Monday, April 06, 2009

Interview with a Virtuosa: Catherine Lundoff

Catherine Lundoff is unquestionably one of the top names in erotica today. Not surprisingly, her latest collection of lesbian erotica, Night’s Kiss, offers a feast of pleasures for lovers of smart and arousing fiction. These stories were first published in such places as Best Lesbian Erotica (four stories from a highly competitive anthology!), Ultimate Lesbian Erotica, Sex and Candy, Clean Sheets, and many others making this a true “best of the best” compilation.

Each of the sixteen stories offers the reader a trip to a different world in time or space, yet these escapes from the ordinary are all grounded in emotional and sensual authenticity. I found them uniformly intelligent, fearless, humorous, and satisfying. Equally impressive is the range of genres and tones. The encounter with the Elvis impersonator in “Viva Las Vegas” had me laughing, as did the witty exploration of pagan female-empowerment spells in “The Goddess Within.” The poetic “Left Bank,” set in Paris of course, had the dusky feel of a French film, while “On the Spanish Main” had the fierce energy one might expect from the union of the two famous female pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonney. Lundoff can travel deep as well as wide. One of my favorite stories was “The Model,” where a familiar erotica scenario—a nude photo session—is humanized and transformed into a moving and fluid connection between artist and model. Another favorite was “Cowgirls and Science,” surely one of the hottest cowgirl stories on the rodeo circuit.

Many of these stories make masterful use of the frameworks of genre fiction, such as sci-fi, historical romance and paranormal fantasy, but Lundoff’s talent for storytelling and her smooth, elegant prose never fails to bring her complex, passionate characters to life. For example, I’m not a regular reader of vampire tales, but the gritty “She Who Waits” definitely seduced me to the dark side. “The impossible just came calling” says the narrator of her encounter with a blue-eyed, cold-skinned temptress—and isn’t that what we all want from good erotica?

Best of all, in these financially strapped times, Night’s Kiss offers a sweetly indulgent selection of mini-vacations to satisfy any wanderlusting spirit. There is so much more to praise, but perhaps it’s best to pause here to chat with the author herself about her work and her writing career.
DGS: How did you get started writing erotica?

CL: Well, around the time I started writing, I ran a small feminist/queer bookstore, small enough that I tried to read a lot of what I sold. I initially started out reading various erotica magazines and anthologies like On Our Backs, Best Lesbian Erotica and Herotica. Back then, it didn’t really occur to me to write my own erotica, at least not initially.

But the first few volumes were kind of a gateway drug and I started checking out a whole range of erotic writing, some of it terrific, some not so much. It was the latter that got me writing my own. The exact phrase that inspired me is etched in my brain forever. It was: “Blonde and blue, her skin was magnificent.” The story was neither science fiction nor BDSM, just to put this in perspective. After reading that particular story, I thought I could do better so I started committing fantasies to paper.

And now you’re one of the most respected names in the field! Can you tell us more about your trip from newbie to pro?
My first published story was actually a nonerotic lesbian historical romance. I'm one of those writers everyone loathes--I sold the first short story I ever wrote. And award-winning fantasy artist Alicia Austin did a cover based on the story. This was, not surprisingly, quite a confidence builder, not to mention a squee meltdown since I love her work.

After that, I started writing in multiple genres. I made early erotica sales to various Circlet and Alyson anthologies, then to Cleis and other presses as well, including multiple volumes of Best Lesbian Erotica and The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. Once I had about 40 stories or so in print, I queried Torquere Press and asked if they were interested in seeing a collection from me. They said yes and that became my first erotica collection, Night's Kiss back in 2005.

While I was out promoting Kiss, Steve Berman from Lethe Press approached me about doing a collection for him so I sat down and gathered some of my available lesbian erotica reprints, then wrote a bunch of new stories. That became Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing (Lethe Press, 2007). After that, Steve asked me to edit an anthology of nonerotic lesbian ghost stories which was released last year, Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories (Lethe Press, 2008). Then most recently, Lethe Press released the new version of Night's Kiss: Lesbian Erotica, revamped and with new stories, in January of this year. And, of course, there were few other short stories, novellas and whatnot along the way.

What I'm skipping in this summary is immense amounts of verbiage committed to paper/computer screen and a tremendous amount of butt in chair, writing and rewriting. When I first started writing fiction, I also wrote a lot of articles and a column for a local newspaper. I tried to explore different genres: romance, science fiction, nonfiction, literary fiction, essays and mysteries, as well as erotica. I spent a lot of time learning to do promotion via readings at local bookstores and open mics as well as chats, blogs and panels at science fiction conventions. While I was at it, I applied for writing residences and was accepted for several, including one at the Atlantic Center for the Arts to study with award-winning science fiction/erotica writer, Samuel Delany.

When I got to the point where editors solicited stories from me, I worked at giving them my best, turned in within their deadlines. I tried for every Best of I thought I could get into. And I did a fair amount of networking, mostly online but also at conventions. For me, writing is a business, albeit not one that is as remunerative as my day jobs, but I still try to treat them both the same way.

One of the many things that impressed me about Night’s Kiss was the wide variety of settings that whisk the reader off to another place and time, from the bittersweet romance of Paris’ Left Bank and a rough-and-ready Western rodeo to colonial Mexico and Jack the Ripper’s London. Did you do a lot of research for your stories either through travel or “library” work?

Well, in some cases, I’m writing about places I’ve traveled to like Florence, Italy or Paris or Managua, Nicaragua for one of the stories in Crave. Travel is definitely helpful for getting an authentic feel for a place, as you demonstrate so beautifully in Amorous Woman.

But if I’m going to use a place I’ve never been to, I try and do some research to get a good feel for it. I have a great fondness for reading historical and geographical trivia; all of that gets filed away for future use in the corners of my reptile brain. The Web is also very helpful for details about what a place looks like now, so then it’s more a matter of using those details to establish a feel for the time period.

It’s hard to pick a personal favorite from among your stories, but since I’ve recently celebrated the allure of hotel sex here at my blog, I thought I’d treat my readers to a pensione scene from your exquisite story “A Room with a View,” a modern-day nod to E.M. Forster but with a lot more hot sex.

“You stand at the window, watching Florence’s glorious merchant palaces spread their pale orange wings on the other side of the Arno. I get up to lean against you, wrapping my body around yours, my hand reaching down of its own accord to ease its way under your blouse. I can’t help myself.

“Stop.” You breathe the word like a sigh, like you don’t mean it. It’s as though you want to hear what it sounds like to say “no.” But your eyes are still fixed on the green Arno and the centuries old palaces turned hotels and restaurants and trendy boutiques on the opposite bank so I continue my exploration.

My hand finds the silky skin between your bra and skirt and I lean over to take the lobe of one ear between my teeth. I work the tender flesh with my tongue, rejoicing at the quickening of your breath. My fingers find and close on a hardened nipple and you squirm against me. “Stop,” you hiss the word insistently between gasps.

All right, I will. My fingers reluctantly loosening, I step back with a courtier’s bow. But you’ll beg me for it later. I can see it in your eyes when you turn around. You know it, too. I grin down at you, my smile more a baring of frustrated fangs than anything else.

“C’mon, don’t pout. Let’s go look at something. I don’t want this to be one of those trips where we never leave the hotel room.” Your lower lip thrusts out slightly with the words as though I’m going to deprive you of a treat. I almost expect you to stomp your foot for emphasis.

As if I could deprive you of anything....

Night’s Kiss begins with the alluring glitter and laughs of “Viva Las Vegas” and ends with the sultry, dream-like “Beso de la Noche” [Night’s Kiss] which spans a woman’s lifetime—and more. Was there a particular method or mood to the arrangement of your stories in the collection?

I’d love to say there was a grand plan, but honestly, it came down to things like voice and setting more than anything else. Apart from that, “Viva Las Vegas,” my drag king Elvis story, is more humorous than some of my other work and I always like to lead with laughs. “Beso” is the title story so it made sense to put that one last. I was trying to avoid having too many stories that sounded alike or had similar settings one right after the other. I know that can bore me as a reader so I try to keep things as entertaining as possible for my own readers.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on several short stories and a novella, all either romance or science fiction and fantasy at the moment. My brain is full of lesbian pirates, feminist steampunk and a theater romance I just started. The current big project is a nonerotic fantasy novel about menopausal lesbian werewolves. It does have an evil twin of sorts in the works, about hot gay werewolves in medieval Russia; that one will have lots of sex in it, needless to say. I do like to multitask. In fact, I can’t not multitask; keeps things exciting.

Name a writer (or two, living or dead) you’d like to have dinner with, one you’d most like to trade talents with, one with whom you’d most like to spend a lost weekend in Paris.

Hmmm. Dinner – Jane Austen. I’m an unrepentant Austen fangrrrl and I’d love to have gotten a glimpse of what made her tick. Trade talents is a tough one. I think writing is a deeply personal headspace sort of thing so I’m not sure whose head I’d rather be in than my own. I can think of several writers I’d like to trade career trajectories with, of course, but that’s just not the same thing. Paris –Dorothy Allison. Trash just leaves me all aflutter.

Finally, describe a perfect meal that would be guaranteed to seduce you.

Sushi. I adore spicy mango tuna rolls; they’re the specialty of one of my local sushi restaurants.

Thank you so much for all the great questions!

We do sushi here--I'll order up some spicy mango rolls right now. And thank you for stopping by to chat, Catherine. It was a real pleasure!


neve black said...

Hi Donna,
I saw your smiling face on facebook and ran over here.

What a fabulous interview. There's lot of helpful advice and I so appreciate learning about her path from beginning to where she is now as a successful writer. It's really interesting. Catherine seems so approachable and just lovely too.

Donna said...

Thanks for stopping by, Neve. I just love hearing about other writers' experiences. Catherine's stories are so awesome and she is very cool and approachable. I love that author photo, too. Eyes are the window to the soul indeed ;-)!

LVLM(Leah) said...

Heh, I jumped over from facebook as well. :)

Love the interview. While I'm not a lesbian myself, I really love reading lesbian romance and erotica so this looks like a good book!

I especially love stories set in foreign countries or which have a artsy feel to them, as some of these stories seem to.

The current big project is a nonerotic fantasy novel about menopausal lesbian werewolves.

Menopausal lesbian werewolves? I'm so there. LOL

Donna said...

Yes, MB, the menopausal lesbian werewolves are pretty irresistible. I've already been noticing changes depending on the phase of the moon. If you want a little vacation to a lush foreign place or two (or sixteen), this is the book for you!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Hi, Catherine. What an edifying and inspiring interview ... and what a "senses-a-tingling" excerpt!

As you know, I'm a fan. Your "Phone, Sex, Chocolate" in Sex and Candy is a piece I keep coming back to, and I'm a proud owner of the richly rewarding Crave.

Thank you, Donna!

Catherine L. said...

I am so blushing right now! :-D Thank you, Donna! And thanks for the lovely comments Neve, Jeremy and Leah!

Donna said...

My pleasure, Catherine!

Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Catherine Lundoff rocks!

Great interview.

Ashley Lister

Jolie du Pre said...

Nice interview, Catherine. I got Dorothy Allison to sign my copy of TRASH, so ofcourse, that was a thrill.

Alana Noel Voth said...


I've read your work. Excellent news about the book.


Alana Noel Voth said...

P.S. Oh, yes, Dorothy Allison, yes! I have Trash, just acquired it actually, and can't wait to read it. Have you read "Skin?" Excellent collection of essays.


Catherine L. said...

Thanks Ashley, Jolie and Alana! :-D I think you all rock too!
And yes, I have read "Skin" - it's a terrific book as well.