The Assignment: An Interview with Jade A. Waters (!!!)

Earlier this month, Jade A. Waters released The Assignment, the first book in her three part series, Lessons in Control. Ethically speaking, I couldn’t review it because A. I helped beta it, B. She’s my best friend, and C. I am not at all unbiased so I’d probably just shout things like –> BUT IT’S SO FUCKING GOOD BELIEVE ME AND READ IT.

So, rather than do an (biased but TOTALLY accurate review), I asked Ms. Waters if she’d like to do an interview. She said yes so plans were made – plans that involved a pedicure and drinks over a long lunch. Sadly, I got sick and had to cancel for the first time ever in our friendship. Luckily, she didn’t mind typing in the answers to the questions because she’s awesome.

And so, without further ado, my interview with Jade A. Waters.

We’ve talked a lot over the course of our friendship about how the spark for The Assignment came from a very powerful personal experience. What did it feel like writing from that place? Did it ever feel like it was getting too intense?

Oh, that’s a good one, Malin. I mentioned over at Xan West’s place the other day what the actual spark for The Assignment was, and of course, as you know, there was indeed that powerful personal experience you just mentioned built in, too. I’ve referred to that often as “getting turned out,” and applying it to the book was…well, it was something. Honestly, I’m not sure I was aware that I was writing from that place until later in the process. I wrote the book in the aftermath of the breakup from that very relationship, and I poured all my energy/tension/pain into creating it…but it wasn’t until I went back in to edit that I saw exactly what you described. Add to that the fact that I’ve said Maya’s got a lot of me in her—her troubled past is a rework of my own—so I’d say overall it was both cathartic and challenging. There were periods in working on the book [and the subsequent series] that I was in real life working on my own demons from past experiences that so closely paralleled Maya’s. It was, in some ways, exciting and healing to rake her over the coals and have her work through similar issues. On the other hand, there were times I was like oh my fucking god why did I make her history so like mine because I don’t want to do this right now. They were extremely specific moments in the book—perhaps the spots you once mentioned to me you found “not hard…but real”—and so while I wouldn’t say it was too intense, it required some emotional stamina and fortitude. It was a good growth experience. And healing for Maya and me, both, I guess.

So, Dean and Maya. How has your relationship to those two crazy kids changed over the course of writing the three books? Do you feel like writing their relationship affected you as a person?

Ha ha. These kids! Having written the entire series, I kind of do look at them as a form of kids! Ushering them here, there, trying to get them to listen to what I’m telling them to do and yet watching them do whatever they want as characters tend to do (punks). J Initially, they were hugely connected to me. Maya was a lot of me, and Dean—while not the guy I just mentioned in your last question—had taken little specks of influence from him. However, by book two, Maya had grown and morphed tremendously. She was a real person to begin with, and then she was tackling all these awesome things in ways that inspired me. Dean, meanwhile, was no longer the man I originally pictured him as. He was growing, too, with several character traits that both excited me and would never work for me in a man in real life. That was interesting to work with…but also great for me in a growth manner. Taking them from the real life experience they were based on and progressing them forward, then even further, made them more complicated and intriguing. I think it strengthened my writing, too—and, perhaps weirdly, what I find attractive in relationships in real life.

However, while their progression developed them and me, I actually feel more separated from them now than I did at first. Maybe it’s because they ran their full course in my head? We have spent some good quality time together, these kids and me, for sure…but I feel like they made it exactly where they needed to be, and that’s good. That feels good.

What is it about Dean that made him super, dreamy appealing to you as a hero?

Besides his stunning dark features? (Because those usually win me over.) Initially, I loved that dominant edge. I found that sexy in the period I wrote the book, but I have long loved men who are a bit on the playful side, too. In fact, that is what appeals to me most in Dean, throughout the series. I like playful people. However, I also loved that he had his shit together. He knew what he wanted. He was direct. These are all traits that turn me on in real life, so I was happy to provide that as companionship for Miss Maya.

If you could have a little heart to heart with Maya, what would you tell her (bearing in mind that you’re kind of her mama, since you created her).

Ahh. This is such a sweet question! Hmmm. I think I would say, “Baby girl, you’re going to grow. You’re going to change. Sometimes, it’s gonna hurt. But you’re going to be stronger, and you’re going to find everything you’re seeking, in time, both in your heart and in your soul. Freedom—in every way? It’s yours. Just let your heart run free.”

I was fortunate to be one of your beta readers on this book, so I’ve seen it morph and change and deepen over the process of your writing it. Does it read, now, like what you imagined in your head? Or did it become something new and unexpected? Did the novel ever surprise you?

And I LOVE YOU to pieces for that! You were such a wonderful beta reader, I can’t get over how helpful you were. Thank you a million times over! As to the book, it’s so much better than it was when it started. I mean, I loved it to begin with, and then I had fabulous feedback from you and Tamsin Flowers, and it got even better. Then came my agent and editor (and more with my editor) and it’s definitely grown into a stronger book. I think it was always a little bit “deeper” than a light and fluffy erotic romance, for me, and through all the edits it’s grown more valuable in that regard, in my opinion. It’s richer, in many ways.

Your prose style is very dreamy and lyrical – was that ever a conscious choice, or did it develop naturally? Do you ever feel like your poetry colors your prose?

I love that you describe it that way! I feel that way too…and I’m not sure how that happened, but yes, I think it goes back to my early poetry, in high school, for sure. I was constantly writing about my pain with the boys I was dating (oh, the drama), and I had all these symbols I liked to use then—roses and petals and drowning flowers and such. (Like I said, oh, the drama.) In time it grew more flowy…somehow a bunch of water elements started getting worked in, and it came together somehow. I get a little trance-like when I write, and I like to feel like I’m getting swept along in my work, so I think that may be helping it translate to the page, especially with all the poetry writing.

Channing Tatum or Hugh Jackman? Now. Go. Don’t think. Gun to your head. Channing or Hugh?

NOOOOoooooo! I have to choose? Crap. Um….okay, Hugh. For sure. Channing has some AMAZING moves (we both saw Magic Mike 1 and 2, hello), but I’ve always had eyes for Hugh. He’s the whole package. Granted, I fell for him as Wolverine but then discovered his tap dancing song-singing goodness (also, those abs) and I’m 100% convinced that while he’s married, it’s his starter marriage. He’s obviously practicing for me. Jade Jackman sounds incredible, doesn’t it?

Maya’s relationship to Selby is really strong and very well developed. How important was it to you that their friendship occupy a healthy slice of the emotional real estate in this book?

I love my friends. I cherish you people to death. I am also extremely loyal to those I love, and will pretty much do anything for these people. So, Maya of course needed to have that connection to someone. Selby is a beautiful mix of a couple wonderful women I know, and I loved getting to play Maya—who’s had a rough go—alongside perfectly domestic and sweetheart Selby, especially with her innocent, vanilla past. Their relationship deepened in edits, too, thanks to some comments made by my editor, and I love how their connection flourished in later editions. Friends are important, and The Assignment couldn’t solely be about Maya and her romantic interest all the time. Oh, and fun fact—one of our rejections along the way was that the book seemed to have a lot to do with Maya and Selby. I laughed that one off, because I wanted her to be a whole person with rich friendships.

If you couldn’t paint your toenails blue, what color would you paint them?

Ha ha. I am pretty obsessed with blue toenails, aren’t I? (Which is funny since my favorite color is red and I refuse to paint my toenails red.) I guess purple? But the flower on the big toes is a critical piece, as you know!

You’ve told me that way high on your list of places to go is the Galapagos Islands. Why the Galapagos Islands? I’ve always wondered.

Really? That’s funny. I love tropical and/or island destinations. Always have, always will. Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Curaçao, Greece, Rovinj—these were places I went and treasured, that definitely surpassed Paris and most of my stops in Italy. I liked those trips, but I love the water, sun, and sky. I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that the Galapagos Islands were soon going to get blocked from tourism to preserve the animal life there, and I decided I needed to visit before that happened. I wanted to see the life and enjoy the tropical elements. You know what’s weird, though, about my tropical destination obsession? I hate being in direct sun because I burn too easily and run too hot, I am allergic to mosquitos (I get huge quarter sized bites and they love eating me alive), and I’m not a swimmer. So basically I enjoy these trips and have some definite moments of suffering, usually while under an umbrella on a beach for no more than an hour at a time. And covered in light fabric!

Okay, I know you don’t like champagne (I will never understand this) so what did you drink to celebrate the release of The Assignment?

I can’t even believe I didn’t drink anything but coconut milk lattes that day. How did that happen?! If I had enjoyed a drink, though, I would have gone for sambuca or a whiskey sour.

What do you absolutely love about this book? (I know how critical of yourself you are, so this question is really just a poorly disguised attempt to make you say nice things about you).

Jeezus. Thanks, lady, no pressure…hmm… Okay, I love that this book made me a stronger writer, and that I got to carry it farther than one single book. I love Maya’s growth—I feel like her path through both book one and the whole Lessons in Control series was inspiring (at least for me!). And I honestly love a couple sex scenes in there, a ton. Yes, I adore writing real people with real personalities solving real problems…but I do write erotica for a reason! I enjoyed watching Maya grow through her sexual experiences with Dean.

Oh, and that rain scene. You know how much I love the rain scene, and I will never shut up about how much I love the rain scene!

Thank you so much for having me over today, Malin, and for these beautiful questions—plus our beautiful friendship. MUAH!

 

For more on The Assignment, visit Jade’s official site. And to buy the sexy first installment in the Lessons of Control series, head over to the usual suspects, click and enjoy. 

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

iBooks

Kobo

Review: For the Men & The Women Who Love Them

I’ve been looking forward to reading For the Men and the Women Who Love Them, Rose Caraway’s newest anthology, for months. Now that things on are slowing down as Christmas approaches, I’ve had a few evenings free to read for fun, which is great because it’s the perfect time of year for fun (in both written and unwritten forms), even better when the fun makes a sneaky, subversive point.

The thing I love about Rose Caraways’s anthologies is that they combine balls to the wall, sexy fun with a real social consciousness. The Sexy Librarian believes in sex positivity for all – cis, queer, male, female, trans, old, young, feminists, humanists, conservatives, liberals, proud sluts, monogamous lovers…in other words, pretty much everyone. As a result, she brings a remarkable amount of empathy and positivity to the anthologies she narrates and edits.

For the Men is classic Rose Caraway in that way. I don’t usually say this about erotica anthologies, but seriously, read the introduction. It’s an empowering essay in support of a guy’s right to enjoy erotica just as much as women do – an idea that should be a no brainer, but  is still met with a surprising amount of stigma. Rose Caraway’s passion for inclusive sexuality shines out hard in that introduction, and it sets the perfect tone for the rest of the anthology.

It’s tough to pick a favorite in For the Men, especially when a huge chunk of my favorite authors are in the list of contributors. The Table of Contents literally reads like an all-star list of kick-ass veterans and shiny up-and-comers. Allan Dusk’s freaky, funky, genre-bending fuck fest is like nothing I’ve ever read, which means it’s vintage Allan Dusk. If you’ve never read him before, A. you should and B. “Wayward Drift” is a pretty great place to start.

“73A”, and adorable repair man fantasy by Jade A. Waters has been a favorite of mine since she let me read the first draft (not sure if I should even be admitting to that, but she’s my best friend so whatever. I’d love it even if she weren’t). Same with Tamsin Flowers’s “Rope Burn”. God, that woman knows her stuff. The fact that she can write about sexy barrel racers in a way that makes this city girl sit up is a testament to her talent.

Adrea Core’s gorgeously lush “Dance For Me” brings cage dancing and submission to a completely feline and intuitive conclusion, while Charlie Powell’s “Winning Big” is a sexy, empathetic and deeply touching portrait of the ex that complicates your present as much as your past. I’m not quite sure how to begin describing how much I enjoyed Rachel de Vine’s “The Hitchhiker” but what I can say is that I would love to see more of Hermes and Miss Jezebel in the future. And then there’s “Labyrinth” by Emmanuelle de Maupassant. Oh, this story…monsters, mazes…it’s a lovely, masterful, deeply erotic nod to Greek mythology, and I loved it.

There are so many beauties in here – while the stories I mentioned above are the one’s I especially loved, every single contributor brought it, and the result is an anthology that anyone could love. It’s a truly inclusive collection, one that I could see men enjoying on their own or with their partners. It’s a hell of an achievement and no surprise that Rose Caraway pulled it off and then some.

For the Men and the Women Who Love Them is available in print and ebook from Amazon and Amazon UK, and in audio (narrated by Rose Caraway) at Audible.com.

New Release: Coming Together Under the Mistletoe

I’m one of those people who has six pairs of Christmas socks tucked away in a drawer, waiting for December 1st, (I’m wearing a pair covered in penguins wearing Santa hats right now).  I listen to start listening to Christmas carols when the pie comes out on Thanksgiving, and I kind of, maybe, totally know A Muppet Christmas Carol by heart. I love Christmas – not for the presents (though who doesn’t like presents) – but for what it tends to bring out in people.

Christmas, and the holidays in general, are a kind of universal signal to give a little more, be a little more kind, and to try to make being a human being as nice as possible, even if only for a few weeks in the middle of the cold, dark winter. Doing something for others is a big part of that, so when Delilah Night asked if I would donate a story to a Christmas anthology to benefit Project Linus, I said absolutely yes.

Project Linus supplies kids and families in need with blankets. It seems like a small thing, but if you’ve ever seen a little person snuggled up safe under a blanket that’s been loved to literal pieces, you know that small things actually mean quite a lot.

For every copy of Under the Mistletoe that gets sold, Coming Together will make a donation to Project Linus, which means that you get to do something good for humanity, and read top shelf seasonal erotica all at once. What’s not to love about that?

“Green Lady”, my story in Coming Together Under the Mistletoe, is a throwback to the Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a story packed with ordeals surrounding a lady and a deeply corruptible knight. Naturally, it’s an ideal contender for an erotic adaptation.

I’m including a small snippet as a lure (kids need blankets, remember?), so if you like what you read, please do consider buying the whole anthology. I’ll include buy links, as well as an opportunity to win a free copy below.

from “The Green Lady” by Malin James:

She enters without knocking, very quietly, so that he might pretend to be asleep. They often do, and so does he, but she knows his sleep is feigned. She can see his eyes flickering beneath pale lids fringed by lashes as thick as a girl’s. The effect is so sweet that she smiles. His pretense of sleep and pretty face defy the scars that mark his hands. He has hands like her husband’s, and a face like hers used to be.

She knows her role so well that she could play it in her sleep. And yet, as she bends over the bed, she feels a swell of arousal that she hasn’t felt in years. She kisses his cheeks, relishing the brush of his beard against her lips before moving to his brows and mouth. He stirs unconvincingly, like a boy caught in a dream. She chuckles in spite of herself. The tension coming off him shatters any illusion of sleep.

Normally, she would have roused him with every appearance of virtue. But her arousal makes her impatient. Watching him carefully, she draws the covers back and climbs up on the bed. He shifts as she straddles him, but does not open his eyes, so she moves aside the folds of her robe so her skin touches his.

Get That Book!

Click HERE for the free Amazon Giveaway, while it lasts!

If you miss the giveaway, Coming Together Under the Mistletoe is available for purchase in both ebook and paperback formats at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Review: Highland Pursuits by Emmanuelle de Maupassant

because-beards-coverI read “Highland Pursuits”, Emmanuelle de Maupassant’s contribution to Because Beards, a charity anthology that benefits The Movember Foundation, a few weeks ago, and I have to say that I gobbled it up.

de Maupassant’s novel, The Gentleman’s Club, as well as her collection, Cautionary Tales, established her as a singular voice in the erotica, as did her tireless work surveying erotica writers on all aspects of the genre and craft. She’s become, in a very short time, one of erotica’s leading authorities and champions, so the bar is set quite high on anything she writes. Unsurprisingly, she not only meets but exceeds all expectations once again with “Highland Pursuits”.

Emmanuelle de Maupasant’s erotica is truly different – intelligent, cheeky, sexy and full of the sly charm, qualities that are especially on display in “Highland Pursuits”. It’s as if Stella Gibbons (who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, a snarky, hilarious romp through the English countryside in the 1920’s) had written an erotic romance, with it’s sophisticated, modern girl shipped off to the wilds to make her way.

And yet, for all its tongue-in-cheekiness, the main character truly is modern in that she allows herself different sexual experiences without guilt or shame. By the time the story comes full circle to its properly romantic ending, you have the sense that she has become a young woman in full possession of herself and that any marriage she makes will be one in which she can autonomously enjoy both her own sexuality and that of her husband.

Based on the strength of “Highland Pursuits” I’m greatly looking forward to reading the rest of the collection now that it’s released, all the more so for it’s raising funds for, and awareness of, men’s health issues. Emmanuelle de Maupassant is one of my favorite authors writing in this genre, and I’m pleased to say that my estimation of her grows with every story I read. She is brilliant and different in the best of ways. If you’re looking for “erotica for the discerning mind” she cannot be bested.

Benefit research for men’s healthy issues and Buy Because Beards! It’s available in ebook form at Amazon and Amazon.uk

On Hidden Power: Lana Fox & Maddie Aflame!

News, News, News!

The Swallowing Mansion, Maddie Aflame! Book 1 is now available!

 Not to get all bossy and pushy, but GO BUY IT NOW! You can find it at Amazon, Amazon UK, and at Go Deeper Press.

 And now, for the final post in the Maddie, Aflame! series…

maddieaflamecover300For this final post on Lana Fox’s newly released series, Maddie Aflame!, I want to focus on one of the story’s strongest messages—finding power in weakness.

It won’t spoil anything to say that Maddie struggles with more than an oppressive government with an conservative agenda. She has Combustion Syndrome, a disease that, when triggered, causes her body to combust from the inside out. While the ability to heal is part of the Syndrome, episodes leave her burned and weak, and are, quite honestly, a little terrifying.

By the time the book opens, Maddie has become hyperaware of what triggers the Syndrome and why, but the its aggression has caused Maddie to shrink into herself and fear what is, essentially, an integral part of her body. It doesn’t help that Combustion Syndrome is widely viewed as an affliction and misfortune. It’s certainly not seen as an asset. But, in a lovely turn of fate, the disease that she fears and considers her greatest weakness, may be the only thing that will help her save the people she loves.

As Maddie progresses through the book, she learns to stop fearing the disease and draw strength from it. Sex plays a large role in this and, as she awakens sexually, she finds incomparable power not only in the Syndrome, but in the many ways she can wield it as a defense. She just needs to learn to trust herself.

Maddie’s relationship to Combustion Syndrome also mirrors the struggles faced by the queer community in the series. When the book opens, being LGBTQ makes you vulnerable to attack and victimization. In fact, being queer is seen as a weakness to be exploited and eradicated. But…the vulnerability that comes with being queer in this world is also a source of strength, just like Maddie’s disease.

The sense of strength and unity that the LGBTQ community forms in response to its vulnerability is one of its greatest strengths. In fact, it’s that reactive inner strength that pushes Aud, Raj, Pike and Maddie to tap deep wells of compassion, and it’s that compassion that allows them to fight back.

It’s a useful message for all of us because we all have things that make us feel weak, or vulnerable or at a disadvantage. Life would be much easier if none of us were different, or had challenges to contend with. But we would also be missing opportunities to exercise strengths we didn’t know we had. As a journey of discovery for Maddie, it’s a wonderful lesson for everyone, and the fact that it’s wrapped up in a sexy, fast-paced, cracking adventure, make it all the better.

Other Posts in the Maddie Aflame! series:

On Queer Marginalization: Lana Fox & Maddie Aflame!

On Conformity & Defiance: Lana Fox & Maddie Aflame!

Ghosts, Tech  & Swallowing Mansions: Lana Fox & Maddie Aflame!

 

 

Ghosts, Tech & Swallowing Mansions: Lana Fox & Maddie Aflame!

maddieaflamecover300In my last post on Lana Fox’s new series for Go Deeper Press, Maddie Aflame!, I talked about how sexual fluidity and identity are woven into different aspects for the story. For that post, I focused on the characters, their sexual and gender identities, and their relationships to each other. This time around, I want to focus on the world those characters inhabit.

I’ve written before about how hostile and rigid Maddie’s society is. Right at the outset, the novel’s greatest threat is the systematic assimilation and eradication of LGBTQ citizens. Lana Fox’s dystopia draws deeply from gritty urban fantasies while maintaining a light in the darkness through its characters and their relationships. Yes, magic and tech are used against queer people, but they are also wielded by those same people in defense of themselves and those they love.

So, let’s start with tech. For all that spirituality plays a serious role in the story, technology is right there beside it, helping the protagonists navigate their hostile environment. The tech that appears in Maddie Aflame! is either put to destructive use by the government (think viruses, mind manipulation, and surveillance), or it’s used by the protagonists for protection and communication. This balanced portrayal of everything technology can be, from a literal lifesaver to a tool of oppression, forces the reader to take it on contextual terms, something Lana Fox also asks you to do with its characters.

In a world with sentient buildings and conditions like Combustion Syndrome, where science and spirituality are woven through life in equal measure, ghosts play an interesting role. Maddie’s mother’s ghost comes to her to warn her at various points. Another character hears ghosts and can talk to them. One of the protagonists chooses spiritual over corporeal form. Ghosts are afforded more rights and protections that living queer citizens, and all the while, they represent the societal no man’s land queer people inhabit in the physical world.

In fact, ghosts and spirits gorgeously highlight a number of things in Maddie Aflame!

The ghosts underscore the fluidity I talked about in the last post. Maddie and her friends blur the lines of traditional relationship structures, binary sexual orientations and gender identities. Likewise, the ghosts blur the lines between two static worlds—that of the living, and that of the dead. Their active presence in the story sends the subtle message that not only are the lines of existence blurrier than laws and customs admit, but that bodies (with all of their markers and expectations) are temporary – the soul that occupies the body is what lives on in the world.

And then there’s the sentient mansion. While I don’t want to give too much away, it’s a metaphorical masterstroke that deserves a mention. The mansion, which, for all intents and purposes should be just a normal house, is a feeling, sensing thing, more creature than building, cognitively speaking, as it responds to the emotional state of its occupants. Like magic, tech and ghosts, the mansion bridges a gap and blurs the line between expectation and form to defy its own weaponization, making it not only a compelling character in its own right, but a powerful metaphor for the breaking of traditional worldviews in favor of wider possibility.

In the end, that is one of the most universal messages in the series—that your physical self is not, in reality, a boundary against inhabiting your full self and loving people in the way that is right for every individual relationship. The supernatural elements in Maddie Aflame!, are fabulous allusions that works on every level, particularly because they are woven into the fabric of the world with so much care. The society Maddie lives in is draconian in its adherence to tradition. It makes absolute sense that shadows of an alternate way should defy control and drift around its streets.

Stay tuned next week for my final installment of this short series on Lana Fox’s Maddie Aflame! And stay even more tuned for the first book in the series, coming very, VERY soon from Go Deeper Press!

Other posts in the Maddie Aflame! series:

On Queer Marginalization: Lana Fox & Maddie Aflame!

On Conformity & Defiance: Lana Fox & Maddie Aflame!

UPDATE:

Maddie Aflame! Book One: The Swallowing Mansion is now available!

Go Deeper Press

Amazon

Amazon, UK

On Conformity & Defiance: Lana Fox & Maddie, Aflame!

 

maddieaflamecover300In last week’s post about Lana Fox’s upcoming new series, Maddie, Aflame!, I looked at the roles queer marginalization, community and found families play in Maddie’s world. This week, I’d like to springboard off that topic and talk about gender stereotypes and sexual fluidity, and how they play out in Maddie, Aflame! Hell, while we’re at it, let’s talk about fluidity in relationships too.

One of the most interesting things about Maddie, Aflame! is that the tension between rigid conformity and humanistic fluidity is one of the plot’s main drivers. The antagonists go to great lengths, including kidnapping, murder, and torture, to impose a rigidly traditional social structure on the populace. And yet, beneath that structure, individual people reject conformity in favor of boundless self-acceptance and love. It’s that sense fluidity (in gender and emotional / sexual relationships) that ultimately helps our heroes counter the rigid traditions that threaten them.

It’s a bit tricky to talk about without spoilers, so forgive me for being a little circumspect as regards plot. What I will say is that, while the governing body responsible for the kidnapping and oppression of queer citizens tightens it’s net over the course of the book, Maddie and her friends and lovers slowly discover freedom in their conscious lack of conformity.

When we meet her, Aud, a spiritually minded young woman whose sexual identity defies labeling, is in a loving relationship with her boyfriend, a trans guy named Raj. With these beautifully drawn, deeply humanized, stereotype-defying characters, even the expectation of a traditional relationship is undermined when it’s revealed that they’re non-monogamous. And, while this is new for Maddie, they are so accepting and positive that she finds herself falling for them both.

Their relationship, as well as Maddie’s (absolutely fucking lovely) relationship with Pike, another member of their group, opens her eyes to new ways of engaging partners both sexually and emotionally. In Raj and Aud, she finds two people engaged in a healthy non-traditional relationship, while the fact of their queerness poses a real, imminent threat to their safety. And yet, Lana handles their relationships and identities with such grace that their fluidity acts as a counterpoint to the negativity that surrounds them. These are people who defy the stereotypes attached to the queer label by replacing it with love and openness.

This is an important thing. Maddie Aflame! is a damn sexy series, but it’s also a story that I would hand to anyone, including older teens. It depicts LGBTQ characters and alternative relationships in such a warm, accepting way, that it gently, but effectively, makes the point that labels are tools, not identities. Far more important than a label, is the freedom to be who you are and love whoever you love without falling victim to the fear of gender or social conformity.

The fact that Maddie is attracted to Aud and Raj, doesn’t make her attraction to Pike, a cis male, any less plausible. In fact, her relationship to each of them can best be described as “human” in the very best of ways, defying the constraints of gender, sexuality and even the corporeal body.

We hold onto labels to define ourselves, and labels are incredibly useful. But the defiance of concrete labels through sexual and emotional fluidity is a healthy thing, just as healthy as its traditional converse. The themes of identity, defiance and conformity show up in various genres and in various forms, but I’ve never seen them approached through the lens of gender and sexuality with such openness and frank compassion. It’s both supportive and subversive, and that makes it something special.

We need more portrayals of non-traditional relationships in fiction. We need more characters that aren’t defined by easy-to-digest sexual labels. We need variety in story telling that better reflects humanity in all its various forms. In short, we need more advocacy and education and, though not the point of erotica or sexual literature, the fact that it is such a meaty part of Maddie, Aflame! makes me respect both the story, and its author, all the more.

Next week, I’ll be tackling one of my favorite topics in any genre – world building. Stay tuned….

Update:

Maddie Aflame! Book One: The Swallowing Mansion is now available!

Go Deeper Press

Amazon

Amazon, UK

On Queer Marginalization: Lana Fox & Maddie Aflame!

Disclosure:

I’m in the privileged position of not having to promote a project unless I truly believe in it, so when I do promote a novel or series, it’s because I’d be shoving it into people’s hands if I was still worked in a library or bookstore.

Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to read large, addictive chunks of Maddie Aflame!, Lana Fox‘s (a-maze-ing) new work for Go Deeper Press, so I can say with total honesty that I’m a fan. While you may not get Vulcan-level objectivity from me, you can bet that everything I say comes from a place of genuine excitement and admiration.

 

maddieaflamecover300This post is the first in a short series on Lana Fox’s new series, Maddie Aflame! The first book comes out in October, so in the weeks leading up to its release, I’m going to look at some of the ideas and themes Ms. Fox explores in this genre-bending story of a young woman with a dangerous gift.

In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I’m just going to toss some high points at you:

  1. Gorgeously complicated, sexy as fuck characters that break gender stereotypes, sexual stereotypes and all of your grandma’s ideas about what a loving, stable relationship looks like.
  2. A massively oppressive society that values sexual homogeneity more than the safety of its citizens.
  3. Lots of sexy times (in lots of sexy ways).
  4. A mansion that swallows people. No joke.

All of that was enough to pique my interest (especially the mansion. It’s rad), but there’s a lot more to it than sex and hungry houses.

In Maddie Aflame! Lana Fox created a story that draws from the political and cultural realities permeating LBGTQ lives (as well as the cis / straight lives of the people who love and support the LGBTQ community) today. While the story is a sexy, fast-paced adventure through a dystopic, alternate world, the themes that underpin the series reflect serious issues like sexual fluidity, “otherness”, and the struggle to find strength in what the world considers a weakness.

What I especially love about Maddie Aflame!, is that it features something that’s been largely lacking in erotic literature—queer-centered, empowering, inclusive portrayals of characters in their late teens and early twenties. Young adulthood is a challenge, even more so for people who may not conform to societal norms. The fact that Lana Fox tackles those issues here, and did it without sacrificing the book’s compulsive readable-ness is, quite frankly, fucking impressive.

Like I said, I’m a fan.

So, now that you have a spoiler-free sense of the series, I’d like to tackle one of its central themes—queer marginalization and the sense of community that emerges from oppression.

When we meet Maddie, she is fairly alone in a hostile world. She suffers from a dangerous medical condition, her mother’s passed away and her father is gay in a rampantly homophobic society. In this series, LGBTQ people experience everything from institutional and legislative marginalization to violence in the streets. And then they start disappearing.

But inside this social pressure cooker thrive small pockets of community—found families that span every aspect of the LGBTQ spectrum. When Maddie goes on a date with Aud, a girl she’s in a class with, she stumbles into one of these found families and enters into a romantic relationship with Aud and her partner, Raj, that is one of the most supportive and inclusive I’ve ever seen in erotica.

And that’s when everything starts to happen, and Maddie takes her first steps towards freeing both herself from the oppression of her condition, and her society from homophobic repression.

So, here’s what I love about this set-up. The world Maddie lives in is practically defined by queer marginalization. In fact, the overall threat in the series is the eradication and assimilation of LGBTQ citizens. But just as in real life, the marginalized group responds in a beautiful way. Just as with the Stonewall Riots and the early days of AIDS, community becomes a coping strategy and as a strength.

 Marginalization has another effect as well. While oppression is (obviously) meant to weaken a group, small acts of defiance signal a strength that allows emotional and sexual bonds to form—bonds like Maddie’s with her found family of lovers and friends. The fluidity of her relationships with Aud, Raj and their friend, Pike, give Maddie a safe place from which to embark on a rescue mission (see, the people-swallowing house) and explore her body’s ability to generate fire, a condition she’s always seen as a disease.

In a world where magic swallows deviants whole, Lana Fox created the ultimate response—a loving group of people who are committed to each other’s well-being and safety. As in real life, those bonds celebrate the strength inherent to the marginalized community, while underscoring how important it is to take part in and support it.

Next week, I’ll be looking at sexual fluidity and how it informs people and relationships in Maddie Aflame!

Update:

Maddie Aflame! Book One: The Swallowing Mansion is now available!

Go Deeper Press

Amazon

Amazon, UK

New Release: Dollymop

51vle-LgzDLI’m going to be upfront here. Even under the best of circumstances, I’m terrible at promotion. It’s ridiculous – sort of like the professional equivalent of my epic inability to accept a compliment. The problem with that is that when I can’t accept a compliment it’s just awkward for me and the lovely person saying nice things. When I fail on the promotion front, it often means that other writers and their very good work go unacknowledged, and that’s not right. Hence this post.

Nearly three years ago, I submitted a story to Rachel Kramer Bussel for an as-of-yet unnamed anthology themed around female fantasies. I remember rifling through a lot of ideas at the time but what I finally wrote surprised me.

“Dollymop” is about a woman who doesn’t fantasize about fun stuff like threesomes or public sex. She fantasizes about loving herself. Or rather, she fantasizes about loving her bony, too-thin body. She gets fitted for a corset unable to imagine how it could work with her tiny breasts and narrow hips. But it does work. It works beautifully. And the experience changes her relationship with her body in a tactile, sexual way.

“Dollymop” is one of the first erotic stories that I wrote from an openly personal perspective. While it is entirely fictional, the protagonist’s struggle with her body image is one that I’ve had for years. And her experience with corsets mirrors how pivotal they were in my own sexual awakening.

There aren’t many editors who would choose to put a story like “Dollymop” into an erotica anthology, which is why I’m grateful to Rachel Kramer Bussel for including it in Begging for It, recently out with Cleis Press. As with all of her anthologies, the stories run from sweet and reflective to joyfully filthy and everything in between. But what they all have in common is a respect for what women, as individuals, want, and that’s something I am incredibly proud to promote.

Excerpt: from “Dollymop”

“So,” Cat said, as they meandered around the showroom. “If you could be anything, what would it be?”

“Beautiful,” Faye blurted out, before covering her mouth with her hands. Cat stopped walking and looked up at her. Even in her platform boots, Cat was half-a-head shorter than Faye.

“You know you are, right?”

Faye shook her head, mortified.

“No…that’s not what I mean.”

Cat looked at her, waiting, giving her space. If this was part of how she sold corsets, Faye thought, she was very good at her job.

“I mean, that I want to feel beautiful. I want to feel sexy. Like…like a woman, I mean. I’m not…look at me. I’ve got no curves.”

To her utter humiliation, Faye felt like she was going to cry. Cat pulled a little square of silk out of her pocket and handed it to her.

“You know, honey, a corset isn’t going to do that.”

Faye’s heart shrank. Seeing the look on her face, Cat went firmly on.

“Let me start again. What I mean is, a corset can give you curves—hell, it can do things to your body that will make you fall in love—but it can’t make you feel beautiful. You’ve got to do that yourself. Right?”

Faye nodded. “Right. I know.”

“But,” Cat went on with a cheeky grin, “I’ve got something that will goddamn help you get there. The Dollymop.”

“The Dollymop?”

“The Dollymop. C’mon. Take a look.”

Buy the Book!

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy, you can find Begging for It HERE.

 

Call for a Good Cause

I don’t generally share submission calls but I’m making an exception in this case. Delilah Night is putting together a charity anthology for Coming Together to benefit Project Linus, an organization that provides homemade blankets and hats for children in crisis. The anthology is called Under the Mistletoe and it will release this December, just in time for the holidays.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m donating a story to Under the Mistletoe and I’m doing it for two reasons – Delilah Night is putting it together so you know it’s going to be good. More importantly, I think it’s important to give something back, and if helping an organization that provides for kids in crisis isn’t a good thing, I don’t know what is.

So, if you’ve got a winter-themed, hot little something-or-other rattling around in your brain, now’s the time to pull it out. Winter is sexy, the editor is fabulous and the cause is incredibly good. Pop on over to Ms. Night’s site and check out the official call and guidelines. You’ve got til September 1st to get your story in, so get crackin’, baby. Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat. (Yep. Totally had to do that ☺).