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#148 Saskia Vogel

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Often, the way you treat sex in a book determines where it is shelved in the shop.

If the sex is too exciting, or strays outside the usual fare your book could be moved to the Erotica section or even find itself excluded from your neighborhood bookshop.

I have always found this fascinating, as no matter how violent your book is, or how graphic a murder your include, there isn't the same risk as with representing a wider range of sexual experiences. For this reason, I was eager to have Saskia Vogel on to discuss her novel, Permission, a novel that centers around a dominatrix and her world. This novel has been included in the literary fiction category, and rightly so, I believe.

What does it mean to include sex, sexual experiences, and more fringe lifestyles in literature? How can you do this respectfully and promote a positive conversation on the topic? What is an author's responsibility when including life experiences that haven't been widely written about in literature before?

Saskia and I went deep into this topic and I enjoyed the conversation so much. We honestly could have talked for another several hours, so I hope very much that we'll have the chance to have her on again to speak about this and other topics.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. The discussion continues in the show notes comments and on twitter and instagram, where I can be found at @carodonahue. Reach out there and tag #permissiontoconnect to be a part of Saskia's tour and conversation.

Discussed in Episode 148 with Saskia Vogel

  • The need to explore representation of French culture, BDSM and other taboo in literary novels

  • How sexuality can be the driving force in a novel in different ways than you may think

  • Finding balance between the exotic and the everyday life 

  • The experience of an author who writes about something that isn’t regularly written about

  • The importance of standing behind your intentions even while risking a negative opinion 

  • Deciding if an audience knows how to read your book

  • Establishing a writing practice

  • How books get categorized

Links and Resources

Full Transcript

Caroline: This is the Secret Library, a podcast about writing and publishing books. I'm Caroline Donahue, a life coach who works with writers and I'm here to tell you this is your year, it's time to stop waiting and start writing. The Secret Library podcast is brought to you by the power of our wonderful Patreon supporters. You can check out the Secret Library podcast club over at, where you can get bonus solo episodes with me as well as the opportunity to submit questions for bonus Q&A episodes every month. This is Episode 148 of the Secret Library podcast.

My guest this week is Saskia Vogel, who was born and raised in Los Angeles and now lives in its sister city Berlin, where she works as a writer and Swedish to English literary translator. Her debut novel, Permission, is out now and is being adopted for television. Previously, she worked as Granta Magazine's global publicist and as an editor at the Avian Media Network, where she reported on pornography and adult pleasure products. She volunteers her time as the honorary secretary of salsa, and is part of the team that organizes Viva Erotica, and annual film festival in Helsinki that explores the art history and culture of sex on film. I was really pumped to have Saskia on the show, and I honestly think we could have talked for another two to three hours after we stopped recording. Thankfully, she does live in Berlin. So I think we can get her back pretty easily. I know you're going to want to hear from her again.

We really dove into the topic that is taboo and in particular, the need to explore representation of fringe culture and what it means to bring something like BDSM, into the context of a literary novel. To be clear, this episode is not one that deserves an E on it. It's not the semantics of the sex scene that we're talking about. It's more who gets included, what kinds of characters, what you're allowed to go into, and what you're allowed to explore and what kind of gets you relegated to a different section of the bookstore. It was really enlightening to talk about this, to talk about the source material and life experience for Saskia of the novel Permission, and what drove her in creating incredibly human characters that happened to be involved in a world that many of us don't encounter every day. In many ways, that's what literature is about, in my opinion, is being exposed to experiences different than our own and learning from them.

Our conversation really goes into how sexuality can be a driving force in a novel and in different ways than you might think. This will be kind of an, aha, episode as it was for me to record. I'm sure this is going to be part of a longer conversation that we bring back in the future. I'm really excited to share this episode with you. Here we go with Saskia Vogel.

Hey, Saskia, thank you so much for coming on.

Saskia: Hey, Caroline, thank you so much for having me.

Caroline: Well, I'm already thinking it's going to be difficult to cover everything that I think we could talk about, connected to your book and to the writing of Permission. But I think we'll take a stab at it and see how much we can cover. And if you have to come back you have to come back.

Saskia: Oh, that sounds great.

Caroline: So one of the things that was really exciting to me is that although we have talked about writing sex scenes per se on the show before, we haven't talked about, in this sense, the idea of taboo and incorporating real human looks at aspects of life that are sometimes I think, relegated to genre fiction or particular, you know, like, Oh, you can read erotica to get that. If you're interested in BDSM, then you can read these books over here in this section. But bringing concepts that are commonly considered taboo into the literary fiction area is something that fascinates me. I'm just interested in the kinds of questions you asked yourself as you started to think about bringing Orly and Peggy in their world into literary fiction?

Saskia: Gosh, I mean, that was such a long process, I guess it started like in 2003 or four, when I moved back to LA. One of my best friends was living in a shared house with a bunch of people that were really intimately involved in the BDSM scene in Los Angeles, they became my friends and my primary social circle in those years that I was living back home in LA. One of the things that came up a lot was, there was one dominatrix that I knew that felt extremely burned by the media, she had given an interview and it was cut to pieces or something. And she ended up feeling really misrepresented and I suppose this idea of misrepresentation was something that's really stuck with me, as the stories of my friends stuck with me and stuck out to me as like being truly remarkable. Examples of negotiating life, love and sex from the fringes, but also, of course, needing to maintain a regular life with regular jobs in some cases. In some cases, a life lived totally in the space of the kink world or the fetish community. Um, yeah. I haven't answered your question yet?

Caroline: No, but this is a great context and it was a really large question. I guess I can refine it a little bit in saying that, I think just deciding to do it is the first way and say, you know, there is room for things that have formerly lived in other parts of the bookstore to come into the literary area. I guess I'm wondering where did the characters first start to appear for you and you feel like okay, I need to write this particular story?

Saskia: For a little while I was working as an editor at Adult Video News, there were a lot of books that came in for review. How to books about sex, I would sometimes get books from pornography studies, departments at universities. There was a type of sex writing that I could see, okay if I wanted to tell the story around this BDSM community, here were some very set ways to do it. I could write a how to book, I could pull gay to lease and go thy neighbor's wife on it. I could write it, but who did I want to reach? It was doing an MFA at the University of Southern California that has since moved to the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I was like 23 and writing about kinky stories in a very serious and kind of earnest way. I would get the question, would anybody actually want this and isn't this abuse. Somehow it clicked for me and I was like, you are the readers I want to reach. I want to write a story for people who maybe have absolutely no relationship or no interest in the subject matter, but who have an interest in love and desire. In a way I wanted the book to kind of demystify a topic that is often written about with a lot of mystery or a lot of aesthetic. But I wanted to take really serious and human look at motivations and need and desire and belonging. And so, the book that I wrote first was just not a very good piece of reportage essentially, just telling the stories of my friends. I just wasn't really very equipped at the time, I think, to write meaningful non-fiction.

I just sat for ages with these stories, and they wouldn't leave me alone and I still felt like I wanted to tell this story, something about this community, something about the way sex was negotiated, consent, an awareness of power dynamics, these things never left me. Eventually, all the other characters fell away and I was left with Orly and Peggy as the two people that I felt... I mean early and Peggy being composites of many impressions and lots of reading over the years, but also a lot of interviews that I had conducted and people I had known. But those two stayed with me the longest and they just appeared one day I don't actually remember their genesis particularly, only that this network of stories around a certain kind of need and this network of stories around someone who is equipped to answer that needs to address that need. They felt really powerful to me. I wanted to tell a story around people who can't find the or who seek essentially or lay out to address their needs, and fantasies.

Caroline: I love this mystery and I have yet to find anyone who can describe the exact moment that it happens. But as you're talking about the process of preparing, I think of it almost in this weird gardening metaphor, that there's this preparing that happens, there was this almost fertilizing the area with stories of all of these people and the reportage preparation, and then all of a sudden there was this shoot that came up, that was Orly and Peggy. It seems that, that's characters do that, they're not there and then the next day they're just there.

Saskia: Yeah.

Caroline: We don't see them in the in between, as they kind of what the seed was, or whatever, they just appear.

Saskia: No, it's kind of like an itch, isn't it? It just wouldn't leave me be, because I had a baby interviewed and written the personal history of maybe 10 different people. I don't know, everything else just kind of fell away. Maybe in these characters, maybe everything that I was interested in was distilled into two potent imaginary human beings.

Caroline: At that point it felt clear that it was going to be fiction instead of non fiction?

Saskia: Absolutely.

Caroline: Yeah.

Saskia: I tried, this is so ridiculous. I think even one draft of a chapter early on I'd written in like a sort of Raymond Chandler new Irish detective voice.

Caroline: Amazing.

Saskia: I was really struggling to find the voice for this book. I mean, to say that I've found my reader while I was at USC is not true. I understood who I wanted to write for probably later. But it was those questions that came up that sort of like, what is this and why should I care? I don't know, I think it gave me my mission. Like, I'm going to show you why you need to care because these are universal things and I want you to see this community in a fresh way. To your point about the other spaces where stories like this exist, I read, what was it? And rises Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, way too young.

Caroline: I think I did too actually.

Saskia: I think it can happen right? It's called The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy.

Caroline: It seems really like, Ooh, this is very glamorous kind of fairy tale. It's got pretty covers.

Saskia: Absolutely. Yeah. I was also super into vampires. I was like having revelations with the vampire at the start and interview with a vampire. It was very much my head space when I was little. Moving from one unbraced book to the next felt just like a natural move. But that's a different kind of world, you see the dynamics and the trials, but like the title implies it also has a fairy tale like quality. I didn't know, I wanted to look at what these things are like, in practice, like what this means in an everyday sense. Because I think the space of fantasy is so exciting and absurd and, I don't know, nonsensical sometimes but nonetheless tantalizing. But if you're trying to explore your fantasy life, how do you actually make that happen IRL?

Caroline: Right. That's true. I think it's something about the way fiction works is. I think it's the difference between erotic fiction, where everything can be over the top, and you could have a character who is responding to an abnormal circumstance, with an over the top reaction. Versus in literature, I feel like this either the person has to be having a really difficult time or an unusual experience in a totally normal situation or the reverse. The situation has to be normal to somebody for it to work. It was clearly, you know-

Saskia: Interesting.

Caroline: Yeah, because I think if it was like shocking to Orly, and shocking to Peggy and shocking to Echo that it starts to feel like Oprah. Instead, when you're getting to travel inside of a situation-

Saskia: You'd really be asking a lot from your reader?

Caroline: Right. And yet in this, the nice balance is we have Echo from whom it is new. If we're not familiar with it, we can ride on her coat tails as she witnesses everything.

Saskia: Exactly. That is exactly the function of the Echo character. I mean, she's also the person who is carrying a lot of the questions I had that drove me to write this book. Of course, she exists for a lot of reasons, but it's exactly that. The reader really needed somebody, I think to take them into the world. I don't know, in the long term, Echoes life beyond the book, if this becomes her entire lifestyle or if her connection point with the lifestyle is going to be primarily through Orly but not really otherwise. She enters that space, and she finds something valuable in it. She finds healing and the practice of BDSM, which I think is also something that doesn't really get talked about that often.

Caroline: Yes, I was very excited about this, actually, for a number of reasons. One was that, people have a particular idea of what BDSM is, and that there's a certain idea that it's a lot of smacking around, that there's maybe a certain kind of enjoyed consensual, but that it's a violent thing. Rather than seeing a more complete emotional impact and different ways in which this can be a really healing and nurturing experience, which I think most people don't realize. I thought that was really wonderful and I wondered about the experience of writing about something that isn't necessarily always written about in this context. And having this responsibility that you are holding of all these friends were like, Oh, my interviews totally misrepresented me and feeling all of that responsibility. I'm going to get this into a question that will be answerable I promise. But I'm holding this idea of, I think there's a lot of topics, this being a good example of one, but by no means the only one where there are niche fringe or smaller areas of experience that are grossly underrepresented in books.

Somebody who's taking a risk and including it, is doing a service by opening the world to that. But there's also the risk that people are going to see that as, well that's what it's really like now, and that it's going to become yet another way that people just encapsulate something in a whole. One book is like, that's the book, that's what BDSM is really about, or whatever small topic. I'm wondering how you balance the desire to bring it into the conversation without being crippled or paralyzed by the idea of like, okay, well, I'm on a bit of a fringe here. How can I still be creative and tell the story that I want to tell without feeling like I've got 200 people behind me going, you got to do it right?

Saskia: That's why it took me so long to write this book. It definitely felt nervous about a lot of anxiety around representation, and a lot of anxiety around kind of like whole, just honoring and respecting the people who were kind enough to sit down with me and speak for hours about very intimate parts of their lives. I felt really nervous about it. I've sent the book to a few of the people who I feel like should see it, and nobody's shouted at me yet.

Caroline: That's a good start.

Saskia: Which is really nice. But also, you never know how people are going to react. I think at some point, I had to take that callous or cruel or maybe emotionless decision to just say, okay, I have spent basically the entirety of my adult life working with themes of sex and sexuality in some capacity. I have had friendships, I have done interviews, I have already written a terrible book about this that I don't think should be published. I have done my work, and I'm approaching this with a desire for compassion and understanding, and I love these characters. Yeah, and that's going to have to be good enough. But in my anxious days, I'm freaking out about it and just thinking, God, I hope so and so doesn't send me an email and is angry about- you know how it goes?

Caroline: Yeah.

Saskia: When the other side of your brain takes over. I stand by my intention behind this book, and I think if there is criticism done about the sort of handling of representation, then I really hope it can... I don't know if I can have a dialogue about it. But also I'm here to listen and hear if somebody is, currently writing me an angry letter.

Caroline: Right at this exact moment.

Saskia: This moment somewhere.

Caroline: I think at a certain point too, you do have to make that decision that including the topic in the narrative to the best of your ability is valuable enough to risk a negative opinion. Even a negative opinion about what you've done is more valuable than something being shut out.

Saskia: Yeah.

Caroline: Because there's such a line, it feels like there's such a line in literature about how much sexuality is allowed to be a part of the process. If there's too much sex in it, then it's suddenly erotica, or it's suddenly pornography, or it suddenly- Even though it's as human experiences any other. You can write as much as you want about death, you can write as graphically as you want about murder, or torture in a novel and it's not going to get put in the forbidden room that you have to show ID to get into.

Saskia: So funny.

Caroline: Yet if you include really frank and direct language around sex, it could. It could be sent to the, I'm thinking circus of books as an LA reference, which isn't even there anymore. It was a store on Sunset Boulevard that had a back room, and you had to go through. Anyway-

Saskia: I loved it. Yeah, that was so good.

Caroline: But I'm just thinking about that. Why do you think sex is the one that can get your book kicked out in a way?

Saskia: It's a really good question. I think we, as a society, tend to sort of put sex in a corner, I suppose. Or its own sort of little hermetically sealed compartment. I don't think we're really encouraged to think about the whole self, you know, the sort of the erotic self as part of the self that also just really loves golf and has political leanings and whatever. When I was writing this book, the thing I think I was most interested in was what happens if I put sort of erotic selves, in the center of the narrative. What if the lens through which this book is written is through desire. That's definitely echoes character, she is a sensibalist she enjoys pleasure. That is very at odds with the world around her because it is so easily misconstrued. Madonna whore complexes or does that mean she's just a slut.

To some people in the novel, She's just a girl who likes to have sex and is easy. Unfortunately for her, that means that a lot of her sexual life is essentially a really bad conversation, like a one sided conversation. Where she approaches with sort of real willingness to be in a sort of intimate dialogue of bodies, but she meets people who just want to bang and are interested in that kind of exchange, which is filled with knowledge and insight and also just pleasure.

Caroline: Something that's really present in the book, which is interesting, and I think I can see people who have preconceived notions about this world having difficulty with it. I think they should and they should get over it, is that the sex in the book that's happening between people in the BDSM community, is far more conscious and empathetic and concerned with the experience of all parties. Than the sort of vanilla quote unquote, sex that's happening out in Los Angeles. There's a lack of conversation and there's a lack of awareness and there's a lack of consideration, happening in those scenes. I think that there's something very interesting and important and challenging about that, to show, you think this is kind of a dark dungeon where you're just going to go in there and nobody's going to respect you, or your boundaries. When really, this is showing how the opposite can be true?

Saskia: Yeah, I mean, you're really hitting on exactly the thing that was the central question. A question that just chased me around the world as I was thinking about writing this book. It's exactly that parallel and that contrast that was so apparent to me when I was in LA in my 20s. I think the landscape in literature and in general is changing. Since me too, and the wild success of cat person, which also takes a really close look at power dynamics and failures of communication at play in a romantic erotic space? You know, I think this book is coming at a time when I feel quite confident that people will understand how to read it. Which I'm not sure it would be the case six years ago or 10 years ago.

I think we're much more willing to look at the ways in which our sex lives/the entire rest of our lives are impacted and defined by unspoken power plays that we're engaging in. Or power dynamics that we haven't agreed on, but somehow we're thrown into it. We know these roles, and we're maybe participating in them unknowingly. What I love about this moment, is that I think people are feeling more and more empowered to question what they have inherited and what they are given. And to look for new models, in this case, maybe around romance and the erotic.

Caroline: Yeah, it never fails to strike me that there are books which, no others ever said, I wish this took a little longer to write. But when a book takes quite a while, and there's a lot of personal investment and soul searching that happens, and then it shows up after a while, it always feels like that was the time it was supposed to be there. I feel like this book is being placed right out there, right at the moment when everyone really needs it.

Saskia: Oh, thank you so much. That means so much to hear you say. But I mean, talking about fantasy like, whoa. So many fantasies I had to contend with in the process of writing this book, getting the book published, like when I turned 30 and I had no manuscripts to give to anyone and you just have to realize that okay, I'm not going to be like a brilliant author under 30. You know, they're all these like silent expectations that I didn't realize I had that crept up during this whole process. What it means to be published by this person or how this should happen. It was such a raw and vulnerable time having this book on submission, and just in other people's hands, and it was really informative to see just how many crazy fantasies and expectations I didn't know I was secretly harboring. Like, what it would mean to be an author who gets published, who has her first novel out when she's under 30. Why does that matter?

Caroline: Right.

Saskia: I feel like the whole process has been a lot about patience, at one point I realized that finally I had constructed my life so that I had a job that complimented my writing really well, that is literary translation. A life where I have established a writing practice. At some point, don't get me on a bad day, I'm sure I will be filled with despair on other occasions. On a good day, I'm like, I have a writing practice, Whatever happens with this book, whatever happens with the next one, like I will have this writing practice as long as I care to. Economics may change, literary translation may no longer be a viable career, who knows what happens in the future. But the life that I have right now is a writing life and I feel really proud because it's this life that I've always wanted. Hopefully also, a book that is read and understood and embraced by readers, you know what I mean?

Caroline: Yes. I can feel everyone wanting to know, sometimes they appear on my shoulder. What is the writing practice that you have, what does it look like?

Saskia: In my dream life, I get up and I write between nine to noon and then I take a luxurious two hour break and then I do, shall we say money work in the afternoons. In reality, I mean that's another fantasy, right? That I had to dismantle. I'm not that kind of writer.

Caroline: Are you wearing like a silk kimono during that time, I feel like if I'm doing that kind of schedule I'm in like a really attractive Georgia key feeling kimono with really nice tea and the whole thing.

Saskia: When I was at USC, I used to sit in my little bachelor apartment in Westwood, in a pink kimono that I had when I was little. That I actually had when I was getting my appendix out when I was little. I remember blood splattering on it because the IV came out or something so it had a faint splatter of blood on it, but I'd sit there in this silk pink kimono covered in butterflies. And like a little slip and lipstick, and I would type and I was like, this is it. I am a writer now. I mean, the Kimono was definitely part of my fantasy. Now I think it's definitely more yoga ware, I'm much more leggings person now. But I find that I tend to work in concentrated fits. If I have one or two good writing days, it's hard to have a third. I think it's classic, right? I haven't really been writing anything long form in a while, like I've been working on short essays and things around pre-publication stuff from the book. I write when I can, and I set time aside for it. But if I'm having a really good writing day, I sometimes need to take like a week and not do anything and just do other things.

Caroline: Yeah. Sometimes it feels really empty after you get it all out. It's like there's no juice left.

Saskia: Yeah. I feel like the brain needs to recover, because it's such a particular kind of concentration. But the last third of this book, I wrote in downstairs in my parents house over a three week period, on my dad's house in LA. That was just like a punishing schedule of getting to the end because my agent was like, come on, your book is late. I wanted to see it earlier. So that was sort of like a punishing, just get to the end kind of thing. There's also that, you have to kind of adopt or, I guess, I adopt my writing practice to external things. Like, I only have a week to do this, that means I have to work in a different way.

Caroline: Yeah, it does. It's a moldable thing.

Saskia: Yeah. And I don't know, if there's an author I translate, who I adore, and from what I understand, she has an incredibly regular practice. The sort of nine to noon morning writing, and then afternoon money work kind of ideal model and I really envy that. But also know, I moved to Berlin five, six years ago. There's a lot of energy that goes into moving into a new country. I don't know that I have a very stable life in some ways, but I also have quite a chaotic life. So I think my writing practice reflects the jumbled ness of my general everyday existence.

Caroline: Yeah, and I don't think a writing practice works, if it only works when it goes perfectly.

Saskia: So true. Because then yeah, that sounds like me making excuses for myself why I can't right now.

Caroline: Exactly. It's like why don't I have a kimono? I'm wondering, there is a process we discussed at the beginning. I feel like we're talking about the sort of behind the scenes of bringing this topic into literature, but I feel like it would really benefit to have you read a little bit from the book.

Saskia: Absolutely. Which bit do you want to read?

Caroline: I think the bit from when Echo and Orly are creating an experience for somebody. Because I think you can talk really abstractly about this sort of approach to sex into a book, but I mean, that could be handled so many different ways. So I think if we could put a little bit of a passage to it. I think that would help go in depth.

Saskia: Absolutely. Sure. Yeah, because we're talking about abstract fantasies and the sort of absurdity a fantasy was also something that I was interested in examining. Like, gosh, people want all sorts of things done to them. What was I listening to? I was listening to the first Steve's podcast and [inaudible 00:36:27] Cara was on. She apparently used to work as a dominatrix, one of her clients wanted her to essentially spend his hour like wiggling his teeth and saying, that looks bad. We're going to have to pull it.

This one is terrible, we're going to have to pull that tooth out. She's thinking she kind of explained that fantasy to someone or just hearing it. It's so easy to kind of giggle or whatever, but I think when you're in the moment, then you can kind of understand the seriousness or maybe even really get into the dynamic of how hot this must be for that person. I wanted to kind of see if I could draw the reader into that space, both an absurd fantasy, but also what it must feel like for the person in the throes of what for them is an ecstatic moment. Anyway, I've given her a super long introduction.

Caroline: Read it because I want to say things about that, after too.

Saskia: This is Echo and Orly in Orly's sanctuary. After that, Orly's house became the house of my imagination awash with men. They arrived with fantasies, most of which only made sense in action. This is what we were doing today. The clients had fallen in a crowded nightclub and all the women were so busy grooving in their high heels they didn't notice. They thought he was the floor, Orly and I were all the women. I struggled to keep my balance, she held my hands. I pressed into the balls of my feet straining to stay on tiptoe for balance and balance shimmy bounce. Each be we winded him, each beat was a struggle to stand on his loose flesh. My soul's stuttering across bone, the barrel of his chest, my ankle gave and I slipped. The stiletto slid down his shoulder and I found my footing on the hardwood floor. I could have broken his neck ended him, ruined everything for her.

Blood rose from the abrasion and rolled down his white skin. He didn't seem to notice Orly helped me back up, but I couldn't move. The give of his body, the give of his bones as I struggled to be steady, careful to avoid his spine but all I could see was a dead man. Mouth ajar fat red cheeks squish to the floor. He was so still, I couldn't keep dancing. You're bleeding, I said. One blue eye opened and he shuttered when he whispered, just keep going.

Orly and I read their introductory letters, their questionnaires. She listened to them on the phone noting the details of the woman they had in mind. What had been said, We accentuate the parts we find pleasing. We drew them with broad strokes, the lipstick, the pencil skirt, the glasses, the suggestion of threat, the corseted waist and elongated like. We focused on the parts they found pleasing, let pleasure render the perfect whole. Sometimes words lead them only so far. I want to submit to you. What does that mean to you? I want you to be in control. What would you like me to do? Show me how inferior I am to you defile me or they needed specifics, when she couldn't push through. She'd hold their heads in her lap and rock them into a space of surrender. A gentle hypnosis, asking them to remember the first time they felt the desire to submit. To whom did they want to submit? What had that person made them do?

What had they wanted the person to do? Often they'd wanted something that was impossible for them to say. But once they said it, everything was simple because we knew what to do. Sometimes they wanted to be watched while Orly worked on them. I saw them go still saw their breathing change, their faces in ecstasy a threshold crossed, beyond fits of self loathing or laughter, beyond their pleased to mommy or daddy, where did they trust her to take them when they allow themselves to let go?

Caroline: Great.

Saskia: Thanks.

Caroline: I think that I think that just helps to kind of illustrate what's happening. Because I think something that I think about with the idea of the absurd fantasy with the idea of wanting the threat of the tooth being pulled before you read the piece as well. Is that so much of how things get categorized. Is the language and the approach that's used to talk about it? Someone finding out they might need a tooth pulled could be a really horrifying experience that has absolutely no electrical charge. But the context in which it happens can change it completely. I think also the way that we talk about sexual preferences, the things that are hot, the things that are exciting, can get them categorized in either the literature section or somewhere else entirely. I think it's just such an important thing to think about. What are we allowed to write about, and what aren't we allowed to write about and how?

Saskia: With specifically Orly's approach to her dominatrix practice. I think she feels very much that she provides a kind of healing service. I think about Orly's work very much in terms of any other body work. Massage or crystal healing or even Reiki, you know where you enter a space, and you give yourself to a person who promises to have a kind of energetic exchange with you. Other spaces might be at the therapist where you speak, the boundary gets kind of funny and blurry when you talk about BDSM as a healing practice. I was super nervous when I was in London launching the book a couple weeks ago and walked past the massage place, and I was just like, okay, if they have time, they have to take me. And have to say, it didn't see so much difference between sort of my intention with that massage, which was I needed to go in there and have somebody in a nonverbal space, smooth the anxiety out of my body to give me a fighting chance to like relax a little bit. In a way, I think this is Orly's approach as well, to an extent. She works in a different sphere, she works with erotic energy, but it's still kind of the same thing.

Caroline: Yeah. Do you know the Erica last work?

Saskia: Yeah.

Caroline: There's one that I keep thinking of, in this context. She has, for those listening who don't know about her, she has a project called ex-confessions. People can send in fantasies that they have and they will choose some of them and they make erotic films out of it. One of them is a woman who wants to visit her dorm. Like, she's going in for a spa appointment, basically. The setting is really charming, it's like she comes in she's parked her bicycle. She comes in, some woman is leaving. I think my favorite part of the whole thing is there's a woman leaving who does... kisses her hand and waves at the receptionist, like bye. She's at the nail salon and leaves and then she goes in and it's like a full on, very consensual.

But she's going to be a sub for an hour. Then she goes back out, and she's got her basket and her loaf of French bread in her basket and biking off. It is a really interesting thing to think of like, what if this was just a service appointment, like going to your shrink or, or going to a massage? It's fascinating.

Saskia: Yeah. It's seeking out altered state subconsciousness as well, like accessing ourselves in different ways. I mean, it's not really right?

Caroline: And I think books can do that as well. I mean, that's sort of what's happening. You are having a whole experience in your mind as you are reading the book. And that's what they live for. I could go on and on, but I think we've at least gotten them. Everyone should read the book and then we can have all kinds of fun conversations about this in the comments, which you can find it at So please come over and comment and let's keep talking about this topic. Because, we don't even know how sort of what we're making taboo. And what we're saying isn't allowed to be a part of what we're writing, until someone like you takes a risk and write something, and we think, right, that hasn't been around. Let's bring it in. Let's bring it into the conversation.

Saskia: I'm so glad you feel that it's so fresh and if I may, I'm booked for the next will sort of essentially through June. What I'm really hoping is to continue this conversation online a bit. I'll be sort of chronicling the book tour on Instagram. And the hashtag I'm using is #permission to connect. So if there are readers who are reading the book and are kind of interested in sharing their thoughts, that's a really good way to do it, because I'm really interested in seeing what kind of dialogue this book might create.

Caroline: I think there's gonna be a lot. Also, if you come over we'll have links to Saskia and links to the book and everything as part of the show notes.

Saskia: Thank you.

Caroline: Thank you so much for coming on. This was really wonderful. And I know everyone's going to enjoy hearing what we got up to.

Saskia: Thank you so much, Caroline, thank you so much for having me on.

Caroline: Thank you for listening to the Secret Library Podcast. The show is produced by me Caroline Donahue and Frederick Barry McWilliams Jr, my tireless audio engineer. To get show notes for this episode and all other episodes, please visit, to get updates literary love and notification when new episodes are posted. Sign up there for footnotes, my newsletter, and learn about life coaching with me to work on building your writing life, visit If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend gold stars to everybody who leaves a rating and review on iTunes. We're so grateful, until next time, happy reading.

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