By Lisabet Sarai
“Is it a true story?”
When a reader asks an author this question, she usually means, “Is this autobiographical? Did this really happen to you?”
When it comes to my tales, I can answer yes in a surprising (or possibly shocking) number of cases. Yes, I did drive topless in a sports car along Mulholland Drive, as Ruby does in Nasty Business. Yes, I was fucked with the wooden finial unscrewed from a bedpost, like Kate in Raw Silk. Yes, I got up on stage to dance with the go-go girls in 1980’s Bangkok, though my costume was somewhat less revealing than my heroine’s. Gregory’s emails to Kate quote word for word from the letters my master sent me during his long-distance seduction. The sex clubs and orgies I describe in Incognito borrow heavily from my experiences in New York and Amsterdam.
The settings of my stories, especially, are true. My characters walk the streets I’ve walked myself. They live in apartments I rented. They shop where I shopped. When they travel, they visit the same attractions and eat the same food.
However, even when I create stories that deviate from my personal experience, I work to make them “true”, in the sense of “genuine”. As I’ve matured as an author, I have moved further away from autobiography. At the same time, I’ve learned to create more complex, nuanced and plausible characters. Ironically, these characters are more true than my early heroines, who tended to be somewhat shallow fantasy versions of myself.
Over the last few years, I’ve gotten better at allowing characters to speak for themselves. Rather than consciously “designing” them beforehand, I set my protagonists (and my villains) free to act and react as the book unfolds. If I am successful, these characters acquire a sort of organic quality, a consistency and depth. If I told you these characters were based on actual people in my past life, you’d probably believe me.
There’s another kind of truth in some of the stories that are closest to my heart—the truth of what might have been. Quite a few of my shorter tales are set in an alternative reality in which I did not split up with my master, but instead made a life with him. I’ve imagined, again and again, the trials and joys of living in a committed D/s relationship. In these stories, I can express the emotions I’ve mostly had to stifle in real life. I can also consider the difficulties involved in such a relationship, as it is tested by time, external circumstances and the inevitability of imperfectly aligned desires.
In fact, I’ve spent so much time in this parallel universe that sometimes I forget it doesn’t exist. I smile when I think about that long-ago kinky trip to Rocky’s Ace Hardware. I remember the time I came from just a spanking, without any sexual stimulation. I recall, with queasy excitement, the night my master cut his initials into my flesh. These incidents are as real to me as yesterday’s news—more so, really, because I care more about them than about politicians and movie stars.
I’ve shared some of these visions here at the Grip, so I think you’ll recognize what I am talking about. My post from the last topic cycle is a perfect example.
This vignette, like much of the BDSM I write, is fueled by fantasy and wishful thinking. Still, it bowls me over whenever I re-read it. Maybe I am flattering myself, but I suspect most readers will sense the depth and power of the feelings in that piece. It’s totally fictional. Yet every word is true.