You’ve been extremely successful creatively and sales-wise with your romance novels and also writing as Laura Adams. There’s a certain recipe for success with readers that you’ve apparently tapped into. Do you feel there’s a big difference in how you approach a book or a story that’s going to be published in the BAD [Bella After Dark] line?
I start every project with whatever flash of inspiration motivates me. Then I think about how best to tell that story, usually looking at the genres I am most comfortable with, which would be romance and now erotica. I feel a kind of freedom with BAD titles because I know if I keep the erotic content high, and meet the reader’s expectation, I can probably tell any story I want to in any manner that works. I can be unconventional, address ideas that might be outside the comfort zone of most romance-genre fans. The New Exploits series is especially liberating – I can’t wait to write the Western.
I didn’t expect that BAD stories would turn into sex education for shy lesbians. But part of my goal for writing erotica was to decriminalize lesbian sex for lesbians, especially those in committed couples and those who don’t live in an urban Mecca with an out-and-proud sex-positive attitude. Yes, lube is truly wonderful stuff, toys can be great for those who like them, and no, edgy fun doesn’t mean you have to torture your lover into the hospital to make it “real” or “true” lesbian sex.
Great sex can be down, dirty, hot and sweaty and still be wholesome and loving. Candle wax and whips are not necessary to Top, pain is not synonymous with Bottom, Butches can be touched “down there,” Femmes can do anything, and you don’t have to identify with any of those roles to play. Okay, that bit about Femmes is just my bias since I am one.
Was there ever any fear of alienating readers who simply weren’t expecting you to write in a more erotic way?
Big time. I thought about using another pseudonym, or branding them with my own “BAD” type of label so the readers who didn’t want that kind of erotica could avoid it. So when Linda Hill proposed the BAD imprint I was really pleased, and more comfortable putting Karin Kallmaker on the cover. There have been a few readers who were still caught off-guard, a couple who wrote to express their displeasure, the occasional negative review insisting a story wasn’t romantic if it had graphic sex. But the overwhelming response has been, “Please write more. Quickly.”
What do you see in the future for you and your relationship with BAD?
Nothing but blue skies. I am having way too much fun and the research is exhausting in such a good way.
By way of projects? Even though it’ll be a year or more until I start writing it, my next BAD novel (the first was All the Wrong Places) is Lessons in Lipstick*, about a garden-variety butch writer who manages to sell a straight romance under a pseudo-identity, and after a few titles finds “Fiona Rococo” suddenly a best-selling het author. Trouble is, she kind of wasn’t completely, um, forthcoming with who she was when she got that first contract and in the interim has never fessed up. So when her publisher wants to put her on tour she hires a femme to be Fiona. Screwball comedy, dash of farce, heaps of sex, but also hopefully spending some time on what sexual identity means, not to mention the ethical issues—yes, headlines in the industry of late inspired some of my ideas. All of that subject to change, but I drop notes into the file on a regular basis.
I mentioned earlier the planned Western quartet of novellas in the New Exploits series, as soon as we get Stake through the Heart put to bed. The Western-themed volume is tentatively titled Tall in the Saddle.
Do you see erotica as a specific genre on its own or merely a way of telling a story, be it literary fiction or a romance or whatever in a way that puts greater emphasis on the sexual aspects?
It is a way of telling a story, no doubt about that. Sex is universal, and how a character experiences it can be a powerful way to strengthen a narrative and deepen inner conflict and monologue. But mostly I think of erotica as a genre of its own, and I guess I feel that way because readers do. I write to please myself and entertain, and whatever label connects me to the lesbians who’ll enjoy my work is what I’m happy with.
Readers expect a difference between “sexy romance” and “erotica.” Since a lot of people write pure erotica, my niche is to adding the romance to erotica, giving readers characters they identify with both in and out of bed. Hopefully, double the pleasure. All puns intended.
© 2006 Karin Kallmaker, Joy Parks
*1/4/2008: This project has been shelved but not forgotten.