Squawk Radio

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Kitty: Emma Holly is the kinda woman who writes the kind of books I yearned for after arriving at Industrious Gender Non-Specifics of America Summer Camp—I was undercover trying to figure out how the other half live. The sexually inactive. For those of you interested, there’s lots of frenetic, undirected activity going on. And Sudukos.

Anyway, Emma Holly is the anti-that.

I have read a lot of erotic, and my share of porm, and tons of romance from the “Aw, This is so sweet I wanta pour it on my bran flakes in the morning!” to “Where did I put my asbestos glove, ‘cause my fingers are burning from turning the pages!”

Whether writing erotica, historical, or fantasy romance, Emma definitely pens a blistering book. I got a chance to sit down with Emma and share trade secrets. Here are some of hers:

Kitty: Emma, you write some of the hottest books out there regardless of what anyone calls it-- but which came first the erotica or the romance?

Emma: Thank you, Kitty, I like when people don't regard what they're called!To answer your question, though--neither. My first love was fantasy. Fairy tales. The Chronicles of Narnia. That sort of thing. When I tried to write it, however, I didn't get too far saleswise. Ditto for my first attempts at romance. Finally, I hit my stride when I tried my hand at erotica. The books I wrote for black lace were still romantic--and still fantasies, most would say!--but they let me express some of my deepest interests, the biggest one being sex, of course. I suspect it's no accident that erotica was the first genre I was able to sell. I returned to romance and fantasy once I felt ready and got the chance, but I've never left my love for writing really hot stuff behind.

Kitty: What do you mean, “felt ready?”

Emma: Well, you know how it is when you’ve tried something and not succeeded? You wonder if you can ever pull it off. Going back to romance was the biggest challenge, because the market was demanding it be historical and the thought of research scared me. I didn’t realize it wasn’t going to be like schoolwork, but actually fun. The fantasy I jumped back into as soon as my editor let me!

Kitty: You've been published for how long? How many books?

Emma: My first book, Menage, came out in 1997. Let me use my fingers now and I'll tell you how many books. Okay, finished or out so far are 5 erotic novels for black lace, 2 straight Victorians, 3 vampires, 3 erotic romances for Berkley, 1 Demon book, and 5 novellas. So 14 books plus change.

Kitty: You know, if you ever need someone to take a pass through the “change” ...

There are a lot of people out there who would say you are the most successful author at blurring the lines between erotica and "romance." As an expert, I gotta say your erotica is some of the most romantic I’ve read and your historicals push the heat boundaries. What's your take on this? What's the difference, if there is any?

Emma: You’re a doll to say so, Kitty, though I know opinions will differ about who's the best at anything. The stories, at least the ones I'm writing, that I think of as being more erotic tend to have more adventuring. The characters are more likely to have multiple partners or engage in even less mainstream sexual acts. But do I think this defines what erotica is? Do I think other people should adhere to the way I've rather fuzzily defined it for myself? Absolutely not. Labels can be both restricting and judgmental and, for the sake of my own creative freedom, I'd rather not go there. Heck, I change my mind about what's "okay" to put in a book with every one I write. I find it fun to push my own boundaries.

Kitty: You change your mind about what’s okay? How do you decided—okay, how did you decide this last book? Did you "spin the bottle?" I like spinning bottles to make decisions, some of my best stuff came through a simple moral compass with a Coors label.

Emma: Sometimes I make up my mind based on what I’m in the mood to get away with. Sometimes doing justice to the story and the characters demands that I write something readers might not be expecting. My last contemporary erotic, ALL U CAN EAT, has in some ways a classic romance plot. And my current work in progress, THE PRINCE OF ICE, supposedly a more romantic story, already has elements that wouldn’t be out of place in erotica. And don’t ask me what they are, ’cause I’m not spilling!

Kitty: Explain to me the appeal of each for you as a writer.

Emma: That's no more complicated than my being naturally interested in writing both kinds of books. It's in harmony with who I am for sexy romance or romantic erotica to float my boat, and why fight that? Be the snowflake, if you know what I mean.

Kitty: It looks to me like there's just a whole lot more world open to the erotica writer in terms of eras, cultures, fantasy elements. Why do you think that is?

Emma: Oh, I love thinking about this question, because it so wasn't the case not too long ago! When I started writing erotica, if you didn't want to read male or literary sexual fiction, you didn't have many choices. You could get mostly contemporary erotica written in Black Lace's house style, or you could get a few extra-steamy historical romance authors like Robin Schone and Susan Johnson. Great compared to not having those choices, but not exactly a smorgasbord. The problem was--or, truly, the opportunity was--that the publishers who were putting out erotica weren't taking *as many* risks as readers wanted them to. Readers, especially female readers, got a taste of erotic material with a feminine slant and they wanted more variety. Since they were already rebelling a bit against what common wisdom had been saying they wanted, I suspect that led them to want stories that were outside the box in every way. Settings, time periods, all that. This led to the birth of publishers like Ellora's Cave, whom I've gone from being rather skeptical about to really admiring. They are the leading edge these days, and the mainstream publishers are scrambling to catch up with them.

Kitty: Your latest book, Beyond Desire is a special two-for-one reprint of Beyond Innocence and Beyond Seduction . In both those books you adhere pretty closely to the English 19th century standard and both your heroines are looking for titled husbands, so how does Emma Holly keep fresh within those parameters?

Emma: I wrote those books back when common wisdom said American women didn't want to read erotic romance in a contemporary setting because that wasn't "enough of a fantasy." Looking back, I'm glad that Common Wisdom obliged me to try writing historicals. I'm not sure anything else could have so greatly bolstered my confidence in my ability to learn and enjoy new things.That said, my two Beyond books aren't typical Victorian romances. My first heroine, Florence Fairleigh, doesn't start out looking for a title, or even romance. She's hoping for a relatively nice, financially stable middle class fellow who won't let her starve. In Beyond Seduction, Merry Vance just wants to ruin herself so she won't have to marry--which would be a tried-and-true plot, except she means it. She doesn't get a rakish earl to ruin her, she gets a supposedly untitled rakish artist.Keeping it fresh comes pretty naturally when you like to challenge yourself the way I do. I also think finding new authors to love is gold as far as inspiration goes. I'm always myself when I'm writing--I don't know how not to be--but seeing someone else raise the bar is quite exciting!

Kitty: Okay. No more teasing. WHO is raising Emma Holly’s bar, because this person I must read! Come on, Emma! I don’t have a date this weekend—the Good Ship Luvalot left port!

Emma: Well, I can’t guarantee you’ll like them, but I’m really enjoying Lora Leigh’s “Feline Breed” series from Ellora’s Cave. (Men with extra bits!) Before that, Lisa Valdez’s Passion was a standout for me. The books don’t have to be erotic to get me pumped to get back to work, but the hot ones do come to mind first.

Kitty: What's next on the Emma Holly horizon?

Emma: My current project is PRINCE OF ICE, a follow-up to THE DEMON'S DAUGHTER that takes place in a technologically advanced pseudo-sorta China. It's turning out to be one of my odder stories, but since it's uniting all my favorite genres--fantasy, erotica, and romance--I'm having fun with it. The basic idea is one I've been playing around with for many years, but the timing never seemed quite right until now, which is a challenge in itself. You always want to do your own dreams justice! From a reader's perspective, ALL U CAN EAT, an erotic contemporary set in Southern California will be out next--May 2006, to be exact. That story has plenty of adventuring, plus a world-weary cop, a sassy diner owner, an adorable sexual tag-team, and a bit of mystery.

Kitty: Yum. Need a proofreader?

Emma: Funnily enough . . . no. Thanks for being such a great interviewer, Kitty. I enjoyed it!

Kitty Kuttlestone, 7:27 PM