Rachel Kramer Bussel puts together punchy stories every single time she edits an anthology. This one, as usual, weighed in firmly on the “hot” side, with only a few stories that left me cold, had me skimming the ends, or turned me off. Even some that had irritating aspects—like the heavy doses of womanly perfection, narrowly defined—were enjoyable in the main.
Common themes include obedience (far more D/s than strictly sensation play), public exhibition, name calling, and using kink as a mechanism for sexual pleasure. Fetish items and toys abound in pleasingly realistic use.
Whenever I read kinky erotica, I’m looking for stories that explore not just what we do, but why we do it, how we feel about it, and why we pant to do it again as soon as possible. Plenty of these stories go the distance. Among the stories I enjoyed:
“Slow Burn” by Morgan Sierra is lovely story about adoration and fear, the desire to please and the body’s limits. The lead is so sympathetic that I really want him to have his love returned.
My favorite aspect of “The Rabbit Trap” by Nik Havert was the nice turnaround where the sub does the scene planning. We s-types can get complacent, figuring the top is supposed to create the scene. This shows a really funny turn-about that surprises and pleases the top, without usurping the role they both want him to play.
Speaking of who plans the scene, “A Thousand Miles Apart” by Tilly Hunter is a great story from the top’s perspective, with everything planned out…almost perfectly…and real affection from both sides.
One of my favorite experiences reading erotica is grokking the heat of something that doesn’t turn me on at all. “Magic Words” by Emily Bingham lets me feel Daddy/girl play from the point of view of someone it works for, deep and real enough that I really think I get it…even if I’m not about to go looking for it myself.
“Baby Steps” by Justine Elyot got me too. I’m not a parent, but I’ve been through enough life changes during my nearly twenty-year relationship that I recognize this moment. The stakes are high, and I love how this shows the very real way we bring ourselves into the sex we have. This one is a favorite more for the story than the kink and/or sex, though.
“On Location” by D. L. King is fun and flirty, with an absolutely fabulous glimpse into the lives of lovers who don’t share a home. I very much enjoy erotica depicting warm, non-traditional relationships. And the set-up is hot!
“Recipe for Punishment” by Jacqueline Brocker is a-fucking-dorable. The punishment is brutal and glorious, a quick and effective mid-scene check-in is heartwarming, the achievement is his to own, and the love fills them both.
In “Admitting It Is the First Step” by Rachel Kramer Bussel, Bussel focuses on the mental and emotional aspect of power play by having no graphic sex and little pain play. This is another one where it’s not my kink, but I enjoyed rolling with the emotional peaks created when trust lets the character fly.
I’ll be doing readings and signings again this year in Provincetown, MA. Women’s Week is a lively, fabulous bundle of events which take advantage of the beach atmosphere to offer a little bit of everything. Raucous dance parties, teeming crowds of women holding hands, and packed houses for concerts and shows alternate with quiet time on the sand, gentle music at the cafes around midday, and dozens of readings hosted by a handful of LGBTQ publishers.
I’ll be in my element at the sex scene reading. I know the audience will enjoy Kerala and Ravi’s electric attraction. I’ll be a bit more nervous at the other, titled “It’s a Zoo in Here: Four Legged Heroes”. I’ve had cats most of my life and a couple dogs that touched me deeply. But I wouldn’t say it’s a natural, enduring aspect of my writing for the leads to be bonded with animal companions.
Bogart, Kerala’s dog in Heart of the Lilikoi, is a window into her capacity to love and an important creature for her ability to cope with the terrible things that happen to her. He is bright and loyal, well-trained and choosey about who he warms to. It’s lucky that Bogart likes Ravi, and Ravi knows it!
My schedule for the week of October 12-:
Monday, 12th, 2pm: Signing at Recovering Hearts with other Bold Strokes Books authors Radclyffe, Missouri Vaun, Franci McMahon, Laydin Michaels, MJ Williamz, and Jo Victor
Wednesday, 14th, 1pm: Reading at the Provincetown Hotel at Gabriel’s in “It’s a Zoo in Here: Four Legged Heroes” with moderator Barbara Ann Wright and readers D. Jackson Leigh, Franci McMahon, CA Popovich, Radclyffe, and Jo Victor
Wednesday, 14th, 3:15pm: Signing at Recovering Hearts with D. Jackson Leigh, Franci McMahon, CA Popovich, Radclyffe, and Jo Victor
Thursday, 15th, 1pm: Reading at the Provincetown Hotel at Gabriel’s in “Between the Sheets: Erotic Readings” with moderator Missouri Vaun and readers Tina Michele, Nell Stark, Ali Vali, D. Jackson Leigh, and MJ Williamz
Thursday, 15th, 3:15pm: Signing at Recovering Hearts with Tina Michele, Nell Stark, Ali Vali, D. Jackson Leigh, and MJ Williamz
Saturday, 17th, 2pm: Moderating at the Provincetown Public Library for “Readings that Define the Author’s Voice” with readers Franci McMahon, Ali Vali, Justine Saracen, Jo Victor, Melissa Brayden, Missouri Vaun
When I thought of an image to represent Heart of the Lilikoʻi, I imagined the west side of the Island of Hawaiʻi. Unlike the lush jungle of the Hilo side, the Kona side is dry down by the water. It’s a black rubble desert, except for the small plants, so green it hurts the eye, that begin the process of turning lava rock into soil.
I imagined the black rock and a lilikoʻi flower, a dirty work boot crushing the flower.
I imagined black rock in a cutaway view that showed a human heart (anatomical, not romantic) with lilikoʻi rootlets growing into and through it.
I imagined black rock and the koa tree, a broken open, slightly rotten passion fruit at the base.
But I left Hawaiʻi for the last time in 2007. I wouldn’t be able to set up a photo shoot to get exactly the look I wanted. I’d be working with clip art and photo licensing website images.
Searching on Hawaiʻi got me a lot of exactly what I didn’t want, tourism-oriented images of grass skirts and surfboards. Stereotyping is hard to get away from.
Finally, I found a few images I liked. I pulled the links together and all my requests, my hopes, and my concise list of what I didn’t want to see in the cover, and sent it to my publisher.
Several possible versions came back, and oh, was I happy to see this.
The cover for Heart of the Lilikoʻi.
I just finished a first draft in 11 days.
And I’m not even exhausted!
The complete first draft of Lysistrata Cove represents a change in my understanding of novel-writing. After two books that took me years to write and edit, I know now that I’m, first and foremost, telling a story, and that I work best when I know what the story is, how it got started and how it ends. I tried to leave things open, so that I could do what authors talk about all the time and learn from my characters, but it just left me floundering eventually, hunting and pecking for the impetus to throw them over the cliff or the strength they’ll need to figure out they have wings and can fly.
James and I developed a story, capable of being told in a handful of paragraphs. Then I mapped the story to the dramatic arc, the three-act play, Campbell’s hero cycle, Hauge’s six stage plot structure, using all to some degree and some quite carefully. Using Scrivener, I broke the story into sections (folders): Enemies, Softening, The Fall, Point of No Return, Major Setback, Dark Night of the Soul, and Epiphany and HEA (Happily Ever After). I wrote a synopsis for each scene (individual documents), with 4-6 scenes in each section.
Only at that point, when I had exported all that into MS Word and had a detailed, 10-page synopsis, did I go back and start doing character sketches.
Then I sat down, after several months of thinking over all that, getting to know these people in my head, and started writing. In writing, I didn’t linger on setting descriptions. Lots of scenes take place in amorphous surroundings, which I’m fleshing out in the second draft. But I got the thrust of it down. It’s tight, spare, and plain, but it drives.
Now I’ll go back and add some lushness. I’ll bring the sensual aspects into flower and consider where (not whether) to add more sex. After all, all the best reviews of my work praise the erotic bits.
Blue Water Dreams
First word to completed first draft: 1 year
First word to publication: 9 years, 3 months
Heart of the Lilikoi
First word to completed first draft: 6 years, 2 months
First word to publication: 6 years, 11 months
First word to completed first draft: 11 days
First word to projected publication: 10 months
If you have a voice and a following, especially among trans and genderqueer, lesbian, environmentalist, and anti-colonial communities, I’d love to send you a copy of Heart of the Lilikoʻi for your strings-free perusal. Publishers Weekly has called it “strong and satisfying” and picked out the “intensely vivid erotic encounters”.
Human remains tangled in lilikoʻi roots bring the authorities to Kerala’s construction site. Native Hawaiians say the passsion fruit vine marks an ancient burial ground protected by guardian spirits, the ʻaumakua. But these aren’t ancestral bones. The fractured skull points to murder.
Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty campaigns hinder the project Kerala leads: building an eco-dream vacation home for Ravi, CEO of a solar power company. Proud to be a tough dyke in the trades, Kerala can’t believe she’s so hot for the masculine genderqueer scientist. Their sexual connection is volcanic but Ravi’s craving for love and family aggravates burn scars from Kerala’s past. As the lovers pursue justice for Hawaiʻi and its people, Ravi turns his gift for harnessing the sun’s strength toward cultivating his own power and Kerala wonders if building deep, lasting love could be even more satisfying than constructing a home to last the ages.
Heart of the Lilikoʻi will officially be released on October 13th, but advance copies (e-book or paperback) are available now for folks who would like to weigh in on it.
Write me at email@example.com or tweet me @DenaWrites. Tell me who you talk to, what venues you use (blogs, websites, magazines, groups, etc) and why you think the book could be a good fit for your friends and followers. I’m traveling Maine on my sailboat and my internet access is spotty, at best, so don’t despair if I fail to respond promptly. I will reply to every request.
With almost a month yet to go before Heart of the Lilikoʻi becomes widely available, Publishers Weekly has weighed in on the book and found it good. The online review is not yet available [Update: Publishers Weekly reviews Heart of the Liliko’i], but the print edition has this to say:
Hankins (Blue Water Dreams) tackles weighty political and personal subjects in this intriguing contemporary. Kerala is the construction project manager on an experimental, environmentally-conscious vacation home, and comes under increasing pressure as progress is delayed by sabotage and threats. She’s usually only interested in women, so she’s surprised to fall for the home’s financial backer, Ravi, who’s transmasculine and genderqueer. The two suss out the boundaries of their newfound relationship as they get to the heart of the project’s troubles, but everything is further disrupted when they discover a corpse on the property. Hankins constructs a heartfelt relationship between her leads. Mutual lust and the contrast between the no-nonsense Kerala and starry-eyed Ravi lead to some intensely vivid erotic encounters. In constructing artificial-sounding dialogues about Hawaiian independence, green technology, and nonbinary gender, Hankins borders on the preachy, but the core romantic story is strong and satisfying.
While not without its caveats, this review thrills me. The most important part of a romance is the growth of interest, respect, and love between the leads (which, by the way, is a great way to pare down the clunky phrase “main characters”). And as I’ve said before, I believe that we reveal more than our bodies through sexual intimacy. I’m so glad that the reviewer saw that the character of these people was so crucial to the sex they had.
“a heartfelt relationship”
“intensely vivid erotic encounters”
“strong and satisfying”