Thursday, April 4, 2013

Interview with Molly Weatherfield and Review of 'Carrie's Story'

An Interview with Molly Weatherfield

Erin O'Riordan: What's your best memory of working at the Modern Times Bookstore Collective?

Molly Weatherfield: Reading my way through the bookshelves was a great education in the tradition of critical, leftwing thought. And at our evening author events I listened to ideas fighting it out, particularly around feminism and sexuality. Which was ultimately the set of controversies that goaded me toward Carrie's Story. Thinking my way through all this was how I learned to be faithful to both my politics AND my kinky fantasy life. It was, in fact, during a presentation by Gayle Rubin, thoughtful and original chronicler of the South of Market leather scene, that I started thinking seriously about these issues.

Erin: How did you feel about your company on Playboy's 25 Sexiest Novels Ever Written List - any favorites there?

Molly: I'm still knocked out by being there. Next to Lolita, my god! -- even if you and I and everybody else really knows that Lolita at all a dirty book in the sense that Carrie's Story is. Lolita is great, special, enduringly brilliant, very dark and comic, and much more about the insanity of romantic passion than it is about sex. But it's such a favorite novel of mine that even if I don't actually accept the logic that put Carrie's Story on a list next to Lolita, I'll gladly take it.

I'm also delighted (in a snarky way) to be on the same list as Norman Mailer's An American Dream because it was during reading Norman Mailer as a very young person that I started to wonder whether, if you wrote sex through a female voice and female sensibility, you might get something new, interesting, and uninsulting. 
Erin: What is the biggest difference between writing contemporary erotica and writing a historical romance novel?

Molly: I don't like creating fictional BDSM relationships in books set during historical periods when slavery actually existed and women's lives were subjugated and circumscribed. In a contemporary setting, I'm able to give my intrepid heroine a clearcut consensual fantasy relationship to erotic domination and submission: Carrie can always end a relationship, or even a contract, if she chooses to. But until she chooses to she and I can go to the far reaches of our imaginations.

Whereas in historical romance, I'm more careful to find ways for my heroine to protect herself from her second-class citizenship and for my heroes to respect the heroine's autonomy as well. Which almost always (to be accurate at all) means marriage or at least monogamy. But the silver lining, of course, is the wealth of period costume and furniture and fetishistic props you can set your scenes within. Delicious!

Erin: Why do you think Carrie's Story has retained its appeal after almost 20 years and 16 editions?
Molly: Isn't that amazing? Especially because I don't live a very kinky lifestyle... well, a little play, but, really, I'm not part of a scene or anything.

It's really made me wonder, and to listen to what my amazingly smart readers have told me about their experiences reading my books. And what I've kind of come to understand is that by following my imagination as far as it would take me, I tuned in to a kind of pervasive mood, a set of rhythms, a trade-off between mind and body that seems to be something a lot of BDSM actors and fantasists share. We like to play with the boundaries of our autonomy and individuality, and we're very insistent that this includes our critical intelligences, and very serious about what happens when we're in control and what happens when we let go. That's why all the elaborate rules and rituals, I think, to enact those complexities, and bring us to those borders and boundaries. And that's also why I spent so much time trying to get right words and prose rhythms in order to represent the tension between the action, the scenarios, and Carrie's internal dialogues. (And Jonathan's too, in 
Safe Word.)

But what I also tuned into, I think -- what has always fascinated me -- is the humorous aspect to it. The way that consciousness makes all the elaboration just a little silly. The way the details and costumes and props are so irresistible and yet so stagy, so predictable. And I think that people enjoy that insight, and the opportunity to laugh at their secret, passions and obsessions.

Read more about Molly on her website:

Buy the book here:

Erin O'Riordan's review

Let me begin by saying that erotica with a female submissive as the protagonist is not my favorite subgenre of erotica. I personally do not fantasize about being submissive, so it's a bit hard for me to relate to a fem dom main character. I don't particularly like brussels sprouts, either, but I understand that other people enjoy them, and I don't judge other people for wanting to eat them.

I wanted to read Carrie's Story because 1) it's an erotica classic that's been consistently popular since it was published in the '90s, 2) it was written by a sex-positive feminist, 3) I have, in the past, enjoyed erotica depicting pony play, and 4) it had to be better than Fifty Shades of Grey (which, for the record, I did not think was without merit).

I couldn't quite put myself in Carrie's mindset, nor could I conjure much attraction to the male protagonist, Jonathan. Carrie calls their first meeting at a party "meet cute;" I would have called it, "Why does this jerk think he knows me?" But that's okay, because the novel was still well-written and Carrie was quite likable. Who doesn't love an intelligent heroine who knows what she wants and gets it?

My favorite thing about Carrie is how well she knows who she is and what she wants. Interested in dominance and submission since she began exploring her sexuality as a teen, she's well-read in classics like The Story of O (to which Carrie's Story is sometimes compared) as well as in mainstream literature like Thomas Pynchon and the occasional pop culture novel. I admire her intelligence and self-reflection even if I don't share all of her desires.

One of my favorite scenes was Carrie's date with sweet, vanilla handyman Kevin. She tried her hand at being the dominant one in the relationship, but Kevin just didn't quite get it. My preference would have been for more Kevin and less Jonathan, but Carrie wants exactly the opposite.

I did like the pony play. I wouldn't want to be the pony; personally I think the role I'd prefer to play in neither dom nor sub, but the paid servants. The servants get some of the benefits without having to make quite so much of a commitment to the scene. From the pony farm, Carrie is sent off to auction. The novel ends with Carrie going to greet her new master, a story that continues in Molly Weatherfield's book Safe Word.

I'll be reading it, because I like Carrie, I like Molly Weatherfield's writing style and the sex scenes are a delicate balance of sensual and realistic (every encounter is not purely blissful; Carrie has good and not-so-good experiences - I prefer some realism in my fantasies), and never some corny caricature of BDSM sex.

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