By Lisabet Sarai
Our topic for the next fortnight here at the Grip is “Take Me Away”:
You could argue that most erotica is fantasy, but from paranormal to alternate history to exclusive clubs and mansions for BDSM practitioners, our genre seems to lend itself to fantasy worlds. Do you like your erotica as close to reality as possible, or do you figure that as long as you're giving the reader what they crave, you might as well go all out?
Anyone who's read much of my work will recognize that it is strongly (perhaps too strongly) grounded in the real world. Practically everything I've ever written provides a strong sense of place. Indeed, I suspect that I could list the settings of my tales more accurately than the names of my characters. How many authors set stories in Worcester, Massachusetts, or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Minneapolis, Minnesota, or a motel on the Interstate fifty miles from Kansas City? I've got tales that unfold in Bangkok, Siem Reap, London, Guatemala and Assam, too.
See what I mean?
My characters aren't generally fabulously wealthy, famous or powerful either. I've written computer programmers and cops, doctors and grad students, flight attendants, strippers and bar owners, but not a single rock star or super model.
In each story, I try to evoke environments and situations that feel solid and familiar, or at least plausible. I want to lull my reader into believing in my worlds and the individuals who populate them. That way, when I step over the edge into erotic fantasy, I'll pull them with me. They won't notice (I hope) that we're all at once in an alternate reality where every desire can be fulfilled. I want them to be ready to accept – no, devour – my sexual scenarios even when they're of dubious possibility. Exhibitionist masturbation on a late night subway train. Double penetration on a billiard table. Setting oneself up as whore for a night in a rented window. A public spanking on the stage of a western honky tonk. Sex on the moderator's desk at an academic conference. Things are just so normal - right up until the point that they become fantastic.
I've written a few swingers and BDSM clubs in my time. However, those places do exist – I've even visited a few. Sure, I exaggerate a bit. At the typical swing party, you're just as likely to find creeps and bores as sexy, intuitive Dominants. However, I doubt that those of you who have had similar personal experiences would have serious issues with my portrayals of these environments.
In the few historical stories I have attempted, I work hard to build a sense of time and place, to generate a past as solid and believable as the present. I'm no expert at this; however, the goal, for me, is not much different from when I am writing a contemporary tale. Make it feel real.
Even when I write paranormal fiction, the worlds I create closely mirror the everyday. I prefer to insert only a few preternatural or occult elements in an otherwise mundane setting, and I definitely stipulate limits to my characters' powers. In my novel Necessary Madness, Kyle has prescient visions, but he cannot control them, at least initially, and they've driven him to the border of insanity. In Serpent's Kiss, although Jorge is an incarnation of the god Quetzlcoatl, he is neither invincible nor invulnerable.
Occasionally I wonder whether my propensity for writing relatively realistic erotica stems from a lack of imagination. As a reader, I adore strange, intricate, well-crafted fantasy worlds. I know it takes considerable skill to create one that's detailed and consistent enough to satisfy me. For the most part, I haven't dared to try.
My most recent novel, however, is a serious departure from my more realistic focus. Rajasthani Moon, which will be released in early June, could be politely described as “over the top”. The book began as a sort of experiment. Fed up with the slicing and dicing of erotic romance into a million subgenres, I decided to write a book that combined as many genres as I could manage. Rajasthani Moon is steampunk-paranormal-BDSM-ménage-Bollywood-Rubenesque erotic romance. There are also some kidnap fantasy and F/F elements thrown in to the mix. Here's the blurb:
Neither kink nor curse can stop a woman with a mission.
Cecily Harrowsmith, secret agent extraordinaire, is a woman on a mission. When the remote Indian kingdom of Rajasthan refused to remit its taxes to the Empire, Her Majesty imposed an embargo. Deprived of the energy-rich mineral viridium, essential for modern technology and development, Rajasthan was expected to quickly give in and resume its payments. Yet after three years, the rebellious principality still has not knuckled under. Cecily undertakes the difficult journey to the rugged, arid land of the Rajputs to determine just how it has managed to survive, and if possible to convince the country to return to the Empire's embrace. Instead, she's taken captive by a brigand who turns out to be the ruler's half-brother Pratan and delivered into the hands of the sexy but sadistic Rajah Amir, who expertly mingles torture and delight in his interrogation of the voluptuous interloper.
Cursed before birth by Amir's jealous mother, Pratan changes to a ravening wolf whenever the moon is full. Cecily uncovers the counter-spell that can reverse the effects of the former queen's hex and tries to trade that information for her freedom. Drawn to the fierce wolf-man and sympathising with his suffering, she volunteers to serve as the sacrifice required by the ritual – offering her body to the beast. In return, the Rajah reveal Rajasthan's amazing secret source of energy. In the face of almost impossible odds, Cecily has accomplished the task entrusted to her by the Empire. But can she really bear to leave the virile half-brothers and their colourful land behind and return to constraints of her life in England?
There's nothing at all realistic about Rajasthani Moon. It postulates the existence of fabulously perverse devices such as robotic rope that binds upon command and inexhaustible sources of energy to power airships and sex machines. Cecily is a larger than life character (in every sense) who raves against her captors even as she experiences one climax after another at their hands. It doesn't matter who is around or what is happening – Cecily Harrowsmith is almost guaranteed to be aroused.
I did enough research on Rajasthan to lace the tale with genuine cultural references, but I also concocted some purely-imagined ceremonies and performances, in line with the Bollywood theme. I made up exotic foreign dishes and created a Taj Mahal-like palace by a sacred lake. I even messed with geography, relocating the forbidding Merangahr Fort (which I knew would be my primary setting as soon as I set eyes on a photo) from Jodhpur to the Rajasthani capital city of Jaipur.
Rajasthani Moon is such a departure from my usual realistic style that I worry about readers' reactions. In particular, I'm a bit concerned that some people might object to the aspects of dubious consent that run through the tale. I just hope they realize that the book is not intended to be taken too seriously. In the real world, and in most of my fiction, I insist that all sex, and all BDSM activities, be safe, sane and consensual. However, Cecily's Rajasthan is about as far from the real world as you can get. It has a good deal in common with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars or H. Rider Haggard's Africa, but with considerably more sex.
In writing this novel, I took a step over the edge of plausibility, into the realm of high fantasy. Whether I make it back remains to be seen.