By Lisabet Sarai
Charlotte's topic for this week, “Inspirational Erotica”, took me aback for a moment. I mean, is that like “Inspirational Romance” (aka “Christian Romance”)? Are we talking about finding God in the process of finding one's soul mate? That actually sounded a bit like an extension of last week's topic.
However, it soon became clear that our dear Ms. Stein was talking about literary inspiration—what authors or books inspired us to write erotica or erotic romance. That's a particularly easy topic for me since it was an encounter with a single novel and novelist that set me on the erotica publishing path.
I've always loved to write. I had written private sexual fantasies as gifts for several lovers. However, I never really thought about trying to publish my nasty little tales until I read Portia da Costa's Black Lace title, Gemini Heat. That book was re-released this year in a “15th Anniversary Edition”, labeled as “erotic romance”, but back then Black Lace called what they published “erotica for women, written by women”.
Gemini Heat follows the sexual adventures of identical twin sisters Deanna and Delia as they are led along ever more perverted paths by mysterious dominant Jackson de Guile. The story begins with a bang (so to speak) at an erotic art exhibition, attended by Deanna who is pretending to be Delia. Jake (as he calls himself) comes up behind her as she is contemplating (and reacting to) an explicit painting, and soon has her wet and ready to agree to pretty much anything. Although she's an assertive, modern woman, she finds herself unable to disobey the salacious suggestions of the mysterious stranger. When Delia meets Jake, she has a similar reaction. The two sisters alternate in increasingly intense encounters, breaking taboo after taboo. It's never clear whether Jake realizes there are two women named “Dee”, though he's sufficiently devious, not to mention sexually expert, that he must suspect something.
Portia da Costa's book was one of the sexiest things I'd ever read. It was intelligent, imaginative and wonderfully varied—just what I enjoy. Although the D/s subtext persists throughout the story, the novel is a delicious smorgasbord of sexual delights. It includes group sex, lesbian sex, public sex, anal sex, bondage, flogging...pretty much anything that I could imagine (back then, at least!) But it was the focus on the emotions of the twins that ultimately made the book effective. Ms. da Costa really excels at bringing her readers into the minds of her characters. Having experienced a D/s initiation myself, I strongly identified with Deanna and Delia.
After I'd finished reading Gemini Heat (and my pulse rate had settled back to normal), I started thinking. I'll bet I could write a book like that. An American, I'd never heard of the British Black Lace imprint before. In those days, they included a questionnaire at the back of each book, asking readers what kind of settings, themes and activities they'd like to see in their erotic reading. Just perusing the survey gave me ideas.
So I began working on my first novel, Raw Silk, with Gemini Heat as a model and Black Lace as my target publisher. I plumbed my own fantasies and experiences with D/s in creating Kate O'Neill, Gregory Marshall and Somtow Rajchitraprasong. When I had three chapters and a synopsis, I submitted a proposal to Black Lace. (In those days, that meant printing out the manuscript and sending it airmail from the U.S. to the U.K.) Then I put the book aside while I waited for a response.
Three to four weeks later I received a postcard from Black Lace, basically a form letter confirming receipt of my manuscript. The card warned that due to the number of submissions to the imprint, I should not expect to hear anything for at least two to three months. I shrugged, filed the card, and moved on to other things. I'd sent the proposal as something of a lark anyway.
Exactly two days after I got the postal acknowledgment, I received an email from the editor of the Black Lace imprint, offering me a contract and wanting to know when the book would be finished. Despite my confidence that I could write something like Gemini Heat, I was overwhelmed. When would I be able to submit the full novel? I had no idea. I'd never written a novel before.
Just look at what Portia da Costa got me into! Twelve years, six novels and dozens of short stories later, I'm still astonished at how a chance encounter with a book steered my life in such a different direction.
I still love her writing, by the way. If you've never read any of her work, I recommend Gemini Heat first, and then the more recent Entertaining Mr. Stone. One of the thrills of becoming a published author has been getting to know Portia, at least electronically. We share a variety of interests including a deep love of felines. We send each other Christmas cards every year, and I've vowed that someday, I'm going to meet her in person (and hopefully, on the same trip, my esteemed colleague and co-Gripper Ashley Lister).
Until then, all I can say is: thanks! It's difficult for me to imagine how different my life might have been if I hadn't picked up that dog-eared copy of her book from the book swap shelf at our Istanbul hotel. I'm sure that the world could have survived very well had Lisabet Sarai never been “born”. But I'd sure miss her.