Literary Hub

Saskia Vogel on the BDSM Dungeons in Los Angeles Suburbs

Saskia Vogel is the guest on this week’s Otherppl. Her debut novel, Permission, is available from Coach House Books. Vogel was born and raised in Los Angeles and now lives in its sister city, Berlin, where she works as a writer and Swedish-to-English literary translator.

Previously she worked as Granta magazine’s global publicist and as an editor at the AVN Media Network, where she reported on pornography and adult pleasure products. She volunteers her time as the honorary secretary of SELTA and as part of the team that organizes Viva Erotica, an annual film festival in Helsinki that explores the art, history, and culture of sex on film.

Saskia Vogel: It’s about a failed actress who is in her twenties called Echo, and she comes home one day . . . for a memorial barbecue one day with her parents that they always have and she gets for the usual walk with her dad down some crumbling bluffs, and her worst fear happens. She was always worried that her dad would one day slip, and this day he does. This throws her into a grief spiral. She moves in back with her mom, since she doesn’t have much going on in Los Angeles anyway, and back in this childhood home all her demons live. She sinks into a paralysis, and she tries to escape by spying on her neighbor who turns out to be a dominatrix named Orly who’s setting up shop in one of these isolated, suburban homes. She’s moving into this house with her houseboy client, who is also a long-standing friend.

Brad Listi: This begs the questions—and I don’t even know if you would know the answer to this—but as I’m reading this and thinking about it, do dominatrixes often set up in quiet, suburban neighborhoods?

SV: Yes. [laughter]

BL: It always seems like something that would happen in a high-rise. I could see downtown Manhattan, near Wall Street, or something like that. But I guess it happens in the suburbs too.

SV: There are some wonderful and long-standing dungeons that pop up in LA or have been here for a long time in downtown LA. There was that one at Crossroads of the World there used to be a dungeon, or there still is. My book was based on a lot of research and the friendship circle I had when I was living in LA in my twenties. Dungeons, sure, they’re interesting: commercial dungeons in commercial spaces or warehouses.

BL: Is it legal?

SV: I would need to update my information, but it is, sort of. I think you can fall into the category of life coach or something, but you have to be quite careful how you do your taxes. But it’s been a while since I’ve looked into the legality of things. You know, prostitution is not legal, so there is your hard line.

BL: Right, but life-coaching . . .

SV: Life-coaching . . . therapeutic services. I’m guessing, since I haven’t actually been asked this question in a while, but to answer your question: The friends of mine who set up shop in their homes outside the bustling center of the city of Los Angeles really interested me. Also because LA is sort of structured like that.

BL: Right, you never know what anyone is doing here.

SV: Houses with back houses, gardens, or converted garages. There is lots of stuff that could happen there.

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