Review: Erotica; Say Please, ed. Sinclair Sexsmith

First off, I want to really apologize for my unexpected hiatus.

I think it’s important in a blog like this one to be open with what’s been up in my life in a more general way, and I’m afraid for a while other things had to take a front seat. Moving was hard, and starting school was extremely exhausting to me for a number of reasons I won’t go into here due to length, and I had some issues obtaining my medication, which lead to a serious number of bad things. But I’m getting back on track and into the swing of things, and so here’s a review of something new for this blog, but that is old hat to me.

IMG_20140818_232023819_HDRIf there’s one thing I’m really comfortable with, it’s reading and thinking about erotica. I’ve been reading–and writing–erotica since long before I was supposed to be, both fanfiction and original.  And I’ve been reviewing and talking about and thinking about and beta-reading other peoples’ erotica for just as long. I have a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. It’s something I love to do, and that I have done in many different arenas, personally and professionally.

So when Eva from Cleis Press contacted me and asked if there was anything from Cleis Press I’d like to review, I jumped at the chance.

Cleis Press has a huge selection of sex-positive, feminist, and queer-friendly books, many of them erotic in nature–seriously, enormous. You can spend a long time on their site and come away with a lot of books that you want. Anything from short erotica, to multiple-novel series, to non-fiction like memoirs or even scholarly works on queer or women’s studies–Cleis Press has it all.

Before I get into the meat of the review, a quick plug for Cleis Press. I’ve been writing fanfiction for over a decade, and one thing a lot of fanfic writers talk about is the way long-form/novel-length fanfiction often showcases plot, character development, and porn in equal measure, where usually original mainstream fiction will be more “tasteful” or whatever. One thing Cleis offers, among many others, are books that have plotlines that are more than just romance, but also don’t hesitate to avoid the fade to black like many plot-heavy books do. It’s really nice to see that offered in original fiction. Just because I want to read porn doesn’t mean I don’t like books that have plot or character development, and just because I like plot or character development doesn’t mean I don’t want erotica. Sex is an important part of many people’s–and many characters’–lives and it’s great to see a publisher that likes to publish books that highlight that.

Okay, I’ll move on now.

Say Please is edited by Sinclair Sexsmith (twitter) who is a writer, educator, activist, and generally all-around cool person. They also have a writing degree, and I think their editing of this book, as well as the story they write, “Not Without Permission,” really reflects that fact. I don’t mean to suggest you have to study writing in school to be a good writer or editor; however, that it is mentioned in Sexsmith’s bio hopefully indicates a love and a study of writing, and of good writing in all its many, many forms, and their writing itself, and the selections in this anthology, demonstrate that love. This isn’t just erotica–this is deftly written and selected erotica, and it’s clear that Sexsmith cares about both good sex and good writing.

I love Sexsmith’s forward; they talk about how they take a wide view of BDSM in this volume, an opinion with which I concur. Every one of these stories is definitely kinky, and they’re all portrayed as equally good kinkiness. One of the big issues that sometimes comes up in online kink and BDSM talk is that people don’t…I dunno, kink hard enough to be legit? Which I think is pretty bullshit, and it can be dangerous. These stories definitely cover a huge range of kink, and I a) really appreciated that, and b) found all of them hot to some degree. Yes, even “Purge,” by Maria See, which is about someone sucking cock until she throws up. And I really feel like that represents the talent of the writers of these stories: they’ve made kinks I don’t necessarily love, or even that kind of gross me out when I think about doing them myself (emetophilia is definitely a hard limit of mine), arousing.

Some of these stories are short–the shortest is three pages–and others have a defined character arc–the longest is seventeen–and I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only were there quick stroke stories featured but also stories that go a little bit deeper. For example, while police roleplay/kink isn’t one of my favorites, I really fell in love with “Call Me Sir” simply because of the way one character really has a cathartic release, and the way that release and rinsing is just as important as the sex in the story. The character development made the scene hotter for me. Sexsmith, when picking stories for this volume, really understands that character-driven scenes and erotica have their place, but also that the quick hot sex with little plot of character development has a place as well, and they’ve selected stories of both types.

My favorite stories tended to be the ones featuring impact play, but that is my particular bulletproof kink. “A Slap in the Face,” by Rachel Kramer Brussel is an incendiary but surprisingly sweet account of public and private face-slapping, cased within a long-term romantic and sexual relationship, and was probably my favorite story in the volume. Another favorite was “Spanking Booth,” by Dusty Horn, where two strangers meet, one spanks the other, and they exchange quick, witty banter (not exactly in that order). There was also “A Public Spectacle,” by D.L. King, about a public beating at a play party or club or exhibition that is still intensely private and personal. And “Housewife,” by Gigi Frost, a fifties housewife discipline roleplay scene that may have single-handedly turned me onto fifties housewife roleplay.

Probably the biggest issue I have with Say Please is more of a representation issue than an issue with the quality of the work or stories found within. I found that a lot of the stories focused on the butch-femme relationship, though sometimes that was subverted (the butch did not always top, there were a couple stories that were butch-on-butch, etc). While I am a lady who likes other ladies, I’m not a lesbian and I don’t identify as butch or femme, really, and I would have really liked to see a couple more stories that were geared towards people who aren’t traditionally lesbians, or maybe a few more stories that didn’t feature gender play. While I’ll read gender play, and even, on rare occasions, write it, it’s not one of my biggest kinks, and I felt like that was a significant portion of these stories. I would have really liked to see some more stories that didn’t feature the butch/femme dynamic. I would have also liked to see more stories where penetrative sex wasn’t mentioned or featured. Personally, I love penetrative sex. I love dildos, I love getting fucked. I’m pretty sure that’s pretty obvious. But I know that’s not the case for everyone! And even in many of the stories where characters didn’t get fucked, it was often mentioned as a significant part of their sex life. I know women who don’t really care for penetrative sex (even with proper lube and preparation), and I would have liked to see a story or two acknowledging their preferences.

Additionally, while certainly some of these women could have been bi or pan or another orientation (and a few could have potentially have been trans, even), there were no stories that I recall where a character was identified as anything other than a lesbian, and there were no explicit mentions of trans women. “But neb,” you say, “You knew coming into this that this was going to be lesbian erotica!” And yes, yes I did. But I was hoping that perhaps there would be more stories with characters who were explicitly described to be bi or pan (or trans), even if to then label the collection as ‘lesbian’ would be bi erasure. It wouldn’t require much–a simple mention, perhaps, of a character’s previous partners, or a sidelong glance at a dude before focusing on her partner for the night. As far as trans characters go, while trans women do sometimes have different parts, I think there is a place in lesbian (or girl-on-girl in any form) erotica for that, and I’d love to see better representation of that. (In a series of BDSM-themed short stories, I think asexuality could also be represented and still be considered erotica–I’ve had a couple really excellent, sexy scenes with asexual Doms before.)

But overall, I really adore this collection, and have been returning to it when I want some written porn instead of visual. It’s a really excellent collection of stories, and if you’re kinky and you like girls doing girls, I’d definitely suggest checking it out!

You can get Say Please in a trade paperback from Cleis Press for $15.99. From their webpage, you can also buy an audiobook or a ebook version for your favorite device!

Thanks to Cleis Press for sending me a copy! I was really happy to be able to review this for you.


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