blog hop! also, i’m writing a book.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

This post is a slight departure from my usual, because I was asked to participate in a blog hop—essentially, a sort of blog-to-blog self-interview chain letter (in a good way) linking writers to each other so you can bop along and discover new work. The person who asked me to take part is Clarisse Thorn, author of The S&M Feminist, among others. Thanks Clarisse! Do go check out her work if you haven’t already. And at the bottom of this post, I’m linking to a few bloggers I think you should watch.

It so happens that the timing of this is pretty good as… drum roll please… I am, in fact, working on My First Ever Book. So… on with the interview, then!

What is the work­ing title of your next book?

Radical Power: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Conscious, Co-Created Dominant/Submissive Relationships (with a side of sex-positive anti-oppressive feminist politics). Or something like that.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve spent a good ten years in one form or another of full-time power dynamic and actively seeking resources to help me think through some of the major challenges that come with such relationships, and those resources are shockingly few and far between. I feel like there’s a big hole in the literature just aching to be filled (heh) and it occurred to me a couple of years ago that with the amount of blogging I’ve done on this topic, surely I have the bones of a full-length book on hand, and some of the meat as well. So the idea has been brewing for years, but the time to write it is now. Partly because the idea of waiting til I finish my PhD before publishing a non-scholarly book just feels like way too long, and this winter is good timing for taking a short not-really-official break from my studies to write. Partly because all my sources—friends who run sex shops, publishers, fellow writers—tell me the market for kink-related books of all sorts has taken a major jump thanks to Fifty Shades (I am dubious in my gratitude here, but I’ll take it). And concretely, because a friend of mine who’s a longstanding fixture in the Canadian queer writers’ world decided to midwife the project by pitching pretty much exactly this idea to their publisher, unbeknownst to me at the time, and then pitching it to me once the publisher gave an enthusiastic response. So clearly I’m not the only one thinking this needs to happen already.

What genre does your book fall under?

How-to, I suppose. Maybe self-help? Possibly philosophy. Definitely relationships and sexuality and BDSM. I’m not sure what list I’m supposed to be picking from here… anyway it’s obviously non-fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your char­ac­ters in a movie ren­di­tion?

See above. If I had characters, which I don’t, I’d like them to be played by Crispin Glover and Ryan Gosling. In a sadomasochistic anal sex scene with lots of really hot kissing. Sorry, what was the question?

What is the one-sentence syn­op­sis of your book?

Read this book if you want to take your thinking about dominance and submission well past the 101 level and into your everyday life.

Will your book be self-published or rep­re­sented by an agency?

So far, it looks like a publisher is on board, but if this one doesn’t pan out for some reason, I’ll find another. It’s just a question of time. I’m not interested in self-publishing right now—I have way too much else on my plate to turn amateur publisher and distributor on top of it all. Much respect to those who pull it off!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your man­u­script?

Well, I can’t really answer that because I don’t have a first draft written. What I do have is a basic structure to write up, which I’ll then fill with six years worth of blog posts; then, I’ll sift through the material, merge things, edit things, update things, and then write all the new material that’s needed to fill in whatever gaps emerge during that process. I’d estimate I have about half the work already done, but since I’ve never written a book before I might be miscalculating. Guess I’ll find out soon! Gulp.

What other books would you com­pare this to within your genre?

Man, I only wish there were more other books I could compare it to. Really. I don’t relish trying to fill a hole quite this big, and frankly I don’t think I should aspire to—there’s room in this area for way more than what I’m going to create. Check out my annotated reading list on the topic of dominance and submission if you like, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s in need of an update, but even if it doubled it would be an awfully short list, and it’s pretty eclectic as it is. There is a LOT of room for it to grow.

I think one major flaw is that most how-to books on BDSM, including the relative few that focus on power dynamics, dominance, submission, mastery and so forth, don’t define their terms very carefully. (This is also true of a surprisingly high percentage of scholarly works on BDSM, sadism, masochism and so forth—a situation I continue to find baffling, given that scholars are in theory supposed to be trained to be thorough little fuckers and the whole “what exactly are you talking about” part seems like pretty basic element of that. But I digress.) The result of this is that every book takes its own set of definitions and conceptual foundations for granted, and you can’t really figure out what they are until you read the whole thing and deduce from the content. So basic elements—like, say, the distinction between “you are doing this as a fun way of spicing up your sex life” and “you are doing this as a full-time lifelong commitment because it is your spiritual calling,” to name just two—aren’t explicitly addressed. And I think those elements make crucial differences in the meaning and usefulness of a given work’s content to any given reader.

Maybe this happens because the writers are aiming to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and in a sense I don’t blame them. It may be that publishers have demanded broad relevance, for that matter. But I think it also happens because a good portion of the people writing about power relationships write as though everyone does them for the same reason. The control fetishists think everyone’s in it for the pleasure of power and control. The kinky sex perverts think everyone does it because it turns them on. The spiritual-calling folks write as though everyone’s following their divine path. Beyond that, the gay authors write as though all their readers were gay men, the straight authors write as though all their readers were straight, and the dykes… well, even though some of the best thinkers and teachers on SM right now are of the dyke persuasion and similar, they don’t seem to be writing books on the topic of everyday, ongoing power dynamics.

And take it yet another step further: the existing literature, for the most part, doesn’t even state those biases up front—and that would make all the difference. I don’t think taking a narrow approach to a topic is a bad thing, but you have to own that this is what you’re doing. Otherwise even the most well-intentioned and thoughtful material can come across as “here is the one true way to do this right, and if my work doesn’t speak to you, well then clearly this whole thing isn’t really for you.” It is really, really hard to step far enough outside yourself and your relationship philosophy to be able to look at them as a stranger would and explain them in a way that acknowledges your own biases. I’m sure I’ll fail, myself, on several counts when I try. But I will very carefully try.

The writer who’s currently doing by far the most interesting, thoughtful, targeted writing on power dynamics is Raven Kaldera, often in collaboration with his boy Joshua Tenpenny. Their works cover topics that just about nobody else’s even touch, such as M/s relationships and disability, polyamory in power relationships, the intersections of transsexuality/transgenderism and BDSM, and ownership-based power dynamics. I aspire to write work that’s as sharp, aware, ethically rooted and relevant as theirs. At the same time, I can already tell you that my approach differs from theirs. They’re heavily Pagan in their framework, while I’m spiritual in what I’d almost call a secular way, and I won’t be making spirituality per se a major focus. I don’t take the same tactical approach to internal enslavement as they do, and my writing will likely be a lot more self-consciously concerned with sexual and social politics thanks to my feminist background and the many heavily politicized topics I’ve been reading about for the past few years in grad school. I’m also a gender-fluid female, not a trans or intersex person; Canadian, not American; and resolutely urban, whereas they live on a farm. All of this will doubtless make a huge difference to what I produce, and probably in ways I can’t even know from the inside.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think I’ve kinda covered this one already. Beyond my existing responses, I’ll just add that I feel a major debt of gratitude to the people who’ve been reading my blog and other writing for the past six or seven years, and giving me feedback. I’ve always been a writer, but there’s something about the experience of having an actual readership—one that has grown and morphed over time—that creates a sense of responsibility, a framework within which to develop, a sense of parameters and places to grow. At various points I’ve asked my readers for guidance: what do you want to read from me? What do you NOT want to see me write about? What questions would you like me to weigh in on? And the response has always helped shape what I produce. My readers hold me to a very high standard and I am grateful for how exacting they can be. I mean, haters are gonna hate, right? So I’m not talking about the people who get mean and stupid, those aren’t the ones I’m trying to speak to anyway. It’s the ones who take the time to critique, to ask hard questions constructively, to give the benefit of the doubt, to truly engage, and to hold me to a pretty high set of expectations—they’re the ones who motivate me to write in as thorough and thoughtful a way as I can. Every writer should be so fortunate.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s inter­est?

Ummm… I dunno. Clearly I have to work on my elevator pitch a little more. Or maybe I just already answered that question. I can tell you for sure it won’t be all the glossy photography or the sound advice on physical technique.

Here are the writ­ers whose work you can check out next:

For this I’m choosing to spotlight some rad women from four different Canadian cities who are doing new, exciting, fresh blogging on topics that are dear to my heart. Also it so happens they are excellent writers, which gets big points in my world!

Kaleigh Trace at The Fucking Facts – an awesome young voice, her writing takes a no-bullshit approach to a range of questions on sex and sexuality, including but not limited to dis/ability as it intersects with sex. To wit, from her About section: “I want to write about feeling good, about feeling bad, and everything in between. I want to write about what you should and shouldn’t put in your bum.”

The smartyskirts that is Cuntext – young, queer, femme, and super articulate, Cuntext writes about identity, sexual politics, racism, cissexism, anxiety and mental health, and all sorts of other brain-stimulating things, and she keeps it personal enough to be super-engaging.

Juliet November at Born Whore – This “angry revolutionary hooker” writes, “I’m not aiming for instant insurrection but to leave the ground we walk better for those who will follow us.” She doesn’t have a ton of posts up yet, but if her future work is anything like what she’s got so far, you can expect breathtaking, evocative writing that’s politicized in the best kind of radical way—a radicalism that’s focused on kindness as a necessary component of reaching justice.

Shelley at Pass the Herpes – Shelley’s the founder but not the only contributor to this young blog, which is “an attempt to create a space for people to share their thoughts about living with herpes, ideas for pain relief and virus suppression as well as the experiences of coming out, responses from partners, family and health care people.”