"I only read what I am hungry
for at the moment
when I have an appetite for it, and then I do not read, I eat."
~ Simone Weil (1950)
Mind Caviar Issue 13, 2004-2005
I recently read and reviewed the novel Kushiel’s Dart, the first in a trilogy of erotic BD/SM-themed fantasy novels. I was driven to my commentary out of an intense interest in the main character, the fabulously masochistic courtesan, Phèdre no Delaunay. Upon initially reading this novel, I was so charmed and excited about the main character, I became almost obsessed. It was with this mindset I chose to interview the author, Jacqueline Carey, and probe her to reveal some of the mysteries behind her wonderfully-crafted protagonist, who happens to be a masochistic courtesan, yet an unbelievably strong character.
Amber Hipple: From where did the inspiration for the character, Phèdre, come?
Jacqueline Carey: Honestly, I have no idea. Some parts of the creative process are truly a mystery. From the first glimmer of conception, Phèdre simply was who she was -- an openly masochistic heroine. I didn’t have any choice in her nature, which was an intimidating prospect. What I did have to decide was whether or not it could be done in a manner that wasn’t sensational or exploitative, and whether or not I could pull it off. Ultimately, I thought there would be interesting issues to address regarding the clichés of erotic violence and victimization that are prevalent in a lot of fiction and entertainment -- as one of the trilogy’s taglines says, “That which yields is not always weak” -- but still, it was a big risk. In the end, I’m glad I chose to take it.
AH: Why did you choose a courtesan as Phèdre's occupation? Did you find this a useful plot vehicle for Phedre to become involved in royal intrigue?
JC: Oh, definitely! Courtesans and espionage are a classic combination. It lends itself to lots of fun and intrigue.
AH: Have you received a praise and/or criticism regarding your choice of a masochistic courtesan as your protagonist?
JC: I’ve been fortunate. Most of the reviews have been very good, and the reviewers were astute enough to realize that I wasn’t doing it for shock value, that there was more going on beneath the surface. Publishers Weekly ended by comparing Phèdre to Scarlett O’Hara, which came as a surprise. However, there were certainly a number of readers who took offense to the masochistic element, and vented freely on Amazon.com. My favorite review there gave me two stars for elegant writing, but observed that a gilded pile of feces is still, after all, a pile of feces.
AH: How do you feel your choices for Phèdre will influence current literary trends toward acknowledging the growing BD/SM culture?
JC: The success of the Kushiel trilogy, along with the work of a few other authors, has helped contribute to recognition in the industry that a readership does exist for fantastic literature with a dark erotic component. BD/SM culture is growing increasingly mainstream, and I hope that Phèdre has helped make it more comprehensible to readers outside the culture, while providing a positive affirmation for readers within it.
AH: You often capture the mind and emotions of a masochistic submissive in a very realistic and poetic way. Did you find yourself struggling to put Phèdre's thoughts into words?
JC: It takes a while to work myself into the right state of mind to give voice to her thoughts during the more intense scenes, but I wouldn’t call it a struggle. Once I’m there, it flows smoothly. The one exception is the very dark sequence in the middle of the third volume, Kushiel’s Avatar. Frankly, Phèdre didn’t want to go there, and neither did I. It was necessary, but truly difficult.
AH: Was there any trick or research required to write from the perspective of someone with Phèdre's sexual proclivities?
JC: I did a lot of reading and research, in part to understand the perspective of someone with profoundly masochistic proclivities, and in part to be able to present the BD/SM community in a responsible manner, to the extent that it’s feasible in fantasy. The D’Angeline notion of consensuality as a sacred tenet is a reflection of that.
AH: Often Phèdre comes across as a woman in conflict, sometimes accepting and loving of who she is, other times disgusted with her own behavior. Did this arise on its own during the writing, or was the duality intentionally worked in?
JC: It’s a bit of both, I think. While Phèdre has an innate tendency toward submission, she’s also extremely willful. This internal conflict makes her a more complex, interesting character and creates a certain amount of inherent psychological tension. But conflict arises naturally from the plot, too, as the person she most desires betrays her and becomes her nemesis… and the person she loves most deeply doesn’t share her desires.
AH: Despite or perhaps because of Phèdre's sexual preferences she is a vulnerable creature with whom people from any walk of life can identify. Telling it from a first person view gives us an indepth look into her mind, and she becomes an ordinary woman caught up in extraordinary events. The "Everywoman" in this case. How do you manage to make her appeal to such a diverse audience?
JC: Well, for a fantasy heroine, Phèdre’s unusual in that she doesn’t possess any magical abilities or trinkets, just quick wits, a knack for languages, and a penchant for pain. Most people can relate to at least two out of three. She’s stubborn, loyal, compassionate and vain… in other words, human. And too, one of the aspects that sometimes gets overlooked is the fact that there’s a lot of humor in the books along with the high drama. A good dose of humor makes anything more accessible.
AH: At certain times you make it clear that Phèdre's nature is not psychological or a learned habit, but rather a God-given trait. Is this your personal view on masochism? Do you feel that a masochistic instincts are wrought by nature rather than nurture?
JC: Like all aspects of human sexuality, masochism runs a gamut. I’m sure there are different causal elements depending upon the individual, but I wouldn’t feel remotely qualified to take a real stance on the issue. Fantasy does allow a certain amount of leeway.
AH: You crafted an alternate version of Judeo-Christian religion for the Kushiel novels. Did this religion evolve around your choice of Phèdre as a heroine, or was Phèdre crafted to fit into a niche in your religion?
JC: They evolved together in a happy synchronicity.
AH: You refer often to love. Do you feel the basis of all Phèdre's actions and goals revolve around love, whether it is for Terre D'Ange, Ysandre, Joscelin, or Delaunay?
JC: Yes, absolutely. In creating Elua, a deity whose sole attribute is love, I was interested in exploring how that would play out as a divine force capable of affecting change in the world. Right or wrong, once Phèdre is forced into a heroic role, love is always at the basis of her motivation.
AH: Your work is typically classified as high fantasy. Do you consider your writing representative of the genre, or would you term it more of a romance or perhaps mystery?
JC: My work adheres to the tradition of high fantasy, but I think the best books in any genre combine elements of many genres -- wonder, romance, tragedy, suspense-- all of those things. I did my best to fit them all into the Kushiel trilogy. That’s why the books are so long.
AH: You’re currently working on the Imriel books. When will we see the first of those novels?
JC: My best guess is Spring 2006. I have two unrelated books forthcoming, Banewreaker and Godslayer, which will be released 2004, 2005.
AH: In the Imriel novels, will there be more emphasis on sadism, being the other half of the Kusheline equation?
JC: Yes, although it will be different, since from the onset, Imriel will struggle with his heritage on many levels. As anyone who’s read the trilogy might guess, he’s one seriously pre-angstified, baggage-laden protagonist.
AH: Are there any other comments or thoughts you would like to add for our Mind Caviar readers?
JC: Yes, thanks for your interest in my work!
Jacqueline Carey online to read about her books and her latest
When an author can take us inside their mind and heart, a good novel has been discovered. When a writer can expose the truth where it lays, raw and vulnerable, and make the reader feel that he/she has just shared in a private conversation rather than having read a book, then that writer has brought words to life. But when an author succeeds at doing all these things, then a rare treasure has been found. Gwen Masters is one of those rarities and her book, Better Judgment: Confessions of a Mistress is a treasure that enthralled me from the first page to the last.
The first thing that attracted me to this book is that it isn’t just another erotic fiction novel; it’s a true story about the author. Finchy, as she’s called in the book, finds herself on the empty side of a broken relationship and drawn to a rising country music star she calls Ayza. The attraction that sparkles between them was evident to her ex a long time ago. Even though she denied it, it was the reason why he left.
The only problem is Ayza is a married man. Tied to a woman who doesn’t fulfill him, he’s captivated by Finchy as much as she is by him. They skirt around the edges of an affair at first. The two spend time together, share secrets, and sizzle in a chemistry that finally explodes into passion, resulting in the sexiest erotic scene I’ve read in a long time.
Finchy feels guilty, though. She thinks of his wife, who has done nothing to deserve another woman sleeping with her husband. Then, she thinks of Ayza’s two small boys and the time she is taking from them by being with their father. Throughout the novel, she goes back and forth between falling in love with this captivating man and letting him go. He doesn’t belong to her.
Sex is the first thing we think of when we think about affairs, but Masters goes deeper, to the truth, and reveals the bare bones. She shows the guilt, self-destruction, and hurt that accompanies even the sweetest of secrets. And, she shows the desire that keeps them coming back. Finchy and Ayza ignite in each other’s arms. Each time is better than the last.
Ayza. I fell in love with them both; I hoped they would fall in love
with each other as well. Do they? Masters did such an exquisite
job of writing this book that you’ll have to read it for yourself to know
and understand the answer. I just wish she would tell us where Ayza
and Finchy are now.
I’m not an avid reader of anthologies. Much to my preference are novels or collections of short stories written by just one author. I tend to pick my favorites by style, as well as well constructed, believable, naughty content; I prefer narratives with personality rather than drab facts that litter the spaces between the “action.” These are reasons I avoid anthologies. It’s easier to seek out works by authors I already know I enjoy, rather than skimming through dozens of stories by various writers just to find one that draws my interest. However, Naughty Stories from A to Z, an anthology edited by Alison Tyler, caught me by surprise. If I had passed over this anthology, I would have missed some great erotic fiction.
In this collection, erotic authors including Ann Blakely, M. Christian, Dante Davidson, Marilyn Jaye Lewis, N.T. Morley, Thomas Roche and more explore their naughty sides. The very first story in the book impressed me and drew me in. “Appraising Love” (page 3) drew a wonderful analogy between furniture appraisals and the art of summing up a possible lover. The author’s words were full of life. I tumbled from paragraph to paragraph, unable to put it down.
When I looked up from my reading, I had just finished “Quiet, Quiet” (page 119). Unfortunately, the doorbell distracted me from my fun, but not for long. I couldn’t stay away. Each story, although written in different voices and from different perspectives, captured my interest and piqued my naughty mind. There are many mediocre anthologies out there featuring middle of the road writers, but Naughty Stories from A to Z features the hottest tales from some of the most gifted authors.
only thing I couldn’t help but notice was the lack of male/male stories,
but I won’t fault Miss Tyler for that. If her goal in compiling this
anthology was to publish some of the best erotic fiction she could find,
then she succeeded with flying colors. Naughty Stories from A
to Z is indeed naughty and a pleasure, in every sense of the word,
Whenever I set out to do anything new, the first thing I always do is look for instructions. I’m the type that looks before I jump, so to speak, and I always do everything to insure I have the highest chances of success. However, I’m also an “in the moment” person. I don’t want to spend countless hours worming my way through pages of directions that are littered with unnecessary details. This was the case when I first decided to study the art of writing erotic fiction. I wanted to acquire the knowledge I needed, and not have to snooze through lectures and redundant lessons to find it. Fortunately for me, Sage Vivant’s new book, 29 Ways to Write Great Erotica, provided a simple recipe, giving me no more than the ingredients I would need to write good, believable erotic fiction.
Let me tell you, size does not matter. Only thirty-three pages, this book covers more information than ones that number hundreds of pages. Even if you’ve never penned an erotic story before, after reading this you will have the tools needed to get you off on your way. I couldn’t believe all the aspects of erotic short story writing Miss Vivant covers, including what constitutes erotica, plot, effective language, and believable dialogue. She does not waste words or go too in-depth on any one topic. Instead, she teaches the important elements in a concise, but easy to read format, then hands the reader the pen and sends them on their way. The book is also illustrated with lovely drawings by erotic artist, Gradiva.
book is a perfect handbook for any new erotic fiction writer to keep printed
by their computer or kept handy on a disc. It’s something to be read
as instruction, then referred to along the way. Even an established
short story writer could use this guide to brush-up on their skills and
reinforce the elements of a quality story. The only thing more the
book could have offered is a few exercises to practice the lessons given,
but for someone who wants to write well, and now, 29 Ways to Write Great
Erotica is a must-have.
and Reviews Copyright © 2004 Amber Hipple and Tina Hess, respectively.
All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or post in whole or in part. Now go out
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