Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Group Retreat with the Sensational Susie Bright

by Alison Tyler

We, at LustBites, are all atwitter. Today, we’re featuring an interview with editrix extraordinaire Susie Bright! Ms. Bright is the cofounder and editor of the first women's sex magazine, On Our Backs, the founder of the first women's erotica book series, "Herotica," and the editor of the excellent "Best American Erotica" series, which she began in 1993. BAE 2007 is the 15th collection in the series. Basically, Susie rocks!

Susie, you are an inspiration. One who's made such an impact to all of us: readers and writers alike. We’re truly excited you’re here.

Lust Bites: One lustbiter recalls picking up a Best American antho, "And it was like I'd been given treasure. All the erotica I was reading tended to be very romantic, health spa-ish, full of adverbs.

Susie Bright: LOL! who of you said that? Please tell me! I have never heard the "health-spa-ish" appellation before, that is too perfect. And just ask me about the Adverb Diet!

LB: And suddenly here was good stylish writing with contemporary characters I could relate to, wit, intelligence, relevance ... oh, I was so happy it existed."

SB: I must quote this. You must reveal.

LB: It was Kristina Lloyd who said that. (You don't mind that I've outed you, Kristina, do you?) Another Lustbiter remembers reading a quote from you. It was so powerful, she posted it on the wall: "Close your eyes for a moment, and remember the last time you had an orgasm. At the moment of climax, how many of you were thinking about a lovely walk on the beach, or a bouquet of balloons?" God, that was freeing.

SB: Yes, I remember writing it, and it liberated me to just blurt it out. I was taking a chance, but it really does seem to speak for the multitudes! Who among you had this memory?

LB: Um, that was me. It's still one of my favorite quotes! You know, we wish we could sit around a roaring fire with you, drinking bubbly and painting our nails while we slip sultry questions into the conversation.

SB: Well, why not? Why do we never have a group retreat, get-together, something?

LB: As we're an international crew, that's not going to happen unless one of us rakes in the lottery. So instead, we've managed to come up with a variety of questions. Pick and choose your favorites, or go off on another tangent altogether. (We'd all love to hear more about the delicious Best American Erotica 2007 which features one of our crew, the ever so talented Shanna Germain.)

SB: I have an interview with Shanna on my blog...

LB: What do you think of the romance genre's trend toward erotic romance?

SB: I wrote a piece answering this very question, which I'm really proud of.

LB: What do you look for in an erotic story? What do you hate to see?

SB: The erotic story has a built-in expectation: Person A Meets Person B (Maybe a C and D, etc) and They Get It On, After a Brief Conflict.

That expectation is deadly. Predictability is the torture of literature. So, a great erotic story for me is one that makes me completely forget that I think I know what's going to happen, that makes me really wonder how the conflict will be overcome, that captures me with suspense of some kind. That makes me innocent.

Well, you hit on my "hates" in your comments above. Mushy, cornball, bigoted crap-cakes. With lots of adverb frosting.

LB: What shocks you? Has this changed over the years?

SB: Not really. My sensitivities are pretty consistent. Cruelty and callousness, the real kind, not the erotic variety, are what push my buttons. But I will publish these very things, these kind of characterizations, if they're not gratuitous, because of course, if it REALLY shocks you then it means the author knows what they're doing, with their craft and imagination. In other words, to take an example from mainstream literature, of course "Hannibal Lecter" frightened me. He's supposed to. The Marquis de Sade IS shocking, he'd better be. An erotic story can have shocking, anti-erotic content and still be wildly successful as writing and as erotica, if it finds its own divine conclusion.

On a more political note, what really shocks me is the tenacity of Anglo-American puritanism. I am so fucking sick of it, and it never lets up, never stops ruining people's lives, never lets go of its hold on democracy.

LB: Who or what are your heroes/inspirations?

SB: I'm one of those people who just goes wild over a new bud opening, a new person I just met on the bus, an intact sea urchin shell on the beach... I don’t meant to sound like a ditzy ingenue, but I would be crushed if I didn’t find something new that's beautiful or intriguing or contemplative to get into, day to day. I'm impulsive that way.

LB: Has there ever been a story that you wished you'd written yourself?

SB: That is the essence of BAE... I wish I wrote virtually all of those stories! That's exactly my criteria!

LB: Have you ever considered starting your own Susie Bright imprint or publishing empire?

SB: Yes, certainly. Stay tuned...

LB: What is your feeling about ebooks? Do you think people will ever make the full transition to online reading, leaving paper books behind?

SB: I have. I mean, I'm bi-readable now. I enjoy ebooks all the time, because I read on my computer ALL THE TIME. But I love my books, always will. It's like loving movies and loving books and loving music.

Thank you for your time, Susie. We can't wait to see what you have waiting for us in the wings...

Be sure to check out the BAE editions featuring Lustbiters -

Alana Noel in BAE 2005

Gwen Masters in BAE 2006

Shanna Germain in BAE 2007

And visit Susie's journal for more.



Nikki Magennis said...

Susie! Wow, I can hardly believe you're here!

Thank you so much for dropping by. I do so wish that we could fix that group retreat sometime. I think the Blue Lagoon in Iceland is kind of halfway - sound good?

Meanwhile, more power to your elbow, ma'am.

Sabrina Luna said...

Thank you, LustBiters, for having Susie Bright --I love my BAE collection & Susie rocks! :)

Gwen Masters said...

Best American Erotica 1993 was the first GOOD book of erotica I ever picked up. I've worn out that edition TWICE and now the cover of my third copy is ragged.

How to Write a Dirty Story is Susie's MUST HAVE book. I got more good advice from that book than I did from half a dozen writer's conventions.

Nikki Magennis said...

...I recently found a complete volume of 'Herotica' in someone's garage bookshop in a tiny fishing village on the remote Isle of Mull.

Reaching the parts other erotica books don't...

Alana said...

Hi Ms. Alison, thank you for initiating and compiling this interview with Susie. Pain staking process of love, I'm sure. :-) Awesome. XXOO

Susie, thank you for agreeing to appear on Lust Bites. Have you considered running for President? Do you need a campaign manager, personal assistant, gopher girl, Girl Friday, house maid, grunt, anything? :-)

Gwen, BAE 95 changed my writing life FOREVER. I love that book. I sleep with it near my bed: I'm not kidding! It's one of those books I can open any time for no apparent reason other than joy, inspiration, awe. What's your fav story in 93? Best story in 95 . . . oh, wow, hmm, "Indio." "Absolution." I don't know! I also like 96, 97, 99, 05, 06, & 07. I discovered my newest writer crush, Sera Gamble, in 06. Check out "The Clay Man!"

Ms. Nx, the Herotica series was amazing. Remains so. I discovered a new way of writing via those books. They encouraged me to graduate from writing fantasy forum stuff for Playgirl to attempting to write less formulaic more character driven stuff. Sonja Kindley appeared a few times in the Herotica series, and her story "Make Me" makes me cry. I even referenced it in my MFA exam because it's beent hat important to me. Sadly, I can't find Sonja anywhere else. I surly wish she's still writing.

Shit. Gotta go.

Love you everyone,

Alison Tyler said...

Quick -- look, ma, I have internet! -- Nikki, thank you for posting!

Isn't Susie incredible?


Kate Pearce said...

Many people think they can write a book, 'everyone' thinks they can write erotica-and they can't, they really can't. Thanks for Susie for showing how it's done.

ps I enjoyed your comments in Writer's Digest about the erotica/erotic romance debate-very thought provoking.

Alana said...

OK. If anyone wonders (maybe not) I've managed to sneak back here because I'm alone in the office today. And I'm all caught up, so it's quiet until a client walks in and then I have to duck out again.

In the meantime, this party is way too quiet! Where are the naked waiters? Here's one. He looks like Hayden Christensen. So he's hot; and he promises to keep our champagne flowing.

Alana said...

Hey Nx, forgot to ask. Is that the Blue Lagoon where they did the movie, you know with Chris Atkins and Brooke Sheilds?

kristina lloyd said...

Alison, heck no, I don't mind being outed as a Susie Bright fan.

My first BAE was '96 (ha - this is becoming a 'when did you lose your virginity to Susie' section).

There was nothing like it in the UK (I found it in a 2nd hand shop) and I was getting bored and weary of all the purple prose I kept finding in erotica. That BAE was so reassuring and inspirational. It gave me the confidence to go ahead and write the kind of smart filth I enjoy writing.

Great article on romance and erotic fiction. It’s something a lot of us writers are having to think about right now, whether we like it or not. I’m also a big fan of your article on rape fantasy which I’m hopefully linking to right here. Well, I’m a fan of lots of your articles but it’s my mission in life to get women to feel more comfortable about RF. Some strive for world peace, some to cure cancer - but I don’t have the skills so I’m sticking with that one. I like your line: ‘What really happens when you get your consciousness raised, is that you aren’t afraid of your fantasies.’ I had a lot of problems with Nancy Friday's Women on Top too.

Thank you.

And, ohhhh Alana, I remember that film! She *bleeds* in the water, doesn't she? Gosh. It all had quite an effect on me.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Where are the naked waiters?

Uh-oh! Is that my table? I'll be with you as soon as I can. There's another table over there who are rather demanding, you see.

I love it when we're understaffed.

So to speak.

Smut Girl said...

**How to Write a Dirty Story is Susie's MUST HAVE book. I got more good advice from that book than I did from half a dozen writer's conventions. **

I agree completely. I'll keep it short and sweet since I'm on muscle relaxers and don't want to make an ass of myself. Really enjoyed the interview.

**"Close your eyes for a moment, and remember the last time you had an orgasm. At the moment of climax, how many of you were thinking about a lovely walk on the beach, or a bouquet of balloons?"**

That made me laugh and nod my head in agreement. Right on...

okay, that just made an ass of me. oh well. Great read ;)

Madeline said...

I'm late for the Susie Bright interview. *Gasp* Yes, Best American Erotica changed my perspective on erotica forever, too. So many sexy stories in so many lovely volumes. I know I'm not the only writer of erotica, or even the only writer of erotica that belongs to Lust Bites, that dreams of the day when one of my stories makes it into BAE,but in the meantime I can keep reading and enjoying them - reading them as a reader, too, and not as an envious, light-fingered writer.
It's a real honour to have you visit our blog, Ms. Bright. Totally delightful.

Emerald said...

Kristina -- thank you for posting the link to Susie's rape fantasy article. Having just finished reading it, I don't have the wherewithal or inclination to offer any profound opinions on it at the moment, but I feel very glad I read it. I really appreciate your pointing it out.

And by the way Susie, I thought this line: "Erotic fantasies take the unbearable issues in life and turn them into orgasmic gunpowder." was just amazing.

So, switching gears and getting back to the interview, I hear you Susie about the "tenacity of Anglo-American puritanism" (very nicely phrased). At times I find myself simply watching it in disbelief, and just when I think that line of thinking could hardly manifest in any more ignorant and detrimental ways, it seems to. It really breaks my heart.

Thanks for interviewing, Alison, and for agreeing to be interviewed, Susie!


kristina lloyd said...

Thanks, Emerald, and you're very welcome. It's a great article and I think it's important.

I once wrote a post for Lust Bites (link in the side bar) about femsub and rape fantasies. You might find it interesting. I'm not as smart or eloquent as Susie but, hey, it's there and I'm trying!

Shanna Germain said...

I'm running in a little late here.


Hi everyone! Hi Susie!

I'm going to echo what everyone's said about BAE. It was the first erotic book I read that showed me that sex writing could be something beyond Hustler Fantasies. Don't get me wrong, I adore straight-up sex writing like that, but BAE had something that touched my literary-writerly soul. It made me think, "oh yeah, that's what I want to write when I grow up."

And, well, here I am. Writing stuff like that. Not grown up yet, though!

Susie's helped mold a whole world of women sex writers. That's pretty freakin' awesome!


Alana said...

Shanna, you're so right. Susie is to women writing erotica as Madonna is to women in music.

Of course, Susie's influence transcends writing and publishing. She's also a political presence, but it all comes full circle.

Had I got in on the line of questioning (my fault, mine entirely) I would have asked Susie how her life's work influences her daughter Aretha, thus enpowering another generation of women. Think about it! Pretty cool.

I forgot to mention I also love BAE 2000. Susie published William Harrison's story "Two Cars in a Cornfield," which I taught in an Intermediate Fiction Writing class at the University of Oregon. Harrison was included in a killer reading list, if I don't say so myself: Sandra Cisneros, Langston Hughes, Jamaica Kincaid, James Joyce, Susan Minot, T.C Boyle and another BAE author, Trac Vu.

Kate Pearce pointed out in her post here everyone think's they can write erotica, hence the idea it's easy because it's fluff. After my students read "Two Cars in a Cornfield" they were mystified and then bedazzled. Overall concensus was, "We had no idea erotic fiction could be so well written, so thought provoking." That wasn't coming from a bunch of academic snobs but a group of unenlightened kids---who could have been on thier way to becoming academic snobs, :-)

But that day in this cramped classroom a light came on inside twenty-four heads. It was very cool.

I used Trac Vu's story, "Pre-Dahmer" as a writing model. Essentially Vu's piece is a mere paragraph long but ends up this stunning extended metaphor. After we discussed the technique, I told my students, "Write your own extended metaphor." Guess what they told me after?

That was so hard.

When my evaluations came back after end of the term, most the students named Harrison's story thier favorite of the class and the extended metaphor assignment the most challenging.

Ah, very cool.

Alana said...

P.S. Nah, it's no secret. I'd wash Susie Bright's feet with my hair.

Peace Lusties,