Ashley Lister talks with Shanna Germain

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Shanna GermainThe name of Shanna Germain will be familiar to any serious reader of erotic fiction. Shanna’s short fiction has appeared in a wide range of anthologies including Alison Tyler’s Hurts So Good, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Spanked and Alessia Brio’s Coming Together With Pride.

For those who aren’t familiar with Shanna’s work, this small extract from ‘White Heat, White Light,’ gives a taste of her distinctive style:

Night is falling. In the rising dark, I am free. For now. The bonfire lights my way to him, a grounded star trail a thousand hours long. I travel with the speed of light on winged sandals until I am there, in front of him, fierce and free in my summer dress. In the wind my hair whips around my head. It makes untameable snakes with pretty patterns.

Ashley Lister: I’ve noticed that in your fiction you seem to prefer using the first person perspective. Does this allow you to create a more intimate relationship between yourself and the reader? How far removed are you from the personae of the story? Is it always a fictional character that you’re writing about or do you sometimes get yourself caught up in the identity of that character?

Shanna Germain: Oh, wow. That’s a doozy of a question to start with. I love it!

I think it has more to do with the fact that I’m very character driven. Most stories start because I hear this person talking in my head, saying something in a voice and a language that’s wholly theirs. A recent story started because I heard this woman say, “It was my first death party, and I was late to it,” and of course I had to follow her along and see who died and why she was late. Another piece started when I heard a young man singing this old Scottish song. I find that I can get into a character’s head more clearly when I write in first-person, I can tell their stories as they would tell it, which in the end, hopefully does create more intimacy, not just between myself and the reader, but between my character and the reader.

To me, first versus third person is like driving versus riding in a car. In writing, I like to be behind the wheel (although not in life nor in sex – I hate to drive, and I’m very much a submissive). But in writing, driving lets me get closer to the action and the emotion of the character. That being said, I do try to be true to the story, and some stories just demand third person.

As to how close I am, I’d like to say I’m very close to my characters (and there are some characters I’d like to be very close to!). But, while they all have a bit of me, they are never actually me. I can’t write non-fiction, although I’ve tried about a bazillion times. I enjoy lying far too much to tell the truth.

Ashley Lister: One of my favourite Shanna Germain stories is ‘White Heat, White Light’ from Alison Tyler’s anthology Playing With Fire. The description in this story is poetic, eloquent and intense. Where did the idea come from? And how would you explain the story to someone who hasn’t read this piece?

Shanna Germain: Oh, thanks. I’m blushing. Maybe that’s just the heat. Is it hot in here?

-fans herself with a copy of Alison’s book-

Whew. That’s better. A little.

The story is actually a very loose retelling of Andromeda, and the original title of the story was, “Chained Lady.” So there are a lot of references to the myths and constellations in the language and the visuals: stars and winged sandals, snakes and serpents and sirens.

In the original version, Andromeda is chained to a rock for eternity—offered as a sacrifice to a sea monster—in punishment for her mother’s bragging. She is saved by Perseus, the man who becomes her husband. In my version, she makes her own mistakes and takes her punishment, knowing full well what she’s getting into and that sometimes the punishment is actually part of the pleasure.

Ashley Lister: Away from your writing, I know that you do a lot of travelling. Do you find the influence of different cultures and locations adds to your fiction? Do you find yourself setting new stories in locations that you’ve recently visited?

Shanna Germain: Oh, yes, travelling influences my work very much. Right now, I’m living on a wild island off the coast of Scotland, and I find myself writing about sea-faring creatures like mermen and selkies. When I’m in a city, my work takes on a highly sexualized, faster, more urban tone. It’s not just that I write about different subjects, but also that the language I write with changes, the breath and rhythm of the words and sentences. Right now, for example, I’m in Germany, and the language has this lovely sing-song quality about it that, when combined with all the Gothic and fairy-tale type buildings, makes me write in this fantastical, whimsical voice.

Also, sometimes, I find that I can’t write about a place until I’ve left it, when I can look back and see it from far away. I suppose that’s true of many things, isn’t it?

Ashley Lister: I particularly enjoyed reading your story ‘Perfect Bound’ in Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Spanked. As always, the description is exciting and the sexual tension between your two main characters is tangible from the opening line through to the conclusion. How do you create this dynamic between characters?

Shanna Germain: Okay, okay, I promise I won’t blush again.

Oops, there I go. Damn it. See what you did?

To hear that the sexual tension works means so much to me. That’s a great deal of my goal when I’m writing erotica. I’m not so much into the sex itself – in fact, editors often say, “I love this story, but can you add more more sex?” – because to me, the interesting part is the tension that happens on the way to the sex.

Getting the tension right at least partially goes back to that first-person voice, of listening to the characters. The first thing I ask my characters is “What do you want?” Sometimes they answer, sometimes they don’t. The story, to me, is about discovering what they want, why they can’t have it, and how they can get it. I think there’s so much tension in just that alone.

The reason I enjoy writing erotica is because, to me, sex is a time when we are most human, when we put down all our walls and our safety nets. I’m always aiming for that moment in my fiction – when everything’s exposed and every little touch and word is fraught with tension and desire.

Ashley Lister: What are you currently working on?

Shanna Germain: I work best when I’ve got about a million things on my plate. So I typically have a couple of novels, a couple of novellas, and ten or twelve short stories and poems going on at a time. Much of it is erotica – I’ll never leave that genre, I just love it too much. I also write horror, fantasy, speculative fiction and some mesh (I wrote ‘mess’ the first time, which is probably more appropriate) of all of that.

For the past ten years or so, I’ve been making my living as a freelance writer, editor and teacher, and just this spring, I gave all that up to write fiction full-time. So, it’s a scary and wonderful time for me. As part of that, one of the cool things that I’m working on is an e-book publishing company called MindFuck Fiction, where readers can buy my short fiction (and eventually the fiction of other great authors) for a song (or a few bucks).

Ashley Lister: If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?

Shanna Germain: It would be that old cliché: Write and don’t give up. I teach fiction writing, and I see it over and over again: too many fantastic authors get so scared that they just stop writing. I tell them it’s like a mountain range: you get to the top of one skill and you think you know it all, and then you make one wrong step and you’re at the bottom looking up, with six hundred more mountains to climb. You’re never going to get through them all if you don’t just start.

Tape the words, “Fuck Fear” (or something else that gets you past the stoppage) over your desk. Say it aloud until you mean it. Then glue your ass to the chair and put words and words and words on the page.

Ashley Lister: Where can readers now go to find more of your work?

Shanna Germain: I’m in a bunch of new anthologies coming out, including this year’s Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Like a Thorn, Blood Fruit: Queer Horror and Bitten. Readers can also see what I’m working on at my blog, Year of the Books.

Thank you, thank you, Ashley! Such a pleasure to talk to you, even if I don’t get to hear your great accent on paper.

Ashley Lister
August 2009


“Between the Lines” © 2009 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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