Monday, March 22, 2010

Not my Books

In other blog locations I've waxed on about a writer's need to research. Yes, erotic romance authors need to do research as much as the next literary artist. And we're not talking about research in bed, thank you very much. In the course of creating my stories I've needed to study mountain climbing and motorcycles, the Denver zoo and Appalachian dialects. I've searched street maps in cities I've never visited and looked up trends and articles about polar ice cap melt and global warming. And this is just the tip of the iceberg (like the ice cap humor? -- grin).

Despite these diverse needs, the simple fact of the matter is I do write about sex. And as much as I pick up all sorts of wonderful images and ideas from reading the stories of other erotic romance authors, sex deserves it's own share of research. Again, I'm not talking in bed. If I want my characters' sexuality to reflect their identities in a genuine manner and fit with the complexity of their general internal conflicts and movement toward growth, I need to be a student of human sexuality.

There are any number of fascinating non-fiction books out there on this subject. I thought I'd offer up two recent ones I've run across. One I'm in the process of reading and the other going into my to be read pile.

A friend called up the other day excited because she'd just heard an author by the name of Melissa Febos featured on NPR talking about the release of her memoir, Whip Smart. In it she chronicles her move from Boston to NYC to attend college and the subsequent years she found herself working as a professional dominatrix in a Midtown dungeon. Given that I write BDSM romance, my friend thought I might like to check out the interview or order the book. I did so and although I have yet to finish it I find it thought provoking and engaging. Rachel Resnick, author of Love Junkie, had this to say about the book. "Mesmerizing. A brave, darkly wild, and powerful memoir...Melissa Febos's fearless journey through drugs and dungeons into the uncharted territory of true intimacy will shock, inspire, and leave you breathless."

There are many great non-fiction books out there about the kink lifestyle and culture, but it's always nice to run into something new.

A second book on my TBR pile was referenced in Dan Savage's Savage Love column last week. When he was replying in his sex column to a wife's shock discovering her husband's kink for women's running shoes, he suggested a volume by Daniel Bergner entitled The Other Side of Desire. Judging from reviews of Bergner's book, it examines how humans become who they are sexually, whether common or uncommon, and does so with empathetic sensibility. If you are interested in understanding more about the role fetishes play in human sexuality, this might be a good place to start.

So whether you are an erotic romance author who is predisposed to be interested in human sexuality or a reader of the same, do you have any non-fiction suggestions for others? Any information that surprised you or led to new story ideas? Let's point each other in new directions to share the educational wealth.


Cara McKenna said...

I wholeheartedly second Dan Savage as a resource for resources, as well as being a resource for common sense himself. His weekly podcast is wonderful [if you're a liberal] with sex advice calls ranging from the heartbreaking to the cringe-inducing to the snort-coffee-out-your nose. If you check it out and Dan spends an angry three minutes ranting about politicians, stick it out—the good stuff's on its way. It's free and available every single Tuesday (about 40 minutes long) nearly without fail. Go into the iTunes Store via your iTunes application and search for Savage Lovecast and subscribe there—and make sure you download the 150+ older episodes fo' FREE. Even if the calls don't speak to your own research concerns, it is rife with inspiration and perfect if you've got a curious voyeur streak (and who doesn't?) Not for the faint of heart or the sexually or politically conservative, though, that's for sure, and Dan's frank and curse-riddled bedside manner can take some getting used to. I can't recommend it enough, though.

I also want to recommend the book Bonk by Mary Roach. Probably more fun than true research for erotica writers, but in it Roach seeks out the weird factor in sex history, and even gets it on with her long-suffering husband in an MRI tube in the name of science. She is absolutely hilarious. Her book Stiff is all about death and I loved it even more than Bonk, though it's not really relevant here…but read it!

A book on to my to-read list is one I heard about on the Savage Lovecast, called Moregasm (sorry, I've forgotten the authors' names, but I'm sure you can Google that). Written by the two lesbian founders of, it focuses on all kinds of sexuality, and it's aimed especially toward younger adults trying to wrap their heads around their own sexuality (straight, gay, bi, whatever). Sort of a newer, hipper Our Bodies, Ourselves. It sounds awesome. In twenty years or whenever my kid is in their late teens, I'll totally going to mortify them by presenting them with the latest edition.

Michelle Polaris said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Cara. They sound like a lot of fun. I like the idea of torturing my adolescent kids when they hit that age. What great motivation to look for the book.

Wynter Daniels said...

Thanks for all that info, Michelle! Sounds like I have some "research" reading to do!

Jina Bacarr said...

I found your post on research fascinating and filled with solid information. Thank you, Michelle.

Yes, it's so true that we erotic romance writers have to research info other than bedroom tactics.

Since I write Victorian erotic romance, one of my favorite research books is "The Pretty Ladies of Paris"--published privately in 1883 for members of the “principal Parisian clubs” and later as “The Pleasures of Paris."

It's a complete list of its Licensed Brothels or ‘Maisons de Tolerance.’ The original guide was limited to 169 copies.

Anonymous said...

I'm taking notes! :) Thanks for the book suggestions, Michelle! Great post!

Michelle Polaris said...

Wynter, Jina, Stephanie, thanks for commenting. That guide sounds fascinating Jina. I'm glad to know resources like that exist.

Jina Bacarr said...

You're welcome, Michelle. Re: Pretty Women of Paris--here's a snippet of a description of a "girl" from the guidebook for gentlemen:

"Marie…exceedingly nice, petite, fair, and although born in 1861, looks like an innocent girl of sixteen. Should not be neglected, especially as she possesses a very charming pair of bubbies."

And this was before breast implants. Imagine what a little silicone could do…

Naima Simone said...

Great post, Michelle! Between you and Cara I have some reading to do!

Dalton Diaz said...

I've always wondered why people don't think that what we write requires research. There is or should be a story to any book, erotic or not, though as you pointed out, even those scenes require research and lots of it. OK, so some of it is more fun than say geography or history, but it's still required that we get it right!