Erotica Showdown: Agony/Ecstasy Preliminary Round - Part 1
Every year Jane from Dear Author and Smart Bitch Sarah host the annual romance tournament DABWAHA (for those not in the know, that stands for “Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hellagood Authors”). The tourney has several different brackets that include 64 of the year’s best books. Blog readers vote for their favorites until a winner is chosen.
I am an avid follower of DABWAHA and love the idea of pitting story against story to see which one comes out on top. So when I heard that Dear Author, aka Jane Litte, edited an erotica anthology, I thought why not use her system to rank the collection. The anthology is titled Agony/Ecstasy and split into two sections - you guessed it Agony and Ecstasy. (And as a special treat, the book's cover is double sided to represent both types of stories - you can check out the cover art below.) All twenty-one short stories included in the collection investigate the line between pleasure and pain. This means bondage, spanking, domination and all sorts of other bed sports in every setting imaginable.
In my very own JDAEEOA (that is “Judging Dear Author’s Edited Erotica Of Awesomeness”), I will whittle the twenty-one short stories down to my top ten picks and from there choose the best five and finally the winning story. Let’s get started!
Bracket #1 - Author Anne Calhoun
Just as any good Dom/sub have rules, so does this anthology. Both the Agony and Ecstasy sections of the book have a starter story by author Anne Calhoun that follow the same couple through two phases of their relationship. Readers should begin with Agony’s “Transfixed” in order to get the beginning of the unusual relationship between the hero and heroine. The first story introduces the muscle-bound Cole who enjoys getting tied to a bed while "Miss Banks", a slight woman dressed in pearls and housedress, whips him. He loves submitting to the delicious Miss Banks’ painful lashes, almost as much as she loves controlling him, but soon this is not enough for either of them and they decide to take their relationship a step further than anonymous sex.
After several very sexy encounters, Cole and Marin, aka "Miss Banks", come clean about their lives and finally face each other without fake names or agendas in “Transformed”. Cole takes advantage of the turn in their relationship in order to meet Marin on his terms — and in his bedroom — so that he can finally push the beautiful woman beyond the tight control that she applies to every part of her life. Cole longs to show Marin that turning off her brain and instead listening to her body can lead to their most erotic encounter to date.
While both stories are undeniably hot, the incredible scenes of domination in “Transfixed” cannot be beat. Of course, “Transformed” does have a heightened sense of intimacy since Marin and Cole start to know each other better. But there is something exciting about the anonymity of “Transfixed”; it truly allows the reader to fall headlong into the sensual rush Cole and his “Miss Banks” are experiencing.
Bracket #2 - “Punishment” Historical-Style
Viscount Lucien Ransford, the main character in “Wicked Wedding Night” by Margaret Rowe, has spent time in a French prison. Because of his experiences, he needs to be in complete control at all times, in all situations, including the bedroom. So when Maida Clement’s scheming mother tricks him into marriage with her rather plain looking daughter, Lucien figures it is only right to show his innocent new bride exactly what is in store for her during their union which will definitely include bindings and bondage.
Clara, the heroine from Sarabeth Scott’s “Silverhouse” lives in a time where women are oppressed and owned. Restrained in a corset and ordered around by her parents, Clara has no outlet for her dark passions. So it is lucky for her that she is engaged to Christop, an older man who understands her needs and is more than willing to take her in hand and show her there is absolutely nothing wrong to want a bit of pain along with a whole lot of pleasure.
“Wicked Wedding Night” is more about punishment than it is about fulfilling desires. Lucien pushes Maida farther than she is ready to go in order to punish her for her family’s scheme. However, “Silverhouse” is just the opposite. Christop also deals in punishment but not for his own sake but that of his lover, and soon-to-be wife Clara. She needs the pain, which he provides willingly. On top of this, “Silverhouse” is written a lush, beautiful language that will have any reader falling under its sensual spell.
Bracket #3 - Lovers and Fighters
“Shameless” by Edie Harris takes place in Philadelphia in the mid-1800s. After the death of Caroline Davis’ mother, the young woman gave herself to her fiancé, James, but instead of marrying her, he has made her his mistress while he courts other women. Caro hates him for this, but feels trapped by shame. Attending the opera one night with her horrendous protector, Caro meets Thomas Vaughn, the company’s combat master. Vaughn sees Caro’s pain and gives her an outlet for her powerful negative emotions by allowing her to inflict physical pain on him.
Lee from Christine D’Abo’s “Bruised Ego” has used the boxing ring for years to relieve stress from his high-powered job. But there is another reason he fights — it is an excuse to endure beatings. Lee very much enjoys the pain he sustains in the ring and uses the bruises to bring him sexual fulfillment. But as he gets further in touch with his body, he is uncomfortable with what he sees as an unhealthy obsession with pain. Lee’s business partner suggests he see Diana, and assuming she is a therapist, Lee is embarrassed to tell someone else about his habits. However, to Lee’s surprise Diana is not a counselor, but rather a Dom who wants to show him that he has nothing to be ashamed of.
Winner: “Bruised Ego”
Both heroes in these stories are hard men. They like sex rough, very rough, and use pain as a way of finding pleasure. But while Vaughn is perfectly happy with his lifestyle, Lee has a much harder time accepting his needs. It helps him tremendously that Diana is so matter of fact about her profession. When he mistakes her for a therapist, it is not too far off the mark. She explains the psychological reasons behind his needs and helps him come to terms with his desires. Unlike the straightforward sexual relationship in “Shameless”, “Bruised Ego” has characters with depth that is rarely found in a short story.
So after the first part of the preliminaries it looks like the “Ecstasy” side of Agony/Ecstasy is in the lead. Make sure to come back tomorrow when the next three short stories from Jane Litte’s newly released erotica anthology are judged.