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Lusty Lady

BLOG OF RACHEL KRAMER BUSSEL
Watch me talk about my debut as an author, Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays, in this Q&A with my publisher Thought Catalog Books

Thursday, August 01, 2013

How editing anthologies makes me a better erotica writer

I’m deep in anthology editing mode. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up, as I drink my coffee. It helps settle me into my day, eases me into the workflow. For some reason, which I haven’t yet deduced, this latest round of anthologies I’ve been editing much more heavily than I previously have. I don’t know if I’m seeing things I should have seen before, if I’m selecting stories that I believe need more work (for this is all completely subjective, save for misspelled words and such) or that I am just more ruthless.

I do know that by seeing aspects of stories I think can be improved, whether with a word added or deleted, a rephrasing, a clincher of an ending, it’s making me see my own writing in a new way. It’s showing me where the extra words are in my stories, for there are always some. It’s forcing me to truly synthesize what I think makes a good erotic story. I have always pretty much flown by the seat of my pants, and sometimes given up when the story got hard. But I’ve also learned what I like—the unique twist on a topic, even one I’ve covered umpteen times, the way my brain starts to envision the story, and what makes it erotic or perverse or romantic.

I rarely switch points of view, but I did it in my story “A Slap in the Face” (in Sinclair Sexsmith's anthology Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica), which exemplifies something I feel strongly about in BDSM erotica, which I’m putting into play as I edit—that when you are dealing with topics many people might misconstrue, which in our culture covers everything from anal sex to BDSM to roleplaying, you need to make it very clear why it gets people off. You can’t just say “he hit me and it felt like a kiss”—even if it did. It may very well have felt like a kiss, or a painful but beautiful, life-changing erotic moment, for a character, but I want as broad a readership as possible, and I want people who have no idea what the fuck is erotic about, say, face slapping, to walk away from that story feeling moved by it, understanding what both those characters got out of the exchange.

Sometimes I hope to do with the new stories I’m writing is revisit some older stories and expand on what happens to the characters, even though my great thrill, my writing high, comes from creating new plots, new people to explore. This editing thing can be harrowing when you are trying to find 69 stories that fit a specific theme; just because they are 1,200 words or less doesn’t make it easier. It’s still 3 times the work of a typical anthology. Part of me is eager to do it again and part of me is telling myself “never again.”

But I’m grateful for this intense bout of editing because it’s sharpened my focus as I work on my own solo short story collection. It’s guided me to be more precise, shown me that I, in all my imperfect subjectivity, get to be the queen of my own books, get to have a viewpoint. It’s not that I don’t want authors to fully explore their own voices—I do, and when I did the Google+ Hangout last weekend, it gave me a renewed devotion to editing anthologies because it provides a publishing opportunity for writers that they might not have had otherwise, at least, not this specific one. I forget that sometimes, when the work feels too overwhelming and I just want to get to my 69 stories or 65,000 words and file it and move on. But I love the communal nature of an anthology, I love that the whole is always greater than the individual sum of its parts, I love that it can take a topic that seems straightforward and twist and turn it inside out, exploring so many ways of approaching it. I look forward to an editing break, but I also look forward to posting new calls, and learning about the process of editing an anthology with monkey mind, as if it’s my first, not my, I think, sixty-first.

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