The Big Idea: Jennifer Stevenson
With a title that includes the phrase “coed demon sluts,” you might think that you know all you need to know about Jennifer Stevenson’s series of paranormal women’s fiction. Here’s Stevenson to make the argument that there’s more than meets the eye.
The foundation of this series is a question: “Aren’t you tired of doing everything right? Wouldn’t you like a second chance to go back and do it wrong?” Each of the main characters is starting life over by becoming a succubus for hell. I discovered the hard way that it’s a deeply feminist project. And that’s the big idea.
A thorough survey of strangers in convention bars informed me that, while men easily answered the question, “What would make you sign a contract to become a sex demon?” most women had to think hard. If they went for the deal, they said they wanted physical, social, or sexual power, money, a solution to [name a physical issue], a power balance to [name a social injustice], revenge, eternal youth, and, very last, beauty. Not sex.
This was my first women’s fiction, in the main passing the Bechdel test, deeply addressing the grimnesses that make feminism so unfluffy. My usual stories often have serious themes, but they always, always present as fluffy.
Thirty antique pieces of silver a month for tempting three individuals; go the distance and you get a nice bonus.
An eternally young, super-strong, horny demon body that can be gumbied into any shape, color, or size.
A car, a credit card, housing, and a team of other succubi.
We no longer buy souls. We can’t keep all these full-time people. Everyone’s a contractor: you can quit, you can be fired.
Online monthly reporting is hellish—Windows 8, 33 screens of fields per record. You have to tattoo your 88-digit IIDN on the sole of your foot, because who can remember that?
Kiss your old life goodbye. By the time you’re ready to quit, everyone you know may be long gone–and the you they know will be gone.
What was hard about this big idea?
The challenges were what they always are: Write the other. Get into their skin and make people forget how wackshit the story premise is.
It wasn’t hard to imagine how becoming a succubus would affect prissy housewife Beth or beleaguered teen Melitta or 98-year-old bubbe Cricket with her mile-long bucket list.
But Pog’s complicated relationship with food and its relevance to her old life as a plus-size prostitute and her shifting friendships with the other five women took me back to high school in ways I didn’t want to revisit, because I flunked Girl.
While Jee’s childhood in a Bangkok brothel left scars I could trace in my sleep, her Dom relationship to the sluts’ /p/i/m/p/ onsite manager sub was new. I wanted to rebut some of the reader protocols I found in BDSM romance and erotica–most notably that the Dom always knows what they’re doing, and that the sub always falls into the role without protest, never uses their safeword, and puts on the collar for life, not just a sweaty hour in bed. How would Jee feel, dominating their demonic pimp, doing it wrong, realizing why it’s working on him anyway, and then struggling to undo what she’s done and do it again right?
Amanda was hardest. She’s so repressed, she thinks she’s asexual; sex is just her job, and as an athlete she’s used to physical work. Memo to self: Don’t write repressed characters. An Army brat who gave her life to her ailing parents, she never realized she was gay. When they died, she found that her job at a defense contractor had segued imperceptibly into a cubicle in hell. I had to draw her out of her Army shell, wake her up sexually, and get her into bed with a woman. Amanda dragged her feet, unwilling to give up the comforting numbness of her cubicle and afraid of the Army’s rule for women: be invisible. The result was one of my sweetest, happiest books…but oy getting there.
What was easy about this big idea?
I’ve been writing about sex for almost thirty years. With every book I think, What the hell different can I say about sex this time? The answer always has to be different.
Despite the title, this series isn’t about sex. I was frankly overjoyed to plunge into imagining what, aside from their job, sex had to do with these women’s lives. I got to leave out the squishy bits and write the everything-else. From a feminist perspective, this was a total gift.
I write the unexpected and I write it funny. Sometimes that’s a gimme, sometimes it’s hard. I had to challenge the assumption that woman=slut=sex. My girls had to own “slut.” Turning reader expectation on its head meant inventing women with relatable problems, confronting those problems with succubus life, allowing myself to get angry but stay funny, writing a happy end every time that relied on character, not a magical gimmick, and leaving out the sex. The make-you-think part rose up like an onion in the schmaltz.