It may be heretical to say it, but I hated John Preston’s Mr. Benson, the saga of the wealthy, deeply mysterious Aristotle Benson and his perfect slave, Jamie. I never had the experience of being swept up by the excitement as it originally appeared chapter by chapter in Drummer magazine, and when I read the paperback compilation, I found it patently absurd. Mr. Preston’s example actually helped unleash my own writing on the world. I figured that if such a wholly unrealistic Master and a clueless bimbo like Jamie were the best S/M Lit had to offer, then I could most certainly do better, with more realistic stories and more rounded, believable characters — like people you might actually meet and get to know.
I also began to search for realistic works about gay leathermen by other writers. The quest was often futile, as there are few books that depict leathermen, much less Masters and slaves, with any dexterity. Some of Mr. Preston’s early stories came across with far more verisimilitude than his episodic novel, and Jack Fritscher’s short novel Leather Blues and monumental Some Dance to Remember deserve mention along with William Carney’s The Real Thing. Several of the novels the late Larry Townsend published in his long career gave me excited, page-turning evenings as I came into kinky awareness.
But with those few exceptions, a fully realized Great American Gay S/M Novel seemed unattainable until 2002. That was the year David Stein delivered Carried Away: An S/M Romance (Daedalus Publications). After one very hot encounter, Master Terry Andrews and bottom/potential slave Matt Stone begin a courtship. Terry begins to look at Matt, whom he had considered merely a fickle “player,” in a whole new light, and Matt begins a journey to understand his submissive urges and to decide whether life as Terry’s slave would be right for him. In most books, these issues would be resolved within a chapter or two, but in Carried Away the characters are forced to probe in depth what this kind of relationship would do to every part of their lives, not as a fast-lane romp but in the long term.
It may have taken him more than ten years to complete the novel, but David “carried” the gay s/m literary bar to a higher level. Now a sexy “outtake” from the novel and a moving new epilogue to it are chapters in the volume you hold, along with a variety of other stories that stretch the parameters of s/m lit without breaking credibility. In the very first story of this collection, “Becoming Real,” a Master demands that a slave “tell them all the truth for once” in his journal. “There’s too much nonsense about slavery going around, with folks trying to re-enact the Old South or Ancient Rome or some such silliness. They miss the point and waste everyone’s time.”
Truth in s/m lit is hard to come by. Honesty is rare. It takes time and effort to make the emotional content of a story match its ball-churning erotic impact. Simple bump ’n’ grind — hell, anyone can pull that off. The Internet is full of stories that are merely “hot.” What David and a select few other leathersex writers do is create sexy art: horny, hard, insightful, and compellingly readable.
For instance, consider David’s “Political/Personal.” In 1987 and 1993 there were marches for gay rights in Washington, DC, that included large and proud S/M-Leather Contingents. I attended the 1993 march as a wide-eyed neophyte and left electrified, with stories to tell and idealism to burn. In David’s story set at the 1983 march, a passing encounter leads to a hot scene between a New York City bottom and one of San Francisco’s finest tops, who not so incidentally is a real cop. That they both participated in the S/M-Leather Conference held in a government auditorium on Constitution Avenue the day before adds to the gravitas of the narrative. When the bottomman recalls that “the energy in that marble palace was phenomenal,” the text arcs away from being JO material, but it doesn’t dump you out of the story. There are still plenty of boots, bondage, and beatings, but within the context of our long, slow trek toward equality.
David infuses Boots, Bondage, and Beatings with rich details of the New York City scene (among other locales) and the social activities that the metropolis affords. You get a solid back story for each player’s actions and emotions. This is erotic storytelling the old-fashioned way, with plot, character, and background as well as sex. But never fear: there’s lots of sex. After all, these are leather love stories.
The backgrounds are described the way a masculine bottom would see them, not an interior decorator. The words vividly characterize the spaces without distracting you from the action. Not a phrase is wasted or a situation short changed. Threads woven into each story are realistically tied off at the ends. From “Becoming Real” to “Still Carried Away,” nothing in this collection is implausible: not the sex, the kinky action, or the emotions of the characters. Granted, this kind of attention to detail mandates careful reading, but when was the last time you read a leathersex story that could equally satisfy your balls, brain, and heart?
When you’re hearing, watching, or reading a creation that has artistic merit, you respond emotionally. The stories I write, and the ones I most enjoy reading, are geared toward getting the reader off, but also to make him crave the experience that the words evoke. While Carried Away might have been a bit too thick for easy one-handed reading, Boots, Bondage, and Beatings is just right. Both books give off the heady scent of authentic leathersex. Breathe deep and swallow hard, take it all in. You won’t regret the investment.
Tim Brough is the prolific author of the collections Skin Tight; Black Gloves, White Magic; and Sgt. Vengles’ Revenge and of First Hand: An Erotic Guide to Fisting (all from Nazca Plains).
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