Contrast is everything.
I just sold another story to Mischief, for their anthology Underworlds. The story is called “Katie” and is set in the late 1800s. It is loosely based on the real-life case of Dr. William Crookes, a renowned British chemist and physicist, who conducted experiments in spiritualism with a pretty young “physical medium” named Florence Cook. Of course, the manifestations in my story are considerably sexier than anything Dr. Crookes recorded in his notebooks!
I enjoy writing stories set in past eras, not only because I love history, especially its darker and weirder corners, but also because such eras provide an opportunity to emphasize the power of sexuality by setting it against a background less sexualized than today’s world. Much of the dramatic appeal I find in erotica comes from the contrast of a story’s sexual content against these more inhibited time frames. I’ve used eras like the 1950s as a backdrop for stories such as “Calendar Girl,” and I drew on the 1840s for my story of Millerite shenanigans, “Rapture,” because those eras make a sharper contrast that allows relatively mild sexuality to appear daring, even forbidden. It’s not an easy thing for an erotica writer to be shocking in the age of Kink.com, but I like the challenge. If I’m successful, I hope I can craft a story that helps the reader adjust their attitude to see things through other eyes.
The general notion of the Victorian era as a completely repressed epoch is not exactly accurate. Although there was certainly a puritanical streak that dominated polite consciousness, there was also a tremendous amount of barely repressed eroticism that broke out in interesting ways. The erotic elements of spiritualism were certainly not emphasized in contemporary accounts, but more than one female medium conducted her séances lightly clad or sometimes entirely nude, ostensibly to prevent fraud. The effect cannot have been lost on the gentlemen sitting around the table. Also, most séances were conducted in the dark and, although all hands were supposed to be on the tipping table, who knows what might have happened beneath it? Add in the intriguing possibilities of ectoplasmic extrusions and wonderful things are possible!
Writing a story in a historical period, of course, presents different challenges from a contemporary tale or one set in an entirely fantastic world, like my novel Woman of the Mountain, but the advantages are significant. The internet offers limitless research resources and direct access to period detail and texts that have never been easily available to writers before. I love taking advantage of modern technology to embellish my little windows into the past. When you look into that gas-lit chamber, there’s no telling what naughty things you might see – at the tipping table or under it…
Underworlds will be published by Mischief later this year.