It feels somewhat redundant to introduce Rachel Kramer Bussel because her reputation in the world of erotic literature is close to being legendary. If you’re reading this page the chances are you already know who Rachel is and what she does.
For those few readers who aren’t familiar with this icon of erotica, it should be noted that Rachel Kramer Bussel lives in New York City, is senior editor at Penthouse Variations and a contributing editor to Penthouse. She has edited or co-edited 20 anthologies, hosted and curated the In The Flesh Erotic Reading Series and, as an erotica writer, her work has appeared in more than 100 anthologies. It should also be noted that Rachel holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies, and is in aficionado of everything to do with cupcakes.
Rachel kindly took time from her very busy schedule to answer a few questions about her latest anthology, Spanked, which includes her short story The Depths of Despair.
Ashley Lister: Spanked is a wonderful collection of stories and covers spanking from being frivolous fun to punitive punishment. As with your previous collections that focus on spanking (Naughty Spanking Stories From A to Z – Vol I and II) you’ve eclectically blended male and female tops and bottoms and created another have-to-have anthology. What criterion were you looking for when you were selecting stories for this collection?
Rachel: First of all, I wanted hot stories that focused on spanking, but that also took spanking and ran with it. Because no matter how much you love the topic (and I do, quite a lot), I think it would be easy to get bored reading about spanking after spanking, unless you find a way to mix things up. So top notch, sexy writing and a variety of types of spanking and spanking scenarios, and that’s exactly what I got. I love that the book opens with a second-person paean to spanking someone, called “Spanking You” by Rick Roberts. It’s so immediate and specific, about a man remembering spanking a female lover, but it’s also relatable. The stories range from humorous, as in L. Elise Bland’s “The Breeding Barn,” where a man gets spanked with a cheese paddle, to some very intense ones that may bring up all sorts of emotional reactions that go way deeper than the surface of the skin.
Ashley Lister: I know all the stories in this anthology are good, but do you have any particular favourites? Are there any that struck you as innovative in their approach to the subject matter?
Rachel: I really loved “Daddy’s Girl” by Teresa Noelle Roberts, mostly because I never would’ve thought I’d want to read or get so turned on by a Daddy/girl story. I never really got that form of role-playing, and in fact it disturbed me a bit. But reading her story changed all that for me, and I think why it works is that the narrator is not in role 100% of the story. She breaks role to explain what’s happening, and also to question what’s happening. She’s not some deluded sub who is following her Daddy’s orders 100% of the time. She questions him, she argues, and when she gets punished, she understands why. It’s a totally mutual form of play, and Roberts just nails it perfectly.
Every time I pick up Spanked, I reread that story, and I get so turned on I have to masturbate. Really, and for me, perhaps it’s an occupational hazard, but that rarely happens. I really liked Madlyn March’s “Reunion” too because the high school bully Toni is so raring for a spanking. Plus it’s told from the top’s point of view, something we need more of in spanking erotica, I think. In a way it’s easier, in my opinion, to write from the bottom’s point of view, because they are receiving the whacks, they can tell you what each one feels like. To describe the thrill of spanking someone, of making them squirm and beg and cry out, of watching their skin turn colors, of holding that power over someone else, and to do it well, deserves praise. I think each story will appeal to different people, or perhaps the same people, on different days. I don’t necessarily think Spanked is a book to read all at once, but maybe to read a few stories one day, and save some for the next, depending on what kind of story you want to read.
Ashley Lister: The Depths of Despair is the final story in Spanked. The premise of this story is simply that the heroine, Denise, asks her partner, Evan, to take their spanking further than before. Evan responds with the warning, “Be careful what you wish for…”
One of the reasons this story stood out, for me, was because it seemed to go further than any other spanking story I’d previously read. I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t yet got to this story in Spanked, but Evan does put Denise through an intense gamut of spanking punishments. Were you consciously trying to stretch boundaries when you wrote The Depths of Despair?
Rachel: I don’t know if I was consciously trying to stretch boundaries, but I was trying to explore the idea of “be careful what you wish for.” So often what we think we want sexually winds up taking us in a whole new direction. And with BDSM, I think any bottom who can ask for what he or she wants is to be congratulated. That’s a really tough thing to do, no matter how well we know the other person, and when we’re asking someone to basically push us beyond our comfort zone, we have no idea what will happen. Denise gets what she wants—to cry during her spanking—but Evan goes about it in a way that’s very different from what she would have wanted. I think he’s being a good top in doing so; if he were predictable, she might have cried, but it wouldn’t have been as real.
Ashley Lister: Denise is an archetypical Rachel Kramer Bussel heroine in that she is self-aware and relates the story to the reader with layers of complex introspection that juxtapose cleverly against the physical aspect of the narrative. (I’m thinking archetypical here in the same mould as your unnamed heroine from Doing the Dishes, Best Women’s Erotica 04 and Mammoth Best New Erotica 4, and Marianne from Tight Squeeze in Rubber Sex). Why do you place such a strong emphasis on the psychological element of your characters?
Rachel: That’s an interesting question, one I’ve never really pondered before. Well, I think for one thing, dialogue is not my strong suit, so most of my stories are in the first person because that’s the easiest way for me to get inside the characters’ heads, and to tell the story.
But beyond that, I think at a very primal level, it’s the psychology of both my lovers and characters in stories that turns me on. The fastest way to rope me in is to share something truly intimate, and when you do it in a story, I think it creates this bond with the reader. It shows them where the character is coming from and why whatever action is happening turns them on so much. To me one of the greatest things about spanking, as a topic and activity, is there there’s such a vast range of motivations. You could watch, say, two men get spanked by two women. Both have their hands above their head, standing against a wall. Both women use the same black paddle. To an outsider, the scenes look the same, but maybe one is being “punished” by his mistress, and maybe the other has never been spanked before, and is curious. Or maybe he’s usually the top and they’ve decided to switch. You never know, and by telling the story in an engaging way, we can find out.
Ashley Lister: As I mentioned before, The Depths of Despair goes to extremes leading up to its dénouement. Denise is presented as a woman who yearns to be wholly subjugated. Did you worry whilst writing this story that it could be viewed as misogynistic—or at least reinforcing a patriarchal hegemony that structures the story world? (And, if you did worry about those things, how did this affect the way you ultimately edited the story before including it in the anthology?)
Rachel: I didn’t worry about the story being viewed as misogynistic because I told it from her point of view. Granted, women can be self-hating and misogynistic, too, but I think it’s really important with anything related to BDSM, to make clear that it is not about true cruelty or true self-hatred, though I think people can work out their not-so-tender feelings and issues with themselves in the form of BDSM.
I think it’s especially powerful when women can ask for what they want. A woman like Denise who wants to go to that far, far edge, has to take a huge risk, both that her partner will be okay with it, and that she will. She has to overcome all of society’s urgings that we not lose control quite so spectacularly. To ask to cry, something normally seen as a weakness, and especially a feminine one, at her partner’s hands, is, to my eyes, brave. And hot, I hope. And to go through what she does and survive and thrive, to me is a symbol of female strength. In no way is it about him “abusing” her because he never would, truly; he is giving her exactly what she wants, what he knows will press the right buttons to get her to truly let go. Sometimes, I know for me, when I’m too wound up in my own head to really relax during sex or kink, I need to go to one of those far places to really get turned on.
I’ve been dealing with some challenging, often murky territory lately in my writing—I wrote a rape fantasy story for Alison Tyler’s upcoming P Is for Perverse. I enjoy looking at how people take sex and kink and use them in cathartic ways. It’s complex, and I try to get at that complexity. Writing is particularly well-suited to doing so, because you can literally explain your character’s mindset, take the reader inside to show why it is that, say, someone might get off on a rape fantasy, or want to be made to cry. These are things that are easy to look at from the outside and say, “She’s sick,” but on the inside, may feel differently to the person involved.
Ashley Lister: I’m hoping that everyone who reads this has been out and bought Spanked and Rubber Sex. They’re both sensational collections and should become prized possessions in everyone’s bedside library. Can you give us an insight into what you’re currently working on?
Rachel: A lot of things, as always! I’m Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations, and our December issue is our 30th Anniversary issue (on sale October 28th). I also write for The Huffington Post, TheFrisky.com and other publications, and blog obsessively at Lusty Lady and Cupcakes Take the Cake.
As for erotica, I have two oral sex themed anthologies coming out in September from Cleis, Tasting Him: Oral Sex Stories (about fellatio) and Tasting Her: Oral Sex Stories (about cunnilingus) — you can read excerpts at TastingHim.wordpress.com and TastingHer.wordpress.com. Those I can liken to Spanked in the sense that there are stories from the giver’s and receiver’s points of view. I’m also editing the non-fiction collection Best Sex Writing 2009, with MSNBC sex columnist Brian Alexander guest editing. I have my first foray into erotic romance with Bedding Down: A Collection of Winter Erotica, from Avon Red in December. That features seven novellas by Kristina Wright, Gwen Masters, Alison Tyler, Marilyn Jaye Lewis, Isabelle Gray, Sophie Mouette, and Shanna Germain, and is perfect to read under the covers (or next to a fire). Then 2009 brings Do Not Disturb: Hotel Sex Stories, Nasty Habits (erotica about religion/spirituality), Mile High Club (my really fun airplane sex anthology), and more spanking erotica in Bottoms Up! After that, who knows?
“Between the Lines” © 2008 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.