Forging A Blood Pact: An Interview with Ana Valens and Callie G

Content Warning: The interview below discusses Blood Pact, a game with Domination/Submission themes, some tentacles, a succubus goddess, a lust spell, and other elements not discussed in the interview, but available both in the review’s content warning, and the content warning page of the game itself.

I found Blood Pact an intriguing game, presenting its themes well, so it was a great delight to me that Ana Valens and Callie G, the developers, consented to an interview with me, and talked about the art, the writing, and the goals they set out with when making the game. While the main interview questions will be in bold, my own interjections and sub questions during will not. Enjoy!

TMW: Our interview today is with Ana Valens and Callie G, creators of Blood Pact, which is an NSFW kinetic novel made in Twine. Could you both give your own synopsis of, effectively, what it’s about?

AV: In short, Blood Pact is about trans sapphic desire – That is, the way trans women long for other trans women. Alexa is supposed to be a realistic 20-something trans woman dealing with life as it comes to her. Felanya, on the other hand, partially represents what many (not all, but many!) trans women subconsciously want in a partner: Someone strong, self assured, and authoritative. She’s a stable presence that guides and protects Alexa.

CG: Howdy, I think Ana described Blood Pact perfectly with her answer. If you really need me to sum it up, I would say it is about a young trans woman exploring and coming to terms with her sexual desires and self image by way of a fantastical context.

TMW: Twine also has visual functionality, and the art, by Callie G, is a distinctive set of grayscale images. I love the imagery that reminded me of binders, by the way, although I was informed that wasn’t quite correct by one of my readers.

In any case, knowing it’s all too easy to ask bad questions about art, would you mind going over what you feel is important to the images of Blood Pact?

CG: I don’t want to say much about what I feel is important about the images themselves or what I wanted to impress upon the audience. It will be invalidating for me to do that. For example, the imagery was not at all what I had in mind or what I was directed to do by Ana. I was going for an esoteric look that’s similar to a mummy’s bandages (Not necessarily “death, scary,” more to draw a connection with a supernatural afterlife, or a realm of deities,) or a specific kind of fashion that has lost its cultural signifance and meaning in the many eons between now and the last opening of the codex – Wow, I’m getting so fanciful here.

TMW: Funnily enough, it was suggested (and, on reflection, I’m kicking myself for not seeing it, liking esoterica myself) that it was reminiscent of seals, so… A different sort of binder, if you will. Nonetheless…

CG: Though I clearly had some intentions in mind when I made the art, your interpretation has a personal value that my intentions don’t. Aspects of Felanya’s design may remind you, Jamie, of someone you know, or something you went through, and to me that’s more meaningful than what I had in mind when I was making it. To make up for my pedantic answer to your question –

TMW: Oh no, exactly the sort of detail appreciated!

CG: – I can talk about my artistic approach to Blood Pact a little bit. Ana directed me to use the style I default to when I make my own personal NSFW art, and I think that was a really good idea. I’ve heard that style is easy to look at, particularly for people who have a hard time looking at other NSFW art. Perhaps there’s something soft or safe conveyed by the visual style even when it’s depicting something explicit?

AV: One thing I love is what Callie’s art represents: A cis and trans woman working together. From the start, she was very willing to learn about trans lesbian bodies and how trans women have sex, and I think her illustrations demonstrate how ready and willing she was to do just that. She really nailed how trans women’s bodies look and how we have sex. In particular, Alexa looks like a lot of trans women I know in real life, especially in terms of her breasts, stomach, and cock.

Not to mention, Callie is just fun to work with. She also helped me a lot with refining the story; Blood Pact’s story is so much better thanks to her feedback and suggestions.

TMW: Ah yes, I remember you mentioning that while we were arranging the interview, and I’m quite pleased to hear that! Now, Callie, you’re cis, would you be able to go into a little more detail on representing trans women in the game’s art?

CG: I relied heavily on Ana’s direction as far as how she wanted these characters to look. Working with a cis person required a lot of trust on Ana’s part, and I wanted to honour that trust. I made the illustrations in Blood Pact specifically to cater to trans women and other trans people who might be represented by Blood Pact. Everyone is welcome to enjoy my art, of course, but I wanted those folks to enjoy my art without feeling like they had to compromise to do so.

Blood Pact’s art is rooted in the actual fantasies and experiences of a real woman – Ana herself. The character depictions needed to reflect that realness. I know that the designs could never wholly represent the entire group of people I mentioned, but I strove to include characteristics that the intended audience could say “Oh, I’ve been through that,” “I, or someone I love, looks like that,” “This makes sense to me,” or “This is sexy to me.” Surely not everyone who reads Blood Pact responds this way, but that’s what I was striving for.

TMW: I can definitely confirm I felt the characters felt familiar to me on some level, and definitely grounded in reality, even in a fantastical situation.

TMW: Okay, so, as noted in the review, there are themes of BDSM (Mostly domination and submission) within the work, and, while that’s common in NSFW games, there’s also that somewhat rare element, explicit mention of aftercare, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to educate our readers a little about BDSM. Specifically, about safewords, aftercare, and their importance. So, although we know this, for the audience… What is the importance of both of these terms, and what do they mean?

CG: Safewords are predetermined phrases or words, or physical actions if someone cannot or prefers not to use a safeword. For example, tapping or blinking. One would use them in the middle of a scene or play to dial things down, pause them for a brief check in about boundaries, or stop completely. Both doms and subs can use the safeword.

AV: Real life dominance/submission play requires a lot of communication, care, and empathy. To engage in safe, sane, and mutually consenting play, all parties need to understand, communicate, and respect each other’s feelings and boundaries. Safewords are one way we (as in “we kinksters”, generally speaking) do that: They’re a non-negotiable way to stop a scene that crosses a line. We also use techniques like “Green”, “Yellow”, “Red” in a pinch to say whether we like where a scene is going, need to slow down for a sec, or stop altogether, respectively. But if you only learned about BDSM through mainstream porn, you wouldn’t know that. I didn’t even know aftercare was a thing until I read Sunstone in around 2015… I started doing BDSM play IRL one year later.

TMW: Sunstone is a pretty good comic about BDSM, overall, and I do love Stjepan Sejic’s art! So that’s safewords, folks, what about the aftercare we just mentioned?

CG: Aftercare refers to the things that, typically, a sub might need after a play session to feel secure. For example, if a sub (though, again, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sub) has been doing things that were physically or emotionally demanding, their dom could do things like cuddle them, say affirming things to them, attend to any injuries, make sure they’re hydrated, or simply be present while they physically or mentally come down from the play they were doing.

Much like the safeword, the levels and execution might be different, but the underlying concept is the same.

AV: Scenes are very beautiful things, but they’re also very intense. They can bring complicated emotions to the surface, or we may just need some tenderness from our partner after submitting or dominating. Aftercare is done after or between scenes as a way to ground ourselves back into reality, care for each other, safely feel our emotions, contain play within its space as play, and most importantly of all, know that our partner(s) care about our well being. It’s a really beautiful thing. And in a fiction story, it also gives us a lot of room for character development.

I took some liberties with Alexa and Felanya’s D/s scene to create an enticing fictional story, but I don’t think BDSM is BDSM without boundaries. That’s why Alex and Felanya have real boundaries, real limits, real problems to navigate, and real discussions on consent.

CG: Some erotica doesn’t deal with the safety protocol involved with safe BDSM. It can be more exciting for an audience to see an interaction of two characters who are physically and emotionally invincible, totally in synergy with each other in such a way that they don’t need safewords or aftercare. It’s okay to fantasize about it, but that fantasy can’t be applied to real play. Any practitioner of BDSM worth a spit will insist on protocols like these being present even if the chance is low that they would need to be utilized. Doing away with those protocols (or ignoring them) is dangerous at best and a form of abuse or assault at worst. A good analogy for a vanilla cishet would be sex with no condom: generally considered exciting to fantasize about, disastrous as a real-life approach to all sex without any prior communication on the matter, certainly represents an abuse of power if one of the parties has a boundary about it that isn’t respected by their partner(s).

TMW: Mmm, yeah… Consent isn’t always present in BDSM fics, it’s true, and there are certain situations where they get in the way of the context of the fiction, but agreed, it doesn’t matter what the scene or play is, they are indeed vital to good play. How do you feel about the larger context of BDSM fics?

CG: Works of fiction with and without the explicit description of fair & safe BDSM are both important; neither is better or worse, both are typically fine to explore in the realm of artistic expression. It would be great if fair play and active consent was normalized as a concept, and entertainment where it’s present is important for normalizing it. Fifty Shades sure wasn’t a good comprehensive guide regardless of how people felt about the sexiness of the fantasy being presented. I kinda don’t think Blood Pact should be used as an example of correct play practices, either. That’s okay – it wasn’t really the point of Blood Pact to do things exactly by the book (unless we’re talking about Felanya’s Codex babey!!! [sic]) because its a personal exploration of sexuality.

TMW: One part of Blood Pact in particular stood out to me, as it’s been a part of my own delve into elements of NSFW games that are, at best, a little tough to handle… Specifically, in this case, the Lust Spell. It’s pretty well presented, seemingly taking the route of “Not affecting what isn’t already there”, if you will.

But mind affecting elements are a divisive part of kink fiction, even among the larger community, be they charms, succubus marks, plantgirl pollen (Yes, like Poison Ivy, readers. Food for thought), or the like.

So I’m going to go at this a little indirectly, and ask what problems you had representing it within the fiction?

AV: That’s a good question. I wanted to show three things with Felanya and Alexa during that desire/”lust” scene: 1) the feeling a trans woman gets when she meets someone who seemingly knows her better than she does, 2) how sapphic desire for another trans woman can suddenly blossom as we feel seen, understood, and known by her, and 3) the inherent power dynamics at play with #1 and #2. Trans women spend so much of their early lives forced to live as something they aren’t that figuring out yourself and your feelings takes time. It’s easy to exploit someone who is still figuring out their sense of self while they’re working through some really tough life experiences.

Besides all that, the idea of a goddess touching you and making you want her is really hot to me. Blood Pact is very self indulgent, tentacles aside. Hahaha.

TMW: Ehehehe, self indulgence can be so fun, though! Well, within reason or fantasy, anyway. But yes, in the larger context…

CG: Ana is clearly approaching the work from a very personal standpoint and it’s her prerogative to express her own experiences, fantasies, etc related to being trans. Some of the things that happen in Blood Pact are certainly problematic, but that’s reflective of how real life can be complicated. We creators are allowed to explore that in our art. The choice to engage with that or not is given explicitly upon starting Blood Pact with of the content warnings at the beginning.

To be fair, some creators definitely aren’t approaching their NSFW work thoughtfully, and it can be impossible to tell between someone with good- and bad- faith approaches because presenting erotica simplistically in a “so horny I can’t think straight” way seems to sometimes be a part of maintaining the sexual energy of the piece for the audience and artist alike. Also, just because an artist expresses something personal or controversial does not mean that it has value or that everyone has to like and approve of it.

AV: Anyway, I spent a lot of time editing the story, passing it on to betareaders, hearing what other trans women thought about Alexa and Felanya’s relationship, and getting Callie’s feedback on the story. All four parts played an enormous role in making sure I was heading in the right direction.

CG: During development, I wanted to see Alexa respond in a realistic way and to have a distinct personhood beyond the desire for intimacy, so I asked for changes along those lines to emphasize it more in the text. I can’t speak to the feedback that was being given by other people, but I can say that generally I didn’t have any problems reading or visually depicting the sex in Blood Pact.

TMW: Mmm, and I honestly think it succeeded at those goals, although, as you said earlier, folks do have the freedom to not like or approve of things, but I did want to discuss the subject.

I’d like to thank you both for your time, Ana, Callie, and I’d like to finish this with your own, wider thoughts on the… Aaargh, can’t really call it a genre, per se, but… On NSFW games, in general. It should be noted, and is noted in the review, that Ana is a fellow critic of NSFW media, and, as we’ve noted both there and here, Callie is a talented artist, who aided quite a lot in the writing of Blood Pact.

AV: So, I wrote Blood Pact partly as a challenge to myself to create the trans lesbian porn I always wanted to read. But I also wrote it to show other queer trans women that you can create trans girl x trans girl adult games and other trans women will want to play them. I’m not the first person to do that though. Hardcoded and Nadia Nova’s games are two excellent examples. I’m just following in their footsteps.

Anyway, I really hope Blood Pact inspires other trans women to develop their own 18+ games. Smut is a really important form of representation, and I’m a big fan of it in general.

CG: Thanks for calling me talented. Some deep Callie lore for everyone is that I co-hosted and edited a really long literary criticism podcast on the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, so I might also be considered NSFW media critic in some “official” sense. I am not telling you all the name of it because I think you don’t deserve to know unless you put the internet detective work in.

I am a fake gamer girl, so rather than discussing extant examples of NSFW games, I want to instead turn to the people out there reading this who want to make NSFW work and say this: If you have a game, novel, comic, etcetera in your heart to share with the world or to enjoy privately for your own personal fulfilment, I hope our work inspires you to do that, especially if you are trans.

TMW: Definitely some hopes I share there. Well, thank you again for your time, and, on my part, I would say to folks who are into NSFW games to read the content warnings, as they are there for your safety (and, of course, to let you know beforehand if a kink you’re not into is in the game.)

And, obviously, this is a subject for which corrections of my own writing here are more important than ever, in an informative article. Because I would rather edit this article, than misinform in a harmful way myself.

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