Cecilia Tan has been writing erotic books with BDSM themes for over 20 years. Now all of a sudden the mainstream is interested in kinky books and she is having breakout success with her new BDSM romance novel from Hachette/Grand Central Publishing, SLOW SURRENDER. The book was released in digital first to rave reviews, garnering a “Top Pick” from RT Book Reviews, and was officially released in paperback this week on August 6th.
Romancebeat.com sat down with her for an interview on her current book and her long career.
How did you start up on the idea for the book?
Well, I have been writing about BDSM for so long, I have so many ideas. With this one, after the success of 50 Shades of Grey, I knew I wanted a story those readers could relate to. I’m so happy that “50 Shades” busted open that door, but honestly, I felt it wasn’t as kinky a book as people were expecting it to be, given all they had heard. I wanted to deliver a book that would get more and more kinky as the couple fell more deeply in love, rather than the other way around. That was my goal when I put Karina and James together in Slow Surrender.
What is the publishing process like? What are some of the challenges and some of the successes you have had?
This will be my first book with a “big six” (well, now they’re the “big five”) publishing house since I was with HarperCollins in the 90s! Working with a big publisher is so different from the small houses and the ebook publishers I’ve been with in the meantime. On the one hand it’s terrific to have the support of their editorial and publicity staff. On the other hand, it takes a really long time for a book to reach the shelf because the sales cycle is so long. With Slow Surrender, the ebook came out March 5, and readers immediately began clamoring for the sequel. But the paperback of the first book won’t be released until August 6, and so book two will be coming after that: January 28, 2014. It’s hard to explain to my readers who got used to getting a new book every 2-3 months that they have to wait 11 months between ebooks this time.
What are some of your favorite characters and what was creating them like for you?
The two main characters are the ones in any romance you put the most thought into, but I really enjoy creating the secondary characters so that you have a feeling when they’re offscreen they are having a fabulous adventure of their own. James is a wealthy, mysterious man. One member of James’s staff, Stefan, turns into a really important character. At first Karina, and the reader, think he’s just a chauffeur. Then you find out he was educated at Yale and is a trained bodyguard… there’s clearly a lot more to Stefan than meets the eye. But he’s really sweet and pure-hearted.
What are your favorite romantic elements of the book?
For me it was important to show that the bondage and kink James and Karina take part in is constantly drawing them closer together. The “bonds” are literally forming between them right before the reader’s eyes. So every time James introduces a new element to their kink–rope, glass dildo, riding crop–it cranks up their intimacy.
Who are some of your inspirations and favorite authors?
When I was growing up, the two authors I wanted to be like were Roger Zelazny and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I figured I’d be writing science fiction and fantasy like them. But when I sat down after I graduated college to “start” my writing career, the first thing I wrote was a story about two telepaths on another planet… attending a BDSM play party. That left turn into BDSM was something I hadn’t expected. I had no experience in it myself at that point. My roommate at the time was older and had some knowhow, and after reading what I had written, he lent me his copy of Macho Sluts by Pat Califia, which was a collection of lesbian BDSM stories. Pat’s stories were a lot like mine: Not only did they have a lot of erotic action in them, but they focused on the ways in which the sex and the SM changed the characters. That wasn’t typical in erotic fiction at the time and it helped confirm for me that I was doing what I was destined to do.
Can you compare your writing process for this book to one of your other works? What has made this experience unique?
The biggest change for me is that I normally write in genres like fantasy and science fiction, where I have magic or alien worlds or other elements like that to explain to the reader. It’s so different to write a book that takes place in the real world and with real people! I set the book in New York because it needed to be someplace I knew well. In science fiction you can make up anything so long as it’s believable. In a real world book, it has to match the real world.
What do you want your readers to really take away from your book after reading it?
I hope that people who are into BDSM in real life will read it and think not only “wow, that was hot” but that it was realistic. And I hope people who haven’t tried BDSM in real life will think not only “wow, that was hot” but that BDSM can be one of the most romantic forms of sexual expression there is.
Who is your target audience and why?
My number one reader is myself. If I don’t think it’s hot and heartbreaking and gripping, then it’s not worth writing. But I think of myself as representative of readers who are like me, or who could be like me if they had the opportunities in life I’ve had. I want it to be a book that can be deeply enjoyed by those who know nothing about BDSM and those who know it and live it.
What about the time and place of the book is particularly romantic to you?
In the end, the book is my love story for New York City. I grew up there, but I’ve lived in the Boston area ever since graduating college. I put in a lot of my favorite places: the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, the NY Public Library, restaurants. James represents everything that the city does, exciting and full of unknown thrills for a small town girl like Karina.
How has romance affected your own writing style?
Writing a romance is a lot like writing a sonnet. There are a lot of rules you have to follow, and you know your sonnet is going to be compared to some great sonnets that came before. A really good romance pours straight into the heart of the reader and its number one goal is to invoke an emotional response. If you put too many literary flourishes in a romance, if you write too fancy or too obliquely, you only get in the way of plugging into that emotional vein. You have to write clean, so that the elegance comes not from the literary curlicues but from the simplicity of the language. I also fear cliches less now that I’ve been writing romance. The rules constrain what you do–the art comes in doing everything you want to within those boundaries. It’s kind of like having sex while in rope bondage, now that I think about it.