You’ve heard of people who find their calling late in life, like the 92-year-old woman who discovered a gift for painting portraits, or the great-grandpa who took up the banjo on his 80th birthday. I didn’t have to wait quite that long. I realized my special talent just shy of my fiftieth birthday. I write erotica. And I write it pretty darn well.
The revelation came after I read Fifty Shades of Grey — inhaled may be more accurate. The writing is bulky, the dialogue affected, and the characters are cartoon versions vaguely resembling real humans. So I guess it must have been the sex. The books were my first foray into reading erotica.
As a professional advertising and blog writer, I thought what I presume ninety percent of other readers thought: I could have written this, and written it better. But with my communications background, I figured I actually might be able to.
Not long after that, I found an anthology of the best short erotic stories of the year. I read a few. They didn’t hold my interest much. The last one was a story about a young woman whose neighbor was an avid gardener. The man was so gorgeous he sounded like, well, like Christian Grey. One late evening the heroine ends up in his vegetable patch, thinking of him and having a romantic interlude with a spaghetti squash. I kid you not. The story ends when the man invites her over for minestrone soup. I didn’t finish the book.
Writing erotica (I should say writing good erotica) needs to be more than insert part A into part B (or insert vegetable A into part B.) Otherwise, you might as well be writing Ikea instructions.
I believe the key is the setup. It’s a delicate balance between sharing enough about your characters and their backstories to make the encounters enticing, but not giving away so much detail the reader’s reminded of someone they went to junior high with. Once you get the set up figured out, writing a book is still like working on a 1000-piece puzzle; the tough kind. The sunset over the ocean with the colors reflecting back into the water, kind. But when you hit on that blend of character and motivation, and line it up with the plot, it’s as satisfying as snapping the final pink-hued sunstreaked puzzle piece into place.
I began with the first sex scene. Once I felt that worked, I branched out to an aerial view, to let the reader understand why the main character’s sexual affair was so intricate to her being.
After two years of writing (I said I write erotica well, not fast,) I let a co-worker read an early draft.
He was outside my target market — a man in his late twenties. But he’s writing a screenplay in his spare time and we’ve often discussed creativity and craft. When he finished he told me the erotic parts worked. “I mean really worked.”
Hearing him react so viscerally as a reader was like the thrilling rush of racing down the first big drop on a roller coaster, which then screeched to a stop when he asked something alluding to how did I know how to write that? I guess even though he knows my three sons personally he didn’t quite realize I’ve had sex before.
There is a period in our society when it is acceptable to be a sexual creature.
It’s a small window beginning sometime in college and ending when you become a parent, or if you remain childless, early thirties, let’s say. And that’s the rub — the erotica-writer’s rub. I’ve found my calling, and even luckier for me, there’s a market for it (after all, it could have turned out my gift was playing the accordion), but it’s a tough gift to share with family and friends. My kids are definitely not interested in having their friends discuss their mother’s dirty book. And I worry about my beta reader’s insinuation that as a Mom to three grown sons I’m not supposed to be writing this stuff.
The lines between my real life and my author’s life are already blurring. As I worked to find a publisher I entered Twitter contests. You get 140 characters, including the contest hashtag, to pitch your opus. One day I got a text from my 19-year-old son. His friend had told him, “Your Mom’s Twitter was hacked.” He had to explain I was the author of those racy tweets. My older son’s roommates were even more intrigued. They followed me on social media, then offered themselves as beta readers.
Now, I’m working to reconcile honoring my kids’ wish for privacy and my publisher’s wish for publicity. I write under a pen name and I’m not hawking the book at the high school PTA meetings. But I think it’s inevitable my authorship will be discovered. I guess when that happens I’ll just have to remind my family it could have been worse: I could be uploading YouTubes of myself playing the accordion.
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