About my writing...
In the nooks and crannies and early weekend mornings of a crammed life, I write erotic bdsm novels. These writing moments are hard to come by, which is why I've managed only two so far: Owned and Owner, first published in 2003, and As She's Told, published in December of 2008. You'll see more about them here.
Some people into bdsm talk about gradual shifts or eureka moments in their awareness of their inner kink. For others its always been there, and that's the way it was with me. The fantasies and narratives have been occupying my head for as long as I can remember. But it wasn't until I had a computer and thus a word processor for my endless revisions that any of it could be turned into a book. Owned and Owner started out as a way of getting the vivid fantasies out of my head and into words. At that time, the science-fiction fantasy just happened to be the one that was uppermost.
My voracious reading has informed my style without conscious planning, but since I've been writing I've tried to read with more of an eye to what makes writing work. I usually forget, though, and just get absorbed in the story. I owe a big debt to Molly Weatherfield (aka Pam Rosenthal), and her bdsm novels Carrie's Story and Safe Word. Those are wonderfully-written books. Among many other gifts, they helped me to lighten up and not take my subject matter quite so seriously.
For perfection in mainstream writers, I turn again and again to Barbara Kingsolver. If I could write a single paragraph that was half as good as hers, my life would be fulfilled. Her use of metaphor, and the ease with which she reveals character are an astonishment, no matter how many times I reread her novels. I also admire, but can't begin to imitate Michael Chabon's rich, wild metaphors; that takes more right-brain creativity than I will ever have.
Ashley Lister talks to Anneke Jacob
Anneke Jacob is an author of erotic fiction, renowned for putting her characters through the most punishing power exchanges. With Owned and Owner, [Pink Flamingo Publications will soon release an updated version of the book] Anneke created a science-fiction fantasy world where men and women live on different planets. Her heroine, Etrin, is convicted of a "crime of irresponsibility" and elects to take the seldom chosen punishment of being transported as a slave to the men's planet. Events which begin a story of female submission and male domination that is literally out of this world.
Ashley Lister: Where did you get the idea for Owned and Owner?
Anneke Jacob: It came out of what you might call a very rich fantasy life. My dominance/submission fantasies have always needed a reasonably plausible background, something that made all the rest possible. What interests me is relationships, and in the case of d/s novels, the power differential and what that means to the characters. There are some very specific parameters for that differential. It has to be absolute, it has to be genuine - no games - and it must be consensual. As you can imagine, that leaves a really narrow gap through which to manoeuvre my plots. I created the world of Owned and Owner to meet all those parameters - a place where a woman could go by choice, to be legally owned.
Ashley Lister: On the publication of Owned and Owner you said, "I wanted to write about the most extreme power exchange I could imagine that was nevertheless consensual. I wanted to write about real, multidimensional characters, capable of tenderness and a touch of humour as well as pain." Do you think Owned and Owner managed to do all of that?
Anneke Jacob: Yes and no. I think Etrin is a fully-realized character. But the character of Garid has had to struggle to rise up out of his pulp-fantasy roots. Looking back, it's clear that there was too much cliché Master about him from the start, although I certainly tried to get into his head. I'm in the middle of a revision of Owned and Owner now for Pink Flamingo, which will be bringing it out again soon. Garid will be a little more rounded in the next edition.
Ashley Lister: Owned and Owner shows a high level of erotic imagination, but it's also rich in the detail of the character's responses and reactions to the erotic situations in which you've placed them. How do you get yourself into the mindset of characters reacting and responding in such a fashion?
Anneke Jacob: That's a preoccupation in all of my writing. The mechanics of bodies intersecting is great fun, but very limiting. I spend a lot of time occupying my characters' minds (and other places). What would I be feeling, and how would I react if I were them? How would I process these experiences? What would my fears be, my longings and obsessions? Easy enough for me to do when I'm occupying the mind of a female sub; when it's a male dom it's another story; I have to sort of turn myself inside-out. My second book manages it much better than the first, but that took a lot of work on my part.
Ashley Lister: Over the past couple of years I know you've been very busy working on As She's Told. Would you care to explain what the story is about?
Anneke Jacob: As She's Told is about an extreme, loving, creative - and consensual - dominant/submissive relationship, set in contemporary Toronto. It's about a couple of caring, thoughtful individuals who happen to have some highly unusual sexuality, and want to take that as far as it can realistically go. This time I let my characters struggle with the question of how to create an absolute power differential within the context of a society that doesn't support it. The solution they come up with is essentially on an emotional level, though locks and hardware have a lot to do with it. The increasing intensity is lightened by some playfulness, humour and intelligent conversation. All the erotic action is embedded in the ordinary world of work and friends and music, and sometimes these cross over.
Ashley Lister: I've enjoyed reading As She's Told (please see my review). It's an epic story that beautifully captures the relationship of a consensual couple involved in extreme S&M practices. Aside from the erotic - which is always very erotic in your writing - you've also considered practicalities, societal attitudes and one hundred and one other contemporary issues that would hamper most "regular" couples from enjoying this style of relationship. How much thought and planning went into these extraneous details?
Anneke Jacob: I did a lot of planning, and rewrote some of the contemporary details more than once as they got out of date. There was some conflict in my mind about just how much of that I should get into; after all, people use erotic reading as an escape from daily life, and why not? Grim and depressing books are something I avoid more and more; I wouldn't write one myself. But I'm also convinced that real people are sexier than cardboard cutouts, and real people live and interact in the real world.
Ashley Lister: You've taken your readers to the ends of the universe with Owned and Owner, and now you've taken them to the extremes of submission and domination that Anders and Maia enjoy in As She's Told. Where do you plan to take your readers next?
"Between the Lines" 2009 © Ashley Lister. All rights reserved. Re-published with permission.
This interview was first published at http://www.erotica-readers.com/
Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, Swingers: True Confessions from Today's Modern Swinging Scene (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753511355), a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his first title published under his own name.
Ashley's non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.
Tasting the Moment: the seduction of detail
I can’t find the link. Someone – I think it was Barbara Kingsolver – mentioned the importance of getting the details right. She said that when the second full moon appeared in the sky two weeks after the first, it was time to put the book down.
At least, I think that’s what she said. I can’t find the quote. And my urge for accuracy is playing me up, nagging at me like weeds in my neglected garden. I’ve now spent way longer looking for that quote than actually writing this piece about research. Which just might have something to do with why it took me five years to write my latest novel. It’s always easier to rummage through six pages of Google returns for an obscure factual detail than it is to grapple with your plot.
But it’s those perfect details – the right object, the genuine street corner – that draw us into the narrative. Sound and speech rhythms fall just so. Thick frost covers the Creamsicles at the corner store, and scrapes and burns our questing fingers. The texture of flesh fits our hand; we inhale its odours of secret sweat, sunscreen, a faint hint of cardamom.
A whole world can be imagined or hinted at with the right touches here and there. Language and sex are closely related: sound and rhythm, engaging both the tongue and the brain. It’s the sensory feasts, those moments I can taste, that I’ll go back and read again and again.
And just like bad grammar and typos, factual errors make readers stumble and fall out of the world into which we’ve carefully coaxed them. “Oh, yeah, right!” I hear them saying. “Nobody talks like that!” “No one’s body does that unless they work for Cirque du Soleil!” “Why, that equipment would be ruined if you treated it like that!”
Where was that site on leather care…?
Of course when the web isn’t enough you have to search for other sources. Expert readers are like gold. It was actually Dee Luvbight who pointed out that I was letting the leather get wet.
But try getting expert advice when you can’t explain why you’re asking. I write bdsm erotica. The dom in my latest novel, As She’s Told, is a builder. This meant our renovator neighbour answered an oh-so-casual question or two. Anders, the dom, is a Dane (okay, I have a thing for tall, rangy blond guys; can you blame me?) and getting the odd Danish phrase just right took some doing. I put out SOS cries for Danes on kinky newsgroups. Then I discovered a multiple language-help site, where I had to attribute my search for the plural of “thrall” to the writing of a historical novel. They also provided the truth about Danish sea shanties, free of charge.
Now, you might suggest that I was going overboard for the sake of an unlikely audience of a few Danes. Just a tad obsessive? You bet. “Enough!” I sometimes told myself. “How many readers from that small European nation do you think will come across your book?” But within a month of publication I heard from two Danish readers, and they weren’t complaining about word usage! Whew!
I wish Dick Francis had had at least one Canadian reader/editor before he published The Edge. (And by the way, I googled that title instead of walking upstairs to find the book. Is that research or what?) The book’s largely set in Canada, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a character whose every phrase ends in “eh.” But Englishisms like “plait” and “chap” just slide off Canadian tongues. It’s pretty funny. The book is still a fine one, but it would have been even better if Francis had done his homework.
A short turnaround time for prose must be hell for errors. Okay, I’ll admit it; five years working on a book is too long. But at least I had time to fix things. Visualize Maia, my poor frustrated heroine, teased to distraction, dreaming in a Toronto streetcar. She wakes up to find that the streetcar has short-turned down Bay and has taken her all the way to City Hall. She’s heading the wrong way! And she’s not allowed to be late! In a panic she gets off and runs north again.
Wait a minute. Do streetcars run on Bay? A few weeks later, when I was in the neighbourhood, I checked it out. No streetcars. It turns out they stopped running them on that part of Bay Street in 1975. Oops. I shifted the short-turn to Dundas and all its traffic, and instead of dodging suits on Bay, Maia dodges excruciatingly slow elderly shoppers on Spadina. In the end, an even better scene. And Toronto Transit aficionados are not pulled from the narrative to check the publication date and shake their heads.
In five years the quiet nighttime negotiation scene shifted locations three times, as the street I thought would be a fine space for private conversation filled up with rowdy clubs. City politics changed its flavour, so my background details changed, too. And I know far more about Danish Christmas traditions than anyone but a Dane should know.
Construction details can carry their own allure. Here’s an early scene from As She’s Told in which Anders gives Maia a tour of the work he’s doing on his own house:
The house all looked pretty deconstructed; I had a hard time visualizing the surfaces freed of their layers of old paint and linoleum and construction debris. His long, self-assured body kept distracting me, moving ahead through the splintery shadows, leading me with a hard hand on my wrist. The resinous smells of cut wood were powerfully like the smell he carried about with him, and made me want very badly to get under his clothes. I did manage to pay enough attention to gather something about the kind of aesthetic he was aiming for. He showed me some of the good wood grain that lurked beneath the grimy paint on the windowsills, and talked about how this would look stripped and varnished. There was a fireplace, or at least the outer portion, in amongst the lumber in the basement, a rather beautiful art deco design in honey-coloured wood. But the mantelpiece was missing.
“It’s by Roberts, out of a series of midtown apartments from the early thirties. Which were taken down in the seventies when they were flattening anything with character. Sooner or later I’ll find the mantelpiece, and then I’ll put it in. Look at this carving.” He ran his fingers through symmetrical grooves. Suddenly I could feel those fingers in my own grooves. He gave me a long look over his shoulder, and his smile stripped me bare. Slowly he stepped over to me and ran his hands down my body. I leaned my head on his chest, and let the moan loose. “You’ll be installed yourself, soon enough, girl,” he murmured. A glance at his watch. “You have work to do; let’s get you back.”
There really was a Roberts creating Art Deco in the early 30’s in Toronto. Even if no design history expert with kinky inclinations ever reads the book, at least I will know I got it right.
My research doesn’t always reflect reality, though. Some of it is mined out of my head. My first book was set on another planet; if I needed technology I made it so. And according to one reader, doms are surely searching Home Depot even as we speak, in vain for the hardware that arose from my evil and inventive brain.
Details can be so seductive.
This is a slightly revised version of an article appearing in the erotica writer's blog 'Oh Get a Grip!' All rights reserved. Re-published with permission.