Venus in Furs: The Pleasures & Perils of Sexual Fantasy

Venus in FursHave you ever picked up a draft of something you’ve set aside for a few weeks or months, all pumped and motivated to sink your teeth into it, only to find yourself thinking, “Who the hell wrote this crap?”

Yeah, it’s been one of those days.

Now that the coffee romance anthology deadline has been pushed back to December, I can commence editing the next chapter of my WIP— aka, the aforementioned WTF draft.

It’s fine. I’m fine. We’re fine!

In the meantime, I’ve wanted to write a post about the transcendence of sexual fantasy into reality ever since I finished Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s scandalous book, Venus in Furs a few weeks back.

Published in 1870, Venus in Furs is inspired by Sacher-Mashoch’s own experiences as a sexually submissive man, from which the term “masochism” was derived.

I’m not going to get into the controversy surrounding the term “masochism” and its place in psychiatry. I’m also not aiming to discuss what that psychological designation implies about masochism as a sexual practice within the BDSM community. Instead, I want to focus on the realization of sexual fantasy within the context of this classic narrative. (Next week, I’ll be posting about tentacle dildos because I’m bad at branding and have taken an “anything sex- or erotica-related goes” approach to my blog. So, if you’re hungry for c-words and this article doesn’t tickle your fancy, stay tuned.)

Venus in Furs opens within the dream of an unnamed narrator in which he and the goddess, Venus—who is dressed in furs—are conversing about love. After waking, he relays the events of the dream to his friend Severin, who presents him with a manuscript titled, Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man, in an effort to cure the narrator of his submissive tendencies.

The nested narrative (the manuscript) tells the story of Severin’s sexual exploits with the young widow, Wanda von Donajew (purportedly modeled after Sacher-Mashoch’s own lover, Fanny Pistor).

Leo with Fannie (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and Fanny Pistor Bogdanoff) via Wikipedia
Leo with Fannie (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and Fanny Pistor Bogdanoff) via Wikipedia

Severin makes numerous attempts to convince Wanda to accept her role as his “Mistress”:

“If I am not permitted to enjoy the happiness of love, fully and wholly, I want to taste its pains and torments to the very dregs; I want to be maltreated and betrayed by the woman I love, and the more cruelly the better. This too is a luxury.”

“In such a revelation only one can be the hammer and the other anvil. I wish to be the anvil. I cannot be happy when I look down upon the woman I love. I want to adore a woman, and this I can only do when she is cruel towards me.”

This is Severin’s fantasy: to be completely and utterly subservient to a dominant woman.

In their initial conversations, Wanda presents the possibility that she might one day, in the event that her feelings for Severin change, take another lover:

“A shudder ran through me. I looked at her. She stood firmly and confident before me, and her eyes disclosed a cold gleam.

‘You see,’ she continued, ‘the very thought frightens you.’ A beautiful smile suddenly illuminated her face.

‘…If I cannot obtain the one that is noble and simple, the woman who will faithfully and truly share my life, then I don’t want anything half-way or lukewarm. Then I would rather be subject to a woman without virtue, fidelity, or pity. Such a woman in her magnificent selfishness would be likewise an ideal.'”

Eventually, Wanda agrees to allow Severin to be her slave. Through floggings, insults, periods of deliberate neglect, being christened with the slave name, Gregor, and finally, being tied to a pillar and whipped by Wanda’s new Byronic lover, Severin comes face to face with the reality of his imaginings and becomes disenchanted:

“The sensation of being whipped by a successful rival before the eyes of an adored woman cannot be described. I almost went mad with shame and despair.

“What was most humiliating was at first I felt a certain wild, supersensual stimulation under Apollo’s [Wanda’s lover] whip and the cruel laughter of my Venus, no matter how horrible my position was. But Apollo whipped on and on, blow after blow, until I forgot all about poetry, and finally gritted my teeth in impotent rage, and cursed my wild dreams, woman, and love.”

Fantasy occupies a significant portion of our psyches and our lives. It’s the story we tell ourselves while standing in line at the grocery store or in bed before we go to sleep. It’s the images that play across our mind’s eye when we should be studying for tomorrow’s exam.

While some of us, like Severin, take the extra step of trying to turn fantasy into reality, many of us prefer to keep them right where they are, either out of practicality or personal responsibility, or perhaps even guilt or shame.

For those who do decide to bridge the gap, questions arise: how does the fantasy translate when moved into the realm of reality? Like Severin, are we doomed to disillusionment? Or perhaps, through playing out our fantasies, are we then cured of them?

Three years after the termination of their affair, Severin receives a letter from Wanda:

“I suppose, I may confess to you that I loved you deeply. You yourself, however, stifled my love by your fanatic devotion and your insane passion. From the moment that you became my slave, I knew it would be impossible for you ever to become my husband. However, I found it interesting to have you realize your ideal in my own person, and, while I gloriously amused myself, perhaps, to cure you.

…I hope you have been cured under my whip; the cure was cruel, but radical.”

By the end of the book, Severin is no longer sexually submissive. Rather, he has become a tyrant in his own right, threatening to beat his female servant at the most innocuous offense. His final words to the narrator are quite telling:

“At present we have only the choice of being the hammer or anvil, and I was the kind of donkey who let a woman make a slave of him, do you understand?”

Severin may have been “cured” of his penchant for submission, but only insofar as he has become a sadist, for one can be either Dominant or submissive, and if he is no longer submissive, then he must be Dominant.

Of course, many of us are lucky enough to be able to play out our sexual fantasies within the safety of a consensual sexual relationship featuring safe words, hard limits, negotiations, open dialogue, and respected boundaries. Severin and Wanda do discuss their arrangement at length towards the beginning of the book, but only so far as to establish that what Severin wants is to be completely and utterly devoted to her every whim (until he’s in the thick of it and her whims no longer mirror his fantasy).

Like all erotica and romance writers, I am a purveyor of sexual fantasy.

According to an article at The Richest, published in January of this year, Erotica and Romance generated the highest earnings of all genre fiction—a whopping $1.4 billion USD in 2013.

This doesn’t surprise me.

The nature of these genres is, by definition, intimate, pulling at heartstrings and touching readers in all the most tender places (ahem). In doing so, it manages to tap into something so incredibly personal: fantasies and desires that many of us will never have and/or take the opportunity to explore in our daily lives. But with the help of talented authors and steamy, engaging fiction, we can get a taste of that which we crave most, no matter how scandalous.

We need not go the way of Severin and his violent disillusionment (though we can certainly try).

Venus in Furs encompasses a multitude of themes, including some really interesting commentary on gender equality. It’s a quick read and written in surprisingly comprehensible language, given its publication date, and I would encourage anyone interested in sadomasochism to check it out (it’s free to download on Amazon). I will note that if you’re looking for graphic depictions of sex, you won’t find them; this is a very subtle text with regard to the sexual acts themselves, focusing much more on the social relations and psychological aspects of masochism.


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A Case for Wasting Time: Backstory

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As usual, I am up to greet the sun.

Today I am working on the bones of my next story, an erotic romance for Frisky Feminist Press’s coffee romance anthology call (I think I’ve mentioned this at least twice already, but I like to give credit where credit is due).

So far, I’ve spent the last hour researching the main character’s backstory: where she grew up, where she went to college, what program she transferred to, why she moved from Los Angeles to Seattle, and potential locations for her bakery/cafe (it’s a coffee romance anthology, after all). I love this part, before the tap-tap-tapping of keystrokes when the story is still green and gestating.

Ah, backstory.

I recently read an article titled, “Kill your Backstory” by Angela Booth. In it, she talks about the importance of keeping the story moving, all part of that “show, don’t tell” mantra that many newbie authors (myself included) spend so much time fretting over. Looking back on some of my earlier pieces, I cringe at the number of words I devoted to exposition and background, things I could’ve explained through more efficient means: a roll of the eyes, pursed lips, sweat beading upon the brow.

Of course, when you’re submitting a story chapter-by-chapter to an online writing site like Literotica, it can be difficult to know exactly where you’re going to end up. In my first novel-length story, I introduced a handful of new characters into chapter 4, devoting a couple of paragraphs to each in order to provide proper context. I tried to keep it brief, telling just enough to give readers an idea of who these characters were and then did my best to flesh them out via dialogue and behavior. My biggest fear was that they would feel arbitrary, because they kind of were—I had no idea they were going to appear until after I’d completed chapter 3, plus a very rough draft of chapter 4.

(Side note: I don’t think I’ll be posting anymore chapter-by-chapter stories after The Cabin unless I know exactly how it’s going progress out or have completed a first draft in its entirety. Live and learn.)

Towards the end of the article, Booth briefly states that writers can inject backstory into their work via action and conversation, though I would’ve appreciated a bit more info on exactly how she recommends authors go about this. She spent so much time stating what NOT to do that I felt a little let down by the dearth of practical application beyond, “You are reading, aren’t you?…Pay attention to how authors manage backstory in your genre.”

I’ll fully cop to getting swallowed up in backstory, albeit mostly for my own fantastical pleasure. In order for my characters to feel real, I have to have at least some idea of who they are and where they came from, even if very little of that ends up in the finished piece.

I recently read Crash Into You by Roni Loren, an erotic romance that delivers backstory almost like a nested narrative occurring alongside the main story. For the first two-thirds of the book, each chapter alternates between “then” and “now”, providing depth and relevant insight into character motivation. At first, I thought I might find the back-and-forth a little disjointing, but since the focus remained squarely on the relationship between the main characters, it stayed cohesive.

While I agree with Booth that backstory can indeed bloat one’s fiction, I also think it’s a necessary component to crafting a rich story. When meeting someone new, one of the first things we do is ask questions.

We exchange histories:

“So, what do you do for fun?”

“Well, I’m a really active person. I like to be outside.”

“Nice, I spent the latter half of yesterday at the beach.”

“Oh, that’s great! I used to visit the lake with my family every summer.”

“Yeah? Just for the day or…?”

“A few days, actually. We’d rent a campsite and spend the week kayaking and eating s’mores.”

“Oh, really? Let me tell you about the time I went “Death Camping” with friends just before Thanksgiving.”

Real people have backgrounds. Real people have histories. Real people have backstories. If we want our characters to feel real, we need to see them as people, and that means knowing how old they were when they had their first kiss; the first time they went “all the way” with their significant other (or dreamt about doing so with their gym teacher); the awful, terrible, horrible event they witnessed when they were twelve that has shaped them into the people they are on the page today.

Some of that will end up in our stories. A lot of it won’t, and that’s okay. The mental aerobics alone will help to strengthen our storytelling muscles and help us to become more compassionate, empathetic writers. In order to write authentically, we must set aside our own biases and prejudices to understand why our imaginary friends feel what they feel and do what they do.

All of that requires sinking our teeth into their backstories.

So, no, readers probably don’t need to know our character’s favorite ice cream flavor—unless we decide to send them into a panic every time someone mentions, “mint chocolate-chip”—but having a plethora of information to draw from when you want to add quirks or explore their reasoning is invaluable. We may even find ourselves making connections and subtle references to things that we hadn’t originally planned, resulting in depth and complexity.

And the best part? Our brains will automatically make these connections when appropriate. It’ll feel like magic, like finding a whole sand dollar on the beach or $20 in your coat pocket. All because we took the time to do the prerequisite work.

All because we bothered to daydream.


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Minding the Middle: How to Keep Going When There Are No Guarantees

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I’m someone who can’t stand being in the middle.

Whether it’s waiting for the doctor to call or the editor to respond or that guy I like to text me back, I am anxious, impatient, and filled with self-doubt. Constantly questioning, “Am I doing the right thing?” and “Is it going to work out?”

I just want to get to the end, dammit! I just want to know.

Of course, the only way out is through and when you are in the thick of it—which is most of the time—there are only two options: Quit or keep moving.

What the hell made me decide to pursue a writer’s life? A life most famous for its uncertainty, lack of guarantees, and no autopilot option. A writer must always be present. They must always be on.

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I try and make a trip to the local Red Cross every few months. Bleeding isn’t the problem. I’m a master bleeder. I can slice my head open and bleed all over the page.

Sometimes, I even bleed in patterns that make me think, “Yeah, this is what it’s all about.” You know that feeling.

I’m not talking about that feeling.

In fact, I’m talking about the exact opposite of that feeling: the stretches of time when you can’t even recall what that feeling feels like, and then you feel like shit.

The thing is, if you spend all of your time chasing the highs, you won’t learn to appreciate the lows. Hell, let’s not even go that far. What about the in-betweens? The middles. Those obligatory words sandwiched between “Once upon a time” and “the end.” When the phrases dripping from your fingers don’t hit the page or the screen in the right order and you find yourself thinking, “If only someone would just pat me on the head and say, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll all be worth it.’”

But, of course, there are no guarantees. Not in life or art or love or anything else, for that matter. You don’t have to be an artist or entrepreneur to know that feeling or to have felt the absence of it. Writing just happens to be my thing, but for you, it might be something else. Perhaps it’s caring for children or baking pies or preparing tax returns (no, really). Whatever twists your noodle.

And when the in-betweens seem to stretch on forever, when you have no clue if the light at the end of the tunnel is an opening or a speeding train, you can do one of two things:

You can quit, or, keep moving.

Sometimes it’s okay to quit. There’s no rule that says you absolutely must see this project through. Some pieces are better left on the drawing board or as an incomplete word document in the badlands of your laptop’s hard drive.

The problem with quitting is that it’s really just another kind of limbo.

And it might be the closest thing we have to a guarantee: if you stop dancing, painting, writing, baking, singing, etc.ing, you can rest assured that you’re probably never going to experience that feeling again—at least, not from that particular activity.

For some people, that might be okay. Personally, I’ve come to prefer the agony of the middle to the sad certainty of a premature end.

Learn to love—or, at least, like—limbo. Make friends with the middle. Be grateful for being betwixt. There are no sort cuts and in the space between birth and death, all we have is the meantime. All we have is now.

Now is the time for mistakes and masterpieces but you won’t make either if you’re too busy mourning yesterday or obsessing over tomorrow.

Today, I finished the first draft of the 6th chapter of my novel-in-progress, which doesn’t sound very impressive until I clarify that there are only going to be 8 chapters, plus an epilogue. So far, this almost-book is the longest thing I’ve ever written and I’ve learned so much in the process of writing it that, when I go back and reread the first chapter, I cringe at all of the glaring mistakes (en vs. em dashes, adverbs galore, dialogue tags, etc.). At the same time, that’s how I know I’m heading in the right direction: the later chapters are noticeably better; therefore, I must be doing something right.

If you find yourself stuck in the middle, go back and take another look at where you started. Listen to the very first song you ever recorded; take a look at the initial draft of your business plan; go find a photo of the first wedding cake you baked—you know, the one that resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa covered in fondant. Sometimes it takes a bird’s eye view to give us a clear perspective on how far we’ve come. If your middle is in any way better than your beginning, then you know you’re heading somewhere.

And that somewhere might just be the end.

Keep going.


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Erotica & Romance: First vs. Third Person Perspective

I recently submitted a story to Delilah Devlin’s tentatively titled “Rogue Hearts: Erotic Romance for Women” anthology call, which I discovered via  Erotic Readers & Writers Association. Overall, I’m quite happy with the story. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual protagonist-geared erotica towards a more couple-oriented romance, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing and editing it. In fact, a lot of my back-pocket ideas are leaning further in the direction of erotic romance rather than straightforward, sexual-awakening-focused erotica—not that the lines don’t blur from time to time.

While crafting this particular story, I found myself struggling with perspective. Specifically, whether to write it in first person or third person limited.

Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

First person allows the reader to experience the story through the protagonist’s senses. It can provide an immediate sense of immersion, which is especially nice for sex scenes, while fostering an aura of mystery because you’re only witnessing the story from one character’s point-of-view.

You can’t truly know the other characters’ motives until they’re playing out on the page.

At the same time, first person can be limiting. What if the story would benefit from another character’s sensory experience? What if you want to hide some of your main character’s intentions? That was my main concern for the Rogue Hearts submission: I wanted my main character to do something unexpected, something the reader wouldn’t see coming.

Third person limited is similar to first person, but with a bit of distance. It’s still focusing on the protagonist’s sensory experience, but you’re not as concerned with, “Can the character actually see/hear/smell/taste/etc. this.” A really common mistake that can be made with first person is describing events that the character can’t possibly be privy to. Such as, someone smiling or rolling their eyes while the protagonist isn’t looking. With third person and, especially, third person omniscient, you’re narrating the story from an outsider’s point-of-view, and that narrator can be as oblivious or knowledgeable as you need them to be.

I asked a friend who reads a lot of romance novels how she felt about first vs. third person and she said that she preferred third because it allowed for a comfortable distance between herself and the protagonist. If the protagonist made a decision that she found displeasing, it would be easier for her to accept that as part of the character’s unique story arc rather than becoming distracted by their (in her opinion) flawed reasoning.

Personally, I can enjoy a story from any point-of-view, as long as it’s well written. Even the enigmatic second person, though I have yet to try it, myself. With digital (and some print) “interactive fiction” publishers like SilkWords popping up across the web, I’m tempted to give it a try, though I’m fully aware that it’s the type of thing that takes a lot of time and effort to master.

So, elusive reader, do you prefer your erotica and/or romance in first or third person? Limited or omniscient? If you’re an author, what’s your preferred point-of-view to write in? Does it vary depending on the story you’re trying to tell? I want to know!

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Who is Woe? Woe is me.

DSC_0019I’ll admit, I get a big kick out of telling people I write smut.

Like, a really big kick.

Smutty smut, with all the good C-words—except “cum” because it doesn’t feel like a real word, but that might change by this time next year when I’ve run out of creative terms for spooge.

Welcome to my first blog post.

Whether you’ve arrived here on purpose via my Literotica profile or Twitter account or if you’ve accidentally stumbled upon “that” corner of the internet, it makes no difference. You’re here, and I’m happy to have you.

I write erotica and, inadvertently, erotic romance. I didn’t start out wanting to write romance but it just kept weaving its way into my work. Whether I’m writing about a student and her teacher, the figment of a writer’s imagination, the extraterrestrial life form that’s possessing someone’s husband, or step-siblings who reunite for a game of hide-and-seek, I can’t escape it.

And I don’t think I want to.

Why do we read erotica and/or romance? Why do we open our minds and hearts to these fictional people, bringing them to life if only for a day or week or however long it takes us to finish a story? (And, if they’re really good, long after we turn the page or switch off our e-readers.)

Because we crave stories. Great stories. Stories that draw us into new worlds or strap us into the psyches of beautiful, complex people. People who feel real to us; sometimes more real than the people we know.

I thought my first novel-length story was going to be a three-part series but my characters demanded otherwise. That has to be my favorite aspect of writing fiction: dreaming up people and letting them play in the sandbox that is my imagination. My next favorite thing is what happens when I set them free to play in yours.

Thanks for stopping by.