Two wildly different women each inherit 50% of a struggling feminist sex shop in Stetz-Waters’s Satisfaction Guaranteed (Forever, June.).
Cade identifies as gay, while Selena never labels her sexuality. How did you think about their labels?
I’ve noticed a proliferation of vocabulary to describe people’s experiences of sexuality and gender expression, and I think that’s wonderful: when we give things names, we give them power, we make them real. But at the same time, I’ve seen [people] struggle because they don’t know which label they should apply, or they use one and then realize it wasn’t quite right, and they feel like they were somehow a fake. I drew Selena as very open to sexual experiences with anyone. That’s one of her great gifts—she’s open to people—and I felt like not labeling her left her more open in that way. I hope I left room for someone who maybe doesn’t want to define themselves or isn’t sure what term to use to see themselves in her.
Academia is a source of trauma for Selena. What inspired that element of her past?
I’ve had really good experiences both as a student and as a professor, but there are a couple things that brought this vision of academia onto the page. I took a poetry class in college where the teacher was mean—she had favorites, she pitted students against each other—and I never wrote poetry again. I’m much happier as a romance novelist than I would have been as a poet, but I remember how much power this woman wielded, and I thought about that a lot when I was first teaching. And because I teach at a community college and a lot of my students are first-generation, I can see how hard it is for them to navigate the system. Selena is older than the other students, she’s first-generation, she comes from a poor, rural background—she’s really vulnerable. I have a lot of sympathy for that, which made me fall in love with her and want her to have a happy ending.
How did you approach the sex scenes?
I was talking to a friend of a friend, and she was saying how she had a very traumatic childbirth and tore her clitoris, and I thought, ‘How is that possible? It’s so small.’ Shortly thereafter, I learned about the full anatomy of the clitoris. I was in my 30s. I’m a queer romance writer. I of all people should know, but I didn’t. That really got me interested in the lack of information about female sexuality, the fact that a lot of sex-ed curriculums never talk about pleasure. I read this book Becoming Cliterate by Laurie Mintz about the pleasure gap: the fact that women who sleep with men reach orgasm at a much lower rate than their male partners, and women who have sex with women reach orgasm at about the same rate as men, and the same rate as their female partners. I want to portray sex between women in a way that’s realistic—I mean, it’s a romance novel, so it’s always going to be a bit fancier than real life—and I really want people to come away with a better understanding of female sexuality.