I was blown away by the depiction of D/s in both Syncopation and Counterpoint, the first two romances in Anna Zabo’s Twisted Wishes series. It was so nuanced and real and specific to the characters, all things I find to be rather rare in BDSM romance. So, when thinking about doing something a bit different from my standard interview with Anna Zabo, doing more of a dialogue focused on writing D/s in fiction immediately came to mind. (Partly because I could see my characters hanging out with theirs, and partly because I really wanted to delve into that aspect of these wonderful contemporary m/m rock star romances.)
It was lovely to do this deeper dive into writing D/s representation with an author I respect so much.
A Bit About Anna
Anna Zabo writes contemporary and paranormal romance for all colors of the rainbow. They live and work in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which isn’t nearly as boring as most people think.
Anna grew up in the wilds of suburban Philadelphia before returning to their ancestral homelands in Western Pennsylvania. As a child they were heartily disappointed to discover that they couldn’t grow up to be what they wanted (a boy, a cat, a dragon), so they settled on being themself whenever possible, which may be a combination of a boy, a cat, and a dragon. Or perhaps a girl, a knight, and a writer. Depends on whom you ask. They do have a penchant for colorful ties and may be hording a small collection of cufflinks.They can be easily plied with coffee.
Anna has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where they fell in with a roving band of romance writers and never looked back. They also have a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.
Anna uses they/them pronouns and prefers Mx. Zabo as an honorific.
A Dialogue with Anna about Writing D/s Fiction
Corey: I’m excited to have a conversation with you about writing kink because your Twisted Wishes books blew me away in how they depicted D/s relationships. The D/s relationships in these books were so resonant for me, and felt so real. One of the things I really appreciate about the way you write D/s in the Twisted Wishes series is that your characters are connected to other kinky folks, and sometimes to organized BDSM community. What motivated you to write this into your stories?
Anna: That came from a few different places, I think. One was falling into a kinky community way back when I was young and somewhat naive in college. Even though it wasn’t the best community (some of the folks were pretty toxic in retrospect), it gave me a space to explore this part of me that I had no words for before. I wasn’t so alone.
This kind of finding of community seems to happen over and over in my life. I find solace in small communities, even though I’m somewhat solitary by nature. There’s something about having a home or haven of people to come back to, even if you’re not always there. And I’ve been lucky to have several of those types of communities, kinky and queer and not, that support and accept me, even though I occasionally will drift out to the edges for a while.
I actually think that aspect of my own experiences carries over to both Adrian and Zavier. They’re connected, but also kind of on their own. Also, I kind of wanted to show that there is a community out there! Sometimes people are solitary, but a lot of folks aren’t.
The other reason, I think, is to combat this idea I see a lot in BDSM fiction that Doms know everything and never have doubts and never worry. So having Adrian, especially, reach out to someone else for advice plays against that. He’s not perfect or all-knowing. No one is, really. He’s human. He worries he might screw something up, so he reaches out to his community for advice.
He’s strong enough, secure enough, and thoughtful enough to do that. I’d like to promote that level of emotional maturity in rom-doms. 🙂
So I think that’s where most of that came from.
Corey: I loved the idea that while Adrian was experienced in a way that Dom isn’t, that he worries, is human…is vulnerable. Countering that all-knowing invulnerable image of dominants is one of the things I care about most in my own D/s fiction. It feels so important to make room for dominant characters to be vulnerable, both from a craft standpoint, because it gives the character complexity and creates higher emotional stakes, and personally, as a dominant who is exhausted by the expectations that come from that image.
I really liked the balance you describe between community and being on your own and the way it translated in the stories. Zav and Adrian were rather solitary and built a bubble around their D/s relationship, but also were connected, had community ties. To hold them accountable (like when Zav checks up on Adrian) and to be a resource (like when Adrian asks for advice). It resonated for me, as someone who is rather solitary and also found important resources in kink community.
Tell me about the building a bubble part, because it feels like such an important way that D/s can work, and one I rarely see depicted in fiction. How do you get across the way it can feel to build that bubble? What led you to decide that you wanted to make that so central to how D/s works in these books?
Anna: This is an interesting question. I think for Dominic in particular, the bubble, this safe space in a relationship was because he’s quite a private person, despite his public persona. He needs a core that’s not for public consumption and I think he found that with Adrian. Adrian was aware enough to see that. And for him, there’s this gratefulness of trust that Dominic would hand over something that deep, so the care there is to keep Dominic safe and comfortable. Dom has enough anxiety about performing music on stage, and that’s a pretty deep thing as well. His stage persona is a kind of bubble as well.
With Ray and Zavier, the bubble is also a kind of drawing away from the public and creating a private space that they can dwell in and be themselves. (And Zavier needs this as much as Ray. Maybe even more so–which is probably part of his own vulnerability.)
I think that’s perhaps where I was coming from: the idea of public consumption and private consumption and sacred spaces. Sometimes the deep and profound can be experienced in public, and I think for some, that exposure is needed and wanted. But for others, those moments need to be private, out of the regular time and space of the world. Just between two (or more if that’s the relationship) people, the details of which aren’t necessarily shared outside.
It probably ended up being so central because of my own need to have that deep connective privacy and experience.
Corey: Yeah, I can see mirrors between my own needs/experiences and what shows up in my work in this regard, as well. I started out writing a lot of public play (which mirrored much of the play I was doing in life), where characters carry the bubble with them into public spaces, but I have been writing more private play recently. Partly because public play spaces are often inaccessible for my disabled characters, as they are now for me (although I did invent an accessible public dungeon that I include in my work sometimes). But also because I am writing play where characters have deeper and more intense connection and vulnerability, and privacy makes that more possible.
I can definitely see the need for privacy for the characters in your books, particularly in Counterpoint, because of Dom’s need for a particular kind of safety around that. I love how you describe it as sacred space, because that’s my experience of it in life and of the way you wrote it in this series. I marveled at Zav and Ray’s ability to co-create that kind of sacred space together while on the road; whether they’re in a dressing room, on their tour bus, or in a hotel room, they carry that with them. For Adrian and Dom, it feels more like that bubble is rooted in one physical place—Adrian’s apartment. (I loved the way the library in particular was sacred for them!)
Shifting into D/s and out of it (entering and leaving that bubble) and knowing which they were was so important for Zav and Ray, because of the different roles they play in each other’s lives, where Zav is Ray’s dominant, and Ray is Zav’s band leader. In Counterpoint, the shift that felt the most critical was more between Dominic and Domino; between his stage persona and his off stage life. The D/s with Adrian took up a lot more room in their relationship, compared to Ray and Zav, which feels to me like such a classic way D/s can work, particularly with folks who are emotionally guarded and in a new relationship.
I’ve often talked about how D/s wants to eat the world, meaning that if you let it, a D/s dynamic will grow as huge as the space you allow it in a relationship, and you have to intentionally carve out room for other aspects to a relationship if you want them. It’s like the D/s races ahead in terms of intimacy and trust, while other aspects of connection are moving at a slower pace, and by the time they come close to catching up, D/s has claimed most of the room. I’m wondering if you think that’s part of what is going on between Adrian and Dom in Counterpoint?
Anna: Perhaps to some extent, yes. There’s a huge void between Adrian and Dom where Dom’s life as Domino and the band should be, and I do think they fill part of that up with D/s, especially since keeping that secret is stressful on Dom and being submissive is a kind of release for that. (Though he’s not entirely aware of that, though I think readers can see that.) It’s also a release for Adrian from the stress and lack of control he has at work. The trust of the deeper things–not of the easier things–comes later. It’s easier, I think, to trust that someone won’t physically hurt you while submitting or being bound than it is to trust that they won’t reject you when you reveal secrets and truths about yourself.
D/s has a certain–framework to it. (Assuming that both partners are decent, caring people–which isn’t always the case in real life, sadly.) Even when it takes a variety of forms, there’s a structure, a hierarchy. It’s easier to place trust and intimacy into that frame than into the kind of hazy form of–say romance or a strong platonic friendship.
And that’s interesting, because for Zavier and Ray, it worked the other way around. Zavier needed Ray to trust him as a friend before really slipping into that D/s framework. But then again, Zavier had just come out of a D/s situation where his own boundaries and trust had been overlooked, so I think he needed that other bond first.
One of the outcomes of how their D/s and then romantic relationship was built without Adrian knowing a part of Dom’s life is that things will have to shift and change in the future, and we’ll see a little of that in the background of Mish’s book. Adrian will have to carve out a space in the wider part of Dom’s life, especially as the band goes on tour again. And I think they’ll probably need that bubble of privacy more then.
But they’ll find what works for them, no doubt!
Thank you for this discussion! It’s been fun and interesting, and has given me food for thought for future books, too!
Corey: Oh yay! This is the perfect way to close, I think. I’m glad we did this. Thanks so much for your thoughtful answers!
More About Counterpoint
Twisted Wishes lead guitarist Dominic “Domino” Bradley is an animal onstage. But behind his tight leather pants and skull-crusher boots lies a different man entirely, one who needs his stage persona not only to perform, but to have the anonymity he craves. A self-imposed exile makes it impossible to get close to anyone outside the band, so he’s forced to get his sexual fix through a few hot nights with a stranger.
When computer programmer Adrian Doran meets Dominic, he’s drawn to the other man’s quiet voice and shy smile. But after a few dirty, demanding nights exploring Dominic’s need to be dominated, Adrian wants more than a casual distraction. He has no idea he’s fallen for Domino Grinder—the outlandish, larger-than-life rock god.
Dominic is reluctant to trust Adrian with his true identity. But when the truth is revealed prematurely, Dominic is forced to reevaluate both his need for Adrian and everything he believes about himself.
Universal link: books2read.com/u/mBPznR
More About Syncopation
Twisted Wishes front man Ray Van Zeller is in one hell of a tight spot. After a heated confrontation with his bandmate goes viral, Ray is hit with a PR nightmare the fledgling band so doesn’t need. But his problems only multiply when they snag a talented new drummer—insufferably sexy Zavier Demos, the high school crush Ray barely survived.
Zavier’s kept a casual eye on Twisted Wishes for years, and lately, he likes what he sees. What he doesn’t like is how out of control Ray seems—something Zavier’s aching to correct after their first pulse-pounding encounter. If Ray’s up for the challenge.
Despite the prospect of a glorious sexual encore, Ray is reluctant to trust Zavier with his band—or his heart. And Zavier has always had big dreams; this gig was supposed to be temporary. But touring together has opened their eyes to new passions and new possibilities, making them rethink their commitments, both to the band and to each other.
Universal link: books2read.com/u/4XKlz5