Tag Archives: romance

Booked author Leandra Vane on BDSM romance, writing male/male sex scenes and #ownvoices

16 Jun

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

As soon as I heard about the new BDSM romance novel Booked by Leandra Vane, I knew I wanted to read it. Actually, as soon as I saw the sexy cover with a man’s wrists handcuffed and the words “Detectives Were His Ultimate Fantasy” at the top, I knew. Isn’t that a wonderful feeling? I don’t know if there’s a specific word for it besides “anticipation,” but I get tingly when I see a book and immediately know: You’re going to be mine.

Isn’t this a HOT cover?

I’m pleased to report that Booked was every bit as sexy and fascinating as my initial inkling indicated it would be. Vane, a prominent sexuality blogger and author, has spun a small town romance that’s kinky, smart and edgy, with a fast pace that kept me turning the pages as fast as I could (it’s for sale in print and ebook, but I’m a sucker for print). There are many layers to this romance novel, which features a kinky bisexual male protagonist, Nate, a writer who volunteers at the local library and also suffers from nerve damage. He has a BDSM mistress, Charlotte, who’s just started dating the also kinky Ian, but then Nate also falls for his town’s hunky new librarian, James. All that, and there’s even a happily ever after!

I wanted to learn more about the process of writing Booked, which seemed extra fitting for Pride month, so I emailed Leandra Vane and here’s what she had to say about writing male/male romance, #ownvoices, the mental side of kink and BDSM, self-publishing and much more. You can follow her on @Leandra_Vane on Twitter to find out what she’s up to next, and she also has an original tale, “A Stolen Story,” forthcoming in my November anthology Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 3.

Booked author Leandra Vane

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: How long have you been writing erotica and how did you get involved with it? How is writing erotic fiction different for you than writing nonfiction about sex and kink?

LEANDRA VANE: I’ve been a reader of erotic fiction since I was a teenager. It has been a constant and important aspect of my sexuality for my entire sexual life. But I didn’t start writing erotica until I was 25 years old. I had been surrounded by a lot of sex negative attitudes growing up and had the basic impression that romance and erotica wasn’t “Real Writing.” But in 2013 I launched my sexuality blog The Unlaced Librarian where I reviewed non-fiction sexuality books that had been really helpful in my life. This bolstered some confidence so I started writing erotic stories and submitting them to anthologies. At first I just wanted to experiment and see how it felt to write in the genre. What I discovered was the kind of writing that suited me so well I could grow and thrive as a writer. June marks my four year anniversary as a sex writer and I’ve genuinely never been happier.

I think writing erotic fiction is interesting because it lets me explore certain topics from the perspective of different characters as well as exploring how the setting is infused into the sexual aspects of the story. For example, a lot of my stories take place in small Midwestern towns and that flavor certainly impacts how my characters work through their relationships and kinks. Writing non-fiction is more focused. I tend to take one viewpoint and keep it as concise as I can. It’s more structured in order to be effective as sex education and help people work through aspects of their sexualities without becoming overwhelmed.

Both types of writing are rewarding. But I love the ability to see different perspectives around a topic and explore the harsh and painful aspects in a creative way. There are some aspects of sex, disability, and embodiment that are difficult for me to write in non-fiction. But I dive right in with these themes in fiction because I’m more emotionally connected and my characters can serve as an outlet for all the different ways I feel about things, even when these feelings conflict.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: You’ve written that while the idea for Nate and James came to you easily, you almost didn’t write Booked because you weren’t sure you could do justice to a male/male plotline. What made you push past that initial resistance?

LEANDRA VANE: Ultimately I just loved my characters so much I couldn’t not write them. At first I felt like I was somehow “stealing” an experience that was not mine – being a gay man. But when I looked at certain characteristics and qualities of my characters, I saw that I was bringing a lot of my own experiences into the story and the characters. I asked friends and readers of an array of sexual orientations and body identities if they would like to read a story about a librarian and a tattooed novelist exploring kinky role play together and the answer was a resounding yes. I’m now open to writing a lot of different pairings I haven’t been in the past. I’m a romantic erotica writer and readers need and want interesting characters in a variety of pairings. So I’m going to write the ones that interest me. I’m easily seduced by my characters so this breakthrough has been really freeing.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Since this was your first time writing a male/male romance, I’m curious about how the experience was similar and different from the pairings you’ve written in the past. Were there aspects of it that you struggled with more than when writing female characters?

LEANDRA VANE: At first I was a little caught up on trying to do things the “right” way and doing justice to my masculine characters. I asked both gay and straight guys in my life how they felt during and about sex. I learned a lot, but I was mostly struck with how their experiences with sex and romance were not so different from mine. I certainly kept some things in mind but ultimately I focused on making unique and complete characters. Once I got rolling, I was led by their unique pasts, motivations, and desires. Confronting this challenge has made me more aware and able to write well-rounded characters no matter what body or sexual orientation they possess, which is invaluable for me as a writer and an experience I’m so grateful to have had.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: There’s a gradual education about BDSM that unfolds for James, who’s had kinky fantasies but has never acted upon them until he gets together with Nate. Nate and Charlotte recommend books for James to read and they have plenty of detailed discussions before they actually try anything kinky together. Why was this important to both the story and to you as an author to have this slow buildup?

LEANDRA VANE: I personally think it’s important to bring a more varied level of sexual experience to erotic stories. One of the reasons I didn’t try to write erotica myself for so long was because I felt I was sexually inexperienced or not kinky enough. But there are way more people I know who are curious about or just beginning to explore aspects of sexuality than people who have had loads of hardcore, creative, kinky sex. I started wondering, why can’t I have characters who haven’t been sexual with a lot of partners? Why can’t I have a main character in a BDSM story who had fantasized about BDSM but had not tried anything yet? These were more interesting stories to me and ones I connected to.

Also, I feel like talking about sex and desires is intimate and vulnerable. I’ve read a lot of erotic stories where the action happens so fast and the characters go into the sexual situation nervous and sort of looking at each other from the corner of their eye and then things just happen. It’s exciting and all, but I don’t think the tension or excitement is lost when characters talk about things first. In a way, some of the dialogue scenes in Booked felt very erotic to me.

Communication and understanding yourself as well as your partner is a high value for me as a sex educator so I try to infuse this into my fiction when I can.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Something that stood out to me is how much attention is paid in the book to making sure there’s both consent and participation from both tops and bottoms in the BDSM scenes. At a play party, Charlotte asks Nate, “What is it you want out of this scene before you’re at the mercy of my hand and mood?” This struck me as different than a lot of the dominants I’ve read about. What does this level of care toward the submissives from dominants in the book signify about their relationships?

LEANDRA VANE: I personally find it erotic and enticing when the top is fully engaged with the bottom and the scene. It’s a personal preference but I often get turned off if there’s not at least a hint in an erotic story that all partners are consenting. When I play in kink scenes with my current top, I still always ask things like if I can touch him or if it’s okay that we do certain things in a scene and he does the same for me. We’ve been playing together for over a year.

I feel this reiterates the underlying friendship that the characters have for each other outside the dungeon. Sometimes I feel sexual or kink relationships somehow fall outside of parameters of being supportive friends toward each other and I wanted my characters to have a foundation beneath their power dynamics.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Another aspect of BDSM that I really liked was that you explore the psychological aspect of kink as much as (if not more) than the physical side of it, which is often the main image vanilla people have of BDSM. During their first time playing together, Nate tells James that he likes being blindfolded even though it’s “its own special kind of torture” because “It forces me to really give up control.” For Nate, what makes that giving up of control so arousing?

LEANDRA VANE: The psychological aspect of BDSM was really important for me in the book. I wanted it to be just as prominent as the physical aspects in the story.

For Nate specifically, giving up control is a complete matter of trust. Since he can’t feel half of his body, being blindfolded means he will not know if he accidentally gets hurt or even where the top is touching him. As a disabled person with nerve damage, I can say giving your partner complete control over your body like this takes an astounding amount of trust. Call me a vulnerability slut, but when you trust your partner that much, I find it really hot. Considering Nate had a very bad relationship based on lies and mistrust in his past, this is a personal development aspect of his character that shows he is moving on, investing in healthy aspects of his new relationship, and growing as a person.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Nate also compares the physical pain he suffers because of his nerve damage to the kind he craves in kink as a submissive, the main difference being he has control over the latter and can stop it at any point. Can you elaborate on that connection between unwanted and wanted pain?

LEANDRA VANE: Unwanted pain is terrible and for many people is a non-negotiable part of life. Not having a choice is perhaps one of the most difficult things to cope with in life. BDSM is all about choice, negotiation, and consent. When elements of pain feel good, it can be empowering to play with it and help you cope with the times in your life that you have no choice but to endure the pain.

I also know that certain aspects of pain can be very pleasurable but physical pain from sickness, chronic conditions, or illnesses can frighten people away from harnessing pain for pleasure. Having a character that goes through both experiences was important to me to include in the ongoing conversation about BDSM, which I feel I can contribute to through fiction.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: While the heart of Booked is the romance between Nate and James, Nate is also bisexual and a submissive to Charlotte, something that James takes very much in stride and is even interested in learning more about. Was it tricky to navigate the various relationships among the three of them as well as Charlotte’s other partners?

LEANDRA VANE: This aspect was not tricky in the sense that this is how I see things and how I experience sexual attraction. I get into a bad habit of thinking everyone is a bisexual polyamorous person and my friends have to remind me that isn’t how it works. (I can still dream!) Early feedback I received warned me that perhaps the aspect with Charlotte would not be believable or that James wouldn’t be okay with Nate having a Domme. I took a chance and developed this aspect of my characters anyway. I hope that in exploring the motivations and attitudes of my characters that the relationships feel natural and genuine. I’m toying with writing a sequel in which Nate, James, Charlotte, and her partner Ian have formed a loose BDSM-based Polycule. We shall see.

But, just like writing sexually inexperienced characters, I decided there was nothing wrong with writing sexually fluid characters too. It reflects my own experience of my sexuality and of some of my friends so I feel the representation in fiction is important.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Since the library where James and Charlotte work, and Nate volunteers, plays such a central role in Booked, I’m curious about the connection between books (and reading and writing) and romance in the novel. Clearly, all three are huge book lovers, and books play a central role in both entertaining and educating them, so I’m curious what you see as the role of books in Booked.

LEANDRA VANE: In the story both Charlotte and James first stumble upon their kinks in books: Charlotte in history books and James in a book about detectives and crime. Nate is also a novelist who uses his writing to explore some themes in BDSM. All three are indeed book lovers and though each character possesses their kinks for different reasons, it is the element of books that binds all three of them together.

My idea initially was to have the library serve as a metaphorical symbol for a church. It’s an historical building that becomes a sanctuary for my characters. Through the stories and information in books my characters transcend the mundane aspects of their sexuality to engage with their bodies and their fantasies in a deeper, more textural (and enjoyable) way.

It’s also a blatant relay of some of my experiences working at a library in the past. Whether it was the cute white haired lady who checked out mountains of “bodice-rippers” or stories of romance, sex, and violence that I read in the microfilm reels of my local newspaper, the library was and is a well of human experience. Sexuality is part of that experience I wanted to bring forth.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Booked is an #ownvoices novel, meaning that you, like your protagonist, Nate, share certain elements in common, such as having nerve damage. Can you share how your experiences with nerve damage relate to Nate’s, and why the ownvoices element is important to you, and to readers?

LEANDRA VANE: I used to think I shouldn’t write about disability in my fiction because people would call me a self-absorbed “Mary Sue.” But I learned that most of us carry around shame and never grow because we guard our secrets and experiences from each other. I believe by sharing our stories we can all learn and grow together. So I started mining the experiences living with a disability has given me and putting them into some of my stories. All my life I’ve turned to books to have the conversations with me that people in the real world were unwilling or unable to have. So I encourage all writers to share their experiences. You don’t have to be disabled to learn things from disabled characters. And if you do share the experience of disability, there might be pieces of your own puzzle you find in the story. So now I don’t shy away from writing about disability in my fiction.

As for Nate and I, one of the most amazing things I’ve found in experimenting and playing with BDSM scenes is how I experience sensation play and pain when I literally cannot feel over half my body. Exploring this through another character was not only fun but nurturing to me in validating my experience of sex.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Along the same lines, James has to overcome some of his preconceived ideas about BDSM as he learns what it’s like in real life for Nate and Charlotte. Did you have any stereotypes or misconceptions about BDSM that you had to unpack when you started getting involved with it?

LEANDRA VANE: I had always viewed my kinks as a “dirty little secret.” This bit of my soul I kept wrapped up in a shoe box in a dark corner that I only took out every once in a while. I thought if I let it out my whole identity would be dictated by the fact that I was a fetishist who had kinky thoughts.

Becoming involved with the BDSM community and the fantastically supportive world of erotica writers has changed all of that. Imagine, well-rounded, kind, creative people who are also kinky as fuck. Amazing!

I believed in a stereotype that if you’re kinky, it infiltrates every part of your life until you’re just a sex-crazed drone intent on only one thing no matter who you hurt to get it. (Did I mention earlier I was surrounded by a lot of sex negativity growing up? Yeaaahhh.) But now I know the complexity and deeply human aspects of kink and BDSM and I’ve brought it into my life in a healthy way, embracing my kinks and unleashing my creativity as an erotica writer.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: You self-published Booked, as well as several other books, such as your memoir Trophy Wife and fiction A Bloom in Cursive and Cast From the Earth. Why did you choose self-publishing, and do you have any advice for new authors looking into self-publishing?

LEANDRA VANE: I honestly chose self-publishing because of the combination of things I write about. BDSM/Multiple pairing and disability? Yeah, that’s probably a Venn Diagram not many publishers want to see in a pitch. But just because there aren’t oodles of people wanting to read what I write, they are out there. I’m more interested in getting my work to the readers that need to read it or appreciate it the most rather than going the traditional route right now. And I’ve found the small or independent publishers that publish really unique erotica anthologies are a great fit for my work and are the stories I want to consume as a reader. I’ve found a wonderful home for my work this way and I love it.

Of course this did not happen overnight. Before I became a sex writer, I published books under two different pen names, submitted work to lots and lots of lit journals, and launched and folded two blogs. My books and stories were half-baked and my platform was unorganized. I made mistakes. But I learned from them.

As far as advice, I would say work on becoming a better writer first and foremost. Don’t focus on things like awards or accolades. Read, read, read then write, write, write. Find a book that makes you think “how can I make readers feel the same way as I did when I read that last word?” Practice.

Also, even if you self-publish some work, do submit stories to outside publishers. It helps you network, keeps you writing, and builds your CV. It also gives you practice for coping with the business of writing when your work is declined (and it will be declined). But write new things. Try again. Listen to feedback.

Finally, I say this as a joke, but really, you might also want to convert to Buddhism. Your ego is your worst enemy once you start putting work out there. Managing it well will help along the way.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: This week we’re celebrating luck here at Lady Smut in honor of the release of Lucky by Elizabeth SaFleur. Does luck play a role in Booked for any of the characters?

LEANDRA VANE: Every time I pick up an erotica book or write a sex scene, I truly feel lucky to be living in a time and place where we can read and write about sex and relationships. A little over 100 years ago things like the Comstock laws prohibited the sending and receiving of “obscene” materials including books and sex education writing. So I feel lucky to be living in a time and place where technology allows me to not just write but also self-publish my work.

My characters comment in places how lucky they feel to have met each other. Also, there is an historical undertone of the small town they live in with buildings from the 1800’s and the tragic stories of people that lived before them. My characters definitely feel lucky that they were able to work through their kinks in time to still have plenty of life left to enjoy them.

Booked by Leandra Vane is available now in print and as an ebook.

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This post is part of our Lucky week at Lady Smut, celebrating the release of the latest Elite Doms of Washington erotic romance novel, Lucky, by Elizabeth SaFleur! If you like hot , hunky dominant heroes, you don’t want to miss this book.

Lucky by Elizabeth SaFleur

Billionaire, entertainment investor and resolute bachelor Derek Damon Wright and dance studio owner Samantha Rose are unprepared for their mutual attraction to one another. She desperately wants to have a baby, and family doesn’t match Derek’s sophisticated life of private jets, vacations in the Caribbean and his BDSM activities. Yet a magnetic passion draws them closer—at least until their past mistakes arise and threaten all hope of a real future.

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Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1 and 2, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com. You can follow Rachel on BookBub to get notified about new releases and ebook sales.

KFC Colonel Sanders romance novel Tender Wings of Desire is a real love story

8 May

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

What does mom want for Mother’s Day (and dinner)? If you guessed fried chicken and romance, then KFC has just the thing for you: a free novella on Amazon called Tender Wings of Desire, starring (and written by) Colonel Sanders (aka Harland) as the hero (which they’re calling their “first romance novella”). They even made an ad for it, which you can watch to get a sense of the hilarity:

According to a press release, the fast food chain was inspired by the fact that Mother’s Day is their bestselling day of the year. “The only thing better than being swept away by the deliciousness of our Extra Crispy Chicken is being swept away by Harland Sanders himself. So this Mother’s Day, the bucket of chicken I get for my wife will come with a side of steamy romance novella. Dinner is taken care of and she’ll have the time to escape her busy schedule,” George Felix, director of advertising for KFC U.S, said.

While the ad is totally over the top, I wanted to read Tender Wings of Desire, described by The Daily Mail as a “steamy, greasy fantasy,” for myself to see whether it was super cheesy, full of product placement or whether it actually worked as a romance. The work is described in part in its official blurb like so: “When she finds herself swept into the arms of Harland, a handsome sailor with a mysterious past, Madeline realizes she must choose between a life of order and a man of passion.” Yes, it’s true: whoever actually wrote this novella has read a romance novel or two, because I was rooting for Lady Madeline, with her family part of the ton in Victorian England, bemoaning her fate of being married off to lackluster Reginald.

Madeline runs away on her horse, escaping a life of luxury that felt stifling to her. She reaches a tavern two hours away and quickly finds herself a job and friend, becoming immersed in a new way of life. Soon, she meets “the most handsome man she had ever seen,” Harland, a dashing sailor. The attraction is mutual, even though, of course, it takes them a little while to figure that out.

Soon she winds up giving in to her urges and kissing him. “This was the closest she had ever been to a man, and she would not want it any other way. She felt as if she were a woman on fire, feverish in the best way possible, and something seems dot take her over when he deepened the kiss.”

Though the book isn’t actually all that “steamy,” with more of a fade to black approach to sex, it does manage to get in some plugs for independence and against slut-shaming. “Kissing a man who wasn’t her betrothed was supposed to imply that she was tainted in some way, as though she had been spoiled for her future husband. Perhaps that might have been true, but as she drifted off to sleep, the only thing she could think was that she felt free. She felt in charge. She felt as though she were finally coming face to face with the wonder of her destiny.”

Now, is Tender Wings of Desire the best historical romance I’ve ever read? No. But I can’t dismiss it simply as a corporate stunt (even though I would strongly urge you to try a home-cooked meal for mom rather than fast food) because it completely conforms to the romance genre, with a happily ever after that never once mentions fried chicken. It manages to play on the character of Colonel Sanders (who Harland is revealed to be) in a way that actually made me smile at the end, rather than the slightly smarmy guy hawking deals in their recent commercials. In truth, the novella is as much about Madeline discovering who she really is when not under so many rules about what she can and can’t do as it is about her falling in love. When she falls fast and hard, Harland really is tender and patient and sweet with Madeline. She really does end the book far happier than she was when it started. And you don’t even have to be a mom to appreciate that!

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Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1 and 2, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com.

Guess the Lady Smut TBR Stack–Win $10 Amazon Gift Card!

4 May

Hi RT Orphans! Does your TBR pile have some of the same titles as ours? Let us know–leave us a comment below. 🙂 Want to buy the book on our TBR list? Click the link.  Meanwhile, here’s another fun game you can play at home.

FIRST Read the TBR lists. THEN guess which list belongs to which blogger. Your blogger choices are below & we’ve abbreviated the longer names for you. We also provided some hints.  THE FINAL STEP IS TO email us at LadySmutBlog@gmail.com with your guesses. The first reader to email us the most correct answers wins a $10 Amazon Gift Card.

CONTEST ENDS FRIDAY MAY 5th AT 12PM PST!!!!!

OUR BLOGGERS:

Elizabeth Shore

G.G. Andrew

Kiersten Hallie Krum (KHK)

Alexa Day

Rachel Kramer Bussel (RKB)

Elizabeth SaFleur (ESF)

Isabelle Drake

Thien-Kim Lam (TKL)

Madeline Iva

Ready to play? Here we go——

Lady Smut TBR List #1

Hint: This blogger is a foodie who loves diverse romances & sex toys

  1. Alpha by Jasinda Wilder
  2. Nine Kinds of Naughty by Jeanette Grey
  3. The Muse by Anne Calhoun
  4. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
  5. Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Lady Smut TBR List #2

Hint: This blogger likes to share all after a few dirty dates. ; > 
  1. The Pawn by Skye Warren
  2. Trophy Wife by Alessandra Torre
  3. The Truth About Love and Dukes by Laura Lee Guhrke
  4. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
  5. The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz

Lady Smut TBR List #3

Hint: This blogger is a big fan of New Adult romances, secrets, and other crazy, sexy topics.

  1. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
  2. Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole
  3. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  4. Deadly Testimony by Piper Drake
  5. Ghostland: An American History of Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Lady Smut TBR List #4

Hint: This erotica author loves blogging about TWD, kidnapping & a few other illicit topics.

  1. Truly Helpless by Joey W. Hill
  2. All the Lies We Tell by Megan Hart
  3. Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Chorderlos de Laclos
  4. Slow Surrender by Cecilia Tan
  5. The Infamous Miss Rodriguez by Lydia San Andres

Lady Smut TBR List #5

Hint: This blogger is wild about reviewing her fav authors.

  1. Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
  2. The List by Tawna Fenske
  3. Madly by Ruthie Knox
  4. Beyond Doubt by Kit Rocha
  5. Edge of Ruin (set of 3 Viking Dystopian Novellas) by Megan Crane

Lady Smut TBR List #6

Hint: This author blogs about edgy topics of desire including: swallowing, tattooing, cross-dressing–even Jewish Swingers. 

  1. Purity by Jonathan Franzen
  2. The Fireman by Joe Hill
  3. Finders Keepers by Stephen King
  4. The Book of Lost Fragrances by MJ Rose
  5. Beyond Ruin by Kit Rocha

Lady Smut TBR List #7

Hint: When this author wasn’t all tied up, she’s blogged about CW’s Riverdale.

  1. Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler
  2. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
  3. DC Comics Bombshells: Enlisted by Marguerite Bennett & Marguerite Sauvage
  4. Initiates of the Blood by Cecilia Tan
  5. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Lady Smut TBR List #8

Hint: This blogger is a capital BDSM Erom author

  1. Bombshell by CD Reiss
  2. Truly Helpless by Joey W. Hill
  3. Royally Matched by Emma Chase
  4. The Chosen by J.R. Ward
  5. The List by Anne Calhoun

Lady Smut TBR List #9

Hint: This author loves blogging about wicked villains & paranormal television shows.

  1. Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
  2. The Unlikeable Demon Hunter by Deborah Wilde
  3. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
  4. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
  5. A Darker Shade of Magic V.E. Schwab
Send off those answers and follow us at Lady Smut. If you want to know the about the latest fun when it comes to sex, romance books, and pop culture–we won’t leave you guessing.
Madeline Iva writes fantasy and paranormal romance.  Her fantasy romance, WICKED APPRENTICE, featuring a magic geek heroine, is available on AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and through iTunes.  Sign up for Madeline Iva news & give aways.

The Enduring Romance of Beauty and the Beast

20 Mar

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

I remember the first time I saw Beauty and the Beast in 1991. It was in the Berkeley Heights movie theater. Thursday nights were buy one, get one, but I went with my friends for a matinée. Funny, I can’t remember who I was with, but I distinctly remember that first moment when the curtain drew back (yes, it had a curtain across the screen) and the first image of the movie filled the frame.

I gasped. For real. I spent the first 90 seconds wavering back and forth between thinking it was real and believing it was a cartoon. The colors were so bright, the images so crisp, it was breathtaking, as in it literally took my breath away. Minutes later, the opening number “Belle” began and I was officially enraptured. The complexity of the song, the brilliance of the lyrics, the timing of the animation. This was revolutionary. It was pre-motion captured, when digital was only just becoming part of our vocabulary. There were no DVDs yet, CDs were only just becoming known, laser disks were still the premiere idea of home movies. The Little Mermaid had taken the world by storm barely a year earlier. But Beauty and the Beast was a wunderkind of animation never seen before. Its music was fresh and exciting. Its story took a well-known tale and infused it anew with adventure and romance.

And don’t even get me started on the ballroom scene.

A few days later, I took my sister to see it before I went back to college, and after she had to endure me going on and on about it. Within the first few minutes, she turned to me and whispered, “You were absolutely right.”

Last Friday, I saw the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, not another retelling of the story, but the same 1991 animated film remade with live people as opposed to cartoons. I’ve been anticipating this movie but at the same time, had little expectation as to what it might turn out to be. Like looking forward to seeing a favorite book brought to the screen, there was bound to be new interpretations to the story that would tick me off (I’m a purist, I confess), but as I was coming off a long convalescence from surgery, I went to a matinée solo simply to enjoy seeing an old friend given new life.

It was, in a word, perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Was it flawless? No. That’s an impossibility. But as Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the Disney logo was replaced by the Beast’s enchanted castle and the familiar words of the prologue filled the air now in a female’s voice, I knew this was going to be the rare film that met the demands of its source material. Perhaps even exceeded it.

I’m not going to go over the particulars of the new movie as it’s enough to say it’s a near perfect match to its animated doppelgänger. OK, scratch that idea. A few quick thoughts: the new movie does address a few loopholes the animated film skipped over that have plague fans for years–or maybe that’s just me. Things like, why does no one in the village see the honking huge palace in the forest? Why is it beautiful autumn in the village and winter around the castle? How come no one seems to remember there was ever a prince in residence nearby? How the hell does wee Belle manage to get huge Beast up on Philippe the horse after Beast collapses following the wolf attack? Answers are finally found. Also, where I often loathe new music added to an established libretto (Phantom of the Opera, I’m looking at you), the new songs added to this version of Beauty and the Beast fit in perfectly. Oh and Luke Evans nearly steals the show as pitch-perfect Gaston. Finally, visually, it is a masterpiece. I don’t even want to know how it was done, which part is motion capture and which part is actual people, or where the animation begins or which pieces are on a set and which are in a proper 18th-century palace. It’s a sumptuous feast on par with the magnitude of its counterpart for its time. You will not be disappointed.

But what struck me as I teared up over the ending (and yea, I did sniffle, and applaud while the credits rolled) was how this well-known and beloved story still had the power to move me. Women are weened on romantic fantasy and Disney has made a killing exploiting that deeply ingrained expectation. But archetype stories like Beauty and the Beast endure because they resonate with truth that is better than any fantasy.

In both films, the key is that Belle must fall in love with a “hideous” beast in order to break the curse. But the prince’s outward beast is merely the reflection of the inner asshole that was hiding beneath his human pretty face. As he learns not only to love, but to be lovable, the core good person who yet lives beneath both beastly versions comes back to life. This is another aspect this film has the time and means to address. Mrs. Potts informs Belle of how the prince was warped by his cruel father after his mother’s death when the prince was but a boy. Adding the somewhat rout psychological element adds layers to the prince’s repulsive behavior prior to his beastliness being made manifest, which also explains why the staff remains so loyal to one who appeared to be so horrible in both guises.

Beast also learns the sacrificial aspect to love, that truly loving someone means putting their needs first and that sometimes can cause great agony for the lover. In the new film, when Beast releases Belle to go to her father, he watches her flee through the maze, her gold dress a beacon, and sings the beautiful, new, heart-wrenching song “Evermore”.

Sidebar: Holy cats, can Dan Stevens sing. Strewth.

In “Evermore,” Beast sings about how Belle has changed his life and how he knows he’ll now be haunted by her for the rest of his days. But even as he despairs over this and the expectation that he’ll never see her again, especially since, in this film, there is a very real threat to his and the others existence, (outside of Gaston and the mob, that is), Beast knows he’s forever been changed by falling in love with her. Whatever the future brings him, he will not be the same person, man or beast, because of Belle.

Now I know she’ll never leave me
Even as she runs away
She will still torment me, calm me, hurt me
Move me, come what may

Now I know she’ll never leave me
Even as she fades from view
She will still inspire me, be a part of
Everything I do

Wasting in my lonely tower
Waiting by an open door
I’ll fool myself she’ll walk right in
And as the long, long nights begin
I’ll think of all that might have been
Waiting here for evermore!

– “Evermorefrom Beauty and the Beast 2017 ©Disney

Poor Beastie. Fortunately, we know he’s not meant to waste away in his lonely tower without his Belle, but still! Sob.

In this live-action version of the story, as Belle and her prince dance through the final moments, she makes a cheeky request of him that makes it clear she actually prefers or at least misses his hairier visage, a request that makes the prince laugh because he knows exactly what she’s saying. She doesn’t love him more or less for now being human; she loves him period. But having fallen in love with his beastly component, she’s not adverse to his human self sporting a sartorial reminder. (And I think, for those of us who may know, there was a sly sexual component to her request as well.)

But it’s not only the Beast/Prince who is loved for himself. Belle too doesn’t fit in her environment. She’s thought to be odd and out-of-place because she reads and longs for a life far beyond that of a provincial village. In the original film, when Belle has her Sound of Music moment running up the hill while she sings “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand, to have someone understand. I want so much more than they’ve got planned…” my young heart swelled and I got chills. When Emma Watson did the same move and sang the same words in the live-action film, my battered, weary heart swelled and I got chills as I smiled and sang along.

So many of us were that girl, nose in a book, dreaming of more, maybe a prince or at least that one person who “got” us, who didn’t think we were weird because of who we are or what we like to do. Who wanted to be with us because of what others thought made us odd, not in spite of them. Who wanted us for us. Now, as women, some of us have been fortunate to have found that person. Some of us are still looking but remain hopeful. Meanwhile, we read and, in my case, write romances to keep that hope alive. Not because we’re entrenched in romantic fantasy, but because we know the truth that fantasy exploits: happily ever after isn’t just for fiction.

This is why Beauty and the Beast is such an enduring romance. And it’s why those of us who write romance continue to believe. Be it romantic suspense or epic fantasy or erotic romance or BDSM romance or Amish romance, whatever the genre or subgenre, whether we write about hot alpha heroes or handsome beta heroes or gorgeous women who’ve got it going on or ladies in search of their own kind of special who are the heroines of their own stories, at the core, we’re spinning relationships where the parties involved find the one who loves them for themselves, for who they are at the best and worst of times (thank you Victor Hugo), who love those moments when we’re all a unique beauty and more, when we show our inner beasts.

Women may be weened on romantic fantasy, but stories like Beauty and the Beast remind us that true love sees and loves all.

And that is no fantasy.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her debut romantic suspense novel, WILD ON THE ROCKS, is now available. Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.

Now available exclusively from Kindle. Click image to buy!

BDSM Newbies and Erotic Romance: Q&A with The Discipline author Jade A. Waters

17 Mar

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Author Jade A. Waters has made a name for herself with her sexy approach to erotica writing. I have published her work in several of my anthologies and have always been impressed with the way it draws the reader in, whether she’s writing about a flogger (in The Big Book of Orgasms) or Shakespeare and theater and love (in Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1).

After publishing numerous short stories, the San Francisco Bay Area-based author landed a three-book deal with Carina Press for her Lessons in Control trilogy, which follows Maya and Dean, both relative newcomers to the world of BDSM, on an exciting erotic journey. The series started with The Assignment, which featured the pair starting to date, with Dean giving Maya a series of increasingly risqué assignments, involving everything from public sex to bondage to sex clubs. Now, it continues with newly published The Discipline, as they take their sexual fantasies to a new level,  and the third book in the series, The Reward, will be published on June 12.

What especially drew me to her series is that while many kinky erotic novels are set in the world of dungeons with confirmed Masters and submissives, everyone fully aware of their BDSM identities from the start, both Maya and Dean are navigating those exciting but often confusing paths together. She has to figure out how much she can share with him about her past, which includes an abusive ex, and he has to figure out how far he can go with his kinky fantasies, especially as they ease into becoming reality. In Maya, Waters has created a heroine who is starting to tiptoe out from the shadow of her troubling history and into a future where she can crave roughness and tenderness from the same person. In our interview, I asked her about her writing career, choosing ebooks over print, BDSM and consent and what we can expect from this exciting literary love affair.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: How and why did you get started writing erotica and erotic romance?

Well, I’ve been writing fiction and poetry since I was a young girl, but I was also on the precocious side growing up…which eventually translated into a thing for provocatively reading synonyms from a thesaurus to my high school sweetheart over the phone. (For some reason, me reading the word “smoldering” often resulted in his squeaky voiced “Can you come over, maybe?”) Around the same time I discovered Anaïs Nin and The Best American Erotica 1993, and I realized I wanted to give sexy fiction a try. My first attempt was a story about a Russian princess trapped in a tower; her king father was attempting to marry her off to a bunch of disappointing courters, and she was supposed to be saved by a seductive stranger…but I never did finish that story. After that, I penned the occasional ditty every few years. The truth is that I fought the idea of writing erotica for a long time for too many reasons, but once I finally decided to up and go for it, it was on. I wrote two stories that I tried to submit to a small call (one of which ended up appearing later in Coming Together: Among the Stars), and then when I decided I was really serious in early 2013, I submitted “The Flogger” to you. That ended up being my first publication in The Big Book of Orgasms later that year!

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: When did you first get the idea for the romance between Maya and Dean, and was there a specific inspiration for it? Did you always plan for it to be three books?

JADE A. WATERS: Maya and Dean’s story was one part my own experience, and about three parts “what if?” The initial idea was sparked because I had a short-lived relationship with a man who playfully gave me an assignment on date one. I thought it was fun (my turn-ons are “playing” and “trying things”), but it wasn’t my thing in the long run, nor would we have ever worked out in a serious way. Pair with that my own history of having been in an abusive relationship in college, and the “what if” arose as I toyed with the idea of how the assignments and power dynamic would play out long term for someone who liked the submission, but who had only experienced it in a negative context. Maya’s independence is a mix of sass and survival—safety and control are imperative to her daily life, so I wanted to explore how that would work if she desired something considerably contrary. When I started book 1 I had some faint ideas of what could happen as they explored and their relationship continued to develop—so I imagined it could be a series, but I didn’t have much beyond an overall arc when I wrote The Assignment.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: There are some very vivid descriptions of things like sex clubs and rope bondage. Did you do any research for the books?

JADE A. WATERS: I do like to do my research. 🙂 It was a mix of memories of a few trips to sex clubs in the past, knowledge from a friend who studied shibari, and a lot of scouring the internet for alternate ideas. Also, reading is key. You pick up a lot from other stories and supplement with research as needed.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Can you tell me about your writing process? For the trilogy, did you write at a set time every day? Did you outline?

JADE A. WATERS: My “process” has morphed like crazy throughout this series. Book 1 was a breeze; it just popped right out. Book 2 had a lot of life and health issues throwing everything off, and required significant time and rewrites. Book 3 happened pretty quickly but needed a solid tweak between the manuscript turned in and what readers will see. The one thing that definitely held true throughout was that I’m a morning writer. It’s my most creative, calm time. I get up at 4 most days to get an hour or so of work in before I go to my day job. Weekends, I’ll start at 6 or so and go until the lunch hour.

I’m pretty simple when it comes to the how—it’s just me and a Word doc—but I like my coconut milk lattes and water in hand and to just go at it. Editing I seem to be able to do later into the day, which is helpful—but any big overhauls need morning light. As for outlining, that’s a big yes for novels. I use a combination of the Hero’s Journey, a 9-step outline process I picked up at a conference a while back, and then a method posted by Glen C. Strathy that I love. I merge these three styles together in a giant document that I print and keep on hand complete with character sketches and floor plans of characters’ houses as I work.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: How did you decide on e-publisher Carina Press, an imprint of Harlequin, as the publisher for your series?

JADE A. WATERS: My agent, Jessica Alvarez, and I shopped The Assignment around for a few months. Some publishers weren’t sure on a series. When the offer came in, we had two—one was for print for a single book, and the other was for the whole series with Carina. While I loved the idea of print, I’ve been fortunate to have been in print in several anthologies and I knew there was time for a print novel later. Carina was enthusiastic about the whole series, which excited me! So, after talking it around with Jessica, it was an easy yes.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Both Maya and Dean are intrigued by BDSM, but are both new at exploring it. Why did you decide to have them both be inexperienced? What was it like to write about a dom who has to act in control but is also, at times, unsure of what he’s doing when it comes to their power dynamics?

JADE A. WATERS: Ultimately, everyone has to be new at BDSM before they’re into BDSM. The desires can be part instinct, but we don’t just wake up one day knowing we like to be spanked or whatever without giving it a whirl. There are a bounty of books out there right now with a super experienced dom and inexperienced (and oft virginal) sub, and it drives me nuts. I wanted to explore two people who had a little exposure and interest in trying more, so that they could develop and cater to their own needs, but together. I find that exploration concept really sexy, which is why it was such an integral part of Maya and Dean’s relationship. However, it definitely posed some challenges in portraying Dean. He had to be in control, and yet he had to make rookie mistakes (he does in The Assignment, after all). It’s maddening to read and watch, but life is all about learning, and that’s what they do. Maya and Dean’s flubs allow them to figure out how to communicate and negotiate their boundaries—something I don’t think ever stops, in reality, in BDSM or any relationship. So they continue navigating that throughout the series.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Maya is intrigued by BDSM and submitting to Dean, but very wary based on abuse in a past relationship that had included some elements of BDSM, and she is also works with abused women at her job, which complicates her perspective. Was it challenging to incorporate the subject of domestic violence into a book of kinky erotic romance?

JADE A. WATERS: In some ways, yes, but not completely. I remember that when I told a non-erotica writer pal about Maya’s background early on, as well as some of what happens in the book, she’d said, “Wait, you’re basically giving her PTSD and having her trigger in an erotic romance book?” I’d found the question rather curious. I think we as a society have a tendency to gloss over the fact that real people have real histories and that can impact one’s choices and experiences. Maya is a fictional character, sure, but I like my characters to be real people. As someone who actually lives with PTSD—which does flare for most PTSD sufferers randomly throughout life—and yet someone who is also extremely sexual, I didn’t find the combination all that strange; I know what that feels like. It doesn’t saturate every moment but there are periods when it’s active. In the same way, making sure that past experience didn’t oversaturate the relationship was a challenge I enjoyed. To me, Maya’s story is about finally coming to terms with her past throughout the course of the series while she finds not only love and lust but herself in her relationship with Dean.

 One of the biggest themes of The Assignment is safety, which is what allows Maya to indulge the side of her that wants to have sexual adventures ranging from bondage to public sex to visiting a sex club. What about Dean makes her feel safe, and what, if anything, about Dean makes her feel unsafe?

JADE A. WATERS: Dean is naturally dominant, but he’s also a playful, compassionate guy. Maya is playful too, which is why they respond so well to one another. His openness allows her to feel safe, as does all his checking in—he may be giving assignments, but they really cater their dynamic together, and flesh it out through the series. We learn more about Dean in The Discipline, and some of his experiences have given him his own reticence that he [foolishly] tries to cover up. But as their relationship grows, it’s got to come out. I’m really into the pieces unfolding in time with people much like peeling back an onion, and yet, that lends to the challenges these two face. Maya’s questioning of safety comes from her background, pure and simple. It’s hard for her to place her trust entirely in someone else’s hands, but she wants to with Dean. Later, when she’s found her confidence in submission, she’s able to use that to call Dean out when he’s holding back. I wouldn’t say she feels unsafe then; in fact she feels safe enough to make the call and draw him out to meet her, too.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: If Maya had not met Dean, do you think she would have found other ways to explore her interest in BDSM?

JADE A. WATERS: Maybe? Frankly, I think she was too busy avoiding. If—and I mean if—she did find it later, I think it would have taken her a long time, because she was mighty happy with her fancy free love and sex life. There’s something about Dean that pushes that button for her in the perfect combo of dominant, charming, and sweet.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: The San Francisco Bay Area, the setting for the series and your home, is very prominent in the series. What’s so sexy about the area? Do you think people are more open to exploring BDSM there than in other parts of the United States?

JADE A. WATERS: I didn’t realize how into the area I was until I started writing erotica, honestly. Someone pointed out that I had a water motif and I had to pause before I realized, um, hello, I’ve been writing watery motifs for a while. I lived in Nevada until I was a teen, and from there I was in Sonoma, Marin, all over the East Bay…this place is just so incredibly lovely. (A 12-year-old me protested becoming a California girl and I now proudly tote that badge.) There’s water everywhere, be it moderate rains or on the coast. And waves…they’re so sexy to me. It’s that soothing but rhythmic one-two punch. I’d read a few erotica books set in other highly populated areas and none seemed to be here, so I felt like it was high time the Bay Area got some quality love! As for BDSM here…San Francisco is such a far cry from many places in our country. There’s a lot of open-mindedness (never mind several BDSM and sex club options), so, if there aren’t more people exploring it here there are at least more aware of and open to it here, I think. 

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Was your focus on safety and consent a response to the perceptions in popular culture of BDSM? Were you trying to address any cultural myths about kinky relationships?

JADE A. WATERS: YES!!! (Sorry, was I shouting?) I have read and heard about far too many misconceptions that BDSM is actually abuse. This is dead wrong. A consensual BDSM relationship is a beautiful thing. A nonconsensual relationship of any type is abuse. But BDSM is not a synonym for abuse, and many people still believe this is the case because unfortunately in real life and in fiction some do treat it as an excuse to abuse. That’s a no-no. Also, I think consent is an extremely important topic. I need to preface this with the fact that I under no circumstances believe it is a fiction writer’s job to educate the public on consent or to only write consensual scenes—and it drives me crazy that people say otherwise. However, if one is writing a BDSM story and they don’t intend for the dom to be an abusive character, then one does have to be a responsible writer and make sure the consent, communication, and negation is there in a healthy way. For Maya and Dean’s story, consent and safety was imperative, both because I wanted them to have a real and healthy BDSM relationship, and because Maya’s backstory requires safety in her relationships. Period.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: What were your favorite and least favorite parts of writing this trilogy?

JADE A. WATERS: This is strangely the hardest question you’ve given me, Rachel! 🙂 Favorite…man, all of it? The way the story morphed over time, and at the same time challenged me and exorcised some of my own demons. I really loved Maya’s growth throughout the series (just you wait until book 3), and it felt good to watch her develop. Same for Dean. Hardest? Mmmm…my life, like, completely blew up at the start of drafting book 2. So I think it would be cool to try writing a series not under so much life stress! (You hear that, Universe? Eh-hm.) Part of that was the pace, and part was just all that was going on. But, I think it worked out all right!

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Can you give us a hint at what happens in The Discipline, which was just published, and the third book, The Reward?

Jade A. Waters: Happy to! The Discipline sees Maya and Dean learning the discipline of having a serious relationship while also exploring more sexual discipline, which means more play, and several really hot fantasies that will definitely challenge them. A. Lot. By The Reward, they’re not only more stable but stronger…however, some past challenges will confront them, hard. We will see tremendous growth in both characters…as well as in their relationship. It’s a mighty reward!

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: What have the responses been like from readers to the series?

JADE A. WATERS: Fairly positive, I think! Some people seemed to really like their dynamic and the story, which is amazing to hear. Some wanted more Dean in book 1, which I knew would show up in book 2 because The Assignment was more about Maya’s growth…so I’m hoping they find what they’re seeking when they read on. I try not to read reviews too closely and when I do I just figure to each her own, but so far it seems people are enjoying, which is such a compliment.

RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL: Anything else to add?

JADE A. WATERS: Yes…a giant thank you for having me over!!

Click here to read a sexy free excerpt from The Discipline, which is available for purchase for Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1 and 2, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com.

Size 18 and sexy with a “great big ass:” Body positivity in Alice Clayton’s Cream of the Crop

21 Oct

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

I look to romance novels, as well as other types of fiction, to both entertain me and, on some occasions, inspire me. Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton, her second in her Hudson Valley series, does both because of its bold, outspoken and very sexy size 18 heroine, Natalie Grayson. In some ways, I’m like Natalie; I used to live in New York and brie is my favorite kind of cheese.

Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton

Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton

But in one key area, I’m sadly not like her: she doesn’t apologize for her size, wish she were a smaller size, or have any hangups about her body or her attractiveness. Whereas I, despite working on “loving my body,” which perhaps doesn’t need quotes around it but feels like it does, from my teen years into my forties, simply don’t have her level of sheer belief in myself. Here’s how Natalie describes her approach to men:

I found a certain kind of power in walking into a room where I knew no one, and figuring out how everyone ticked. Narrowing in on the best-looking guy in any room, and going on the offense. Size-eighteen women were supposed to be timid. Size-eighteen women were supposed to be shy. Size-eighteen women were supposed to be grateful for any male attention, and to feel especially honored if a good-looking man paid attention to them.

Fuck all that noise. I took the best-looking guy home with me whenever and however I pleased. Confidence went a long way. You walk into a room armed with the knowledge that you can have anyone you want? You can literally have anyone you want.

Plus I had a sweet rack. Which always helped.

No matter what size you are, I’m pretty sure you could do with a boost of Natalie’s confidence, which in the novel, extends beyond the bedroom and into the advertising firm where she works. Even though the hero, sexy cheesemonger Oscar, seller of her beloved brie, gives her butterflies and leaves her tongue tied in the beginning, she is still someone who exudes a core belief in her own power, strength and hotness that I envy.

There’s a fabulous moment, the ultimate flirtation crossed with mixed signals combined with some grammar nerd hijinks, where Natalie and Oscar are talking for the first time outside of his stall at New York’s Union Square Market, where she first met him. She’s been lusting after him but didn’t know whether he was aware of her existence, and after telling her, “I know exactly who you are,” he elaborates with, “You’re the Brie girl with the great big ass.”

She takes offense at first, as probably most women would do after being told they have a “great big ass,” but Oscar isn’t sure what he did wrong. She asks him, “Are you saying great big ass? Or great comma big ass?” That’s classic Clayton rom com right there.

Befuddled, he repeats her last question back to her, so Natalie tells him. “Okay, I’m confused. So you’re not saying that I have a great big  . . . ass, you’re saying that I have a great . . . big ass. Meaning—”

His answer? “Your ass is big. And it’s great…How is that confusing?”

She lets him know, “You’re not supposed to say something like that to a woman.” But because she’s so hot for him, and coming to understand exactly what he meant, she responds, “Luckily for you, I’m aware that it’s a great ass. And yes, it’s big.”

Can you imagine all the “Does this skirt/dress/jeans make my ass look big?” conversations that would be eliminated if every woman could embrace the size of her bottom, and the rest of her, the way Natalie does?

I did forget one other thing Natalie and I have in common: beyond brie, food is a centerpiece of our relationships. Clayton’s descriptions of Natalie’s love of cheese and the way she savors other meals is part and parcel of her personality. She’s not going to order a bland, boring salad just because everyone else is doing it, just as she is bold enough to go after whatever and whoever she wants. She doesn’t shrink away from the richness of food around her, and in fact, revels in it, as does her pal Roxie, the heroine of the first book in the series, Nuts.

This might not seem like that big of a deal, but the body positive and food loving message in these hilarious romances spoke to me in a major way. I have moments of confidence, about my body, my ambitions, my core self, but they are all too often softened by the fears that literally wake me up at night, the impostor syndrome lurking in wait for any time I get too lofty in my goals. The other day, I put on one of my favorite skirts, a silky black number that clings to my ass in a way that emphasizes it, rather than minimizing it. I was looking for the perfect complement to a new sweater, and stood in front of the mirror, debating whether or not to ditch that skirt for one that might not put quite the same focus on my rear. But I went with it, because despite all the things I wish I could change about my body, I want to be more like Natalie. I want to have at least a little of her confidence.

As a feminist, I’m so pleased to read about a heroine who, yes, has her stumbling blocks, because a romance novel without drama wouldn’t be compelling, but who isn’t hung up on how much she weighs or the number labeled inside her clothes. As someone who, despite knowing logically just how punishing and unfair our culture’s beauty and body image norms are, still finds myself falling down the rabbit hole of thinking my life would be “perfect” if only I dropped 10, or 20, or 30, or 40 pounds, I need these kinds of reminders. I applaud those who are taking this ongoing struggle into the real world, like Good Housekeeping Beauty Editor Sam Escobar, who shared their weight and clothing size on Twitter as a way to normalize these numbers. In solidarity, I’ll share mine: 180 pounds, size 10 or 12, large or extra large, depending on the retailer. What I took away from Natalie is that it’s not about the number, it’s about how you feel about the number. She doesn’t let it stop her from doing anything or anyone, nor does it keep her from eating fabulous foods and simply luxuriating in being herself.

I don’t weigh myself anymore (I got that figure from various doctors’ visits), but I know that in the last few years of living in suburbia, where I don’t get nearly as much daily exercise in as I did as a New Yorker, I’ve put on plenty of pounds. I’ve had to update my wardrobe because much of the old one doesn’t fit. I’m not proud of that, but I also don’t want the entire focus of my life to be on depriving myself in order to fit back into them. I want to bring a little of that Natalie magic into my mindset, especially when I start to waver and fall into a body image shame spiral. I’m not going to pretend that will be simple or easy, but I’m sharing that vow here because I want to push through those negative moments so that I can make the most of my time on earth, rather than spending it berating myself simply for existing.

I’m off to attend romance convention Shameless Book Con in Orlando, where I’m going to tell Alice Clayton exactly how much Natalie meant to me, while picking up her latest, Roman Crazy.

Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com.

How to succeed at writing when you feel clueless

19 Aug

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

I’m getting a head start on Second Chances week in honor of the release of our own Lady Smut author Elizabeth Safleur’s new erotic romance, Perfect, which you can read more about on her website, including an excerpt.

Perfect-cover_SaFleur_-640x1024

But what I want to talk about today isn’t so much fictional second chances, but real life ones, though if you are looking for a fun foodie romance all about a second chance career, I highly recommend the hilarious Nuts by Alice Clayton.

nuts-alice-clayton-romance

I’m going to focus on my own second chance career as a writer, which started off when I was flailing my way through one of the worst time periods of my life: law school. When I was in college, I thought I knew everything about everything, including what I wanted my future job to be. I did consider applying to journalism schools, because I’d been writing letters to the editor throughout my teens, getting them published everywhere from The New York Times to Vogue, but because I thought I would be the next big activist lawyer type, I focused on law schools. Also, I was 19 and 20 when I was applying, because I graduated from college in three years and my birthday is in November, which in hindsight at 40 years old seems very young to have to know what I want to do for the rest of my life.

So there I was at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, NYU Law, and I was miserable. I felt totally outclassed by my peers and kept falling farther and farther behind on my schoolwork. I was living off student loans in a dorm so I couldn’t foresee how I would be able to ever afford to leave, since I didn’t have any savings. I wound up slogging through the next three years, but using my newfound enthusiasm for indie bands and musicians as a way to escape from what increasingly felt like an utterly wrong fit.

I had been reading erotica since college, but one day I decided to see if I could write my own. I had no fiction writing background and had never even considered writing short stories before; I was more of the impassioned, fiery, opinionated essay writing type. I saw a call for submissions for an anthology about celebrity sex fantasies called Starf*cker and went about crafting a story based on my own crush on a certain famous figure which became my first written and published erotica story, “Monica and Me” (you can listen to it on The Kiss Me Quick’s podcast).

"Monica and Me" image from The Kiss Me Quick's podcast

“Monica and Me” image from The Kiss Me Quick’s podcast

Around this time, just as that story was being submitted, I realized that the jig was up, and law school wasn’t for me. In 1999, at the end of my third year, when I should have been graduating, I slunk into an administrator’s office and confessed that after dodging my classes and basically flunking out, I would be taking a leave of absence. I never went back.

From there, I went on to write more short stories, which led to be asked to co-edit and then edit anthologies. At first, those books were conceived of by publishers who would present possible subjects such as spanking or exhibitionism and voyeurism, and later, I started pitching my own anthology ideas.

What started on a whim eventually became my second chance career, and even led to a full-time job when an adult magazine editor in chief was looking for a new senior editor, and approached me about it. At the time, I was making do as a typist at an insurance agency, an utterly mind-numbing job that left me feeling utterly bored.

Over the next seven and a half years, I learned a ton about writing, editing and publishing at that job, while also delving into new projects, such as writing a nonfiction sex column for famed alt weekly The Village Voice and running an erotic reading series.

But even though I loved all these opportunities, I carried around a huge amount of guilt about dropping out of law school. I felt like it was this giant black mark not just on my finances (I emerged with over $150,000 in student loans, and while I don’t have the exact amount I paid over the next 14 years, I’d estimate that Sallie Mae ultimately got around twice that from me in payments), but also on my reputation. No matter what I achieved in my writing career, whether bylines or awards or speaking engagements or packed rooms full of people at readings or new books published, I felt like a failure. That only started to ease once I finally did pay off those loans in 2013, with some help on the final payments from an inheritance from my grandmother.

Even now, I still sometimes wish I could go back in time and get that degree, not because I wish I had stayed on that path and become a lawyer, but because then I would feel like I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I’ll never know what opportunities that would have led to, but I do think dropping out had a silver lining, because it made me that much more dedicated to my new career. I threw myself into writing, editing and promoting my work with gusto. I said yes to almost any opportunity to do live readings, to write for new publications, both paid and unpaid, to work with various publishers.

This year all of those skills came in handy when I faced a major depression for several months, slogging through each day listlessly. I was stuck mentally, emotionally and, it seemed, in my career, which didn’t feel like it was moving forward in any way. I worried each month that I wouldn’t have enough money to pay the rent, and didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I asked those closest to me for help, not with my mental health issues, but with potential jobs.

With some guidance from my therapist and my depression naturally running its course, life started to seem brighter and a bit more worth waking up for, and those friends I asked for help have launched me into what I consider my next second chance writing career, as a part-time copywriter for a retail company. At first, I felt like I was giving up my freelance writing life that I’d built up since my magazine job ended in 2011, but over the past few months, I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy copywriting and geeking out about marketing. Contrary to my concerns that I was unfit for office life after working from home for so long, I love having coworkers I can turn to with questions and get an immediate, face to face answer. I’ve also started doing entertainment blogging for a site called OMJ (Oh. My. Jersey.), which has provided its own learning curve, but also showed me a whole new way of being a blogger I’d never considered before.

My point in sharing all this is that it’s never too late to start writing, or return to writing, or try a new way of writing. Maybe you’ve written technical manuals but want to try writing a mystery. Or maybe, like science writer Emily Nagoski, author of the much buzzed about sexuality tome Come As You Are, you’ve also got a romance novel in you. Nagoski, writing as Emily Foster, has a new romance novel out called How Not to Fall that I’m excited to take to the beach with me next week while I’m on vacation.

how-not-to-fall-emily-foster

Or what about Jill Kargman, who prior to 2015 was primarily known as an author of novels like Momzillas, but has now parlayed that world of ultra rich mommies into one of the most hilarious shows on TV, Bravo comedy Odd Mom Out, which she also stars in? Talk about a second chance career!

odd-mom-out-bravo-jill-kargman

I had no idea what would happen when I left law school, or when I got laid off from my magazine editing job, or when I started exploring copywriting, or at umpteen other points along my career journey. How could I have? But taking those leaps, some by choice, others by necessity, has helped get me where I am today. I didn’t have a game plan when I wrote that first story; I never said “I want to edit dozens of anthologies.” I did it all one step at a time, and I’m still doing it one step at a time, as I assess and measure and experiment and forge ahead with each new essay, article, short story and anthology.

I often find that prospective authors want a blueprint to follow, a mapped out route to writing success, but alas, there is none, because each of our journeys are different. Just as nobody can tell you exactly how to write (in my opinion), no one can tell you what chances you should be taking. That you have to figure out for yourself.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, the essay collection/memoir You’ll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein, a comedian and head writer for Inside Amy Schumer.

youllgrowoutofitcover

She has a chapter titled “How I Became a Comedian” which is actually a pretty serious chapter, about how we can wait and wait and wait, sometimes forever, for our big breaks, so often held back by our own fears, but that at a certain point, we have to decide whether to create our own chances, or keep on waiting for some mythical future time when we feel “ready.” Klein writes of doing her first standup comedy gigs after longing to do so for years: “The fear of trying stand-up and the fear of not trying stand-up were locked in an endless stalemate, where both sides made convincing arguments and both sides agreed it would be a good idea if instead of making a decision I just sat on the floor of the crap apartment Pete and I shared and ordered huge amounts of truly terrible Indian food.” Her path meandered toward her eventual success, including turning down a stint writing for Late Show with David Letterman in large part because her dad said to her of the thirteen-week offer, “Well, that doesn’t sound like much of a job at all.”

Contrary to my post’s headline, I don’t have a surefire route to instant writing success, because there isn’t one. I’ve done it in my own roundabout way, not by writing novels as so many of my peers have done, but by writing and editing short stories. That’s one path, the one that has worked for me so far, because it’s something I love doing even after 17 years. I think the key to that success has been being willing to adapt and grow and take risks and, via trial and error, figure out where to best focus my skills, time and energy.

If you take anything away from my words, I hope it’s that whether your thing is writing or comedy or athletics or art, you will never regret going for it. You won’t regret giving yourself a second or third or fourth or thousandth chance, but it’s very likely that you will regret never taking that chance in the first place.

Visit Lady Smut all next week for more on Elizabeth SaFleur’s new novel Perfect and second chances.

Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com.

Three cheers for romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice

15 Apr

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

I’m not sure how I first discovered romance, but I distinctly remember being a pre-teen and teenager devouring first Danielle Steel and Judith Krantz novels, then the likes of Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz and Judith McNaught. I mainly bought them at the bookstore at the local mall, Waldenbooks, and my obsession felt like a singular one; I didn’t know anyone else who read romance, though clearly I wasn’t the only one judging by its plentiful offerings on the bookstore shelves. I was never ashamed to read romance, but I wondered exactly who my fellow readers were, and whether I had anything in common with them.

rippedbodicestorefront

That’s part of why I was so thrilled to learn that crowdfunded romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice was opening in Culver City, California. Run by sisters Bea and Leah Koch, it opened in March and has been off and running. I interviewed the owners when they were running their Kickstarter, and as an erotica author and editor, I was especially impressed by their commitment to the genre as part of romance and devotion to making the store inclusive in every sense of the word. In our interview, they told me:

“The romance section at a mainstream bookstore is organized alphabetically, but we will organize by subgenre. We’ll be able to direct you specifically to the paranormal-witches section or the modern cowboys section. We will definitely have romantic suspense (it’s the best selling subgenre!) as well as a great erotica section.”

I got to see a sneak preview of the store when I was in the Los Angeles area before it opened, and what impressed me the most was the attention to detail they’ve given every aspect of the store, intent on making it a welcoming environment whether you’ve been reading romance for decades or never have. There are couches to sit on and room to simply marvel at all the types of romances available, from mainstream and independent publishers and self-published authors. Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books revealed when she interviewed them for the Dear Bitches, Smart Author podcast that when she saw her novella on their shelves, it was the first time she’d seen it print. As someone who cried tears of joy the first time I saw my words in an anthology on a bookstore’s shelves, I can appreciate the feeling.

I also love how enthusiastic the Kochs are about romance and reading. I gave them a few book suggestions, including one of my favorite recent YA reads, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and they not only read them but told me how much they enjoyed them.

You need only look at their Instagram account to see just how passionate they are about the romance genre. This is clearly not just a job to the founders; it’s a dream job that’s been fostered precisely by readers who are hungry for such an offering, for a place where romance is treated with as much respect, passion and keen interest as any other genre of writing.

romance love on Instagram

In a recent profile of The Ripped Bodice at Racked, Bea said, “In a normal bookstore, you don’t know what the reaction you’re going to get is when you ask for a romance novel. It can be quite rude, and also a little scary! It’s frequently a sexist, kinda-gross leer. Like, ‘Oh, you like that stuff?’”

I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading Lady Smut, you’ve experienced this. Beyond the fact that the store stocks thousands of romance novels across subgenres, to me the real highlight of such a store is simply making romance more accepted and accessible. Anyone who passes by the store will know that romance isn’t a flash in the pan, something that of course any romance reader or book publishing observer has been aware of for years, but that the average person might not be aware of.

They’re also building a community, with events including book signings, a book clubstandup comedy that promises “Funny people. Sexy books. Free wine” (coming up next week, April 21st, for you locals) and a Mother’s Day tea.

In our interview, they told me “The Ripped Bodice is not only a bookstore. We are a gathering place for a community of intelligent, opinionated men and women. We have so much to offer beyond just books.” Indeed, being a community space is something many independent bookstores strive for—that was a key point Linda-Marie Barrett, general manager of Asheville, North Carolina’s Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café made in her recent New York Times op-ed urging authors not to cancel their appearances at the store because of the state’s discriminatory anti-LGBT law. With romance, it’s even more important because there aren’t that many offline spaces where that kind of community can thrive, where you can talk about the nuances of romance without all kinds of problematic assumptions being made about you.

Brick and mortar bookstores aren’t just places to purchase books; they are places where readers can go to explore, browse, discuss, dream. If there are entire bookstores dedicated to mystery, why shouldn’t there be more dedicated to the most popular genre around? As someone who lives in a suburban town where the nearest bookstore is a giant chain, I am deeply jealous of those who are in close proximity to The Ripped Bodice. Yes, we can all order books online, but what we can’t get from an online bookstore is a personal recommendation, a friendly smile, shelves arranged with the artful care, attention to detail and customer service a store like this offers. If I lived nearby, what I would welcome more than anything else is to simply soak up the atmosphere of such a store, before pulling a beloved book from a shelf and asking “What else do you have like this?”

They also stock LGBT romances, young adult, new adult, Christmas and Hannukah romances, and much more. I would imagine that even if you’re a very specific type of romance reader, the lure of browsing such a wide selection would cause you to at least consider titles you wouldn’t have sought out on your own, which is precisely the joy of such a store. Because they were readers first, the Koch sisters enthusiasm for romance bursts out from both their social media. They are also a wonderful counterpoint to any romance skeptics or haters, or those who insist that “print books are dead,” a phrase that makes me want to scream.

They also have an e-commerce section of their website for those who can’t get to the store, including shirts with some very powerful messages, like “Smart girls read romance” and “I am the heroine of my own story.” How awesome is that?

via therippedbodicela.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am looking for an excuse to head back to Southern California and gorge on books at The Ripped Bodice, and am so proud that the girl I once was, who combed my local bookstores, randomly guessing which titles might be up my alley and devoured those early romances now has books with my name on them lining this romance mecca’s shelves.

 

Why Short, Hot Reads are Awesome

4 Mar

by G.G. Andrew

story

A novella with an erotica writer/bookstore owner, a billionaire, & lots of sexytimes.

I’ve noticed this past year that several book bargain and review sites expressly state that they don’t feature novellas, those 20,000-40,000-word stories that fall under novel length.

I understand that some readers like to sink into a long, involved novel, but I feel like the novella is underappreciated. Of course, I’m biased; several of us here at Lady Smut, myself included, have published novellas. But in addition to liking to write novellas, I also love to read them. (It’s one of the reasons “a short, hot novella you read in one sitting” is one of the items on our #ReadHotter book challenge.)

Want to know why you should be reading these short, hot reads, if you aren’t already? Read on for the ways they’re awesome, with recommendations of novellas that I’ve read or are sitting at the tip-top of my TBR.

I read Cara McKenna's Brazen in just an hour. Okay, I read it twice. (It's really hot.)

I once read Brazen in an hour. Okay, I read it twice.

*You can read novellas in one sitting.
After a long, hard day at the salt mines (or wherever your place of work or earthly toil), there’s just something great about coming home, pouring a glass of wine, and reading an entire story in one sitting. Of course, some of you speed-readers can read an entire novel at once, too–but I can’t, and I’m willing to bet there are many others like me. Reading a whole story in a night feels complete, and productive, and allows you to tell someone the next morning, “I read a book last night.” Because you totally did.
Recommendations: The hot reads Brazen by Cara McKenna or Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker

 

*They’re a quick way to sample new authors or genres.
If you’re like us, you probably have a staggering pile of books you want to read, but it’s hard to know where to start–which authors or genres are really going to be your thing. Reading a novella gives you a chance to sample an author you’ve been wanting to try, or see if science fiction romance is right for you, without the commitment of a big book. Of course, you can sample the first few pages from a longer novel, but that’s not like reading a story to, er, completion. It’s helpful to know if an author not only begins a story well, but ends well, or if a subgenre delivers what you expect.
Recommendations: The paranormal romances Hot as Hades by Alisha Rai or Three Wishes by Paula Millhouse

*You can read more subgenres, historical time periods, and authors over time.

Sweet, sexy, geeky--and short!

Sweet, sexy, geeky–and short!

Similar to above, if you insert more novellas into your reading life now, you’ll probably be exposed to more writers and types of stories by the year’s end. Paranormal romance, early twentieth-century love stories, m/m–if you haven’t tried them out by now, read some shorter stories and see what you think.
Recommendations: Waiting for Clark by Annabeth Albert (m/m), or the 1960s romance Strawberry and Sage by Amanda Gale

*You can get introduced to a story world or characters.
In addition to short reads allowing you to sample authors and genres, they also allow you to meet characters and decide if you want to spend another novella or even a whole novel with them. It’s like that first, brief date over coffee to decide whether you like someone enough to have dinner with them.
Recommendations: The bookstore owner and the billionaire in Tamara Lush’s Tell Me a Story or the workaholic and forest ranger in Tina Ellery’s White Pine

 

And last but certainly not least:

Intro to a series about astronauts.

Intro to a 20th century astronaut romance series.

*Novellas are cheap, and often free.
Since novellas are shorter, and often used to introduce readers to a world or cast of characters, they’re often .99 or under, and increasingly are free. (Check your favorite authors; some may have free reads, too.) And, really, right up there with free coffee and free love, free books are really the best thing ever.
Recommendations: Cath Yardley’s Level Up or A Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner are both free now. (Craving Flight and Waiting for Clark from above are currently free on Amazon, too.)

 

Want more recommendations? Check out the novellas and short stories the Lady Smut authors have written. They’re short and hot, we promise. And follow us here for more on books, the short and long and everything in-between.

 

G.G. Andrew writes quirky romantic comedy–stories about people who fall in love with the most unlikely person, and stumble through some awkward conversations, mistaken identities, and ill-advised kisses along the way. Her latest book is GRAFFITI IN LOVE, a romance between an infamous British graffiti artist and the American woman who hates him.

Sexy Saturday Round Up

13 Feb

SSRUHappy Valentine’s Day Weekend! Read up today’s SSRU offerings and you’ll have some weird smexy factoids at your fingertips you can use to impress your guy or gal when you’re out this weekend being a fool for lurv.

From Madeline:

The truth about sex robots 

The tortured romantic life of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin who was married to Percy Bysshe Shelley

From H&H:  The Hot Dudes Coloring Book

How did monogamy evolve?

Got a warm place to park? Maybe you want some fun and sun like these Florida Manatees 

This is your memory on love. 

Iconic jazz singer & spy.

The Future is Now: sex toys.

Could too much choice ruin millennial chances at a love connection?

From G.G. Andrew:

The most romantic cities in America, according to Amazon.

What would the world be like if men had periods? Manpons, for one.

Amazon has a zombie apocalypse clause in its new game software. It could happen.

From Elizabeth SaFleur:

Who writes those kinky books? David Woolfall’s portraits of erotic fiction authors.

By Elizabeth Shore:

What men think about while they masturbate. You sure you really want to know?

Twitter’s Moments doesn’t appear to be gaining traction. Maybe because nobody likes it.

Are vibrators messing up our sex lives?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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