Do you have a dark story lurking in you? Is there a tale so edgy you won't touch it even if you thought it up? Erotica is probably the most self-policed genre out there. If you slapped the label literature on your work, would you feel free to go there? Go where? How bad is your bad self?
My “shit Syd, don’t write this story” is about bad bdsm. Not inept or risky, but abusive. I have an almost complete rough draft of the dark novel: The Keeper of the Keys. The top has anger management problems; the bottom has some real self-esteem and emotional paralysis. Where I think I go beyond the pale is that I don’t make this a cautionary tale, and certainly not an anti-bdsm tale. Those who’ve read my other work know I think D/s can be redemptive. The Keeper of the Keys acknowledges that bad stuff happens in the D/s world as in any other, but that’s why I won’t finish writing it. It has a realistic tone -- this is clearly not fantasy and is firmly rooted in an everyday world.
This story has its roots in two concepts I find fascinating: Stockholm Syndrome and Going Native (yeah that’s pc!). In the original, a social scientist, Fras, gets drawn into a D/s group while he’s studying a club – and goes native. He falls hard for Steve, and makes the error of not being honest about why he was in the club in the first place. He retains enough distance to try to analyze things for awhile and gets punished for claiming one of the other boys suffers from Stockholm Syndrome.
While it involves sex and is explicit in places I really don’t consider it erotica as the sex isn’t intended to arouse – in fact much of it is abusive. But I can’t see it flying as ‘literature’ – and besides, I’d not want any one unfamiliar with D/s to judge it. There’s my dilemma – writing a story with genuinely wrong sex between Steve and Fras, both of whom have confused D/s love with pain and spirit-crushing obedience. Although he didn’t know it before meeting Steve, Fras really is a bottom, he does like D/s, but he’s too naïve to understand the difference between what is happening to him and how it should be. He’s letting his “researcher” persona dig himself in too deep, and he retreats to “observer” when he’s freaked. Steve isn’t a bad man either – misguided and also confused about control and pain, but he’s sincere about loving his boy and wanting a good life for them both. He has some peers who have mentored him badly and who pressure him to stay “true” to their ideas of ownership. Steve and his friends are brutal when they discover Fras is a researcher.
Steve and Fras grow and heal together -- but they really hit the depths first. They learn from another couple – no, not a sunny happy couple – a terrifying and unhinged guy who owns the boy he used to pimp out as a child whore. The boy is over-age now and there’s no pedophilia on the page – although originally there was a flashback to him remembering his first time. Nasty stuff. The idea it could be misread as erotic is freaky. Seeing the boy nearly die with his owner in a murder-suicide shakes Steve up. Worse, the boy mourns his owner -- I’ve looked at some psychological stuff about how children attach to their abusers – and tries to die to join him.
So my story has all sorts of non-pc stuff -- an abuser and his victim do recover together and find love in a long-term D/s relationship; an abused boy is convinced his abuser is the love of his life… While it’s not as dark and perverted as, say, Dennis Cooper, I’d not want it to be seen as a manifesto or used as ammunition against us. I know we control none of our work and ideas once they’ve been published, and it’s grandiose to think Keeper of the Keys would be read, but I can’t get past a feeling that it would be irresponsible to finish it. I genuinely love Steve and Fras and they do have an HEA (I think!) I want to protect them. They’ve become the godparents to my writing.
Their story has become the broth of my writing. I dip into it and let flavor some of my other work, but I’m letting it stay my own private world. I had the idea and wrote the rough draft while I was still very much an apprentice writer. How do you write sympathetically without condoning? How do you show your characters are wrong without the book being a judgmental screed? I just didn’t have the craft to pull it off and even now I wouldn’t dare walk the lines. I’m a mere journeyman and it would take a master to do it right.
My latest project is the Dr. Fell Series from Torquere Press. Lost and Found: Pet Rescue came out in April and Lost and Found: Exotic Pets is due out on June 28. An interim story, Rude Mechanicals, is in the Summer Solstice Taste Test. Dr. Fell stresses that he disapproves deeply of the doms in the Keeper of the Keys.
KB: Syd's popular Dr. John Fell series doesn't shy away from some heavy issues. Dr. Fell is refreshingly human for a Dom. For those of you who like realistic BDSM stories rather than high fantasy, check these stories out.