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?"
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."
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."
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
Friday, January 12, 2007
By Alana Noel Voth