Title: Salting the Earth – Hard Questions
Hello, intrepid readers! We’re Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane, here to shamelessly plug talk to you about the Storm Moon Press anthology Like It or Not and our story, which rounds out the anthology, “Salting the Earth”.
Salting the earth becomes Ronan’s only choice when he suspects his sister has been taken by the fairies. However, this only draws the interest of ruthless King Finnbheara, who extracts a price for his cooperation that may be too high for Ronan to pay.
We decided to do something a little different with this post, so we’ve done a bit of a Q&A between us. Violetta wrote the questions. Heidi did the answers. Somewhere in the middle a strange kind of logic began to emerge.
- What do you think is the difference between dubious consent and nonconsent? In fiction, of course, as we both believe these terms shouldn’t exist unless applied to fiction.
Oh hey, thanks a lot for starting with the trickiest question, you evil woman.
Okay, well, let’s start with the standard disclaimer: I don’t speak for everyone. These terms are about as explicitly defined as say… the difference between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal. (Anyone wanna try their hand on THAT distinction? No? Bueller?)
When we’re talking about non-con or dub-con, we’re talking about erotica specifically, whereas a depiction of rape not meant explicitly to arouse is a completely different beast. So, assuming the purpose of erotica is to arouse, then the difference between non- and dub-con lies in how they’re meant to arouse.
Non-con is all about a character who says and means no, and then is raped regardless. The appeal of these scenes is their sexualized suffering and violation. These stories can either be sympathetic to the rapist or to the victim, which is a further distinction that also changes the shape of the narrative and also the specific appeal of the story. Someone who enjoys stories that sympathise with the victim might not like ones that sympathise with the rapist, and vice versa.
Dub-con, on the other hand, is about someone who says no but means yes, or someone who says yes but means no: for example, a bodice-ripper where a heroine says no but discovers sex was what she wanted all along, or a story where a person is coerced into sex or has to have sex to save their life or their house or their job. Here, the appeal is more about the tension inherent in a scenario where consent and desire don’t match up, whether that means saying no and meaning yes, or saying yes and meaning no.
- Fairies seem to be a near-universal presence across human culture. It’s as if we have a template to believe in fairy-like beings: quasi-human, with magical powers and strange, hostile-but-not-fully-evil motivations. Why are we so into fairies?
I think it’s in our nature to look for meaning in things. When something bad happens, maybe it hurts a little less to think there’s a reason, because maybe we can control it that way. If it’s truly random, it’s meaningless and we’re powerless.
So why these semi-malevolent figures? Well, I can only speak for myself, here. I was raised in a pretty Christian background, and one of the first real obstacles to the Christian faith is trying to grasp all the horrible things that happen in the world. Namely, if God loves us and is all-powerful and all the rest, and we’re meant to accept that, and that’s fundamental to Christianity, then why do terrible things happen? Now of course there’s plenty of theological theory that grapples with this issue, but with figures like fairies and many pagan gods, it doesn’t even come up, because these are figures that are:
- Yes, powerful
- Yes, logical and give reason and meaning to the randomness of the world
- Yes, can be appealed to and influenced
- No, don’t have any specific obligation to be good or kind or compassionate.
So when something random and bad happens, we can assign it meaning in a way that doesn’t fundamentally undermine our beliefs, and we can also take steps like praying or performing rituals or leaving offerings, to try and control future outcomes. It’s an empowering and affirming belief system… except for the part where you’re constantly at risk of being kidnapped by the very beings you worship.
- Another big question. The origin of the word “rape” is Latin, and the root words means to take, to seize, to capture. And given its historical use, it was often applied to women (regarded as prized possessions) being taken away from men. Pretty grim stuff, once you think about it. Can you talk a little about this usage as it applies to “Salting the Earth”?
Well, the whole catalyst for the story is all about Ronan’s sister being kidnapped by the fairies for presumably sexual use, as in the story of Eithne the Fair, who was stolen from her husband in the night. So Ronan’s sister disappears at night to the other world and Ronan follows to save her, but the justification he uses for being there isn’t empathic (as in I love my sister and want her back) so much as it is based on patriarchal ideas of men owning women (she’s my sister, it’s my responsibility to take care of her, by bringing her here you’re stealing her from me). Of course, once Ronan’s there he learns the sidhe aren’t very much bound by our notions of gender roles…
- I’ve never read a lot of forced seduction narratives. I do vividly remember sneaking my grandmother’s copy of The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss, reading it, and being very disturbed by it. Even moreso than erotic horror with grotesquely invaded bodies–I mean, I’d read Clive Barker and William S. Burroughs by then. But I’m sure many people have the totally opposite reaction, and I don’t want to say they’re wrong for it. What makes these reactions so different for different people?
I think it comes down to a few things. Taste, for starters. I risk insulting/angering/hurting people by saying this, but whether you like “forced seduction” (STRICTLY AS A FANTASY) or not isn’t all that different from whether you like spanking or not, or whether you like shoes or not, or whether you like dirty talk or not.
However, I don’t need to tell you that fetishes and sexual appetites don’t exist in a vacuum. Sometimes they really do have real world implications, and trying to ignore that is a potentially harmful attitude. Consider, for example, the racism inherent in having a fetish for submissive Asian women, or the transphobia and othering that goes into fetishizing MTF transgender women as “chicks with dicks”. Not to say that these things are 100% bad all the time, but if we were to draw a venn diagram, they’d definitely overlap.
Being into rape/dub-con/non-con as a fetish is just the same. Some people have a visceral response to it based on personal experience. Some people are morally opposed to the idea of anyone getting off on suffering, even fictionally. Some people (like me) find these narratives very pleasurable but simultaneously are very anti-rape in the real world. Some people play morality police about these fictional narratives while simultaneously contributing to the suffering of rape victims and survivors in the real world by participating in victim blaming or politically restricting their access to vital services such as rape kits, counselling, justice, abortion and emergency birth control, and their simple rights to privacy and dignity. Most people fall somewhere in between.
- OK, finally an easy question. What do you think is our character Ronan’s biggest mistake? I hope we don’t imply at any point that he deserves what happens to him. But he does have certain errors in his judgment…
Oh, that is an easy one. Without a doubt, it’s the fact that he never once sits his sister down and asks her straight up what’s going on with her life and how he can help. He assumes on a hunch that she’s kidnapped by the fairies, never verifying if that’s true, or even whether not she’s going willingly. The whole narrative is centred on his somewhat fanatical belief that Ronan Knows Best.
- Let’s say someone asked you angrily, “What’s the point of Like it or Not?” How would you respond?
What’s the point of any book? I can give one book to ten readers and each can assign it a different meaning or purpose. Having read Like It or Not, I can say that even individual stories can be taken different ways. For example, you can read Angelia Sparrow’s offering as an erotic story whose “point” is to get you off, or you can read it as psychological body horror whose “point” is to make your skin crawl. Or maybe even both!
- Hurt/comfort narratives are very popular in fanfiction, slash, and m/m. It’s acceptable to put characters through any sort of extreme physical and mental torture as long as they recover at the end. But our story, and at least one other story in the anthology, is straight-up hurt/hurt-some-more. I do anticipate requests for a comforting sequel, but I feel resistant to that. Given that we don’t always agree on these things (if we did, that would be kind of eery) how do you feel?
About a sequel? I’d be open to it, if we were writing it for the right reasons. If we’re writing it so Ronan can find a man who will stick his dick in him and everything will be magically okay? Then no, that’s just not my bag. If we’re writing it so we can explore Ronan’s recovery and extend his character arc, building on the change we begin to see happening at the story’s conclusion? Yeah, I’d
definitely be up for that. But it’d have to be more than just a character piece. I’d need to explore the fantastical side of the story more, as well.
- Last question. “Salting the Earth” is a very shadowed story, but is there any bright spot?
Yes, absolutely. I think Ronan really grows as a person thanks to this narrative. Not that he couldn’t have grown without it, or that growth justifies tragedy (which is a kind of horrible worldview), but yes, I think this story does end on a note of cautious optimism without necessarily being tied up in a neat bow.
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