By Madeline Iva
Lucky readers–today on Friday Roulette, we have Rachel Kramer Bussel with us to answer a few questions about her fascinating life as a writer and editor in the big wide world of Lady Smut.
MADELINE IVA: Rachel, tell us a little bit about yourself and how a nice girl like you got the most interesting, hottest career evah!
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: I write erotica and personal essays and journalism about pretty much any topic that interests me, whether it’s Monica Lewinsky, French fries or kissing parties (fiction) or being a hoarder. I especially like to explore offbeat or unusual aspects of a given topic that readers may not have thought about before. By doing various types of writing, along with teaching and editing, I try my best to make sure I never get bored!
MADELINE IVA: You’re primarily known as an editor and writer of essays about sex. What’s one of your favorite essay titles and what was it about?
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: I’m a fan of my essay “Is my vibrator ruining my relationship” I wrote a few years ago for Salon (http://www.salon.com/2012/12/29/is_my_vibrator_ruining_my_relationship/). It stemmed from my realizing that even though my boyfriend is totally cool with sex toys, there were still some issues around my favorite one (formerly known as Hitachi Magic Wand). I love topics that surprise me when they come up in my life, and ones that hopefully will resonate with other people.
MADELINE IVA: I think I read that one. How did you become an editor of erotic anthologies?
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: I started by writing short stories for a few years, then I was asked to co-edit an anthology of true lesbian erotica called UP ALL NIGHT, and from there moved on to getting to pitch topics I was especially interested, like spanking (I’ve now editing 5 books of spanking erotica). It’s a perfect complement to writing and I love getting to work with a wide range of writers from around the world. I learn so much from every anthology, about writing, creativity and sexuality.
MADELINE IVA: You’re also a fiction writer — what kinds of stories do you write? How many short stories have you written? What are some of your favorite themes to write about?
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: I’ve written probably close to 100 short stories since 1999. I don’t necessarily have a favorite theme but it’s more I love the moment of inspiration for a story and being able to pull off stories that are a little different than what I’ve written before. I’ve written several humorous ones, such as “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Porno Movie,” which was published in Best American Erotica 2014, “Doing the Dishes,” which is about a woman with a dishwashing fetish, and “Secret Service,” about an oral sex restaurant, but humor isn’t necessarily my default writing style. The stories of mine I’m proudest of are some of the darker ones, such as “The End,” which is about a breakup.
MADELINE IVA: What’s your best selling topic for anthologies?RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: The BDSM themed anthologies like PLEASE, SIR have sold very well, and orgasms, especially THE BIG BOOK OF ORGASMS, which is actually my favorite (but don’t tell the others!)
MADELINE IVA: Why do you think women enjoy reading about female submissiveness?
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL Sexuality is so often fraught for women; there are many spoken and unspoken rules we are supposed to follow, and that can be a lot to take on along with our own personal interests and explorations. I think submission can be intriguing for a lot of people, not just women, but with women there is extra baggage. On the surface, submission can seem to be about giving up one’s independence or power, and figuring out what role you want submission to play in your life often requires us digging through our own ideas that may question a lot of cultural assumptions about how women should behave.
MADELINE IVA: As you know, I completely adore the cover of your essay Sex & Cupcakes and want to frame it and put it up in my home… ;> Do you think cupcakes are inherently sexy? The cover shows someone eating a cupcake without her hands. How easy is it to eat a cupcake without your hands? ; >
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: That is me on the cover! When I decided on the book’s title, I knew I wanted to use that image, which I’d taken a few years before. I think cupcakes can be sexy, but I think almost any food can be sexy in the right hands. It’s challenging to eat a cupcake without your hands, but it can be done, as long as you don’t mind getting a little messy!
The essay collection is somewhat of a mishmash of topics. I wanted to include a range of pieces, some older, some written just for the book. They’re all true essays (while one piece is journalism, about the connection between being pro-choice and sexual freedom) that I hope offer insight into both my life and broader topics like polyamory or body image. The kinds of essays I love to read are ones that make me think about my own life and whether I would make the same choices as the author, and I hope these appeal to people in the same way.
MADELINE IVA: What is the hallmark of the best erotica? What is it trying to do? How does it achieve that? I once read, for instance, that erotica–when compared to erotic romance – was about a personal sensual journey…is some stuff that’s called erotica just ‘porn-lite’? What’s the difference to you?
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: I don’t draw too many hard and fast lines between erotica and erotic romance, because I think the line can be slippery. Not always, but often. To me, the best erotica both aims to arouse readers but also tells a riveting story. There are many paths to achieving that, and not all erotica is going to have the same emotional impact. I’ve read and written sad erotica, funny erotica, erotica that unnerved me. I tell my writing students that the more we can understand the characters motivations—the why of the sex along with the how—the more readers will appreciate whatever the characters do sexually. I think sometimes writers assume that because they are giving the reader a sex scene that alone will make the story erotic, but I want to know how they got there and why the sex is hot for them, not just hot in general.
MADELINE IVA: Some people say erotic romance and erotica live online. But you’re out and about in the public all the time. Do you ever have to worry about your personal safety or have to worry about a fan who’s just too into you?
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL:I think there can be a huge value in events like erotica readings or in-person workshops, because it helps break down some of the fear people have about talking about or hearing about sex out loud, in public. But it can also get uncomfortable and you have to be able to read social cues and also consider what other people, who may have different backgrounds and approaches than yours, are feeling. I generally don’t share my exact location online unless I’m doing a reading or class or other specific event. I am concerned about my personal safety but do my best to balance being careful without being paranoid.
MADELINE IVA: What kind of projects would you like to tackle next?
RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: I would like to continue doing what I do now, writing erotica and sex columns, editing anthologies, teaching, especially teaching online, as well as write longer form fiction. But I also take each day as it comes; sometimes I wind up writing a story I never would have expected to write, because the idea leapt out at me. I love those moments!
Thank you so much for being with us today, Rachel. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of you at Lady Smut in the future. 🙂
Ladies — gentlemen, check out her glorious array of anthologies and essays and stop by in the comments section below to say ‘hi’ to Rachel. I know she’d love to chat with you all and we’ll pick one commenter who will receive a paper copy of HUNGRY FOR MORE.