On inviting authors to share their thoughts regarding writing ‘the erotic’, I couldn’t have imagined that so many would respond, nor that they would answer with such honestly. To find out more about them, click here.
This series of articles is the result, tackling our inspiration, our motivation and our intent, our use of fantasy, and our desire for authenticity. Why do we write in this genre, so maligned, so sneered at, so disregarded?
These issues deserve further discussion and analysis; they are a starting point for onward debate.
There’s no doubt that, as writers, we tackle more than ‘sex’ in our storytelling. We write conflicted emotions, shame, regret, obsession, and the compulsion that sits alongside desire. We write the complexity of the human condition.
Some authors emerge in creative fireworks, realizing almost instantly what they wish to achieve, and blazing their trail brightly, capturing startling nuances of the psyche.
However, in many cases, we begin by dipping our toe in the water, writing primarily to arouse, rather than stir intellectual or emotional debate. It’s a good place to start too.
Sometimes, the revelatory urge to write in this way can come as a huge surprise to the author, as if characters have turned wayward, leading us down a path hitherto hidden.
Commending our thoughts to paper is wholeheartedly liberating. We emerge braver, and that’s a wonderful thing.
As the seed matures, we begin to see layers beneath layers. We seek out the deeper psychology of our characters, and more intricate reflections of our own passions.
Perhaps, more than any other, writing ‘the erotic’ lends itself to this exploration.
While the majority of surveyed authors began writing fiction with erotic elements well into adulthood (in their 30s and 40s, with some even finding their inspiration much later, in their 60s and 70s) a significant portion mention first writing in this way as teenagers. A handful recall having written ‘excitingly’ at an even younger age, being unaware fully of what they were exploring, but realising, on reflection, that they were expressing first awareness of sexuality.
Patrick Califia tells us, “I started looking for sex in fiction and non-fiction as soon as I could read! I was hungry for acknowledgment of what went on behind closed bedroom doors.”
Cecilia Tan adds, “I have some notebooks from when I was 11 or 12 years old, but there were some earlier diary entries (that I destroyed) probably going back as early as 7 years old. It began as a private exploration of my own interior mental life and became the drive to express myself creatively and as an activist, trying to create a world more cognizant and tolerant of my sexuality (which is to say bisexual and BDSM-based).”
A voracious reader from a young age, Adrea Kore recalls finding a steamy paperback at the age of just five or six. She remembers, “I felt guilty as hell, but I scoured those pages looking for the ‘rude’ scenes – and let me tell you, I was well rewarded in that book! I remember being both fascinated and horrified. I knew what a penis was, but it was for peeing, so the fact that women were described putting one (well, several) in their mouths was pretty shocking for me.” (more here)
Catherine Mazur relates a similar experience, saying, “I’ve had an intense, almost academic, interest in sex since childhood. I find everything about it fascinating, from the scientific and anatomical/physiological aspects, to its influence on culture and language. I recall wanting to know everything about it (and continue to feel that way).”
Janine Ashbless echoes this, mentioning telling herself stories from adolescence, which she later recognized as being ‘paranormal erotica’. She notes, “It just needed me to discover the genre and realize there was an outlet!”
Shanna Germain recalls writing fiction using erotic elements from the age of about 16, although without full understanding of either fiction or the erotic. “I was definitely trying to figure those things out,” she asserts.
Tilly Andrews remembers crying on reading of the death of Ginger in ‘Black Beauty’, and realising that writing ‘could have a physical effect on a person’. She adds, “A few years later, I stumbled on my brother’s ‘girlie’ magazines and I read some of the stories; of course they also had a physical effect on me. That is when I realised the power of erotica.”
LN Bey comments, “I’ve been kinky since before I knew what sex was—BDSM chose me. I finally decided to apply what writing skills I have to the creation and study of it.”
Adrea Kore remembers being in her mid-twenties, studying feminism and theatre, and dating a poet, when she discovered Adrienne Rich’s poetry. “There was a line: ‘in my rose-wet cave’. It entranced me, I associated the image with being underwater, yet it was also botanical. Fragrant and secret. Hidden away, deep-hued and moist. This evocative image for the female genitalia set off something subtle but profound in me.” She began to seek out women’s writing that was ‘re-writing the experience of feminine desire and describing the desiring female body’, and began exploring those ways of writing herself in her journals.
Adrea tells us, “What I most felt drawn to reading was the feminine experience of the world, and stories of growth, transformation or dislocation, felt through and mediated by the body. These were the things that I began to write about: Love and longing. Loss. Translating the physical arts I most loved into words: my experiences of dancing and life-modelling. Then, more arduously, carving out narratives of sexual trauma. Death. Then, the sensual pleasures. Sex. Light, dark, light, dark. Always this dance, and writing has helped me embrace the totality in the supposed contradictions.”
Donna George Storey notes, “I wanted to read about real experiences. So I figured I had to write them! I wanted to tell my truth about the female sexual experience. I know there are many truths. I felt that literary fiction always focused on the negatives: adultery, frigidity and social censure. Good girls were not allowed to write about pleasurable sex; they and their characters couldn’t enjoy it without some negative consequence. Male writers never got our experience right, in my opinion. The first sex scene I remember reading was that between Sonny and Lucy in Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather’. Even in my [limited] experience, I knew it was not how women got off in real life.
Similarly, Devi Ansevi recalls wanting to portray an authentic woman’s perspective. She underlines,“Most of the stuff I found when I first started writing fell into two extremes: written from the male perspective – too short, too mechanical, too much like Playboy porn, too unlike how I experienced pleasure; or written from the female perspective – hyper-romantic metaphorical descriptions of making tender love after both parties have declared undying adoration. I wanted hot, detailed, messy sex from a woman’s perspective.”
In the same way, Jonathan Kemp tells us,“The impulse to write about sex was twofold. It came from reading others and seeing what they did with it. People like Edmund White, Genet, Neil Bartlett, Oscar Moore, Kathy Acker and Alina Reyes. But it also came from a desire to write about my own sexual experiences and describe the subculture of gay cruising in London: to celebrate promiscuity, hopefully push boundaries (creative or otherwise), and give voice to the voiceless, in the case of my first novel, ‘London Triptych’.”
Around a third of the authors taking part in this survey state that they wrote first in other fiction genres but found themselves drawn towards exploring protagonists from a sexual angle, which inspired a new writing persona. Most compartmentalise their genres for commercial reasons, using alternative pen names for other writing.
KD Grace explains,“I’ve always had an open bedroom door policy with my fiction, no matter what I was writing. Sex is as much a part of our lives as eating, sleeping, and interacting with other people, so why shouldn’t it be part of our fiction as well. I first brought erotic elements to the forefront when I wrote a little piece for the now defunct UK women’s mag, ‘Scarlet’, which had a section called ‘Cliterature’. That was the first time I was published.
Susan St. Aubin recalls, “As a student of creative writing at San Francisco State University in the 1970s, I wrote the usual stories about sex and human relationships, which begin with a couple meeting, going to the apartment of one or the other, going to bed . . . and then the next morning. One day I saw an ad asking for erotic stories for a journal called ‘Yellow Silk’. I had one of those flashes of inspiration, a realization that I’d been writing erotic stories all along, and all I needed to do was fill in what happened during those three dots . . . In 1984, my first erotic story was published in ‘Yellow Silk’; it won first prize, worth $25, which was more money than I’d ever made from writing.”
Sue Lyndon tells us, “I’d been reading ‘naughty’ books for years, but didn’t consider writing one until about a year after I’d been writing mainstream sci-fi and fantasy. One day, my heroine misbehaved, and the hero was upset with her, so I thought, “You know what, she really needs a spanking!” From there, the book became a spanky smutfest; I was hooked!”
A great many authors report feeling a sudden, almost revelatory, compulsion to dissect their characters in a new way, taking them into the realm of the erotic.
Kay Jaybee asserts that the impulse came very much as a surprise, saying, “It came from nowhere, with no warning. One minute I was eating a Mars Bar cake, the next I was writing a cross-dressing story on a napkin.”
Victoria Blisse tells us, “I had a dream (this is my lesser known ‘I had a dream’ speech) it was an erotic dream and it wouldn’t leave me alone. I told my husband and he wisely suggested that I write it down. He read it, liked it and said it was good enough to show others. So I popped it onto literotica.com and, having receiving positive feedback, I continued. I might never have started without my husband’s encouragement.”
Tabitha Rayne notes that, as soon as she began writing erotic elements into her fiction, ‘It felt like discovering a new colour‘. “I couldn’t stop expressing myself in the erotic. It was like opening a door to myself,” she asserts.
Almost a third of the writers surveyed mention sharing early attempts with their bed partners, writing to arouse. Many continue to do so after decades of writing, finding their lovers to be reliable critics.
Raziel Moore notes that his writing began as correspondence with a lover, then grew into exploring more deeply, probing into how people tackle their monsters.
Will Crimson jokes, “The most important question any male erotic writer should be asked? Have you ever used your erotic writing superpowers to seduce women?” His answer is, “Yes. Shamelessly. (Well, maybe a little shame.) My first piece of erotic writing opened the hearts (and more importantly the legs) of several women. This was before I was married and before I fully understood or appreciated the extent of my XXX powers. You know, with great power comes great responsibility… Truth be told, I write all my erotica for women.”
Some authors identify their yearning to write the erotic with a particular life event. Meg Amor experienced her revelation on hitting fifty. She emphasizes, “I realized that I wanted to ‘rebel’. I wasn’t ready to hang up my sexual slippers and sink into plain cotton underwear and sensible shoes; that impulse became a compulsion.”
Patient Lee wrote her first story while pregnant with her third child, explaining, “My libido was going haywire!”
For Ashe Barker, the idea of writing erotic fiction grew as a slow burn. She recalls, “I used to commute a lot. I spent more hours than I care to remember in motorway traffic jams, and would run erotic fantasies through my head. I had favourites I would ‘replay’ again and again, and of course new ones would pop up. Over the years I plotted lots and lots of snippets and scenes. I had quite a vivid collection by the time I started to write any of them down. In the last three years or so, many of my motorway fantasies have been developed and placed in my stories.”
Seeking the Echo of our Desire
Siri Ousdahl admits that her writing was borne of dissatisfaction with available fiction, “I’ve been very sexually active; kink was part of my life even before I was sexually aware: stained into my bones. I wrote the book I did in part because I was sick of the fact that the most common (and most commonly accepted) narrative about women and BDSM was predicated on innocence: she doesn’t know anything and someone more experienced leads/corrupts/tempts her into it. To me it felt insulting, and it had little to do with who I am. I really enjoyed writing ‘Constraint’, creating a complicated emotional arc for my characters. I’d now like to unspool more of their psychological tangle, following them through the consequences of their actions.”
Patrick Califia explains that he too was inspired to try his hand at writing because he wasn’t finding what he wanted. He tells us, “There was so little same-sex erotica, and almost none that featured sadomasochism. I wanted fiction set in the time that I lived in, with characters facing dilemmas about sex that I too pondered late at night.”
Sessha Batto tells us, “My motivation is to write the books I want to read that no one else is tackling. It’s hard to find anything that captures my interest, that isn’t the same old tired plot in a new wrapper. The only way to get around it is to tell my own stories.”
We each tell our own stories, our own truths: the truths that creep upon us until we cannot help but speak them.
Read on, to discover what keeps authors writing: their lasting inspiration, their motivation, their intent, their dark dreams and white-hot flashes of transcendence.
- 130 Authors: let me introduce you
- Why Write Erotic Fiction?
- Fantasy and Realism in Erotic Fiction
- Lines in the Sand: transgression and censorship
- Hidden Identities: writers of erotic fiction
- What the Future Holds: 21st century erotic fiction
- Men Writing the Erotic
- Men Reading the Erotic
- Publishing’s Dirty Secret
- Authors’ Recommended Reads
- Women Writing the Erotic
- Writing Craft
My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.
Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou, Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea Kore, Kristina Lloyd, Jonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George Storey, Kathe Koja, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha Black, Cari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. Bey, Zander Vane, Tamsin Flowers, Krissy Kneen, Zak Jane Kier, Jade A Waters, Ashley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya Rawlyns, Terrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose Caraway, Allen Dusk, Tabitha Rayne, Marc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi Ansevi, Nicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina Morata, Finn Marlowe, Elsa Holland, Elizabeth Schechter, Aleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis Alvarez, R.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily Harlem, Thomas Roche, Madeline Moore, Ria Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Wade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane Gilbert, Jim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee Savino, C.P. McClennan, Elizabeth Black, C.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette Hugo, Frank Noir, Amelia Smarts, Nobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra Shaw, Ardent Rose, Sylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Charlie Bee, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Jay Willowbay, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young, Vinnie Tesla, Emma Jaye, Dennis Cardiff, Dee Maselle, Frank Lee, Christina Mandara, Big Ed Magussun, Sue Lyndon, T.J. Vermillion, Delores Swallows, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Jaye Peaches, Stormchase, Rebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Molly Synthia, David Flint, Justine Elyot, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.