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Expanding on an Idea
From Three Women: The New Kid
You Know What?
MATT BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE
From "Peep Show"
Waxing the Thing
From Perv -- A Love Story
Bed of Leaves
DAN TAULAPAPA McMULLIN
When the Student Is Ready
M J ROSE
From Lip Service
The Man Who Ate Women
That's Awful, That's Nothing
ROSALIND CHRISTINE LLOYD
In This Corner
And Early to Rise
Series editor and self-proclaimed "sexpert" Susie Bright brings erotica into the mainstream by tapping into the Internet (a hotbed of erotic writing), as well as magazines, journals, and books published in Y2K, to make The Best American Erotica 2001 one of the most astonishing and eclectic collections ever. Barnes & Noble.com had the opportunity to speak with Bright about childhood, sex, fiction, power, and the qualities of first-rate erotica.
Barnes & Noble.com: What was the first piece of erotic literature that really impressed you?
Susie Bright: I have to divide that into two sections: my childhood impressions of sexy literature, which blew my mind, because I was such a goody-two-shoes, and then my "older-and-wiser" impressions, which I would say started after I was 16.
When I was a kid, even a steamy romance novel could scandalize and arouse me. I remember reading pulp novels,John Updike, and stories in Playboy, and the fact that they all used "dirty words" made me think of them in the same camp. I was very secretive and deliberate about finding these kind of "adult" fictions -- left alone in a new house, I would search people's bookshelves to find their sex books
When I became a more sophisticated reader, I was introduced to Henry Miller, via Kate Millet, and really, I have her to thank for discovering The Story of O as well. I also lived in Los Angeles, where Charles Bukowski was writing a column for the L.A. Free Press, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, and I thought he was terrific. Later I discovered Anaïs Nin, and a number of the counterculture feminist authors who were reinventing erotica in the 1970s.
B&N.com: Why did you decide that there needed to be a collection of the best American erotica? Did you think that it would be so successful?
SB: The early erotic renaissance in the mid-80s was very ghettoized -- lesbians over in one corner, gay men in another, straight men and women in separate camps, etc. That was so annoying -- I knew that wasn't the way people's erotic imaginations worked.
I also thought erotic fiction, done well, was as influential and important as any fiction an author could compose. It's a very telling sign of the times, what people have to say about sexuality and their lives in a given year.
Yes, I thought it would do well, but that's because I think everyone loves a good story, and loves sexual revelation, both of which are strong elements of this collection.
B&N.com: Are there specific elements that a story needs to have in order for it to make it into one of your collections, or do you simply go with your gut instinct?
SB: My "gut instinct" is actually based on an awful lot of years of reading and editing erotica. I always had a feel for what I thought was good, an eye for talent, but that disposition has gotten quicker and sharper since I first began.
I'm looking for great stories with a compelling erotic ingredient. The writing really comes first; I don't look for specific sexual content. I like to be surprised.
B&N.com: Do you try to balance gay stories with straight stories, or do you simply pick the best?
SB: Oh, I have to balance, because the tradition of gay men's erotic literature is much stronger than any other group of authors. Gay men have had their own genre of erotic fiction, short story and novel, for decades, and they were never suppressed by the conventional taboo about combining intelligence, poetry, and sex.
In that sense, the competition for gay-p.o.v. stories is much more stiff for BAE, because I get so many more great stories than I can choose.
I don't make it an exact "even" balance, because that would drive me crazy. Also, there are some stories that just don't fit easily into labels, thank goodness. There are stories that concern a solo experience, there are others that have some many characters twisting and turning their sexual preferences that you can hardly keep up with them. Also, some gay authors like to write "straight" sex, and vice versa. What I aim for is an engrossing variety, like a really good box of chocolates!
B&N.com: In your decision to include a story in your book, how much depends on whether that story fits in with the collection as a whole?
SB: Every once in a while, I'll have two or three stories, which amazingly are very similar in their specific subject. One year I liked three stories I read that involved making an omelet as a plot point. That was bizarre. In that case, it would be distracting to have more than one in the book; everyone would wonder if I'd become some sort of an egg freak.
So yes, the book is a composition, and I want it to have a certain feeling as a whole rather than just a list of parts. But it's a subtle composition, I don't impose themes like "this year, everyone has to include the color blue!" or nonsense such as that.
B&N.com: Do you ever like a story but decide to reject it because it is too graphic?
SB: No! That would go against my whole vision for erotica. No writing is bad because it is "explicit"; it can only fail if it is written badly.
B&N.com: How has The Best American Erotica developed through the years, and how is this collection different from previous ones?
SB: The obvious difference is that the pool of published talent is much larger than it was in 1993, when we began the series. I would say my reading for the series has increased tenfold. The competition is tougher, and also, genre mixing has become very popular -- erotic mysteries, erotic horror, erotic romance, etc.
I suppose the big question is are the writers better than they were, or is the ratio of great to not-so-great the same? I think the fact that larger numbers of both pro and novice writers are considering erotic writing has been in the series' favor. However, truly awesome erotic writers don't arrive on the scene in trends. They are pretty much miracles in any time they appear.
B&N.com: Most of the characters in The Best American Erotica 2001 seem guilt free and take almost an aggressive stance towards their rights as sexual beings (except for "Peep Show"). Does this have to do with your choices as an editor or do you feel that this is the nature of erotic/fantasy writing?
SB: The era of Portnoy's Complaint truly is over. The contemporary erotic writer doesn't employ much guilt or apprehension to make her point anymore.
"Peep Show" was an anomaly in the material I reviewed, not in its guilt factor, but rather that it has a heterosexual man's intimate point of view about sex and his life.
I don't want characters to be "cheerleaders" for sex. I'm just as likely to be attracted to a shy or ambivalent character. I'm rather turned off, actually, to erotic collections that are trying to make a point about how people should behave or feel.
I went back and looked at the table of contents. I think the female protagonists in Ginu Kamani's story, Dani Shapiro's, and Dodie Bellamy's, are all uneasy about sex in various ways.
B&N.com: Why did you choose to end BAE 2001 with the one of the saddest stories of the collection, "The Rooster"?
SB: It was one of my favorites, and I like to end the book with something especially powerful. Anything that makes me cry and turns me on simultaneously is a fine candidate. That's interesting that you commented on this, because in the BAE '99 collection, I chose the last story because it made me laugh so hard, and it seemed like the perfect political comment on the whole year: "Is Your Husband Obsessed with Online Pornography?"
It's also unusual to hear anyone writing about sex as an old person, or at the end of one's life. I think we'll be hearing a lot more on this topic.
B&N.com: It seems that the two women in "You Know What" gain sexual satisfaction not from each other, but from outdoing each other. What do you think is the significance of their sexual competition?
SB:Sexual competition is a whole feature to erotica; it really should be thought of as a sexual preference to itself. For some lovers, that one-on-one competitive tension and battle is the erotic high point of any sex. For some, even "losing" is the sexual high point, as long as the "showing off" has been sufficiently high pitched.
A lot of things "work" in sex that wouldn't necessarily work in a long term relationship. Diehard competition is one of them.
B&N.com: Natural imagery plays a large part in "Bed of Leaves." Did that have anything to do with your choosing it?
SB: I chose "Bed of Leaves" because it moved me. I thought it described -- painfully, realistically -- what it's like to defend your romantic feelings and your dreams for your own mental survival, even though no one else is seeing the world as you do. It's awful to watch her try to make this asshole out to be someone special, and yet you know if she can't have these kind of dreams, she wouldn't be able to care about anything.
B&N.com: "Jason's Cock" is a story where violence, power, and domination seem to be intrinsically linked with sex. Was it a difficult decision to put it in this collection?
SB: No, but then the BAE series has several complex, intense stories about S/M, domination, submission, etc. As erotic literature, these dynamics are hard to resist for any author because they lend themselves so well to conflict, climax, denouement, etc.
I would question your use of "intrinsically." I don't think the author poses this as a message about human sexuality in general, or what every couple ought to try to live up to. It's quite obsessive about this relationship in particular. It's not a political statement, any more than The Story of O was designed as a lifestyle manual.
B&N.com: Why did you choose this particular selection from "Lip Service"?
SB: With erotic novels, it's always a bit of a trick to find an excerpt that will work as a short selection. I wanted an arousing portion that would work alone without the readers having to know the rest of the plot. This was the one that worked.
B&N.com: In "That's Awful, That's Nothing," it seems that Birnauer initiates the "that's nothing" game so that he can disclose his disturbing dream about his brother. Why do you think he so easily shares a fantasy/nightmare that most men would probably keep to themselves?
SB: It had a bit of that "drinking game," truth or dare feel that you have when you play a game with others and the stakes keep getting higher and higher. People use the excuse of the "game" to blurt out things that you wouldn't get a normal chance to bring up in conversation.
B&N.com: In "Expanding on an Idea," why do you think Todd Belton chose his narrator to be female? Was there something that he was trying to accomplish through lesbian sex that he could not with a straight couple?
SB: I can't speak for him, but I know that many authors are quite fed up with the notion that in erotica, you have to write from your own gender and sexual preference. In no other part of literature is this expected.
B&N.com: A story like "Waxing the Thing," where the main character shares her background in the world of pubic waxing, is not what most people would consider erotica. What convinced you that it belonged in this collection?
SB: I think it was very erotic. I saw Ginu read it in front of a big audience in San Francisco and they were squealing their heads off -- of course, she's a wonderful performer, too. The story is erotic because the narrator is so naïve about the sexual aspect of this new job of hers. She doesn't realize that many of her clients are aching for this treatment because it's the only time anyone touches them there at all.
Posted October 11, 2002
I was very disappointed in the quality of the writing. I felt it lacked poetry, effort and sensuousness. Also, many of the stories were gay or lesbian oriented, which was a downer if you¿re not into that sort of thing. You¿ll be reading along about a beautiful man and getting a pretty good description of what¿s going on and then all the sudden it turns out to be a scene between two men, kind of a drag. I felt the stories lacked luster and sultriness. If you¿re into that, start with Anais Nin¿s Delta of Venus and move on to the Sleeping Beauty stuff by Anne Rice.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 12, 2001
I've read nearly all of the 'The Best American Erotica' books, and 2001 ranks up there with 2000....very sexy, crazy, and eye popping reads that get your attention. This edition did not disappoint me.... Susie Bright, if you're out there reading these reviews, I am a fan who is devoted to reading your 'Erotica' anthologies; keep up the awesome work!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.