Friday, September 14, 2012

Interview with Sinclair Sexsmith, Editor of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012

Cover of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012. A butch woman is standing and kissing a femme woman. The butch has very short, dark hair and wears a dark men's dress shirt, suspenders and Chino-style pants. Most of both women's faces are hidden, so we see the back of the butch's head and just the side and chin of the femme. The femme is sitting, wearing a low-cut leather vest and fishnet stockings. She has very muscular arms and is pulling the butch against her with one of her suspenders.
The smokin' hot cover of BLE 12
I'm continuing with my series of interviews of editors of recent anthologies that include my work. Today, meet Sinclair Sexsmith (in the unlikely event you haven't already heard of her)! We're talking about Best Lesbian Erotica 2012. This is the most popular and best-selling series of lesbian erotica there is. I'm pleased to have had my work appear in a few times. Here's what I said about the book on my page of Recently Published Works:
What makes this edition of BLE consistent with others I've contributed to? It's full of hot, well-written, well-edited stories. What's unique about this year's volume? Kathleen Warnock says it best in the foreword: "This year's collection has a chronological arc to it. It starts with the story of two young girls in love: one embraces who she is, the other panics at the unknown. And so it goes through lifetimes: people fall in love some more, break up, have brief encounters, know each other better than anyone else, heal their wounds, have families, take vacations, find comfort, grow older, care for each other, continue their pursuits, and keep on keeping on." Includes a smart and passionate introduction by co-editor, Sinclair Sexsmith, and stories by Lea DeLaria, DL King, Kiki DeLovely, Xan West, Ily Goyanes, Anna Watson, and more. Pick up a copy of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012.
Now, on to what Mr. Sexsmith had to share about her role in editing Best Lesbian Erotica 2012 and her journey as an erotica writer and editor.

Sharon: Your first erotica story was published in BLE 2006 and your first time editing an anthology was BLE 2012 (though your first solo anthology, Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica was released this past April). What did you need to learn to make that journey from writer to editor?

Sinclair: I read so much queer erotica in those years — even before I began submitting and publishing stories, I was an avid reader of queer erotica, but I significantly stepped it up in the last six years. I’ve been reviewing erotica for the Lambda Literary Foundation and directly for Cleis Press, which publishes the majority of the queer erotica available (and my personal favorite erotica, and most of my favorite erotica authors). Beyond that I’ve been more intentional about pursuing erotica writing as a craft, and read as much as I can get my hands on, whether it’s straight or gay or lesbian or queer or pansexual.

I think the biggest thing I needed to learn was what makes a good erotica story. That sounds simple, but not everyone’s definition of “good erotica” is the same (just look at the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon — definitely not my definition of good erotica). I definitely want erotica stories to be well-written, but I don’t want there to be too much backstory before they get to the sex. Because I’ll be honest — I don’t read erotica for the good story, really; I read it to get off. I read it to get turned on and inspire ideas about how else I could play or fuck. I know a lot of folks want stories that happen to have a sexual component, but really, for me, I want sex that happens to have a story component.

I will definitely admit to having particular personal tastes — like lots of D/s, lots of power play, lots of penetration and cocksucking and dirty talk — but I also love finding erotica stories that aren’t necessarily my taste, or precisely not my taste, but that are so well written that they turn me on, even if just for the time I’m reading the story, and I get it, I understand that kink or fetish temporarily.

Sharon: Was there anything that surprised you in working on BLE 2012?

Sinclair: I was surprised by the amount of good writing that was submitted, and the impressive storytelling. It’s a well-known series and many talented writers submit annually, and as the guest editor, I received the finalists’ stories blind, without the author’s names attached. Even so, in the first pass, I went back to Kathleen Warnock, the series editor, and said, “Are there any more maybes that were particularly dirty?”

As much as I do love good writing, if it wasn’t turning me on while I was reading it, I wasn’t going to put it in the anthology.

“I need tension!” I told Kathleen.

She sent me a dozen more stories that weren’t included in her initial finalists that had more BDSM, more kink, and more sex in them, and some of those made it into the final cut of the book. It wasn’t surprising that I wanted to make the book dirty, but it was surprising that we had to do more than one pass to find the dirtiest stories. I’m glad they were in there!

Sharon: I really liked the chronological arc of this anthology. I don't think I've come across an erotica anthology before that had an embedded theme like this. Was that something you looked for in the stories you chose, or did it just arise organically from the material submitted?

Sinclair: Thank you! It arose from the material submitted, particularly comparing the first story, “Touched” by Amy Butcher, with the last story, “Never Too Old” by Dejay. Kathleen was the one to make the chronological arc suggestion and I think it works incredibly well.

Sharon: What was the best part of working on BLE 2012? 

Sinclair: Working with Kathleen was fantastic because she has so much experience and expertise and really knows how to put a great collection together. The best thing, though, is holding the completed book in my hand and knowing that my taste in erotica is valued and interesting enough for Cleis and Kathleen to ask me to curate a whole collection. I was so honored to do that, especially for the series that published my first story six years prior.

Oh, and the cover — I think the image they chose is super hot. I want to get a wall poster made of it to put up in my writing space. [Note from Sharon: Agreed. Best BLE cover, ever!]

Sharon: This is a writing and disability blog, so disability is a topic I always raise. As far as I know, Peggy Munson and I are the only lesbian erotica writers who frequently write disabled characters. As a reader and editor of lesbian and kink erotica, what would it add for you to find more disabled characters in erotica?

Sinclair: That’s a great question, and I’m not sure how to answer it. Since I don’t frequently see or read disabled characters in erotica, I’m not sure what it is about a disabled person’s sexual and kink experiences that I’m missing out on understanding. I am pretty well and able bodied, at least so far in my life, so I don’t have the experience of those limitations.

I think it’s very important to have accurate representations of sexualities in the erotica worlds — which is one of the reasons I am thrilled about continuing to edit anthologies, because I think my particular tastes are not widely seen in lesbian erotica, but there are a lot of people out there whose tastes overlap with mine. Which is also why we need more diverse representations of disability and ability—so that there is not one singular story about the sexuality of someone disabled, but that there are a myriad of voices that normalize many people’s lived experiences. It is so valuable and important to see one’s self and sexuality reflected in a story in a book; that mirroring is so valuable.

Reading more erotica with disabled characters would contribute to that lack, I think. I’d love to see more of that. So, to folks out there with interesting sex lives or active imaginations — write some of ‘em up! Submit them to anthologies — mine or someone else’s. That’s a missing voice still, and we need more people to write with care and honesty and respect and radicalism.

Sharon: "We need more people to write with care and honesty and respect and radicalism." What a perfect note to end on! Thank you very much, Sinclair Sexsmith, for taking the time to answer my questions!

And if you haven't picked up a coy of BLE 12 yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy (in electronic or paper form) at your favorite independent bookstore or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And if you  do read it, please post a review on Amazon!