Guest Post: Hurt-Comfort Fiction and After the First Taste of Love

Today I would like to welcome author Talon Rihai, who is here to talk about the new book After the First Taste of Love. Welcome Talon!

What is it about hurt-comfort that inspires so many writers and moves so many readers? As one of the co-authors of the m/m romance novella After the First Taste of Love, I wanted to take this opportunity to explore why I so adore the hurt-comfort genre and how it plays a part in the book I wrote with Salome Wilde.

As a starter, let me begin by saying I, Talon Rihai, like hurt-comfort, and you’ll never hear me say otherwise. Strike that, I don’t just like it; I love it. As a writer, a reader, a creator of characters and worlds, I revel in angst. Salome, by contrast, has a kind of approach-avoidance thing with angst. When she reads really angsty novels or watches angsty films, she sometimes gets that “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” response, finding it hard to pull herself out of the hurt even when the comfort comes, and not always liking that. “Life’s too full of real-time pain and anguish for me to need more of it in my escapist reading,” she says. “So I just write it.”

I share the wicked gleam I see in Salome’s eyes when she says the last, but she doesn’t crave hurt-comfort the way I do. I’ve always tortured my characters, long before I could give reason about why they should be hurt, or why their tormentors had reason to hurt them. In my early days, when my writing was mostly confined to my imagination and not paper or computer, there was often simply hurt and no real reason behind it.

That said, there was and is always comfort. There must be, or else it’s just sadism for sadism’s sake, and that’s not my bag. My hurt-comfort fetish comes with a strict caveat: There Must Be a Happy(ish) Ending. Happily Ever After is preferable, but not always feasible. It’s all about the specific characters and their particular circumstances.

When Salome and I originally began the short story that would become our premiere novella, After The First Taste of Love, for example, it was meant for an anthology on the subject of hurt-comfort, which immediately attracted our attention—especially mine. The differences and degrees of our relationship with the genre showed up quickly. Angelo, the main character Salome created is the big brother type, an only child mostly raised by a single mother when his father abandoned them, putting the two through financial difficulties that resulted in a tendency to seek intimacy via sex and never love. Angsty, sure, but then there’s my Nick. He’s from an oil-water-fire mix of parents with lots of annoying sisters, an undersized underachiever who fights rather than putting up with crap, and when he falls in love, it’s with an arrogant jerk who abuses him emotionally and physically. And that background is mild compared to what I’ve put other characters through before giving them some happiness. No, really. Mild.

The truth is, I like seeing what my characters become when they are hurt, physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. I travel far down that road; I have no problem scarring, maiming, or even permanently mutilating a character. I do draw the line at death. Because these are my characters, they are, in at least a small way, an extension of myself. Threat of death? Certainly. Near-death experiences? Bring them on! But I won’t kill a character who is central to the hurt-comfort binary.

No two characters I’ve created have ever responded in the same manner, either to the hurt or the comfort. They like to catch me off guard and take directions I thought I never considered. Take Nick’s absence of tears in the novella. As a character, he puts himself out there, body and soul, for better or worse, and both reaps the rewards and accepts (or challenges) the consequences. Such an open character, with his feelings and actions, you’d think would also weep, when the circumstances call for it. But Nick doesn’t. Angelo, on the other hand, a very reserved character, has tears, whether he wants them or not, in some circumstances. Their dynamic in that way surprised me, as a writer. But it works for the characters, the novella, and us as writers.

The hurt character’s response to comfort is also important. Whether he (or she or s/he) accepts the comfort or not, how much he accepts, what he rejects, how he processes it into his personality and actions: this must be not only consistant with character as written but also convincing, credible. When you damage a character, tear him down and then build him back up, some of the bricks or mortar will be out of place. These may strengthen or weaken the character in various ways—sometimes unexpected until you actually write it out, but the flaws are essential. Often, they drive the narrative.

In the end, hurt-comfort is about more than sadism or masochism—for authors or characters. It’s more than taking the reader or writer on an emotional rollercoaster ride, more than unexpected revelations or resignations. It’s not solely or even primarily about spectacle or shock. Ultimately, for me, hurt-comfort is about control. I control my characters and what I put them through, from personality to circumstance to conflict to that happy(ish) ending. I don’t always know how the hurt and comfort will resolve themselves, or why. In some ways, I am like a reader of my own worlds, like the bottom that is arguably in control of the sexual situation even though common wisdom says the Top is. And readers control their hurt-comfort worlds by choosing which books to read. In After the First Taste of Love, it is comfort that wins, and we hope readers who enjoy the emotional adventure of hurt-comfort will take the voyage with us.

After the First Taste of Love – Now Available for $4.99 (e-book) and $9.99 (print)

Talon Rihai and Salome Wilde are the authors of After the First Taste of Love, their first novella, which is now available through Storm Moon Press. They can be found at their website, Sal & Tal Erotica.

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