I first met Laura Antoniou back in July when we both did a reading for Beneath the Covers (formerly known as Ravenous Nights) in honor of NYC Pride Month. Laura is the well known author of the best-selling Marketplace series that features hardcore BDSM and about slaves who train to be owned by masters at a training type facility in Long Island. After hearing Laura read, I was very interested in reading one of her books, so I started with the first book in her series, The Marketplace and was hooked beyond hooked (my review will be posted this week). The Marketplace can be a brutal read because of what the slaves go through and it has a very honest, in your face feel to it that may make a reader squirm, but also has some humorous interactions and dialogue I wasn't expecting. I wonder if I can call The Marketplace a dark comedy of sorts?
I really enjoyed The Marketplace and I’m going to start reading the second book in the series, The Slave which I heard is just as addicting as The Marketplace. I asked Laura if she would like to be a guest on my blog and she said yes!
KB: For those who aren’t aware of what you write, can you describe your work and your books?
Laura: I'm a literary pornographer – I write stories in which explicit sexuality plays a large supporting role to the narrative. My passions include stories of power - slavery and slave training and ownership, for example – but I also love to write stories with a queer sensibility (even when seemingly heterosexual) and stories that seem hard to define too easily. This probably has something to do with my uneven sales.
KB: Your best known books are in The Marketplace series that has heavily BDSM. I read The Marketplace and was blown away by how much I loved it! How did you come up with the idea for The Marketplace and the rest of the books in the series? Is The Marketplace based on a real place?
Laura: The concept of a secretive slave selling organization is hardly original. The biggest influence was John Preston's imaginary "Network," which appears in several of his Master books. Also, Anne Rice's Exit to Eden portrays a smaller scale but similar organization, centered on an island resort instead of being international. Both of these spoke to me, but left me wanting more – Preston only wrote about hunky gay men, and Rice, well. Let's just say I wasn't impressed by her depiction of a wiseass masochist and a "perfectionist" slave trainer who, ah, isn't.
Of course there isn't any such thing in real life, and if there truly were, it would soon fall for lack of willing volunteer slaves. In real life, people tend to want to choose who fucks them.
KB: If someone has no idea what BDSM is and the whole master and slave relationship, what would be the best way to describe this world without scaring people away from reading books that features this subject? Can you recommend any books for beginners?
Laura: Maybe it should be scary. When you used to read books about vampires, for example, they would frighten you; keep you awake at night, imagining things. (Before vampires turned into sparkly douchbags.) But perhaps people wouldn't be "scared" of reading about BDSM as much as it just wouldn't be to their taste.
If someone was interested in exploring playing with power in their own sex lives, the last thing I would do is suggest they start with FICTION. That would be like telling someone interested in being an aerospace engineer to read Star Trek novels. I'd say, if you were interested in exploring the real world of dominance and submission, or erotic role playing or some bondage and sensation play, go out and get books like Come Hither by Gloria Brame and Playing Well With Others, by Mollena Williams and Lee Harrington, Learning the Ropes, by Race Bannon, and The Ultimate Guide to Kink, edited by Tristan Taormino, which I happen to be in. I wrote the chapter on training your own sex slave, of course.
KB: Now the big questions regarding your writing, how do you do your research?
Laura: By living! I am a sadomasochist; I've been exploring this world for thirty years now, not counting the sort of experimentation one does as a teenager. Unlike some writers of this sort of thing, I can describe what certain things feel like because I've felt them. As a polymorphous pervert, I seek sexual gratification where it occurs, and have had a colorful array of adventures, for better and worse. Also, by operating in the larger leather/SM/fetish/kink communities over the years, I have seen and investigated and heard of things beyond my personal experience. As a storyteller, people seem compelled to tell me their own stories. And sometimes, when something is even beyond that, these days I do a lot of targeted Internet research, or crowd-source my questions and invite people to tell me things like what a particular tea smells like or what the view is like from a multi-million dollar apartment in Chicago.
KB: How did you come up with the idea for your characters? Are they based on people you know or just come from your imagination?
Laura: Most of my characters come right out of my head, influenced, of course, by personal relationships and all the media I have ever consumed in my entire life. Several are archetypes; I do love the classic story of a mythic journey. And some are just romantic exaggerations and alter egos.
KB: One of your biggest characters from The Marketplace is Chris Parker the majordomo of the training house on Long Island Why do you think he’s become such a fan favorite?
Laura: Chris is somewhat of a breakout character. I did not intend to make him the central hero of the series; in my original outline, he doesn't even have a name, he is just "the mysterious butler." Because, well, every story needs a mysterious butler, right? I didn't even know what his mystery was. But somewhere along the line, people fell in love with the little bastard. They wrote letters demanding to know what his secret was. They insisted that he get back together with the other central character of the series, Robin, who is not introduced until book two, and then goes off to a HFN ending in that same book.
And worst of all, he never left my head. I always had one more story about him. So, I gave in, and when I wrote The Academy, he emerged as a major mover and shaker in my Marketplace world. Then, in The Reunion, I finally out him and Robin back together for a while, just for those 'shipper fans. And now, I accept him as the romantic hero of the series.
Why do people like him? Beats the hell out of me. He's cranky and sarcastic and sometimes downright mean; he can be sentimental, but he is also rigid and authoritarian. (I am making pins that read "What Would Chris Parker Do?" to capitalize on his somewhat extreme vision of right and wrong.) But I must admit he is my favorite victim, and sometimes, when an author torments someone, the readers can't help but sympathize.
KB: The Marketplace can be really intense reading because of what the four slaves go through over the course of the novel, but there are many moments of humor. Was it important to you to have some lighter ha-ha moments where the reader can laugh?
Laura: It is my firm belief that sex is funny. We look and sound ridiculous, we can suspend all sense of reality, time, and physical limitations – and forget that from the outside, what we're doing can look awkward, bizarre, or melodramatic. We don't like to admit the oddball things that occur to us even in mid-coitus – that our partner looks about to sneeze, rather than climax, or why that spot always itches at the worst moments, or even what color we should paint the ceiling. Life is both dramatic and funny, and if we only admit one aspect in, then the story fails my reality test. That said, the bonus story I put in the e-book edition of The Marketplace is a comedy of errors. Perhaps that will help leaven the more dire elements of the main tale.
KB: In your opinion, what exactly is erotica? Is there any sexual act or act of domination or control you won’t write because you feel it goes too far?
Laura: Erotica is whatever makes the reader think sexy thoughts. Not necessarily the sort of thing you'll hold in one hand, so to speak, but something that sparks imagination and reverie. Those sparks might ignite later into actual sexual behavior, but it might not be the central goal or either reading or writing the work. Personally, I find some stuff written for entirely different audiences to be erotic – from comic books to etiquette guides.
I wouldn't say anything is "too far" to write about – it's only a STORY. But there are things I wouldn't write because 1) they aren't of interest to me in real life or even as a story, or 2) once I wrote them, I wouldn't be able to sell it anywhere. I wrote one book that features non-consensual rape and abuse, and it gets bad reviews because for some reason people seem to think stories about SM behaviors must always be about safe, sand and consensual, negotiated and loving relationships. Personally, I think stories should be STORIES and not instruction manuals. I wrote a murder mystery this year, and the murder takes place within the leather community. A fine murder mystery it would be if I had to stick to the safety mantras of the kinky world, right? Just because the sex is kinky doesn't mean everyone who does it is a good person. Do these people go review every thriller and downgrade it because the villain behaves…like a bad guy?
KB: You do a lot of speaking engagement and panels. What’s it like speaking to an audience? What type of topics do you usually discuss?
Laura: I love public speaking. I'm a ham. I also love teaching. Speaking to an audience is one of the major pleasures in my life and I am grateful for every gig I book. I speak on a range of sexuality topics, almost all of which are about relationships. No hands-on, how-to-spank or how-to-tie-knots sort of stuff. I teach about bringing power dynamics into the bedroom or into your life, how to balance reality with fantasy, how to role play and move beyond the role playing into changing your day-to-day behaviors. Good stuff like rewards and punishments, making up your own special rules and connecting and communicating with partners. And sometimes, I deliver rants cleverly disguised as speeches and lectures. I am also starting to teach writing classes for those who want to expand their own erotic writing talents.
KB: If you could be any character in one of you books, who would you be and what type of setting would your book be? Would you play the dominant or the submissive?
Laura: Oh, I'd be an owner. That way, I'd be nice and wealthy and buy slaves to handle all the work around me, pamper me and my wife, that sort of thing. And I'd remain a polymorphous pervert, seeking sexual gratification where it came.
KB: This year erotic novels, specifically erotic romance with BDSM elements ranging from subtle to more hard core has exploded. Do you think it’s because of Fifty Shades of Grey or the stars were just aligned and it was ready to become more mainstream? And this is where I have to ask, have you read Fifty Shades? If so, what are your thoughts about the book?
Laura: I have read 50 Shades in the original, as Twilight fan fiction titled Master of the Universe. I find it as badly written as the original title suggests. Of course, when I re-read my own early writing, I also cringe at some of my style and language choices. But when I mean early for me, I mean the stuff I wrote when I was thirteen.
Of course, having millions of people suddenly talking about kinky sex will jump-start the already existing market for stories and books and other subsidiary industries. Although, I pity all the people working in sex shops who have to explain that Ben-Wa balls do not work that way. Personally, I hope people keep searching for "BDSM fiction" for a good long time, so they will find my books.
KB: If you had to describe Laura Antoniou in 3 words, what would those words be?
Laura: Author. Speaker. Kvetch.
KB: Lately there has been a lot of discussion and drama surrounding negative reviews online with authors reacting poorly in public and reviewers accused of being bullies or writing mean reviews to hurt authors. How do you deal with negative reviews? What advice would you give to an author just starting out who may receive poor reviews on their books?
Laura: I always pass on the advice Dorothy Allison gave me when I was just starting out – don't read the reviews. NEVER engage reviewers, except to correct something brief and factual. Like, "The correct link is…" But nothing about the actual review, apart from a polite "thank you" which is even then best sent privately. In this wonderful new world, there are no "reviewers," only consumers. And on the internet, everyone's opinion is suddenly meaningful. Well, you have no idea whether Have6Cats@somefreemail.com has a degree in English Literature or just discovered the amazing world of adjectives, so why do you care what they think? I know it's hard; every time someone says something stupid or harsh about my work, it stings. But if you allow that sort of thing to sink in, you get neurotic, and despite media suggesting so, writers do not do well in the throes of neurosis.
And even when it is someone whose credentials check out – maybe it's a Big Name Fan, or even, heavens, an actual person who knows shit from shinola, you have to let it go. The greatest writers in the world got – and get – bad reviews. Move on.
And remember to take good reviews with a grain of salt, too. I love to read the nice things about me, who wouldn't? But I won't make the mistake that because someone called me "the lesbian Anne Rice," that suddenly Random House is gonna be offering me several million dollars. Good reviews will bolster the ego, but shouldn't make you cocky. Read them when you are feeling down and then get back to work, writing better things.
However – if you can, tell your friends, fans and readers that good reviews are always welcome on your various selling pages. Tell them about clicking the little "like" buttons and mentioning your links on their blogs and tweets and that sort of thing. Some of them will want to help you out. Just don't get too crazy about it.
KB: If someone who has never gone to a BDSM or sex club before goes to one, what’s the one piece of advice you would give them so they’re comfortable and not running out the door?
Laura: Take a guide. Seriously. Reach out to the local community, because if there's a party/event/club you can just go to, then there's a local organization. Go there FIRST. Go one some weeknight when the topic is something that doesn't sound nerve-wracking or pick a day-time event that is not a play party, like a kinky flea market, picnic, or other outing. (Yes, we have those, too.) Research "BDSM organization" or "Leather organization" and find one suitable for your orientation – and if there isn't one, but you can attend the local gay organization (if you're straight) or the pansexual one (if you're gay and would have preferred a single-gender space) then go anyway. Meet some real people who are not just screen names. Then tell someone you'd like to attend the party/sex club/SM night in that area, and ask if someone might go with you to show you around. Walking in by yourself, or even walking in as a tourist couple might leave you feeling isolated and alienated. But having a guide, or going on a special "novice night" will make sure that someone can explain that what you're seeing isn't as difficult/strenuous/agonizing as you think. You can have a chance to ask questions without bothering someone playing. And you might be with someone who can introduce you to other people and expand your potential to socialize and learn and have a good time.
Synopsis: The first in Laura Antoniou's modern BDSM classic, enchanting series of books about an underground secret society of owners, masters, mistresses, and their property: submissives, maids, butlers, and pleasure slaves. In the first volume, follow the trials and tribulations of four aspiring slaves as they undergo training hoping to be accepted into The Marketplace. Under the firm hand of Grendel, the sharp eye of Alexandra, and the painful leather strap in the hands of Chris, these men and women will find some of their hardest challenges come from within themselves.
I have a digital copy of The Marketplace to give away to one lucky person! If you would like your chance to win, leave a comment here for Laura by Saturday, 9/22.