There’s a lot of satisfaction at completing that last page of a manuscript. Before revisions and second-guessing, outside perspectives, critiques and more self-doubt, there’s excitement. And fear. Lots and lots of fear. I’ve got it in my belly right now—not butterflies. More like angry little guys fighting in there. Churning things up and making my life more exciting, in a virtual way, than it is in reality.
This manuscript, tentatively titled Thirst, is short at about 62,000 words. It’s short and I think it’s choppy, although I haven’t gone back to read it yet. It’s short and it’s choppy and I started it over two years ago—before my daughter was born. This book is the result of more than two years of writing and bringing up children and working the day job and writing the other book in between. Coffees and scotches and moving houses and having babies. Jesus, it’s a wonder I managed to follow the thread at all.
When I wrote those initial few pages, I was sure that this book was a kinky sort of futuristic looking into power relationships. Oh, how wrong I was. It’s not about that and, frankly, it was clearly never meant to be.
This book, which takes place in a thirsty, post-apocalyptic future, takes a different look at love. Not to mention courage and trust and knowing yourself, truly knowing your strengths enough to know how to use them in order to survive. It’s weird how I start these things, these multi-year, word-based relationships, with a very specific view of what I’m writing about. And then it’s thrown on its head.
Well, it’s nowhere near being finished, so I’ve got work to do. I’ll export this as an e-book and read it. I’ll let it surprise me, since I probably won’t recognize two-thirds of the words as my own. Funny how my own words surprise me, each and every time.
It’s a long and sordid story.
First, I’m going to just put something out there, once and for all: I am obsessed with sex. Isn’t everyone, on some level? There’s a reason that sex sells. It’s exciting, voyeuristic, depraved. It’s intertwined with love, power, hate. It feels good and looks strange and everybody does it differently. We need it to survive, as a race and, whether we consciously think about it or not, it’s a part of us, inevitably linked to our growth, maturity and, I will venture to say from personal experience, childhood.
My story is also about reading and writing and how they have made me more me. Those who know me well are aware that reading has always been my distraction of choice—my parents can attest to the mountain of illicit library books collecting dust under my bed for years, not to mention the overdue fines I stuck them with upon my departure to college. Books have shaped me, from earliest childhood through today, and writing them even more so. I’ll never forget the day my father decided it was time for me to stop reading pocket romances and start reading more mature books. He took me to the mall and bought me The Catcher in the Rye, along with a book called Maia by Richard Adams. I suppose he thought that the Watership Down author was a safe, innocuous bet. If only he had read this review, he would have known that it's actually an "erotic epic."
What I discovered, as I quickly consumed that thousand page fantasy tome (which is, sadly, no longer in print), was a world of intrigue, violence and [drumroll] sex. My poor father, who had absolutely no idea of the monster he’d created with that one innocent purchase, was thrilled. He had succeeded: I was hooked on reading. I remain today an avid reader and, while over the years my tastes have certainly evolved, I am the type of person who would prefer to read something—anything—than nothing at all.
So, I’ve read a lot of books in a lot of genres and would never limit myself to only romance or erotica. In fact, authors like JRR Tolkien and PG Wodehouse are some of my favorites, because despite everything I just told you, there’s more to life than sex. But halfway through a favorite mystery or thriller—a Martha Grimes or a Robert Parker—a love interest will come along and my pulse will pick up and I’ll feel it—that thrill. Because, in the end, what turns my crank, more than finding the murderer or getting that ring or avoiding Aunt Agatha is when people fall in love. That stupid, trite, happily-ever-after.
That answers half the question—the why romance part. Erotica, though, is more personal, older history. It’s half-memories of neighborhood kids playing doctor and the weird feelings that came with those games. There’s a French film from the 1960s, based on a novel, Angelique, Marquise des Anges, about a woman who goes through a multitude of mid-17th century trials and tribulations. There’s a scene in this film where poor Angelique, who has already survived a forced marriage, amongst other things, is being paraded on the auction block, in front of an audience of lecherous men. I was just a kid when I first watched it. I had no understanding of why, but the feelings… oh the feelings were there. To this day, I remember the titillation, the excitement engendered by that particular scene.
That is the excitement that I seek to capture through my writing. It’s an exploration of things that I’ll never live through and don’t particularly need to. What happens when you bring together these two people, in this situation and throw in a little dash of chemistry? Writing erotica lets my brain answer those questions and experience those fantasies without the commitment of real life. It’s therapy.
Erotica is, by its very nature, hot. It makes you horny; or at least it should. There’s a notion that it’s filthy, dirty smut. Well, yes. But, unlike pornographic films, where every last hair (or lack thereof) is displayed in vivid Technicolor detail, the written word spells out the basic framework and the reader’s mind fills in the blanks.
There’s a scene in the series Breaking Bad, involving a bathtub, a corpse and acid. I stuck with the show until that moment, but I just couldn’t force myself to sit through such graphic violence as that scene promised. For those of you out there who don’t, or can’t, watch porn, books may just be the way forward. I can read about violence—my brain helpfully provides only those details that it can handle—and I recommend reading about sex the same way.
A final thought on ‘Mommy Porn’: Contrary to popular belief, erotica isn’t just for frustrated moms who aren’t getting any at home. It’s for anyone who recognizes that sex is actually the good part. Like holding hands and secret smiles, physical intimacy is a highlight of a relationship, the best part of the rocky road we negotiate along the way. It’s the chocolate chips and the marshmallows and the cream in the middle. So, if I’m going to write about love, well, I’m going to make it sexy, because I'm a big fan of that cream in the middle.
I am excited to say that my manuscript, Blank Canvas, finaled in a second contest, the Utah Romance Writers' Heart of the West Contest.
Crossing fingers for the final results in October!