Today, I welcome Xan West to Queering Up Your Bookshelf to talk about writing kink, erotica, D/s dynamics, and their inclusion of PTSD, autism, fat rep, D/s dynamics, vulnerability, and food (seriously, check this novelette out for the food!) in their latest release, Nine of Swords, Reversed. I’m especially excited to share all the links Xan shares to previous blog posts and further resources on writing, representation, and writing kink and erotica in particular with you.
Welcome, Xan, and happy reading!
Xan West is the nom de plume of Corey Alexander, an autistic queer fat Jewish genderqueer writer and community activist with multiple disabilities who spends a lot of time on Twitter.
Xan’s erotica has been published widely, including in the Best S/M Erotica series, the Best Gay Erotica series, and the Best Lesbian Erotica series. Xan’s story “First Time Since”, won honorable mention for the 2008 NLA John Preston Short Fiction Award. Their collection of queer kink erotica, Show Yourself to Me, is out from Go Deeper Press.
After over 15 years of writing and publishing queer kink erotica short stories, Xan has begun to also write longer form queer kink romance. Their recent work still centers kinky, trans and non-binary, fat, disabled, queer trauma survivors. It leans more towards centering Jewish characters, ace and aro spec characters, autistic characters, and polyamorous networks. Xan has been working on a queer kinky polyamorous romance novel, Shocking Violet, for the last four years, and hopes to finish a draft very soon! You can find details and excerpts on their website, and sign up for their newsletter to get updates.
Find Xan online: WEBSITE TWITTER NEWSLETTER
Content Warnings: references to erotica, kink, abuse, chronic pain, trauma
1. What is your writing origin story?
I come from a family of writers, grew up surrounded by amazing writers, and have been writing for my whole life. I started taking writer’s workshops when I was 8 years old. Whatever else I was going to do with my life, I knew I was going to be a writer as well.
I’ve written a lot of different genres, but I didn’t start seriously publishing my work until I’d been writing erotica for a few years. I wrote to explore my kinkiness, I wrote my fantasies for my play partners, I wrote to describe what I was seeing in kink communities, and I wrote to imagine something better. My first serious D/s relationship was abusive, and I wrote a story as a way to hold on to being kinky, by imagining D/s that was caring, careful, and supportive, instead of what I was experiencing. That story is a big part of what helped me to leave that relationship. After I did, I began to submit my erotica to anthologies. That story, the one that helped me leave, was my first erotica publication. It paved the way for all the others.
2. What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?
I draw inspiration from reading (especially in the genres I write, and not just from great books either), from talking to other writers, from the ache of not seeing my own reflection and the desire to see myself on the page.
With short stories, I’ve also been inspired by the challenge of meeting the parameters of a call for submissions; it’s a lot of fun to think about what I could write that fits a particular theme. And if I’m lucky enough to get solicited for a call, it gives me an extra push to write for it, because of my connection with that editor, and them wanting my work. Not all those stories end up in those collections, for a variety of reasons, but calls for submission have inspired some of my personal favorites.
I’ve noticed that readers motivate me a lot, that if I share things about my work, snippets, details, plot bunnies…and I get enthusiastic responses from readers, it helps me motivate to continue working on something or pick it up again. It also inspires me to sprint with other writers; I’m part of a queer writers slack where we sprint together a lot and share snippets, and that cycle of support and sharing and comraderie keeps me going.
3. What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?
When I talk about representation, I’m talking both about seeing marginalized folks represented with care on the page and also marginalized authors having support for their work. In my book reviews, I have a representation section where I mention character and author identities; to me it’s just as important to support Black authors as it is to support stories with Black characters, in a lot of ways it’s more important. I’d say the same for identities I share. I’m interested in books by trans and non-binary authors, even where the MCs are cis. Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds by Rose Lemberg, one of the fantasy stories that has resonated particularly deeply with me in terms of trans issues was by a trans author and had a cis POV MC.
In my own writing, I care particularly about the representation of identities I share. For example, in my most recent release, Nine of Swords, Reversed, I cared especially about the disability representation. I really wanted to show what daily life is as an autistic person with PTSD and chronic pain, and endeavored to illuminate that experience in some detail in the story. I was writing that aspect of the story particularly for disabled readers who have similar experiences; I wanted them to see themselves on the page. I also cared about showing that on the cover, and am so pleased with the way the cover showed a cane that looked like mine, the MC in a bed in a way that was lush and resonant, as both myself and the MC spend a lot of our daily life in bed.
4. What are your favorite things about writing erotica and kink in particular?
I really love writing dominants being vulnerable, having needs of their own, being supported by their submissive partners. So often dominants are expected to be stoic and inscrutable and have no needs of our own; I’ve written a series of essays about this issue. Essays are great; but showing the different ways that can look in fiction is a deep joy for me, and is about writing myself onto the page. I also really love describing the sensory experience of kink in detail; it’s such a visceral thing to write, and it’s wonderful to sink into writing that aspect of a story.
5. What is your writing process?
I try to capture inspiration and get enough down that I can pick something up again. I often have a number of projects that are partly done, and even more that have just a few notes, a couple paragraphs, a beginning to jump off from when I want to/am able to. My writing time and capacity is scarce because of my disabilities, so it’s rare for me to write big chunks at once.
I’m still fairly new to writing longer form romance, so I don’t have a set process yet. I’m playing around with different ways to write things longer than a short story. Erotica short stories, on the other hand, I’ve been writing for close to 20 years, so I have developed a process for those. I generally start with either the call for submissions or what I think of as the spark for the story, which are usually notes or a couple paragraphs I’ve written before. Then I often think through the structures that limit the story, draw it’s boundaries for myself, like length, pairing/grouping, theme, but also what I want to say with the story (a particular political point I want to make, a particular aspect of kink life I want to illuminate). These can come from the call, if there is one, or a market I have in mind, if I’m writing to market, or can come from me. Once I have that structure, as I write kink erotica, I also build a structure for the BDSM scene itself. I wrote a longish blog post describing this aspect of how I write kink. When I have some clarity about the kink in the story and what it will look like, then I think about how to put it into context, so that I establish character, consent, the emotional aspects of play and how they work. This is often when I start drafting, and see where that takes me. I revise as I write, so I get a fairly clean first draft, but it’s often missing aspects of the story that matter to me. I generally go back and layer in more emotional depth and internal tension, more sensory description, more vulnerability for the top, a deeper emotional arc, and the cues the reader needs for the characters identities. When I’ve done this, that’s when I send to beta readers and sensitivity readers and begin the editing process based on feedback from others.
6. What is your advice for authors writing t4t (trans for trans) relationships?
My biggest piece of advice about this is to do what you can to not think about cis readers, to shut them out of the room, so to speak, and let the trans folks interact with, talk to, build connection with each other, as if they are alone in a room together. Ideally, actually get them alone when you start writing, even if it means not starting at the beginning. Get a sense of who they are when they aren’t there for a cis audience. Dialogue is a great way to start.
So often we make trans characters explain themselves, teach, perform, be there for the learning of cis readers. Imagine you are writing an insider story that only other trans people will read, that’s for trans readers. Get inside the moments when trans characters are together, talking. What do they say to each other? What do they not say? What don’t they need to explain? What are they hiding? What are their places of connection? How do they feel that they must perform for each other? What shape is their armor? Where do they relax and breathe because no cis people are around? How do their insecurities manifest? Where are they afraid and what sparks those fears? What does their anger look like? What can they build together, that’s not for cis people?
I’d also suggest reading stories by trans and/or non-binary authors that center relationships between trans and/or non-binary folks. My recent release Nine of Swords, Reversed is an example; it has three central characters and they are all genderfluid. I’m going to suggest some other things you might read for that. (These are a sample of ten; there are more out there.)
• Nevada by Imogen Binnie
• A Boy Called Cin by Cecil Wilde
• Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girls Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom
• Caroline’s Heart by Austin Chant
• Can You Say My Name Again by Nadia Nova
• Long Macchiatos and Monsters by Alison Evans
These are free:
• A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power by Rose Lemberg
• The Rivers Children by Shweta Narayan
• Rental by Morgan M Page
• This Shall Serve As a Demarcation by Bogi Takács
7. What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?
To consider feedback carefully and decide what I want to take in. Particularly when writing insider stories, like trans stories for trans audiences, for example. I wrote an essay about the importance of this, and how I do it.
8. What do you hope readers will take away from your work?
I primarily write for queer & trans folks, disabled folks, fat folks, kinky folks, who want to see themselves on the page. So my greatest hope is that I created that kind of mirror.
Some of my stories are intended to be comfort reads; Nine of Swords, Reversed is one of those, as is “Tenderness”, which was printed in Queerly Loving Vol 2. I hope that these stories provide cozy comfort to readers.
I also really care about depicting access intimacy and queer chosen family and community on the page, showing folks being careful and caring with each other, honoring consent, and creating room for each other to be who they are. My queer kink erotica collection is titled Show Yourself to Me because one of the greatest gifts a play partner or lover can offer is to hold space for you to show them who you are. I would love for these aspects of my work to offer possibilities to folks who are struggling to imagine these things in their lives. One of the best compliments I ever got from a reader was that my story showed them the kind of queer chosen family that might be possible for them to have in the future.
9. What is a great queer book you have read recently?
I’ve mostly been reading winter holiday romance novellas, recently; I’m going to concentrate on the speculative fiction ones, as that’s the focus of your blog!
• I really enjoyed Holly and Oak by R Cooper, which is a contemporary fantasy winter solstice m/m romance that is full of angst and pining and witches who have adored each other from afar claiming their own destinies and finally finally getting together.
• I loved The Coyote’s Comfort by Holley Trent, which is a shifter second chance Christmas f/f romance with a very prickly coyote shifter MC who has a lot of emotional armor, a quality I especially enjoy in romance MCs.
• I adored Hearts Alight by Elliott Cooper just as much on my second read. This is a paranormal Chanukah m/m romance between a grumpy MC who hates the commercialization of Chanukah and a golem who he’s been pining for forever but never thought would be into him. I loved the family in this story, which includes a BFF brother in law who is trans.
• I found Keeping the Cookies by Brianna Lawrence wacky, hilarious and really wonderful. It’s a contemporary fantasy Christmas meet-cute m/m romance that has an awesome BFF and a fat love interest who I completely adored.
10. What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?
I am currently editing my contemporary kinky polyamorous queer m/f novella Their Troublesome Crush, which has a Jewish autistic demiromantic trans man submissive MC, who realizes that he’s got a crush on his metamour, Nora, a Jewish disabled femme cis woman switch, while they are planning their mutual partner’s birthday party. It’s slated to be out 3/18/19!
I want to finish a draft of Shocking Violet this year, which is my kinky queer polyamorous contemporary romance novel-in-progress that has 5 disabled queer MCs, four of whom are trans.
If I am able, I’d also like to write a Chanukah romance novella this year, tentatively titled Eight Kinky Nights! That one is at the very beginning stages of development.
Dev has been with xyr service submissive Noam for seven years and xe loves them very much. Dev and Noam have built a good life together in Noam’s family home in Oakland, where they both can practice their magecraft, celebrate the high holidays in comfort, support each other as their disabilities flare, and where Noam can spend Shabbos with their beloved family ghost.
But Dev’s got a problem: xe has had so much arthritis pain recently that xe has not been able to shield properly. As an empath, no shielding means Dev cannot safely touch Noam. That has put a strain on their relationship, and it feels like Noam is pulling away from xym. To top it off, Dev has just had an upsetting dream-vision about xyrself and Noam that caused one of the biggest meltdowns xe has had in a while. It’s only with a timely tarot reading and the help of another genderfluid mage that Dev is able to unpack the situation. Can xe figure out how to address the issues in xyr relationship with Noam before everything falls apart?
This romance novelette includes Jewish queer genderfluid mage MCs, the couple on the rocks trope, and fat, autistic, disabled, chronic pain, PTSD and depression representation.
Buy your copy here:
Other works by Xan West:
“Tenderness” in Queerly Loving, Volume 2
“Trying Submission” in Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year, Volume 3