Our guest today is Leah St. James. Leah, a long time romance buddy of mine, is just the sweetest friend. By day she works in a news room, by night she’s an indie author and head of her own publishing company. As a valued member of our romance community, she’s organized romance panels at various book festivals around Virginia. Welcome to Lady Smut Leah!
LEAH ST. JAMES: Thanks so much for hosting me on Lady Smut! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for several years, and I’m excited to share a little about my stories with you.
MADELINE IVA: Tell us about SURRENDER TO SANCTUARY.
LEAH ST. JAMES: SURRENDER TO SANCTUARY is a romantic suspense about two FBI agents assigned to solve the murder of a young woman whose body washes up on the beach at a federal park. They discover that she was mixed up with a group of men who belong to a secret society that practices male sexual domination, but based on a (fictional) religion. (Yeah…it’s complicated.) To follow her trail, they go undercover into this society. So the BDSM theme is a very big part of the story but, in a way, secondary to the murder investigation…and the romance, of course!
MADELINE IVA: How hot does it actually get when it comes to the sex in the book?
LEAH ST. JAMES: For some, too hot. For others, not so much. 🙂 If I had to give it a movie-like rating, I’d say a hard “R” because while the sex scenes are graphic and detailed, I don’t use the terminology often found in erotica…mostly those terms that refer to certain parts of the female body. (I know, I know… I’m picturing you all shaking your heads, but I can’t help it! It’s just the way I am!)
I can tell you that I’ve heard from several female friends that the men in their lives really enjoy the sex scenes. “Leah, my husband LOVES your book.” (Friend pauses and I picture the husband coming home with fur-lined handcuffs and velvety blindfolds.) “He wants to know when the sequel is coming out.”
MADELINE IVA: How do characters react when faced with what they gotta do?
LEAH ST. JAMES: Here’s where it got really interesting for me to write because I flipped the male and female roles. In their undercover roles, David plays the dominant—knowledgeable, in charge. In their real lives, however, he is pretty much clueless and is appalled at the thought of subjugating his partner, even in pretense. He’s no prude (has a reputation as a player, actually), but the whole power exchange concept is something he finds impossible to understand. Aside from that, he’s got this protective streak going for his very beautiful partner and doesn’t want her putting herself into a dangerous situation. So part of the story deals with training him in this lifestyle so that he won’t give them away in the real environment. I enjoyed pushing David’s comfort zone. Conversely, Anna, while playing the bottom, is very aware of the BDSM scene (she’s originally from the sex crimes unit), and drives the action from the start. Behind the scenes, she’s actually in charge.
MADELINE IVA: What’s fascinating to me is that you also meld themes of Christianity into your books along with things like BDSM. How do you weave these components together?
LEAH ST. JAMES: In Surrender to Sanctuary the leader of this group, in defending the group’s religious beliefs to David, quotes sections of the Bible’s New Testament that make most women (and many in the American church) uncomfortable—about women submitting to their husbands. When David responds, “Yeah, but everyone knows those passages were speaking to the cultures of their time. They’re not interpreted literally today,” the leader challenges him to examine his own beliefs. “You get to pick which scriptures you abide by? You can simply ignore the ones that make you uncomfortable?”
I based much of the group’s behavior pattern on a Christian practice called “Taken in Hand.” It was fascinating to research, and I applaud those men and women for their openness and generosity in sharing so much of their personal feelings and behaviors. (I’m not sure why they put it out there, but it’s brave!)
MADELINE IVA: How are you different from others who are writing inspirationals — or even others who are writing ‘domestic’ discipline books that meld Christianity and BDSM?
LEAH ST. JAMES: Although I often incorporate elements of faith in my stories (sometimes Christianity, sometimes fictional religions, sometimes more spirituality than any particular religion), I don’t consider myself an inspirational author so much. I write stories about people who just happen to have certain beliefs and might from time to time struggle with those beliefs.
For me, many of the inspirationals I’ve read are too heavy-handed (or “preachy”) with their message. I remember picking up a book at a store one time and turning to a page where the heroine was bemoaning the fact that the man she loved hadn’t accepted her faith. I shut the book and put it back.
MADELINE IVA: Unlike those of us hiding behind pen names, etc. you actually tell all kinds of people you know what you do – including the people at your church!
LEAH ST. JAMES: The fact that I was writing a book came up in a conversation about something else with a close friend at church, and she told me she wanted to read it. I was terrified, figuring I’d be ex-communicated…or whatever the Protestant version is. I said, “Really? Are you sure? It’s pretty kinky.” She said, “Leah, I’m an adult. I read all kinds of fiction. I’d love to read it.” I remember her calling me up about a week later, all excited, “I love the book! I love the book!” I think she was afraid of hating it and having to let me down gently. After that everyone in our group of friends seemed to know, and they couldn’t have been more supportive and encouraging. Even those who didn’t like the theme of the book were happy for me for pursuing a dream.
MADELINE IVA: And people at work?
LEAH ST. JAMES: At work (at my day job at a news organization) I got teased—a lot—when the book first came out. My boss told me that a bunch of the reporters followed me on Twitter to see if I was going to post X-rated stuff!
MADELINE IVA: Adultery forms a theme in one of your books. Is that correct?
LEAH ST. JAMES: I wrote a short novel called Christmas Dance about a man and woman who are attracted to each other, but married to other people. And they meet at church. At Christmas. (I really like pushing my characters’ comfort zones.) 🙂
MADELINE IVA: What do you think about the issue of adultery given today’s modern gadgets? For example: An adultery match up site was recently hacked and client info revealed — sounds like it might be the plot of a future book for you. Why is trad romance publishing so leery of embracing this theme?
LEAH ST. JAMES: Traditional romance is all about the fantasy, the build-up from that first meeting to the HEA. I think adultery might be considered too unforgiveable to overcome, to fulfill that HEA fantasy. The women’s fiction line is much more open to those types of stories.
MADELINE IVA: Let’s talk about your next book–is it a sequel?
LEAH ST. JAMES: I have a short story coming out in a Halloween anthology, to be released in early to mid-September. After that, the sequel to “Surrender to Sanctuary” comes out. It’s tentatively titled “Sanctuary’s Promise.” David and Anna return to fight a threat closer to home, while they reconcile their true feelings about this lifestyle.
MADELINE IVA: On fb you refer always to Son #1 and Son #2. It’s very funny — esp. when your sons found out about it. How did they react? Are they still teasing you about it?
LEAH ST. JAMES: When I first published, I had barely heard of Facebook, but everyone told me I needed to get on there to start building name recognition. So I got an account. Terrified that I’d never have any FB friends, I asked both sons if they’d friend me. They agreed, grudgingly (what young guy wants his mom watching on FB?) but made me promise to NEVER tag them.
So to keep their anonymity, I started calling them Son #1 and Son #2.
To this day I have never tagged them, or purposely posted on their walls. But when my older son labeled his Christmas gift to me from “Son #1” last year, I knew he was reading mine!
MADELINE IVA: I think you mentioned that they were referring to each other sometimes as Son #1 and Son #2. Too funny!
Thanks so much for coming onto the blog today Leah! Big hugs to you. ;>
Leah St. James’ book SURRENDER TO SANCTUARY is on sale right now for kindle readers– you can find it HERE. Also check out Leah on facebook and check out the books her publishing company, Edward Allen, offers HERE.
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