Editor’s Note: Yesterday we featured a review of erotica anthology Alchemy that generated quite the online debate on the merits of erotic writing. In response, Suleikha Snyder shares her view as a longtime romance novelist. Snyder also shares an excerpt from her novella “Spice and Secrets.”
It’s not “mommy porn.” Or “daddy porn.” Or auntie porn. In this day and age, where South Asian social interaction is still hampered by cultural baggage, taboos and rampant portrayals of stalking-as-devotion (the recent Bollywood release “Raanjhanaa,” anyone?), romance fiction is a safe, healthy expression of creativity and desire.
No, it’s not Shakespeare. It’s not Anaïs Nin. You won’t see any of us romance novelists on a panel alongside Amitava Kumar or Jhumpa Lahiri. No one’s winning a Pulitzer or a Booker prize. We’re marginalized writers of “dirty books,” striving to show that sex is part of love, part of passion, and something brown people don’t just do in the “Kama Sutra” or mimic on a movie set. Our satisfaction comes from telling a story, from reaching a reader, from an Amazon review or just high-fiving each other on Twitter.
Romantic stories and erotic traditions run deep in Indian culture. Vyasa bedded two princesses and a maid just to kick off a dynasty. Draupadi had five husbands — a ménage, even if the brothers never touched parts. And if Savitri facing down Yama himself to rescue her husband isn’t a classic romance, I don’t know what is. Author Meljean Brook even pays homage to that in her paranormal romance “Demon Moon,” where the mixed heritage heroine, Savi, gives her daughter a kindred spirit on the page.
But South Asian romance and erotica writers aren’t trying to recreate the “Mahabharata” or the “Ramayana,” even if some of those stories have shaped our consciousness. We tell simpler stories, relatable stories, of lust and need and happily ever after.
New Zealander Nalini Singh is a megastar best-selling author of paranormal romance, arguably one of the people who showed the rest of us how women from the South Asian diaspora can DO this. Alisha Rai jumped into erotic romance in 2009 and has continued to make a name. Nicola Marsh is a multi-published rising star in contemporary romance and young adult fiction. Tara Pammi and Shoma Narayanan are new authors for Harlequin. Nisha Sharma, Anju Gattani and Mina Khan are carving out places in small press and indie publishing. Sonali Dev’s debut Bollywood romance comes out from Kensington in 2014, while my own series sees its third installment releasing next year as well. And there are more of us — just waiting to be discovered, to be read and heard and enjoyed.
Hide our tales in a brown paper bag if you wish, but we carry them beneath our brown skin.
Editor, writer and lifelong geek Suleikha Snyder published her first romantic short in 2011, going on to multiple releases in 2012, including two novellas from Samhain Publishing — “Spice and Smoke” and “Spice and Secrets.” Suleikha lives in New York City and finds inspiration in Bollywood, daytime and primetime soaps and anything that involves chocolate or bacon. Follow her on Twitter, @suleikhasnyder.
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Excerpt From Suleikha Snyder’s “Spice and Secrets”
When fear writes the past, only love can direct the future.
He hadn’t really thought she would do it, come round to his place. He’d expected tart remarks about how she didn’t answer summonses and a follow-up SMS about how she’d see him at the studio on Monday, assuming he’d successfully removed his head from his arse by then. But, for all his scripting, all she’d said was “I’ll be there,” and, lo, two hours later she’d appeared on his doorstep.
Davey’s rooms were the drab, colorless tones of temporary housing. There was nothing personal about the beige furnishings, the straw mats on the walls that were the Indian equivalent of starving artist hotel paintings. In her two-toned salwar suit, Sunita stood out like a bird of paradise, all brightness and energy. “Go and get her,” Rahul had said, but it was so much more satisfying to have her come to him. To realize that, with her here, he finally felt like he was home.
“What do you want, Mr. Shaw?” She was pacing the floor like a caged lioness, the metaphor all the more apropos due to the orange-yellow hues of her clothes. A lioness, a sunset, an inferno. God, just looking at her drove him to poetic heights. And to madness. “Why did you call me over here?”
There was no way she didn’t already know. It was in the way she held herself, the way she’d looked at him when she stepped over the threshold and the way she was trying not to look at him now. Likely she’d drawn up all sorts of scenarios on the drive over…and every single one of them was probably spot-on.
“You really have to ask?” he forced past the sudden thickness of his tongue.
“Yes. I do.” Her brows snapped together like curtains being pulled shut, and her body stopped its restless motion. This wasn’t the volcanic fury he was used to, those delicious daily eruptions that fired the blood. No, it was something else, just as volatile but leashed tight. “Tell me your terms. What do you expect? Public ya private? Dinner dates or just the dessert? Just…fun?” Her voice caught on the word, and what was going through that beautiful brain of hers, he couldn’t have guessed on pain of death.
Davey had all sorts of answers for her, each one filthier than the last. But he reined in his baser impulses…at least the voluntary ones, if not the ones straining at the fly of his trousers. “I expect whatever you’re willing to give me.”