PG13, NC-17, we're not sure what the official MPAA rating system would be for today's content, but if you're under 17 you were warned… because Village Voice sex columnist, Rachel Kramer Bussel , stops by today to spice things up. Bussel, the Lusty Lady blogger, has edited several erotic anthologies, including Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z. Her work has appeared in Bust, New York Post, On Our Backs, San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out New York, and now she has The Happy Booker to add to her illustrious CV—unless she thought we said The Happy H…oh, never mind…we're just happy that she's dropped by to share her thoughts on editing and writing with us. Thanks, Rachel!
Erotica, Sex and Spanking, by Rachel Kramer Bussel
I’m not primarily a fiction person, and fell into writing erotica while I was in law school, mostly because I wanted to find creative ways of sharing my sexual experiences and fantasies. I don’t necessarily have definitive rules for what makes a good story, but after reading dozens of erotic anthologies and hundreds of stories, I think I can give some general guidelines (for a detailed and excellent resource on erotic writing, check out Suie Bright’s How To Write a Dirty Story). Sometimes, an erotica story can be out and out smut, very down and dirty, but this doesn’t simply mean using dirty words. It means making the reader feel the way they do when they’re doing something they find sexually taboo, but arousing, combining those elements of shame and excitement, making their hearts race and their fingers scramble to turn the page. It means writing something that can be read over and over and still turn someone on, and simply throwing a few naughty words together won’t do that; you need to use them sparingly so their impact can be properly felt. Erotica can be outspoken and explicit but still needs to do the work of telling a good, sexy story..
I think part of why a lot of erotica may come off as cheesy is because people aren’t comfortable talking about sex. They freak out over it or think that anyone who writes about sex is a total slut, or hypersexualized, or not smart, or doesn’t have anything else going on. Or, they just don’t really know how to articulate their desires; they may have an image in their head but are so unused to actually speaking or writing about sex that they gloss over it, fading to black just when the reader wants to know more. Jonathan Franzen has an essay about sex books in How To Be Alone and he praises Nick Hornby for basically evading the sex scene by cutting the lights, but you miss out on so much when you do that, and it’s a shame. Properly done, whether within a work of literary fiction or within erotica, sex can be described in ways that live up to that power that sex has over us in our lives. The reason it endures as a topic is because there’s always something new to be discovered about our erotic minds, our fantasies, and unlocking those often hidden kinks is something a good erotic story can do.
For the spanking anthologies (Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z 2 is coming out in September), I tried to find well-crafted, well-rounded stories that worked together as a whole and weren’t repetitive; that’s the major challenge of a book like this, to mix things up, including everything from humorous pieces to the more intense. There can be some first-time spankers and some who’ve been into it their whole life, some for whom spanking is icing on the cake and some for whom it’s a necessity. The levels of sexual intensity are varied too. Some stories in the book are just plain hot, intended solely to arouse (which, for the record, is a good thing, if that’s what you’re aiming for). Others had a lot more going on, like Darklady’s “Yenta of Spanking,” where she tells of a love affair where spanking wasn’t a metaphor for anything, it was central to the action, emotional and physical, but also detailed a very complex series of feelings, including love and tenderness and nostalgia and a touch of something almost spiritual about the piece. I think where people go wrong is in trying to make sex about “more than” sex, they leave out the dirty parts, the parts that do arouse. If you’re going to write erotica, you have to make your peace with the fact that, yes, people are going to jerk off to your story, or at least get all hot and bothered—that’s the point. It doesn’t meant that you yourself have to necessarily while writing the story, but don’t shy away from the fact that erotica is, at its heart, about sex. It can also be about plenty of other things too, and after you’ve read as much erotica as I have, finding truly gripping, hot, and emotional stories can sometimes be a challenge.
I think there are still so many places erotic writing can go, but the main thing a good erotica story needs, just as with a good spanking, is a warm-up. Don’t just dive right into the sex scene—tell us who the people are, why they’re there, what else is going on, what lead up to the sex, what the characters are thinking and feeling along with what they’re doing. You can do this in unique and unusual ways, and often when people break the rules, they come up with the best stuff. You’re generally not going to find a lot of the second person in erotica, but Catherine Lundoff pulls it off brilliantly in “D is for Denial,” and it’s so immediate and direct, you feel like she is talking to you. You have to draw people in quickly with erotica, but then also keep them hanging, tease them a little once you know you have their attention. I try to have fun with my collections, but also span a range of emotions as well as have different people doing different things—men spanking women, women spanking men, more than two people, etc. My next anthology’s going to be what I call “sugar erotica,”—sex and cupcakes, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, honey, fondue, you name it. That one I think will definitely have something to suit everyone’s taste.