By Lisabet Sarai
It’s early in May. I have just submitted the final manuscript for my latest Excessica book, entitled Fourth World. I’ve been planning this book, a collection of paranormal erotica, for quite a while, so I sent it off with no small sense of satisfaction.
Over the past two days I’ve been immersed in editing the seven tales that comprise this volume. As I read and re-read them, I was startled to realize that not one of them has an unambiguously happy ending. That’s very rare, for me. I generally consider myself an optimist, and I’d definitely label myself as sex-positive. So why am I suddenly publishing a whole book of stories where no character gets exactly what he or she wants? A book in which at least one character actually dies by the story’s conclusion, while others are irrevocably damaged—where the surviving protagonists live with grief, confusion, frustration or profound ennui?
You might surmise that I wrote these tales during a difficult time in my own life, that they mirror some negativity in my own soul. That’s not the case, though. The stories in Fourth World cover more than a decade of my career, a decade, as it happens, of great success and personal satisfaction.
Another theory might be that these stories represent a reaction to the relentless emphasis on happy endings in romance. There’s some truth to that notion. When I wrote “Renfield’s Lament”, about two years ago, I was feeling fed up with HEAs. I deliberately crafted the darkest tale I could imagine, just to see how far I could push the envelope while still arousing my readers (and myself). Some of the earlier stories in the book, though, come from the period before I began writing erotic romance at all, when I was blissfully innocent about the demands of market and genre.
Perhaps the ambiguity in these tales reflects my convictions about magic. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved fairy tales and fantasy, but even back then I understood that power always exacts its price. Miracles occur, but they require sacrifices. Wotan forfeits an eye in his quest for wisdom; Frodo Baggins loses a finger in fulfilling his quest. No one walks through the fires of the supernatural and emerges unscathed. Plus, one has to admit there is something seductive about the shadows, something hypnotic about evil, especially when it clothes itself in exquisite, responsive flesh.
Ultimately the why doesn’t matter. These stories are what they are. Of course, once I’d noticed the dark trend in the book, I started to worry. Should I throw in a couple of lighter tales, to balance the cruelty and violence (physical and emotional) in the ones I’d originally chosen? Would anyone actually buy this book without at least a few happy-for-nows?
I decided against that compromise. The seven stories in Fourth World make an organic whole. They represent some of the most intense erotica I’ve ever written—scalding, twisted, nasty, no-holds-barred lust, triggered and augmented by magic. I personally find the endings satisfying, at least from a literary perspective. They have an inevitability that feels right.
There’s something freeing for me about publishing this book. Readers who want happy endings can pick up some of my erotic romance or romantic erotica, which is mostly what I write. Fourth World is aimed at those of you who are braver, or more curious—people who recognize that when you have blood-sucking demons, someone’s going to get hurt.
To them, I say: come explore the shadows with me. Welcome, darkness.