Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sweet Violent Femmes: A Visit with Holly M. Kothe

Sex & Horror—the Classic Pair
by Holly M. Kothe

I'm not sure where I've been, but there is this frenetic, teeming underworld of readers lusting after a particularly dark, stylized sort of horror fiction. I had never given a lot of thought to the term "erotic horror" as a genre, until I started writing it. What I didn't realize until I started compiling Sweet Violent Femmes is that most of my short fiction encompasses (without my meaning it to) elements of a subgenre that I hadn't put a name to. Such a thing has always come naturally to me as a writer—sex and darkness is there, every day of our lives, either in thought or in deed.

I'm trying to wrestle down a description of "erotic horror" into words for you. The concept is diverse, and means different things to different people. This is an exciting super-niche of horror that is currently rising in popularity, but its definition is like a devious and (of course) scantily-clad, voluptuous sprite evading capture.

We could define it literally—erotic horror is a kind of fiction in which sensual imagery and sexual descriptions blend with elements of horror. But writers already have a difficult time agreeing on what basic horror is. Throw "erotic" into the mix, and people become rather confused. I have interviewed several writers on the matter. Some have thought it is a brazen venue for spotlighting rape and torture with an anti-feminist slant. Others see no such agenda, and equate it to nothing more than horror + sex = erotic horror. Still others like to dig deeper and mention paranormal aspects: ghosts, vampires, demons, even zombies. No, Zombies don't traditionally ooze massive sexual charisma and charm, but in the hands of an inventive and talented writer, they most certainly could.

I had honestly not considered "erotic horror" before it started showing itself in my work. I know that's usually a big writer's no-no. We are told to read our chosen genre to see how the greats do it. But maybe there is something to be said going into this particular type of fiction without obsessively studying the formulas of the genre. Seems fitting for this one, with stories that range from dangerous women with a black widow complex, to the ferocious soul-eating succubus that enjoys a meal immediately following climax. Perhaps, if you write well enough, diving in untouched by influence can be an advantage to piecing together a wildly unique reader experience.

Erotic horror seems limitless--a place where the imagination of a writer has free reign to explore and push boundaries between eroticism and fear and how they mingle within the human psyche. Such a trip seems more than appealing, which leaves me wondering why the niche is so small. Some find the juxtaposition of revulsion and desire hard to stomach. But, when done well, I tend to think sex and horror go together like chocolate and peanut butter (or black lace and garter belts?). Visually, I think of Frank Langella from John Badham's 1979 film version of Dracula, standing at your window, his shirt open, fluttering in the shiver-inducing breeze as he walks into your willing arms and beds you (thoroughly, and with great detail) before sucking your hot blood and offering his in return. It is sexual, yet absolutely horrifying.

Just don't get tricked into thinking it's all about sexy vampires. If you want to take the bizarre and wild trip on the wings of erotic horror, read Story of the Eye, a 1928 novella by Georges Bataille who took his predecessor Bram Stoker's idea of a sensual blood-sucker and cranked it up to some of the most graphic scenes ever written, even today. Other examples that mark this literary niche include Ray Russell's Incubus, Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart, Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse, and Frank De Felitta's The Entity, which is a lot more horror than sexy, and supposedly based on true events and inspired the 1981 film version.  

Today we are seeing a revolution of erotic horror from many a talented independent writers. Many, surprisingly, are female. We gals are at the helm and taking erotic horror to new heights with feverish intensity. Erotic horror is certainly not new, but it is new to this trendy, digital-age literary demand. Fear is still the definitive aphrodisiac. We love this terrifying and sensual art, and we want more.


"Within a month, my romantic, Lost Generation fantasy of the city had sharpened into reality. The only moveable feast I'd found in Paris was of the fleshly variety - a constant supply of lithe, undulating bodies presented under glass, offering every view to the clientele."

In this dark and disturbing collection, Kothe explores themes of the damaged, the devious, and the deranged heroine, and examines the consequences of pushing the female heart one step too far. 

"The Glass Room" 
An American girl maintaining her comfortable Parisian lifestyle as a high-end brothel escort faces off with a mysterious client whose sadistic dependencies threaten her livelihood. 

After a passionate quarrel with her conflicted lover, a woman realizes that the best kind of relationships are the eternal kind. Sometimes the man just needs a little push ...

"Seeing Black"
A lonely librarian nursing a broken heart gathers liquid courage in preparation for her sister's visit, and struggles with a peculiar ailment she's had since puberty.

"Feminist Theory"
A troubled but diligent chemistry student reacts to the unsavory intentions of a predatory psychology professor.


This book was given in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Finding time to read a book all the way through these days is rare for me, so when I was given a copy of Sweet Violent Femmes, I hoped I would have time to read the entire thing. As it happened, the pages few by in quick secession and before I knew it, I was lamenting the end. This collection of short stories was beyond brilliant and full of righteous feminine fury. In each tale there is an element of helplessness, an aura of female subjugation in a male world and an overwhelming sense of rage at the injustice. 

"The Glass Room" was the first story and it completely sucked me in. I started it on break at work and I barely remember finishing my food, I was so engrossed in the story. It shines a light on women who work in the sex industry and the risks they take to earn a living. When one of the gentleman callers proves to be a little too much into pain, one girl takes matters into her own hands. I was pretty nearly cheering at the end.

"Tethered" was spectral and at first confusing as the girl in the story figures out what has happened to her and where she is going. Lovers are not always what they seem and in this story it is true more than most.

"Seeing Black" was a wonderful story. It ripped my heart out and I found myself blinking back tears. Families can be a haven or Hell and in this case, it was more the latter. If you have been subjected to abuse in any form that involved your family, you will really feel it with this story. Trigger time. The conclusion is very satisfactory.

"Feminist Theory" was a devious little package from the get go. Revenge is sweetest when it is served cold and this young lady has more to dish up than most. Again, if you have issues with an abusive man in your life, this one will hit home with a dead on bulls-eye. 

Overall the book was a fast paced read of bloody vengeance and horrific revenge. I loved every second of it. I think too often women in our society are looked upon as disposable objects of desire without concern for the repercussions. I am so glad Holly wrote this collection of darkly divine femmes to give a voice to some who can't speak for themselves. There are many women in the sex trade that die from extreme situations inflicted on them with no accounting at all. Children are victimized by a male relative or family friend and nothing is done to stop it. Boyfriends take it upon themselves to silence an inconvenient truth when it takes two to tango. All of these situations are thrust boldly under the stark white lights of this marvelous book.


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