Wendy: The rally cry amongst authors and fans of ebooks has long been “they’re good enough for New York publishing, but not homogenized enough for the big publishing zeitgeist”. Or words to that effect. Whether that’s true or not continues to be hotly debated; what is clear, however, is that in delivering an ever increasingly erotic product to hungry readers, epublishers have led the way into steamier and steamier territory. With the marketplace for erotica and erotic romance identified and demand skyrocketing, mainstream publishers can’t create super hot imprints fast enough. So, what about the writers who turn out that erotic product? As long as the behemoths are benefiting from the demand created by online presses, they might as well reap the authors of ebooks as well.
In the case of Diane Whiteside’s The Hunter’s Prey, not only did Berkley’s imprint Heat mine Ellora’s Cave for an author, they have re-issued this 2001 Ellora’s Cave ebook in trade format. The Hunter’s Prey is a collection of short fiction—twelve stories from five to thirty plus pages—that relate the erotic tales of three Texas vampires: Don Rafael Perez, Ethan Templeton and Jean-Marie St. Just. Each story is told from the perspective of the women (and one man) whose lives the vampires enter. Each piece is a brief encounter between human and vampire in which the greatest ecstasy is exchanged for a little blood. The vampires stipulate that their partners can speak once of their experiences, so each tale is the one time only recounting of events. Of the twelve stories, six are told in epistolary fashion in the form of letters, diary entries or emails, five are the first hand retelling of the tales and one is a third person overview that dips directly into memory. The focus of each stays tightly on the erotic with the rising and falling drama mirroring the lovers’ meeting, sexual encounter, and denouement. Whiteside doesn’t shy away from graphically erotic displays of flesh and sex, but shields the reader from explicit and deep emotions.
Whiteside shines brightest with the varied and eclectic voices of the women who star in the trysts. The opening story, "La Paloma Blanca", is a letter penned by a narrator only identified as A. Don Rafael Perez and Ethan Templeton come upon A and her sister, Cordelia, in Civil War era Austin. A and Cordelia are both young, inexperienced women, and A writes of her time with Don Rafael in a voice that evokes the breathless, hushed tones of secrets shared by girlfriends on the precipice of adulthood. In sharp contrast to A’s story, "Champagne Cocktail" is the drunken recollections of an unnamed, weary, female narrator who spills her story of a long ago crossing of paths with Ethan Templeton in a speakeasy. Whiteside effortlessly conjures that narrator’s been-there-done-that tone and raspy voice as she tells her tale to a bartender.
With the exception of the last two stories, "Traffic Stop" and "Apex Predator", the tales of The Hunter’s Prey stand alone as short glimpses into singular events in the lives of the narrators. The final two pieces setup ongoing relationships between first, Ethan and Steve, and then, Don Rafael and Grania. Without the finality that marks the rest of the stories, "Traffic Stop" and "Apex Predator" feel out of place, with the latter reading more like the first chapter of a novel than short fiction.
Throughout the collection, Whiteside varies her narrators from fresh to hardened, from seeking to happened upon, and from touched by loss to touched by nothing. For their part, the vampires drift through time, from woman to woman, acting as catalysts for change while revealing little of themselves. What does not change is the stories’ structure: human and vampire meet, they have sex, and the story ends within a few paragraphs of climax. As the collection progresses this quickly becomes a predictable rhythm that begs for variance.
Whiteside is a capable writer with a fertile imagination who proves that, in this case, New York publishing was behind the curve.
HelenKay: The Hunter’s Prey follows the exploits of three sensual Texas vampires from post-Civil War time through modern day. The collection unfolds through a series of twelve stories told by women who have sampled the delights of the nightstalkers – Don Rafael Perez, Ethan Templeton and Jean-Marie St. Just. In exchange for a drop of blood, these women enjoy their deepest sexual fantasies. Each is able to remember the lovemaking only long enough to recount the story one time. After that, the memory vanishes.
The subject matter is not for the sweet romance fan. These stories are lush and graphic. The tone sexual and uninhibited. The romance non-existent. The theme is one of satisfaction and passion. The candid descriptions will not appeal to the meek. Exhibitionism, bondage, a menage a trois and anal sex are just a few of the offerings.
Some may be put off by the frank language or view the content as inappropriate, but the book does not hide its nature. The subtitle of "Erotic Tales of Texas Vampires" is not an overstatement. These stories center on sex. The stories do not have the traditional beginning, middle and end. The focus is on the act, need and reaction. The vampires’ backstory winds its way through all of the stories, each one unveiling a little more about the men without saying much at all.
If taken individually, the character development here is limited. In part, this is due to the first person storytelling by the women who enjoyed these ventures. However, this device does not diminish the effectiveness of the work. Instead, the mystery and delivery of bits of information over time enhances the collection.
The writing is vivid without being flowery or overdone. Whiteside guides her readers down a historical and sexually-charged path without judgment or apology. The lovemaking scenes do not skimp on details. The use of short – sometimes extremely short – vignettes allows the reader to fill in details. Whiteside does not spoon-feed. The end result can be disorienting in the sense of not fully understanding what comes next or what came before.
Whiteside balances very erotic situations with strong writing and realistic human emotions. Each woman’s voice is unique, as are her desires. The stories stand alone as flashes in time, but the walk through history and rising tension in the men compel continued reading.
Wendy’s Question: Usually short story collections are marketed as, well, collections of short fiction, with the collection’s title gracing the cover as well as the demarcation: stories. In the case of The Hunter’s Prey, in place of the typical “stories” the collection is labeled Erotic Tales of Texas Vampires. With the popularity of anthologies in romance, erotica romance and erotica, “tales” seems to deliberately blur the line between what is a collection of short stories and what might be perceived as an anthology of novellas. Other than the fact that a collection of short stories might be considered more literary, why shy away from it?
HelenKay’s Response: Are these really short stories or are these separate chapters of an epic vampire novel? I don’t know. After two readings and hours of contemplation, I still don’t know exactly what I read. I only know that I enjoyed it for its uniqueness and solid writing. As a result, I would say that to the extent saying "tales" blurs the line, that likely was the right answer. This collection defies easy definition. It is not a conventional anthology or a conventional short story collection. The stories are related by common male protagonists, but differ in every other way.
Wendy’s Final Thoughts: The Hunter’s Prey enthralls.
HelenKay’s Final Thoughts: Not for everyone, but those who enjoy the hotter side of romance should be impressed with the erotic storytelling skills at work here.