1 So, tell us a little bit about Circlet?
I started Circlet Press when I was still pretty much fresh out of college. I had been working at a respectable, venerable book publishing house for a couple of years at that point, but I’d always thought of myself as a writer and was trying to get published myself. The more time and energy I spent on other people’s books, the further from my dream of being a professional writer I was getting, but I didn’t realize that at the time. What I did was stress myself out so much that I actually made myself sick. I took a stress management seminar that urged me to focus on my own goals in life, so I sat down and wrote a story called Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords. It was a kinky, explicitly erotic sci-fi adventure story and I felt so good to have written it! And then I looked around and realized there was not a single magazine or publishing house I could send it to. This struck me as a grave imbalance in the universe, so I founded Circlet Press, not only to publish that story but so that all the other writers out there with stories like it wouldn’t have to go through what I did. Sure enough, stories started arriving in the mail like crazy, many of them from professional sf/fantasy writers, saying “Oh my God, I have stories like that in a drawer that I could never find a place to sell. Will you publish them?” And here we are 18 years later, still doing it.
2. Why sci fi and fantasy particularly? Do you feel these genres work particularly well with erotica?
I do! Being kinky, bisexual, and poly myself, I didn’t usually find myself in “mainstream” fiction of any kind, erotic or no, except in science fiction and fantasy, where the “real world” rules can be tossed out the window. It always made complete sense to me that erotic fantasy should naturally bleed over into the unreal, the magical, the future-tech.
3. What audience are you aiming for? How do you choose/edit stories in order to reach this audience?
Honestly, my target reader is myself. I founded the company on the theory that “you’re never the only one who…” and was immediately gratified to find that was true. The world is full of people with open minds who want exciting, fresh erotica that spurs their imaginations. It helps that I have wide-ranging tastes and that I’m not limited to enjoyment of just one gender, type of sexuality, or genre. What I like best is the connections made between characters and pure erotic heat. Heat comes from friction, so there has to be a conflict to make a good story. Sometimes that conflict is an inner one, sometime an outer one, and the best stories have both interacting in some way. One of the great things about sf/fantasy versus “real world” erotica is that there tends to be some plot other than just “two people meet, then have sex.” At least if they meet on a space station, they probably have more going on in their backstory than just being bored with their jobs, and the plot probably goes somewhere more interesting than if they’d met at a Starbucks.
4. Were you worried about what your family would say?
Not really. I’d already come out multiple times to them over various issues and my family already knew me as a GLBT activist from my university days. Also, I’m not the first person in the family to start an alternative sexuality-based publishing house. That would be my aunt Maureen Brady, who founded the iconic lesbian feminist press Spinsters Ink in the 1970s to self-publish her first novel, Give Me Your Good Ear. One of my first published stories after I founded Circlet was in Penthouse magazine and my mother went out and bought every copy the local newsstand had to give to my old writing teachers.
5. As an editor, what is your dream would-be writer like?
My dream would-be writer would absolutely fetishize deadlines. No, I’m kidding. My favorite writers are those who can constantly re-invent sex, love, and desire. The thing is, sex, love, and desire never change–they are part of a primal level of our existence where things don’t change. And yet a good writer can tap into that from infinite directions, continually exposing it to us in infinite variations. This is what fascinates me about fanfiction, that people can make infinite variations not just on sex and love, but on something as specific as Harry/Draco from the Harry Potter series! If fanfic writers do that within those specific character constraints, then all writers should be able to do it when given the full freedom of their imaginations, no? Not everyone has an erotic muse, but those who do, those are My People. Writers like M. Christian and Thomas S. Roche and Jason Rubis. Among the writers we’ve been publishing a lot of lately, Angela Caperton and Elizabeth Schechter and Elizabeth Coldwell. And many others I get excited to see in the slush pile.
6. What are the three things you’ve seen in submissions that drive you mad or make you laugh/wince?
Oh goodness, there are way more than three! But I will pick three. The classic wince-inducer is when a male author writes a female character and one of the first things she does is examine her own breasts in a mirror. Typically in this scene her inner monologue is about how happy she is that they are so large and soft and how good it feels to touch them. The worst of the lot even give her bra size, often in an impossible measurement, like 37DD. You’d think men who fetishized breast size would at least know the system of measurement. But you’d be wrong.
The thing that makes us laugh the most is when an author loses track of what the characters are doing during sex, and you figure out that one of them must have three hands, or have no spine. Sometimes these are otherwise quite good scenes, but the author’s enthusiasm overwhelms their powers of visualization and/or understanding of anatomy. You can get away with some stuff by saying it’s science fiction or fantasy, but unless you ACTUALLY have a character with three hands… it’s not actually possible to have one fist in your lover’s hair, one up his bum, and still be giving him a reach-around.
My pet peeve overall is cliches. Yes, we want vampires and space opera and swords & sorcery, but you have to have a fresh take of some kind. One must strive to be fresh and original, yet still fulfill the needs of the genre. That’s true whether one is writing erotic fiction or not.
7. What’s your ideal read/what authors do you adore (not necessarily erotica writers)?
The best authors get me three ways, with emotionally rich characters who follow an emotional character arc, with plot that keeps me interested and follows actual story logic, and with prose where the actual sentences and vocabulary excite me. It’s hard to find work that does all three. Romance, science fiction, and literary fiction each concentrate on one of those three aspects, often at the expense of the other two. Argh! I’ll give a shout out to Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” books here, as they are among the few I’ve read in the past 5 years that get high marks on all three. Holly Black’s “Tithe” is also up there–it’s a “young adult” book but don’t let that fool you. It’s beautifully written and perfectly crafted. I hear the book has sequels; I’ve been too swamped with manuscript reading to seek them out! Likewise Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books. I read the first three and loved them. I have a few more on the shelf waiting for me to get to them, right next to the Ellen Kushner I’ve been wanting to read. Le sigh.
8. Tell us some random/quirky things about you and/or Circlet!
We’re pretty random and quirky here! How about this. Whenever I feel like my interns are getting that glazed-over “we’ve stared at our computers too long” look, I take them down to the kitchen and show them what happens when you microwave a CD. I’m a tea nut and I love baseball.
9. What’s the next big trend in erotic fantasy?
Steampunk and zombies are both hot right now in sf/fantasy as a whole, but I have to admit we’re much more interested in steampunk at Circlet. That’s just where our brains go. There are so many wonderfully kinky possibilities wrapped up in Victorian contradictions, we’ve done several anthologies of steampunk erotica (Like a Wisp of Steam, Like Clockwork, Like a Corset Undone) and now we’ve got several novels forthcoming, as well as a very slashy airship adventure serial that will start running free on circlet.com within a few months, Chocolatiers of the High Winds by H. B. Kurtzwilde.
But really I think the next big trend isn’t in a specific genre, but in the fact that whole new generation of writers are coming out of fanfic and into the ranks of the pros. There have ALWAYS been pro writers who wrote fanfic before breaking into science fiction and fantasy, but nowadays we have a confluence of Internet communities and growing acceptance of alternative sexuality that makes for a very rich environment for the kind of writers I like to thrive in.