"My writing explores the way humans wander in and out of finding what they need; primarily love, food, and connection. I give them difficult circumstances to bump up against. The emotional landscape people are born into, or come to later in life, are what I work with— and where my creative curiosity thrives. The plots in my stories are internal plots. My stories center on the strange ways in which people work things out."
E.L. Doctorow writes: “The 20th-century novel minimizes discourse that dwells on settings, characters’ CVs and the like. The writer finds it preferable to incorporate all necessary information in the action, to carry it along in the current of the narrative, as is done in movies.” Do you find this to be true in your own work— that your characters carry the action, and in so doing define themselves?
This is certainly true in my work. The main action in my stories is that which involve a character’s emotional life. My writing explores the way humans wander in and out of finding what they need; primarily love, food, and connection. I give them difficult circumstances to bump up against. The emotional landscape people are born into, or come to later in life, are what I work with— and where my creative curiosity thrives. The plots in my stories are internal plots. My stories center on the strange ways in which people work things out.
Carol Shields writes: “I’ve heard writers say that their friends wouldn’t recognize themselves if they apprehended their image in the pages of a novel. Writerly paint would have blurred the outlines; writerly invention would have added enough ornamentation to conceal the true identity.” Do you build your characters from people you know, and would they recognize themselves?
I often use details, which have been stashed in my brain over the years, learned from the lives of people I have met or known. People would not recognize themselves, I hope. Some of my characters will have similar traits to people I am very familiar with, and this can be a bit tricky with close friends. As Shields says, ornamentation is crucial. The nuances of ornamentation, the writerly paint. Yes! And I’ll add: To me, this is the fun part! This is where the imagination can run free. We make people interesting by letting their actions unfold in the writing, letting THEM decide who they are. The characters inside our brains seem to have the final say in the matter.
John Gardner writes: “The writer’s characters must stand before us with a wonderful clarity, such continuous clarity that nothing they do strikes us as improbable behavior for just that character, even when the character’s action is, as sometimes happens, something that came as a surprise to the writer himself. “ Have you ever been surprised by what your characters do or say?
I do feel surprised by the way my own stories end. But I agree with Gardner entirely. We are talking about gaining the reader’s trust with a high-wire act very like what an actor must create to be believable. I believe this active reader involvement is called “suspension of disbelief”.
A reader must be convinced of a characters authenticity or their interest immediately wanes. If a character says or does something “out of character” it should enhance our understanding of that person.
Victor LaValle writes: “The person you are (in total, at that moment in time) is what creates the story you’re writing. It’s infused in every piece of punctuation, in the plot, in the most minor character who crosses the page. It’s all your voice.” Are you present in every character that you create?
I’m afraid so. I can’t imagine that a character I can create does not reflect some part of me, or at least, some part of what I have experienced in this world.
"They say writing is lonely work. But that’s an exaggeration. Even alone at their desks, writers entertain visitors: characters of a novel, famous and not so famous figures from the past. On good days, all these come to the table."
Carolyn G. Heilbrun writes for TheNew York Times, “Women can stop being female impersonators, can grasp the opportunity to reverse our most cherished principles of femininity.” In writing erotica, do you find that women are empowered by naming who they are and what they want—- even if it runs contrary to society?
I can’t speak for other women but certainly for me, writing erotica about all sorts of topics, some stemming from my own fantasies, some pure imagination, has changed me and helped me grow. My most personal erotica stories like “The End” and “Espionage” are also my darkest, and they’re what I use to work through complicated feelings. Sometimes it’s frustrating for me that the best way I know to work through those often challenging places in my life is via writing, but that’s the way I’m wired. Writing helps me sort through my feelings and gives me a freedom I don’t feel in any other arena, even with people I love and trust deeply. The freedom of the fictional form in erotica has shown me aspects of myself I don’t think I’d have keyed in on otherwise.
In a review on Amazon.com Cara Sutra writes, “Rachel Kramer Bussel is fast becoming one of the most well known and most respected voices in literary erotica..” What qualities were you looking for in this anthology—- and how does this lens contribute to a definition of literary erotica?
I was looking for stories firstly that were hot and grabbed my attention and didn’t let go, something especially important in short shorts where every word counts, as well as ones that hit the theme of orgasm in an interesting way. Some people have said, “Well, isn’t every erotica story about orgasm?” Not necessarily, and even if there’s an orgasm in a story, it doesn’t mean it’s the focal point or glossed the way it would need to be to fit a book specifically on that topic. I don’t know that what I write or edit is “literary erotica” per se—I will leave that definition up to others. For this book I was looking to include a mix of character voices, from confident to nervous, from top to bottom, who are approaching their sexuality and orgasms differently. Some are inward focused and are perhaps masturbating or know exactly what kind of orgasm they want and are going to have. Others are at the consensual mercy of a lover to provide them with a new sexual thrill or to deliver or withhold an orgasm. One of the biggest challenges with the length of 1,200 words or less is finding stories that do indeed tell an entire story with beginning, middle and end, so these 69 I felt truly hit the mark.
In Baxter’s Boy by Xan West, I’m never really sure of the gender of any of the players, but really love the story because the voice is very frank, sexy, and above all, human. Is this part of your editorial vision for this anthology? In other words, as inclusive as possible to accommodate the widest possible audience?
As an anthology editor, I’m at the mercy of the submissions I receive. I try to reach as wide a writing audience with my calls as possible but you never know what’s going to land in your inbox. Why I like doing the short short stories is I think it encourages readers who might be intimidated by longer lengths or writers who have more experimental or unusual stories to submit them. So once I had all the submissions in I did try my best to make the book as varied as possible. Of course, there are things it doesn’t have, but I did try to offer a range of sexual topics and genders and sexual orientations.
How can you possibly top this anthology (pun intended)
Ha! I really don’t know. I have a few more anthologies in the works but if this book does well—my dream is to outsell my other books—I’d be happy to consider that the high point of my erotica career. I do have another book of 69 short short stories, The Big Book of Submission, coming out next summer, and I’ve found that readers cannot get enough of BDSM submission stories. The Big Book of Orgasms is my favorite of all my books and the one that I think is the most diverse and offers something for almost everyone. It’s a perfect beginner’s erotica book but I hope also speaks to seasoned readers. I know some readers find the short form not enough, they want to read more about these characters and plots, which I totally get, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to finish a short story and be left wanting more. I also hope this book encourages newcomers to write their own erotica, short or long.
What is your process as a writer? Some writers push themselves to get a rough draft before any editing, others edit as they go. When you sit down to work are you more excited to edit what you’ve written, or pushing forward into uncharted territory?
I like this question a lot, because I…
Really proud of this interview— Robin Stratton is awesome. And so is Meg Pokrass for making the introductions. Find out more about Flash Fiction Highway— by clicking on the link.
—Why’d you come? she said. —The boys were busy, I guess.
I looked around. Her Nana’s house was just how I remembered: another old villa that desperately needed a coat of paint. I tried not to look at her. I could remember how good Tala looked, dressed and undressed …