to work harder to write it now because I don’t want to be repetitive. As an anthology editor, I read hundreds of stories, so I often look beyond erotica recreationally, choosing mystery, YA and memoir. I do also read within the genre, to remain aware of trends, and it’s great to see so much more erotica on bookstore shelves, as well as e-publishing thriving.

Besides writing to ‘arouse’ the reader, do you have other aims?

I’m interested in exploring aspects of sexuality and attraction largely ignored by pop culture: specifically bisexuality, polyamory, promiscuity, men and women with larger bodies and body image, male submissives, fetishes, or affairs. I don’t sit down to intentionally humanize and eroticize fat people (and those who love and are attracted to fat people) or male submissives and so on; it’s a by-product of the types of characters I tend to write. That’s not to say I don’t also write about people who have seemingly “perfect” or “normal” lives (those terms being subjective) but even then I try to subvert those standards, looking beneath the surface. Their lives may not be so glamorous and carefree, and their erotic (and perhaps other) desires run deeper than the surface.

In what ways has writing ‘the erotic’ empowered you or promoted your self-knowledge?

Writing erotica has made me more open-minded and empathetic. Getting inside the heads of characters who do things I’d never do has been a wonderful challenge and has taught me so much, as has editing similar stories. It’s shown me that humans can eroticize anything.

Rachel Kramer Bussel interview writer erotic fictionWhat do you want readers to take away from your work?

Foremost, I hope they enjoy the process of reading. I never want them to feel like they’re slogging through my writing. I want it to entertain but I also want to make them think, perhaps even more than arousing them; to think about how they relate to the sexual dynamics of the story, or about what I left out, or about what happens beyond the page. I want to arouse readers but I feel that it’s up to the reader to take away whatever they choose.

Which authors inspire you and in what ways?

I’m a huge fan of L. Marie Adeline’s S.E.C.R.E.T. trilogy, about a group of women who join forces to facilitate women down on their luck in living out their most exciting sexual fantasies. It’s incredibly hot but also about forming a community, supporting women and giving them the autonomy and authority to decide what’s arousing to them. Plus, it’s a progressively developing love story. Even against this highly fictional setting, where women swoop into the lives of strangers and arrange sexual trysts, there was a reality that made the sex scenes even hotter. I truly cared about the characters.

That’s also what I liked about Everything I Left Unsaid by M. O’Keefe. It’s about a Rachel Kramer Bussel erotic fiction writer interviewwoman who’s left an abusive, violent marriage and is in hiding, slowly giving herself permission to explore her own sexuality again. It’s an erotic romance but, true to the character, much of her sexuality in the book takes place by herself, but inspired by her new love interest.

That element of reality is something I also enjoyed about Let It Shine, by Alyssa Cole, a romance set during the civil rights movement, which builds tension and passion between the protagonists, who have a history as childhood friends. Every interaction is laden with tension and a push/pull dynamic. It’s a slim but wonderful book.

On a lighter note, I really loved the humor in Nuts, by Alice Clayton. It’s madcap and zany (when the protagonists meet actual nuts go flying everywhere around them) but very sexy.

Your LitReactor classes (teaching elements of erotic fiction) have an excellent reputation, and have been a starting point for many successful authors in our genre. Which key pieces of advice do you find yourself offering?

Often in my LitReactor classes, beyond any specifics about the genre, the best erotica writing advice I give is that we should believe in ourselves. I think overcoming that hurdle is a vital first step. Even in a small class, people self-censor, or don’t let their imaginations travel freely. They’re nervous or worried about what people will think. I’m Rachel Kramer Bussel quote erotic fiction writingsure this hinders many would-be erotica writers. It’s not the same as writing mystery or sci-fi or other genres. Even though there’s now more openness about erotica reading and writing, and about alternative sexualities, it can still be awkward to tell your neighbors that you write erotica.

I face that as well. When I meet someone new and we seem to get along, I never know if I’m going to ruin a budding friendship by outing myself as an erotica writer. So, I totally get that fear. However, I think you have to forcibly set it aside while you write. Pretend it doesn’t exist. You can tackle it when it’s time to decide whether you want to find a broader audience and, if so, what name you want to use.

The processes of writing and submitting work seem to get conflated in people’s minds, as if strangers can immediately see the words as you type them. Nobody ever has to know you write erotica if you don’t want them to, not even your significant other or best friend. Writing, exploring, digging as deep as you can into what turns on your characters, are the building blocks of my online and in-person writing classes.

The criticism we seem to hear time and again of the erotic genre is that it’s Rachel Kramer Bussel interview erotic fiction writingformulaic, in content, and in style.

Varying your writing style is important. It’s helpful to step out of your usual style sometimes, even if it’s just as a “throat-clearing” exercise. Doing so gives you a greater appreciation of different points of view and, I’ve found, can give a story a different rhythm. In my story “The End,” which was published in Best American Erotica 2016, I use a more fast paced tone. I’ve written in first person, second person and third person and all have taught me different things about the storytelling process.

As an anthology editor, this variety is essential. I want the reader to experience a range of sexual practices as well as a range of characters and types of stories: historical, futuristic, contemporary, or from different points of view, using various tenses or pacing.

How far do you think publishers are risk-averse? While commercial success is the bottom-line, in what ways would you like to see publishers pushing boundaries?

I don’t know if I’d say publishers are risk averse, though perhaps they are more so than I realize. I see some pretty edgy content being published by mainstream publishers, like Lilah Pace’s Asking for It, which came out from Berkley in 2015 and is about a woman who has a rape fantasy. There are so many new publishers. Writers can push boundaries (and can self-publish).

The market for what was once considered taboo has expanded since I started reading erotica, 20 years ago. We’ve had many cultural shifts; even the romance market is more open to sexual variation. I believe that’s helped normalize a lot of kinky practices, male and female bisexuality, open relationships and other aspects of sexuality.

You’re extremely open in your persona as a sex-blogger and author of erotic fiction. Do you ever find yourself fielding disapproval?

I don’t consider any of my work a “persona” although there are, of course, aspects of my personal life that I don’t share (though not many). I’ve been lucky in avoiding much negative feedback. Occasionally I’ll write a nonfiction essay or article and have people disagree, or think I’m making things up, as either a storyteller about my life or as a journalist. One notable one was when I wrote about taxicab hook-ups for The Village Voice and someone told me I was lying. Now, obviously, as a journalist, I have no way to fact check people’s sex stories, but I have pretty good radar for knowing when people are telling me a true story. It can be challenging for people to conceptualize that what they know of sex personally is their subjective viewpoint, not a universal truth.

 Rachel Kramer Bussell erotic fiction interview writer author writing Thinking of the positive feedback you’ve received over the years, do you have any stand out stories?

My first story, “Monica and Me” (a fantasy about a woman who’s a barely changed version of me having sex with Monica Lewinsky) is a favorite. You can listen to it on Rose Caraway’s podcast The Kiss Me Quick’s.

Also “Doing the Dishes”, which is about a woman with a dishwashing fetish. I gave a public reading over ten years ago and still have people remarking on it. It was loosely inspired by a real life experience of washing a lover’s kitchen full of dishes, but I took that concept and ran with it. You can also listen to it, here, on The KMQ podcast.

Having edited around sixty anthologies, do you ever feel that you’re on a treadmill? Do you yearn to undertake a radically different project?

While each anthology is different, the basic process of anthology editing is similar. I have an idea, acquire a book contract with a publisher, post a public call for submissions, read all the stories that come in, winnow them down to the ones I think best suit the theme and go well together, and edit and arrange them. What’s kept me from becoming bored with that process is that I’m always working with new writers and receiving submissions from around the world. I love it when a writer completely surprises me, either with an unusual take on a given theme or with a new approach to writing or sexuality that I hadn’t considered before. In that sense, it feels fresh each time.

I have a lot of other things I’d also like to do. I’ve never wanted to only be an erotica or sex writer because I’m interested in a wide range of topics. This year I’m exploring SEO copywriting as well as entertainment blogging. As a freelancer, I never know what I’ll be working on in a week’s time, or in a month or a year. I like the surprise element but plan to edit anthologies as long as I have readers for them!

Can you share some future plans?Best Women's Erotica of the Year 2 Rachel Kramer Bussel erotic fiction writer interview

Because I’m a freelancer, my workload tends to change monthly, and sometimes weekly or daily, so I don’t necessarily know what’s next. I do debate whether I want to keep editing anthologies or try something new, but editing the Best Women’s Erotica of the Year series has made me more passionate about the process and determined to publish as many authors as I can for as long as I have that opportunity. Other than that, I’ll do my best to keep writing for new publications and stay open to new possibilities.

Thank you Rachel for sharing your plans, your motivations and your inspirations.

Find Out More

Find out more about Rachel’s LitReactor classes here, next taking place in 2017

Or her private erotica writing consulting, via eroticawriting101.com

Look out for various events around the release of Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 2, at the start of 2017. To subscribe for exclusive book giveaways via Rachel’s monthly newsletter, sign up at www.rachelkramerbussel.com

You can find samples of Rachel’s writing here, and can follow Rachel on Facebook or Twitter: including alerts on ebook sales (several are upcoming)

London Triptych, by Jonathan Kemp: a review

 

Jonathan KempJonathan Kemp explores hungers we cannot explain and paints images not only intensely erotic, but tender.  Here, in London Triptych, he shows us the unfolding of three men’s lives, each an unravelling ribbon, fluid, twisting, looking back upon itself. Their stories are confessionals, inviting us to enter the nocturnal, hidden recesses of the psyche. Meanwhile, London’s shadows and secrets echo those within our protagonists, and remind us that we readers, too, have our untold stories.

Each of the tales within the ‘triptych’ takes place, primarily, in London, though separated by five decades. We see the details of the setting change, while the themes remain eternal: our desire for what we cannot articulate; our struggle to express ourselves freely; our eagerness to navigate the ‘geography of possibilities’; our delight in love, glorious, overwhelming and unexpected; and the vulnerability of that state.

1890s rent boy Jack Rose falls into an almost unwilling passion for Oscar Wilde, leading towards a path of disappointment and betrayal.  1950s artist Colin tentatively explores his sexuality, against a backdrop of prudery and prejudice. In the 1990s, David awaits release from prison, telling of the lover who deceived him.

Jonathan Kemp

With each interchanging narrative, we learn more of each protagonist’s history and motivations, and we see the ways in which their stories resemble one other. They do not go in search of love. Rather, it surprises them, catching them off guard. They experience transcendence and then misery: a change in their worldview.

Sex is central to the story, an enduring, irresistible force, with or without love. It is the engine driving each of our narrators to discover a version of the ‘self’ yet out of reach.

Jack Rose tells us: ‘I became a whore in order, not to find myself, but to lose myself in the dense forest of that name.’

However, love is the transformative emotion. Love enervates and destroys, bringing ultimate joy and torture. We are shown its ability to shed light on our restricted, repetitive paths.

Kemp explores what it has meant to be homosexual in a world which views those desires as dangerously inverted, and shows us the tension between pleasure and danger, when there are ‘no laws but those of the body’:

‘When you can be free, free to pursue any desire, acquire any knowledge… it’s the most terrifying place to live. It’s dangerously beautiful…’

Jonathan-KempAs ever, Kemp’s storytelling goes beyond action and consequence, or the clever use of dialogue to reveal character, or the exploration of eternal themes. His talent lies in his use of language, probing words for their secrets, for their ‘blood-beat’, for their ability to reveal ‘meaning held within the contours of the skin’. He returns, again and again, to the inadequacy of language to express the erotic truths of the body, the ‘cannibal, animal hunger’ of desire.

And yet, he, as few authors can, animates the ‘universal language of lust written on the body and spoken by the eyes and fingers’.

He shows us that sex can take us to other destinations within the ‘self’, as if ‘opening doors that lead to other corridors, and other doors’: ‘I am here without knowing how. Suddenly, terrifyingly present. Here, now, lost and hot…

Meanwhile, London itself embodies the elusive, enchanting paradox of existence. It is a place of anonymity, and simultaneous intimacy; London is the unseen, legion-faced (and thus faceless) listener, inviting the narrators to share their secrets. It is a place of judgment (all three stories bring to bear the presence of the law and prospective punishment for homosexual transgression) and of liberation. It is a place of contradictions, just as we are contradictory.

 

Jonathan Kemp 26 Ghosting London TriptychJonathan Kemp teaches creative writing and comparative literature at Birkbeck College, London.

London Triptych, his first novel, won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Polari Prize and the Green Carnation Prize.

He is also the author of Ghosting (my review here) and 26, my review here.

Hear directly from Jonathan Kemp, on how the novel came to be, here, in an interview with Polari Magazine.

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Also, you may like to visit this article, featuring Jonathan Kemp: Men Writing Erotic Fiction

 

 

 

 

Damage by Josephine Hart: a review

Damage is a tale of desperate erotic obsession, and its inevitable path to destruction.

The narrative, told by the male protagonist, eminently respectable, and respected, cabinet Damage Josephine Hart a review minister Fleming, is clinical in its formality, in keeping with his social position. His life revolves around public service, and the care of his family and, at the heart of this seeming ‘order’ he is deeply unhappy.

This very formality, with its lack of true passion, has suffocated him, so that we have some understanding of his leap from empty order into consuming chaos, into the danger of an affair with his son’s fiancée, Anna.

The icy detachment of this narrative is a perfect foil to Fleming’s inner turmoil and the depth of his catastrophic infatuation. His spiralling descent is forever tempered by a façade of civility and order. Josephine Hart’s sparse, simple, even elegant language balances the fevered undercurrents of Fleming’s psychological state.

DAMAGE_610‘… my life would have been lost in contemplation of the emerging skeleton beneath my skin. It was as though a man’s bones broke through the face of the werewolf. Shining with humanity he stalked through his midnight life towards the first day.’1992 film Damage Jeremy Irons Juliette Binoche Josephine Hart a review of the book Emmanuelle de Maupassant

His affair with Anna is both an awakening and a dream-state, a loss of self to the intoxication of desire, and a finding of the self.

Fleming tells us: ‘I eased her gently to the floor. Leaving my elegant disguise on the sofa I became myself.’

We are left in no doubt that destruction is inevitable, that Fleming is at the precipice. There are no mitigating circumstances, and we know that there will be no happy ending, or forgiveness. What we see is a chillingly honest portrayal of sexual obsession, and our potential for destruction: lives damaged, or soon to be so.

Many will be familiar with the wonderful film of the same name, starring Jeremy Irons and 1992 film Damage Jeremy Irons Juliette Binoche Josephine Hart a review of the book Emmanuelle de MaupassantJuliette Binoche, directed by Louis Malle, in which we witness more of the sexual nature of the affair. In her book, Hart does not describe sex at length, and yet we are left in no doubt that the acts are intense.

Fleming tells the reader: ‘We were made for other things. For needs that had to be answered day or night – sudden longings – a strange language of the body.’

They involve a degree of mild violence and of domination (there are references to slavedom, to being tied, and blindfolded, of Anna giving herself over to his will, of being physically ‘arranged’). These scenes leave us with a sense of the brutality of Fleming’s sexual desire, and of Anna’s desire to submit to it.

… there would be time for the pain and pleasure lust lends to love. Time for body lines and Damage-film-still-007angles that provoke the astounded primitive to leap delighted from the civilised skin…There would be time for words obscene and dangerous. There would be time for flowers to put out the eyes and for silken softness to close the ears.’

This is a love story of sorts, as Fleming proclaims in the closing lines, but the journey is heartbreaking, unsettling, terrifying. It is a nightmare from which the protagonists cannot wake. We are shocked, horrified, even to the bitter close, but cannot look away.

Hart reminds us that, when tragedy strikes, as when Anna’s brother Aston kills himself ‘silence, separation and sadness… become a way of life’ trapping us ‘in the unresolved agonies of long ago’. In some part, this is offered as a reason for Anna’s detachment, but we are not invited to judge, only to witness.

We see Fleming acknowledge his folly, cruelty and deceit. He takes full responsibility, never Josephine Hart Damage review by Emmanuelle de Maupassantattempting to apologize or make excuses. He is in the grip of what he knows will destroy him, and we abhor him for it. And yet, we see that he is powerless, just as Anna is powerless.

They are presented as equally culpable and yet, equally, without blame. They are damaged and are destined to destroy not only themselves but others.

At one point, Fleming asks Anna: ‘Who are you?’ and she replies: ‘I am what you desire…’ While Fleming fantasises about the possibility of leaving his wife and living with Anna, she realises that their relationship is outside of normal bounds and social conventions. It is only there that it can exist.

1992 film Damage Jeremy Irons Juliette Binoche Josephine Hart a review of the book Emmanuelle de MaupassantJosephine Hart achieves something rare in this novella: a helplessness that speaks deeply to the reader, a knowledge that, however sane and ordered our life, we carry our own destructive flame, the potential for our own acts of ‘damage’.

Publishing’s Dirty Secret: erotic fiction in the 21st century

publishing dirty secret marketing self-publishing publishers writers marketing editing authorsHaving interviewed just over 130 authors of erotic fiction, this article tackles their experience of working with publishers, and of self-publishing, of the role of marketing, and the importance of releasing well-crafted work. Does erotic fiction remain publishing’s ‘dirty secret’: a genre without due recognition or respect for authors?

As ever, this article is intended as a starting point for discussion. All comments are welcome.

Around 20% of respondents to this survey have worked with larger houses, such as Penguin, Harlequin, Orion, Random House, Harper Collins, Hachette, Simon & Shuster, Little Brown, Pan McMillan, and Nexus.

Some have published with mid-sized houses, such as Cleis, Myriad and Serpent’s Tail, while the overwhelming majority have worked with smaller presses, such as Go Deeper Press, Stupid Fish Productions, Circlet, Little Raven, Stormy Night Publications, Totally Bound, House of Erotica, Accent, Riverdale, Two Dame Productions, Sweetmeats Press, Xcite, Baronet Press, and Blushing Books.

Around half have explored self-publishing with some of their titles, often in addition to having worked with a small press.

A handful have received readership only via their own website or other online platform.

Authors report most of their sales taking place in e-book format, regardless of short story/novella/novel form, while several note that audiobook sales appear to be taking off. Rose Caraway advises, “Make sure that you story works equally well in audio as in print.” She notes that most of her audience (for the KMQ Podcast) listen at work, or at home while doing chores and ‘prefer the privacy and intimacy of audio’.

 

Easy Money?

While it’s well-known that some writers enter the erotic fiction market hoping to earn ‘easy money’, the majority within this survey write, primarily, from creative impulse, with financial reward as a secondary consideration. However, a small number do rely on their writing as their main source of income.

As Wade Esley admits,Initially, I chose to write erotica for a terrible reason. I thought it would be an easy genre to break into, because, in my mind, there kay jaybee erotic fiction author quote writing Emmanuelle de Maupassant publishingwas so much poorly written erotica. How hard could it be to climb to the top of that dung heap? However, the more I read, the more I discovered truly talented writers, and became determined to write quality stories myself.”

Vanessa Wu warns against tailoring your craft purely with sales in mind. She asserts, “If you want to be mediocre and feel luke-warm about yourself and what you do, write for a market. If you want to free your subconscious, touch people and be radiant with pleasure, write for yourself. All the works I like have one thing in common. They capture moments of intensity with clarity and focus. You feel something when you experience them.”

Naturally, where the creative impulse is strong, we write for reasons other than significant financial gain. We write because the impulse cannot be ignored, or because we seek to share our voice.

Kay Jaybee stresses,Don’t expect significant financial return. I’ve been blessed with many private messages, via FB and my webpage. Readers have thanked me, saying that I’ve saved marriages, stopped them feeling lonely and generally improved their personal life. That sort of thing is priceless. Write because you burn to do it. If you are in it for money or prestige then you’ll be disappointed, whoever you publish with.”

Rose and Dayv Caraway note similar satisfaction from receiving listeners’ feedback on their erotic fiction online podcast (more from them here).

Sessha Batto comments,My expectations were high, as most people’s are when they start publishing. It is no surprise that they were dashed almost immediately. Without a following or much targeted promotion it is unrealistic to think sales will be high. As my work is niche at best, those odds are even higher. My best advice is to take a long-term view, grow your audience one reader at a time, and view the work, not the sales figures, as the reward. If you get bogged down in numbers you will always be dissatisfied.”

Brantwijn Serrah tells us, “I’ve put out stories I love and have received feedback from people who’ve loved them too; being a ‘storyteller’ has made me incredibly happy. Financial reward is icing on the cake.”

Speaking of her blog, Molly Moore states that her focus is upon ‘pushing boundaries’. She asserts, “If I never made a penny I would still do it.” She notes that having her own online platform enables her to share work without concern for publishing restrictions.

Rose Caraway tells us, “It’s good to look at your intent. Whatever that is, give it your undivided attention. Remember that it’s ridiculous to imagine that you’ll become a millionaire.”

 

A Living Wage?

While recognizing the pleasure that writing brings of itself, more than half of the survey respondents also mention their desire to earn some form of income from their efforts (modest though that may be). Accordingly, they lament online publishing platforms’ expectation of authors contributing content in return for ‘exposure’ and the low rates offered by some publishers: a position that writers perceive, reasonably, as devaluing their craft.

As Tobsha Learner notes, the Internet has been ‘a mixed blessing’. She says, “On one hand it provides (theoretically) a much larger readership, on the other hand the notion of not having to pay for intellectual property is virtually pandemic in anyone under the age of 35. This basically is suggesting that professional writers do not merit a living wage.”

Laura Antoniou notes that, being commissioned to write short story erotica for men’s magazines in the late 1980s-early 1990s, she received $50 per story. She notes wryly that ‘three decades later, the rate remains the same’.

The reality is that few authors can rely solely on their writing income to maintain a roof over their head; the majority have other employment (or are of retirement age).

Following on from this, Tobsha Learner notes the creative compromises authors are often obliged to make, saying, “’Commerce versus the artistic soul’ is the dilemma all working creatives have to face. In the last ten years, the publishing industry has changed remarkably. Most mid-listers have been wiped out to the point where the advances do not allow enough income to live, so established and highly skilled writers are forced to compromise their work (writing part-time or churning out a book a year to maintain readership and publishers’ expectations).”  

 

Risky Business

One of the most prominent comments by authors within this survey was the expression of disappointment at traditional publishers’ lack of risk-taking.  Jonathan Kemp notes experiencing censorship in 1999, having written an academic article about John Addington Symonds’ homosexuality.  He tells us, “My article quoted some graffiti that Symonds writes about in his memoir: ‘Prick to prick, so sweet’, written next to a crude Sessha Batto author quote erotic fictiondrawing of two pricks. The editor of the volume asked me to remove the phrase.” He felt obliged to concede, being a young academic and this being his first publication. He asserts that he would not do so today.

We might imagine that, of all publishers, those specialising in erotic fiction would be most open minded, and most willing to ‘push limits’ in offering readers diversity. However, being primarily in the business to make money, few wish to take commercial risks. They tend to play safe, either within the realm of romance, or on well-worn ‘trope’ paths. Where does this leave us as authors? Writing repeatedly down the same avenues? (more on this here).

Siri Ousdahl comments, “The erotic books they’ve embraced in recent years had proven track records… so the risk hasn’t been significant. When Random House or Penguin ‘take a chance’ on erotica, the works are far from transgressive.”

Even independent erotica publishers are prone to request ‘light and fun’ stories, with the accent on ‘happy endings’, which are thought to have more commercial appeal, ignoring the huge potential of the genre to take us into the deeper, darker (arguably far more compelling and fulfilling) spaces within the human psyche.  

Patrick Califia tells us,I’ve had publishers tell me they would take my books if only I would not be explicit about sexuality, or stop writing about gay sex, or stop describing kinky acts.”  Kristina Lloyd notes, “I wish more publishers would take risks instead of chasing the latest bandwagon.”

Maxim Jakubowski (known for writing crime and science fiction under his own name) makes note that his publisher advanced the use of a female penname for his co-written erotic-romance series, citing this as a sensible commercial move in the wake of the ’50 Shades’ phenomenon. As his female alter-ego ‘earns five times the level of advances’ he cannot afford to jettison her.

Donna George Storey muses, “I’ve published in over 80 print anthologies and, over the past twenty years, I’ve seen several market cycles. Mainstream publishers solicit erotica in the hope of making money (because that’s what they are about) and when they don’t make as much as they’d like, they blame erotica rather than themselves. But there is always an interest in intelligent, sexually explicit writing among human beings, if not business folk, so the wheel turns again and new editors seek out projects.”

Jonathan Kemp notes, “Getting ‘London Triptych’ published was quite difficult because of the sexual content. Rejection after rejection from mainstream publishers praising the writing but admitting it was just too risqué for them. A small, Brighton-based independent publisher, Myriad Editions, finally took it on, courageously, some might say. He recalls the surprise of a friend’s younger brother, upon hearing that ‘London Triptych’ was available to buy from bookshops, ‘positioned there on the shelf without any warning of its scandalous contents!’ Kemp notes, “That both amused me and made me feel a little bit proud.” He adds that Myriad ‘also brought out ‘Twentysix’, knowing it would be harder to sell than ‘London Triptych’, which was definite bravery’.

Speaking of risk-aversion, Will Crimson emphasizes that, if an author expects a third party to disseminate their work, then ‘their skills as a writer had better be commensurate with their subject matter’. He believes, “The responsibility of the writer isn’t to avoid censorship but to survive it by writing persuasively and beautifully.”

 

Marketing

The majority of authors believe that publishing houses should invest more effort in effective marketing. Lizzie Ashworth comments,Publishers want a big chunk of the profit while expecting the author to market the work. To me, the Cecila Tan erotic fiction author writing skills publishing Emmanuelle de Maupassantonly benefit of a publisher is the promise of reviews, which many small presses don’t bother to solicit.”

Tobsha Learner emphasizes that publishers expect authors to take on much of the responsibility of marketing, despite authors often lacking the skills of ‘natural performers’, so that they ‘struggle to brand their personalities’. She notes, “One of the first things a publisher will now ask a wannabe novelist is how big their ‘platform’ is – this is of far more importance than the actual manuscript.” Tobsha warns, “Do NOT expect ANY publisher (large or small) to market you aggressively – unless you’re already branded. This is an irony and a vicious loop; they will only market you if you are already branded.” 

Janine Ashbless finds, with exceptions (naming Sweetmeats and her work with Cleis some years ago), that larger publishers ‘just churn out books as a production line and you can get lost in the noise’.

Meanwhile, KD Grace comments,I suppose the thing that has shocked me most about the publishing industry is just how abysmal communication is between publishers and authors. There’s a huge disconnect, bringing misunderstanding and lost opportunities.  The right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

Ashe Barker tells us, “Not all publishers are as collaborative as I’d like, i.e. not consulting me when deciding to covert all my books to US English, or being rigid on pricing policy to the extent that books are not competitively priced and are difficult to sell. Overall, I’d suggest working with more than one publisher even if you do have a favourite. All eggs in one basket is never a good strategy.”

 Asserting his ‘extremely positive experience’ with his publisher, Myriad, Jonathan Kemp comments, “I’m consulted on cover images and they push their books and authors out into the world effectively, as well as organising great events.” Other praise was notably directed at Go Deeper Press (run by Lana Fox and Jacob Louder), and at Stupid Fish Productions (run by Dayv and Rose Caraway), particularly for work in promoting anthology contributors. Several writers working with Blushing Books and Stormy Night Publications also emphasized effective marketing and professional conduct.

Alexis Alvarez shares, “I started out self-publishing, and then published one with Stormy Night. Despite being of similar quality and content, the edition with Stormy Night sold far better, I assume because of their marketing machine and client base.”   

Jay Willowbay warns of investigating a publishing house carefully before signing your contract. He relates, “My only full-length publication to date was a Adrea Kore editing language fiction writing writers quotehorror novel through a small press. It was a disaster. There was so little editorial work done that it went on sale within a week of me submitting it. I should have smelled a rat. They did no promo and the company quickly went bust.”

Sue Lyndon echoes this, underlining, “I highly recommend that writers do their research…. Look on Absolute Write to see what other writers are saying. Email a few of their authors, and look at the sales rankings for their recent releases on Amazon. If a publisher doesn’t have a good readership, happy authors, eye-catching covers and catchy blurbs, reasonable contract terms, and a reputation for paying royalties on time, you’ll want to move along and look elsewhere.” 

 

Contracts

In offering advice, a great many authors warn against giving away rights arbitrarily. However flattered we are by the attention of a publisher, remain level headed, and read contracts carefully. Be wary of signing off on all your rights in one fell swoop. Separate payments can be negotiated for print, e-book and audio rights (and for print rights across various global regions).

It’s also wise to have a clause in the contract limiting the duration of exclusivity (anything from 3 to 12 months is typical) so that you retain the right to resell your work, or compile within your own anthology.

Moreover, ensure there’s a clause stating that, if a publisher fails to use your work within a specific time period, or ceases operation, that all rights revert to you, as author.  Molly Moore warns that, due to her contract terms within anthologies, a number of stories ‘remain unpublished and therefore have not earned any money or gained readership’.

Contracts do vary, and sums offered for short story submissions are often negligible, while royalty payments (where given) may have relatively high thresholds, and only become payable once editors have received their payment share. Sign with your eyes open.

Adrea Kore urges, “Read your contracts thoroughly – don’t be afraid to ask questions, seek legal advice and re-negotiate clauses if you feel something really doesn’t suit you or impedes your own vision of your work. Respect your own intellectual work and rights as a content creator and, as much as possible, only sign your work with publishers that appear fair, professional and respectful.”

Decide what’s important to you in handing over your work. Do you simply wish your voice to be heard? Is financial recompense a guiding factor? Or are you content with the commercial exposure you believe a publisher can offer you?

IG Frederick feels strongly that authors should ‘walk away from low paying offers’. At US$25 for 3,000 words, she points out that the author is receiving barely 1/10 of a cent per word, ‘while 6 cents per word is considered a professional rate’. She adds, “If you have a royalty share arrangement, be wary of how the prorating is distributed and when payment is triggered. Restricting the rights you sell (particularly the term) allows you to make money on reissue of your work in the future.” IG is desirous of more authors refusing to write for a ‘pittance’ or for exposure, or to sign ‘restrictive contracts’, noting that ‘it would be easier for all of us to make a living’.

 

Taking Control

Around half of the writers taking part in this survey have experience of self-publishing, with most voicing satisfaction at the level of control, being able to choose their own cover, make decisions on final edits, steer their marketing strategy and set prices. Moreover, in undertaking this work themselves, they maximize royalty payments.

Jaye Peaches stresses, “The big advantage of self-publishing is total control over the creative process. I’ve been able to publish books quickly and build my audience in the space of two years. Whereas big publishers move like snails and the lack of momentum is frustrating.”

Self-publishing offers writers the opportunity to make their voice heard, regardless of being viewed as too ‘edgy’ or ‘niche’ by traditional publishers. It invites liberation from compliance with a ‘commercially successful’ formula. In this way, authors are creating their own flavour, outside of genre stereotypes, accessing niche readerships otherwise ignored.

Siri Ousdahl tells us, “I have an extensive career under another name as a traditionally published writer of genre fiction. I was much happier with the indy press that put out one of my recent books than the big NY publishers I had worked with previously. This got me thinking about self-publishing as a legitimate venue for experimental and transgressive works. So far I have loved it. I have total control and have published a book I could not have done through conventional avenues.”

Cecilia Tan suggests using traditional publishing to access readers and marketplaces otherwise inaccessible, while using self-publishing ‘to build access to an audience that you’d be disconnected from if you relied on publishers alone’.  

In most cases, authors note the ease with which self-publishing is possible.

Will Crimson states, “If the author’s only goal is to be disseminated and read, and if the author is protected by anything like the First Amendment (US Constitution), then times have never been better. He or she need only start a blog. Publishing (or self-publishing) is as simple as writing a post─-instantly and easily available to hundreds of millions of readers. In that respect, the dissemination of erotica has never been easier.”

Cara Bristol echoes this, saying, “This is one of the best times to be an author because there are so many opportunities to be published and to market one’s books (although there are still no guarantees). For the first time in the history of publishing, self-publishing is a financially viable, socially-accepted option.” 

A common frustration voiced by authors is that the ease of self-publishing has encouraged some to believe that there is little more to launching a book than replicating another writer’s commercially successful idea, creating a first draft, giving this a cursory read through to check for errors, and choosing a stock-photo cover. The resulting glut of low quality editions has, in the eyes of most, devalued authorial craftsmanship and given self-published works a poor reputation.

Unsurprisingly, creating a polished work and engaging a significant readership involves discernment and persistence. It takes time, focus and certain talent (whether inherent or learnt). As Cecilia Tan notes wryly, “If you’re a terrible cook because you don’t have the skills, you either need to develop the skills or rely on someone else to do the cooking for you. Now replace the word ‘cooking’ Adrea Kore writing craft author quote lanugage reveal concealwith ‘publishing’ in that sentence.”

The foremost advice offered by authors is to invest in the services of a good editor: not only a copy-editor (to correct such issues as grammar and repetition), but a developmental editor, to help the author explore deeper aspects of their work: characterisation, and a compelling story arc, as well as building tension and creating layers of meaning, to fully engage the reader.

Finn Marlowe underlines, “Self-publishers need editors, end of story. Every writer needs another set of eyes, and not just beta readers [early readers of a story, who offer informal feedback to the writer]. If you’re going to publish unedited crap, you might as well not bother, as you will ruin your reputation and your brand before you even get started.”

Writers repeat time and again the necessity of ruthless editing, cutting away the dead wood of redundant detail.

Adrea Kore, emphasizing that every word chosen by the author should serve a definite purpose, underlines that words are like ‘breaths that keep the blood of the story pumping‘ and that ‘no word should be wasted’. Additionally, that the skilled writer ‘knows what to conceal, what to reveal, and the vital relationship between absence and presence on the page’. (more from Adrea on editing here)

Jaye Peaches admits, “I struggled to recover the start-up costs of editing etc. However, I learnt a lot from the editing process.”

Rose Caraway adds, “Spend time on your skills and, when you believe you’re ready for someone to offer feedback, pass it to them to read and critique.  Choose someone you trust, with a good eye for detail. It’s impossible for you to see everything in your own work. Do read aloud to yourself too, as part of the editing process (or have a friend read to you).”

The aspect of self-publishing most commented upon with dislike is the necessity of marketing: an activity essential to the visibility of books. Writers are, often, not natural extroverts, and find the immodesty of ‘blowing their own horn’ excruciating.

Tamsin Flowers comments, “I wouldn’t recommend self-publishing unless a writer is already established in the market and is willing and able to put in a huge amount of time and effort on marketing. It’s really hard to build visibility as a new writer, particularly in erotica.”

Clearly, there are advantages and disadvantages to the traditional and independent routes of publishing, with each offering its own allure.

K L Shandwick states that being self-published allows her to avoid constraints, while ‘the down side is the amount of work that goes into trying to make the Vanessa Wu author erotic fiction writing publishing Emmanuelle de Maupassantbooks visible’. She asserts, “My advice to new authors would be to ensure you have built a brand before you set out. Know the image you’d like to portray to your followers and work hard to build on what you’ve achieved.” She also warns against expecting ‘instant success’.  

Speaking of ‘brand’, Tobsha Learner expresses regret in her chosen path of marketing herself as an author, telling us, “I have made the mistake of writing in several genres and not settling in one and exploiting that genre as a franchise. The concept of genre and placing authors into rigid boxes differs greatly from territory to territory. However, particularly in the UK, once you’re in that box, it is extremely difficult to break out of the way you are perceived. First-timers should not be naïve on this front. Be clear as to what you want to write, how you wish to be seen (not just by the reading public but also by the publishers).”

 

Finding Your Voice and Your Readership

The creative impulse is not borne of desire for financial gain. Any writer will tell you that there are easier (and more lucrative) ways to earn a living. For many, the art of writing and that of generating income make uncomfortable bed-mates; they compromise one another; they compete for attention; they thwart each others’ success. And yet, there is an argument for an author’s work receiving recognition not simply through praise, but through financial reward. Meanwhile, for those dedicating their days to writing full-time, monetary recompense is often essential.

Speaking of her desire to write with readers (and sales) in mind, Cari Silverwood comments, “Some people love to read about the bizarre, wanting to be taken to new places. However, the vast majority of readers want entertainment and they want a happy ending. You can choose to forge a trail that veers off the beaten path a little, and your readership may be willing to accompany you. Veer too far, and you lose readers. Veer a long way, and…crickets.”

Meanwhile, Sessha Batto is an advocate for placing writing craft above the pursuit of meeting reader expectations. She would rather remain true to her vision, and write for her niche. She reminds us, “There are thousands of formulaic books in every conceivable genre, but the ones you remember are the ones that are more, that push boundaries, that sing their own song.”

I believe in the value of our genre, and am keen to see its profile raised, bringing with it greater recognition of authors’ talent.

 Write boldly, write proudly, write with passion.  

Resources

Editing services tailored to erotic fiction

Adrea Kore: creative consultancy, developmental editing, writing workshops, and copy-editing services  

Zak Jane Keir’s Dirty Sexy Edits

IG Frederick’s Pussy Cat Press: editing service

Zander Vyne’s Full Sail Publishing: editing services – info@fullsailpublishing.com

  

Articles on effective editing:

Remittance Girl: Over Writing 

and 

Malin James: Character Limits

 

Workshops to develop writing craft:

Corporeal Writing (run by Lidia Yuknavitch)

and

LitReactor (Rachel Kramer Bussel)  

Further Reading

Coming in 2017

  • Author Influences
  • Writing Craft
  • You may like to view this post, on the ‘Male/Female Hand, in which readers are challenged to identify writers’ gender.
  • Men Reading Erotic Fiction‘ – looking at why men seek out fiction in this genre, and their preferences for style and content.
  • The Erotic Vein: the male pen – on trends in men’s authorship of erotic fiction.

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou,  Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Kier, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Charlie Bee, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen BradeanJay Willowbay, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young, Vinnie Tesla, Emma Jaye, Dennis Cardiff, Dee Maselle, Frank Lee, Christina Mandara, Big Ed Magussun, Sue Lyndon, T.J. Vermillion, David Flint, Delores Swallows, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Like Water For Chocolate: a review

Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel review Exploring the burning pleasure and pain of physical desire is Laura Esquivel’s ‘Like Water for Chocolate’. It is an erotic tale in the purest sense, delving the agony of repressed love, and the intense delight and suffering of which we are capable. It evokes the smells and tastes of the body, as well as those of the kitchen, showing the power of the senses to overwhelm us.

Tita falls in love with Pedro. Their eyes meet, and:
‘She understood how dough feels when it is plunged into boiling oil… The heat that invaded her body was so real. She was afraid she would start to bubble… like batter.’

Even a single look can be erotic. Pedro finds Tita grinding ingredients in the kitchen and his gaze transforms her ‘from chaste to experienced’ without even Like-Water-for-Chocolate-film-images-13fcd109-647b-4368-80dd-f6556923164touching. She is ‘like water for hot chocolate’ because she is ‘on the verge of boiling over‘ with desire.

Every erotic experience is conveyed in terms of food and cooking, rising heat, flesh seared and long simmering. Chillies appear in recipes repeatedly, symbolising the fiery heat of passion. Tita’s emotional journey is told alongside and through her creation of cuisine.

Tita’s fearsome mother, Elena, insists that Tita must never marry, being destined to take care of her until the day she dies. Pedro agrees to marry older sister Rosaura instead, declaring it as a means of staying close to his beloved, but, of course, as a servant declares, ‘You can’t just exchange tacos for enchiladas!’

Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel review Passion is contained and beaten into submission as surely as Tita herself whips eggs into meringue. Each dish provides a metaphor for Tita’s love life and cooking remains her only way of expressing her emotions, with magical results. Weeping as she beats the wedding cake for Pedro and Rosaura, her tears enter the mixture. As each guest takes a bite, they are overcome by an intense longing for their lost loves, by sadness at opportunities missed and sacrifices made. Their despair is such that they end by vomiting it from their bodies, like poison.

When Tita pours her sexual yearning into her Quail in Rose Petal Sauce, her blood mixing with the soft petals, she induces in her guests a sexual frenzy. The dish brings on a ‘voluptuous delight’, acting as an aphrodisiac so potent that Gertrudis, Tita’s other sister, feels ‘an intense heat pulsing through her limbs’. She rushes to an outdoor shower to cool off but her body is so like water for chocolate esquivel reviewpowerfully charged that the wooden boards catch fire.

Gertrudis’s sexual allure is carried upon the air to the nose of the captain of the rebel troops, Juan, who leaves the field of battle to whisk her off, quite naked, to become his lover. The scent of her ‘red-hot fire’ draws him and he recognises ‘the lust that leapt from her eyes, from her every pore’. He scoops her onto his horse and they make love for the first time, immediately. ‘The movement of the horse combined with the movement of their bodies.’

Gertrudis is so filled with amour that one man cannot satisfy her, and we hear that she seeks out employment at a brothel, before joining the rebel troops, Like Water for Chocolate a review Esquivel and rising to the position of general. There, she meets Juan once more, and they become married, fulfilling the destiny denied Tita and Pedro. In many ways, Gertrudis’ path throws that of Tita into sharp relief, she being confined to the kitchen and to watching over other family members, while Gertrudis, literally helps lead a revolution. She so firmly throws off all conventions, fully embracing her sexual nature, that we might argue that she, rather than Tita, would have made a more fascinating heroine.

Once Mama Elena dies, we hear that Tita and Pedro conduct a fragmented, illicit love affair, coupling discreetly, to avoid upsetting Rosaura. Theirs is a life half-lived. When, at last, Rosaura’s passing allows Tita and Pedro to enjoy one another without guilt, so joyful are they that they are, magically, consumed by flames, fulfilling the prophesy that: ‘If a strong emotion suddenly lights all the matches we carry inside ourselves, it creates a brightness that shines far beyond our normal vision and then a splendid Like Water for Chocolate a review Esquivel tunnel appears… and calls us to recover our lost divine origin.’

Laura Esquivel explores the tragic consequences of denying love: for Tita, who is forbidden from marriage by her mother; and, as we discover, for her mother, Elena, whose thwarted love resulted in an affair which brought on her husband’s death and sowed the seed for her own discontent and bullying of Tita.

‘Like Water for Chocolate’ is a tale, beautifully, enchantingly told, of our struggle against what is Laura Esquivel forbidden, of denial and of fulfillment, and of our helplessness in the face of desire.

 

I read in translation, by Carol and Thomas Christensen. The book was released in the USA in 1993, and simultaneously at cinemas (still shots featured here are from the film).

Laura Esquivel lives in Mexico.  In an interview with Salon Magazine, she notes: ‘I’m interested in that relationship between outer reality and inner desire. It’s important to pay attention to the inner voice, because it’s the only way to discover your mission in life, and the only way to develop the strength to break with whatever familial or cultural norms are preventing you from fulfilling your destiny.’

Patrick Califia’s ‘Mortal Companion’: a review

There is much that is playful in this beguiling tale, including speaking vampire cats, and a wealth of snappy dialogue. There are also scenes of powerful allure, and those of heartbreaking poignancy.

What better vehicle for exploring the many pains of love than a full-length vampire novel?

It doesn’t take the reader long to be rooting for leather-clad, biker Ulric, born in the 14th century, and struggling with the loneliness of Patrick Califiia Mortal Companion erotic fictionimmortality ever since (Califia’s vampires being cursed with finding the company of their own kind unbearable).

Through the centuries, Ulric wanders lost and largely loveless, his suffering sweetly punctuated by short periods of mortal companionship: Alain, who becomes an early victim of AIDS, and, now Lilith, a small-town librarian ripe for exploring her passion for her new lover.

Califia’s sex is heavily influenced by BDSM elements, presented in glorious techni-colour, and with authenticity (having been inspired by Califia’s own experience of the San Francisco scene). Califia’s sex is not only lava-hot but innovative. Combined with a writing style that embraces the brutally raw and the gently lyrical, this is a recipe for an erotic masterpiece. Califia knows his craft.

Above even his skillful manipulation of language is Califia’s creation of compelling, multi-layered characters. Ulric is both dominant and submissive to his new love, tender and masterful. Their relationship is one of balance, presented as an ideal. Lilith is, of necessity, a less dramatic persona, but carries her own quiet authority and we have a sense of her agency in her own fate. She is the giver and receiver of pleasure, Ulric respecting (almost worshipping) her female sexual power on equal footing with demonstrations of masculine erotic strength.

The plot revolves around an ancient feud, initiated by Ulric’s half-sister, the fearsome, obsessive, ruthless Adulfa. Statuesque, and beautiful in all senses unconventional, she pursues vengeance with a single-mindedness that, in the hands of a less talented author, might result in a stereotype of wickedness: a two-dimensional villainess. However, in blaming Ulric for having sentenced her to vampiric Patrick Califia erotic fiction review mortal companion Emmanuelle de Maupassantabomination six centuries earlier, we see not only her capacity to inflict pain on others, but the pain she carries within herself.

On discovering Ulric’s mortal companion, her plans unfold with steady inevitability, set against a catalogue of sadistic scenes in which we, as readers, are left in no doubt that Adulfa’s revenge will surpass anything we can imagine.

Adulfa’s brand of perverted domination is explored at length, leaving us intentionally disturbed and disrupted. Her behaviour, destructive as it is, to others and herself, is the perfect foil to the mutual love we witness between Ulric and Lilith. Where their sex scenes revolve around pleasure and emotional fulfillment, Adulfa’s couplings are spiced liberally with excruciating humiliation and torture.

The story, in its very concept, is fantastical, and yet Califia makes it so easy to suspend our disbelief. We shiver with delicious fear at the sinister path of Adulfa as readily as we shiver with satisfaction at the sex scenes involving Ulric, Lilith and their lovers.

The closing pages of the story are unexpected, and leave the path open to a sequel (as yet unwritten).

Would I like more of Adulfa, Ulric, and Lilith? Oh yes…

 

You many purchase ‘Mortal Companion‘ by Patrick Califia, here.

 

Thoughts from the author, and other male writers of erotic fiction in this article: The Erotic Vein.

What the Future Holds: 21st century erotic fiction

Interviewing just over 130 authors of erotic fiction, I asked what the future holds for our genre.

As ever, this article is intended as a starting point for discussion. All comments are welcome.

For writers and readers seeking access to an online community,erotic fiction 21st century Emmanuelle de Maupassant where ideas may be further debated, and professional expertise shared, you may like to visit the Erotica Writers and Readers Association, or The Erotic Literature Salon.

 

Writing Craft

In her inspiring and uplifting article, On Writing Erotica, Remittance Girl describes the act of passionate creation: ‘Do you remember falling in love with someone and being so addicted to them that it almost made you sick? You could not leave them alone, and when you had to, they were like a huge, dark cloud that blocked out half your horizon, so that everything you did was in a half-dream?… You felt the ghost of their hands on you hours afterwards? Some of my pieces have been like that…The story, the characters haunt me. Those stories are like insatiable, brutal lovers…When it’s like that, I am in ecstasy. And when it’s over, I feel emptied of everything, but not abandoned. Because the story is there and finished and lives. I often wonder if my readers can tell which stories were like that for me. Part of me hopes they can’t. Part of me thinks they can smell the ones that were.’

Lily Harlem notes that skill is required to keep a reader ‘invested’ and ‘in the moment’. She muses, “Some only want to be thrilled. Some want only to be horrified. Erotica is for readers who want to be Horrified but Thrilled!”

With the explosion in self-publishing, many e-editions appear hastily written and, as such, are often felt to muddy the reputation of the genre, so that many readers are, perhaps Kristina Lloyd author quote erotic fiction 21st century literature Emmanuelle de Maupassantunsurprisingly, apt to denigrate erotic fiction as no more than ‘poorly written filth’.

Kay Jaybee tells us, “I fear a continued dilution of quality as more unedited self-pubs hit the e-shelves (across all genres).” She believes that the publishing system may adapt in some way to compensate. Zander Vyne underlines, “The market is flooded with crap. I sometimes wonder if I’m like a high-class call girl who doesn’t want to be lumped in with crack-whores giving $5 blow-jobs in alleys. Maybe, this explains why I’m gradually moving myself out of the ‘erotic fiction’ classification.” Elizabeth Black adds, “People are uploading poorly written porn and presenting it as erotica. Not only is it poorly written, it is a grammatical mess. The covers are ugly. There are misspellings and formatting problems. The whole mess is giving legitimate erotic fiction writers a bad reputation.”

LN Bey notes, “The influence of 50 Shades of Grey, combined with the self-publishing revolution, has produced an awful lot of junk to be waded through to find the jewels.” Making suggestions as to how we ‘solve’ this, LN urges writers, and readers, to ‘buy with discernment and promote work you love by leaving reviews on your blog and on various platforms… and promote great blogs!’

Catherine Mazur urges that we write sex so that it is integral to the unfolding story, rather than dropped into narrative ‘like cookie-cutter homogenized porn cheese chunks’. She asserts, “I’d like sex writing to be taken seriously, as part of culture and as an art. Writing an erotic story to what most would consider to be a high literary standard is very difficult, and this pervasive cultural idea that just anyone can do it, without years of practice and hard work, is insulting.”

Dee Maselle voices a common view that authors need to investsiri ousdahl author quote erotic fiction 21st century Emmanuelle de Maupassant sex in their craft, including through editing “I‘d like to see better editing, with consumer dollars following the well-groomed and thoughtful written word.”

Meanwhile, Molly Synthia urges writers of fiction using erotic elements to avoid creating internal hierarchies of one style or sub-genre being superior to another. She explains that authors have a tendency ‘to celebrate all of the freedom in the genre while subtly (and sometimes not subtly at all) looking down on those who choose to write differently’. She’d like to see authors more readily ‘admit that they write some things just to help housewives get off… and not be ashamed of it’. She continues, “Sometimes we want a candlelight dinner, roses, wine, an incredible bath, and hours of sensual lovemaking. Sometimes we just want to be bent over a chair and fucked quickly. We need writers to accept that either is valid. In any other genre we’d accept a richly detailed world in one story and sparse writing in another.”

Meanwhile, Patrick Califia adds,Writing erotica for the sake of getting off quickly becomes predictable. I hope erotica can continue to develop as literature, with multiple layers of significance and drive.”

Kathleen Bradean states, “I’d like to see literary erotica get it’s due. Writers talk about some mythical golden age. Maybe it was when Anaïs Nin was writing, or George Bataille, but it seems to me that really good literary erotica is a rare thing. Commercially viable literary erotica even less so.”

 

Very Different Beasts

Erotic romance is enjoyed by millions of readers worldwide, providing inspiration and catharsis. Its authors weave emotional journeys and it is for this that fans return over and again.

For those who pursue the writing of ‘pure’ erotica, in which love is not the main focus, the rise in popularity of erotic romance is often perceived as a serious challenge, since readers are thought to now widely associate the entire erotic genre with love themes. They can be KD Grace author erotic fiction literature quote 21st centurydisappointed on coming across a book labelled as ‘erotica’, which does not meet their expectations for romantic elements. Meanwhile, erotic fiction authors may be ‘judged’ (and reviewed critically) against criteria they have never attempted to meet.

A significant share of authors surveyed recognize that traditional erotica, in its exploration of our humanity through the sexual lens, is a very different beast to ‘steamy romance’, in which sex scenes support the development of a love story.

IG Frederick voices a common view in stating, “I’d very much like to see a differentiation between erotic romance and erotica and see literary erotica come into its own as a separate genre. I don’t have any objections to writing, reading, and/or enjoying erotic romance. But, when people acquire one of my works (especially from Korin Dushayl) and expect a romance purely because it’s listed in the erotica genre, it does a disservice to the reader and to me as the author.”

Writers regularly express their desire to see greater recognition of the division between traditional, pure forms of erotic fiction, and erotic romance.

Jane Gilbert comments, Erotic romance, as a genre, seems to have taken over the erotica label post Fifty Shades of Grey. Erotica and erotic romance are two very distinct categories. That is not a value judgement of either but more an observation that the two categories are trying to achieve, in the main, quite different things. They need to be distinguished.”

How cruel it is for a writer of erotic fiction to be flayed for failing to meet ‘romance’ criteria they have never claimed as their own.

Kristina Lloyd asserts a desire ‘to see the erotic liberated from the shackles of romance conventions’. She believes it has a far more diverse role to play in literature, saying, “I’d like to see erotic elements appear more widely in mainstream fiction. The erotic disrupts, destabilizes and threatens order, both personal and social, and its power is widespread and pervasive.

Jacqui Greaves adds, “When I tell people that I write erotica they either think I write bodice rippers or Shades of Grey. There doesn’t seem to be an appreciation of the full spectrum of the erotic sub-genres.” Raziel Moore also asserts the need tobreak free of the current constraints of romance’, stating his belief that the post 50-Shades era has popularized erotica, but ‘within particular confines only’. He stresses, “Unfettered explorations of desire have taken a hit. I’d like to see that change.”

Elizabeth Black states thatRemittance Girl author quote erotic fiction men’s writing on the topics of relationships and sex is more often respected, being lauded for insight into human nature and named as literary fiction, while women’s work on the same topics is more generally dismissed. She states, “Romance has a bad reputation as being sub-par… as if what women choose to read isn’t as respectable or reputable as what men choose. The aggravating thing is that when women write about relationships and sex (romance novels), their books are viewed by some with disdain or disinterest. But when a man writes about the same topics, his books are viewed with great respect. He’s said to have great insight into human nature. His books are often lifted out of the romance genre and placed in literary fiction, which some view as having more clout. Women’s voices and insights matter.”

There is no doubt that erotic fiction is dominated by women writers, as well as by women readers. As to its lack of literary recognition, we cannot help but muse on whether the genre would gain greater respect were men to write more prominently within it…

Sue MacNichol tells us, “So many books in this genre transcend merely the romance aspect and actually have other important messages to give around the social aspects of life, being part of a community and promoting equality and diversity across colour, sexuality, gender, disabilities and ethnicity.”

 

Trapped in a Maze of Repeating Tropes

A great many authors note frustration at publishers and, seemingly, readers desiring a repetitive meal of the same ingredients, rather than seeking out innovative works. Of course, authors must also bear some responsibility for this, where they Nya Rawlyns author quote erotic fiction literature 21st century Emmanuelle de Maupassantare commercially risk-averse, serving up what they believe audiences wish to consume. The situation has become, largely, a self-perpetuating loop, of authors creating works within a ‘safe’ and market-proven zone.

Adrea Kore notes her desire ‘to see more unique voices in contemporary erotica’. Nya Rawlyns declares, “I’d love for erotica to become acceptable as part of our creative lexicon. I think there is room for the careful and circumspect, which is where we are now, but I’d love to see the genre expand to accept the truly transgressive, the type of story that redefines how we see ourselves and our society.”

Justine Elyot voices her frustration that the erotic genre appears so ‘trend-driven’. Zak Jane Keir emphasizes, “I’d like to see a moratorium on vacant virgins and bastard billionaires. We also need more diversity of theme and plot. I dislike stories detailing abuse of women. To me, it’s not daring or innovative to write a story about a woman learning to love her rapist, or to write an even-more-graphic-than-the-last-one story of erotically dismembering women.” CA Bell declares, “I’d like to see sexy, real, and honest writing: no billionaires who can shag for hours and come five times a night.”

Many writers would like to see a broader range of people represented, of all ages, sizes, abilities and sexual orientations. Krissy Kneen expresses a desire for more ‘gender fluidity’. She comments, “The masculine/feminine divide is boring and needs to be retired. Manly men and femme women is a cliché that really must go.”

Cecilia Tan asserts, I’d like to see the genre embrace greater diversity, both in types of character and of types of sexuality and sexual expression.” Lee Savino also states a desire for ‘more diversity’, and access to ‘fans for your niche’. She muses on being able to ‘write dragon dinosaur menage ageplay and find a market for it’.

Adrea Kore reminds us that erotica ‘permits the exploration of alternative sexualities, such as polyamory, kink, gay, queer and open relationships’. She emphasizes, “What I love about the erotica genre is that there is so much scope. Human sexuality is vast, varied, and complex. The spectrum of people’s turn-ons and kinks is almost verging on infinite. And so is writing about it. As authors, we don’t all have to be covering the same ground… there is room for diversity.” (more here) 

Kristina Lloyd notes, “My current focus is on writing outside of the genre by placing more emphasis on the psychological suspense elements in my work and less on the erotic elements. I always want to grow as a writer and to not write on repeat. Right now, I feel as if I’ve exhausted erotica – or it has exhausted me! Saying that, I continue to believe that erotic desire is a key driver for many people, and therefore for characters in fiction too.”

 

Delving the Psyche

Susan St. Aubin voices a common yearning for stories exploring ‘unfulfilling’ sexual encounters, and others delving into darker corners of the sexual psyche, including loss (an area she finds relevant especially when writing older protagonists). IG Frederick notes similar frustration at the fact that ‘it’s perfectly acceptable to use sex to sell anything from cars to beer, but we are discouraged from examining the impact of sex on relationships in works of fiction’.

Sessha Batto notes that she’d love to see ‘more realistic, nuanced, portrayals of the place sex holds in our lives and how erotic fiction author quote Shanna Germaiit shapes our thoughts’. Siri Ousdahl states, “I’d like there to be a larger place for high-quality, graphic sex writing: fiction that is not coy, does not romanticize or trivialize, and is psychologically realistic.

Patrick Califia tells us,My intent is to understand events from my own lifetime. The spiral of life takes you around a few bends, and you find that you are a different person and you have new questions to ask about the past. The past and the future are the same, really, it’s all my life, it comes from me, but I know a lot more about the past than I do about the future. By standing on the edge of the well of memories and throwing a pebble into the darkness, then counting to see how long it takes to fall, I can create an oracle for myself, for my own death, and for the unknown years I have between this breath and the last.”

 

Smut to be Tittered Over

Writers believe that there is still some way to go for erotic fiction to become socially accepted (more here – on Hidden Identities) and yearn to see it recognized by the wider literary community, by retailers, and by the media, for its merit.

Terrance Aldon Shaw notes, “I’d like to see erotica inspire serious discussion and thoughtful critique, with the best of the genre being recognized for the great literature it is, and the authors who write it to receive the recognition and financial reward they so clearly deserve.”

KD Grace underlines that she’d like to see erotic fiction ‘stop being treated like the bastard stepchild of the literary world’. Lucy Felthouse notes that much stigma remains attached to the genre, saying, “Local newspapers are reluctant to cover stories about erotica authors, and local bookshops soon lose interest when you mention the genre. It can be disheartening.” RV Raiment adds, “I’d like to see erotic fiction gain a place in the broader media. There is still too much guilt, too much prudery and too much persecution.”

As Remittance Girl asserts, “I hope that I can play some small role in the evolution of erotic writing and help, if only in a tiny way, to push it into the light and towards being recognized as a fertile and unconstrained form of critically recognized literature.”

Ina Morata comments that she has been on the receiving end of disapproval from authors who write outside of the erotic genre. She states, There is still such an ‘under the counter’ mentality about buying and reading erotica.” Meg Amor tells us, I’m irritated by the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ attitude and puerile labels like ‘pervy’ and ‘dirty’. It reminds me of pimply schoolboys giggling behind the school bike sheds with a couple of girly magazine and some pilfered cigarettes. Sex is part of life. Why shouldn’t it be written about?”

Brantwijn Serrah is saddened that erotica isdismissed as dirty, smutty, or cheap’. Donna George Storey adds, “There seems to be a need to demean it as pathetic fantasy fodder for bored housewives or horny bachelors.” Victoria Blisse is tired of the ‘tee hee, have you read this saucy book?’ attitude, wishing to see the genre accepted, as any other.

JD Lexx states, “I’d like to see it framed as less guilty pleasure and more the mark of a mature and adventurous mind.” Cate Ellnik comments, “It beats me why crime fiction is something people discuss so readily, yet erotic fiction is sniggered over or hidden.” Vinnie Tesla adds, “So long as the rhetoric around erotic writing embraces the notion that the sexual has to be ‘redeemed’ by other elements, it will be mired in shame and double-think.”

Meanwhile, Sylvia Storm notes, “I would love a closer connection between adult film-makers and the writers of erotica.”

 

Eroding Sexual Stigma

Many authors believe that writing the erotic has a valuable role to play in eroding sexual stigma. Felicity Brandon comments, “If my writing can help to contribute to this evolution, then that would be amazing!” 

Rose Caraway tells us, “I want to bring a wide range of stories to listeners, so that they feel not only inspired but comfortable, and so that they feel encouraged to communicate and be fulfilled. Foremost I want to break down notions of sex being ‘bad’. We mustn’t be afraid or ashamed.” Brantwijn Serrah adds that erotica can ‘communicate new ideas, draw people closer and improve intimacies, and inspire readers to discover new aspects of themselves’.

Terrance Aldon Shaw notes,Sex is neither dirty nor shameful. There must be a way of describing this universal, beautiful, multifaceted, complex activity in language that is neither overtly vulgar nor detached from feeling altogether. I believe that an unexamined life is no life at all. Ignorance and innocence are not the same thing, and society needs desperately to grow up.”

Tilly Andrews adds, “I’d like to see less judgement about the genre. It bothers me that books about murder can be promoted freely, yet books that contain sex cannot.”

Meanwhile, the popularity of BDSM themes inspires Alexis Alvarez to say, “I’d like to see a move towards female-centric views of BDSM and sexuality. Most stories, for all of their modern settings and vocabulary, remain stuck in a patriarchal mind-set. I’d like to see a new wave, showing how feminism can coexist with BDSM and D/s and erotica.”

Madeleine Moore adds, “I fear, post FSOG, that a heterosexual girl who doesn’t like a good spanking is ‘no fun’. If she’s pressured to succumb to a beating to appear ‘cool’, what the fuck has been accomplished? It might be better all-around if we focus on zero tolerance for sexual abuse and allow the BDSM crowd to find each other, rather than pushing to make BDSM some sort of cultural norm. Nothing is ever going to be acceptable to everyone.”

 

Greater Recognition and Visibility

Thanks to social media, writers in the erotic genre are showing more unity than ever; through collaboration, they are forming their own brand of literary collective. In working together, and offering mutual support, we may more easily make our voices heard, across so many platforms.

The UK’s ‘Eroticon’ convention, for writers in the genre (being next held in London in 2017), is a great example of authors and bloggers coming together to network and to share their professional expertise.

Authors are eager to see the genre gain greater visibility, not only via media recognition, but through prominence on sales platforms, online and ‘on the high street’. Visibility of e-books is particularly problematic, due to the proliferation of titles (in the erotic genre above all others). That the genre is capable of so much more remains unrecognised largely because even the ‘best’ examples lack sufficient visibility.

Authors feel frustration at being unable to advertise their titles through the Amazon programme, and books being hidden behind walls within the search engine. Cecilia Tan laments that Amazon and the other major retailers ‘treat their biggest money-maker like a dirty secret’. Laura Antoniou echoes this, saying that she’d like to see Amazon ‘get over the weird way they have Remittance Girl erotic fiction author quoteof hiding and downplaying erotica’. As Elizabeth Safleur puts it, “It’d be nice if Amazon didn’t bury our titles.”

Ashe Barker adds, “I’d like to see a lot more of our books on sale in major outlets – supermarkets, high street booksellers, airports. Amazon’s stranglehold over our distribution worries me, especially as Amazon is not exactly author-friendly. Their near-monopoly gives them too much power and influence and, ultimately, they are not on our side. Similarly the dominance of Facebook over our promo and communications leaves us very vulnerable. I’ve taken care to build a newsletter list over the last year or so and I continue to invest in my website, just to make sure I have alternatives. I don’t trust either Facebook or Amazon, not really.”

Rose Caraway tells us, “I want to put erotica on the map much more boldly, and make it easier to find. You have to jump through hoops to find it on retail platforms. The more writers out there using erotic elements effectively, the more visible it should become.”

Noting that readers have the choice to exercise discernment, Ria Restrepo asserts, “Let the market decide.”

 

Our Battle Cry

Erotic fiction has the ability to hold a mirror to society, and to speak where other genres do not. Shanna Germain underlines, “Out of all the genres, I think erotica (and horror) are ones that reflect a lot of the mores of our current culture. Sci-fi looks ahead, fantasy looks back, literary fiction looks askance. But erotica looks right at the now and says, ‘This is happening, in the streets, in the bedrooms, in the bars.’ Where will erotica, as a genre go? It will go where the culture goes. I hope it goes somewhere open-minded, joyous, and hot as fuck.”

Remittance Girl, in her article, On Writing Erotica, tells us, “To articulate the conflict within ourselves, to make sense of it, and then to reach out to others via the page: this is the path of the writer. As we look to what comes next, our only true desire can be to write freely and honestly, to write what refuses to lie quietly, to write what thrills us, emotionally, intellectually and viscerally. If we achieve this, then our stories will be worth telling, and worth reading. We are adventurers. We are explorers. Be brave. Dare to write what frightens and unsettles us, as well as what delights us. In doing so, we may write words worth remembrance.” 

 

Further Reading

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads
  • Women Writing Erotic Fiction
  • Writing Craft

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou,  Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Kier, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Charlie Bee, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen BradeanJay Willowbay, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young, Vinnie Tesla, Emma Jaye, Dennis Cardiff, Dee Maselle, Frank Lee, Christina Mandara, Big Ed Magussun, Sue Lyndon, T.J. Vermillion, David Flint, Delores Swallows, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

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Lines in the Sand: transgression and censorship

This article looks at the nature of transgressive fiction, and tackles issues of censorship, including the paradox of themes being permitted for exploration in other genres (such as young fiction and horror) but not in fiction classed as ‘erotic’. It is a transgression and censorship taboo erotic fiction Emmanuelle de Maupassant authors writers readersstarting point for discussion rather than offering any definitive answers.

To learn more about the 130 participants who contributed to debate on these subjects, visit here.

The Nature of Transgression

Erotic literature has traditionally worn a face of transgression, of the defiant questioning of cultural norms, based on the premise that knowledge is to be found by pushing to the edge of experience.

Adrea Kore notes her authorship of erotic fiction as a political act, as well as a creative one. She asserts that finding words for women writing and speaking about their own desire is still seen as taboo in corners of Western culture, let alone in cultures where women are more repressed ideologically, and socially. She stresses, “The political aspect of it, the desire to confront and subvert is a strong motivation for me – as strong as the desire to seduce and arouse.”

Erotic fiction offers not just a dissection of pleasure but of the painful consequences of our actions. We can argue that an exploration of the erotic is best served by striking at what discomforts us, by questioning our assumptions.

Remittance Girl states that, according to Bataille, ‘landscapes of transgression are places of discontinuity’, where our sense of self Jonathan Kemp fiction quote author Emmanuelle de Maupassant transgression taboobecomes disrupted’, through ‘extreme pleasure, pain or mental anguish’.  (more here)

Jonathan Kemp adds, “For Georges Bataille (and Foucault), transgression was a limit-experience.” [an experience on the edge of limits, where divine horror and divine ecstasy meet, where rules are broken until a place beyond all rules is reached]. He continues, “For Genet it was a slap in the face of the Bourgeoisie; and dependent upon the status quo remaining intact. Arguably, transgression was easier for Bataille and Genet, for they (amongst others) have paved the way for serious, literary attention being paid to the erotic.” Kemp adds that  ‘contemporary erotica isn’t necessarily transgressive (for example, Fifty Shades of Grey)’.

Malin James underlines, “While a great deal of erotica falls Remittance Girl erotic fiction quote Bataille transgression Emmanuelle de Maupassantinto a realistic vein, much of what people actually want is that which they can’t (or don’t feel they can) have in real life. This is why rape fantasies, incest and other transgressive sexual acts continue to sell erotica and generate clicks. The appeal of the forbidden is as old as the Bible, when Eve and the apple laid the foundation for centuries of sexual taboo. The fact is that we get pleasure from doing that which we’re not ‘supposed’ to do… While some taboos have been neutralized by an expanded notion of sex positivity (for the most part, gay couplings, anal and oral sex and extramarital situations don’t pack the transgressive punch they historically have), the amount of incest porn, tentacle porn, bestiality, non-con and various forms of edge play being consumed has risen…” Malin notes that, as such acts are ‘still taboo’, they ‘retain the power to arouse in ways that non-transgressive acts don’t tend to’. 

Janine Ashbless adds, “I’m turned on intellectually and erotically by stepping outside my comfort zone for a little while. A cozy tale of sex between two familiar lovers simply does not do it for me – there has to be tension. So I use my discomforts and my many fears to bring power to my erotic fiction. I challenge myself, and if that means challenging my readers then so much the better.”

Raziel Moore tells us that, when he writes to challenge his reader (or himself), he focuses on either challenging ‘preconceptions’ in how people behave or ‘to expose some raw thing, some ugliness living under my (or your) half buried log, and expose – and wallow in – its fundamental eroticism’. He notes, “I like writing characters at once repulsed and drawn in to some carnal transgression. The various wars between intellect and sensation, mind and body, and the subversion of one by the other in the short or long term is one of my favorite Raziel Moore author quote erotic fiction transgression Emmanuelle de Maupassantthemes. Not only am I turned on by this objectionable thing – I want to think about why I am.”

Zander Vyne asserts that ‘overturning assumptions’ is far more interesting than writing stories just for ‘fun’. She likes to explore ‘what we think we know’, challenging expectations, with the hope that the reader will ‘emerge with new feelings and understanding… [of] who we, and others, really are’. As she underlines, ‘why write a boring story when you can do all that?

LN Bey notes, “Great art challenges—our intellect, our beliefs, and most of all our perceptions. With erotica, we have unusual opportunities to look into the human psyche, the human condition, that other genres do not possess.”

Sorcha Black asserts her goal of challenging assumptions about gender roles and sexual attraction by avoiding ‘stereotypes’. She explains, “A lot of my characters are sexually fluid and are also into kink, so I don’t have to limit myself to what’s expected. It’s far too easy to paint caricatures.” Sorcha notes also her portrayal of  ‘the subjectivity of good and evil’, and emphasizes how point of view influences our interpretation.

Shanna Germain states, “I’m all about subversion and ninja-sneak-attacks. I want the reader to be so engaged with the story and care so strongly about the characters that they don’t even notice that I’m challenging their assumptions or attempting to stretch their boundaries until it’s all over. I think that it’s very easy for some people to be on the defense if they feel like you’re going to preach at them or try to change their mind about something, and I want them to walk into a story with all their shields down and their hearts exposed.”  

Remittance Girl asserts that it is possible to find something morally repugnant and still be fascinated by its psychological ramifications. She refers to Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, set during the Stalinist Purges of the Soviet Union, which explores the developing relationship between the main character and his interrogator. She notes, “The sustained mental intimacy of one person prying violently into the mind of another produces interesting behaviour patterns. I was interested in exploring the fracturing of the self. Psychological extremes are intimate places.” (more here)

Malin adds, “There is always going to be a difference between what people fantasize about and what they actually do. Transgression and sexual taboo by-pass what many consider to be ‘realistic’ sex and appeal to that portion of sexuality that is driven by fantasy.” She believes transgression to be a driving force in erotica for two reasons: appealing to ‘our attraction to the morally and socially forbidden’; and allowing us, as readers, to ‘dance on the line between fantasy and reality’ in a safe way. She acknowledges the value in creating a ‘grey area’, in which we can examine ‘the tension between social conditioning, morality, transgression and taboo’, exploring ‘what would otherwise bring only repression and shame’.

Inner Limits

In our Western world, fiction including sex scenes is widely available, accepted readily as adult reading material (albeit read discreetly at home, or via Kindle on public transport). Accordingly, very little may be genuinely considered ‘transgressive’, pushing us into zones of discomfort (and therebyRemittance Girl erotic fiction reader author Emmanuelle de Maupassant inspiring deeper levels of reflection). This may be why historical erotic fiction is so popular, since the setting more immediately confers a transgressive stance: a feeling of ‘taboo’.

Since our modern society is accepting of most expressions of sexual behaviour, the transgressive perhaps has more significance as an exploration of inner limits (those we place upon ourselves: our own, self-imposed lines in the sand).

Jonathan Kemp tells us, “Homosexuality, which is the form of erotic behaviour my own writing mostly explores, is hardly taboo these days in most circles, so the question becomes how to make it feel transgressive? How to make it work against the norm? In ‘London Triptych’ I chose to write about male prostitutes from different points of view – two from the perspective of rent boys themselves, and one from the perspective of an older man whose sexual repression prevents him from paying for the services of the rent boy he is falling in love with. In the context of the world and characters I was describing, love became transgressive.”

Cari Silverwood highlights the importance of reader point of view, noting that interpretation can vary greatly. Our individual lines in the sand cannot but affect our response to what we read.

Our interest may lie in watching characters struggle and push through their inner-sanctions, and in watching them deal with the consequences: ‘guilt, mistrust, fear and emotional wounding’ as Remittance Girl writes. We see the character obliged to ‘reconstruct their identity in the light of what they’ve done’. (more from RG here)

The fingers of the erotic not only stroke us to pleasure but rend us, exposing our uncertainty and our inconsistencies.

Cari Silverwood tells us, “I try to take readers somewhere they may not have gone before. The unexpected is always in my sights.” She asserts that her stories aim to make us question our ‘relationship with the world and humanity’, to the point where we are ‘uncomfortable and, even, disturbed’. In writing ‘dark fiction’, she believes that ‘there is an inherent moral challenge’. Acknowledging storytelling’s intent to entertain us, she emphasizes her desire to engage readers viscerally, by immersing characters in conflict.

Remittance Girl adds that some of the most moving and thought-provoking writing involves ‘characters presented in extremis’, inviting the reader to consider morally ambiguous questions.  She believes, “It is my very discomfort as a reader Emmanuelle de Maupassant author quote erotic fictionthat has triggered deep and serious introspection on many topics. These are the books that will stay with me for life.”

In her review of Siri Ousdahl’s Constraint, Remittance Girl states: ‘In order to transgress a law or a taboo, one must recognize the moral authority, the intrinsic value to society, of the law or taboo being broken. Conversely, concepts like consent would have little importance or sacredness for us if they weren’t fragile and vulnerable to profanation. If we had no fear of the taboo of rape, gave no moral authority to the supremacy of consent, this story wouldn’t be truly transgressive.’

We can assert that transgression has no fixed ‘location’. Cecilia Tan, having been writing for many years, notes that the nature of ‘taboo’ has changed greatly. She explains, “Consensual BDSM and bisexuality used to be exotic but they’re now becoming more commonplace.”

Remittance Girl reminds us that DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was transgressive because ‘it was socially unacceptable for people of such different classes to have a sexual relationship (especially where the woman was upper class and the man from the working class).’ (more here)

Jonathan Kemp notes that, in ‘Twentysix’, he ‘wanted to explore the romance of promiscuity, the almost-spiritual (for want of a better word) dimension of anonymous encounters’. Kemp explains, “The sexual acts I describe may seem transgressive to some (fisting, watersports, group sex, rimming), but within the context of the sexual subcultures I am representing they are a norm, so the transgression, for me has to come from elsewhere… from how the erotic is represented.“ He explains that he chose to create a ‘narrative transgression’ by using amulti-voiced and multi-valenced prose styleappropriating other registers, other voices’.

Transgression exists only in relation to our sense of ‘norm’, which is shaped by the ideologies we grow up with, by the social expectations placed upon us, by the lines we draw in the sand, for each other and for ourselves.

As Remittance Girl puts it, ‘The hand you push into your pants or under your skirt is stained with the everyday world you live in’. (more here)

Censorship

Jonathan Kemp comments of the ‘twins’ of transgression and taboo, “I might reconfigure them in one body, as two conflicting impulses: action, or restraint.” He imagines censorship, then, as ‘the nanny or governess of this child struggling with a desire to do something and a moral sense or fear that prevents the desire from transgressing into action’. He adds, “Censorship, in a sense, is like the Freudian superego: punitive, disciplinarian, body-hating. Censorship tries to control the transgression of taboos, to hide the body’s excess, its radical jouissance.” [a paradoxical pleasure, reaching an almost intolerable level of excitement].

We might imagine that publishers specialising in erotic fiction would be most open minded, most daring, most willing to ‘push the limits’, offering readers a feast of the surprising. Of course, some are attempting to do so, as far as they believe themselves LN Bey author erotic fiction quote human psyche Emmanuelle de Maupassantable within the limits set by major retailers (we cannot escape the fact that publishers are in business to make money).

However, in many instances, submission guidelines fail to encourage innovation. Rather the reverse. Larger publishers, whom we might imagine are best placed to take the occasional commercial risk, are often most guilty of playing safe, seeking out the same romance tropes and happy-ever-afters.

Siri Ousdahl notes the position of mainstream publishers and retailers, stating that they have a bottom line to consider, so it’s no surprise if they balance potential earnings against risk. As she notes, “The erotic books they’ve embraced in recent years had proven track records online, so the risk hasn’t been significant. When Random House or Penguin ‘take a chance’ on erotica, the works are far from transgressive.”

Publishers and retailers have, largely, taken an extreme stand on the portrayal of sex in fiction, creating their own, arbitrary, list of what is deemed appropriate for readers to encounter, as if the reader were incapable of exercising discernment, or were incapable of processing the words as fiction.

Where does this leave us as authors? Writing repeatedly down the same avenues, afraid to offend, or challenge?

Even independent erotica publishers are prone to request ‘light and fun’ stories, ignoring the huge potential of the genre to take us into the deeper, darker (arguably far more compelling and fulfilling) spaces within the human psyche.

Patrick Califia notes, “I think the difference between commercial, bland ‘erotica’ and radical sex writing is the author’s willingness to challenge limits… Most editors and publishers will refuse to touch the subject of young people and sex, and there is a whole list of other things they won’t put into print as well.”

In fact, publishers regularly reject plots involving extra-marital affairs, or those featuring characters displaying disabilities or who fail to meet general ‘standards’ of attractiveness, or who are older in age. Also ‘unpalatable’ are references to sexual thoughts/acts by or involving characters below the age of 18, Remittance Girl quote fiction reality author erotic fictiondespite the majority of countries worldwide (and the majority of American states) setting the age of consent below 18 years.

Coming of Age

Opinions on the appropriateness of telling characters’ sexual stories before they reach the age of 18 are perhaps even more divided than those revolving around non-consent.

‘Coming of Age’ stories are seen as a minefield, since there is no consensus of opinion on the age at which it becomes ‘morally’ acceptable to acknowledge sexual awareness. Is it permissible to describe the sexual thoughts of a 17, 16, 15, 14 or 13 year old? In Young Adult fiction, the answer is yes. Reference may even be made to sexual acts. In any work of literature classified as erotica, the answer is no.

For predominantly commercial reasons, few authors of erotic fiction attempt to write into this sphere. There is no graduating scale of permissibility. Rather, there is an umbrella ban on the mention of anyone under the age of 18 in relation to sexual thoughts or acts (within fiction categorized as ‘erotic’). Within the categorization of erotic fiction, it is a publishing no-no for anyone over the age of 18 to be shown to have sexual thoughts about a character under the age 18, regardless of whether such thoughts are acted upon. In fiction, it appears, thought is as damnable as deed.

This article makes no attempt to provide definitive rules for application. However, as many authors point out, if we may not explore concepts through the inventions of fiction, what avenues remain?

Wade Esley believes, “To ignore this important developmental period is ridiculous and, frankly, dishonest. How can you tell a more honest and heartfelt story than to describe the magic and wonder of experiencing something for the first time? The fear and excitement of venturing into the unknown is fertile ground for developing rich characters and compelling stories.”

Laura Antoniou is among those who express a desire to explore the sexual histories of characters before they reach the age of 18, while Krissy Kneen takes this further, in being keen to delve the psychology behind some people’s compulsion towards sexual acts with those not yet of legal age. She mentions that her latest book (not yet published) ‘takes some small steps towards exploring this area’. She asserts her concern about public reaction. “It is as if we can’t even speak of it,” she comments.

Patrick Califia underlines, In America, we eroticize youth to an insane extent and yet have draconian punishments for anyone who dares react to all that idealization.” Moreover, he adds, “We’ve become less and less realistic about the sexuality of young people. The penalties for raising these issues are huge and hideous.” As an aside, he notes, “I’ve written only a couple of articles attacking age of consent laws. To all intents and purposes they do not protect young people from abuse. Most molesters of children are family members, not strangers, and the current law enforcement focus ignores this completely. I will keep on talking about this as much as I can because I was abused as a child, and I’m very angry about the way my family’s dysfunction was rationalized or ignored by everyone around us. It took all the strength I had to escape from that world, but I was ill-prepared to leave home, and barely survived the transition from adolescence into adulthood. I think it is a crime that queer children have no mentors, so little help.”

In such cases, where publishers deem particular elements to be ‘non-commercial’, authors have often turned to self-publishing, to allow them to reach readers more freely. However, as is well-known, retailers also impose rules, making their own judgements as to what is ‘appropriate’ reading matter.

Most authors agree that censorship of fiction, in the name of ‘protecting’ readers, is nonsensical. While reading of murder or torture may disturb us (and, we would imagine, rightly and intentionally so) thinking, writing or reading about such acts is not the same as committing them. Rather, reflection on matters of moral dilemma is encouraged as emotionally and intellectually enriching.

The same logic can be applied to the writing of sexual behaviour (even, or especially, where it contravenes the law of whichever country the reader resides in).

Ironically, fiction is the very place in which we are ‘safe’ to explore deeds we would never indulge in real life; it is the realm in which we may muse on all the ‘what ifs’.

Nya Rawlyns states, “My writing is and isn’t me. I channel characters within my imagination. They constantly surprise, shock and delight. Some cause fear, others dismay, a few I Emmanuelle de Maupassant erotic fiction censorship author quotedespise. They all answer one question, without hesitation… what if?”

Defending a non-censorship position, Janine Ashbless asserts, “Fiction is a sacred space, where the rules of real life do not apply. It’s a safe area in which to let our darker selves, our fears and our desires, out for a little exercise…”

Of Amazon’s banning of certain subject matter, LN Bey states, “I’m entitled to fantasize whatever the hell I want. No one gets to dictate the ‘propriety’ of my fantasies.” Stressing anger not only as a writer but as a reader, LN declares, “They’re keeping me from reading what I might enjoy. That is simply not their right to do, and I take offense at that… I will read and write what I damn well please.”

Zander Vyne notes that writers are prone to self-censorship through fear of penalty, and laments that, once a book is labelled as ‘banned’ readers’ perceptions become tainted. She stresses, “The censor’s falsehood replaces the writer’s truth.” Zander adds, “At its best, writing is ground-breaking. Revolutionary. Writers should have no barriers to creativity, and no subject should be off-limits.” She urges publishers (and retailers) to be braver, taking more risks, under the knowledge that readers are capable of making their own choices. However, she makes note that, as a mother, she does believe in ‘controlled accessibility for minors, and in the necessity for clear labeling to inform’.

Noting that we should be free to exercise our reading preferences and that it’s important to allow readers to make choices for themselves, LN Bey continues, “Avoiding a work of fiction is different than trying to stop it from existing. We’re in a bizarre age in which sexually explicit material is more available than ever before… but we are also in the age of Taking Offense. And when one Takes Offense, nowadays, one takes full, righteous action—this thing that Offends me cannot exist. “

Double-standards and Lack of Consistency

Regardless of which themes, we, as authors, choose to explore, and which sub-genres of erotica we tend to gravitate towards, we desire to be free to write as we choose, just as we desire to read ‘as we choose’.

Christina Mandara highlights double standards between genres, saying, “You can read all sorts in [the] horror [genre] with rape, incest, axes buried in skulls etc – but non-consensual erotica is frowned upon. I can’t understand why eBook stores are being so censorious in the erotica genre, but not horror.

Tilly Andrews echoes this, saying, “I could write a very graphic scene of torture and murder for a horror novel and this would not be censored. However, if I add a sexual element and include in an erotic book I am sure that this would be slammed.”

Delores Swallows voices frustration, noting a desire to write a story incorporating plot devices of abduction, torture and murder, and lamenting, “I’m not allowed to include themes like that in erotica – only in the mainstream!” KD Grace raises the same issue, declaring, “I always find it frustrating that those taboos are only in place for erotica writers and don’t apply to any other genre.”

Meanwhile, Remittance Girl notes, “I am free to eroticize staggeringly violent acts, but there’s no publisher that will touch a story about a man who wakes up one morning to find his wife dead, and in a moment of intense grief, has sex with her body one last time.” (more here)

Siri Ousdahl mentions the obvious paradox of our willingness to watch films and television programmes, and read fiction, depicting serial killers, yet our apparent unwillingness to engage with non-consensual sexual acts in fiction. She muses that this may be ‘because many more people are affected by real-life rapists than by real-life serial-killers’. 

Ashe Barker tells us, “I wrote a non-con scene in one of my earlier books, and my publisher insisted it be toned down to dub-con. I have never really warmed to the altered version, my first approach was the one I felt was right for those characters. Now, as a more experienced writer and working with a wider range of publishers I might well stick to my guns and either self-pub or find a publisher who shared my vision. I find non-con fascinating and harbour a desire to write something darker than my usual stuff.”

A significant number of readers appear to condemn the writing of such themes (not only non-consent but stories looking at the compulsion towards incest, or sexual themes for under-18s) in the same manner in which they would condemn them as ‘real-life’ acts, rather than recognizing them as themes being explored within fiction.

As Anne Rice notably stated in The Guardian newspaper (2012), we need much more freedom for erotica writers. With particular reference to women, Ms. Rice writes:I’m supportive of equal rights for women, and that includes the right of every woman to write her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys.’ 

In the same vein, Christina Mandara notes, “It seems that women, particularly, must have consensual, hearts and flowers stories.”

 While accepting that publishers have the right to avoid investing in work they don’t think will sell well, Sorcha Black notes that many of the books named as ‘too graphic or taboo’ are those aimed at women. She believes, “The policing of women’s sexuality still includes censoring what we read.”

Cari Silverwood voices an opinion shared by many authors regarding the lack of consistency in Amazon’s approach to censorship, making particular note of how this is manifested in the seemingly random acceptability of covers.

Shanna Germain asserts the position of publishers and retailers, stating, “I believe that in a free market, publishers and retailers are a business, and they can choose what they do and don’t want to provide as part of that business. To me that’s a business decision, not censorship. They’re not blocking something from being read, they’re just not offering it as part of their business model. As an author, I choose publishers that publish the things that matter to me. As a publisher, I don’t publish material that is racist or homophobic or misogynist. I’m not censoring those books by not publishing them. Someone can buy them elsewhere if that’s their thing, but I am saying, ‘those LN Bey author erotic fiction censorship Emmanuelle de Maupassantbooks don’t fit my personal beliefs, my business model, or my audience, so I’m not going to publish them’ and that has to be okay.” 

However, she adds that, where the market is dominated by a single retailer, the position takes a different slant, since ‘they are potentially blocking all kinds of things from being available’.

Raziel Moore notes the arbitrary and capricious rules of the major retailer(s) but, more significantly, the not-long-past crisis of payment companies refusing to process transactions, effectively blocking independent authors’ sales.

In the genre of ‘Literary Fiction’, it appears that almost anything goes. In the hallowed high-brow halls, are any subjects taboo? There, may even the most transgressive of themes be explored, and their authors applauded for innovation and daring? May incest and non-consent be explored in ‘Women’s Fiction’, necrophilia and extreme violence in ‘Horror’, and coming of age themes in ‘Young Adult’? All are off limits within erotic fiction.

We may debate the propriety of how themes are handled, and the way in which they may be ‘appropriately’ eroticized, but the fact remains that fiction is the realm of imagination. Fiction is not reality: it is a place of reflection and exploration. To write, and read, of what we find unsettling, uncomfortable or disturbing can provide us with valuable opportunities to better know ourselves, and our world.

Further Reading

  • You may like to view this post, on the ‘Male/Female Hand, in which readers are challenged to identify writers’ gender.
  • Men Reading Erotic Fiction‘ – looking at why men seek out fiction in this genre, and their preferences for style and content.
  • The Erotic Vein: the male pen – on trends in men’s authorship of erotic fiction.

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Special thanks are due to Remittance Girl, whose numerous articles have been my starting point not only for this article, but for the entirety of this survey. Her website is a dazzling treasure chest of insight and challenge.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou,  Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will CrimsonSorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Charlie Bee, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen BradeanJay Willowbay, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young, Vinnie Tesla, Emma Jaye, Dennis Cardiff, Dee Maselle, Frank Lee, Christina Mandara, Big Ed Magussun, Sue Lyndon, T.J. Vermillion, David Flint, Delores Swallows, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Hidden Identities: writers of erotic fiction

Interviewing just over 130 authors of erotic fiction, I asked how openly we discuss our workHidden Identities pennames  writers of erotic fiction emmanuelle de maupassant with friends and family and how far we keep separate our ‘writing identity’, to avoid social stigmatization.

As ever, this article is intended as a starting point for discussion. All comments are welcome.

 

Slipping into a Pseudonym

While a number of authors do write under their legally recognized name, more than in any other genre, we pen our words from behind a pseudonym.

Some do this for commercial reasons, separating writing identities across genre categories, to avoid confusing readers. Cherry Wild comments, “There are benefits to compartmentalizing writing identities. I believe readers should understand what they’re going to read from an author, instead of having a shocking surprise that what they thought would be a standard murder mystery is actually a sexed-up erotic thriller.”

Male writers, on occasion, write under a female pen name, believing it will result in better sales (the market being thought to largely comprise women readers). Women authors, in turn, may choose a gender-neutral pen name, wishing to avoid being automatically categorized or labelled by gender. 

Laura Antoniou, famous for her ‘Marketplace’ series, notes that she used to pose under a masculine pen name, believing this would appeal to gay male readers. However, with changing trends, this has become irrelevant. She notes, “The number of gay male readers who would care who wrote their erotica is FAR overshadowed by the number of female readers who read MM, so there is no benefit in me writing as a guy.” 

 

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

There’s no doubt that the relationship between the author and their reader is never closer than in the genre of erotic fiction. What other sphere of writing taps so closely into the emotional and sexual psyche?

It’s perhaps unsurprising that readers do tend to initiate contact with writers, seeking to further their connection beyond the page. While such interaction can be flattering, and welcome, it’s not uncommon for authors to report readers stepping over the usual boundaries of propriety, assuming that the writer, by nature of their subject matter, is inviting ‘real life’ sexual intimacy.

Female authors of erotic fiction, particularly, are unlikely to have avoided invitations to engage in ‘sex chat’, or overt photographic overtures. As Will Crimson jokes, wryly, having written at times under a female pen name, “I knew I’d arrived as a female erotic writer when I received my first ‘dick pic’.”

In cases where an author uses their legal name, and/or an identifiable profile picture, other risks may arise, relating to unwanted attention.

 

Avoiding Judgement

The main reason cited by authors of erotic fiction in choosing a pseudonym is the wish to Cherry Wild erotic fiction authoravoid ‘judgement’, not just from co-workers or neighbours, but from family and friends, or to avoid negative consequences for those they love.

As Will Crimson notes, “I write under a pseudonym to protect my family’s friendships and associations.”

Whilst we, as authors, are proud of our writing achievements, the explicit nature of our work does not always allow us to openly share our success. Many admit to confiding in only the closest of friends. Some tell only their partners; some avoid confiding even in their lovers, fearing disapproval.

For those with school-age children, and those living in small communities, anticipation of marginalization is very real. Anxiety over losing employment is a palpable fear.

Patient Lee asserts, “As I’m a high school teacher in a conservative community, I guard my identity with my life. I believe I’d be fired if people knew what I wrote.”

patrick califia author quote erotic fictionAlthough the journey continues, we’ve come a long way in embracing equality of rights across sexual orientation, race and gender. And yet, whatever their ‘secret’ reading habits, some members of the public draw the line at rubbing shoulders with writers of what many term ‘filth’.

Certain assumptions seem to apply to authors of erotic fiction that apply nowhere else. Write a story in which your protagonists embed axes in zombie skulls and no one will blink an eye. Write a threesome fellatio scene and you’re assumed to be of dubious morals. Whether we’re believed to be writing from experience, or from the rich meadows of our imagination is irrelevant. In line with the prevailing trend of ‘sexual shaming’, our work makes us a target for judgement.

In writing of sexual desire, in all its variations, we are, piece by piece, dismantling social stigma. We are encouraging our readers to embrace their sexual nature, and to lay claim to the pleasure of their body. Sadly, in so doing, we may lay ourselves open to others overstepping the usual social boundaries of courteous behaviour.

While Patrick Califia has drawn from his own history as inspiration in writing fiction, he comments that people ‘believe I’ve done everything I’ve written about’. “They think that if I write about sex, that must mean that anything goes, and they can do anything they want around me—or to me—or with me.”

There is no doubt that first hand experience does provide some degree of inspiration for fiction; 40% of writers taking part in this survey name past experience as a stimulus for their work, but often only as a starting point. Whether writing from experience or pure fantasy, storytelling takes over; few erotic tales are unadulterated memoirs brought to life.

Unsurprisingly, where writers have used their own sexual history within their storytelling, there can be particular reason for wishing to remain discreet. As Patient Lee says,“My mother wants to read my books but I won’t let her. There’s too much of my own journey of sexual discovery in there for comfort.”

A far greater share of authors, 58%, mention fantasy as a main source of inspiration. Just as a crime or thriller writer might combine invention with human empathy and theoretical research to create their work of fiction, entering the mindset of a murderer, writers of erotic themed works apply the same techniques.

In taking on an ‘alter-ego’, we are freed from fear of causing offence or placing our social position in jeopardy; we can write as our imagination dictates. The ‘mask’ is liberating on many levels.

Ina Morata author erotic fictionAs Spencer Dryden notes: “If my friends, family and associates learned of my interest in erotica, they would drop dead in horror, so I use a pen name.

Tabitha Rayne tells us, “The strangest reaction I’ve had was from one of my sisters who will never read my work because she feels that to do so would be incestuous!”

Patrick Califia (originally Pat Califia), who has written under his legal name, relates, “I stopped writing for a long time because I was trying to be married to someone who, it turns out, hated my work and was ashamed of it. I’m slowly reclaiming my voice, but it’s like healing from a deep wound. I’ve been repeatedly shamed and treated with disgust and repulsion because I write erotica.”

Patrick continues, “Social exclusion and outcast status is imposed at every level. People are frightened of me, titillated, and judgmental. I’ve been declared an enemy of lesbian feminism and received threats. I’ve had people assume that I must be mentally ill for writing about sex. I’ve been attacked online by other trans people, who assert that someone as disreputable as me can only bring discredit upon the trans-community. It has been extremely difficult to keep a stable sense of myself through all of this brouhaha but I’m a very stubborn person.”

Siri Ousdahl recalls, “I sent my book, ‘Constraint’, to a number of agents, and, while they praised the writing, some expressed hostility or disgust towards the content. I treasure one letter from an Patrick Califia quote author erotic fictionagent who essentially said, ‘Yuck, don’t contact me again’.”

One writer, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells us that her daughter hates discussing her books, being embarrassed, and has asked that her two teenage daughters be spared from knowing about their grandmother’s writing. The author notes that they have discovered, and ‘have told me they are proud, despite their mom’s attitude’.

Cherry Wild writes both what she terms as ‘smut’ and more literary erotica. She asserts that most people show tolerance for the latter (and even enthusiasm) but that she is more circumspect in sharing that she writes the former. She admits, “I’ve encountered a few people who splutter and make it crystal clear they do *not* approve.” With my smutty erotica, I’ve told far fewer people, as I push more boundaries. I’ve written some things that I know people would be much quicker to object to, and have no desire to listen to those criticisms.”

Justine Elyot laments, “I’d like to be able to tell people about my writing. Very few people in my life know I do this, and it sometimes saddens me that my father died without ever knowing I had published a book – something he always told me I could do. But in our very traditional and strait-laced family, I couldn’t mention it.”

Sylvia Storm tells us, “I prefer to write under pen names and keep my anonymity, just because of the social stigma of what we do. I wanted to finally set my words free. I have grown through this, became a little braver, a little more confident, and a lot more intelligent in the ways of feelings and passions. This began as a bravery test, and it turned into self-discovery.”

Alexis Alvarez comments, “I cringe sometimes, because I know there can be some level of disapproval when I reveal to friends or acquaintances what I write. However, I try to push through, as I’m proud of what I write. The details aren’t appropriate for everyone and every situation, so I don’t announce the fact randomly but nor do I actively hide it.”

However, while some people are disapproving, others are more tolerant. Alexis continues, “Most people I choose to tell are initially surprised, but are then accepting, and often don’t show further interest. Like anything, life goes on and people move with it. I’m pretty much out in my real life as an erotica writer, and everyone knows my pen name.”

Meanwhile, it’s also the lot of authors in our genre to, on occasion, receive words of admonishment: for lack of decency, or morality.

Ina Morata notes that she has been on the receiving end of disapproval from authors who write outside of the erotic genre. She states, Those non-erotica writer readers who have discussed my work with me have either challenged what I have written, or have tried to persuade me to write in a genre more ‘befitting’. Indeed, the best line I think someone came out with was: ‘if she’s writing that, there must be something missing in her life’. To me, this said more about the reader than the author!”

Ina tells us, “I’ve encountered discouragement in my career choice generally from older members emmanuelle de maupassant erotic fiction author quoteof my family, but this has been exacerbated by my choice to write erotica. Indeed, I was told I should concentrate my energies ‘on something much better’ after I published my last book. The person involved hadn’t even read the book, and had no idea that, aside from the power play through the sex, it broached some serious subjects that have been prevalent in my family for decades, and that there was more to consider than which pages to bookmark and show their friends in secret! My children never cease to amaze me, though: they have just accepted what I write and are interested in me as a writer, regardless of genre. In fact, my daughter seems to find it pretty cool that I write erotica.”

 

Undervalued and Obscured

At the heart of negative interactions, there’s not only misunderstanding of the distinction between ‘real life’ behaviour and the exploration of possibilities through fiction but a sad lack of comprehension of what can be achieved through writing in this genre.

As Adrea Kore emphasises,Erotica seeks to arouse, but it may also confront, provoke, and subvert…Sexuality is such a vital part of the map of the human psyche. Sexuality reveals so much of ourselves.” Remittance Girl also comments on the potential of erotic fiction, declaring its ability to explore ‘us at our most naked, our most vulnerable’. She stresses, “It is an exposure of both our passions and our hideous flaws. Our destructive jealousy, our brittle pride, our hunger for what doesn’t belong to us, our need for the strange and the transgressive.” 

Those who write erotic fiction know that, at its best, it can claim a worthy place in the literary constellation. To convince others that this is true, and to begin breaking down the prevailing stigma, we must continue, as authors, to set the highest standards in our writing. Whether we’re exploring the darker corners of the sexual psyche or its joyous heights, we should respect writing craft. As any author, writing in any genre, we should aim to move readers not only viscerally but emotionally and intellectually. We need to demonstrate the incredible potential of writing ‘the erotic’.

 

Support One Another

Seek out the work of fellow authors. Find outstanding examples. Review, recommend and applaud them. Let the whispers travel from ear to ear, from platform to platform. Let readers know that there IS talent in our midst, and that erotic fiction gives voice where many dare not speak.

 

Further Reading

Malin James: On Pseudonymns

More in this series:

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads
  • Women Writing Erotic Fiction
  • Writing Craft
  • You may like to view this post, on the ‘Male/Female Hand, in which readers are challenged to identify writers’ gender.
  • Men Reading Erotic Fiction‘ – looking at why men seek out fiction in this genre, and their preferences for style and content.
  • The Erotic Vein: the male pen – on trends in men’s authorship of erotic fiction.

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou,  Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Kier, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Charlie Bee, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen BradeanJay Willowbay, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young, Vinnie Tesla, Emma Jaye, Dennis Cardiff, Dee Maselle, Frank Lee, Christina Mandara, Big Ed Magussun, Sue Lyndon, T.J. Vermillion, David Flint, Delores Swallows, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Dancing the Line: Fantasy and Realism in Erotic Fiction

Having invited writers to ‘share their secrets’ (more about the 130+ participants here) this article explores authors’ views on the use of fantasy and realism in erotic fiction. As ever, it is intended as a starting point for discussion. All comments welcome. Emmanuelle de Maupassant Fantasy and Realism in Erotic Fiction

For many of us, as authors and readers, erotic fiction operates within the realm of fantasy. It conjures into words thoughts we may hardly dare admit. It offers us the chance to explore our ‘what ifs’, within the safety of the page.

Nicolette Hugo muses, “All books are part fantasy or fear, we write to taste or exorcise them.”

KD Grace states a position voiced by many authors. “I can go places, do things sexually, in fiction that I would never consider in real life, allowing me to explore. I can have the thrill without the risk.”

Just over 40% of the writers surveyed stress that they draw significantly on their own real life sexual experiences to inspire their writing. The majority mention doing so in addition to, rather than instead of, exploring imagined fantasies. Only a handful write primarily from a position of recalling their own sexual history, or drawing heavily on events witnessed/related to them.

Saying this, all authors strive for a sense of authenticity in their work, to elicit reader empathy. However otherworldly the setting or outlandish the characters, behaviour and motivation must remain recognizable, or the reader cannot suspend disbelief, and join the author on their journey. Few would deny that small details of our own experience (emotional and sexual) will, even without conscious intention, find their way onto the page. It is these elements that ensure fiction its necessary gloss of realism.

As Dennis Cooper notes in his interview for Paris Review, his novels aren’t ‘transcriptions of the real world’. He states: ‘They’re highly organized missives from my imagination. When there’s a real-world resemblance, it’s there to create an atmosphere of familiarity that’s helpful as a comfort zone in which I can introduce things that are difficult and unsuspected. The characters are the main entrance into the work because they’re shaped like humans and they’re lit more brightly than their surroundings. But they’re not real… Everything in the books is half mine and half the reader’s, and the characters are just enunciations of my ideas.’

 

Plundering Our Fantasies

As Tamsin Flowers notes, “Our experiences are the lens through which we view the world and we can’t help but be influenced by them. However, you needn’t have experienced something to write about it (thriller writers aren’t killers and sci-fi writers aren’t spacemen). I’ve written about plenty of things I’ve read about or simply just imagined.”

Among the author respondents to this survey, 58% state firmly that their own fantasies are, at the very least, a starting point for writing.

Rose Caraway comments,I’m mostly inspired by fantasies, Nya Rawlyns erotic fiction author quote emmanuelle de maupassantparticularly through dreams.” Jay Willowbay adds his belief thatany erotic author that doesn’t mine their own fantasies is ignoring their most bountiful source of vivid and exciting material, and letting it go to waste’. Cari Silverwood continues this train of thought, saying that, if we neglect to use our fantasies we’re unlikely to write scenes which ‘resonate’. Tamsin Flowers comments that fantasies feed into her work ‘either explicitly or less directly, lending shade and nuance’.

Adrea Kore tells us that writing erotica has increased her ability to pay attention to her sexual imagination, the place from which her sexual fantasies emerge. “Expressing from this place, and seeing the ways I’ve grown and changed has strengthened my belief that this aspect of ourselves has a vital connection to increased self-awareness, creativity, sexual fulfilment – and healing.”

It’s no surprise that authors commonly endeavor to write with their own sexual and emotional response to the fore, believing that this will bear most authenticity (and, thereby, have most impact on readers).

Adrea adds, ‘The slippery world of advertising is constantly trying to sell us things through tapping into common elements of sexual fantasies, but these ‘packaged dreams’ will never be as unique as your own.’

Spencer Dryden recalls, “At 63, I felt my sexual energy sailing away but I was also shedding inhibitions like dead skin. I gave myself permission to explore my sexual fantasies through erotic fiction as a way of keeping myself engaged.”

Adrea Kore erotic fiction author quote emmanuelle de maupassantTabitha Rayne also asserts that personal fantasies are the engine behind her writing, saying, “No matter what I write, in that moment, it is my desire. It is absolutely my fantasy.” She notes that what stirs her one day can be very different the next.

In this way, each act of writing is a captured moment in time, a fantasy caught in the net of words.

Delores Swallows notes, “In my quiet moments (waiting to fall asleep, or doing some brainless task like mowing the lawn or painting walls) my mind wanders, creating short stories that facilitate a ‘fantasy’.

Ashe Barker recalls having spent hours commuting, allowing fantasies to run through her mind as she sat in motorway traffic jams. She tells us, “I had favourites I’d ‘replay’ again and again, and of course new ones would pop up. Over the years, I plotted lots and lots of snippets and scenes. I had quite a vivid collection by the time I started to write any of them down. In the last three years or so, many of my motorway fantasies have been developed and placed in my stories.”

Conversely, Donna George Storey voices the view, shared by several authors, that a fantasy initially conceived purely to serve a plot, having been dwelt upon, and mined for its detail, can ‘become my fantasy by the time the writing is done’.

The majority of authors note that, although their fantasies do, to some degree, inform their writing, storytelling tends to take over, adding embellishment and new direction. Siri Ousdahl mentions, “My writing began somewhat autobiographically, and featured my own fantasies, but as I progressed, I found that the characters and craft decisions took me away from my own personal fantasies and into storytelling.”

Will Crimson comments, “Agatha Christie reportedly wrote that she could turn anything into a murder weapon─ and me? I can turn anything into a sex toy/ erotic story. I use anything and everything.” Speaking of his ability to combine real life experience with his ability to fantasize, he states, ‘I’m an erotic sponge’!

Meanwhile, Laura Antoniou tells us,My books don’t even touch on some of my most twisted fantasies… they’d be illegal! Also, hard to sell in today’s market.”

 

‘Permission to Imagine’

The thrill of writing, and reading, about potentially terrifying sexual acts (such as knife play or non-consent) may be viewed as the thrill of taking control of these potential terrors. As is well-documented, a significant percentage of women enjoy some form of non-consent/forced seduction sexual fantasy.

To write about a non-consensual act is not to endorse it as a ‘real life’ behavior, any more than writing about murder is to endorse this heinous crime. To suggest otherwise is to misunderstand the purpose of literature (and art, and film, and theatre). We read, and write, to make sense of what haunts us.

Patrick Califia erotic fiction writing author quote sexualityThe key word here is ‘fantasy’. The very act of fantasizing allows us to control the details; we are pulling all the strings. Those fantasies are of our choosing, and we inwardly narrate them just the way we decide upon. This is not to say that writers, or readers, who enjoy the fantasy of ‘forced seduction’ are complacent regarding the brutal crime of rape. The fictional-fantasy world of ravishment is a different beast to real-life sexual assault.

As Remittance Girl states, such fantasies are about ‘permission to imagine’.

Entitlement to exercise discernment remains a key argument in any debate on censorship. Readers of erotic fiction adamantly assert their right to choose their reading material, just as writers assert theirs to explore any theme. More on censorship here.

Christina Mandara laments the double standards applied across various genres, saying, “I love non-consensual elements in erotica but the world at large has decided that this isn’t acceptable. I’m getting such a hard time in this respect, that I’ve stopped writing it for the time being. You can read all sorts of horror with rape, incest, axes buried in skulls etc – but non-consensual erotica is frowned upon. It seems that women, particularly, Adrea Kore erotic fiction fantasy quote emmanuelle de maupassantmust have consensual, hearts and flowers stories. I can’t understand why eBook stores are being so censorious in the erotica genre, but not horror.”

As Anne Rice notably stated in The Guardian newspaper (2012), we need much more freedom for erotica writers. With particular reference to women, Ms. Rice stated:I’m supportive of equal rights for women, and that includes the right of every woman to write her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys… The whole world knows women are sensual human beings as well as men. It’s no secret anymore that women want to read sexy fiction just as men do, and there’s a new frankness about the varieties of fantasies one might enjoy. So many cliches have been broken and abandoned. And this is a wonderful thing.’ 

In the same way, those who fantasize age-play sex (e.g. between stern older professor and misbehaving student) are not condoning real-life paedophilia.

Will Crimson discusses further here as does Remittance Girl here

Naturally, there are abhorrent acts writers are uncomfortable with eroticising. Just over 20% emphasise that they avoid depicting any form of non-consent in their work.

Kristina Lloyd states: “Fiction occupies an uneasy place in the context of ‘consent culture’ because writing (as per other arts) has cultural impact, affecting thinking and behaviour. I want to be socially responsible in my Emmanuelle de Maupassant quote erotic fiction visceral intellectual emotionalwriting but I also want fiction to be an uninhibited, imaginative space where we can follow characters who are dangerous, or who are in jeopardy, or suffering, or who have unsanctioned desires. These wishes often pull in contrary directions. In erotica, non-con acts are often set within a framework of consent (as in BDSM practice or fantasy role-play) to indicate that the scenario is not real. However, this usually reduces the blood-pumping thrill for me as a reader.” 

Meanwhile, Remittance Girl asserts, “My day-to-day go-to sexual fantasies don’t prompt good writing for me because I know them too well. I’m too comfortable with them. There is nothing to explore and no questions left for me to ask of them. My best writing comes from the eroticism of things that frighten and challenge me, the ones I feel might devour me. The uncomfortable ones. I need that internal conflict to drive my desire to write about it and explore it in fiction.”

 

Fictionalized Reality

There are few scenarios under the sun yet to be covered by erotic fiction. Remittance Girl author quote erotic fiction emmanuelle de maupassantWe can safely assume that those featuring aliens, dinosaurs, yetis, vampires, werewolves and other monstrous and supernatural beasts are likely to spring from the imagination rather than from real life encounters, with the same logic applied to stories of pirates and Vikings and all manner of historical or ‘fantasy’ settings.

While we recognize that fiction is not bound to ‘reality’, having the power to transport us into any situation or mind, a significant number of authors assert not only their intention to write with authenticity and realism but to create fiction which is believable: stories in which the reader could readily imagine themselves.

Sessha Batto, stressing that her primary purpose is ‘unpicking the character, not plugging into the libido of the reader’, explains, “…it isn’t about the reader’s fantasies…with luck, it may be about the character’s fantasies…but even that isn’t guaranteed. I don’t put much stock in fantasy, I prefer reality, whether my own or my character’s.”

Following on from this, authors often emphasize the inspiration of their own sexual history. Just over 40% of the writers I surveyed write, to some degree, from a starting point of their own real life experiences (sexual and otherwise).

Nya Rawlyns tells us, “Generally, I write what I know and, after seven decades on this planet, that’s a large bucket of opportunities. My writing doesn’t dwell on fantasies, rather what interests me are harsh realities and the interconnections we make via random, uncontrolled encounters. I look at that which tears down the building blocks of what we believe and trust, rearranging them into new, sometimes frightening forms.”

Molly Moore adds, “My own life and experiences and my sexuality is absolutely my main influence. I am also greatly inspired by my self-photography. Most of my writing is semi-autobiographical.”

Elizabeth Safleur tells us, I’ve witnessed BDSM scenes in both private and public settings. This has helped with the physical aspects of writing a scene but seeing and experiencing are two different things. No one really knows what’s going on other than the parties involved. To gain an emotionally-laden experience, you need to participate.”

It would be a leap to assume that the majority of authors are frequent visitors to sex clubs and BDSM dungeons, or that they regularly engage in anonymous liaisons in public parks or in darkened alleyways. However, without doubt, there are writers who can relate first hand experiences.

Of his own writing, Patrick Califia underlines, I could not do this work without an extensive sexual history of my own. If you rely on fantasy, you make mistakes, as in Anne Rice’s works and that poor girl who wrote ‘50 Shades of Gray’; it’s so full of nonsense. Saying that, some of my favourite stories are based entirely on my own fantasies. I can go back to them like old friends and receive comfort and arousal. Sometimes, it’s about gratifying the reader. I want cis-gender people [those who identity with their biological gender] to be aroused by trans-people, and I want trans-people to be aroused by how hot and fantastic WE are, just the way we are, right now. This kind of erotica is more like a form of sex education, I suppose. I continue to feel that writing erotica is a wonderful way to Kristina Lloyd erotic fiction author quote emmanuelle de maupassantencourage people to examine their assumptions about sexuality and live closer to the edge.”

 KL Shandwick has drawn from her own experience of having worked with rock bands, when girls were often ‘chosen’ to entertain musicians. She shares, “Although the sex appeared consensual, the girls were treated with little regard. It was a pretty raw experience for me, being young, and I spoke up on a few occasions when they laughed about a groupie and discussed her after she’d left.”

There can be few writers who fail to use, at the very least, remembrance of emotions accompanying past encounters, and their knowledge of how it feels to enjoy sexual pleasure.

As Tabitha Rayne explains, her writing tends to reflect her ‘emotional sexual life’ rather than her ‘physical sexual life’.

Will Crimson states, “My writing expresses my erotic imagination, my emotional experiences and certainly my sexual history. Every writer is creating fiction from a life of experience. Given that all erotic experiences happen in the mind, the line between real and the imagined isn’t always so clear. Was Shakespeare writing from experience when he wrote Richard III? Was he a scheming sociopath? No, but a whole lot of us have betrayed friends, used others for their bodies (not their minds; God, no), plotted our advancement at the expense of others, and have taken indecent glee in the downfall of competitors.” He adds that though he’s never ‘enjoyed the pleasure of a slave girl, he has ‘immensely enjoyed treating various lovers like sex slaves─-as have they’. “Everything I write has a component of emotional, experiential and sexual history.” He adds that he uses ‘everything and anything I read, hear or am told ─ comments, personal stories, eavesdropping’.

Adrea Kore notes, “Even though my characters may be fictional, I aim to infuse the sensations and emotions my characters are experiencing with a visceral reality; thus, often, I am drawing (at least in part), on my own experiences. Anais Nin said that, as writers, we ‘write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect’… at this stage in my work, there is often (not always) a personal element to my erotica writing. The ‘line’ analogy between fact and fiction isn’t relevant here – think more an intricate collage of these elements on the page.” (more here)

 

Dancing the Line

Malin James emphasizes the ‘difference between what people fantasize about and what they actually do’ and the appeal of ‘the morally and socially forbidden’. She notes fiction’s role in allowing us, as readers, to safely ‘dance on the line between fantasy and reality’ and acknowledges the value in creating a ‘grey area’, in which we can examine ‘the tension between social conditioning, morality, transgression and taboo’, exploringEmmanuelle de Maupassant erotic author quote dark erotica ‘what would otherwise bring only repression and shame’.

Within fiction, we can unpeel our motivations, examine that which unsettles us, probe our emotional responses, and, in so doing, learn more about ourselves.

Our sexual fantasies and our ‘realities’ offer rich fodder for reflection. Which memories and dreams tug at us?

Turn the pages, enter our stories, find the mirrors to your own preoccupations. Look deep and look again.

 

Further Reading

 Adrea Kore‘s article on Honouring our Sexual Imagination 

Will Crimson‘s artcle on The Erotic Writer’s Dilemma

Remittance Girl‘s article The Problem of Careless Language & the Deconstruction of Rape Fantasies

Interview with Dennis Cooper for The Paris Review

 Exhibit A‘s collated fantasies, raw and beautiful

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads
  • Writing Craft
  • You may like to view this post, on the ‘Male/Female Hand, in which readers are challenged to identify writers’ gender.
  • Men Reading Erotic Fiction‘ – looking at why men seek out fiction in this genre, and their preferences for style and content.
  • The Erotic Vein: the male pen – on trends in men’s authorship of erotic fiction.

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou,  Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Will Crimson, Raziel Moore, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Ta