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We Were Kinky Long Before 50 Shades of Gray

By Diane Anderson-...

As soon as The Marketplace, the first in the now famed erotica series that took its name from that book, was published by Masquerade in 1993, author Laura Antoniou became an underground legend. She published The Marketplace, The Slave, and The Trainer all in the early '90s under the pen name Sara Adamson. Set in a secretive slave training house where all sorts of kinks and sexualities were on display, the series was the first to combine BDSM topics with complex characterizations and modern literary techniques.

Antoniou, whose real name was soon known, became a leather pioneer: she edited the groundbreaking Leatherwomen anthologies, penned scholarly work on BDSM, won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Leather Association (in 2011), and is now a well known speaker and teacher on kinky sex communities. Her work (over 600,000 books sold and counting) has been translated into Spanish, German, Hebrew, Japanese, and Korean.

So hopes are high around her new novel, the wonderfully cheeky murder mystery set at a leather convention, The Killer Wore Leather ($16.95, Cleis Press). Turns out, exploring the erotic world of BDSM personalities and leather kinks makes for a lovely whodunit and a much more modern game of Clue.

The Advocate: You were writing about BDSM decades before 50 Shades of Gray. What do you make of the mainstream's sudden interest in kink?
Laura Antoniou: I think the mainstream media "discovers" kinky sex every 10 years or so. I have seen the furor over Anne Rice's Beauty books back when she wrote them under the name "A. N. Roquelaure" & Exit to Eden, which she wrote as "Anne Rampling." Then there was Nine and a Half Weeks, by Ingeborg Day writing as Elizabeth McNeill, and Meeting the Master, by Elissa Wald, writing as… herself, actually. Every single time, the media clutched its collective pearls and wondered how feminists would respond, hastened to assure us all that it's OK to have fantasies of submission, and did cute little sidebar stories on an occasional SM club or leather bar or sex toy shop. And then they forgot about kinky until the next one rolled to the top of the media haystack.

Your work has been translated into Spanish, German, Hebrew, Japanese, and Korean. Does that mean kink is universal? Have you interacted with the leather world in any of those countries?  
I think as long as people have had sex, some percentage of them tried it in ways the others around them weren't doing it. That's humanity. What they called it and how they went about it might be a little different, but there are always outsiders and early adaptors and rebels and non-conformists. Although I have traveled a bit, my focus has been on English speaking countries, so all I can tell you is that in Great Britain, they do love the latex and in Australia, well, Australians are just plain fun. Anyway you find 'em. And I'll be sure to report back from Israel after I do a reading there later this year. Because… it looks like that is going to happen. The mind reels.

As you know, I loved the Marketplace series. I wasn't alone; there was a massive cult following around the series. Any thought to adding to the series or doing another series?
I love a good series myself; my shelves are packed with multiple books by the same authors. So, I tend to write stories that leave plenty of space for more. I am working on book six in the Marketplace series right now, and released a fan-fiction anthology back in January, allowing other writers to play in my world for a while, so, yes… I intend to write more. I am also interested in perhaps continuing with the mystery genre and writing another Detective Rebecca mystery to follow The Killer Wore Leather. Oh, and then there's this idea I have for a pansexual, multi-gendered, every-possible-orientation crew of monster hunters that I'd like to write a paranormal book about…so…uh…yeah. I've thought about adding to what I already have and writing more.

The new book, The Killer Wore Leather, is quite a diversion: a comic police procedural in the leather world. What inspired it?
The style was inspired by Edgar-Award-Winner Bimbos of the Death Sun, by Sharyn McCrumb, which was written back in 1996. Hers was a comedy mystery set at an old fashioned science fiction/fantasy/gaming convention. But it's my 30 years of bumming around the kink/leather scene that really inspired the characters and plot points. What we do and how we do it is actually pretty funny when seen from the outside. Or even from the inside!

You have a lesbian at the center of the book, detective Rebecca Feldblum, but she's not as jaded as some would expect. What part of the character do you identify with?
Rebecca isn't the usual world-weary, sardonic NY cop because, well, we have enough of those. She's brave and strong and honest, but she's a good detective and knows it and faces the challenges of being out and a woman in a large paramilitary organization – she is my heroine. Right now, she's almost a blank slate – we know she has a family, and is single (but for how long?) and that she's pretty cool when confronted with strangeness. I'd really like to push her some more and let her grow as a character, especially with her new partner.


It seems like a theme in your work, or at least the subtextual takeaway, is that all relationships include power exchange and having knowledge and consent makes relationships better. Would you agree?  
Absolutely, for those who can handle that information. I like to understand where my place is; I like to know what power I have in a relationship and where I can go with it. But for others, they need to couch it in different terms to make it OK, whether they call it a "traditional" marriage or, what was that term… a surrendered wife? Whatever. God forbid she just says "I like it when my husband is in charge of things and spanks me when I am naughty." For someone like that, it's better to blame their lifestyle choices on what they think God wants. Personally, I think we could all do with better flirting and negotiation skills and then we can toss away all those books telling straight men and women how to manipulate each other.

Are you single, partnered, married? What can you share about your personal life?
I am married; my wife works in the non-profit world. I also have another meaningful relationship in my life, more DS based, with a long distance partner. There's a roommate who lives with me and the wife and then there's the cat. Because lesbians are required to have at least one, right? He's the real top in the house.

What are you most proud of today?
It had to be pointed out to me that I might have been the first person to write a series of erotic novels featuring a transman as the romantic hero. Honestly, I never thought of it that way. It wasn't something I set out to do consciously. But in retrospect, I am kind of pleased I did, and glad that readers of all genders and orientations find him interesting and/or sexy.

Do you think that literature with sexual or erotic themes gets the respect it's due?
Oh, hell no. Despite 50 Shades of "Dreck," erotica as a genre is still the rented mule of publishing. NASCAR Romance gets more respect. Five hundred vampire/werewolf/zombie knock-offs will be more likely to get a review in Publisher's Weekly than the thousands of erotica titles released every year. But I'll admit I will trade any basket of whatever "respect" weighs in exchange for sales – and that, I think, we are starting to really get. The advent of e-books and the ease and privacy in buying them has liberated hundreds of thousands of erotica readers who can now have entire libraries on one small device they can read in public and lock away from children and parents and other nosy people. So, go e-books! Even if I came late to the game.

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