Estimated reading time: 8 – 14 minutes
Hello, Angst Junkies! I have the sincere pleasure of interviewing Kitty Thomas. Her debut book Comfort Food is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It deals with non-consensual captivity and the dark obsessions that such conditioning brings about. With that said, I welcome Kitty to let us peek into her wicked mind and share with us how Comfort Food came about.
Did you set out to write a provoking novella?
Haha! You don’t start with the easy questions do you? Yes, and no. I hoped it “would” be thought-provoking, but I knew there was a big risk it could come off way different from what I intended. I’ve been pleasantly surprised those who have read it have responded to it so well.
Was the ending clear from the moment you set “pen to paper” or did it come as a surprise?
Yes. I knew the ending going in. I’ve read so much erotica in this vein that seemed to me like a morality play. Like “This is the ending that makes the most sense for these characters and this story, BUT we’re going to do this other ending instead because it’s more politically correct.” And I thought, screw that. In a sense Comfort Food is a very dark and twisted romance. So I knew where we were going from the beginning and I think that helped a lot because the entire book leads up to the ending and it was all about getting these characters in the right place emotionally for the ending I was working for.
How would you answer critics who would suggest you’re glorifying negative, dangerous behavior?
I would say knee-jerk reactions rob them of getting something from the book. There are two layers of things going on here in Comfort Food. There is the “fantasy spank material” level, the “rape fantasy” which is one of THE most common sexual fantasies out there and has nothing to do with “actual rape.” Since no one can want what they don’t want.
The second layer, and perhaps the most important layer, is the metaphor. Which is why someone who isn’t “kinky” can appreciate the book. Because the real question is… Are you really free? Who is your master? Because chances are really damn good that you aren’t as free as you think you are. We all try to live in this sanitized world where everything has been twisted a certain way to be “morally good and proper” but at what expense? Also, as to the issue of nonconsent, most good erotica has some level of nonconsent, it just isn’t as blatant. But it’s the exact same thing. I challenge anyone to point me to a good erotic novel that has no elements of power or threat involved.
As a writer of unusual, dark romance, I often use beautiful specimens of the male gender to contrast against their ugly behavior. Did you consciously choose to make the Captor beautiful for the same reasons? If not, do you think Comfort Food would work as well if he wasn’t so handsome?
Yes. I’m not sure if CF would work as well if he wasn’t so handsome. I think the story could still logically work from a psychological perspective, but I’m not sure I could have gotten the reader to go along with it. But yes, the fact is, in a different time and place, under different circumstances, she would have readily gone out with him. We are so quick to assume someone “pretty” can’t be a monster. I almost shudder at the number of women going home with good looking men they JUST met on the questionable premise that “he’s hot, so he’s not going to hurt me.” I mean, huh?
I am typically not a fan of first person. However, the way you used it absolutely pulled me in. Do you feel Comfort Food could have been told in third person or would it have lost its impact?
I really don’t think it would have worked outside of first person. I needed people to be completely committed and inside Emily’s head. I wanted readers to go through the same emotional trip that Emily goes through. And I think without being fully inside her head it would be harder to understand and believe how she got there. Also, with her captor refusing to speak to her, we’re flying with almost no dialogue. The thoughts inside her head and her narrative voice, help to keep it from feeling like “OMG LONG BLOCKS OF TEXT WITH NO SPEECH.” Which, much of the time, until a certain point of the book, it is.
I see Comfort Food as a love story. Dark, obsessive, unconventional, but a love story nonetheless. What has reader reaction been to it? Do they see it the same?
I think so far you’re the only person who sees it that way. But it “is” a love story, in it’s own twisted and messed up way. Without the laws of society and convention, if these two people were the only people on the planet, all the “oh noes that’s morally wrong!” would fall away. In the absence of a society to be offended by these people, what they have works well for them. Though most readers who go in expecting to be squicked or upset by it find that they aren’t. And possibly THAT upsets them. I’ve gotten some confessional emails along the lines of “I feel so bad for liking the ending.”
I think our society needs to deal with the issue of “thought crime.” When we’re so tied up inside we can’t even THINK a thought without freaking out, it’s a bad sign. To use one example, Japanese society is one of the most free when it comes to allowable pornography, much of it in the “nonconsent” realm. And yet their actual rape rate is lower than ours. I think we all need safe outlets. At root we are all animals and when everything stays pent up inside all the time, maybe that’s not such a good thing when it comes to interacting morally in real life with others.
Comfort Food explores the personal power of letting go. Do you think the relationship described within could ever exist outside the confines of fiction?
I don’t think it exists in a kidnapping scenario. The reason I don’t think that is because the particular wants and needs of the male character coupled with the particular wants and needs of the female character made things ultimately work. That just doesn’t happen in real life. But, there are couples who voluntarily enter into slavery-like relationships that people on the outside would look at as abuse. And I’m not talking about totally consensual BDSM games. I mean total power exchange. Couples where there is no safeword and one person has given the other person total power. I guess we could argue all day about whether or not total power has ACTUALLY been exchanged in these situations. I think in some cases it has, and in some it hasn’t. I think some people have a “need” to own and some a “need” to be owned, and if people can do it without breaking any laws or harming others, that’s their business and their private life. I do think in real life though that it has to be totally consensual up front. I just don’t think there is any kind of justification for taking a person against their will into something like this.
What was your goal in writing Comfort Food?
I really wanted to write a book about ownership that wasn’t going to say the standard shit we’re told because to even THINK anything else is anathema. While I absolutely do NOT endorse anyone doing anything to another human being against their will, it doesn’t mean you can’t think a thought or write a book. I have a pretty stern disclaimer at the front. But the truth is, anyone whose reality and morality buttons are screwed up so far that they have to be “told” it’s fiction, was going to do whatever crazy crap they’re going to do, with or without my book.
Who would be the ideal audience for Comfort Food?
I really don’t think there is an adult audience outside of psychos who shouldn’t read it, honestly. If they can handle adult material in a book at all, I think nearly anyone can get something out of the book because it’s not strictly spank material. It’s that metaphor thing. And questions are asked which I think we all have to personally answer in order to figure out our own level of freedom in our lives and in society.
What is your favorite moment and/or scene?
My favorite moment/scene is the ending which I can’t describe without giving it away. But otherwise I liked how he cared for her throughout the book. I think part of what softens the blow of the whole thing is you can read it and see that this particular monster has some layers. He seems to have no desire to cause her actual physical bodily harm, and he seems to be working to set things up to create the least amount of emotional trauma while moving her to the place he wants her to be in emotionally with him. The book, and the monster are both surprisingly gentle and nonviolent. There is no yelling, or pushing around, or throwing things. There just is no “violence” as we normally understand it. It’s all coercion. But the threat for disobedience is never actual “violence.” So violence is kind of off the table here, and I think that may make it seem even more upsetting because it’s easier to not hate him when he’s not physically hurting her. He never holds her down and “makes” her have sex with him. Absolutely every step of the way she agrees to because he’s created a scenario where him not touching her is far worse than him touching her.
Even when standard BDSM props are introduced like whips and riding crops, he’s not being “violent” with her. He’s opening her up to a physical experience that might “hurt” a little but isn’t truly harming her because he has no intent or desire to harm her. He wants to keep her. And he wants to keep her healthy. And it’s an experience she’s decided is preferable to the alternative. And by that point she trusts him not to harm her. At least enough to go along with it. Because she always CAN opt out. It’s just her opt-out clause is a bare cell and chicken noodle soup. So yes, it’s all coercion, but none of it is particularly “violent.”
I think if he was violent, the book wouldn’t have worked because the point of it would have been obscured too much. And frankly if he was a violent man, I wouldn’t *want* her to end up with him, even in a fictional context. Because I don’t think that would really be a satisfying ending. I want readers to want these two people to end up together. Not because of right or wrong but because of what these two characters need and because it’s fiction.