big book of orgasms book tour: interview with rachel kramer bussel!

Today the feminist librarian is pleased to be hosting The Big Book of Orgasms (Cleis Press, 2013) book tour, featuring an interview with fabulous erotica anthology editor Rachel Kramer Bussel.

1. The Big Book of Orgasms is an anthology of erotic flash fiction at 1,200 words or fewer. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges and rewards of short-format erotica writing?

For some people, I think trying to tell a fully fleshed out story in 1,200 is difficult, especially if you’re used to having more room to set up the plot and develop your characters, but it’s certainly possible. For others, though, it’s a welcome challenge, and I get many more first-time authors submitting to my 69-story anthologies such as Gotta Have It and The Big Book of Orgasms than I typically do. The rewards are that you learn how to make every single word count; in my own writing, I’ve often had to pare down to get to the heart of what I want to say without giving up the heat and passion of a story. You learn how to write economically and it gives you an opportunity to write about things you may not otherwise devote time to. Flash fiction isn’t every reader’s or writer’s cup of tea, but I think it can be a good way to get yourself writing, especially if you don’t have a lot of time or are stuck agonizing over a given scene. Plus flash fiction can easily be expanded into a longer piece if that’s where the muse takes you; some of my longer stories started out with me trying to write to a shorter word count and getting sucked into the story, which is never a bad thing. As an editor, I appreciate the opportunity to publish three times as many authors’ work as I usually get, and I think it gives readers a wider range of choices.

2. I was impressed with the relative diversity of characters and story types in The Big Book. You have same-sex and different-sex couples, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans individuals, partnered and solitary sex scenes, and many flavors of sexual encounters. I often find erotic short-story anthologies to be fairly one-note, or featuring couples of mostly or entirely one variety (lesbian, gay male, straight, etc.), so this was a pleasant surprise. Did you make your selections with diversity in mind? Is the erotica market resistant to such “cross-genre” collections?

I definitely strive for as much diversity as I can get with each book, especially in The Big Book of Orgasms. I didn’t want readers to get bored, and I wanted to represent as broad a cross-section of what orgasms can look like and what they mean to various characters as possible. As an anthology editor I’m at the mercy of what’s in my inbox, so part of my job is making sure my public calls for submissions get spread as widely as possible and encouraging new writers to submit. In this case, there were a few elements I didn’t see as the manuscript neared completion, such a Tantric sex, that I felt were important, so I specifically asked a writer who I knew could write competently about that topic to write a story about it. In general, though, I try to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts, with what I’m given. I wanted this book in particular to appeal to as many potential readers as possible, to be the one book I would recommend to new erotica readers and be the book of mine that is the most accessible, due to both the ultra short format and the breadth of it.

3. In an era when erotica is increasingly available in free or low-cost formats, what do you think readers of a print/ebook edited anthology like The Big Book of Orgasms get that they would be unable to find elsewhere?

From my job as anthology editor to Cleis Press’s ongoing commitment to publishing both highly edited and beautiful books, I think the final product is something that’s clearly been worked on with a lot of care. I love the print edition’s size for its compactness. It feels different than my books with 20 or 25 stories, and I like that it fits easily in purses and some pockets. In terms of quality, I think everyone has different tastes so I don’t necessarily think it’s a matter or choosing between cheaper books and this one, but with The Big Book of Orgasms every single story has been selected and placed with care. What readers will get out of this book is a range of voices, from vanilla to kinky, male to female, solo masturbation stories, which I don’t often get to publish, and very creative ways of looking at the topic of orgasm within an erotic framework. This is the book I’d recommend to new readers of the erotica, and to people looking for erotica to read to or with their partners, because there’s so much to choose from.

There’s room for self-published work about niche topics, as well as flash fiction and full-length works. One thing I personally love about the erotica genre, as a reader, writer and editor, is the abundance of short stories. That’s what I started out reading, in the Herotica and Best American Erotica series, and I always marveled at the authors’ ability to tell such riveting, memorable tales in a short space. The rise of e-publishing means authors can publish at varying lengths and aren’t as tied to the demands of print publishing, but because there is so much erotica out there, readers can be more discerning and demanding in terms of what they are looking for, both content-wise and style-wise. No fetish needs to go untouched or ignored.

4. Recognizing that what’s hot and sexy will always be subjective (and vary wildly among humans!), what is one theme or trope of erotica that you would be happy never to read again?

It’s hard to say because what may appeal to one person may not be my thing. I’m as fascinated as anyone else by the phenomenon of dinosaur erotica, which, if the media interviews this year are to be believed, is more popular than my books. It’s not my thing per se because I’m not usually into science fiction but I think it’s great that so many people are both writing and reading in that genre, and that the marketplace for ebooks exists to support it. I personally find the fetishization of extreme wealth of the billionaire hero, a la Fifty Shades of Grey, a bit overdone. I’m sure there are indeed billionaires out there, but it seems so over-the-top.

5. What is a theme or dynamic you would like to see writers explore more often in erotic writing?

I’d like to see more stories about couples, especially long-term couples, both having adventures and grappling with real-life sexual issues and situations. I see some of this, but I like the idea of couples exploring new things several (or many) years into their relationships. It’s hard to say what I’m looking for—part of what I love about editing anthologies is that every single time, authors manage to surprise and awe me with their creativity. I don’t like to say “I want more of X or Y” and then only get X or Y in my inbox. If I ever dare to think I’ve seen or read it all, putting out a call for writing lets me know I certainly haven’t!

6. What upcoming project(s) are you working on that you’re excited to share with your readers?

I’m teaching my first Portland, Maine erotic writing workshop at sex toy store Nomia, on December 3rd, which I’m looking forward to, then one January 17th at the New York Academy of Sex Education. Then I’m doing something I’ve never done: two three-hour workshops pre-CatalystCon on March 14th, on erotica writing and nonfiction sex writing, respectively (details are on my website). Those are more intensive courses and include individualized feedback. I’m hoping to teach more workshops as well and my upcoming erotica releases are Lust in Latex, about rubber and latex clothing, and Best Bondage Erotica 2014, both out in January from Cleis Press. I’m taking submissions through March 1st for Best Bondage Erotica 2015 and will be announcing a few more calls for submissions soon as well.

Thanks to Rachel for stopping by and taking the time to answer my questions. You can check out The Big Book of Orgasms at Amazon.com, Cleis Press, your local independent bookstore or library (if you're lucky!), or Powell's online.

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