Sep 122012

The second panel I attended on Sunday morning was “Learning from Master-slave fiction”, with David Stein, Laura Antoniou, Anneke Jacob and Reid Spencer.

Most people encounter BDSM fiction before they encounter BDSM in real life, whether in the form of narratives or online encounters. This means that people tend to imprint on those fictions and receive ideas like: Masters are (or should be) wealthy, sadists, men, leather wearing, etc. Slaves are (or should be) without limits, make no decisions, etc. These assumptions cause problems later on. So what is the proper relationship between BDSM fiction, particularly Master-slave relationships, and actually living them?

David Stein said that the relationships depicted in fiction should be plausible. For example, discipline is not the same thing as punishment. Positive reinforcement is essential, and works better over the long run.

He wrote out of a desire to fix John Preston’s classic Mr. Benson, particularly how dumb, aimless and useless the slave character was. Stein’s novel Carried Away features two men with families and jobs who practice realistic BDSM. A romantic fantasy that is more grounded in realism.

Laura Antoniou admitted that what she masturbates to is 1970s gangbang porn, of which she says , “It’s terrible.” What interests her is a different thing entirely. Like Stein, her work is in large part a critical response (a strong misreading) to prior works, specifically John Preston‘s “Network” stories and the “Club” of Anne Rice’s novel Exit to Eden, but more realistic.¬†Realism is, of course, a relative thing when you’re talking about secret international consensual slave trading organizations. She talks about psychological realism, covered with melodrama and fantasy, but refusing to conform to the conventions of romance.

Antoniou is in the awkward position of being extremely critical of the myths of BDSM, even though her own writings have contributed to those myths.

Some one in the audience suggested that fiction should be aspirational. Antoniou added that you can recognize things in real life that you admire from fiction.

By coincidence, this tied into the subject of the Overthinking It podcast that week, when they talked about the poet and philosopher Wallace Stevens and his ideas of the relationship between poetry (i.e. imagination and fancy) versus logical positivism (i.e. science). I.e. what’s the point in talking about unicorns when we know they don’t exist? Stevens proposed a “supreme fiction”, which is known to be fictional but is wilfully believe, to take the place of religion in modern consciousness. Fiction should be inspirational or aspirational.

Another topic was the business of writing erotica, and what does and doesn’t sell. Antoniou spoke highly of the work of TammyJo Eckhart (a friend of mine) before stating that femdom-malesub fiction doesn’t sell anywhere near as well as gay male or hetero-maledom-femsub. Even lesbians primarily buy gay male erotic fiction, not FF. This is in part due to market issues: publishers have their received wisdom/prejudices about what sells and what doesn’t, and that extends to market categories. E.g. Amazon just lumps everything under “erotica”, without finer gradations, though Barnes & Noble has a more developed sense of categories. The reviewer-sphere has a similar problem. Marketing feature like Amazon’s tags and the “other people who liked this bought these…” feature also help direct people to what they’re looking for.

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