In Szpara’s debut, Docile (, Mar.), desperate debtors sell themselves as submissives to the ultrarich.

What inspired this book?

I was chatting with one of my friends about choice. She was about to get married and talking about whether she would take her husband’s last name. The topic came up: can you really make a choice if it’s expected you’ll do something? If you say “yes,” is it a true yes or an expected yes? That evolved into a conversation about what choices are real choices we can make in a society where there are so many biases inset already, especially for marginalized people. But I also come up with characters first, so I had Alex and Elisha in my head. The way I plot a story is often to dream up a lot of sex scenes and then work them into the plot. While some of my wilder stuff didn’t make the cut because it wasn’t plot-appropriate, lots of it did. I liked to combine the fun characters and sexy aspects with a much more serious conversation about choice, consent, and privilege.

After selling himself to Alex, Elisha goes from defiant to compliant very quickly through Alex’s abusive training. How did you decide on Alex’s methods?

I did some reading on things like Stockholm syndrome and how quickly people can be brainwashed. I also thought about training a dog. Alex uses and abuses pleasure to get his way. He also uses repercussions. I laid things out very strategically so he basically gaslights Elisha.

The story is set in the near future, with technology that is not very far from our own. How did you come up with the advances to include?

I like that our world can be science fiction tomorrow with the inventions that are coming out today. It allows me to project social norms into the future. Lots of the technology is what I thought would be a slightly cooler projection of what we have now. I focused on very current or developing technologies and made them a little better, to make them seem magical but also like something from one of those stores in the mall that I could never afford.

Would you consider this a dystopian novel?

It is a dystopian novel, but what we live in right now is a dystopian world to lots of people. Dystopian has nuance. In Docile, you sign a contract and you negotiate and you get to say no and retain your rights. All of that makes it feel copacetic for those who are engaging in the system. That enables them to feel good about it. But that obviously has a darker, more nefarious, horrific side that not everyone sees. That’s real life to lots of people. It is a dystopia in the way that what we exist in now is also a dystopia.