Sam Rosenthal will be the featured reader at next week’s Erotic Literary Salon, Tuesday, April 16.
An interview with Sam Rosenthal by W.D. Wilkerson
Q RYE is a hot, engaging read. Was it fun to write?
Yes, it was fun because I got to invent these people I really like, and then create situations for them and see what they’d do. I’d be walking to work, with all these scenes spinning in my head, thinking about how my people would react to what I wanted to throw at them. Wondering what sort of funny things they might say, or how they might be triggered by something that the other person says or does.
Q That’s something that I really like about RYE: It’s not just about the hot sex. What inspired you to write this story?
I began on RYE after attending an erotica reading. I should back-up a bit and explain that I’m the songwriter in my band, Black tape for a blue girl; I’ve written the lyrics for our ten albums. As I left the reading, I thought, “Hm, writing erotica could be a new way to tell my stories. A chance to stretch out over more space.” For me, RYE was always about the characters, and their story. I wanted to create people and have them come off as real and do things that interest me. I’m an artist, so I put many levels into my work. The people. The sex. Their desires, how they identify, how they want the world to see them. Not just about their gender, but generally how we all want to be thought of by other people.
Q It’s not every day that you read an erotic novel about poly, kinky, queer people. Why pick this subject?
These are the sort of people I’m involved with and attracted to. I’m not a big reader of erotica, honestly, but I sense there isn’t a whole bunch written about queer characters. But, that said, people are people. We all have the same underlying emotions and conflicts. Anyone can relate to what happens in RYE.
Q Quick summary of your main characters?
Rye is a biological-female who identifies as a gay male. The narrator, Matt, is biologically-male. Rain is biologically-female, but is fluid about gender. I had some interesting possibilities going in.
Q The three of them are involved in a poly relationship. Is it harder or easier to write for poly relationships than it is for more conventional monogamous relationships?
I think that poly presents more opportunities for the characters. When they are with other people, it’s not about, “Oooh, am I cheating?” I’m not having to deal with that “problem” which I find sort of boring. If there’s consent, then nobody’s cheating. So now we’re past that, and I can be sex-positive about their interests, and let them get into different situations. And see what the outcomes are. I like that because it really opens up the palette for the kinds of sex the characters have, and also how it affects them.
Q I liked that you didn’t make poly relationships the source of their conflict
Right. And that’s something I had to think about while writing RYE. What is the conflict for these people? Where does the drama lie, if it’s not jealousy and insecurity? And to me, I tried to take a bunch of intellectual conflicts (identity, gender, social stereotypes, desire for family and commitment) and deal with it in a more physical and passionate way. I’m not a gender theorist; I didn’t want to be going all high-brow. Because RYE is a love story. RYE is a comedy. And it’s erotica. And I wanted to deal with these higher concepts in a down-to-earth and natural way. And I didn’t give Matt all the answers. Even though he’s the narrator, he’s learning along the way.
Q That’s cool, Sam, because then RYE can serve as an intro, too. To poly and queer.
Most of society isn’t familiar with queer and genderqueer. Jeez, America is still getting comfortable with same-sex marriage. And in RYE I’m introducing characters that don’t really have a social identification that matches their biological gender. So I wanted it to be easy to digest. And then Rain came along as a total joker, but really intelligent. And that gave me a lightness to work with, but also a voice for the more complex side of things.
Q Maybe you should define genderqueer…
I use it in the sense that gender isn’t binary. It’s not just male and female. We are born with certain physical characteristics, but they don’t define our gender roles. Society tells us about that. So we are a product of the rules we agree to. People who identify as genderQueer say, “Hey, wait. Do I have to be that role, or do I have the right to be who I feel like I am?”
Q There are some really ingenious and occasionally outrageous moments of kink in this novel. Did you have a laundry list of kinks you wanted to include, or did the kinks seem to suggest themselves during the process of writing this novel?
Matt and Rye’s top-bottom dynamic was in my mind as I started writing. There’s this really obvious stereotype that BDSM is about Master so-and-so and his weak-willed submissive. The 50 SHADES model. And I don’t subscribe to that idea of BDSM. I wanted both of my characters to be strong and secure, and I don’t even know if I like using ‘BDSM’ for their relationship. I chose to use ‘top-bottom’ in the book, to differentiate; for them, it is a very intimate relinquishing of control between equals. Rye is the stronger of the two, in many ways. In so far as not taking shit, and having some of the more traditional male characteristics. And I liked that complexity.
I didn’t have a list at the beginning of what kind of scenes they would get into, just that they had a specific dynamic, and there were certain things each of them had preferences for. And then Rain came along, wanting to do age play; and I personally do like the bratty, snarky type, I figured that would be fun to explore. Matt and Rain have a different dynamic from Matt and Rye. I think that’s true of complex people. We don’t put on the same mask in every situation. We are different people when we are with different lovers.
Q “Erotica” has a negative connotation to people who appreciate “serious” literature. Somehow that FIFTY SHADES OF GREY book came out of nowhere and suddenly the country is hot for it, pardon the pun. Why do you think there is such a taboo around erotic fiction?
The taboo is that “polite people don’t talk about sex.” America is all about its love of violence, and titillations. But real sex is still too much for most people. A lot of America is not very sex-positive. Sex has a lot of shame, and naughtiness to it.
Q Then to wrap up, is RYE the answer?
What’s the question? (laughs) I think that RYE has a lot of love and plot and character that goes beyond just the sex. But I like that sex is right there in most everything they do. Because that seems pretty real-life to me. Is it the answer? Well, it’s one of the answers. Thanks for asking.