The first time I read Anaïs Nin’s “The Hungarian Adventurer” in Delta of Venus, everything changed. Suffice it to say that this sordid tale of a powerful baron who seduces women easily and even molests his own sons as they sleep captivated me. The Baron’s villainy is profound, his lack of morals despicable.
Is this allowed? I asked myself when I was first reading the story. Yet my heart thumped like it could finally feel itself.
The truth was, the Baron was all I feared and loathed, packaged up as something I could deal with. The Baron took what he wanted sexually like I never had. I’d been on the other side of predators like the Baron, but in this story, I almost wanted to be him. As a stress management trainer would tell me years later, “Often, if we took just a droplet of the qualities we’ve despised in others, our own lives would become more authentic and empowered.”
I did indeed need a little of the Baron. What I didn’t realize was that someday the Baron might need a little of me.
When I say that, I’m referring to what we do at Go Deeper Press in terms of embracing “taboos.” Today, a vast amount of erotic presses would reject Nin’s badass Baron because of their censorship policies. We seem to be one of just a few erotic presses who publish incest, sex under the legal age, rape fantasy, and more. Our very first anthology Femme Fatale: Erotic Tales of Dangerous Women contains rape fantasy, murder, affairs among serial killers, masturbation during murder…oh, I could go on. On the Kiss Me Quick’s podcast, I told the awesome Rose Caraway that we’d happily publish horse sex if it was well-written, and felt authentic and exciting. I meant every word.
But we’re not just about taboo. I’d say we’re more about authenticity.
Back when I used to teach erotic writing classes at Grub Street in Boston, the writers would often ask, “How can we make our sex scenes feel authentic?” I’d say, “You put yourself right inside your character’s skin. You think as them, feel as them, and experience sensations as they do.” It’s about taking your ego out of the picture and putting your characters center stage, no matter what that means. It’s about loving those characters fully, without judgment, and letting them be who they need to be. It’s about knowing them so intimately that they fill your space, so you cease to exist.
Here are a few authors who do erotic authenticity beautifully. Let’s celebrate their contributions!
Regina Kammer’s The General’s Wife. I just finished reading Regina Kammer’s The General’s Wife—set during the Revolutionary War, it’s historical erotica, which (Sarah Waters aside) isn’t my typical genre. But Kammer not only draws her erotic characters authentically, she also paints what feels like an authentic historical world. [Spoilers coming!] Kammer’s heroine Clara marries the terrible General—a rapist, no less—at the start of the novel, and from there we see her being kidnapped and imprisoned against her will during a war that throws up corpses like they’re everyday litter. From her kidnapper, a compassionate brothel owner, she learns the beauty of intense BDSM when it is ardent and consensual. Sexual humility and openness are great teachers in the novel, and those who bravely embrace their true sexual identities and/or turn away from the divisiveness of the class system and its foolish rules become the most transcendent characters of all. (Not to say they don’t cut off the bollocks of anyone who tries to assault them, mind!) I did not expect to find queer characters in here, but there they are, gorgeous and whole. A delightful ride!
Alison Tyler’s Those Girls (Series). (We publish this one, folks.) Fans of Alison Tyler’s Those Girls series know exactly what I mean when I say that Sandy whips Christian Grey’s ass in terms of authenticity. (And I say that in full understanding of the vast amount of people who’ve been liberated by Mr. C. Grey.) With Sandy, we get inside, right under the skin—a testament to anyone who says, “You can’t write sex outside of your own gender.” (Which in my mind is a little like saying, “Never write fiction” or “Empathizing fails.”) Sandy is such a direct and passionate Dom that he’ll have you tied up as soon as you’ve learned your safe word, and when he wields that flogger, he won’t take any prisoners. That said, he has a vulnerable side, too. Oh dang. Have I given too much away?
Annabeth Leong’s Untouched. This novel by Annabeth Leong quite beautifully explores the potential complexities of consent and non-consent, including what it means to say “yes” when inside we’re shouting “no.” There is ardent sex in here—sex that shivered my timbers, released the beast, and looked deep into its lovers’ eyes, and all of it written with powerful authenticity. The premise? [Spoilers coming!] Celia, the novel’s protagonist, has partnered sex without being physically touched. This is her preference and part of her identity. But when her lover Eli says he wants to start touching her, Celia must work out whether she wants that, too. One of many powerful sex scenes comes when Celia and Eli have sex at a pleasure party when they are on opposite sides of the room. And if you thought sex couldn’t be head-spinningly intimate when partners don’t touch, think again.
By the way, I’m currently reading Liquid Longing, also by Annabeth Leong (and published by Forbidden Fiction, which ardently celebrates taboo). A wonderful, sumptuous read. Here’s an interview between Annabeth Leong and one of her characters. Bonus: there is an erotic tentacle monster.
For more authenticity, stay tuned! Next Monday, we’ll be publishing College Dive Bar, 1am by Natty Soltesz (hear from the author here), and we’ll soon be releasing Show Yourself to Me by Xan West. Want authenticity? These two writers will give it to you in big, flaming, passionate words.