Last month, I was lucky enough to share a book launch with Janine Ashbless, one of my favourite erotica writers, at Sh! Womenstore in London.
We read from our new books, chatted to readers, drank lots of bubbly, kindly provided by my publisher, Black Lace, and generally had a wonderful time. (You can read more about the event on Janine’s blog.) Afterwards (and this is where it starts to go wrong), I went to the pub with Zak Jane Kier and later, left behind my own, heavily-annotated reading copy of Undone and Janine’s brand new book.
The very kind barstaff found my books and kept them safe. However, when I returned to collect them a couple of weeks later, I managed to almost lose the damn things twice again in the same evening. Fortunately, I now have both books under lock and key, and Janine is here so we can have a more coherent conversation than any we might have had at our book launch!
Janine, you very kindly signed my newly-bought copy of Cover Him With Darkness at our joint book launch the other week. Since then, over the space of a fortnight, I managed to almost lose the book three times at pubs and takeaways in London and Brighton. Is your book haunted? Does it not want me to read it?
LMAO! More likely it wants to get out there and mug a stranger!
Ha, I do like dangerous books! Cover Him With Darkness is the launch title of Tempted Romance, a new imprint from awesome indy publishers, Cleis Press. Tempted describe themselves as publishing “only the smartest, sweetest romance”. You’re smart, I know that, but – no offence! – I’ve never thought of you or your work as “sweet”. Have you joined the other side?
Good grief no! It’s not sweet. Lots of emotion, yes, but much of it dark and fearful and torn-up, the protagonists battered by betrayal and guilt. Love is the light in the darkness.
You know. Marketing puff is just that.
I know Cleis commissioned you to write this novel because they loved a short story you’d submitted to one of their anthologies, and they wanted you to develop the piece to full-length. When you wrote the short, did it feel like a story with a lot more mileage?
I wrote the short with a totally open ending – about as open as it could possibly be. I didn’t even know who the male protagonist was. So it always felt like the start of … something. But at the time I got a lot of pleasure out of the not-knowing!
To which of your other books is Cover Him With Darkness most similar?
Probably The King’s Viper, at least in tone. Both have got a dark hero, the central relationship is morally problematic, and everyone is having a really rough time except for the moments they’re having sex.
You’re a very visual, descriptive writer. I love the opening to Cover Him With Darkness which you read at Sh! with its emphasis on Azazel’s bound, muscular body and the corresponding grime and physicality of the hard, ancient rock of the cave where he’s imprisoned. Do you have a clear sense of how characters and places look before you start writing? Or are they nebulous? And if so, does the process of writing bring them into being, or maybe concretise them for you? Basically, show me your writer-brain. I’m fascinated.
My writer-brain is completely visual. I picture places, lighting, weather. I run through all dialogue scenes like a director – every tilt of a head or tip of a hand – often mumbling everything to myself and acting it out. Like it’s my own private movie.
The exception is faces. Did you notice my descriptive writing rarely extends to faces? I’m actually pretty face-blind in real life, which can be a real problem. I deal with this in several ways: I might “borrow” real faces from movie stars and paste them on my imagined protags. I might give them strong “hook” features (particularly facial hair, or strange coloured eyes) which I can recognize. Or I might not describe them at all. I actually had little idea what my heroine Milja looked like (except that she had dark hair and eyes) until I found this picture. But that was long after the book was written!
You’ve received some wonderful reviews for Cover Him With Darkness so far. Which one has made you glow the most?
Oh … I’m torn between: “Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, only much better written and with much more sexiness involved.” – Clitical
And: “Janine Ashbless is one hell of a writer. I got so caught up in the story that I couldn’t put the book down. It’s dark and ugly and absolutely beautiful. Really captivating. The kind of book that leaves you feeling exhausted when you finish, and anxious to go back to the beginning and read it all over again. Which I did.“ – Kate Douglas
Which scene in the book is your favourite?
I love the sequence where “nice guy” Egan first meets the fallen angel Azazel, not just because it’s hot ‘n’ dirty, but because it’s full of hidden plot (like the lipstick writing) that will only become visible later in the book and make readers go “Oh!”, and because it completely shreds the nascent relationship between Egan and Milja, forcing them to re-evaluate each other. It’s a pivotal moment.
Cover Him With Darkness is the first book in a potential trilogy – potential because Cleis are waiting to see how sales are before committing to parts two and three. How nerve-wracking is that? Have you started writing part two yet?
The uncertainty is … difficult.
And of course I’ve started writing it!
Thanks Janine. I can’t wait to read, and here’s hoping it’s a trilogy!
Janine Ashbless is a writer of fantasy erotica and steamy romantic adventure – and that’s “fantasy” in the sense of swords ‘n’ sandals, contemporary paranormal, fairytale, and stories based on mythology and folklore. She likes to write about magic and mystery, dangerous power dynamics, borderline terror, and the not-quite-human.
Janine has been seeing her books in print ever since 2000, and her novels and single-author collections now run into double figures. She’s also had numerous short stories published by Black Lace, Nexus, Cleis Press, Ravenous Romance, Harlequin Spice, Storm Moon, Xcite, Mischief Books, and Ellora’s Cave among others. She is co-editor of the nerd erotica anthology Geek Love.
Her work has been described as: “hardcore and literate” (Madeline Moore) and “vivid and tempestuous and dangerous, and bursting with sacrifice, death and love.” (Portia Da Costa)
What happens when the daughter of the village priest falls in love with an archangel banished from heaven? Milja’s heart is struck when she catches a glimpse of the preternaturally beautiful prisoner her father keeps captive beneath his church’s altar. Torn between tradition, loyalty and her growing obsession with the fallen angel, will Milja risk losing her family, and her eternal soul, for the love of this divine being? Janine Ashbless will transport you to a world where good and evil battle for true love.
It’s the final day of my month-long blog tour to promote my latest book, Undone. I’m at Anna Sky’s, discussing women’s apparent preference for erotica over porn. A national newspaper asked me to write on this topic yesterday but offered zero payment. However, I would, they said, get exposure. So I declined because I think this practice sucks. Then I wrote a piece anyway.
Please check it out! I’m desperate for the exposure!
Add to your Goodreads list
Justine Elyot is with me today, bringing a bit of bling to my blog and recalling the trailblazing days of our awesome publisher, Black Lace. I love Justine’s fun, upbeat approach to erotica. There’s something distinctly British about her work that goes beyond mere location and language. She writes with wry humour and creates relatable, down-to-earth and enthusiastically horny characters. Diamond is the first in her new trilogy for Black Lace, and I’m greatly looking forward to the read. Take it away, Justine!
Diamonds and Black Lace
I’m delighted to be here with Kristina Lloyd, who is my stablemate at Black Lace…but I did promise not to talk about the pony play, so perhaps I should move away from that angle.
But, no. Hang on. Why should I? If I want to write about pony play, and somebody else wants to read about it, what’s stopping us?
Quite a lot, actually.
I know pony play is niche and, for the record, I have never written a pony play scene myself. But that’s not because I think it’s dreadful and unacceptable. I’ve read and enjoyed a fair bit of pony play erotica (Molly Weatherfield’s Carrie’s Story springs to mind – recommended; do give it a go). I sincerely doubt that I could publish it anywhere but Kindle Direct or Smashwords, though.
Well, wasn’t it ever thus, you might ask? Hasn’t erotica always been the preserve of self-publishing and dodgy fly-by-nights?
No, not necessarily, because the venerable Nexus imprint had long been on hand to supply what Wikipedia describes as ‘sado-masochistic pornography written mostly for men’, and in the 1990s it was joined by a sister imprint, Black Lace. Black Lace’s remit was pretty revolutionary for the time – deftly mission-statemented as ‘by women for women’, it was the first label to deal exclusively with erotica that explored female sexuality.
And it did exactly that. Women were able to buy top-shelf material without the traditionally embarrassing, and sometimes rather threatening, packaging. Instead of page after page about the female (sex doll) character’s big tits or juicy ass, the focus was on the female gaze. It was fantastic and, in my naivete, I really thought it meant society was moving on from its unholy terror of women’s sexuality.
If you wanted luscious kink, there was Portia Da Costa’s Entertaining Mr Stone. If you were in the mood to indulge yourself in fantasties of sinful years-gone-by there was Anna Lieff Saxby’s Lord Wraxall’s Fancy. If your tastes ran to the edgy and literary, Kristina was your woman with her Asking for Trouble. And if (like me) you could handle all three, and more – well, you had found your late night reading home.
It was amazing. And then it ended.
But now it’s started again, under the 50 Shades shadow, beneath which a thousand little mushrooms of billionaire romance have sprung up. During its absence, the erotica scene has changed. ‘More romance, and make it aspirational’ is the order of the day. Exploration of female sexuality is plum back out of fashion. Knitting and baking are where it’s at.
So I have to be thankful for a publisher that doesn’t ask me to cut the anal sex scenes (because, of course, no nice, normal woman could possibly enjoy it).
Long live Black Lace and all who drape themselves in her!
(Incidentally, Wikipedia still lists Black Lace as defunct.)
I will now prove the actual existence of Black Lace by giving you an excerpt from my new Black Lace book, Diamond.
She poured herself a glass of Merlot and she was sitting on the broad windowsill, sipping it and looking out into the weedy front garden, when Leonardo came into the room.
She almost double took.
Jesus, he scrubbed up well. He scrubbed up a lot more than well.
His hair shone like polished conkers, matching his melting eyes. She wanted to go over and bury her nose in it, knowing it would smell divinely of her expensive shampoo. But that wasn’t all she wanted to do. His face, now clean and shaved, seem to actually shine. It was pale but as full-lipped and high-cheekboned as some exotic angelic creature painted by a Renaissance master. He reminded her of a portrait she’d seen by Pietro Perugino – an older version of that melancholy-eyed young man.
But he was taller and broader and undoubtedly fully developed, and she found herself transfixed by his forearms, sinewy and powerful – one of them sporting an amateurish tattoo that she couldn’t quite make out from this distance.
The clothes fitted well, having that telltale recently-unfolded look such new garments always did. He had not put any socks on, though, and stood in the doorway barefoot, gripping the top of the splintering frame so that she could see his long, surprisingly delicate fingers splayed across the peeled paintwork. His nails still bore little crescents of black deep down – paint, she supposed.
His stance was almost aggressively masculine, and she had to remember to breathe before saying, ‘Help yourself to wine.’
‘I’ll do, then, will I?’ he said, staying put for another moment.
She thought that he was displaying himself to her, but then she dismissed it. He was young and unearthly-beautiful. What would he want with her?
‘The clothes fit well,’ was all she could come up with.
‘Yeah. Not sure they’re my style but…’
‘What is your style?’
She smiled and he walked over to where the wine bottle stood on the floor with an empty glass beside it.
‘Ghetto,’ he said shortly, picking up the bottle. ‘Not so fabulous.’
I don’t know about that.
‘I’m not sure if I like wine,’ he said, sniffing at the bottle neck. ‘Never had it before.’
‘Nope. I’m a superstrength lager man myself. As long as it’s on special.’ He poured himself a glass. ‘Gets you the most pissed for the cheapest price,’ he elaborated, with a combative look in her direction.
He was trying to tell her who he was, she realised. He was giving her a get-out clause. I am who I am. Take it or leave it.
‘Wine is nice. I don’t usually indulge, but I can call this a housewarming, I suppose. Try it. Go on.’
‘Why don’t you?’ he asked, filling his glass to the brim. ‘Don’t you like drinking?’ He had to sip a bit off the top to prevent spilling it.
‘I like it. I just try not to like it too much.’
She came over and sat on the mattress, hoping he would do the same.
Thank you for reading – the book is available now from all sorts of places, including The Book Depository:
Social media means we get to see a lot more of people’s day to day lives than we used to. And many of us in the erotica writing community have watched on as fellow writer, Sommer Marsden, deals with her husband’s cancer battle, displaying candour, determination, frustration and even her trademark humour. Today, writers are rallying round with a Snog for Sommer to raise money and show our support.
Please visit the Smut for Good page to find out more, to donate if you can, and to check out some of the other authors who are contributing a kiss for the cause.
Below is an excerpt from my newly released book, Undone. Sol and Lana are in the woodland on the morning after the night before. A man they had a threesome with is dead. During the threesome, Sol had avoided kisses since his lip was bust from a tennis injury. Here, Lana is craving the taboo intimacy of Sol’s broken lip.
I’m giving away a paperback copy so comment below (‘Me please!’ is enough!) or RT with the hashtag #undonelips to be in with a chance of winning.
I sniffed and nodded, easing back as Sol released his grip. I dusted the tear splashes on his T-shirt. ‘Sorry,’ I croaked.
‘No need.’ He smoothed my hair from my face and gazed down. Under his jutting brow, his once-twinkly eyes were now smudged with concern. The split on his lip sagged, a taut polished bead of bruises and blood. The injury seemed so decadent, a flagrant display of sensuality and excess bordering on the sordid. I wanted to kiss him there but doing so was forbidden. I might hurt him or open up the wound. And foolish to kiss where blood could spill into my mouth.
That his lips were off-limits made me desire to touch him there all the more. I raised my face higher, seeking and offering, my breath quivering with suppressed sobs. But I bottled out. Instead, I grated my lips over the rough, harsh stubble of his jaw, trying to inhale him. That was safer. I tasted my tears on my lips and I brushed harder, nibbling, kissing, smearing my saltiness against him, murmuring half-words of sadness. I couldn’t stop. The scouring on my lips was addictive.
I liked to think I was shredding tender skin on the burn of his bristles; that he was ripping me at the molecular level so the kissing, murmuring wreckage of me would lodge with him unseen.
I edged closer to his lips. Wasn’t it even more foolish not to kiss him there? A man was stone-cold dead. In the scheme of things, what did minor transgressions matter? Who cared about taking a chance on civility and health? So what if I tried and he was repulsed? Because wasn’t this, right now, what mattered most; this seizing of messy moments undaunted by a wagging finger?
I gazed up at him, and I wanted to vanish into his eyes. The hand cupping my head coiled my hair into a gentle fist and, oh, sweet, dirty joy, his cock nudged against my hip. A thick, slow beat throbbed between my thighs, three distinct pulses that wetted and widened me. I opened my mouth as if I were about to eat thin air. With great care, I reached up to take his injury in a soft, moist hold. As tenderly as I could, I ran my tongue tip over the taut, cracked plumpness.
A noise snagged in his throat.
I pulled back, concerned. ‘Does it hurt?’
‘Everywhere.’ His voice was a throaty whisper. ‘But I can’t feel it.’
When Lana Greenwood attends a glamorous house party she finds herself tempted into a ménage à trois. But the morning after brings more than just regrets over fulfilling a fantasy one night stand. One of the men she’s spent the night with is discovered dead in the swimming pool. Accident, suicide or murder, no one is sure and Lana doesn’t know where to turn. Can she trust Sol, the other man, an ex-New Yorker with a dirty smile and a deep desire to continue their kinky game?
Two things I adore: Alison Tyler and writers talking about writing. And today, I’m lucky enough to have both! Wrapped Around Your Finger is out now in the US from Cleis and shares a UK Black Lace release date with my own book,Undone, tomorrow, 11 September. Here’s Alison, telling us how she works:
Wrapped Around Your Finger is the third novel in what has become my “Submission Series” but what began as a blog post a day. For 18 months, I worked on the story. I don’t sleep much anyway. I slept less while writing this series. Every song I heard on the radio became a potential soundtrack. Scents sent me back in time. Colors were brighter.
I remember both the stress and the freedom of sitting down each morning and slamming out a scene. I thought about the story all the time. Unlike a short piece or a stand-alone novel—which I tend to wrap up after a few days, a week, or a few months— this tale had no end planned. I lived and breathed the words every day.
The first post went up in August of 2006. The desire to wrangle 500,000 words into novel format remained for years simply a fantasy (or possibly a nightmare). How does one take 2000 pages and divide them into novel-sized sections that make sense? The concept was too daunting at first, and I hid from the idea until Cleis asked if I was still interested in writing novels.
But this series was unlike any of my other novels because the words were already there. I simply had to edit the fuck out of them. When you write a blog post a day, you can trust you have not overused a specific word. When you put all of the pieces together, you learn a lot about yourself as a writer. Or at least, I did.
I found pet words and phrases that I didn’t know I owned. Which means that I edited these books to their limits. The most thrilling note I’ve received ever as a writer was this one from Cleis’ copy editor:
I meant to mention in passing: I think I noticed this last time around, with Torment– it’s gratifying to see, going through the document, that Tyler used the opportunity to pare back her own language very effectively–word cuts that might’ve been presumptuous coming from me, but make the text so much more direct and tight. And not a single typo or added spaces, as usually happens when (usually individual contributors) start rewriting. She’s a pro!
The books as they stand are Dark Secret Love, The Delicious Torment, and Wrapped Around Your Finger. I still have 300,000 words to whip into shape.
Wish me luck.
Alison Tyler has been called “a trollop with a laptop” by the East Bay Express, “a literary siren” by Good Vibrations, and “a hell of a writer” by Violet Blue. She is the editor of more than seventy-five anthologies for publishers including Pretty Things Press, Cleis, Plume, and Harlequin. Her novels include Dark Secret Love, The Delicious Torment and Wrapped Around Your Finger, which is the third in the “Submission Series” published by Cleis Press. Visit her at alisontyler.blogspot.com and follow her at twitter.com/alisontyler.