Some of you may have noticed an evolution in my books. I started writing stories about the staff of a strip club finding love, stories intended to be subversive and challenge a lot of the assumptions we have about sex workers. Writing Love and Lapdances is still one of the things I do for relaxation, because it reminds me of so many beautiful, loving, complex, powerful sex workers I’ve met over the years, who have lived some of the most uplifting real-life romances I’ve encountered. I’ve got enough stories outlined to write those novellas for another decade, if I chose.
But as I kept writing, I found myself returning to stories with a heavy dose of suspense, and violence, stories that just couldn’t fit in that world without dramatically twisting the underlying ideas behind Love and Lapdances- namely that sex work is pretty normal. As I contemplated where I fit in the romance genre, it seemed more and more clear to me that my heart was pointing me far outside the contemporary romance flow. It pointed me to my gritty, pulpy roots, the books that stuck with me through the years. It pointed me to dark fantasy romances/PNRs, and bloody romantic thrillers that pushed even my boundaries. It pointed me to brutality, and trauma, and people powerful enough to survive it and still put love back out into the world.
Not everyone around me has understood it. There’s a number of books I’ve written that even my partner won’t read, because he knows enough of some of the kink to know it is just not his thing, and will never be his thing. After I discussed the outline for Siren with him, including the description of one of the kinkier/edgier scenes (You know the one, if you’ve read Restrain), he couldn’t meet my eye for an hour.
So often, when I talk to people about the darker side of romance, I hear some variation of “I don’t know why I’d want to buy into a character loving another character with no redeemable qualities.” But the thing is, and this is what makes me love dark romance all the more, there are redeemable qualities. They might not be save-the-cat level mercies; in some books they may simply be that antihero hero having a truly compelling written voice. That hero might have charisma, or such skill at their badness that you can’t help but root for them, with or without any kind of reformation. Maybe there’s even something extra satisfying about watching them corrupt their partner, watching the “good” character discover they’re capable of cruelty and violence, no longer forced to stay quiet in the face of it.
See, antiheroes are a mainstay in basically every literary genre. The doomed mafia kingpin who you can’t help but hope will escape the FBI trap slowly closing in around him. The vampire who has committed atrocities- and still will, for the “right” reasons, or because his bloodlust got away from him at the wrong time. Beauty and the Beast. House of Cards. American Psycho. On and on, deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole our fascination goes. We hate and love people who color outside society’s lines, due to our own resentment at the sacrifices and degradation needed to color inside those lines ourselves.
How could anyone think that those characters exist everywhere but romance?
And as for dark romance… it’s like a bastard love-child of romance and horror. It offers the adrenaline rush of reading disturbing things that you’d get from a horror novel, the how-far-can-you-push-people challenge in seeing exactly how the “normal” partner handles it, the catharsis of feeling angst and pain with them, sometimes masochistic tendencies in finding pleasure in the idea of severe pain or injury (or rape fantasies), the optimism in (sometimes) discovering that even the irredeemable can be redeemed, or the dog-eat-dog thrill of seeing the bad guy triumph.
Plus, dark romance offers a safe space for readers and writers to deal with trauma. One of my favorite things about the subgenre is that so much of it does cover not just the trauma someone might endure, but the recovery. For some people coping with PTSD or the fallout from trauma, this kind of literature can sometimes be a form of exposure therapy, allowing us to relive our worst fears, but with the assurance that it’ll be okay in the end, and that just as the traumatized protagonist has moved past it, we can too. This can make portrayals of trauma in romance subgenres (including dark romance) more powerful than ones offered in other genres, because that promise of a happily ever after means that that character will never be ruined by the acts of violence committed against them.
For these reasons, dark romance has captivated me for a long time. I have my pet peeves with it- particularly in the tropes that guide many authors’ (including dark romance authors’) representations of sex trafficking and sex workers, a seemingly natural topic for dark fiction in our current society. And I have a lot of quibbles with how it’s treated by etailers, since dark romance is particularly vulnerable to censorship by retailers who profit from these books while refusing to provide tools for labeling them- preferring to instead ban them the moment they offer them bad press or a reader complaint, which is all the more likely to happen when it’s not properly labeled. But by far, it’s my favorite genre to write in. Even my paranormal romance is dark by many people’s standards. As a woman who’s lived through a shitton of her own traumas, it’s the language I speak. It’s the subgenre where I’m most likely to see empowering and nuanced representations of survivors like myself.
Put it this way. Most of us like candy. Some of us like chocolate and gummy bears. Sweet stuff that’s like a culinary hug. Others like candies with a faint tart tang, like Jolly Ranchers. Still others of us like sour candies that are so goddamn strong, they’ll make your eyes water, and your teeth hurt. No one’s gonna make anyone else eat those candies ’til their tongues bleed and they can’t taste their other food. But some of us will choose to dive into that gluttony, and will love every fucked-up second of it.
Some readers nope out at explicit sex, or consensual BDSM. Others reach for power fantasies in which the reader’s consent to read the story is more important than the character’s consent in the book (dubcon rape fantasies, stories such as 50 Shades of Grey, where you can debate for hours the exact nature and authenticity of consent offered, in places). Others reach for even more graphic explorations of power, trauma, fear, and lust (Pepper Winters’ Debt Inheritance series).
Everyone has boundaries. Everyone has wants.
Me? I’ll eat that sour candy ’til my tongue bleeds. And when the bag is empty, I’ll show you my bloody, peeling tongue as a sign of pride.
For those readers interested in reading my dark romance, it primarily appears under my Tiger Tarantino penname, though some dark paranormal titles appear under K. de Long. Those books will always include a warning in the description that the book contains material some readers may find upsetting. Readers seeking to avoid that stuff should stick with Lila Vega, or K. de Long books that only contain mature content in the warning.
Anarchist’s Lullaby is available on Amazon.com. All profits go to Black Lives Matter. Thank you for reading and supporting my books!
Hey all, Katie here temporarily. Very temporarily. For those of you who don’t know, I recently had surgery, and am still healing.
I wanted to talk to you before Anarchist’s Lullaby goes live.
When your credit cards are charged for the preorder of Anarchist’s Lullaby, and going forward, any profits from Anarchist’s Lullaby will go to do critical work protecting some of the communities most impacted by racism and systemic persecution. I’m thrilled to say that 100% of the profits from Anarchists Lullaby will be donated to Black Lives Matter.
I’d wanted to do that from the day I uploaded the book for preorder, but with my family struggling through a particularly rough patch, I knew we might need every penny for the medications keeping me alive long enough to cash the royalty cheque. But since we had a bit of a windfall, that’s no longer a strong enough reason to justify keeping that money for myself.
Sure, there’s an argument to be made that it wouldn’t be fair to expect me to NOT get paid for that work, given how very hard I worked on it. That the dichotomy that says it’s better to be a starving artist than a sellout is a way in which capitalists try to restrict artists’ view of their power and justify paying them less. But that argument wasn’t anywhere near a strong enough pull to keep me from feeling that in this case, I DON’T want to be paid for this piece of art.
Many of the issues that it would have been impossible to write Anarchist’s Lullaby without addressing aren’t ones that affect me directly. So it wouldn’t seem right to keep the profit on a story shot through with other people’s pain, struggles that affect whether those in my community live or die, such as Quanice Derrick Hayes, a black seventeen year old who was murdered by the Portland Police not so long before I stuck my face into the main city for my recent surgery. No community, no matter how liberal or forward-thinking on the surface, is free of issues stemming from racial injustice. In hyper-liberal Portland, people of color still routinely suffer from police brutality, and violence that is but an extension of systemic hostility tracing back to when Oregon was founded as a “white paradise.” It’s a reminder not to believe the whitewashing, that somehow your community is untouched by injustice.
Many, many causes are gonna need all the donations they can get over the next few years, but I chose Black Lives Matter because their work seems PARTICULARLY urgent. With a government that even now is taking away the few constraints that exist on law enforcement to hold our authorities accountable for racism, brutality, and corruption, and that condemns the post-election wave of violence building toward racial minorities here so little that it could even be construed as endorsing it, Black Lives Matter’s work is more important than ever.
I want to thank you for choosing to purchase Anarchist’s Lullaby, and reading my stories.
Anarchist’s Lullaby is now available for preorder, with a March release.
Happy 2017, guys!
I’m kicking off the new year with a bang, admittedly even more of one thanks to 2017’s first medical crisis. But I’m hanging in there, and doing well. So I wanted to tell y’all a little about the changes.
First off, as you may have noticed from the site’s new look, it’s time for a new look! Because I write so many different styles of romance, I want you to know what you’re getting. So to that end….. Say hello to Tiger Tarantino and Lila Vega!
For the most part, nothing will change. You don’t have to sign up for a new mailing list or anything, and most of my social media will continue being handled from my existing Katie de Long accounts. But when you see “Katie de Long writing as Tiger Tarantino” on that cover, I want you to have a little bit of an idea what you’re in for.
As Tiger Tarantino, I write romance suspense that skews toward the dark end of the spectrum. Horror influences, boundary-pushing shit, antiheroes galore, and lots of blood and gore.
As Lila Vega, I write flirty erotic contemporaries that are a bit lighter in scope and content. Very little bloodshed, very little stuff that you need to “prepare” yourself for, if you’re sensitive to some topics. Maybe you wouldn’t read these to your mother, but at the very least, you wouldn’t have to cover your eyes if you’re squeamish.
And, of course, K. de Long, where I’ve written PNR for a year now. All the same magic and weirdness and adrenaline, the same name… nothing new to see there. My paranormal romance as K. de Long skews toward the darker side of the genre, with dark fantasy elements, thriller and horror elements, and- yes- antiheroes, my favorite of favorites.
So when you see that dandy new email in your inbox with new books, and see those author names on the covers, I hope that gives you a little guidance, so you can get just the book you’re looking for!
I’m hard at work redoing covers for my backlist, so you’re gonna see this on new books before you see it on any of the past releases you’ve already snagged for your Kindle.
On a personal level, I’m super psyched to introduce you guys to the new “me”. Any stripper worth her salt can tell you that a pseudonym that she has a strong connection to can be worth its weight in gold. And both of these names speak to very, very different parts of me. Lila is the me that’s fun-loving, a little exhibitionist, and taking it all day-by-day. Tiger is the me that’s like, “RAWR!”, ready to come in, baseball bat swinging, taking no prisoners, seize your hand, and send you careening off on the adventure of your life.
So happy 2017, guys! Let’s make it a good one.
aka Tiger Tarantino, Lila Vega, and K. de Long, here for your romance-reading needs.
It’s a relief to be writing this after the high-stress updates of last week, and the frantic emails of the week before. However, I’m thrilled and surprised to announce that the ebook edition of Edgeplay is back on Amazon.
TW: vague discussions of mental illness, specifically triggers.
Trigger warnings are one of the best ways for people to engage with sensitive content in a healthy way. They enable someone to create the safest space possible for consuming the material.
For some people, this means only reading upsetting materials when they have a supportive friend or partner nearby, to hold them and tell them it’s okay. For others, this means reading upsetting materials alone, because the presence of a partner will feel threatening and make the fear worse. For some people, this means reading materials that hit close to home with a partner in the house, so they won’t be tempted to self-harm, attempt suicide, abuse substances, or other harmful behaviors. For others, they may need to be alone, because the strain of acting “normal” when they’re upset will grind the pain in worse, until they lash out.
For some people, this means avoiding upsetting materials because they can’t be consumed in a healthy way, and for others, it simply means picking the right time and setting.
See, triggers affect everyone differently, depending on really minute aspects of their lives and mental state. For some people, it might cause a panic attack that causes them to be unable to leave the house or pursue their to-do list. For others, it might cause them to become aggressive toward those around them who are making the trigger worse, unknowingly.
Forewarning and awareness are a survivor’s best friends. When a trigger sneaks up on someone, sometimes it can be too late to back away before the person is already seeing detrimental effects. Content warnings actually enable people to deal with more traumatic material than they otherwise could, because they are able to do it safely. They actually prevent consumer dissatisfaction, because they help consumers know up front what they’re in for.
Vague product warnings like “steamy material” or “too hot for your kindle” don’t actually provide the cues necessary to tell sensitive readers that a book may contain themes that they actively try to avoid. If Amazon is truly interested in being all about the customer, then building better tools for labeling should be one of their top priorities– not filtering authors out who use trigger warnings or censoring specific words. Is it any wonder that without these warnings, there’s a lot more people blindsided, reacting negatively, and bending Amazon’s ear either with direct complaints or bad reviews?
One of those tools could be providing a form to allow authors to label various common strong themes, such as sexual violence, and providing a button on the site that would allow readers to opt out of seeing any content with those themes. Not restricting their visibility in lists, searches, etc. Simply allowing it as an optional filter, similar to how they allow consumers to filter books down by length, for readers who are seeking shorter reads. Or even just a general adult filter toggle similar to what their competitor Smashwords uses.
Hell, this is a niche that readers already desire, and that other sites attempt to cater to in the small scale– a Google search for “clean reads” turns up a host of blogs, publishers, and groups that specialize in assisting readers seeking books without such mildly offensive things as cursewords, like the much maligned Clean Reader. Clean Reader came under fire last year for scrubbing swear words or offensive content from books entirely… without the authors’ consent. Authors came together to protest, to declare that their aesthetic could not be honored by replacing those words– that even if they made some people uncomfortable, the word had been chosen for a specific reason (Does that sound familiar?). They removed their books from the retailers who supply to Clean Reader in protest. But even though Amazon’s policy is much more destructive, arbitrary, and pervasive, it holds too much power for authors to be able to protest in an effective way, as they could for one fairly small app. So we are stuck with whatever Amazon says, no matter how unfair, problematic, or contradictory. And all of that is getting off the topic of trigger warnings as a needed classification tool.
Keywords such as “clean romance”, and “sweet romance” help readers who prefer to avoid sexual content entirely develop a community and a niche built around their desire to avoid that content. Could you imagine if we were allowed to similarly label and build communities around fiction with other love-it-or-hate-it themes, too?
Put simply, Amazon’s practice is bad, in every way. Bad for consumers, bad for authors, bad for survivors and people struggling with PTSD, and bad for society as a whole.