Monday, April 30, 2007

Introducing Molly Weatherfield

By Kate Pearce

Sometimes writing is a solitary business and then sometimes you get coaxed into a group blog like this and realize there are other people out there who are just as crazy as you are! About the same time Lust Bites was created, I was asked to join another group blog, The Spiced Tea Party, for writers of erotic historical romance. (I don't just write about cowboys, you know) Suddenly my two blog-worlds collided when I realized that the great Molly Weatherfield, erotica writer extraordinaire, was none other than my 'Crumpet Strumpet' friend, Pam Rosenthal who writes historical erotic romance for Signet Eclipse. So, of course, I had to ask her to talk about her writing!

1. What made you decide to write erotica?
It began after my interest in reading erotica had undergone a welcome revival.. Because during the 80s I was fortunate enough to get wind of the smart, sensible stuff that sex-positive feminists like Susie Bright and Carol Queen were saying—and suddenly it became clear to me that I could have my politics and my bent fantasy life too.

Which hardly made me a writer of erotica, of course. At that that, point, in fact, I hadn’t written any fiction since high school, though I did publish occasional reviews and essays. Actually I was in complete clueless awe of anybody who could actually make up a story—even though this was during that happy, energetic period when I was getting my erotic fantasy life back. You’d think I might have dimly intuited that there was a connection between story and fantasy. But I didn’t.

Until one sexy Sunday morning, when I had a very vivid fantasy about a guy who has a strange hobby of helping people get in touch with their strange inner sexual desires. And that very simple fantasy made me so mysteriously, unreasoningly happy I couldn’t believe it. (It’s pretty clear to me now that “helper” figures are perhaps the primo wish-gratification element in stories—think of fairy tales; hell, think of just about any story—no wonder I made one up).

But at that time all I knew was that I wanted to stay in the fantasy. Perhaps, I thought, if I could give all the needs and desires I was feeling names and voices, and if I could write it all down… which was when the earth moved for me. Because as passionate a reader and as energetic a fantasist as I was, it was clear that I’d never truly understood what fiction writing was about until that moment.

Have I made it clear how huge this was for me? Because, see, it wasn’t like I was a fiction writer who’d decided to give erotica a whirl. The truth was that I was a frustrated non-writing writer who’d kind of blasted my way through to fiction writing through my erotic imagination. What I learned from this experience was to write about what I find mysterious and compelling, so I can understand what makes it so hot for me. And I’m committed to using every bit of “literary” form I figure out how to use, in order to say what I want to say as precisely as I can. I don’t see a conflict between “popular” and “literary” writing—from where I sit, all narrative writing has its roots in the paradoxes of satisfied and unsatisfied desire.

2. How was your path to publication? Rocky or a smooth glide to instant fame?
It was easy to get Carrie’s Story published. Susie Bright told me about Richard Kasak and Masquerade Books – which was kind of a factory for intelligent porn writing until the web changed everything in the 90s. Well, intelligent and not so intelligent both – Richard’s output and energy were huge. There wasn’t much in the way of rules or market guidelines—you were in if Richard thought your stuff was hot. Which was great – there was none of this “make your guy more alpha” or “the market loves m/m” stuff.

I’m totally grateful to Richard, who’s now, btw, publishing erotic romance at Magic Carpet Books. Check him out, and definitely check out my friend Marilyn Jaye Lewis, who publishes with him.

Masquerade went under in the late 90s, I guess, and I moped around for a couple of years while I was getting rejected by romance publishers. And just about the same time that I made my first romance sale, I sold the rights to the Carrie books to Cleis Press. Check them out if you haven’t—they publish Alison Tyler, Stephen Elliott, and many other good writers.

As for the instant fame part, I’m still waiting for that to happen.

3. Many people mention Carrie's Story as one of their all-time favorite erotica stories. Can you talk about where the idea for this piece came from?
I find it thrilling, you know, that bit about “all-time favorite.” Thrilling and pretty astonishing, because I think of myself as a nerdy type, and my fantasy life as sort of weird and bent—but maybe a lot of people think of themselves that way.

As for the idea behind it—well, parts of it were already in that first short story. As amateurish and primitive as it was, it included an attempt at Jonathan from Carrie’s Story; and three minor characters—Annie, Andrew, and Jane—from Safe Word). And it began to explore the fantasy of being forced to do what you most wanted to do, and also the whole helper thing. But it was also missing a whole lot.

What was most egregiously missing was Carrie herself and what she makes it possible for me to do. Which came to me in a flash a couple of months later when I was reading a very nice fantasy novel called Beauty, by Sherri Tepper.

I don’t actually remember much about that book—but I absolutely remember its narrative voice. It was the voice that meant reading and fiction and everything I’d always loved about reading and fiction; it was the brave, adventurous, smart girl voice, of Jo March and Jane Eyre and I suppose even Nancy Drew. And it suddenly became clear to me that I wanted to explore the mysteries of power and desire through the twists and turns of that voice. Power and desire and youth and bravery: because I also knew that the erotic S/M fantasies that I’d once thought I’d had to give up as a feminist were some of the bravest and most honest things about the young person I’d once been.

I wanted to think about, to work through how libido and intellect, the urge to tell stories and the need to be ravished by narrative, are parts of the same wonderful, mysterious thing. And I thought I could try to do this through the voice of this fearless, funny, brainy character—who seemed on the one hand like an idealized fantasy view of my younger reading self and on the other hand as Generic Girl Character. The name “Carrie,” actually started out as a sort of private joke on “character.” After the fact I wondered if people would think I’d named her after Stephen King’s Carrie. But I decided that would be ok too, because when I used to stay up until 4 am reading early Stephen King, my husband had dubbed me “the slave of narrative.” And that had sort of fit in with all the themes I was exploring anyway. (And no, it had nothing to do with Carrie Bradshaw, who I hadn’t even heard of at the time.)

Oh, and let me take this opportunity to add that I actually prefer Safe Word (Carrie’s Story’s sequel). Because I think I go a little further in working out the themes and ideas there. So I do hope people will check it out.

4. How did your alter-ego Pam Rosenthal emerge and how does she get along with Molly?
Well, Pam’s the name I actually go by, and Pam writes everything that isn’t S/M erotica. She’d been publishing the occasional book or movie review all the way along, and when my romance novels were sold, I was happy to publish them under a name my Mom could point to.

So they get along fine, though in truth I’m not quite sure where one leaves off and the other begins. The romances are by Pam, who I guess is the grownup married lady of the duo.

5. We've been talking about whether our families know what we write. How do your family feel about your split personalities and are they supportive?
My family is absolutely supportive of everything I write, and most of them read the Pam stuff and avoid the Molly stuff. Which I understand perfectly well. Actually I prefer it that way, though it’s hard to explain why I’m willing to share that part of myself with the anonymous reading public but not the people who knew me as a little child or as a mother. Just say that for me, family and fiction go by different sets of rules.

But of course this doesn’t include my husband—who is by far my deepest and most astute reader. And who has contributed to everything I’ve written in so many ways I can’t begin to list them.

Thank you so much for gracing our blog with your presence, Pam. It's been a real pleasure!
Pam's Website is here go take a look!


Mathilde Madden said...

Hi Molly and Kate

I think Carrie's Story is magnificent and I will be sure and check out Safe Word.

I think it is really funny that an amazon reviewer complains that they bought Carrie's Story thinking it was something to do with Sex and the City. I am not sure if it is a joke or not.

And Kate, wow, don't you have some cool friends. And I thought the cowboys were cool enough!

Nikki Magennis said...

Hi Pam/Molly,

Thanks so much for dropping by! I love the 'slave to narrative' idea. And we're all for 'weird and bent' round here too...

Portia Da Costa said...

What a wonderful interview! Many thanks, Molly and Kate.

kristina lloyd said...

I'm half way through Carrie's Story right now and I'm loving it. It's sexy, witty, smart, outrageous and the writing is beautifully understated.

It keeps surprising and delighting me. There's a description and analysis of blowjobs, for example, (p 31 if anyone's interested) which I find seriously hot, yet it contains very few physical descriptions.

I'm always happy to find erotic writing that's horny without being all meat-and-two-veg about it. I'm not talking about coyness - yuck. I'm talking about good, strong, dirty writing which knows sex isn't merely about fucking and physicality. In the current erotic romance climate, we hear so much about the link between sex and emotion, and sure, it’s important and often gorgeous. But the combo of sex, braininess, irony and wit pushes lots of buttons for me as well. And Carrie is such an appealingly baffled, bright and up for it character.

Tilly (aka Mathilde) recommended the book to me a while ago and basically said, ‘I know you will love this.’ And she was spot on.

Great book, great interview, great rec. Thanks, gals!

Janine Ashbless said...

"But at that time all I knew was that I wanted to stay in the fantasy. Perhaps, I thought, if I could give all the needs and desires I was feeling names and voices, and if I could write it all down… which was when the earth moved for me."

Oh yeah! That I identified with soooo much.

Erastes said...

Great interview - thanks Molly & Kate!

and thank you even more for pointing out !!!

I never know that existed!

Alison Tyler said...

Thank you so much for joining us!

I saw you doing a reading once in SF and you were such an inspiration. My copies of Carrie's Story and Safe Word are seriously battered!


P.S. Masquerade was a cool place to be, wasn't it?

Eva Gale said...

What a wonderful interview!

"Actually I prefer it that way, though it’s hard to explain why I’m willing to share that part of myself with the anonymous reading public but not the people who knew me as a little child or as a mother. Just say that for me, family and fiction go by different sets of rules."

I completely understand, and am the same. Strange to think about, isn't it?

Loved Carrie's Story, and Safe Word is on my TBR.

Thank you!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for the kind words, folks. I've often been interviewed as Pam, but this is the perfect space for my first interview anywhere as Molly and also a great way for me to find out about this blog.

Actually, from time to time on The Spiced Tea Party, I'd say things like, "hey, you guys ought to see what Susie Bright (or whoever) has to say about that," and Kate would say, "well, you know, we've just interviewed Susie at Lust Bites," and I'd think, gosh, I should go check out that blog. But I never made it here on my own steam. Now that I have, though, I'll be back.

I'm especially touched by those of you who clearly understand the place for commentary and analysis in erotic writing. I once had a late-night conversation with a romance editor about her (then-forthcoming) erotic line, and I asked what their take would be on erotica. "Oh," she said proudly, "we're looking for twice as much sex as in Almost a Gentleman". "Yeah," I said, "but what... take... what technical... uh, what attitude...?" She looked at me like I was crazy. Didn't more always mean hotter? What else did I want? I'm hoping that someday all of this will shake down in the romance publishers' erotic lines.

Oh, and Alison -- I remember very well when we read together, and I loved hearing you read too. It was at Modern Times Bookstore, maybe 8 years ago; Tristan Taormino organized it. I was in the unenviable position of having to read after Tom Roche -- but I guess somebody had to.

Oh, and can I push my reading this week at Good Vibrations' Polk St. Store in SF? Tho it's actually going to be Pam and a writer named Dahlia Schweitzer. It's Thursday night -- and you can find out more on my web page or at Good Vibrations' site.

Madeline said...

Wow. I'm constantly amazed by the very blog I belong to. What a great feeling. This is a fabulous interview with a fascinating author. More grist for my mill, more pepper for my steak, more stuff for me to think about...thank you for this interview, and thank you, Pam/Molly, for being our guest.

Kate Pearce said...

Pam and I also belong to an RWA special-chapter called "The Beau Monde" which is for Regency writers. So I cyber-knew Pam for quite a while, then we actually bumped into each other at the Starbucks in Atlanta at the RWA conference-and holy cow-she actually recognized my name-I was secretly chuffed, cos she is so fabulous and famous.

She is absolutely charming and all her Pam books are well worth a good read too. It was a real treat to get to interview her for this blog!

And I totally understand that whole concept of writing down your fantasies in that almost spiritual, compulsive way.

Nikki H said...

Great interview. I love to hear about what inspires other writers.

Alana said...

Hi Pam:

Thank you for participating in Lust Bites.

You probably knew this: Playboy Magazine named "Carrie's Story" one of the sexiest books ever, alongside the likes of Lolita, The Tropic of Cancer, Story of O, and Crash by J.G. Ballard. You're in excellent company, as are they in yours.

I appreciated what you implied about porn and intelligence and mainstream vs. literary writing. Good writing is good writing, amen. I'm grateful to you for continuing to prove porn can be literary and quite complex.


Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks, Madeline, Alana, Nikki... and Kate, I have to tell you that when we chatting last year at Starbucks I was thinking, "Wow, did she really just say she's read my stuff? How cool is that?"

I'd love to see an RWA National conference with subtitles -- you know, what people are really thinking. For me it's usually, "geez, I don't know anybody in the room," or "oh hell, everybody at this table writes inspirationals," or "did I really just say that to that big, important... editor, agent, writer, reviewer, whatever..."

Kate Pearce said...

Pam, I always sit at the table full of inspirational writers...and then watch them all edge away from me as if I'm afflicted with the plague.

the first conference I went to a big romance bookshop owner said to me "and what do you write, dear?"
I said, "erm books"
Hopefully I'm a little more polished now.