Friday, January 12, 2007

My Mom Writes Erotica

By Alana Noel Voth


The concept for this post, as presented to me by the eclectic ladies at Lust Bites, was "Motherhood and Writing Porn for Money."

I made one-hundred-fifty dollars as a writer last year. Few years before, when my stories "Genuflection" and "Lemon-Lime Firefly Girl" appeared in Best Gay Erotica 2004 and Best Women's Erotica 2004, respectively, I earned five hundred. So we'd best dispel with the idea I make "money" writing. Which isn't to say some of my peers here at Lust Bites don't.

Ladies, I toast you.

Next spoiler: I did a reading once in which I was billed as the Sex Writer. After I read, a young woman raised her hand and said, "That wasn't very porn like."

"Oh . . . sorry."

"What I mean is, are you sure what you write is pornography?"

"No."

I write stories. These stories appear in publications like Best Women's Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, and Best American Erotica---so "erotica" appears in the title. I also used to write for Playgirl Magazine, and my editor at the time instructed me to write less narrative, more sex. "We're trying to sell sex here!" Understood. Except narrative inspires me. I love stories. And so I write stories, and often my stories involve sex, although to paraphrase Marcy Sheiner, "The sex isn't the story." I write stories to understand why people end up in bed together, what happens once they get there, and to discover any consequence or reward.

So while it remains unclear whether I write "porn" or not or will ever earn more than I need to claim on my taxes doing so, I am, without a doubt, a mom. Or Mama as my kid calls me when he wants something.

I named my blog My Mom Writes Erotica as one way to acknowledge who I am---a mother, a writer, a mother who is a writer who often writes about sex.

The other day my son, who is nine, took note of my blog's title, read it aloud, and then asked me, "What does that mean?"

"Means I'm a mom, and I'm a writer, and sometimes what I write involves sex."

"Oh."

I got the same reaction the time he asked me to explain, for the one-hundredth time, what sex was and I finally gave him a PG, rather than a G, version.

"When two people like each other, fall in love, or find each other attractive they often have sex, which is when the man puts his penis in the woman's vagina, and it feels wonderful, especially when the man wears a condom and the woman is on birth control."

"Oh."

I'm waiting for him to ask me to explain homosexual and lesbian sex because he will. He asked to see a condom once after he saw a commercial on TV. After I showed him a Trojan, out of its package, he said, "Oh," and then he asked, "Mom, why is it so big?"

Since I knew what he was thinking I assured him. "Your penis gets bigger as you get older, just like the rest of you."

Another "Oh," and this one evident with relief.

My kid knows no bounds when it comes to asking questions, probably because I'm comfortable answering them. Kids deserve respect; they deserve information; otherwise you leave them vulnerable, leave them ignorant.

*****

My books lie around the apartment. When I publish a story I share my pride and delight with my son. Few weeks ago my contributor's copies of Best Gay Erotica 2007 showed up, to much personal fanfare, and the second I opened the package my son wanted to see.

So I showed him the book, the cover, opened the pages and then showed him where my story appeared.

"Good," he said. "Good, Mom, you wrote a story that's in a book. When you going to have a book that's only your stories? That's what you need to do next."

*****

One reason I decided to drop my pen name, Lana Gail Taylor, is because mentors in college convinced me not to publish erotica, a.k.a. smut, a.k.a fluff as "myself." Wouldn't be academic. Wouldn't be literary. Acceptable. Swank. I never felt comfortable with that decision though, to write as Lana Gail Taylor, because the shame I felt about writing erotica wasn't innate so much as imposed. If what I write makes me feel ashamed my child will inevitably inherit that shame.

"Why do you use a pen name, Mom?"

Because what I write is bad.

Except I've never believed what I write is bad. Lousy characterization perhaps; shabby craftsmanship; trite language once in a while, even boring or dumb a couple times (haha) but never bad. More precisely I've never believed what I write is wrong.

If I thought what I wrote was "wrong," I wouldn't write it.

Sure, "wrong" is a matter of opinion, definition even, and my "wrong" in this instance refers to harmful to my son, harmful to people in general. Writers write because we're driven to the point of obsession to communicate and to better understand our human condition. Sometimes illumination comes at a price, is painful. Writing often feels risky to me, but it has never felt "evil," and that's what we're really talking about, right? Whether or not writing about sex is evil; whether or not a mother who writes about sex is irresponsible and indirectly abusive.

What is she subjecting that poor child to? A house of horrors, a Roman-sized orgy?

I participated in a panel once at the University of Denver called "The Erotic and the Fantastic," and a young man in the audience raised his hand and then asked me, "Do you do everything you write about in your stories?"

The writers on each side of me chuckled.

"Hmm, no." I smiled. "If I did I'd never get out of bed."

Historically, I'm not a non-fiction writer; blogging has complicated that, mixed it up, or at least made writing more hybrid for me, but generally speaking, I write fiction. Even so, no writer writes divorced of her experience. Writing comes from the head, heart, and soul. Some of it's innate; some of it's knee-jerk reaction; it's analysis, exploration, a journey. I don't do everything I write about, but writing is still an extension of something I've thought about a lot.

*****

At long last, the big question: What will a child learn from a mother who writes erotica?

No way I can answer that question with certainty. I'm not omniscient, a fortune teller, or a know-it-all. As a mom I rely on instinct, common sense, and a devotion to my child's well being. Right now, my kid still has to endure the awkward insecurities of puberty, the trials and tribulations of young manhood. Growing pains. Kinks. Triumphs and failures. Life.

But hard pressed for any predictions for my son's future in relation to my being his mother who writes erotica I'd propose this:

• Maybe he'll learn sex is normal and natural, that it's a large part of being human.
• Maybe he'll learn curiosity and exploration are also part of being human.
• Maybe he'll accept people---straight, bi, or gay---and thus accept himself.
• Perhaps he'll understand, by my example, that you trust your own instincts, stay true to your aspirations, stand proud, don't quit, and fight hard as hell not to let other people shame you into submission, obscurity, or shame.
• Maybe it will be more simple than that: He'll learn if you want something you keep at it and don't give up. After all, my kid is often by my side when I receive yet another rejection note from an editor, and he sees me at my computer day-in-and-day out writing.
• Maybe he'll learn we don't do what we love just for the money; sometimes we do what we love for a whole lot of other reasons, like survival. Self fulfillment. Enlightenment. Something.

But maybe the lessons are even bigger than that: Maybe my son will adopt a lack of pretension and won't be so quick to judge or persecute others. Maybe he'll listen as much as he speaks. Maybe he'll let go of that fear, ignorance, and vulnerability that assholes count on when they go looking for someone to manipulate, victimize, or control.

Adolf Hitler once said, "Thank God people rarely take time to think."

Maybe I've got you thinking.




Visit my blog here or you can email me: alananoel at comcast.net, with @ for at, no spaces

15 comments:

Keziah Hill said...

Great post Nikki! Your boy is lucky to have you as a mum.

Janine Ashbless said...

Hey Alana

I'm not a Mom, but I found this thoughtful and moving. Thanks.

It's really sad that an intelligent young man actually has to ask you if you do all the things you write about. Would he ask the same question if you wrote stories about serial killers or espionage?

People make assumptions about us because we write about sex. Which is why I applaude your brave decision to drop your pen name - but I won't do it myself.

And yes, your kid is a lucky boy.

Mathilde Madden said...

My kids are younger - 4 and 1. The 4 year old knows I write stories for a living. Writing paranormals helps. My 7 year old nephew seems to think it is pretty cool that I write about vampires and werewolves.

I must say though, in the places I have lived while being a 'mom who writes erotica' - liberal alternative Brighton and liberal academic Oxford - I would find it very hard to find anyone who was shocked by what I do or thought it would make me a less good parent. Another mother interviewed me for The Oxford Times when Equal Opportunities came out. I actually think that being a published writer with proper books that you can buy in shops and everything, get's me quite a lot of respect.

My partner does something far more shocking. He is an academic who writes about kid's TV and video games. Now erotica may not frighten the horses around here, but *Playstations*, my god!

Nikki Magennis said...

Hi Keziah - I should just say that much as I would love to lay claim to Alana's writing skills, I didn't do it!

I've posted this on behalf of Alana Noel Voth, because she's had technical difficulties.

But when I grow up, I'd like to be half as brave as Alana...

Nikki Magennis said...

...and in response to the 'do you do all the things you write about?' question - I'm amazed at how many people ask me that.

I usually point them in the direction of murder mysteries, like Janine mentions above.

Still, if I was single I'm sure it would be a great way to pick up guys.

Fiona Locke said...

A very brave post, Alana! I don't have or want kids myself, so I don't know how open or comfortable I'd be with them regarding what I do. But I applaud your forthright honesty.

I'm afraid I'm one of those naughty girls who perpetuates the 'Do you do everything you write about?' mystique. I HAVE done most of the things I write about. (Though I haven't actually had sex in a hearse. Yet.) If I'm writing about something I haven't done, I find it much more exciting to try it than be forced to imagine what it might be like.

Mathilde Madden said...

What you say, Fiona, and what Alana breifly refers to when she talks about writing her blog makes me think about the boom in erotic memoir right now. Alison Tyler's blog also comes to mind.

I wonder how much this is a different *kind* of erotica. I woder how much readers enjoy reading true stories. Or stories presente as true. (Hee, like the porn mags' letters page.)

If I wrote an erotic memoir you would all be crying with boredom by page two. And this is so off topic. Sorry.

Kate Pearce said...

I have 4 kids. The youngest is four and she tells everyone my job is doing email and making dinner...I also have 3 teenage sons who are horrified that their mother is actually also 'a woman' let alone a writer of smut. It amuses me greatly!!

Sabrina Luna said...

Brava --awesome article! I'm kid-free by choice, but I admire my fellow authors that do have kids. ;)

I do, however, have nieces. One of these days Aunt Sabrina's going to have to tell them that she doesn't write just "romance". :)

Keziah Hill said...

Hi Keziah - I should just say that much as I would love to lay claim to Alana's writing skills, I didn't do it!
Just noticed that! (slaps forehead)

Madelynne Ellis said...

Hi Alana, I admire your honesty with your son - go you! My kids are 4 and 2 so the issue hasn't really come up yet beyond me explaining that writing books involves slightly more than feeding some random piece of junk into the top of the computer a la Storymakers. However, I am asked what I do quite frequently at Mums and Toddlers groups, and I'm always honest. I find that after the 'really!'most people are interested and supportive.

Nikki Magennis said...

Rogers, you're a spam. Vamoose!

t'Sade said...

I will happily admit that last year was the first year I made any amount of money writing, so I can perfectly understand not writing for money. I mean, five years of a novel and I've still only made $21. From the only two stories sold three times to two different publishers, I've made a total of $3.

As for being an erotic writer: most of the people at work know that I write porn rather frequently. My mother decided that everything I write about sex is really "horror" since I used to be a horror writer, and that is why she doesn't read it. Many at work who have read it have said something to the effect of: Wow, this look... um... too much. Usually with a flush or a heart-wrenching desire not to insult me. :) It also colors my non-erotic writing since I have one friend who refuses to read even that stuff, just in case the naughty stuff gets in. Even the younger stuff or my murder mysteries or actual real horror. I just happen to enjoy senusality in my writing and sex gets mixed in there, but the people at work just see it as "porn!"

I have been doing the opposite with pen names. I used to use my real name with my erotica and non-erotica, but then I started getting pressure about it. Some of my employers have been VERY uncomfortable with it and I found it easier that my erotica doesn't show up in a background check, as it did once. Much like I had to split out my fantasy worlds because I was writing children's novels in the same world as naughty porn and didn't want to go through that heartbreak. I didn't mean for that to happen, I just kind of stumbled into it and then went "oops, I better separate these."

But, it is nice to see how I see my own experiences are mirroring part of your own. Plus, you have the courage to go out there and talk about it, which I never had. I can only hope that when I have a child myself, I'll be able to give the PG version instead of the G one myself.

Georgina Ragazza said...

Thank you!

I'm also a mum and I've just started writing erotica - something my 17-year-old daughter finds profoundly embarassing. But then, it's a 17-year-old daughter's duty to find her mother's life embarassing - all part of growing up, testing the waters, pushing the boundaries, forging an identity.

She's also proud of me - for following my dreams and my instincts. That's why I loved your article so much. You've also made me question my own decision to write under a pen name. The jury's still out on my ultimate decision, but for now I'm staying with the one name for erotica, one name for other. (I don't really anticipate the "other" being more than a passing thing, a way to flex some muscles, mind you.)

For me, I guess having a pen name is a way to almost get into character, or maybe it's like a job title? The name I use to write my erotic fiction is like "Chairman of the Board" or "Vice President", I suppose.

But, your piece was wonderful and very thought-provoking. Your son sounds immensely cool! He obviously has a really great mom.

Iris Deorre said...

This is a lovely post. I too am very open and honest with my 11 year old daughter about what I write. I've always answered questions honestly. I would rather she hear it from me than from her peers who lack experience. What I've noticed is how confident she is within herself and she's not afraid or ashamed to talk about things of a sexual nature. I read an article that said children who's parents are more open when it comes to sexual communication, tend to make wiser choices and have sexual experiences later in life rather than at an early age.

All the best with your writing