At first glance, Rachel Kramer Bussel doesn’t look like the kind of person that would stand up in front of an audience and talk dirty. That’s not to say that I am an expert at identifying erotica authors, but surely this petite brunette cannot have said what I thought she just said. But there Bussel stood, under the dimmed red lights of Fontana’s Bar in NYC’s Bowery district, freely discussing topics most people would term "not suitable for polite company". Dropping explicit euphemisms for male genitalia and casually outlining sex acts, Bussel’s outlandish language sent not one, but two cocktail waitresses into hiding in the back room.
But whether it was hearing this “nice girl” drop the c-word or just the generally jovial atmosphere, the audience was held spellbound by the unconventional author. And for her part, Bussel looked very comfortable as the center of attention. But then again, she has experience at this type of thing. For the past six years she has hosted the monthly In The Flesh Erotic Reading Series which brings together an eclectic mix of erotic authors, fans and curious onlookers to listen to everything from “erotic poetry to down and dirty smut”.
The reading I attended was a little different from Bussel’s normal fare. Not in content, as the erotica was still very much in evidence, but because last night was special for the author. She was celebrating the release of her newest erotica anthology, Obsessed, which was published earlier this month by Cleis Press.
I hesitate to call Bussel’s reading a performance, as the woman we watched on stage is the same person you would encounter if you met the author on the street. Forgoing any type of persona or role, the Bussel reading her spicy story was exactly who I met a week earlier when I sat down to discuss Obsessed. Wearing a similar high-waisted summer dress, bright red nails and glasses, the only real difference I noticed between “everyday” Bussel and “stage” Bussel were her shoes — in deference to the festive atmosphere of the reading, she exchanged her flip-flops for high heels.
Bussel’s willingness to share her true self with her readers and audience sets her apart from a lot of other erotica authors out there. With sensationalized news stories in the press about school teachers being “outted” as erotica authors and facing other forms of discrimination, it is not difficult to understand why many in the genre choose to remain anonymous behind catchy pseudonyms and websites void of author photos. Not so for Bussel who hops into bathtub for her book trailers and has no problem writing about her own sexual experiences. (For the record, Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author’s real name and her friends, family and the public knows what she does.)
However Bussel is much more than just her writing, she is also an editor, friend, daughter, music lover and cupcake connoisseur. And just like her own hidden depths, the stories Bussel writes go deeper than what is on the surface. With her erotica, Bussel is able to explore aspects of being a modern woman including issues of self-worth, body image and what trust and intimacy truly mean. “Physical actions are part of any of my stories, but the heart of them is an underlying look at why people do what they do,” says the author. She works hard to capture the deeper psychological aspects of her characters and in doing so, Bussel says she is able to help herself. “Writing is cathartic. I can figure out on the page something that I couldn’t in real life.”
As a staunch advocate for the erotic genre, I asked Bussel what she says to those people who roll their eyes at erotic fiction without giving it a shot. She says that people should try to get over their preconceived notions. “There is a whole world out there.” Good advice, which she takes herself. One of Bussel’s next projects is a contemporary YA about shopping. Nothing salacious here — except perhaps her character's credit card bills.