“What’s the title of your book?” the nice lady at my synagogue asks.
“The Killer Wore Leather,” I answer.
“Leather? Like BDSM?” She annunciates each letter clearly, like spelling them out for a monogram or password. “Like that Fifty Shades thing?”
“Yes,” I say. “Exactly like that. But, funny.”
“Oh, I’ll have to get that. Harry! Write that down! The Killer (who) Wore Leather!”
Ka-ching! Welcome to my new world.
Twenty years ago, I had a gay male novel, (Musclebound) a collection of short stories about people all experimenting with kinky sex for the first time (The Catalyst, now titled Cinema Erotica) and was about to release the first in a planned trilogy of SM-themed erotic novels all based in a secretive, world-wide slave training and selling society called The Marketplace. I was also collecting erotic kinky stories by and about women for a collection titled Leatherwomen. Not all of these were under my real name – conventional wisdom at the time said 1) no one wanted gay male fiction written by a woman, especially not erotic fiction, and 2) writing about straight people having kinky sex was never going to get any writer anything but rolled eyes, scorn, and an occasional fan letter requesting panties, domination, or an earnest desire to find Jesus.
All of those things, I got, by the way. Rolled eyes, polite, “Oh, really?” comments when I admitted I wrote Dirty Novels, odd requests from socially awkward people and sure, even an occasional plea to find the light. Instead, I converted to Judaism, where I was recently invited to light the Sabbath candles because my new book – did I mention the new book, The Killer Wore Leather? – came out.
What a difference twenty years makes.
Of course, back then, the big reason why gay anything was in the news was because gay men were dying of AIDS. When kinky sex made the news, it was usually around some murder case. Anne Rice had just released Exit to Eden under the name Anne Rampling, but it didn’t make the book world explode like the more modern kinky bestseller(s) did, because 1) no social media, and 2) no e-books. The tepid movie they made that was sort-of-kind-of, OK-not-really based on the book just cemented it into obscurity.
These days, Rice’s smutty books, including her very, very naughty Beauty series, can be found on the shelves of Target. Under her better known name.
So, it’s a new world, a better world, both for the gays and for the kinksters, right?
Well, not so fast.
The sudden attention paid to the fact that readers enjoy a bit of the old handcuff and riding crop action in their tomes (or .mobi and .epub files) doesn’t mean anyone who has thrown in some bondage and a nod at concepts like safewords has suddenly rocketed up the bestseller list and is sitting back collecting the filthy lucre and ordering the pool boy to fetch them another mojito. In fact, although sales have gone up for a few of us, the economic theory of “one popular thing makes everyone else in that genre rich” has never worked. The years after Star Wars came out were full of space opera movies.
OK, I can, because I’m a geek. But man, they sucked. Also, there were millions of fans who would rather spend their time and money seeing Star Wars AGAIN, or buying Star Wars books, Star Wars action figures, Star Wars bed sheets and Star Wars trading cards. Just as right now, there are millions of 50 Shaders who spend all their time pondering the casting of the movie(s), and buying trademarked, official Fifty Shades of Grey spanking kits.
But that’s OK. I’m not bitter. OK, I’m a little bitter. But mostly, I’m fine. Because, ultimately, what those books did for me? Is let me tell that nice lady at my synagogue about my new book. And later, tell some more people that actually, yeah, I’ve been writing that stuff for over twenty years.
And even better, I get to move onto my next conceptual project, which is to get more writers to create characters who are kinky – without their kinkiness being the whole point of the story.
The Killer Wore Leather is a comedy murder-mystery, set at a leather contest. You don’t have to know what a leather contest IS before you read the book, you’ll find out. But under that, the book is also a sort of kinky, literary stealth bomb. Because the story is not about “kinky sex makes people into crazed killers!”
It’s a murder mystery where the killing takes place in a world where some people are kinky.
It’s not a “dark exploration into the forbidden world of …blah, blah, blah,” over-written hyperbole suggesting that anyone who does that sort of thing is a drooling, cackling lunatic planning to keep people in basement dungeons before disposing of them in some Dexter-esque fashion to be written about with glee by a tabloid website.
It takes place at a convention. Where people wear odd clothing, take odd-sounding classes, compete in things other folks didn’t even know had a competitive side, and then…go shopping.
Maybe the ultimate good thing that the 50 Shades Phenomenon has done is to let people just TALK about kinky sex and admit, yeah, it’s kind of titillating. Great. Sure beats having people talk about it only in the contest of an episode of CSI where the corpse was found in a leather hood.
But now, I want to demystify it. I want readers to see the human characters who are more than their kinkiness. To show that having sex is just one of the many things they do in their own special ways. Just as a lesbian detective might have been seen as daring and risky thirty years ago, maybe a lesbian detective whose lover just might tempt her into being a bit kinky in bed has arrived just at the right time.
And if not, I can always just keep writing my erotica, which I intend to do anyway. Because, like a lot of kinky people, I do want it all.