Interview with Xan West, author of Show Yourself To Me

Xan West is one of my favorite authors, a master at writing savory, sexy queer erotica that pulls the reader in until you forget you’re not part of the scene.  It’s exciting to see the buzz rising for Xan’s anthology, Show Yourself To Me.  I have no doubt it will be one of the most talked about erotica collections for quite a while. If I were to hang out with Xan sometime over coffee or an adult beverage, there are a lot of questions I’d ask about kink and storytelling.  Luckily, we have the internet for virtual interviews:

1. You introduce gender diversity into your work in very natural ways.  I know that has been conscious based on what I’ve read from you before.  Can you say a little about that?  Has it been a challenge, was it easy?  Is it working for you? Most of my work centers trans or genderqueer characters, and you are absolutely right, that is a conscious choice. I wrote trans and genderqueer characters from the start (in my very first story, in fact!), but I have gotten better at it, as I’ve gotten better at writing in general. I fell into some traps, at first, and earlier published versions of some of the stories in Show Yourself To Me were not as adept at describing trans and genderqueer characters. I got to fix some of that when putting this manuscript together, and I’m really glad for that. I mostly have written characters with genders I’ve been, done gender play as, or ached to be. That’s what I’ve spent the last fifteen years writing, and this book spans those years. In essence, I’ve been writing myself into a genre that mostly erases me, and sometimes pities me or fetishizes me. I want to do more and better in my next book, because gender diversity is a lot wider than my own experience, and because I’m concerned that this book may contribute to the pattern of erasure of trans women in queer communities. A few years ago, I started consciously working on marking my characters much more clearly, making sure to be explicit about gender, race, disability, and size, in particular. I realized that my more subtle choices around marking characters were not actually helpful, because readers often glossed over them and read their own defaults onto them. So I began to work on my skill in this area, in marking these things throughout the story, drawing attention to the ways these identities shape experiences of kink.

2. How much of you is there in these characters and experiences? Well, I just admitted that I write genders I’ve been and yearned to be, so I’d say in that regard, quite a bit. There are pieces of me in each story: my desire, my knowledge, my politics, things I’ve done and fantasized about. That said, none of these stories is non-fiction, though they have been shaped by my experience and perspective. What they are is very personal, in their themes and conflicts and desires. They are also acts of deep imagination. For example, “The Tender Sweet Young Thing” was sparked by a real conversation that I had at a gathering I go to. I wrote the story imagining, what if there were a tender sweet young thing there that was interested in doing a gender play scene based on that childhood story? So, it was rooted in both life, and my imagination, my what if thinking. I will admit that if you read the whole collection you will see certain themes and kinks popping up again and again. Those definitely reveal things about my own desires and core kinks.

3. Why write about kinky sex and BDSM? I started writing erotica as a way to explore BDSM, it was one of the pathways I used to explore my kinky desires. Writing is an amazing arena for self-exploration, and I definitely use writing to learn about myself and tap into what I want, need, and yearn for in my life. Also, desire, sex, and relationships are such amazingly juicy and complex things to write about. So once I started writing in this genre, I got incredibly excited about what I could do with this kind of fiction, where I could take it. I’m not vanilla at all; the last time I tried vanilla sex was about ten years ago. I used to joke around with a partner of mine at the time, and we tried a few times to do vanilla sex, but it wouldn’t stick. Somehow we’d slide into pain play or D/s or something else kinky, because that’s just how we were both wired. It was at that point I decided to stop trying to do anything vanilla. In all honesty, I don’t get vanilla sex enough to write it well.

4. What’s your favorite thing about being a writer? I can tell you some of what I love about writing. I love the ride of deep intense focus that comes when a story is flowing. I also love the ways a story can ride along throughout the day with me as I’m doing other things. Those moments on the bus or in bed when I can close my eyes and zone out, thinking through plot or characterization or a place where I’m stuck. Or those moments at work or while I’m in the store when a part of my brain is noodling with the story. I love that I can carry the story with me as I go. I also love hearing about or seeing reactions to my work, especially strong responses to it, knowing that it makes people feel.

5. What’s your least favorite thing about being a writer? Mostly I don’t think about it in pros and cons, or favorite/least favorite parts, because it’s what I do, who I am, not something that’s going to change or that I’m going to stop doing. I guess for me there are parts that are hard, though, so I can speak to that. Sometimes it’s hard work, that can’t be postponed, and I wish I could have a break from it and let myself rest, or I just don’t feel up to bringing the sexytimes stuff right then. Sometimes a story demands to be written and I know I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with the aftermath of having written that specific story. Sometimes I have had folks in my life who don’t get what my writing means to me, how important it is, how much of a priority, who don’t know how to be appropriate about my writing. Sometimes I write something and it teaches me something about myself that I’m not quite ready to accept.

6. What’s something I forgot to ask but should have?  A recent post on your blog that resonated for me was “I belong to You.” There were a couple intertwined elements of the play you describe that appear many times in Show Yourself To Me: possessive dominance and a submissive taking sensation for the dominant. These are two elements of my own play that make it exquisitely hot and intense, and that is definitely a big part of why I write them into my erotica so often, especially when they intertwine together. I’ve spent much of my erotica writing life trying to capture that what that sort of possession and surrender and service feel like, from the top and the bottom. This collection showcases my best efforts in this area, and I hope it delivers!

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My answer to that hope is HELL YEAH IT DOES.  It delivers deep and hard and without mercy, just the way I like it. Show Yourself To Me by Xan West is available from Go Deeper Press as well as major online retailers.

Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, a recent transplant to Oakland from Brooklyn, who has been doing community kink education for over ten years. Xan has been published in over 35 erotica anthologies, including the Best S/M Erotica seriesthe Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “First Time Since,” won honorable mention for the 2008 National Leather Association John Preston Short Fiction Award. Xan’s work has been described by reviewers as “offering the erotica equivalent of happy ever after” and as “some of the best transgressive erotic fiction to come along in recent years.” Xan refuses pronouns, twists barbed wire together with yearning, and tilts pain in many directions to catch the light. Xan adores vulnerable tops; strong, supportive bottoms; red meat; long winding conversations about power, privilege, and community; showtunes; and cool, dark, quiet rooms with comfortable beds. Find Xan’s thoughts about the praxis of sex, kink, queerness, power, and writing at xanwest.wordpress.com.

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license.

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