Writing quality erotica can be very tricky. As both an accomplished editor and author what do you seek out from your work that separates it from other erotica being published?
Rachel Kramer Bussel is a New York-based author, editor, blogger and reading series host. She is Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations, wrote the Lusty Lady column for The Village Voice, and hosts the monthly In The Flesh Reading Series, where she's booked everyone from Susie Bright to Zane. She has written for Cosmopolitan, The Daily Beast, TheFrisky.com, Gothamist, Mediabistro, Newsday, New York Post, Penthouse, Playgirl, Time Out New York, and other publications. Her writing has been published in over 100 anthologies, including Best American Erotica 2004 and 2006, the Best Women's Erotica Series, Zane's Succulent: Chocolate Flava II and Purple Panties, and others. She wrote her first erotica story, "Monica and Me," about Monica Lewinsky, in 1999 and has been writing smut, first-person essays and journalism about sex and relationships, pop culture, and books ever since. Rachel has a fondness for spanking, rough sex, hotels and general naughtiness...when she can tear herself away from her computer and iPhone. She also has a unbridled passion for cupcakes which she blogs about frequently at her popular group blog Cupcakes Take the Cake.
Hi Rachel - we have been long time admirers of your work, and you've been a great inspiration for ours. How did you get into this smutty business and why?Sorry for the delay, had some technical difficulties (aka, I lack Internet skills!) but now have figured this out. Will answer the rest tonight, I promise. And THANK YOU to Eden Fantasys and everyone who’s posted for your awesome questions.
I started getting really into reading erotica when I was in law school. I started in 1996, and had read some of Susie Bright’s Herotica and Best American Erotica anthologies before that but got more into it during that time. I saw a call for stories for a book called Starf*cker edited by Shar Rednour, who had a zine by the same name and had edited the books Virgin Territory and Virgin Territory 2, both of which I highly recommend. Anyway, at the time I was obsessed with Monica Lewinsky and asked if anyone had covered her yet. No one had, I went on to write “Monica and Me” and it got published in Starf*cker and Best Lesbian Erotica 2001.
With that success under my belt, I started writing a few more stories, maybe one every few months. Those first stories were mostly true (NOT the Monica one though!) and then later I started to branch out to write purely fictional erotica stories. And truly every other gig I’ve ever gotten has pretty much branched out from that first publication in some way.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Isn't it amazing how when you are on the right path, it seems that every step leads the next in a beautiful domino effect? Thanks for sharing Rachel!"
Who gave you that spanking in that sexy photo?That photo was taken by my friend Stacie Joy (http://www.flickr.com/photos/editrixie), who photographed the entire 2009 NYC Sex Blogger Calendar (http://www.sexbloggercalendar.com). I wasn't sure what I was going to do for my photo but since I'm into spanking, I thought I'd highlight that. I got up on the bar and Stacie asked who wanted to spank me. I couldn'tt see that well but I kn ow several hands went up. The very sexy Sinclair Sexsmith (http://www.sugarbutch.net - sorry, gonna just do my links like that for now lest I add them incorrectly) was chosen and gave me a very hard spanking in one shot. I loved the idea of highlighting the handprint.
For the 2010 calendar, I posed topless with my friend Desiree for photographer Circe and apparently my boobs and another set of them got our calendar booted from one of the printers! Crazy. Read more about that stupid incident at http://www.sexbloggercalendar.com/2009/09/04/inappropriate-content/
And come to our sex blogger calendar party if you're in NYC, it's November 6th, 6:30-9:30, Fontana's, 105 Eldridge Street, NYC, Free!
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Sinclair Sexsmith must be an expert spanker! That handprint is from one shot? Impressive. :)"
When writing a sex scene, do you find it difficult to keep the descriptions fresh and not descend into cliche or triteness?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "And what are the most annoying cliche's you encounter as an editor?"Sometimes it's challenging, especially after writing dozens of stories by now, but I try to find a way into whatever story or topic I'm writing about that makes it fresh. I use all sorts of media, from ads to websites to magazines to celebrities and sometimes will just hit on an idea that works as a way into the story. One of the exercises I do in my Erotica 101 workshops is to have everyone write for 5 minutes about chair sex. Sex in a chair, on a chair, with a chair, etc. It seems like a kindof boring item, a chair, but once you think about the possibilities, you realize there are so many.
I think it's about finding different types of characters and ways to liven things up. I sometimes write from a male POV or try to choose situations very different from my own life so as not to tell the same story again and again. Certain subjects, like bisexuality, creep into a lot of my stories though. I have a story coming out in Best Gay Erotica 2010 and it's about a man who's divorced from a woman and has his first same-sex sexual experience.
I find that it's not the sex scenes themselves that are usually problematic, but getting to them, figuring out what's going on before and after them, that's challenging.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "That chair exercise is an excellent idea - for writers and for sex aficionados alike! Don't wait until you're trying to write an erotic story before working your way around a chair with your partner (or by yourself)!"
In relation to the "Who gave you that spanking in that sexy photo?" question: I would like to know if you are aware of how awesome this picture is? Thank You!
Jordan & Samantha (host): "We agree! That is ONE SEXY PHOTO Ms. Thang!"Thank you! I love that photo, because spanking does make me happy. I've never done a real photo shoot after playing with anyone but I have fantasized about that because...well, I bruise pretty easily. Maybe someday. Glad you like it.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Hey everyone! We've all been wondering who took that hot pic of Rachel and her spanking. The photo is by Stacie Joy."
As a fellow writer, could you share your first experiences in getting published and how you found outlets in which to write?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Along those same lines, how long did it take you to go from dabbling with writing and being a pro published author?"I have always written. I used to write letters to the editor back in junior high and high school, and had many published in The New York Times, and random magazines like Vogue. Then I wrote for my college newspaper a little (The Daily Californian) and dipped my toe into freelance writing. I wrote a lot online and for free and started to pay attention to places that listed calls for writers, such as Tristan Taormino's Double T newsletter (which I then went on to edit for a while, and which is where I saw the call for Starf*cker, where I published my first erotica story).
I'm a member of Mediabistro and use their How to Pitch articles, and also ask friends who've written for certain publications if they can give a contact, though I think the person has to be a really good friend for you to ask them for this kind of referral. For erotica, the very best place to get information about calls for submission is Erotica Readers & Writers Association (http://www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/G/Call_For_Submissions.htm). I've been using their site for over a decade and it's excellent.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "We would agree. ERWA rocks! Comprehensive and reliable source for writers. You can also find calls at Duotrope's Digest (http://www.duotrope.com/)"
Do you find it more satisfying to write for a magazine, book, or online audience? What are the pros and cons of each from your perspective?Great question, Amelia. They all have their pluses and...not really minuses, just differences. I'll go in the order you presented them.
I love magazines. I'm a huge magazine junkie and subscribe to many and always browse them at bookstores. Plus I work at a magazine (Penthouse Variations and am also a contributing editor to Penthouse). I think there's something very exciting about passing a newsstand and knowing your work is in that publication. The downside I'd say is that your piece, unless it's also published online, is only around for a limited time so if people don't see it, they won't really have another chance.
I remember standing in a Barnes & Noble in Chelsea that no longer exists with tears in my eyes holding a copy of a book with my very first story in it. I was so excited. There is something thrilling to me about seeing my name on a book cover, about knowing that I created this product from scratch. Not all by myself, obviously, but that I conceived of the idea and made it happen. That it's an actual object people can put on their bookshelves or nightstands (or if you're me, on the floor). I think people hang on to books longer than they do magazines and read them perhaps a bit more closely. So in many ways, nothing can really compare. I am glad that my books are available on Kindle but think I will always be an old school book reader. I love the touch and feel of books, the design, the whole package, so having stories published in books is a huge honor and with an anthology, you get to be part of something bigger than yourself. I've discovered some amazing writers, such as Donna George Storey, by reading other people's anthologies, which is one of the major positives of the erotica world in my opinion, that anthologies offer 20 or so stories and the chance to discover so many new authors. Payment wise, you aren't really going to make a lot by having a story in an erotica anthology; nonfiction for print or online sources pays better, but that's part of why I like doing some of each of these.
I've written the most for online sources, and what I like best about them is that I can distribute the link to my writing very quickly to large numbers of people, and I'm not having to harangue anyone to buy anything. It requires very little effort to simply click through and read something. Plus there is more immediate feedback. I wrote a piece earlier this year for TheFrisky.com and by the next day there were over 30 comments. You don't get that kind of dialogue or validation from most other sources, at least, my pieces don't. Plus because things move faster online, you can be more timely.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Excellent response Rachel! There is something magical about books isn't there though? I hope they never fully go out of fashion. A Kindle just can't compare...the pages, the scent...everything you said here. :)"
What's your favorite flavor of cupcake? And how do you feel about the bacon cupcake craze?My favorite cupcake flavor...that's a tough one. I once would have said peanut butter/chocolate, but now I think it may be s'mores. But then I had a salt cupcake at The Bleeding Heart Bakery in Chicago and loved that too. So I can't really pick one favorite, I like too many. I'm also a fan of peppermint, coconut and vanilla. Sorry, I have totally not answered your favorites question.
I'm a bacon cupcake fan, but I think the bacon needs to be used sparingly. Little bits of it go a long way. Bacon/peanut butter/banana is pretty awesome.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Yum. Can you ship a dozen out to Denver?"
How difficult is it to convince people to read erotica in public at In the Flesh? Do people seem more or less nervous than at more typical literature readings?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Describe one of your most memorable In the Flesh experiences... !"What's always funny to me is that even very accomplished authors who you wouldn't think would be nervous, get nervous. I get nervous, very much so, but I think my audience is a very open and forgiving one. They don't care if you're a "perfect" reader so much as that you're sharing something authentic. They relate to that, whether it's fiction or a true story. I love doing In The Flesh because you get to hear these stories come to life in a way that even the hottest ones can't do on the page. It's very exciting to hear people read their own work and learn more about them and the tone of the story by hearing it out loud.
I don't know of people are more nervous or not; I've had lots of first-time readers and even do a Virgin Night each year for new authors and first-time readers and I think they can all bond over the fact that they've never done it before. I think if people have been to In The Flesh and know that I ply them with free candy and cupcakes and chips and a general atmosphere of fun, they are less nervous! At least, I hope so. It's really meant to just be a fun, sexy evening of entertainment and I think it lives up to that. We have Quickies this Friday, October 2nd, from 7:30-8:30, a little experiment in very short (6 minutes) erotica that's been going well, and then Sex and Comedy Night with a hilarious lineup on October 15th and a blowout night of sex toy giveaways and sex blogger calendars and spanking stories and much more for the 4 year anniversary November 19th. I kindof can't believe it's been 4 years.
The bar where I host the series, Happy Ending Lounge (http://www.happyendinglounge.com), has been incredible to me. I can't think of a more fitting place for an erotic reading series than a former massage parlor, and it's cozy and intimate in there, with the red velvet along the banquettes and hot bartenders and just overall atmosphere. I hope that setting, as opposed to an imposing stage and separation from the audience, also makes it a little friendlier for authors. But back to your question - I find that once people start reading and see the warm reception they're getting, they get over any nervousness they may have had and get into it. And to those who've never been, you can watch videos from past In the flesh readings on my YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/rachelkramerbussel - there's some great stuff there, I especially recommend Samara O'Shea, Jonathan Ames, and Susie Bright.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "We really hope to attend one of these events someday soon!"
Which do you enjoy writing more - nonfiction or fiction? Which do you prefer anthologizing?My first love will probably always be nonfiction - my former Village Voice column was a dream job because I got to mix first-person accounts with journalism. I think I'm stronger as a nonfiction writer and it tends to be what I gravitate toward as a reader. But I like the fact that I get to do both; there are sometimes very personal stories I want to tell that I wouldn't quite know how to tell as nonfiction. With erotica and sex writing especially, sometimes the more tactful, or more honest, way to write is actually via fiction. You have this freedom and room to explore topics and language that because you aren't tied down to the strictures of nonfiction.
So it's hard to say. I think I'd be lost if I didn't write a little of each. I love editing the Best Sex Writing series and would someday love to edit an anthology of essays, not necessarily sexual. Putting together that series is a huge task because Itry to balance topics and timeliness and find well-know and more underground writers and articles. With he erotica anthologies, I'm more relying on what gets sent to me, which can be wonderful but also frustrating at times if I'm hoping someone writes about topic X and then nobody does. It's a matter of being open to what comes in and also sometimes leaning on people to get their stories in when you know then have it in them. So, short answer, I can't really pick just one, but I like them in diferent ways.
Where do you get your inspiration to write from? How hard is it to keep coming up with new material that is of high enough quality to get published?I get inspiration anywhere and everywhere. It could be walking around or looking at magazines or overhearing something or a friend or lover or celebrity. Sometimes a title comes to me or a word and I try to work around that. It really depends; some stories just flow immediately and some take a lot of time and staring at my computer and stressing out and going on to something else. I think the more I write erotica, the more challenging it is to come up with new stories, but that makes me extra proud when I do. I have a story coming out in Best Gay Erotica 2010 this year, my first time in the series, and I'm excited because to me writing gay male erotica is a way for me to push myself to not just write about the same things over and over. I try to switch around things like age or gender or setting or sexual orientation to take myself out of my comfort zone and hopefully find something inspiring in the newness when I'm feeling stuck. It doesn't always work, but it usually gets me writing.
I know that authors, sometimes unintentionally, often put a lot of themselves into their fiction-what of yourself do you think ends up in your erotica?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Have any of your past/present lovers recognized themselves in your work? Or do you usually keep your lovers out of it?"My earliest erotica stories were either literally true, or inspired by my life. That was the raw material I was working with and I felt like those were important stories to tell. I definitely still use my personal life in my fiction, but it's not as blatantly autobiographical. It's now more about transferring a feeling or a mood or a situation or relationship and palacigit in a fictional realm. I have also written nonfictio n about my personal life and while I don't regret that, it gets very tricky to have your sex life archived forever online. I think with fiction, nobody but you has to know what parts are true and which aren't. And sometimes I surprise myself with the emotions that come out in the writing.
Hello Rachel! You have quite the extensive portfolio! I am sure you are going to receive a lot of questions asking advice about becoming a great writer… so my question is this: When it comes to formal education vs. grabbing the bull by the horns, what is your ratio for success?Well, I very unwisely chose law school over journalism school, so that should give you the biggest answer. I wish very much that I had any graduate degree, especially one in my field, but since I don't, I work with what I have. I think it depends on what kind of writing you're doing and what you want to gain. I fell into so much of what I do, from my full-time job as Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations to running my reading series. Or rather, it was a case of having put myself out there and being in the right place at the right time. Especially with erotica, I think you don't need any formal education, but you do need to follow the guidelines and be professional.
Reading other people's work and getting feedback from other writers is useful too. I also think diversifying is good; yes, having a specialty can work to your advantage, but I personally hate being thought of as a "sex writer." That's why I try to write as often as I can about books, pop culture, food, etc. The more types of writing you can do the more valuable I think you are but you also have to pursue what interests you and what feels natural.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Well we bet your parents were happy you went to law school lol"
You are part of a wonderful community of writers in New York. Would you agree that there's an overwhelming slant towards female writers and members? Why do you think this is? Do women write better erotica than men?
I would suspect that men are more apt to write 'porn' and concentrate on the physical acts, rather than the emotional and sensual aspects, but perhaps that's just cliché.
I don't think women are better erotica writers than men, but I think more women are writing erotica overall than men. I get at least 75% of submissions for my books from women. I think anyone can write clichéd sex scenes and it's not so much about gender as going into your character and their motivations and what they're looking for from their lovers/the story's scenario. I'm really not sure why there are so many more women writing erotica but I would love to see more submissions from men and there are some male erotica writers whose work I think is excellent, people like Stan Kent and Thomas Roche. Here in New York, Mo Beasley runs UrbanErotika which is a great live event that really brings the heat. And there are plenty of others. I think it's more a number think in that the large majority of people writing erotica or at least submitting work to me, are women, and from what I know, women are the majority of book buyers and erotic book buyers, so perhaps that makes sense that women would be the majority of the authors, though I'd love to see a more varied mix.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "We concur. Although it seems the preponderance of erotica writers are women, men can and do write amazing erotica."
What prompting you to start your reading series?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Yes tell us a little bit of the history behind ITF! Who were some of your first authors to read?"The bar where I hold the series asked me to start an erotic reading series and I hosted the first one in October 2005. Since then, I've gone on to have theme nights such as sex and comedy, True Sex Confessions, Virgin Night (for first-time readers/authors), sex columnists, GLBT erotica and more. I have sex and religion, sex and food and BDSM nights coming up.
It's a great series in part because Happy Ending Lounge, where it's held, is not only a former massage parlor but has such a sexy, intimate setting. And I bring food - I'm now officially upping the number of cupcakes I bring from 100 to 200 because they go really fast (they're mini cupcakes). The audience is always just so eager to hear sexy stories and I think it's grown into a fabulous venue for both published authors and newcomers to share the work they can't share necessarily at major bookstores.
I used to write for Hustler and had to write stories that followed very tight genre guidelines, matched the approved 'style' and were cropped to within a word of its life. Most people I know argue that the stories I churned out were pornography, not erotica.
What do you think the difference is between written erotica and written pornography? (Not that there's anything wrong with either.)I think the erotica vs. pornography debate is a red herring not really worth entertaining because people bring so many value judgments to it. I don't care if someone calls my work "porn" though the books I edit I would call erotica and are marketed as such. But really, I think it can be so subjective, and both are designed to arouse people, so if it's doing its job, that's more important imo than the label. With erotica there is room to bring more emotion and perhaps depth and creativity into it, but again, it's incredibly subjective and I think all types of erotic writing have their purpose.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "According to Dr. Glenda Walden a sociology professor at the University of Colorado the difference between porn and erotica is simply a "value distinction". We'd agree one woman's porn is another woman's erotica."
You have a cute Twitter post about your personal organizer . . . why do you have a personal organizer, may I ask? Are you scatterbrained, or simply incredibly busy?Well, I am a little scatterbrained, but for that I have umpteen to do lists, and I'm also very busy (I have a full-time job and do freelance writing/book editing/reading series/etc.). But the personal organizer is a huge, and expensive, step toward making my home livable. It's a little hard to explain and too embarrassing for photos, but suffice it to say, there's no way I could get rid of all that I need to purge and sort by myself. It's kindof like that show Hoarders on A&E, except, um, my life. So far we've had one session and my organizer's been great, but 3 hours barely made a dent in 9+ years worth of accumulating stuff. For anyone in New York looking for an organizer, check out http://www.organizednyc.com
What was it like meeting Martha Stewart? Did you talk about anything other than food (like, um, erotica)?Well, we were on the show and got to pose for a photo with her but we didn't get to sit around and chat with her. I have been in the audience two other times and all those times I was impressed with how sharp, and funny, she is. She really seems like she's involved in and on top of the entire show and can roll with the punches, like if they have to tape something again. I was very impressed with her (and also a tiny bit intimidated). One of the coolest parts was seeing her modeling photos from back in the day on the wall; I didn't know she was a model and wow, she was so gorgeous and the photos, in black and white (I think from the 60s or 70s?) are simply stunning. So I'm a fan, definitely.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "That's cool we didn't know she used to be a model either! Now we're going to have to look up those images."
Are there any particular venues (print or otherwise) you would recommend for an aspiring erotica writer to begin submitting to?I'd say for erotica or any type of writing, a good venue is one you like, and read, yourself. I know those are the most satisfying ones for me to be published in. Beyond that, I'd say definitely check out Cleansheets.com - they are a mainstay of the erotica world and have a wealth of fabulous reading material in their archives. Fishnetmag.com is good too and there are lots of other places online to submit, and the annual anthologies - Maxim Jakubowski's Mammoth Best Of New Erotica, Violet Blue's Best Women's Erotica. But going back to what I said first, I wouldn't go out of my way to try to write something to fit the style of a certain publication, but rather write what feels most authentic/real/hot to you and then see where you might send it. And to also always have several things going at once, so if something gets rejected, you can send it elsewhere and also perhaps send something new to the publication that rejected you. Don't just sit around and wait to hear back from them; keep writing! And submitting. Just make sure you keep track of where all your stories have been sent.
Why are cupcakes better than regular cake?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Oh they totally are better! That's an excellent question. Is it the size? Does size matter in this case? hehe"Well, I'm not anti-cake, I just love cupcakes. The are cuter and neater, and you don't have to share. I also like the way the frosting/cake combination tastes in a cupcake. It's compact and they complement each other really well. And you don't need any utensils.
Rachel, it was a pleasure to meet you last month, you are an amazing woman. I was curious we did not get to talk about your goals for In The Flesh and if you had plans to expand it's reach both online and offline?Thank you, Drew. In The Flesh is about to celebrate its 4-year anniversary next month (technically October is 4 years but I'm going to be out of town) and I am so thrilled to have hosted so many wonderful readers. I only wish we'd started videotaping sooner because my friend Jessica Cutler (aka The Washingtonienne) gave one of the most amazing/horrifying/brilliant readings ever back in April 2006. I just started a fan page for the series on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/In-The-Flesh-Reading-Series/152227601422) and am trying to beef up the photo archives. There is a version of In The Flesh Stan Kent runs in LA (http://inthefleshreadingseriesla.blogspot.com/) and Vanessa Vaughn is starting one up in Dallas (http://eroticaelectronica.vanessavaughn.com/2009/09/29/in-the-flesh-erotic-reading-series-expanding-to-dallas-in-spring-2010.aspx). I just made a master list of all 200+ readers I've hosted (http://inthefleshreadingseries.blogspot.com/2009/08/past-in-flesh-readers-master-list.html) and am excited to add new names to the list.
Every night is different, and that's part of the fun (also the pressure and stress). I liken it to throwing a party every month - you have to send out invitations (PR) and get food and then worry about who will show up. We get great crowds but I live in fear that one night nobody will show. I think it's hard to run an event in New York because there is so much competition so I'm honored when people return to In The Flesh and feel strongly about having a free event that's open to newcomers as audience members and readers.
Beyond that, I have to focus on the ventures that actually make money for me, though I will continue to do In The Flesh as long as I live in New York and Happy Ending Lounge will have me. I'm looking forward to doing new (for me) theme nights in 2010 like Sex and Food and Nerd Sex. In my dream world, I'd love to do an anthology of True Sex Confessions based on the popular event we've held I think 4 times. I think audience members relate to true stories in a very powerful way, whether they're funny, dark, awkward, hot, whatever.
Is there an erotic fetish you haven't written about that you'd like to?That's hard to say; I've written about a lot of them! I like to research fetishes that aren't mine and try to find a way in to them. Sometimes I write under a pseudonym and that seems to bring out a certain quality to my writer - somewhat darker, in a sense. I've been thinking about this and am not sure if there's anything at the forefront of my mind. I had wanted to write about bukkake and finally did in a story called "A First Time for Everything" that Susie Bright published in X: The Erotic Treasury. That story took me a few attempts to get through; the first time it didn't quite work for me. Sometimes that happens when I know a certain topic or kink I want to write about but the details don't quite come to me.
We have a tradition around here... please finish this sentence: Sex is....delicious!
I'm a full time writer too - but I have to admit I've always been in awe of people like you, who write GOOD erotica. I meet a lot of people who think writing erotica is somehow easier than other types of fiction - or that the standards to get published are somehow lower (because of the amount of people who write erotica, I've always suspected the opposite to be true.)
What would you say the most important ingrediants of 'good' erotica are? When you read erotica, what aspects particularly appeal to you? What do you think makes your erotica 'pop' while other authors fizzle?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Great question Red! Erotica is definitely NOT EASY to write well! And Rachel's standards certainly seem to be high! :)"Firstly, thank you for the compliment. It's hard to say absolutely what makes a certain piece of erotica "good," because it's of course subjective. What one person might love another may hate - and feel free to substitute "editor" for person. I try very hard to not only pick pieces that turn me on or appeal to me but also ones that, collectively, will appeal to a wide range of people.
I think erotica that grabs the reader and makes them want to keep reading is overall what I look for, and stories that stay with me after I'm done reading them. I like ones that are a little twisted, where things happen that you might not expect. I also find that when I'm reading submissions, even incredibly hot, well-written stories can seem repetitive if they are all from one particular perspective or on one topic, so I like when people can branch out. I'm reading submissions right now for my female erotica collections Orgasmic and Naked (guidelines here: http://www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/G/Orgasmic.htmand here: http://www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/G/Naked.htm) and already am seeing similarities amongst stories. That doesn't mean that the stories are bad, but it does mean that, say, if I get 10 stories about female ejaculation, even if all 10 are excellent, I can't use them all.
So part of it is making your story stand out and be memorable, and also, I think, capturing the intensity of good sex, the way it can draw us out of our daily lives, the way people can access a different side of their personality during sex. That's the spirit I try to capture in my writing and my anthologies, something that makes you unable to stop reading, that's hot but also perhaps disturbing or outrageous or simply honest and intense and moving. I think that authenticity and realness cannot be discounted. I have a story I read recently at In The Flesh called "The End" (watch me read part of it here: http://inthefleshreadingseries.blogspot.com/2009/10/rachel-reading-end-at-septembers-in.html). It's a true story and perhaps the most poetic piece I've ever written, but it's also really sad and dark; it's about a breakup. For me, that was something I never could've written as fiction. It's ironic in a way that what I consider one of my best pieces of writing had to come out of such a dark time, but that's an example of something that I think is still "erotica" but has a lot more going on. Now, I wouldn't necessarily want to edit a whole book of stories like that because it'd be too sad, but that's just an example.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Are there any books or magazines you frequently recommend?I'm a big fan of Jeannette Walls - her memoir The Glass Castle is one of my favorite books, and I'm looking forward to her new one, Half-Broke Horses. I read widely, so for mystery I'm really into this writer Sue Ann Jaffarian, I recently read a chilling, excellent YA novel Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, and for something with a bit of an erotic edge is the novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. As for magazines...I read a LOT of them, everything from Bitch and BUST to Wired and Writer's Digest and US Weekly. I think you can find inspiration for writing anywhere. I've gotten ideas from celebrity magazines (still working on some of them). I think sometimes you wind up getting ideas when you're not consciously looking for them.
What is the single funniest erotic story you've ever read, and what made it work as comedy and as erotica?My friend L. Elise Bland writes amazing and often very funny stories. She has one called "Every Good Boy Deserves Favors" in my anthology Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z and it's this play on the teacher/student relationship. The humor is present throughout, but it's also hot, and she manages to make her characters and scenario funny without going overboard. Anything by her, and Stan Kent as well; sometimes the fetishes and turns of phrase in his stories are just hilarious because they're so over the top.
Hey! I was wondering, since you seem to be very accomplished- even when writing about sexual subjects, which I can talk about for way too long in real life, I always seem to get writers block. How do you handle writers block when you get it?
And, if you were given the choice to step from writing erotica to say, actually directing porn or erotic photoshoots- would you? Or, have you ever tried it out?
Just for laughs- what do you think of all the little hamburger cupcakes that seem to be all the rage now? Or other 'decorative' cupcakes- do you think they're worth the trouble, or are cupcakes something that should be enjoyed in their simplicity?I get writers block pretty much every day. My usual solution is to just open a new document and try to write something, anything. I like having prompts - for instance, Redroom.com, a community site for writers, has weekly topic prompts. I haven't actually done one of them yet, but there are good for ideas. I also try to give myself a word count, like "write 1,000 words and then you can stop." But a general solution to writers block? I'm not really the person to ask, alas. Sometimes a change of location helps, or a walk or to just pick an object or color or place or whatever and force yourself to write about that, even if it's not what you are supposed to be writing. I read in this book Death Becomes Them that one writer, I think it was Hunter S. Thompson, used to type up other people's stories - not to plagiarize, but to get the rhythm and feel for their writing and to also get the fingers moving. That can be a good strategy too.
I would be horrible at directing porn or phto shoots or anything like that. I'm not really "artistic" in that way. I don't even know if I'm "artistic" when it comes to writing. I'm shooting my third book trailer this weekend, but I hire someone who is skilled at directing because I wouldn't know at all how to put the shots together.
I think the hamburger and cheeseburger cupcakes are cute. I've eaten a few - there are definitely better tasting cupcakes out there for the most part but I love that people are finding all these fun ways to reinvent the cupcake.
Jordan & Samantha (host): "The best cure for writer's block? Cleaning the bathroom."
What's your favorite topic to write about/on? What sorts of things really make you excited and not want to put down the pen (or stop typing)?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "On the flipside, what is your LEAST favorite topic to write about? Have you ever been given an assignment that just made you groan?"I wouldn't say I have a favorite subject. I mean, I love writing spanking stories but if I sit down to deliberately do that, often it falls flat. So usually it's whatever's burning a hole in my mind, or what I'm trying to avoid but know I need to write. For me it's not so much topics as people or experiences I've had. I'd say first person non-fiction writing is usually the most intense and powerful for me personally to write, especially if it's about something I can't stop thinking about. The writing actually helps me process the experience and learn more about myself.
Hi Rachel! There are so many different topics to write about - what drew you to cupcakes and sex? Have you combined the 2 yet?I'll start with the easy one - cupcakes. At the time I started the cupcake blog, late 2004, I had lots of blogs and thought it was tons of fun to start random ones on a whim. So I did. I had no idea it would turn into what it has and that I'd be able to riff for 40 minutes to reporters about cupcakes or spend hours researching them or get free ones delivered to me. It still feels like a dream.
So does sex writing, to a degree. I never set out to be a "sex writer" but more fell into it by reading a lot of erotica and discovering that I liked writing about sex and interviewing other people and learning about people's sex lives. I wrote one piece about sortof the erotic allure of cupcakes but for the most part they are very separate parts of my life and I'm so grateful. I don't think I could hack being a sex writer/editor 24/7 without something PG to give me some relief from that. I love what I do but sometimes I need a break from all the smut.
How do you realize you were into spanking? I aks because I have found it interesting that many spankos were seldom to never spanked as children. I oppose spanking children as I think it is violent and potentially confusing, as I believe it is sensual. I am curious to know what your prior history and experiences were that led to your discovery and realization, or possibly roadblocks that exist for some that must be overcome before they realize something that associated negatively can in fact be fun.Sometime in my early twenties. I was never spanked as a child and don't remember exactly when I got into erotic spanking but whenever that was, I've enjoyed it ever since then. It's not something I do with every lover or in every relationship, but I like it when I find people who are as into it as I am and when I can explore aspects of spanking I haven't tried before. I know for some people there is a connection between childhood spanking and what they're into as adults, but I can't speak to that.
What I love about writing about spanking and editing books about it is that it can run the gamut from fun and lighthearted and perhaps silly to really intense and powerful and life-changing (imo).
What is your arsenal for writing? What is the one inspiration source you would recommend for a budding erotica writer?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Does your sex life feed your erotic writing? Or is it all fantasy...?"I love my laptop. Boring but true. I lug it around with me all the time and while I often don't even open it, just knowing it's there is helpful. I'd say your own life and imagination and fantasies. Not that you have to write erotica strictly about you but that you can use those experiences and feelings to fuel your writing, even if you're writing about something you've never done or would never do. And people watching. I love checking people out and imagining what they're into sexually and sometimes even get story ideas that way.
A kind of reverse question: If someone were to write something based on you, who would you want to write it and what would you want it to be about?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Ooooh titillating question!"I've been mulling this one over and I really don't know. It's much easier to write about other people than it is to be written about! I love posing for photos and am an exhibitionist in that way and like being interviewed, but to a degree. I would honestly much rather control how I expose myself than answer questions. That being said, I'd love to have the fabulous Susie Bright write about me. She is a huge mentor and inspiration to me.
What is the relationship between cupcakes and sex?I don't think there's an inherent relationship to them, but I think cupcakes can be sexy, especially if you feed them to someone.
What is your absolute favorite piece of erotic literature?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "Do you have a pet peeve when it comes to erotic literature?"I've avoided this question because I'm not really sure how to answer! I love the old Herotica anthologies - those are stories I reread again and again. I also love the sadly out of print book Virgin Territory 2 edited by Shar Rednour, the stories are all true and are incredibly powerful.
What stories would be your favorites from the Best Sex Series over all the time you have been editor? What erotica story genre would be your all time most favorite to read?
Jordan & Samantha (host): "And... do you have any favorite erotica writers? If so, who are they?"There's an article called "Battle of the Sexless" by Ashlea Halpern in Best Sex Writing 2008 (http://www.bestsexwriting.com/2008.html) about modern-day eunuchs that is riveting and horrifying at the same time. It's the kind of sex article you never forget and exactly what I look for for the Best Sex Writing series. I wrote this about it in the introduction:
And then we've got some more unique territory. Out of all the pieces here, Ashlea Halpern's exploration of the lengths today's eunuchs will go to remove their genitals, "Battle of the Sexless," makes me squirm the most, with equal parts fascination and horror, yet I've reread it now numerous times. There's something appealing and at the same time appalling about this state of affairs that Halpern delves into with a sympathetic eye.
As for favorite erotica story genre, I don't know that I have a favorite. It's whatever grabs my eye at any given moment. I love reading new stories as they come in and discovering new writers and being blown away by a story. I read so much erotica that sometimes I think I can't read any more and then I find something that's just so perfect I want to read it over and over again.
I imagine you get a lot of feedback on your writing, readings, and photos. How often is the feedback unwelcome and how do you handle it when it is unwelcome?Almost all the feedback I get is welcome, even criticism. It's when people just say ridiculous things that don't make any sense or relate to what I wrote that I get annoyed. Or when strangers hit on me. I think the big misconception for anyone writing about sex is that readers think you want to have sex with them. I once wrote a column about hooking up with this couple after she'd emailed me and this guy wrote me an angry email about how I hadn't replied to him but I slept with them. It was very strange. Also it's much harder to tune out a freaky person when they're at a live event than it is via email.
Great interview so far! I have two quick questions. What's your favorite guilty pleasure and what classic novel do you consider to be the most erotic?