Welcome to Read an eBook Week, and an ongoing series of interviews with or essays by erotica writers whom I've asked to speak out on why erotica is important, and what writing it, and being banned for writing it, means to them. PLEASE NOTE: Every writer who has volunteered to write a post for me has been asked to provide a purchase link. I've had to drag them out of them, or else go off and hunt them myself. These writers aren't asking me to promote their banned titles, this is my choice. Participate in eBook Week, by treating yourself to a banned title. Read it, then come back here and tell us if you still feel these books have no merit and should be banned. I dare you. :)
Welcome today's Dirty Mind, Sessha Batto.
Good morning Sessha, and thanks for coming. I'll just get out of the way and let you dive right in.
I admit, I haven't been writing very long. I first put pen to paper at the end of 2008, so a bit over three years. From the first I've written transgressive homoerotic stories. Why? Because I enjoy reading them. In fact, I started writing because I was having a hard time finding the stories I wanted to read. So much of the erotica I found was all about the sex, just mechanics and superficial emotions, and I was looking for something deeper and more intimate. Intimacy, for me, is all between the ears. Engage my mind to engage my libido.
Lots of women enjoy romance novels, and that's wonderful. Unfortunately, my life and experiences have shown me the astronomical odds against the 'true love' and 'happily ever after' so often idealized in such stories. I can't write them because they are not my truth, not my story. I need to write the dark parts of life as well as the light. Through this contrast we find clarity, looking at experiences from different facets to glean the kernel of insight they contain.
I write about edgy sex - bondage, masochism, edge play, blood play – because I find it exciting. Many people do, bondage in a mild form is a common fantasy, one I dare say is played out in countless bedrooms every night. I admit, I lay on the outer edge of the bell curve when it comes to sex. I enjoy pain, it engages me fully in the moment in a way nothing else does. To act on some of my thoughts, though, would be extremely unwise. On paper I can safely explore the outer edges of my kinks, figure out the limits in safety. I'm the first to realize it isn't for everyone, but there are women out there who have these thoughts, these fantasies-- I know I was one. It took me decades to admit to myself, let alone anyone else, what truly excited me. My writing allows others to make the same voyage, to explore their fantasies in a safe environment, to figure out the truths of themselves.
For me, the best books to read, and the ones I strive to write, explore the pressures and influences on a character's psyche. Remember the old ads in the back of comic books for x-ray specs? For me, sex is my x-ray specs. It strips a character down to his core truth and spotlights who they are with far more accuracy than pages of exposition ever could. Sex is the ultimate act of trust. Who we trust, why, and to what extent reveals much of our psyche which we would normally keep hidden. Sex is the catalyst for revealing hidden baggage, all the events and experiences we think are safely buried but which bubble to the surface under pressure. Our kinks highlight our transgressive natures, throwing into clear definition the whys and hows of our alienation from society in general. In short, it’s the knife I wield to cut to the truth.
Sessha, you write M/M erotica. I’ll admit, I’ve often wondered why women write in this sub-genre.
I write about men because of the wonderful shifts of power and control possible in a same sex relationship . . . and because I love men. No offense to the ladies, but I don’t think I could explore the same boundaries of pleasure and pain without seeming overly abusive, and that is at the core of everything I write. Beyond that, there is something wonderfully vulnerable and revealing about the decision to relinquish power, and the potent eroticism of two strong, powerful men being tender with each other. Not to mention the freedom to let the character's role shift, at times dominant, at others submissive. Both strong and yielding in a way a woman can never be within the constraints of our society. Free to experience all aspects of a relationship in a way a woman can never truly be, shackled by genetics and society to a certain position both in and outside of the bedroom.
I also write about men because it's freeing to me psychologically. Having gone through my teens and early twenties at the start of the sexual revolution, I have spent my entire life battling against the preconceptions about gender to be accepted for who I was and what I could do. I've struggled for the freedom to embrace what arouses me without fear of reaction or sanction.
Shinobi, one of the books recently banned by Paypal's new content restrictions, started as a tiny glimmer in my mind while watching Ninja Assassin. Early in the movie we see Raizo is heavily scarred and it led me to wonder just how and where he got each of them. From there my mind spiraled off, conceiving of an assassin, a ninja, who was highly in demand as a sex slave due to his ability to withstand pain. Thus Yoshi was born, delicate in appearance with a surprising strength, like an iron blade is tempered in flame to increase both its strength and flexibility. What I was really curious about, what I strove to examine, was where this would leave him mentally and emotionally. The story is about Yoshi's psychological journey learning to choose to trust, not merely endure. Learning to value himself, learning to survive and thrive.
Along the way there is extreme BDSM as a part of his duties, rape, mutilation, emotional breakdown – each of which strips bare a bit more of his psyche. There is also the blooming of trust, a renewed sense of self and the ability to not only love but be loved in return. The third and final book in the series will probably never see the light of day. It ends in my version of happily ever after, one that takes into account he whole history and progression of his sense of self, leaving Yoshi at peace with himself and the world. It accepts the reality that people come and go in our lives. No matter how much we might wish otherwise, we are born alone and die alone. If we cannot be at peace with just ourselves we are not really at peace. So, ultimately, Yoshi is also alone, the marriage which so hopefully ended the second book dissolving, leaving him to go forward on his own. To me, this was the ultimate positive change, to stand free and proud without leaning on anyone. It goes outside the accepted tropes for a love story and suggests that there are more important goals than love. This is, perhaps, the most dangerous thought of all.
Is Shinobi still available for purchase elsewhere? And if you wouldn’t mind sharing, how many copies were sold before the title was pulled? We’re all wondering how many weak and impressionable female minds were irreparably harmed before the censors got to you. <grin>
Both books in the Shinobi saga, Concealed in the Shadows and Struggle for Balance are still available at Amazon, and my publisher hopes to have them back at Barnes & Noble in the near future. I don't have exact figures on sales, but they aren't high, I'd guess no more than 200 copies combined. Reviews have been polarized with all my work, people either love it and really get inside the characters' heads – or they despise it because they don't find it erotic, seeing the edgy sex as assault and not perceiving the difference. Perhaps this is where I have failed as a writer, not universalizing the fantasy enough to include a larger demographic. Unfortunately, I can only write what resonates with me, and the fact that anyone is interested in sharing that journey with me is both humbling and frightening.
It sounds as though you and I could have attended high school together. Tapping into those feminist roots, I’ve been nonplussed by the lack of outcry from PayPal’s female cardholders, which I believe I can logically assume to be roughly 50% of their accounts. How do you feel about PayPal’s actions from that standpoint?
Thank you so much for speaking from your heart, Sessha. When I wrote my initial post about PayPal, it was from the perspective of an outraged customer, because I felt the indie community at large would cover the other side of the issue. They have done that, to some extent, but although I've scoured every link, every blog post and online article, I've not seen anything remotely approaching what you, and the others who've volunteered for this series have put forth. Only a few posts into this series, even I have a new perspective on the damage being done by banning anything in this category. I appreciate your time and your candor.
***Did you know you don't need a dedicated device to read an ebook? Kindle and others have a free download for your smart phone or computer.