Embracing the Dark: An Interview with Tabitha Black
By Alexa Day
So here’s the big news I wanted to share with you last week: I’m really excited and honored to formally announce that I’m one of 22 authors contributing to a box set called Hero to Obey. The collection, which releases June 28, features military heroes and more kink than you can shake a flogger at, and Lady Smut guests Sierra Cartwright and Lee Savino are also participating. The best thing about working with so many wonderful authors? Each of them brings a distinct flavor to the many varieties of kink and the military men who like it naughty. (If you’re down with spanking, you will definitely want a big piece of this box set, by the way.)
As the set was coming together, I got a peek at Tabitha Black’s story, “Understanding the Enemy,” which sets a dark erotic romance against a futuristic, dystopian backdrop. The heroine, Lena, is a resistance fighter captured by the enemy and interrogated by Blaze, who has plenty of ways to get what he wants out of her. It’s a powerful, sexual tale with compelling characters and an intriguing setting, and it delivers plenty of darkly erotic goodness for eager readers.
I have a thing for dark stories. My imagination is drawn to something about them — the danger that calls to the heroine, the hero’s depraved desires, all those delicious secrets. Not long ago, I shared an abduction fantasy involving Tom Hiddleston, Mark Strong, Jason Statham, and the Jaguar F Coupe. So I knew I’d be down with the darkness! Still, I was curious about what draws so many readers to this growing subgenre of romance — and what might be keeping them away. Tabitha indulged all my questions, and I’m so excited to share our conversation with you today!
But first, I have to hit you with an excerpt. That’s what friends do. Before you start reading — the bullet is a vibrator.
Lena was ready to scream. She’d been mentally prepared for anything—anything but this constant, torturous state of aching arousal and blatant humiliation.
She was also bitterly regretting having asked to have her blindfold removed. She’d hoped that the sight of her tormentor would help; that seeing the gargoyle who held her very life in his hands might go some way towards tempering the helpless lust he was inducing purely by the tone in his voice.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
The man—Blaze—was attractive. No, more than that, he was gorgeous. At first she’d been unaccustomed to the light and had been able to make out nothing more than his silhouette; a broad-shouldered man in a dark green militia uniform… but then, like a Polaroid developing, she was able to take in more and more detail.
The perfect shape of his closely shaved head.
The thick, dark brows, one of which was bisected by a neat scar, the classic but slightly broken Greek nose, the wide, mocking mouth. The glittering onyx eyes.
And then, when he’d grinned, a dimple in his left cheek.
What the fuck kind of torturer has a dimple?
Lena’s breath had caught in her throat and she’d almost asked him to put the blindfold back on when she realized that this man had seen, examined and watched every last inch of her—and, worse, that she was still lying naked and spread-eagled on a table in front of him as he looked down at her with an odd expression in his eyes.
Greg had never warned her about that eventuality.
And now she was still on that fucking table and Blaze was still watching her—albeit from the next room. Not that that made much of a difference; it was almost as though she could sense his presence. She could certainly feel every single excruciating tingle that bullet deep inside her pussy was shooting through her core. Every time she came close to calling out, to begging him to stop, it shut off… only to resume its infernal humming again a short while later.
He wasn’t really going to do this all night, was he?
LS: Capture, interrogation, sexual torture … that’s absolutely my cup of tea. But do you find that readers are conflicted about dark erotica? Are people uncomfortable about wanting to read it and wanting to love it?
TB: I think there are readers in any genre who are uncomfortable about wanting to read about – or write about – it, be it spanking, gay/lesbian, ageplay – or even ‘straightforward’ erotica, so there are undoubtedly those who feel conflicted about darker, edgier stuff, perhaps more so than other genres.
I think the reasons why are different, though. Women are taught from childhood that a man raising his hand to a woman is wrong, that letting a man ‘be the boss’ is wrong, that any time a man exerts his physical dominance over her, it’s wrong, abusive and so on. And of course, if that ever happens in real life without consent, it is undoubtedly so. But for many women – like me – there is freedom in submission. There is something inherently sexy about having no control whatsoever. And there are many women who are turned on when they’re afraid. There seems to be some kind of link between fear and arousal, as well as similar physiological responses.
However, if you’re a woman who admits to reading and enjoying dark, capture erotica, you fear being judged by those who don’t seem able to distinguish between fiction and real life, between fantasy and reality. People assume that just because you enjoy the stories, you condone that sort of behaviour in real life. And it’s unfair, because erotica is the only genre in which that happens. No-one who reads James Patterson or Thomas Harris is told they must think killing people is okay if they enjoy ‘those kinds of books’, so why apply that logic to this genre?
LS: What draws dark erotica readers to the genre, and deeper into it?
TB: I’m sure it depends on the reader – and on the story. Personally, I can say that there are two main elements which appeal to me: the lack of control and freedom in submission I mentioned before, and then there’s the suspense/horror element which fascinates me.
There are many, many erotica genres but most of them are happy, loving, consensual, and often almost toothache-inducingly sweet. But life isn’t sweet. And there can sometimes be a lack of tension in ‘boy meets girl, they both fall in love and live happily ever after’ stories, even if they are erotic. One thing you’re guaranteed in well written dark erotica is tension; internal – and often external – conflict. Not only is the heroine often horrified at what’s happening to her, she’s equally horrified at the fact that her body is responding, that she’s enjoying it. And dark erotica often has more interesting settings; science fiction, fantasy worlds, dystopian—a refreshing alternative to the more traditional erotica settings.
Finally, I think there’s a definite element of pushing boundaries. Readers can get jaded. There are only so many ways to tell a spanking story, or to describe ‘vanilla’ sex. The ‘shock’ value wears off, as does the excitement. Dark erotica is a natural continuation of that… it’s a way for authors to delve deeper and write something new and interesting for them, and it’s something fresh and exciting for readers to pick up when they’re in the mood to be captivated, shocked, or, yes, aroused.
LS: This might be an amateur hour question, but is a happy ending always guaranteed in dark erotica and dark erotic romance?
TB: There’s nothing ‘amateur hour’ about that question! It’s tricky. Romance publishers often won’t accept manuscripts unless there’s a ‘happy ever after’ or at least a ‘happy for now’ ending. Romance readers are used to it. There are also still absolute no-nos, as well, even though these things happen too often in real life; cheating is a prime example. The hero can do anything he wants to the heroine sexually or physically, but the minute his focus wanders to another woman, there’s outrage on the part of the reader.
I guess I’m trying to say that no matter what genre, including dark, there are set rules. And authors know that if they break or even bend those rules, they risk negatively impacting not only their book sales, but also their reputation with fans. Whether or not they want to do that, including denying readers that longed-for HEA, is ultimately up to them, but I think most of them are too scared to try. And for good reason: no-one wants to disappoint the readers.
LS: Have you ever gone too dark with a story? Have you surprised a publisher … or yourself?
TB: I’ve absolutely surprised myself but never a publisher – yet. In real life, I’m a masochist as well as a submissive, and my partner is a very sadistic Dominant. He’s introduced me to all manner of play forms which I’ve never seen in books; even in dark erotica. The author in me wants to incorporate all these things into my work, but I do fear many of them would be considered ‘too dark’ for the readers. (Not to mention my publisher!)
Having said that, I do have one or two things in progress where I am starting to push the envelope – just a little bit – and depending on how those are received, I may then decide to take it further. ‘Understanding The Enemy’ was one such experiment, and I’ll be very interested to see the reviews.
LS: What inspired the dystopian setting of “Understanding the Enemy”?
TB: I was actually born in Germany, and even though the Berlin wall fell almost 27 years ago, the after-effects are still very much in evidence. I was nine years old when the wall was torn down, and my mother was watching it on television and crying. I didn’t understand what it was all about; and when she told me how there was this wall, and how people on one side had to live under such tyranny and poverty, whereas on the other side life was far, far better, but if anyone tried to get across it, they risked being killed, it had a deep and profound impact on me. When I was looking for a setting for what I knew would be an interrogation story, it seemed like a good starting point. What if, in the future, after a catastrophic event, mankind had to ‘resettle’ and something like that happened again? The story just progressed from there.
LS: What makes the military hero a good fit for dark stories?
TB: Aside from the fact that a creative author can put a dark twist on almost any theme, I think military men are a great fit because there are a lot of parallels between a good Dominant and a good military man: a commanding presence, rigid self-discipline, analytical thinking, physical strength and fitness, loyalty, a protective streak and so on. You combine that with the fact that no simpering, weak coward ever wants to join the military, and you have a recipe for a sexy hero.
I also think that things are done in wartime… there are scenarios like capture, invasion, interrogation and so on… which lend themselves wonderfully to the external conflict and tension necessary for a dark, edgy story.
There’s this sense that military men/women are tough and have seen/done it all; they’re not likely to faint at the first sight of blood, and there’s an element of danger involved, as well.
If I may, I’ll give you a little example: which is more likely to get your heart racing and your panties wet; being pushed against the wall and ‘manhandled’ by a reedy college student, or by a man who’s been to war, has done things you can barely imagine, who has muscles bulging out of his shirt and whose hands on your body can either bring you to extremes of pleasure or extremes of pain?
I know which I’d choose – not that I have anything against college students.
LS: “Understanding the Enemy” is a great story for people wanting to explore their feelings about darker stories; Lena and Blaze are fantastic, relatable characters whose lives and surroundings have given them a bit of a dark side. What other stories and authors would you recommend for readers wanting to dip their fingers into these shadowy worlds?
TB: Aw, thank you for the compliment! There are actually a few authors currently taking the dark genre by storm, and I can highly recommend all of them. These include Jennifer Bene, Sophie Kisker, some of Alta Hensley’s works, and Addison Cain’s Alpha’s Claim series is currently soaring up the Amazon charts. Deservedly so; she writes wonderful, conflicted and relatable characters in a truly dark and evil world – and she pushes the reader’s boundaries, which I very much admire.
Convinced yet? Head on over to preorder your copy of Hero to Obey at the special price of 99 cents. On June 28, you’ll get my story, Tabitha’s story, and 20 other super hot reads to add extra steam to your summer.
And follow Lady Smut. We read without boundaries.
Alexa Day writes erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent and fictional worlds where strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and recovering attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.