As the launch of Roadhouse Blues approaches, I thought I’d post the introduction I wrote for the collection. You’ll find this in the book itself too, which launches on 7/11/17.
Back when we at Go Deeper Press were running an erotica column called the Deeper Daily, Malin James submitted a story called “Flash, Pop!” In this tale, Debi’s fantasy of the paparazzi’s cameras popping and flashing away, was hot, sweet, and humorous. Debi, the protagonist, is not a woman of great privilege. She’s a single mother with “three fussy babies and a fistful of coupons.” But she puts her sexual joy at the top of her list and is in charge of her body, even when she chooses to give in to the best climax yet.
I knew Malin James was writing something exciting even before we published “Flash, Pop!” As I read more stories set in the fictional, blue-collar town of Styx, I came to realize that James was fearless in her portrayals of the sexual lives of those who’ve struggled. She writes from the heart and never once flinches from the erotic heat of these sexual connections, no matter how complex, glorious, or devastating they prove. “I wanted to put together a mosaic and explore life in [the town of Styx] through a variety of experiences,” James told me in an interview. “It’s sort of like photography. Rather than take a traditional portrait, I wanted to create a collage from as many angles as I could.” And from the feisty, joyful revenge of “Krystal’s Revenge Fuck” to the heart-wrenching connection between Tom and dancer Maybelline in “Marlboro Man,” James’ collage is rich indeed. One of the hottest stories, in my opinion, is a BDSM tribute to Bogart and Bacall that seems at times like it is straight out of To Have and Have Not.
But I digress.
Perhaps the deep heart of Roadhouse Blues arises in part from the fact that Malin James wrote this collection as she began uprooting “the thorny, often painful mess of my own history.” Each story, James told me as we discussed the collection online, “explores a fundamental question I had to ask myself.” James allowed the stories to guide her, nonetheless, as she worked through the often emotional answers. “Sometimes it was hard, and I resisted more than once, but in the end, I reached a place in my own healing that I may not have otherwise.”
As you can imagine, it is moving to read the survivors’ stories in Roadhouse Blues. “The Waitress,” James explains, was particularly intense to write. “The story,” she says, “is about a woman confronting her abusive ex—territory that I’m personally familiar with. I tried to span the entire emotional arc of that relationship, from new love to deeply ingrained fear, all while tying it to her attraction and, later, to her determination to survive.” James felt it was important to portray a survivor “in all her complication and strength.” Unsurprisingly, this story is powerful and dark, yet the protagonist has sex that is brimming with enjoyment, in spite of the threat we perceive in it. As usual, the story is artfully constructed in a way that isn’t overwhelming. In fact, James cites The Waitress” as one of the stories she is most proud of in Roadhouse Blues.
Perhaps what strikes me most as I reread these stories, which I will do often, is how deeply Malin James understands our suffering as humans, along with the depths of our passions. She also refuses to let social binaries hold her characters back. This is not a heterosexual collection, neither is it LGBTQ. Hell, there is work in here that defies classification as either queer or heterosexual. Two men grasp at one another in a diner, aroused, but scared by their non-normativity. A housewife tells her dead husband’s guilt-ridden lover, “His loving you didn’t make him love me any less.” And a woman who runs a garage at a time when society would have her believe she shouldn’t so much as change a tire, pulls her undershirt over her breasts, lands a perfect left hook, and gets off.
All in all, this book is so completely human that the darkest of moments contains the gleam of something beautiful—dangerous, yes, but shining. And as the characters move from one story to the next, bringing with them the echoes of intimacy and passion, Styx sings with life in spite of its hardships.
“The future’s uncertain / And the end is always near,” sang the Doors in their song “Roadhouse Blues.”
But in James’ world, one thing’s for sure: Some love really is worth it.
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