Circlet Press is a Cambridge, Massachusetts publishing house run by Cecilia Tan, which specializes in science fiction erotica, a once uncommon genre. Its publications often feature BDSM themes.
Tan chose to found the house in 1992 upon researching the markets for publication of her own stories, which combined science fiction plotlines with explicitly sexual themes. At the time, science fiction publications turned away such material as unsuitable for their audience (this despite growing demographic evidence that the average science fiction reader was between the ages of 25 and 35 years old), and most publishers of erotic material were hard-core pornographers (along the lines of Penthouse) and therefore uninterested in any material whose plotlines extended beyond "two people meet, they have sex."
The ground-breaking combination of sex-positive, woman-centered erotica with science fiction and fantasy themes came as a result of Tan's editorial vision that rather than combine the worst clichés of both genres, the mixture could instead expand the boundaries of what was possible in each. Science fiction had developed a somewhat deserved reputation for being dismissive or neglectful of human character development issues like love, lust, attraction, and family issues, while erotica was definitely ripe for something beyond the "two people meet" formula. Placing stories into a science fictional or magical context allowed writers for Circlet Press to remove their stories from their contemporary political context and sidestep issues such as feminism, AIDS, and sexual identity politics.
Circlet Press was identified with a peer group of start-up "alternative sexuality" publishers and businesses, including Greenery Press, Black Books, Obelesk Books, Blowfish, and JT's Toys (now called The Stockroom). (See the summer 1997 issue of "Cuir Underground" magazine, online here: http://www.black-rose.com/cuiru/archive/3-6/press.html) Their arrival also coincided with the burgeoning of a women's erotica movement, evidenced by the publication of many upcale trade paperback anthologies such as Herotica, Best American Erotica edited by Susie Bright, On A Bed of Rice (ed. Geraldine Kudaka), Slow Hand (ed. Michele Slung), and many others coming from the mainstream publishing houses.
Legendary lesbian bookseller Gilda Bruckman, who for years headed one of the leading women's bookstores in the US (New Words, formerly in Cambridge, MA and now sadly gone), is quoted in the February 11, 1999 issue of the Cambridge Chronicle (Cambridge, MA)--in a Valentine's Dat feature story about Tan and Circlet Press--in support of the idea that Circlet's efforts were part of a growing trend in women's erotica. "I think the younger generation of women who see themselves as feminists... feel that it's central to their being. It's having control of the expression of one's sexuality, not being restricted to societal norms."
The effect that Circlet had on the mainstream genre of science fiction seems to be twofold. One, the house nurtured a new generation of writers who were emboldened to use genre elements in their erotic fiction and erotic elements in their genre fiction. Two, by mapping out new territory, trail-blazing, as it were, Circlet pushed the envelope of what was possible in sf/fantasy, and of what was acceptable. The first tentative forays into "spicier" material by many of the mainstream science fiction imprints bore fruit in the form of strong sales and good reviews for titles such as Polymorph by Scott Westerfeld and The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop. Editor/founder Tan spoke on many, many panels at science fiction conventions such as the World Fantasy Convention, World Science Fiction Convention, Philcon, Arisia, Boskone, and Lunacon about the subject of mixing and cross-pollinating genres.
With erotica forging the way, the influx of romance into sf/f was not far behind, as writers like Catherine Asaro and Laurell K. Hamilton built readerships that included sf/f readers, mystery readers, and romance readers. Hamilton's "Anita Blake" books have since grown very sex-focused and explicitly sexual, and legions of "paranormal romance" writers and readers have followed in her wake.
Reviews praising Circlet's efforts appeared in Publishers Weekly, Lambda Book Report, Feminist Bookstore News, and many other publications (pointers and references to come).
Circlet Press's books have been nominated for the Lambda Literary Awards, Independent Press Awards ("Ippy" awards), the Benjamin Franklin Awards, the Spectrum Awards, and many others.
Authors published by Circlet Press include:
- Catherine Asaro
- Hanne Blank
- Francesca Lia Block
- M. Christian
- Amelia G
- Evan Hollander
- Raven Kaldera
- Nancy Kilpatrick a.k.a. Amarantha Knight
- Mary Anne Mohanraj
- Yvonne Navarro
- Carol Queen
- Lawrence Schimel
- Simon Sheppard
- Dave Smeds, aka Reed Manning
- Jennifer Stevenson
- Cecilia Tan
- official site
- Feminist SF Erotica
- Hyphen Magzaine profile
- Speculative Literature Organization reference
- Spectrum Award Nomination
- Strange Horizons profile
- New Bedfellows: Sex & Science Fiction, a dialogue between M. Christian and Cecilia Tan
- Alternet column/interview by Annalee Newitz
- Nerve.com essay