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A Deeper Look at “Catalyst” by S.L. Armstrong & K. Piet

November 4, 2011

It’s been nine months since Catalyst was released, and in light of the various reviews we have received—with both positive and negative points alike—we feel like we can finally open up and give a bit of insight as to what we intended to write with this story.

Most people will either pick up Catalyst or deliberately pass it by specifically for its intense BDSM elements. By intense, we mean both the extreme physical sense of BDSM and the psychological impact it has on the main characters. This is completely understandable, and it’s something we had to plan for because we knew the BDSM aspects would limit the appeal of the book, even within the sub-genre.

There’s a certain expectation when readers pick up BDSM these days, and it’s usually one of two extremes. They either expect fluffy, barely-there bondage as representing BDSM, or they expect non-con and rape dressed up as power play instead of being labeled what it really is. Because these two extremes are the ones that get a lot of representation in the sub-genre, readers typically don’t know how to react when they’re given something in the middle, where stories more indicative of the realistic lifestyle of BDSM typically fall. This will likely be the topic of a separate blog post altogether, but we wanted to mention that expectations with BDSM novels in general are very difficult to predict, so we understand some people from both extremes won’t care for Catalyst.

Aside from that, however, we want people to know that, to us, Catalyst isn’t actually a story about BDSM. It’s a story that uses BDSM as a tool to tell a story about a man’s life. It’s a subtle difference, but we want to make it for several reasons.

Making a story about BDSM adds a certain intent on our parts to show that Logan’s and Kasper’s lives are indicative of the BDSM lifestyle as a whole, and that was certainly never our intention. Not all BDSM tops are into bloodplay like Logan. Not all BDSM subs are pain sluts that top from the bottom and find themselves in dangerous downward spirals. These two characters are very specific in their fetishes and struggles, and we’d never try to portray their predicament as a norm in the BDSM community. It’s one of the reasons we show everyone else in the clubbing community shunning Kasper when he seeks out an equally extreme top. It’s also why everyone gets pissed at him for not expressing a limit when he lets himself be pushed to the point of passing out during a whipping scene. We did our best to show that Kasper is one of few, and his actions are typically not tolerated by most.

When it comes down to it, however, we could have used drug addiction, indulging the inner speed demon (drag racing, perhaps), or even compulsive bank robbery – any addictive behavior would have done. We chose BDSM as the vehicle for the story specific to these characters. (These poor, poor characters. We put them through so much!) It’s the means by which we chose to convey a story that we feel is much deeper than just BDSM and delves into the psychological scars that some people carry with them throughout their lives, only to reach a breaking point like Kasper does.

Kasper’s life as depicted in the story was quite nuanced, and we did our best to show that while he put up an excellent mask, he has lived a very hollow life. Everything he has done in his life has been to please others. We always viewed Kasper as a masochist. His backstory is filled with signs of being an emotional masochist, from his love-hate relationship with his father, to the way he forced himself to let go of Adam so Adam could date—and later marry—Shawn. He puts himself through emotional hell in order to be the perfect son, the perfect psychologist, and the perfect friend. When he meets Logan, being the perfect lover and perfect submissive are simply added to that unconscious list of goals.

Kasper struggles with perfectionism because he’s under the impression that being perfect will bring him, and everyone around him, happiness. When Logan came into the picture, our intent was to show that this perfect life Kasper had built for himself was in fact just the product of his very unstable nature. Kasper was always an emotional masochist. His introduction into BDSM was just the next step, a way to make that masochism physical instead of just internal.

As several reviewers have come to understand and comment, Logan is the eponymous ‘catalyst’ in this story. To dig a bit deeper, though, you have to really understand what a catalyst is. In chemistry, a catalyst basically lowers the activation energy (the energy needed for the chemical reaction to start) of the reactants, and this lowering of the threshold makes it much easier for the reaction to occur. In other words, Logan makes it very easy for Kasper’s house of cards to tumble down, but all the other elements had to be there first for his presence to make that difference. Kasper was always the unstable one, despite his efforts at appearing perfect, and it’s those aspects of his personality and his masochism that make Logan so very effective at triggering him.

Even deeper than that, there is also the nod to chemistry again in the fact that catalysts have these effects and aren’t spent in the chemical reaction themselves. When Kasper starts topping from the bottom, Logan is so bothered by it that he ends the relationship, removing himself from the equation in the hopes that Kasper will be better off without him. What he doesn’t realize, of course, is that his time with Kasper has already set everything in motion. Taking away the catalyst doesn’t necessarily mean the reaction stops in its tracks. The repercussions continue throughout the rest of the story.

One of the themes we wanted to explore in Catalyst was the true reversal. Logan starts out the story by presenting an unstable front. He’s been shaken, and he has convinced himself he’s a danger to everyone around him when, in reality, he is as cautious and caring a top as he ever was. Just as Kasper has exaggerated his calm and happiness to cover his hollow life, Logan has exaggerated his one mistake during a scene to the point of questioning the place his blood fetish and BDSM has in his life. When Kasper becomes Logan’s submissive, we see the initial façade of both characters ripped away to show what’s really beneath the surface. Some might think that Kasper takes things too far without any reason, but it’s our hope that the hints of his personality are there and can be added up to give a glimpse into his own psychologically unstable character.

The story we set out to write was Kasper’s search for peace and him finding a measure of it in his relationship with Logan. Throughout the story, he believes this peace will come when he’s perfect. Once his relationship with Logan moves deeper into the BDSM scene, he gets a taste of how freeing and peaceful subspace can be. He spends the rest of the book trying to find subspace on his own, thinking it will come if he simply pushes himself harder in more extreme scenes. For many, however, subspace is something that has to flow naturally out of trust and letting go. When Kasper pushes himself and tops from the bottom, he’s self-sabotaging, trying too hard. It’s when he starts over with Logan that he slowly learns how to let go and trust Logan completely, and that’s how he, as a masochist, finds peace with himself.

Hopefully, this has been a helpful bit of insight for anyone who has been struggling with the content of Catalyst or wondering what possessed us to write our characters in such an extreme and intense setting. We’re very happy to have written this story, and we hope it resonates well with readers. It might be a difficult read, but we enjoy making our readers think and taking them on a journey with the characters.

***

Catalyst by S.L. Armstrong & K. Piet is available in both print and e-book formats from Storm Moon Press’ website.

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