Monday, April 7, 2008

Dirty Girls, Lusty Literary Ladies, and Other Women We Love

by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Dirty Girls: Erotica for Women is my first anthology where there was no specific theme, no mandate from the publisher other than create a book of erotica stories written by women. This book was originally commissioned by the fabulous Don Weise for Carroll & Graf, and when they folded, Seal Press, also a division of Perseus Books, took it on. I was sad to see the very talented Don go, but Seal is a great home for this collection of 27 stories that run the gamut from super kinky to sweet and almost timid.

What I like best about it is that it represents so many stages of women's lives. I think that even those who have been with the same partner their whole lives still have fantasies about, say, sex with strangers or peep shows or orgies, and erotica, as many of you certainly know, is a brilliant way to tease out those fantasies. It lets women know they're not alone and hopefully the more erotica that's out there, the more women will be encouraged to pick up a pen and start writing.

I know for me, some of my best and most intense sexual experiences have been enhanced by writing about them later. Though currently most of my stories are fictional, those early autobiographical stories helped me figure out who I was sexually and which moments were the most meaningful. I was able to reshape and recast them and once I'd published them, learn about what other people had gone through, and I think this book will cause similar moments of self-identification.

Also, I made sure not to make it all rosy and happy. There are some dark, sad and intense moments, especially in the stories by Marie Lyn Bernard, Gina de Vries, and Shanna Germain, which open and then close the book respectively. I wanted to keep those in because while I wholeheartedly believe in the flourishing erotica market that's only continuing to grow, I think an anthology like Dirty Girls is also an opportunity to go to the heart of what sex means in our lives. It can be transformative in good ways, of course, but it can also tear our hearts out. Those may not be the stories readers will whip out their vibrators to enjoy, but I bet they'll be memorable ones.

I keep going back to Marie Lyn Bernard's opening story "Fucking Around" (my alternative title to the book) because it stems from a spoken word piece she performed at my reading series In The Flesh. What I love about it is not just its humor or darkness, but its realness. Through the format of talking about lovers as cities, she manages to say so, so much, and I hope people will come out to hear her read it on April 17th at In The Flesh or catch it on YouTube, because in many ways, living on the page doesn't do that story justice.

I am also glad I got to include 27 stories here because I think women, and men, are so different (and make no mistake - though Seal had me subtitle the book "Erotica for Women" rather than my suggested "Erotica by Women," there is plenty here men can enjoy, learn from, and get off on), that no book will ever encapsulate all that turns women on. But I hope that this offers something for everyone; sometimes I know my erotica or books are seen as too coarse; there may be one too many "pussy"s or "cunt"s in there, and I understand that. What I find challenging, having now edited almost 20 anthologies and written probably over 100 short stories, is coming up with new ways of using language to describe sex, new scenarios and possibilities. I don't think you can truly reinvent the wheel, but going for the gut, going for those basic human emotions, speaking to readers in ways that will connect with them, doesn't require anything fancy. There are stories here that take risks with the form, like Suki Bishop's, and others that are straight-up smut. I like having them co-exist in one book and I hope that what's "dirty" about the book is different for everyone. I used to think "dirty" was a bad word to use in the sense that I'm using it in my title, because there's nothing inherently "dirty" about desire. But being or acting "dirty" can be lots of fun, it can be a way to defy the stereotype of the "good girl" while also insisting that good girls like to get dirty too.

Lastly, I know there has been some discussion here about the cover of this book, taken by photographer merkley???. When it was presented to me by my editor, Brooke Warner, I loved it immediately. Yes, it's of a woman, and she's naked. I'm still shocked that we can get away with having her nipple on the cover. But what I love about it is that she's both subject and object. I like how she's staring so defiantly at the camera, reclaiming the gaze and showing that "dirty" in this context is not only about what's done to you but about what you do and think and feel. She embodies that spirit, in my opinion, and her nudity is powerful and sexy at the same time.

And I hope New York and San Francisco readers will join me at the book parties for Dirty Girls - New York's (with a boob cake!) will be Thursday, April 10th at 7 pm at Sutra Lounge, 16 First Avenue off First Street, and San Francisco's will be Monday, April 28th from 7-9 at Cafe Royale, 800 Post Street at Leavenworth. Happy, dirty reading!

Addendum from Teresa: If you can't make the readings, or even if you can, please check out for author interviews, information on the "virtual book tour," and more. Be sure to check out the full Table of Contents here. The impressive line-up includes lots of Lusties and once-and-future Lusties: Alison Tyler, Gwen Masters, Dayle A. Dermatis (writing as Andrea Dale), Madelynne Ellis, Shanna Germain and my humble self, Teresa Noelle Roberts.

Naked writer graphic found at MeerImage, which sells some of the coolest rubber stamps Teresa has ever seen.


Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Thanks for visiting us, Rachel! It's always a pleasure to see you. :-)

Everyone else: I'm participating in the Blog Tour for Dirty Girls so please stop by my journal on April 16 to continue this party!

Janine Ashbless said...

Rachel, thank-you for those inspiring words. It sounds like a great and truly varied collection.

I bet we all see ourselves in this! -
What I find challenging ... is coming up with new ways of using language to describe sex, new scenarios and possibilities ...
going for the gut, going for those basic human emotions, speaking to readers in ways that will connect with them

Olivia Knight said...

With the above (quoted by my evil twin already; honestly, as this rate I should charge her rent on my brain) as the guiding editorial principle, this has to be a truly breathtaking book! (Not to mention drawing on the talents of so many Lusties) As a good girl with a dirty streak about a mile wide, I'm looking forward to it...

Jeremy Edwards said...

Wonderful piece, Rachel! I love hearing about the editor's relationship with the book concept and contents.

and make no mistake - though Seal had me subtitle the book "Erotica for Women" rather than my suggested "Erotica by Women," there is plenty here men can enjoy, learn from, and get off on

I'll be at the front of the line. : )

Madelynne Ellis said...

Yay, I'm in this book! Interesting what a difference one word can make regarding the subtitle.

Angell said...

It sounds like an amazing book and the cover is so incredibly HOT. I agree with the defiance in her eyes. She seems to be saying - Go ahead, make my day.

I'm looking forward to getting a copy. :D

M said...

Got my copy and wow...can't wait to join the blog tour and give my input on the book, Dirty Girls, cover art...

The works!


Madeline Moore said...

The book looks and sounds terrific.
I'm going to try to come along on the tour, it sounds like a great ride.

Kate Pearce said...

I really like this cover-it's very challenging and interesting. The contents sound the same too-I love the idea of such diversity and I love the idea that the more erotica women write, the more women in general benefit. Kudos to all involved!

Alison Tyler said...

Very excited to be in the book and to read the other stories! Ta very much, Rachel!


TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Thanks for visiting, Rachel. I love the line-up of stories. Now all I need is time to curl up with the book!

And I adore the cover. I tend to be drawn to female images on covers (they appeal to both my lust and my sense of identifying with the character) but this one is different from many of the ones you see. She's a person, not a headless body (however attractive), and you get a sense of her personality--of fierceness and directness. Sexy, but not the usual "sexy" image.

limecello said...

Hi Rachel,
Thanks for visiting! You definitely got me with the details and explanations. I like that the stories included are so varied. I'm definitely adding this book to my list.

Shanna Germain said...

*shakes her pompoms*

I am seriously, so very excited to see this book! Not just to hold the delicious cover in my hands, but to crack it open see what dirty girls have on their minds :)

Congrats to all!

Best, s.