My desk at the old Cleis Press offices.
This blog post is a little personal and a little petty, but sometimes that happens.
I interned with Cleis Press the summer after I graduated from college (June through August 2014, for those of you following along at home). Working for the biggest and baddest (but also indiest and scrappiest) erotica publishing house in the States had been a dream of mine since I picked up my first copy of their blockbuster Best Women’s Erotica series. Cleis books formed the backbone of my thesis on the feminist potential of erotica, and I wrote reviews of many of their titles in exchange for a free copy. Walking into Cleis on my first day was like walking into a candy store, the walls lined floor-to-ceiling with books on kink, sexual health, fantasy and activism. In between hours building Cleis’s Tumblr and drafting tweets to promote upcoming author events, I flipped through the pages of erotica collections and fantasized about seeing my name on the Table of Contents someday soon. I made incredible friends, discovered my love for social media, and connected with authors who I now consider mentors. It was an invaluable experience, which is great, considering the internship was unpaid and I blew through a ton of my savings to do it. Continue reading
I’m having trouble writing this review of Best Women’s Erotica 2015 because I just want to say, “I masturbated a lot to this book.”
As someone who lives and breathes erotica, I rarely find it sexually arousing to the point of needing to release tension. The more erotica you read, the less novelty there is until it rarely fazes you. This isn’t a bad thing—I love reading erotica on the train and appreciating it as literature rather than as wank material. I’ve made it clear on this blog that I prefer my erotica cerebral and challenging—sexy with a side of psychoanalysis or social commentary. It takes something brilliantly written or inventive to actually get me going.
So… this anthology earned its title. Big thumbs up from this girl. Once again, Violet Blue has curated the strongest stories in the genre for a collection that is smart, varied, and steamy as fuck. I’ll comment on my favorites to give you a taste, but at the end of the day you need to just trust my multiple orgasms and buy the book.
Valerie Alexander opens the collection with “The Ghostwriter,” a rough and unhesitating BDSM story that knocked me out cold. It hits all the buttons that Fifty Shades aimed for and missed—the leading man (and CEO) is brutal, powerful, and equally matched by his would-be sub and ghostwriter. “The Ghostwriter” isn’t afraid to get real when it comes to degradation, humiliation, and head games—subjects which are triggering for me when done wrong but so, so deliciously hot when an author gets it right. This story made me uncomfortable in the best way. Continue reading
The academics and radical feminists are not coming for your erotica.
When Fifty Shades of Grey hit the scene, the sex-positive community had an intense conversation about what makes erotica smart, socially conscious, and well-written. There was a push to promote books that depicted BDSM responsibly and to talk about the line between fantasy and education. As a baby erotica writer when E.L. James’s series came out, I found these critiques so, so exciting. They showed me that there was a space for analysis of smut that recognized its validity while still engaging with its flaws.
And then the conversation about responsibility and erotica kind of… died. Other than a few blog posts scattered across the community (Laila Blake’s is particularly awesome), Googling “feminist erotica” turns up very little. This is baffling, considering feminist pornography has become an organized movement with its own awards show. I know feminists who write erotica, and I definitely know feminists who read erotica, and erotic stories can be considered feminist, but where is the “feminist erotica” genre? Continue reading
So here’s a little known fact about me: I really like a good historical romance. Sure, genre romances usually follow a predictable formula and lack complicated character development, but there is something comforting and satisfying about sinking into a huge page-turner full of lush description and sexual tension. Generic historical romances are my cotton candy. They’re basically my literary problematic fave: I admit they’re whitewashed, heteronormative, and have weird messages about class, but I read the shit out of them anyway.
So I’ve been pumped about Cleis’s new romance imprint, Tempted Romance. I suspected romance coming out of a smart, socially conscious publishing team would be top notch, and this theory seems on point from what I’ve read so far. I really enjoyed Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors. Like, I really did. Genuinely. I didn’t expect to like this title in particular much, as I’ve missed the whole highlanders craze and the book cover is, let’s be real, a bit ridiculous. But fortuitously I’ve been on a masculinity kick—what a friend is referring to as my “muscular renaissance”—and this anthology has that market cornered. The male characters are deeply physical and ambitiously calculating, walking the line between dangerous and gentle. Plus they’re smart. Smart is good. From Susannah Capin’s “Wicked”:
He straightened, towering over her. Long and lean, built for power and speed. A deadly combination of brains and brawn.”
Is it fluff? Totally. Eventually I will write a more coherent post about the female gaze in erotica and erotic romance, but for now I’ll just say I dig it. Sometimes you just want a guy who can pin you. I’m not above admitting that. As far as escapist fantasy goes I think this is pretty harmless. Continue reading
Let me start this review with a warning: this post contains vulgar, sexual language of the cringe-inducing variety. Also lots of discussion of sexism. My humorless feminist critic came out in this one.
This spring, Cleis Press announced it was teaming up with Penthouse Variations to release a series of erotic anthologies. Edited by the Penthouse team but published by Cleis, it sounded like an unlikely but potentially brilliant pairing. Sex-positive, queer, feminist Cleis Press working with boy’s club, sleazy, mainstream Penthouse? Cool! This seemed genuinely cool. Their first title in the series, Penthouse Variations on Oral, came out this October.
I really wanted to like Variations on Oral. I really, really did. Because Cleis Press has a great legacy of producing challenging, feminist, queer-friendly erotica, and while I don’t like every title that comes out of their house, I’m a loyalist. I’m less familiar with Penthouse because, um, I’m not exactly their demographic. But I also don’t hate all mainstream porn on principal, and Variations on Oral has a female editor, Barbara Pizio. Penthouse meets Cleis wouldn’t be a sex-positive, feminist fantasyland, but it had to be a cool mash-up of these two erotica bastions, right? Plus I’m currently obsessed with the notion of dude-friendly erotica right now, and Penthouse is predominantly mainstream man porn. Maybe a Cleis/Penthouse collaboration would hit the sweet spot of smart, considerate erotica for straight male readers. Continue reading
Digging into my personal copy after work.
This must be the fall of mind-blowingly erotica.
Confession: I spent most of my internship at Cleis Press this summer hoping I would go to work the next morning and discover The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica had arrived in the office. When that day finally came, I was so eager to kneel on the floor with a box cutter and slice those puppies open. I coveted my nice, shiny, gigantic copy and brought it with me everywhere until I had devoured the entire thing. I even read it on my plane back to the East Coast, much to the discomfort of the body builder sitting next to me in coach.
This book is fantastic. Rose Caraway, newbie anthology editor but experienced erotica audiobook narrator and podcaster, has put together the most diverse, well written, and entertaining collection I’ve ever seen. This book has everything: male and female authors, different types of couples, ghosts, talking alcohol bottles, the list goes on. It’s living proof of the fact that “erotica” is a genre with its own genres. There’s sci fi, horror, realistic fiction, steampunk, historical fiction, BDSM, romance, etc. I’m admittedly not a genre reader, but maybe that’s a good thing—each story in this collection was a surprise, so many windows to types of erotica I never knew existed.
So this is a great collection for someone new to erotica who wants to discover what they might like, but also a must have for the tried and true erotica fans. It really is a library, complete with its own card catalogue Caraway painstakingly assembled herself (the dewey decimal listings are all real). Not to be That Trite Reviewer, but this would make a perfect gift for your newly single best friend, a lover you want to shake things up with, a bachelorette party present… It’s so accessible. Continue reading
(tw: discussion of rape fantasies)
I love about Alison Tyler because I always feel like I have learned something after I finish reading one of her books. Without fail, Tyler’s prose picks up my brain and rattles it around. As a relatively vanilla and monogamous twenty-something, my understanding of relationships, sexuality, and submission are always challenged. But I also learn about writing erotica itself: how to do it well, how to do it hot, and how to do it smart.
When I reviewed the first two books in her Dark Secret Love series this winter, I gushed about Tyler’s unique blend of memoir and fiction. In the third installment, Wrapped Around Your Finger, this is even more pronounced. For example, the Samantha who narrates regularly refers to Los Angeles as it was back then—when the action is taking place—implying she is writing this story from some vague future where the restaurants she and her partners eat no longer exist. This doubling, having the character Samantha who is living her life and the future Samantha who narrates it, is awesome.
Why is it awesome? Good question. It’s awesome because it has really cool implications for how consent and kink operate in the book. Character Samantha is constantly being surprised by her Dom, Jack. They have an incredible bond and he understands her needs better than she does, which leads to him pushing her boundaries despite her reservations. Simply put, he already knows what she wants. As an outsider to the kink community who is super uptight about consent, this at times makes me uncomfortable. I find it difficult to separate fantasy from reality while I read (a struggle that is quickly becoming a theme to this blog), and so I was often concerned for this fictional character who doesn’t always have a say in what is happening to her. Present character Samantha doesn’t know if she wants to be publically spanked on stage at a club. She doesn’t necessarily want to participate in a fetish photo shoot either.
But narrator Samantha does know, and narrator Samantha does want, and this allows me as a worried reader to relax. There is an agreement between narrator Samantha and me to trust the story, and by extension to trust Jack with Samantha. Eventually character Samantha catches up and recognizes her desires, never leaving a sexual encounter displeased. For her, those moments of fear, confusion, and free-fall are part of her submission and sexuality.
Bye bye summer sublet, hello red lipstick.
I move home next week. After two and a half months in the Bay Area I’ll board a plane at SFO direct to JFK and start the next, next chapter of my life. I wanted to write a blog post to acknowledge this, to talk about how important and intense this summer has been, but I don’t know where to start. So I’ll start with the good.
On August 25th, I begin a six month social media internship with TED in Manhattan. I am over the moon excited about this—TED is obviously a crazy awesome organization doing important and innovative work, and social media is crucial to how they spread their content. It’ll be wonderful to return to the nonprofit sector where the bottom line is important but not do-or-die, and to have a job I can talk about in bars without running the risk of being sexualized by strangers when they ask about my job (more on that later). And it’s funny—TED is one of the only places I have had the experience of being respected for my sex writing as opposed to it being considered my weakness as an applicant. So yay! Yay for working for TED.
Amazing fellow Cleis interns at the #pubofyearparty celebration.
It’s funny, really, because I wouldn’t have gotten the TED internship had I not moved to California in the first place. I absolutely love Cleis Press and interning there this summer has been a dream come true. I fully expected to leave Cleis once my three months were up and try to find a more permanent job in publishing. I was surprised to realize quite quickly that my strength is in social media management, in sharing interesting content with audiences and making them want to click that link. Ironically, my mother always used to push me to consider social media savvy a job skill, but I’m not alone in my age group in assuming most of this is intuitive. I am part of the Facebook generation—I figured I didn’t know any better or worse than anyone else in my graduating class. But I discovered at Cleis that I love trying to nail down a voice on social media. I love the challenge of making a company or an organization or a publishing house into a human with a personality on twitter or tumblr or anywhere else. I have so many feelings about Pinterest. I was lucky enough to learn from the formidable Eva Gantz, Cleis’s marketing guru, and to discover I already knew a good deal more than most. And then a little birdie told me about a position in New York (Lily Herman, I owe you my first born), and boom. Continue reading
When I packed Flying High: Sexy Stories From the Mile High Club for my spring break trip to Los Angeles, I appreciated the irony but did not expect much. “How many ways are there to have sex on an airplane?” I thought to myself, looking around my mostly empty direct flight from Hartford’s tiny Bradley airport to LAX. In retrospect, what a stupid question to ask. When dealing with anthologies, especially superbly edited, diverse anthologies like Rachel Kramer Bussel’s, the issue is never “how many ways?” but “where is the limit?”
I find it challenging to review anthologies as opposed to novels because my reactions are always as diverse as the stories themselves. Despite its lack of length, short fiction does not have to be shallow or unsatisfying—in fact, the characters found in Best Women’s Erotica 2014 are original, complex, and fun to root for. The new collection from Cleis Press offers up seventeen gorgeous stories, perfect to place on the bedside table for nights when you have twenty minutes to escape into another world. I kept it in my backpack and disappeared into its pages between classes, feeling unexpectedly meta as I read Oleander Plume’s ‘Out In The Open’ about a blogger who writes about her sexual fantasies as she masturbates in public. Later, on the subway en route to the Pleasure Chest in the West Village, I cracked open ‘I Hate Sex’ by Tasmin Flowers, about a sex shop sales woman who is seduced by a customer amongst the merchandise.