Monday, August 20, 2007

Shy People

Congrats to Lacy and all the astonishingly prolific and talented authors on our blog. Meanwhile, I'm laboring away in slow quiet obscurity, moving words around somewhere before the middle of the w.i.p.

In fact I feel pretty ok about being in this place. At least (to unpack the initials) the work is in progress. And on the good days I actually find something to like in it.

And not having a recent book out has given me a chance to break that dirty habit of Googling myself -- and moreover, to slap my mouse hand before checking my Amazon numbers yet another time. (Authors, bear with me when I remind you that every time you check your Amazon number you add to the Amazon hit count, which adds to what Amazon can charge in ad rates, contributing to their ability to drive yet another brick-and-mortar bookstore belly-up -- see my disclaimer of self-interest below, and my confessions of my own Amazon-susceptibility below that.).

Where was I?

Right, the obscurity thing - in the words of Djuna Barnes, the “humble violet under a cow pad” thing…

… which has caused me to remember something that happened before I was published in romance and during the period when Carrie's Story and Safe Word were out of print from Masquerade and hadn't yet been picked up by Cleis Press. Which was (this is where the plot kicks in) finding out that someone had run an ad in a little BDSM newsletter offering $100 for a copy of Carrie's Story.

I didn't know whether to be flattered or horrified, so I simply forgot about it and went back to moping (oh, and writing Almost A Gentleman). Until the guy caught up with me and left a note for me with my husband Michael at Modern Times Bookstore where he worked…

(…hence, btw, my concern with the concern with brick-and-mortarbookselling…)

…but back to our story about the guy who’d offered the hundred dollars.

"What kind of a person was he?" I asked.

"Oh, you know," Michael said. "Like a lot of your Molly Weatherfield readers. Shy." He felt qualified to say this because he’d been selling my erotica over the counter for a few years and chatting with readers about it.

Of course, it was just an unscientific sampling, but I thought and still think there was something to what he said. In fact, my own conviction, based on a few years of reader response, is that BDSM does attract shy -- and more especially, smart shy -- people.

The guy who’d offered the hundred for Carrie’s Story (though I sold him a then out-of-print copy for ten) turned out to be a professor emeritus with a list of academic honors as long as his... arm. And then there was a time when Carrie’s Story got on some list on Amazon (gulp, yes, Amazon -- guilty as charged). Anyhow, this list had some sci fi on it but mostly books with huge long names like The Obsessive Compulsive Programmer’s Guide to the Really Cool and Gnarly Portions of the Java API.

I'd like to think that my late dad the mathematician would be proud -- no, come to think of it, I'm not going there after all. But I do enjoy imagining that somewhere out there there's a Carrie's Story Users Group.

But why should this be?

My best guess is that it’s because BDSM is so rule-bound, so concerned with limits and challenges. Even when you're being outrageous, you're part of an elaborate system that you're trying to understand even as you want it to overwhelm you. Endlessly approaching but never reaching a limit: I have a character in Safe Word compare it to the thrill of understanding calculus.

I've been thinking about paradoxes like this for practically all my adult life -- or at least since I realized (maybe my fourth time through) how incredibly chatty the internal monologue in Story of O is, especially during the times when she's forbidden to speak. The need to understand is part of the experience and part of the mystery too.

I remember an aha moment in Sallie Tisdale’s Talk Dirty to Me:

There is one specific element to many fantasies that might be called a kind of dominance but isn't dominance as we usually define it. I mean the dream of being dominated by sex itself -- being forced, as it were, by the intensity of the sex to submit to and accept sex, be bound by sex, mastered by sex.
Being forced is something shy people can wish for (you know, in a nice way). While method and mastery are things smart people understand.

The experience of erotica is admitting that somebody had to think about what you wanted, in a premeditated way that resembles the formal methodology of art or law or computer programming more closely than seems quite decent. Erotica (and I would add BDSM erotica in particular) is a way to do sex and think about it too.

Which makes some people very nervous, and some people very hot.

But what do you think? Shy folks among you and extroverts as well. I’d love to know.


Kate Pearce said...

I think good erotica or erotic romance 'should' make you think and I also believe all sexual encounters are almost formulaic because we've been doing it for so long we have an instinctive muscle memory of how everything should work. it's like an intricate erotic dance.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Yeah, I like that Kate. Sex as a place where the weird wandering mind meets the automatic brute body. I've also sometimes thought that romance fiction has a lot in common with dance. I'm usually inspired by dance, in any case. And sometimes I think we're wrong in comparing it too closely to the novel form. And then there's what the brilliant cyberpunk novelist William Gibson said in Sunday's NY Times:

My roots are in a genre. That is the funny thing. Novels are called novels because, ideally, they provide a novel experience. But in genre, you're sort of buying a guarantee that you are going to have essentially the same experience again and again. It's a novel. It won't be too novel. Don't worry.

And sometimes... but I've been at my keyboard too long today...

Celia May Hart said...

Well, speaking as a "Trained Extrovert" (tm), the biggest sex organ is your brain and to respond to erotica, the good ol' brain has to process it first and then kick it's "ooh!" nerve endings into gear, whereupon it goes into a delicious feedback loop. :)

Actually, I have no idea what my bring a Trained Extrovert had to do with that comment, but anyway.

Eva Gale said...

"Even when you're being outrageous, you're part of an elaborate system that you're trying to understand even as you want it to overwhelm you."

That is so perfect. Bingo.