After an (unintentional) winter hiatus, I am happy to get the Kinked Ink series started again! For the first installment of 2017, I have invited the award-winning and influential Cecilia Tan to discuss her early fascinations and influences on her writing.
I first encountered Cecilia’s short stories, back in the late ’90’s, via anthologies hidden in book stores in which I did not expect to find such things. I found her famous “Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords,” with its so-wrong-yet-so-right edges of non-consensuality, in editor Susan Wright’s SM Classics compilation of fiction and non-fiction writings, and her “Heart’s Desire,” with its simple, delicious cruelty, in Laura Antoniou’s By Her Subdued – and I was hooked. (Both books are sadly out of print, but Cecilia’s short fiction can be found here.)
I have been a fan ever since. Cecilia was also instrumental in the early popularization of the alt.sex.bondage online group and the National Leather Foundation, and she later founded Circlet Press, for which we should all be thankful. I certainly am. Here is Cecilia’s response to my invitation to to discuss her influences:
Under the Influence
I believe that as a writer I am subtly influenced by everything I read. It’s exactly like how I pick up the accents of the people around me as I talk. I can’t stop it from happening: it just does. But there are some books and writers that I know have had deep effects on my work and they are worth talking about. My early kink influences came out of pop culture–Catwoman on the old Batman TV show, the Orion slave girl on Star Trek (The Original Show), westerns and pirate movies. Then in my twenties and thirties my own real life adventures in BDSM were my biggest source of inspiration (and “research”). Lately, though a few people’s real life stories have had a much bigger influence than I expected.
My early literary heroes were not writers but individual books, like Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME, Ursula K. LeGuin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, and Susan Cooper’s THE GREY KING. I tried to read other books by these same authors and was not moved by them, but as a budding young writer–I always knew I was a writer–what intrigued me most was not who wrote a book but the literary voice contained in a specific work. I knew a muse when I heard one and it was usually the voice of a character, not the writing style of a particular author.
The first writer whose work I was interested in reading all of was Roger Zelazny. In Zelazny I felt I had found a jazz improvisationalist. If the individual books I loved were like symphonies and most writers were composers, Zelazny was a performer who was always himself and yet never did the same thing twice. That, to me, was the essence of what I was trying to understand about being a writer. You the writer are always the same person, but every main character is different– which means you have to become a different person for every book. I feel like after over 20 books under my belt I should be able to say I know how to write a book, and yet each new novel I start I have to learn how to write THAT book because every main character is different from the previous ones.
And each book reflects different influences. When I wrote the Magic University books I thought I was giving my take on Harry Potter. Only on looking back later did I realize it was actually my take on The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, which I had read in high school and largely forgotten. I went back and re-read Portrait of the Artist recently and it’s all there: the protagonist struggling for identity, separating himself from his oppressive family history, a baffling rival at school, and especially the way that the struggle for artistic self-expression is linked to burgeoning sexuality. Kink is key creativity–not just for me, but for Kyle. Kyle was supposed to be a riff on Harry, but he ended up a riff on Stephen Dedalus, a poet whose first love is poetry but whose power is inherently sexual.
My most well-known series is the Struck by Lightning BDSM romance series, which starts with Slow Surrender, my bestselling book. The main muse for these books wasn’t a writer per se but an artist: David Bowie. The hero James is based on him and all the chapter titles are Bowie lyrics. I thought I just needed a sexy rock star to serve as my romance fodder, someone to “cast” visually as James, but ultimately the themes of Bowie’s life and work ended up becoming very deeply entwined in the story. In particular, Slow Surrender deals with public versus private selves, and how in BDSM a lot of people role play — but are those simply roles or are those roles their “true” selves? When Bowie died last year, I went back and looked at his entire oeuvre. Many have pointed out that the “space alien” is the metaphor that runs throughout all his work–most have assumed the metaphor stands in for alternative sexuality. But as I examined it I realized that the alien is not Bowie’s interrogation of his sexuality. It’s his interrogation of fame itself, and of the contentious relationship between his public and private personas.
My most recent BDSM novel has a rock star hero, too. HARD RHYTHM just came out on January 31 and I’m still too close to it to know exactly what was going on underneath. But I have one inkling about things that seeped in as I was writing. The hero, Chino Garcia, bears a close resemblance to Dave Navarro, guitarist of Jane’s Addiction and current host of the Inkmaster TV show. I picked Navarro because not only is he damn sexy, he’s one of the few rock stars out there who is out of the closet about his kink. He’s even designed a leather guitar strap that can be used as a bondage device. (No, really. You can buy it from The Stockroom.) Beyond that, though, I didn’t know that much about him.
Turns out Navarro’s a strong advocate against domestic abuse, and because of that I think a strong anti-domestic violence theme worked its way into the book, including my hero trying to rescue his own mother from an abusive situation. After I turned in the first draft of the book I discovered a new documentary was being released… about how Dave Navarro’s mother was actually killed by an abusive partner when he was a teenager. I hadn’t even known that when I wrote the subplot about Chino’s mother and yet somehow I had internalized some part of Dave Navarro’s story without even realizing it. Because it’s a romance, of course, I get to give Chino (and his mom) the happy ending that real life denied to Dave Navarro.
Here’s hoping that it goes the other way, too, and that my stories can influence relationships and BDSM sexuality to be better, happier, and healthier for people in real life.
Cecilia Tan worked in music radio and managed a rock band before she she became an award-winning author of passionate fiction. RT Book Reviews awarded her Career Achievement in Erotic Romance in 2015 and her novel Slow Surrender (Hachette/Forever, 2013) won the RT Reviewers Choice Award and the Maggie Award for Excellence from GRW in 2013. She has been publishing Daron’s Guitar Chronicles as a web serial since 2009 and her Secrets of a Rock Star series (Taking the Lead, Wild Licks, Hard Rhythm) is published by Hachette/Forever. In 2017 Tor Books will begin publishing her paranormal series, The Vanished Chronicles.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thececiliatan
HARD RHYTHM: A “Secrets of a Rock Star” novel by Cecilia Tan
Maddie Rofel has a sharp mind and a bad-girl body. After ten years in LA working jobs from clerk in a sex toy shop to exotic dancer she thinks she has seen and done it all. Once upon a time, bad boys were her catnip but now Maddie just wants to get keep everyone in line at her job as a hostess in Hollywood’s most exclusive secret dungeon, The Governor’s Club.
Chino Garcia is the drummer for the “hottest” rock band in the world, the blatantly kinky group known as The Rough. He’s been coming to The Governor’s Club every month for half a year but never seems to put the moves on any of the willing subs there.
That’s because the only one he’s interested in doesn’t seem to be a “willing sub” at all, Maddie herself.