Thursday 21 February 2013

Maxim Jakubowski Guest Post: The Ties That Bind

Today I am absolutely thrilled that the guest blogger for my series Sexy Stories: fiction that turns me on is renowned editor and writer Maxim Jakubowski. Over to you, Maxim....
The Ties That Bind (Modern Erotic Classics)

I've always been a great believer in the virtues of popular fiction.

I began my writing career in the science fiction & fantasy field before making a diversion later in life into the world of crime and thrillers. However, my own efforts in these wonderful genres tended to attract mixed reviews and barely average sales due to the fact that it was always self-evident to me that even if I was working in genre, this was no reason not to have believable characters constructed out of flesh and blood rather than cardboard. So, my characters always felt real to me, and in order to make them even more real and credible they shared many of my own tastes, obsessions, quirks, whatever, and as a result sex often reared its pesky head in my writing, which didn't help in making me overly popular to genre readers.
This explains how I eventually came to erotic fiction.

As an editor with a long career in traditional book publishing, I have always subscribed to Sturgeon's law that states that '90% of everything is crap, which leaves 10% of quality'. A simple piece of maths that applies to all literature, whether it be deemed literary/mainstream or be within recognisable genres such as those evoked earlier.

Having been accused of allowing too much sex to permeate my genre fiction, I naturally became more curious about erotic literature and, having been educated in France where there is a healthy tradition in the genre, from Sade onwards through the surrealists, STORY OF O and a wonderful assortment of contemporary authors, I began investigating the genre in the English language once I had established that Victorian erotica and its upstairs/downstairs spanking traditions did nothing for my libido. Beginning with erotic SF, exemplified by Philip Farmer and others once published by the legendary Essex House  60s imprint, I embarked on a journey of discovery which unveiled so many hidden treasures in the genre that I was prompted to assemble what became the first volume of THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF EROTICA, if only to demonstrate that erotic writing could be well-written, non-exploitative and full of 'real' people. This was an immediate success, which would later go on to encourage me to take the crime and thrills out of my own novels and write straight erotica, something that now comes to me naturally and continues to this day.

Shortly after the first volume appeared I was on a break in Paris and came upon a second-hand book that seemed interesting on a bouquiniste stool by the Seine and picked it up, without knowing anything about it, attracted by its brief cover blurb. It was a novel by a French writer called Vanessa Duries, titled LE LIEN. It was a thinly autobiographical story of a young French student's acceptance of her sexual submission and traced the moving trajectory of her relationship with her dominant cum Master. In itself not a strikingly original story, although I had been previously piqued by similar tales of BDSM dynamics like STORY OF O, and Anne Rice's early excursions into erotica as Roquelaure and Rampling, which struck a chord inside of me.

Vanessa's story touched me immensely. She had an authentic voice which spoke to me directly at every level, intellectually and sexually. The story made me cry, made me hard, made me scared for her and her future and Vanessa felt so real that I immediately began researching her. The book had appeared three years earlier and there was no sign of any follow-up. I made contact with her French publisher, Franck Spengler (who was later to become mine in France and also a good friend, with whom I have since edited a collection of French female erotica as OOH LA LA!) only to learn that the young woman who wrote as Vanessa Duries died shortly after the book's publication in a car accident, and Franck was able to fill in the gaps and tell me more about her and her story, the facts that were not in the book, and privately showed me many photographs of her, some in extreme sexual situations which had been taken by her dom, and which she had trusted to his care. I was moved to tears.

Had she lived, Vanessa would, I believe have become a major author and not just in our restrictive erotica field. Considering that she was only 20 when she wrote the book, she was a born storyteller, stylist, and could convey emotions and the sense of loss sexual abandon can often provoke. She had begun a second novel before she died and Franck would publish it unfinished some years later as L"ETUDIANTE (The Student). Never before had a work of erotic writing affected me so strongly because through the lines (and despite some often intemperate philosophising that only the French are sometimes prone to) the characters depicted (and of course based on real life) felt so immensely authentic, vulnerable, imperfect, flesh and blood and guts and semen and fluids as we all are. It was also a demonstration of the sheer power of erotic writing can attain when it is done right, and doesn't meekly aspire to just being entertaining smut. From that day onwards it became a standard I swore to reach for in my own writing and in my editorial choices.

From that intense discovery onwards, I had no cease to convince an English-language publisher to get the book translated. The times were not right but, eventually, I was given the opportunity of editing the Eros Plus shortlived line for Titan Books and jumped on the opportunity of releasing the book in the UK as THE TIES THAT BIND after which that great erotic entrepreneur, scoundrel and innovator, Richard Kasak at Masquerade Books took the bait and acquired it for the USA where it went into several editions. The book appeared with a long essay/foreword by me about my post mortem relationship with Vanessa the writer and her photographs...

Years have now gone by and both lists no longer exist but when I was asked last year by Constable Robinson to edit a new digital-only imprint for them of Modern Erotic Classics, Vanessa's book was one of my obligatory initial selection, so it is now finally available again (alongside 19 other crucial titles that all demonstrate how bloody good erotica can be, away from the dross of self-published rubbish now flourishing on the Internet and electronically and giving the genre a bad name, titles by Samuel R. Delany, Elissa Wald, Michael Perkins, David Meltzer, Marilyn Jaye-Lewis, Julie Hilden, Michael Hemmingson, Paul Mayersberg and others...; please look them up and download at the first possible opportunity).

But my heart still belongs to Vanessa.




  1. What an interesting post and touching story. Thanks also for the recommendations. :-)

    1. Hi Linda - glad you enjoyed. Yes, it was fascinating. I had never come across Vanessa Duries before and will be exploring her work further.

  2. I find it fascinating to read about your introduction to erotica, as an editor and as a reader, Maxim. Reviews of my novels often state that the reviewer initially disliked the main female character but was intrigued enough by the tale to stay with it, and eventually came to care about the protagonist. I think this is because I like to write characters who are "immensely authentic, vulnerable, imperfect, flesh and blood and guts and semen and fluids as we all are."

    Contrary to what you might imagine, this author is not adored by all - readers or colleagues. But I believe I have the respect of the writers I respect and that means the world to me.

    What volume of "The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica" are we on now, Maxim? 13 since you started counting? Hurrah for the curious mind of Maxim Jakubowski. You were the first to publish me and for that I'll always be grateful.

    I'm intrigued by Le Lein. I recently reread The Lover and ache for more of the raw, foolish, unquenchable passion of young women discovering the power of lust and the powerlessness of obsession.

    And then , oh yes, there's love. . .