An Interview with the Author….
M.Q. Barber answers Our Questions!
1. I have seen a marked popularity of a BDSM element in books recently. Do you feel that the commercial success of “Fifty Shades of Grey” has anything to do with it?
It’s hard to imagine that the success of “Fifty Shades” didn’t play a role in increasing the mainstream visibility of BDSM-themed literature. With visibility comes interest, from both authors and readers, which is great, but it also creates problems, like an increase in people needing medical treatment for play-related injuries.
2. Why do you like incorporating BDSM elements into your characters and stories?
I like going where the characters take me. In the Neighborly Affection series, Henry, Jay, and Alice are feeling out each other’s interests and boundaries in a three-sided D/s relationship. It wasn’t so much a choice to incorporate the D/s elements as it was a necessity – something foundational to the characters and their sense of self. The first scene I jotted down for the series planted it firmly in the D/s camp, and everything else grew from that.
I also enjoy following the characters through the psychological and emotional aspects of being in a D/s relationship. I think they’re at least equally important, if not more important than the physical/sexual interactions, because they guide where those interactions go. Trust and communication are crucial, and it’s extremely satisfying to help the characters move toward the sweet spot where they become the role they inhabit in the relationship – and the role shifts to accommodate their individual needs.
3. What was your inspiration behind Becoming His Master? For both the characters and plot?
I blame Henry, the dominant in the series. Becoming His Master is the origin story of his relationship with Jay, his long-term submissive. It can be read as a standalone, or either before or after the other books, which are narrated by Alice as she joins their relationship. In Crossing the Lines (Book 2) and Healing the Wounds (Book 3), Alice catches glimpses into how Henry and Jay met from what Jay shares with her. Once I’d written those scenes, Henry insisted on telling the whole story from his perspective.
Henry’s a very proper gentleman, the sort of guy who’s more comfortable in a formal drawing room than at a baseball game. Jay gets under his reserve and affects him emotionally. Their needs and desires are complementary, but the way they met and the unfamiliar depth of the attraction makes Henry reluctant to move too fast. He has a somewhat masochistic streak, and I enjoyed the opportunity to tag along as this dominant man denied himself and fought against what he desired in order to give his submissive what he needed. It’s not easy, especially when the submissive disagrees. Character evolution fascinates me. For all the physical intimacy and steamy exchanges, Becoming His Master is a romantic character study about how two people find what they need in each other.
4. BDSM encompasses multiple disciplines and (imo) a responsibility to present it in correctly, rules and all. How do you feel about the various ways BDSM is portrayed in multiple genres today?
I’m dipping into the next question here, but it’s unavoidable – I haven’t read enough BDSM genre fiction to comment intelligently on how it’s portrayed in other books. Aside from making sure that all participants are consenting adults and taking appropriate precautions for safety, there’s no one true way to experience BDSM in real life, so it’s hard to say there’s one true way to write about it, either.
My characters focus on safe play, but that’s a function of the kind of D/s relationship I’m writing about – one in which people who happen to have a desire for D/s are struggling to structure their relationship as opposed to one focused on making BDSM activities seem exotic or exciting just because there’s a flogger in the bedroom. (Not that a flogger isn’t fun – Alice definitely enjoys her suede – but the moment you surrender control can be just as exciting even if the outcome isn’t shocking or painful.)
Your point about multiple disciplines is an important distinction, I think, because I don’t see a lot of classification options for books at retail beyond “BDSM” as a monolithic unit. My characters are engaging primarily in D/s with a bit of B&D and almost no S&M. It’s hard to say whether that distinction is even meaningful to a mainstream audience yet, but maybe eventually it will be.
5. Do you read what you write? What’s your favorite genre to read when curled up with a book or Kindle?
I keep adding romances to my to-read list as I come across ones that sound interesting, but I haven’t read many BDSM novels yet. When I have free time to read, my fiction choices are mostly fantasy or light sci-fi and my nonfiction choices are arts, architecture, history, the intersection of science and culture, that sort of thing.
6. Were you a voracious reader as a child and did you have a favorite story that has stayed with you?
Absolutely. I was the odd kid carrying a book everywhere and reading in class (in fact, I got yelled at on more than one occasion for reading instead of paying attention to teachers). Favorite stories from childhood – the Little House on the Prairie series (as a kid with Minnesota roots who grew up on the prairie, that was a no-brainer), Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows (both of which still make me cry), The Secret Garden (I swear, Dickon was my first book boyfriend), the Trixie Belden and Boxcar Children mysteries (so lively and fun!) and The Velveteen Rabbit (I can’t even). A bunch of others, too, but I could babble on for hours about books I’ve loved, and then you’d all grow bored and wander off.
7. What or who has had the greatest influence on you as a writer today?
I think it’s an amalgamation of all of the influences together rather than a single individual that has shaped who I am as a writer. But the breakthrough realization for me was that it’s okay to throw out the rules. It’s okay to be a plotter or a pantser or some hybrid they don’t have a name for. Write what you want, write when you want – just be passionate about what you’re writing. When I sit down to write every day, it doesn’t matter which book I was working on the day before or whether the scene I’m writing fits before or after the rest of what’s written so far; the only thing that matters is that I sit and write. I let the ideas and characters decide where my focus goes, and that means I’m always interested in what I’m working on instead of spitting out words to meet a quota or a deadline. I save editing for later drafts. Writing time is for letting the creativity out.
8. What’s next for M.Q. Barber?
My next book, Her Shirtless Gentleman, releases in August and starts a new series. It’s a Midwestern romance ostensibly without BDSM, although it has some D/s themes if you squint sideways. The characters just don’t talk about them in those terms. After that, I have two more books on deck for 2016, one in the editing phase now and one in the brainstorming phase. And I write a free flash fiction piece every month for my author newsletter (www.mqbarber.com/newsletter) – currently Tuesdays with Jay, a companion series for the Neighborly Affection books with new scenes from Jay’s perspective. It’s a lot of fun to inhabit other characters’ points of view for a while.