Memoirville

Writers Reflect on Erotic Memoir—Life Imitating Art Imitating Sex?

Monday, August 27th, 2007

By piper

Entangled Lives: Memoirs of 7 Top Erotica Writers offers a true-story peek into the very private lives of some very public sexual intellectuals. Marilyn Jaye Lewis edited Bill Brent (excerpt here), Rachel Kramer Bussel, Amie M. Evans, Ian Philips, Greg Wharton, and Rob Stephenson, as well as contributing her own steamy selection. Read on for a variety of views on the intersection of life, love, art, sex, stories, fiction, truth, and kinky fetishes.

How did you get into writing erotica?Entangled Lives: Memoirs of 7 Top Erotica Writers

Marilyn: It just happened. I have always written erotic stories for as far back as I can remember, even as a teenager.

Rachel: I was in law school in from 1996-1999, and had been reading Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica series and other erotica, and saw a call for submissions for Shar Rednour’s anthology Starf*cker. I’d been obsessed with Monica Lewinsky and decided to write out my fantasy about her, pretty much verbatim. That was my first published erotica story and from there it just spiraled.

Amie: Actually, and this is a true story, I wrote my first erotic story to impress a girl. “How I Ended Up on My Back” in LipService.

Bill: When I started writing erotica, much of it was based on my direct experience, and it wasn’t even necessarily fiction, just a way of cataloging what I experienced both externally and in my mind.

Adam: It started out as a way to define my sexuality as I came out in my teens, imagining what I wanted to do with other boys since I didn’t have any other text to work from. Later, when I took writing more seriously, it was a way to get published, then a way to reach out to other perverts like myself. Art begat sex begat more writing.

Rob: I wrote my first story specifically about sex at the age of sixteen and before that I had a diary that included sexual fantasies. I was already writing a lot of poetry, fiction, as well as reports and essays for school. That story just popped out one day in the middle of all the writing. I continued to write erotic stories for years without trying to publish them. I met Bill Brent at a writing conference and he published some of my stories in the magazine Black Sheets and other Black Books anthologies.

What do your friends and family think?

Adam: My partner is very supportive of my writing, though he wishes I made some more money off it. My family is supportive too, but they steer away from the sexual aspect of it. They expected me to be writing plays or children’s books, which I started out with and hope to fulfill that promise to myself.

Bill: My family knows I write erotica, and that I’ve written a successful book on anal sex for men, but they keep whatever thoughts they may have to themselves. Maybe it’s better that way. At this point, any friends I make tend to know this piece of my life either coming through the door or shortly thereafter. Most if not all of them are highly supportive.

Marilyn: Mixed. Mostly, they are proud of me for a long history of achievements. I think, overall, they wish it weren’t in the erotica field.

Amie: A lot of my friends are unaware of the amount of erotica I’ve published. New friends or friends who run across one of my stories often ask if my partner and I “really do that” or if the stories are true. Some of course are and some aren’t. I just smile and say what do you think? My mother is great about it. She doesn’t have a problem with it at all. She reads most of my stories. My boss even knows about it. I tell him when I publish a new story and he always asks “is it one I can read?” I only let him read the non-erotica stories. Everyone who is in my immediate life is very supportive of my writing—all of it, the erotica and the non-erotica.

Rob: Some of my family knows, but we don’t talk much about it. My friends have a variety of responses, from being impressed to being uninterested.

Rachel: Most of the people I know are pretty supportive. They don’t all read my sex writing, and that’s perfectly fine with me. I don’t care if my closest friends and family read my work as long as they support me as a person. But I think being open about sex generally means that people open up to me more and can ask me things they might not ask other people, because they know I won’t judge them.

Is it easier to write fiction or memoir?

Rachel: I think each has its pluses and minuses. So far I’ve only written short stories, and I’m writing my first novel (Everything But…) now and it’s quite challenging. I like the freedom of “fiction” because you can blend fact and imagination. I often write erotica that has a kernel of truth; either the setting is one borrowed from real life, or the sex, or some other aspect, even just the motivation, and then I can play with that, massage it until I get the characters where I want them to be. Or I can go all out and make something up; I think my own growth as an erotica writer started to happen once I stopped writing mostly true stories and started to delve into truly fictional territory. For instance, I’m very proud of my gay male erotica because I had to work harder at it.

Amie: I think both forms have advantages and disadvantages. Writing memoir you already have a story you just need to figure out how to present it to make the most of it. When you are writing fiction, you can make up any thing and that is liberating but it can also leave you with the problem of “then what happened”. That question doesn’t come up when you are writing memoir, you know what happened, but you are faced with what to include and issues of writing about the folks who are part of your life. I get a different type of satisfaction from each form.

Adam: Much easier to write fiction, because I have control over it (most of the time). Memoir can be harder because you’re leaving yourself open to “this is true” or at least, “this is somewhat based on reality” since memoirs are always true, which qualifies as fiction and that’s where I fit in.

Rob: They both have their difficulties. Sometimes, the idea of an audience looms larger as I write memoir. This affects the truth of memoir writing and I try not to censor out things because of that pressure. In Exuvia, the piece for Entangled Lives, I chose to write about an early relationship that moves from my simple clumsy vision of sexuality and love through much confusion and difficulty towards more radical inclinations. It was a time I hadn’t thought about in many years in any detail at all. And although it was not so hard to get words on a page after I’d started the piece, it was hard to imagine having it published at first.

Marilyn: Memoir, by far. It’s all right there. I don’t have to create anything.

Bill: Easier sometimes, but not always the same. My memoir writing tends to be very direct and the hardest part is usually selecting what to leave out. Some experiences don’t have a moral or a point, and those are the ones that I tend to turn into fiction, where I can add in that element. Then again, a lot of my fiction erupts from the lava-flow of my imagination, and often that is effortless. I just have to stay out of the path!

Do you tend to base fiction on real experiences or write erotic fiction and then make it come true?

Marilyn: I base my fiction on real life.

Amie: Some of my fictional stories are based on real life or on some event with fiction added. Others are true completely while others are completely made up. The true life ones are based on things that happened. I don’t try to make material. I just live my life and then later say hey that would be a good story.

Rob: I try to write fiction in as many ways as I can. I often write something to see what it becomes. The same could be said for having sex.

Adam: I write my real fantasies, and sometimes they come true with fans of my work, which is a very nice little career extra.

Ian: I only put real people, before Greg and Adam, in my work to punish them…well, except in “Walt” where I explored my crush on a transman I was very smitten for.

Rachel: In my erotica, I often weave my own fantasies into the stories, but it’s not always verbatim. Another character might live out something I never would in real life, or I’ll alter things in a way that best fits the story. I don’t think I consciously write erotica and then try to “make it come true,” but I’m sure there’s an element of that in there somewhere. As much as I often try to separate the two, my writing and my self/my life are very tightly woven together.

Bill: As time passed, I began basing more of my erotic writing on my imagination, often taking a direct experience and distorting it in various ways to fit the needs of a call for submission or just my own personal fancy. I don’t think I’ve ever written a fantasy and then tried to make it come true. Real life is way too wooly and unpredictable for that—at least, mine has been!

Are your favorite themes/kinks/fetishes to write about the same as your favorites in your own life?

Bill: The last piece I wrote was based on someone else’s experience, as they related it to me, and it was such a novel fetish (to me) that I just had to write it, even though I had no direct experience with the premise. That was a very easy piece to write, and it got accepted the first time I placed it.

Rachel: I try to save the really personal, intense fantasies and scenarios for my personal life, but they do spill out into the writing at times, and sometimes I’m not really sure if something is a character’s fantasy or my own. Some of my best work, like “Two Guys, A Girl and a Porno Movie,” which I describe as 85% true, and which was picked up by Best American Erotica 2004, has been based on my life.

Marilyn: Yes.

Rob: Well, it’s easier sometimes to inhabit the writing if you have experience with what you’re writing about; however, imagining is just loads of fun. Take bondage as an example, there are so many different ways to be into it. Some people like to be put into painful situations, some need to be comfortable, some want to be interacted with during their bondage, some yearn to be kidnapped and left immobilized in a shack on a mountaintop to contemplate philosophical questions for days without food, and some want to do all of these things to others. It never hurts to be aware of a whole range of approaches to any particular sexual practice. It can only make the writing richer.

Amie: Yes and no. I like to have public sex in real life and do write about it. I also like bondage. But I love to write about things I don’t really enjoy doing or don’t want to do. That’s part of what makes fiction so much fun. Likewise, while I really like my sex life, I don’t think that oral sex on the stairwell of my home three times during a Saturday when we are cleaning would make a great story. I think you need to pick and choose what parts of your life you mine for stories and what themes/fetishes you write about. I think it is important to vary your work, although anyone who is familiar with my work would easily see the themes of B/F, bondage and will forced sex as well as public sex coming out of my erotica.

Adam: To some degree, but I think I write about my turn ons and place it in another setting, but my kinks which can be as vanilla as licking and as extreme as bondage often end up in my stories because they interest me; they just get skewed in a fun way.

Ian: I think people have an odd expectation of their writers–that they live what they write all the time–I’ve been amazed at people’s reactions to my best friend Patrick Califia when they discover he’s a real person and doesn’t wear leather 24/7 and even likes to make crafts with fimo; we’re all more fascinating freaks in real life, but that seems to scare people off; they want their sex writers perpetually sexual.

How does your chosen career affect your love life?

Ian: Actually, the best result was seducing Greg via erotica. I’m very lucky. I’ve had no regrets yet.

Adam: The writing helped me connect with other erotic writers who wanted to live what they wrote, at least sometimes… so it helped me gain access to others who shared my thoughts. On a personal relationship level, I am married to a non-reader, I’d almost like to call him a Muggle, he’s an artist but dosen’t share my affection for the written word. He doesn’t appreciate being left out of the process, which is a very solitary act.

Amie: I don’t think it does. My partner is very supportive and understands that there is a public Amie and a private Amie and sometimes they merge but mostly they are separate. Even though I write memoir I keep my public and private life pretty separate. I tease Wendy, my partner, sometimes that such and such will end up in a story and sometimes it does, but she’s ok with that.

Rob: Writing erotica does make sexual situations full of story potential. There are times when I seek out experiences to increase my personal knowledge and the act of writing erotica must influence how I see my own desires developing. So far it has been more of a benefit than a problem.

Marilyn: It can be very, very stressful. As accepting as lovers want to be, most times, if they don’t also write erotica, they find my all-encompassing interest in the erotic to be a little too kinky for comfort.

Rachel: I’m sure in many ways it hasn’t helped it; having any random person you meet be able to Google you and then mistakenly think they “know” you because they know about some of the sex you’ve had is frustrating after a while. At the same time, I process things best through writing so I don’t regret it. I’ve met some amazing people, some of whom became lovers, via my writing.

Bill: Ha! If anything, it keeps me off the streets these days. In younger times, I could justify nearly any sexual experience as “research.” Eventually that grows old. Yet I am still living off some of those field notes, so clearly there was a point to it all. I’m just glad I took good notes, and managed to retain them this long.

What do you wish you’d known before you started down this path?

Bill: Wishing for things to be different is really quite boring. What’s the point?

Rachel: I certainly jumped in with both feet without really considering the practical implications of using my name with my work. Ultimately, it all worked out in my favor, but sometimes I’m envious of my pseudonymous peers (and occasionally join them—I have several pen names as well). Other than that, I think the process of trial and error when it comes to the erotica field, of learning by reading, writing, submitting, and networking, has been a healthy one.

Adam: Not to be afraid to let it all hang out, people appreciate honesty. I never expected to make any money from it, but I wish I knew the consequences of putting art over finances for the long haul. I’ve tried to juggle with a day job and a writing career, but living in New York you often have to make more and more just to stay in place. If only I’d known to write Harry Potter first, then I could have both.

Rob: Not a thing. It’s been quite a fascinating journey and continues to be.

Amie: Good question. Hmmm, I didn’t understand how little writing erotica paid. But I still do it despite that. I’ve learned so much about writing, the business, the market since I started I am not sure I can answer this question. I have a column called Two Girls Kissing at The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on writing tips for authors of lesbian literary erotica.

Marilyn: That it was going to be so joyful—I wouldn’t have hesitated.

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