It’s my pleasure to welcome the fabulous Lisabet Sarai to share with us the very personal story behind the story of her novella, The Understudy. Welcome Lisabet!
All authors use personal experience in their stories. How could we not? Any writer who claims that her characters and their conflicts are one hundred percent fictional is not being honest with herself.
On the other hand, it’s dangerous to make one’s work too autobiographical. There’s the very real risk of legal action by people who recognize themselves in your so-called fiction. A more subtle problem is the tendency for an author to write the same story over and over again- her own story. (I recognize that many authors are male. However, since I need to choose one pronoun, I prefer to use the female.)
I’ve incorporated bits and pieces of my life into my own work, of course. I’ve borrowed settings, character traits, and occasionally, specific erotic scenes. Normally, though, I mix everything up. A bit of this, a bit of that, all seasoned with plenty of fantasy, and no one’s the wiser.
My BDSM erotic romance novella The Understudy is an exception. Although the characters and the setting are fictional, the primary conflict in the book is based on my personal history.
Back when I was young, single and hormone-ridden, I had a D/s relationship with a fellow graduate student. I was totally new to the paradoxical delights of BDSM; I didn’t realize that I was submissive until my reactions revealed this truth – to him and to me. In contrast, he had done a great deal of research and also had some actual experience as a dominant.
Our explorations of power dynamics affected me profoundly. I’d never felt such passion, or such freedom, as I did when I surrendered myself to his will. We seemed to share a bond that went far beyond the physical. More than once I felt certain we were reading each other’s thoughts. I think we both believed in magic, that intense desire could create reality. Somehow I was able to trust my master completely, from the very beginning, though we really didn’t know each other well. He never betrayed that trust.
I fell deeply in love with this man. However, I believed that I was nothing more than a plaything for him. I knew that before he and I connected sexually, he’d had another lover who had also been submissive. I’d even met this woman at parties. She was gorgeous, confident, flamboyant – a sophisticated and elegant woman of the world. When she broke off their relationship, my master sank into a profound depression that lasted nearly a year.
He didn’t hesitate to tell me about what he and A. used to do together. I think he understood that I found it exciting as well as enlightening. However, our discussions led me to conclude that he was still in love with her. I figured that he and I had no future. I was happy enough to act the part of his slave in the present moment – indeed, I couldn’t resist him – but I always had the nagging worry that he was comparing me to her.
When I began working on The Understudy, I realized I wanted to transplant this situation into the story. The details and the setting are different, but the fundamental conflict is the same. Sarah Gladstone, pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way, gets her first real acting job at the Berks Summer Playhouse and discovers that she’ll be working with theater legend Geoffrey Hart. The charismatic actor initiates her into the dark delights of BDSM and she’s soon experiencing a level of intimacy and trust beyond anything she could have imagined.
According to the rumors, though, Geoff’s heart is taken. Renowned actress Anne Merrill, his long time partner and submissive lover, has severed their relationship and Hart has escaped to the Berkshires to lick his emotional wounds. Sarah knows that she can’t compete with the glamorous theater veteran and fears that she’s just a substitute for the real object of Geoff’s affections.
Writing Sarah was like revisiting my own insecurities in my relationship with my master. A number of reviewers have commented on the intensity of the tale. More than most of my work, the story reflects my own emotions. I stripped myself bare writing this book. I guess it shows.
Of course, one advantage of fiction is that I can give my characters a happy ending. The real world resolution of my relationship with my master was far more ambiguous. We drifted apart. I met and married my husband. Still, my master and I keep in touch and share a wistful fantasy life. (My husband is aware of this.) Only years later did I learn the depth of my master’s love for me, or understand that he had wanted a commitment but was too insecure to ask.
I sometimes wonder what my life had been like if he and I had been as skilled in communicating outside the bedroom as we were inside. I have no regrets. I love my husband and my current life and wouldn’t take back any of my choices. Writing The Understudy, though, gave me the chance to play with some seductive notions of what might have been.
I’ll end with a quick excerpt from the book.
The door to the Shays suite was half-open. I knocked anyway, swallowing my nervousness. Stop this silliness, Sarah, I lectured myself. Just be professional.
“Come in.” That voice, so full of music and power, sent chills through my sweaty body. Squaring my shoulders, I pushed the door wide and entered the sitting room, dragging the noisy bag after me.
Hart stood by the window with his back to me, appraising Mr. Higgin’s view. “Took you long enough,” he commented without turning around.
I should have been annoyed, but instead I felt embarrassed and guilty. “Sorry―the stairs―and it’s so hot today…”
“Never mind. Just put the suitcase on the bench next to the other bag.”
I hoisted the case up onto the luggage rack to the right of the door. He still didn’t turn around. I took the opportunity to get a good look at him.
He was tall―over six feet, I guessed―and the low ceilings typical of colonial buildings made him look even taller. Although he was relaxed and still, his lean, athletic body suggested unlimited energy. He had removed his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. The tailored garment looked crisp and fresh despite the fact that the temperature must have been pushing ninety.
One hand clasped the other at the small of his back. His bare forearms were lightly furred with black hair, a touch of the animal that clashed with his aura of culture and sophistication. His trousers fit as perfectly as his shirt. I couldn’t stop myself from appreciating the swell of his muscular buttocks under the fabric. My nipples were swollen and painful. My jeans felt hot and tight.
The awkward silence lengthened. I took a deep breath and thought I caught a whiff of his cologne, something brisk and nautical, overwhelmingly male. My heart was a jackhammer in my chest. I looked around the room, trying to distract myself from the physical reactions Hart seemed provoke simply by being present.
It appeared he had already had time to do some unpacking. A stack of neatly folded shirts, all black, white or grey, lay on the sofa. Several pairs of shoes were lined up near the bedroom door. On the table near the window there was a fifth of Glenlivet, which I knew hadn’t been supplied by the inn, along with a pack of Gitanes, some books and a fancy-looking camera. A framed 8×10 colour photograph sat on the end table beside the couch, not far from where I stood.
I peered more closely at the photo. A pale, raven-haired beauty stared back at me. Her sultry dark eyes and enigmatic half-smile spoke of a passionate nature just barely held in check by convention. Luxurious curls tumbled over her shoulders but did not hide the ripe breasts swelling out of her burgundy velvet décolletage. Her delicate chin rested on the back of one hand. The graceful fingers were tipped with crimson enamel that exactly matched her lipstick.
I didn’t need to read the autograph to know who she was. Anne Merrill, Geoffrey’s long-time partner, the woman who, if I could believe Adele, had broken his heart.
My spirits sank even lower. It was easy to see how such a woman could captivate a man, even someone as bold and self-confident as Geoffrey Hart. When I compared myself to her―well, there was no comparison really. I was a short, unimpressive woman―a girl, Hart had called me―with plain brown hair too fine to curl and a B cup figure. I had no drama, no flair, nothing like this vivid, exotic creature who oozed sex appeal. So what if I had an MFA in acting from Columbia? I’d had almost no real world experience. I dreamed about Broadway and London’s West End, but this gig at Berks Hill was my first professional job as an actress. And what was I? Nothing more than a bit player, an understudy to the stars.
“You’re still here, Sarah.” Hart wheeled to face me, breaking into my bitter internal monologue. “Good. After all, I didn’t tell you that you could go.”
Amusement lit up his handsome features. He towered over me, close enough that I could feel the heat emanating from his body. Embarrassment washed over me but didn’t quite submerge the undercurrent of arousal. “May I leave?” I asked, my voice a weak quaver that disgusted me. Why was I asking, anyway? Who was he to tell me what to do?
“Not yet. I need your help unpacking. Go open the bag you carried up. It’s not locked.”
No, I wanted to scream. But I obeyed him anyway, pressing the chrome-plated catch on the sleek grey Samsonite case and flipping up the lid.
I gasped when I saw the contents. “It’s true!” I blurted out.
Hart came up behind me and looked over my shoulder. He didn’t touch me, but his mere presence was overpowering. “What’s true?” I heard laughter in his voice.
I pointed at the leather restraints and the rubber paddles, my hand shaking. “That―that you’re kinky. Into S and M, just like Adele said.”
“I prefer the term ‘D and S’. Dominance and submission. My focus is on the exchange of power, not the administration of pain. Though I’m not averse to using pain if that’s the right thing to do.”
“The right thing to do?” I turned to face him, hiding behind my indignation. “Are you joking?” He was close, too close for comfort, deliberately invading my personal space. I tried to step backward. I succeeded only in banging my shin against the luggage rack. “Ow!”
His eyes drilled into me. “I’m completely serious. D and S is not a game, despite the way it’s portrayed in popular culture. It’s not a fashion statement. It’s much, much more, a new way of being in the world. A doorway into a new kind of relationship, deeper and more intimate than anything you can imagine.”
“Right,” I muttered. I couldn’t bear to look at him. I stared down at my sandals, feeling the blush crawling up my cheeks and across my chest. “I’m sure that’s what all the perverts say.”
He caught my chin under his forefinger and raised my eyes to his. I trembled when his skin met mine. “I can’t pretend it’s not exciting, of course―trying new implements, pushing the sub’s limits, testing her devotion. But that’s not the main point.”
I burned in the heat of his stare. I felt myself begin to melt, the crotch of my jeans growing damper with every beat of my pulse. I didn’t want to listen but I couldn’t hide my fascination.
He stroked his thumb across my cheek. I held my breath, wanting him to stop, dying for him to go further. “Aren’t you curious, Sarah? Wouldn’t you like to drop your diligent, high-achieving, good little girl persona and find out what’s underneath?”
I couldn’t answer. How did he know these things about me, this man I’d met less than a half hour ago? Did he really understand the way I’d pushed myself in college and grad school, working for the top grades, following the rules, determined to succeed in my chosen path despite the odds? Did he know that I hadn’t had a lover for nearly four years? I hadn’t had time. Anyway, I’d been all too aware of the fact that everyone around me was both a colleague and a competitor.
I saw compassion in his chiseled face, mingled with lust. “I know you, little one. I know what you really crave. What you really need. Open yourself to me and I will fulfil the desires you don’t yet dare to admit, even to yourself.
The Understudy is available from Total-E-Bound (http://www.total-e-bound.com/product.asp?P_ID=1175) as well as Amazon and other third party vendors.
More About Lisabet Sarai
A dozen years ago LISABET SARAI experienced a serendipitous fusion of her love of writing and her fascination with sex. Since then she has published three single author short story collections and six erotic novels, including the BDSM classic Raw Silk. Dozens of her shorter works have been released as ebooks and in print anthologies. She has also edited several acclaimed anthologies and is currently responsible for the altruistic erotica series COMING TOGETHER PRESENTS.
Lisabet holds more degrees than anyone needs from prestigious universities who would no doubt be embarrassed by her chosen genre. She loves to travel and currently lives in Southeast Asia with her highly tolerant husband and two over-indulged felines. For more information on Lisabet and her writing visit Lisabet Sarai’s Fantasy Factory (http://www.lisabetsarai.com) or her blog Beyond Romance (http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com).
Thanks for stopping by, Lisabet, and sharing with us a bit about The Understudy. Definitely a must read!