BOOK REVIEW: Sweet & Rough
People ask me, out there on the Smut Stand, what writers inspire me. I always feel a little weird about being stumped. I mean, in Sidewalk Smut the customer inspires me. For my plays, other Fringe playwrights/performers inspire me. For my articles, I dunno… all the books I've ever read, especially the memoir and non-fiction pieces? I can't remember specific ones.
And maybe, especially when it comes to smut and erotica, it's time for me to start finding specific inspiration. I can't remember any erotica that I've read since getting the pages of Patrick Califia's Doc and Fluff all frayed, 15 years ago. Fifty Shades of Grey is useful as a barometer, a sort of quick-impression read of the cultural zeitgeist, but I need to go a little further afield. That is not inspiring. That is annoying, especially when people at the Smut Stand asked me if what I did was anything like it.
Those two books are pretty much all I've read in erotica during the last 15 years. (Why that is may be the subject of another post.) So, when I got a chance to check out Sinclair Sexsmith's Sweet & Rough: Sixteen Stories of Queer Smut (Maverick Press), I was ready for something other. Something strong and detailed and rich and OTHER. That is totally what I got. Many of these stories were apparently pounded out as part of a competition that Sexsmith did with some of their fans, back in 2007-2009. Fans supplied some details and dynamics, and Sexsmith wove it all together. We are colleagues in the custom smut genre, apparently! I did not know!
All the pieces are queer as fuck, starring the writer themself with a range of femme-to-soft butch partners. Sexsmith writes with real detail and clarity and verve, and the result is some very inventive and finely wrought filth. I enjoyed the settings that often get used or suggested in my smut work, like a library or an alley, and seeing what Sexsmith does with them ("The Popsicle in the Library" is really excellent, especially for book-lovers). And then the writing about packing and dildos reminded me of ways to work those types of scenarios when toys come up in some of the dyke smut that I write. I mean, toys do not have to be only a tool to get someone off. There are ways to include wearables in one's sense of body and power and pleasure.
And the power exchange and pain/sensation play in these stories are really, REALLY accessible, so much so that I am going to recommend this book to one of my lovers, who has the instincts but still lacks real-life experience in sadism and doom play. I think (I hope! Hi, daddy!) that he can learn a lot from these stories, both from the top and bottom points of view. For example, the joy in Sexsmith's partner discovering strong femme presentation in "The Pink Dress"—and Sexsmith facilitating that discovery—sparkled throughout. Someone dress me up, please!
There is a lot to be said for sexy content that appeals to specific and underserved demographics, in this case, butch or trans queers and the women who love them. As someone who writes kink and queer and poly stuff pretty graphically, I get it. My own audiences are happy to find me, and I know Sexsmith's readers are legion and very loyal. But this kind of writing is better still when, like Sweet & Rough, it is evocative and strong enough to grab people outside of its target, grab 'em by the gonads of whatever sort they possess and tug them into a world where a previously unfamiliar sexuality makes complete sense.