A sizzling collection of mostly-queer erotica is coming out! Today, I’m interviewing Liz Asch, author of the upcoming Your Salt on My Lips, published by Cleis Press. Liz Asch is a writer and visual artist who has written literary erotica, lyric essays, poetry, meditations, and explorations on visual art. Your Salt on My Lips is her first book-length publication. Liz is based in Portland, OR.
RUBY: Liz, I just finished reading your new book, Your Salt on My Lips: (mostly) queer literary erotica. I LOVED it. Please tell our readers about this collection. What can they expect?
LIZ: Thank you, Miss Ruby. I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed it. Your Salt on My Lips is a collection of fanciful stories of love and lust focused on sensual and sexual liberation. It runs the gamut featuring people of different bodies, sexualities, identities, genders and non-genders, getting involved or considering it, and it’s centered on embodiment, radical consent, and open communication.There’s something for everyone: public sex, seductions, missed opportunities, orgies real and unreal, mystical encounters, old world passion, a bawdy fairytale, a cosmic supervulva, and a somatic healing experience.
RUBY: What sets your book apart from other erotica anthologies?
LIZ: A lot of erotica anthologies contain stories from a variety of authors, edited by one author, so you are getting their picks along with their revisions, sometimes tied around a particular theme, and usually serving a particular audience.
By contrast, this is a collection that is eclectic and diverse in character, orientation, and sex acts. There’s no boxing in of what’s hot in this book, no limitations, no one audience. The writing is musical and some of the stories play with form, like the Abecedarian Orgy, or the sext exchange in Spanglish. The stories include trans, nonbinary, gay, lesbian, bi, pan, and undefined characters. To me, all the stories are queered, as a verb, and most of the characters are queer, but, because there are a handful of stories involving sex between a cis-woman and a cis-man, I decided to call the collection mostly-queer.
RUBY: You have a varied background in visual art, writing, and acupuncture. Where did your interest and skill in writing erotica come from? What has your journey in the world of erotica been like so far?
LIZ: Yes, my first passion was visual art, and then poetry, and I love writing about art and culture as well. I hadn’t considered erotic writing until taking a class in 2013 with Lidia Yuknavitch called Sex, Death, and Memoir. I wrote a story in that class that is in this collection, of a girl’s sexual and sensual awakening in a lemon tree, and I think I also wrote the first draft of the first section of the poly story in that class. My fellow students encouraged me to write erotica, so I gave it a go and found the thrill of submission and publication (under pseudonyms, at that time) to be really exciting.
As a writer, I am playing with what erotica can do, rewriting old narratives like Adam and Eve and Cinderella, gifting characters extreme self-permission, and experimenting with melding erotica with somatic healing.
The first erotic story I published was in a Cleis Press anthology that Rachel Kramer Bussel edited called Begging For It. Then, I got published in BUST’s One-Handed Read two years in a row. Like many of us, I grew up bound by sexual taboos and expectations and repressions that caused inner turmoil and strife. Writing queer smut is an expressive and playful and restorative exploration of my own sexuality. As a writer, I am playing with what erotica can do, rewriting old narratives like Adam and Eve and Cinderella, gifting characters extreme self-permission, and experimenting with melding erotica with somatic healing.
RUBY: Could you share the process of writing this book?
LIZ: Since Lidia’s class, I’d occasionally get ideas for smutty stories. My goal in the beginning was to write one story on each taboo I wanted to break. I collected odd ideas and images in one big messy document that I worked on in fits and spurts for eight years, until it was this mishmash collection of partial stories.
Early in the pandemic, I got determined to make it a book. I worked on it all Spring and Summer, turning my scribblings into scenes and inventing more characters and scenarios, shaping each piece into its own story, and cutting the ones that weren’t working. Cleis Press was my top choice for a publisher, so when I sent them a pitch, I was shocked that they wrote back with interest. They took the book as a skeleton of what it is now, because it needed a lot more parts, so I just dove in and wrote new stories all through the Fall and Winter. Their belief in the project fueled me. Together with Hannah, their wonderful editor, I got to shape the book into what I wanted it to be, and it really came to life, into the smorgasbord of stories it is now.
There’s something for everyone: public sex, seductions, missed opportunities, orgies real and unreal, mystical encounters, old world passion, a bawdy fairytale, a cosmic supervulva, and a somatic healing experience.
RUBY: Your Salt on My Lips is packed with beautifully written sensuous encounters, some slow-building, others fast and hard. Where do you get the inspiration for your stories?
LIZ: It usually starts with a random image or a line. I jot it down, let it brew, and come back to write it later. In this collection, some stories I initially made too short. Luckily, I have amazing friends who would let me know it was too abrupt or didn’t get juicy enough and then I’d remedy that story with more scenes. I love writing sensuously. It scratches the itch of wanting to paint but using words to make my images instead of artist materials.
My prose writing is sensuous generally, but, aside from erotica, I mostly write lyric personal essays involving art criticism, and I tend to labor over them for years. The process of writing erotica is quick and fun and light and deliciously subversive; it gets me into a zone, and they don’t require grueling revision, so it provides some nice counterbalance.
RUBY: Many authors have parts from their books that they’re particularly proud of. What’s a brief excerpt from Your Salt on My Lips that you’re extremely happy with?
LIZ: Here’s a glimpse of one of the stories that comes early in the book, of a romance between two closeted men.
Ours was a dark romance, witnessed only by the owls and the rustling nests of deer dreaming in the brush. We were held captive by the laws of the military, unable to be together on the base or in public for fear of being seen. But, hot damn, did my prick stiffen in my uniform every time you walked by.
Your ass snug in your Service Dress, penis pressed behind the zipper I longed to unlock with my teeth. Those broad shoulders and the little curls of hair that tufted out of your shorts and ran down your legs. The smell of you, cumin, and motor oil oozing in the sun.
“Down on your knees,” I’d ordered the first time.
“No, sir, no,” you’d pretend pleaded.
RUBY: The characters in your pages felt tangible and well-developed to me. How important is it to you that the characters in your erotica feel like real, three-dimensional people?
LIZ: Thank you for saying that. For these stories, I wanted the reader to be able to easily insert themself into each story, either as the narrator or any one of the characters. I wanted the experience of sex for each character to take place distinctly in their body, while their minds were processing it and expressing it through language. Maybe it’s a lofty goal, but I wanted each story to have the potential to short-cut someone through the repressive labyrinths we often trap ourselves in due to hurt and trauma around sex, identity, and belonging, and, even if just for a moment, to provide a sense of clarity or awakening or acceptance.
It’s a fantasy to get to these levels of passion and permission and embodiment, and to express and receive such clear consent.
RUBY: I noticed (and appreciated) that consent is very clear and well-communicated in your collection. Was this a conscious decision on your part from the start?
LIZ: Yes! Glad you noticed that and brought it up. These stories are inventions of the imagination, in which I was trying to bust taboos and let my most expressive and curious sides play unrestricted. It’s a fantasy to get to these levels of passion and permission and embodiment, and to express and receive such clear consent. I wanted to model the way I’d want to use my voice so clearly to say what I need around safe sex, clear intentions, and my desires. So I wrote characters that did it with ease, so that I, as the author, and you as the reader, get to experience that and vicariously give and receive consent like that too.
RUBY: What role do you think queer erotica plays in empowering people to explore, discover, and embrace their sexuality?
LIZ: I hope it plays an auxiliary role! Media and art are potent forums for inducing growth. Sometimes if we see someone do something wildly permissive or empowering in a film or tv show or book, we get motivated to do the same. In doing so, we are actively shifting from a place of limitation into something more expansive and inclusive. I hope erotic storytelling can incite that in a body, like how social activism can do that in a community. Like when Ellen Degeneres came out on her sitcom in 1997, she empowered so many people of my generation to do the same, which was a courageous act that rippled through communities eliciting liberation.
RUBY: This is your first book-length publication. What’s next for you? Do you have plans for further erotica?
LIZ: Yes. I’m already scheming book two, as another eclectic erotic story collection, or maybe instead the telling in fragments of a love story between a butch and femme. I want to publish my two essay collections, which are written in a similar style, one’s about visual art and creative processes of making, and the other’s about growing up Jewish and queer in the South in the 80s while struggling with mental health. Both essay collections contain sex scenes but to a lesser degree than this book, and of a more gritty nature, because they are actually true to life, but self-discovery makes for an interesting read too.
Erotica is fantasy, not journalism or memoir. It doesn’t need to have happened for you to write a good story about it.
RUBY: In your acknowledgements section, you write, “To my ancestor Sholem Asch—the original taboo-buster in my family tree, who brought lesbian love to the stage in the early 1900s in Poland, I hope I am honoring your legacy.” I am SO curious about this person now. What can you tell us about them? And how does it feel to be continuing that legacy?
LIZ: So, Sholem Asch was my fourth-great-uncle, and he was a playwright and novelist, who wrote a play in Yiddish called God of Vengeance in the early 1900s and it was about a Jewish family in which the father presents himself as this upstanding member of society but he is secretly running a brothel. His daughter falls in love with one of the prostitutes and runs off with her. There is a dramatic love scene with a passionate kiss between these two women, and apparently the play was a huge hit and the actors were at one point arrested. In 2015, Paula Vogel made a musical, Indecent, about Sholem Asch and his renowned and rebellious career.
I really hope I am honoring his legacy. I have so much admiration for his writing and his bravery as a badass on the scene in Poland’s roaring twenties. The history books write him as a pretty tame seeming scholar with a wife and kids, which he was, but of course I have to wonder if he was bisexual. I have this deep kindred spirit feeling towards him and I sense that our interest in provocation comes from the same source.
RUBY: What piece of advice would you like to share with queer aspiring erotica writers?
LIZ: Erotica is fantasy, not journalism or memoir. It doesn’t need to have happened for you to write a good story about it. You can create in words a new experience you haven’t had in real life. Or you can rewrite one that you wanted to go differently and ‘live it out’ another way.
RUBY: Lastly, where can readers buy your book?
LIZ: The Cleis Press website has all the links to the e-book. It’s available on Amazon, Apple, and Google. You can pre-order it now and it will drop to you automatically on Sept. 14th. We will release a limited edition paper book this Winter. There’s talk of the possibility of an audiobook, which I hope we can do, with guest readers. My instagram is the best way to keep in touch for all that: liz_asch .
Miss Ruby, thank you so much for taking the time to read Your Salt on My Lips and to ask such thoughtful questions. You are a treasure.
RUBY: Thanks Liz!