For my newest installment of Kinked Ink, I asked the incredibly thoughtful Malin James if she would like to discuss her influences as a writer of erotica, and as a writer in general. I have been especially interested in finding out what makes this woman tick.
I discovered Malin’s writings on erotica before I found her actual fiction. I’m not sure how I came across it, but her post “What I Intend When I Write About Sex” was not only thought-provoking in itself, but two links within the article led me to posts by Remittance Girl and Tamsin Flowers on the state of erotica, all of which has not only influenced my own approach to writing and thinking about the field, but has led me to some pretty damn hot stories and great discussions.
In that post, Malin documents her early struggles with navigating the perceived divide between erotica intended to arouse, and more “serious” literature meant to discover, to understand. And why do they necessarily have to be separate? Where does such a dividing line lie?
In her short fiction, often very short (I’d love to read a full novel by this writer) Malin explores just this dynamic, usually avoiding more obvious “Erotica” proper, and focusing on the decisions people make, their motivations, their longings. Hot? Yes. It’s not the BDSM I usually focus on, but there are often definite power dynamics at work, and anyone who knows my tastes knows that power dynamics are what fascinates me more than anything.
Here is Malin’s response to my invitation:
I was confronted with a choice when LN invited me to write a post for this series (thank you LN). I could either knock out a nice list of titles and why I like them, or I could actually say something. I decided to go with “say something”, so now I have to make a confession right up front—I don’t read a lot of erotica. It may just be the writer’s equivalent of the barista not drinking coffee when she’s not at work, but, for the most part, I tend to lean away from it, not because I don’t like it, but because my brain just needs a break.
That said, there are a few exceptions. Janine Ashbless’s Cover Him in Darkness is marvelous and Beautiful Losers by Remittance Girl is one of my favorite books in any genre. I also enjoy pretty much everything Emmanuelle de Maupassant has ever written, as well as The Lover by Marguerite Duras, The Story of O and, unsurprisingly, most of Anais Nin (though her diaries are, for me, particularly powerful).
What’s really influenced my erotic writing are moments of unexpected eroticism in literary or mainstream work. A good example is the library scene in Ian McEwan’s Atonement or the brother / sister dynamic in his early novel, The Cement Garden. Here are some other favorites:
• Angela Carter’s description of a tiger grooming off a woman’s skin in “The Tiger’s Bride”.
• The lush scent of lilies in “The Bloody Chamber”, Carter’s adaptation of “Bluebeard”.
• The way a girl catalogues her own body in Carter’s novella, The Magic Toyshop.
(In case it’s not fantastically obvious, I’m a huge fan of Angela Carter’s).
• The strange tension between Louis, Lestat and Claudia in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
• The way a man describes the wind in The English Patient.
• The relentless intensity of Dracula’s predation, and the equally intense predation of his brides.
This goes way back to when I was a girl and got turned on for the first time reading a book. Unfortunately, I don’t remember now what the book was. All I know is that I had no reason to think it would arouse me, so it was delicious and a little bit baffling when that shock of arousal came out of the narrative blue.
I started reading deliberately sexy novels after that—Harlequin Historicals (I have such a soft spot for those), Exit to Eden and The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by Anne Rice…. While I did get turned on, I didn’t get that strange, exhilarating pop! that I’d had with the first one had because I was looking for it. There was no surprise.
After a while, I figured it was a one-time thing. Then I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon and that crazy, delicious pop! happened again. That’s when I made the connection—arousal was one thing, but that thrill of intensity came when I least expected it, and it had everything to do with the characters and their emotional / psychological contexts. Ever since then, I read widely in a ton of genres and just sort of stay open to that pop! whenever it happens. I write in much the same way.
Regardless of where my stories fall in the genre, the sex I write is basically a way of expressing a power imbalance, or a conflict, or any other intense human thing. Sex is rarely just sex—it’s need, desire, love, desperation, anger and a million other internal realities. That’s because, in the end, sex is about people, and people have motivations, and sometimes those motivations surprise them. For me, eroticism is always in the motivation. That’s where the surprise is. After imprinting on it at such a young age, I love writing that surprise, even more than I love reading it.
Malin James’s new collection of stories, Roadhouse Blues, is set to be published this summer by Go Deeper Press.