A Guest Post by Tamsen Parker
(Ms. Parker is giving away a signed copy of Craving Flight. To be entered in a drawing for the novel, leave a comment.)
Tzipporah is the heroine in Craving Flight, the BDSM erotic romance novella I wrote for the Goodreads’ BDSM group’s story prompt writing event. She’s a university professor who also happens to be a Ba’alat Teshuva: a woman who was born Jewish but wasn’t raised that way and later becomes observant. The hero Elan is the neighborhood butcher and has been raised as an Orthodox Jew.
In order to adhere to community norms, they agree to something I might call marriage of convenience lite. And from there, well, they have to get to know each other. Inside the bedroom and out.
The first thing you need to know is that I’m a huge dork. Like, huge. My particular flavor of nerdery is the social sciences. I have an undergrad degree in sociology and a master’s in urban planning. If I had my way, I’d stay in school forever. Sadly, Mr. Parker doesn’t approve of being married to a perpetual student.
So I became a writer instead. For which I get to learn about things that interest me all the time for my job.
When I saw the original prompt for this story, I needed someone to write it. But one of my primary rules as an author is to write the books I want to read, and I desperately wanted to read this story. Mostly, I don’t hesitate, but for this I felt entirely ill-equipped. As someone who grew up nominally Christian and is faithless enough as an adult that my child believes places of worship are where you go to decorate gingerbread houses and cookies during the town holiday fair, Orthodox Judaism is entirely out of the realm of my experience.
So I asked on social media if there was anyone who was Orthodox and who wrote kink. Unfortunately, the Venn diagram of authors I know looked like this:
But all was not lost. I do have a friend who is Orthodox Jewish, and a romance author in her own right *blows kisses to the lovely and generous KK Hendin*. Before I claimed the prompt, I told her that I had a story I wanted to tell, but I’d need some help because my characters were Orthodox Jewish, a culture I knew little about. She graciously agreed to beta read my manuscript for cultural purposes, and then I really had no excuses.
So I claimed the prompt and went to work, first heading to my local library. There are tons of fantastic books about Orthodox Jewish culture out there. If you’re at all curious, I’d encourage you to find some that appeal to you and read them.
Two books formed the bedrock of my knowledge for constructing this story. Becoming Frum is an academic treatise on how people becoming observant acquire language (remember how I told you I was a dork? I wasn’t kidding. This was an utterly fascinating read for me) and What Do You Mean You Can’t Eat in My Home? The latter is a much more accessible kind of How-To Guide for how people who are becoming observant can smooth what can be a difficult transition with their (less-observant) families.
These books not only provided background information on the heroine I was writing, but they also shaped the story I was telling. They helped me understand what some of the conflicts a person, particularly a woman, in Tzipporah’s situation would face and how the community she so desperately wants to be a part of would treat her.
For many of the other details in the story, the internet is a wonderful place. There are tons of websites devoted to keeping kosher, the intricacies of being niddah, how to maintain tznius (dressing modestly), and pretty much anything else you’d ever want to know about Orthodox culture. So in addition to my usual research habits (hair bondage, the best kind of candles for wax play, etc.), I visited a slew of Jewish educational websites.
My internet usage is questionable at the best of times, but I suspect anyone checking my search history for the couple of months I was working on this story would have been downright perplexed.
Which leads me to the title of this post. Writing not just a romance set in an Orthodox community, but a romance involving BDSM in an Orthodox community, presented its own special challenges. It was easy in the sense that within certain boundaries (between a married couple and not while the wife is niddah), Orthodox Judaism is very sex-positive. I did however have to delay sending my first draft to KK because I’d set a hot wax scene during Shabbos which is not cool. Not because of any specific objection to kink in the Orthodox faith, but because you’re not permitted to light or blow out candles during the Sabbath. Luckily, it was easy enough to shift that scene to the following night.
I also had to remind myself while I was writing that not everyone was going to be as enthralled by my research as I was. Readers were promised an erotic romance, and I wanted to give them one—not just a PhD dissertation with some kink thrown in. Which meant I had to pick and choose the details to include so as to paint an accurate picture but not overwhelm with minutiae.
Over and over again, I thought of the title of a workshop that had been offered. (Please forgive me for not remembering where or the presenter. If anyone knows, please leave a note in the comments because I owe them a debt of gratitude!) It was called “Your research is showing!” and I can’t tell you how many times I muttered that to myself as I deleted a line about Elan and Tzipporah’s ketubah (marriage contract) or the use of a blech (a covering used on stoves during Shabbos), among other things.
If the world were a perfect place, I would’ve had more time to do research and write a longer piece, if only to squeeze in some more of unique things about Orthodox culture without overwhelming the romance between Elan and Tzipporah. For many readers, the cultural setting was the most fascinating part of the book, and I for one would love to see more frum romance.
All in all, I had a wonderful, challenging time writing this novella. I got to indulge my research nerd side to learn about an ancient and beautiful culture, and was incredibly fortunate to have someone who was willing to double-check my story for inaccuracies and misunderstandings. I literally couldn’t have done this without her.
Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, erotic romance writer by naptime. She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. Aside from good food, sweet rieslings and gin cocktails, she has a fondness for monograms and subway maps. She should really start drinking coffee. You can find out more about her and her books at tamsenparker.com.