This week I enjoyed a good interrogation with writers at Desdemona's Fish Tank, an erotic author's discussion group. (You have to register/login to access link).
Desdemona is part of Ruthies Club, an illustrated erotic story site, where I have found some remarkable talent, on the side of both pen and paint. The Ruthies' editors take stories they want to publish and match them up with artists who they think will have a good feel to illustrate the story.
Here's some excerpts from the interview...
D: What are the main differences you have found between stories by professional writers of erotica and stories by gifted amateurs?
S: Consistency. That, and the ability to perform on demand. But many a gifted amateur will learn those things quickly given the opportunity!
Do you think adult erotic fiction should make an effort to be sexually stimulating to readers?
If that question is as mechanical as I think, the answer is no. Erotica must be compelling, yes. But it’s not a dildo, it’s a work of art. Who knows what makes people beat off? If the author writes in that fashion, they’ll write in clichés.
How far outside the traditional short story form do you like to see writers go?
Everywhere. Please transgress my boundaries.
How do you feel about reality vs. the happy ending?
Oh, I like them both. —Wouldn’t want to be pushed into either corner.
Where do you think the genre is heading in the next couple of years?
Wherever taboo and anxiety dwells, that’s where literary fiction and erotica is magnetized to.
You are best known for being the champion of American erotica.
But I've snuck in so many Canadians! —Australians, too, and anyone who’s published in the English language. Believe me, I’m no nationalist.
What do you think differentiates American erotica from the rest of the world? Are there typical American themes? What would you like to see more of?
Our politics, our ongoing puritanical nightmare. But also our American sense of individuality, rebelliousness, and confrontation.
Do you choose stories you think people will masturbate to?
Some people will masturbate to the Jello Pudding commercial. Okay, maybe I have.
Masturbation, and orgasm fantasy is so unique, it’s so based on people’s life history and memories. So I can’t guarantee that experience for anyone, we're not producing appliances.
But if you mean, "am I impressed with stories that are arousing?"— do I realize they're capable of arousing others— yes, of course. I look for stories that have emotional impact, and part of that impact has to be the sexual heart of it.
There isn’t some gadget that that measures hard-on material. It’s like being any other kind of art collector/editor ... you gather wisdom, intuition, and a “feel” for things through a lifetime of exposure, and you bring it all to bear on your view of a new story.
How do you decide if a story has enough erotic content?
i’I've struggled sometimes with that, especially if i love the story "as a story," but it’s light on sexual content. Still, a little can go a long way in the right context!
For example, in the next BAE, I use an excerpt from Jessica Cutler's The Washingtonienne, about being an “intern” in Washington DC and fucking her way through the corridors of power. The language and description are not daringly explicit ... but the whole situation is outrageous, and she was so deft with the comedy of it all, that it stuck in my head. She created an erotic, if comical, picture that stays with you.
I see you as a kind of crusader for sexual openness and freedom. If this is true, how does that affect the way you pick stories for your anthologies?
Just in the obvious way... I’m not going to be shocked by anything erotic, or run screaming from the room. I appreciate and am delighted by all kinds of sexual expression, not just my own little turn-ons.
Your Best American anthologies always seem to have a broad range of stories. Do you use some kind of quota system, or does it just fall out that way naturally?
I do look for variety, a sense of this place in erotic time. Some years, for example, lots of writers might be on a vampire kick, but I won’t publish five vampire stories in one BAE... I just try to pick the one that is emblematic. In that sense, it’s not a sociological survey. But I don't have a strict quota for anything.
Does editing anthologies take time away from your own writing?
How do you find a balance?
I don’t. HELP ME!
How much time do you spend promoting your books?
Endless, more than ever. Reading books for pleasure has become an esoteric activity. "Dead tree" artists are hanging on by their fingernails.