Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An Interview With Mary Anne Mohanraj

Just thinking about Mary Anne Mohanraj makes me tired (in a wildly impressed way). Is there anything this woman doesn’t do? She’s a writer, editor, founder of online magazines with works in erotica, literary fiction, speculative fiction, poetry, and even recipes. She’s an academic. She’s doing all this while juggling several long-time partners, a new baby, a blog, and (from the pictures she posts) a gorgeous home where she frequently entertains, serving mouthwatering dishes to her guests. She has one of the longest continually running blogs on the ‘net. She’s an artist. She…

Oh, the hell with it! I’ll just introduce her and let you meet this amazing woman yourselves.


How socially acceptable is it to be poly in the environment in which you live and work (i.e., academia)? Does it have real definition in people’s minds yet or is it still just treated as swinging?

I wish I could answer that question, but the truth is, I don’t think most academics we deal with on a daily basis realize that we’re poly. That’s mostly due to the nature of our current poly status; Kevin isn’t involved with anyone else right now, and my other sweetie, Jed, lives in California, so I only see him a few times a year. As a result, the subject just doesn’t come up very often. It feels weird, to be “passing” for monogamous—but it also feels weird to pass for straight (I’m bi), or for married (we’re not). Especially now that Kevin and I have a child, most people we meet assume that we’re straight, monogamous, and married, even though we don’t wear rings.

I’m still trying to figure out the best way to deal with that socially—it feels rude to be constantly correcting people. “So, will your husband be joining us for dinner? Does he like Chinese?” “Actually, it’s partner, not husband. We’ve chosen not to marry. And we’re not monogamous; we date other people. Sometimes boys, sometimes girls. And yes, he loves Chinese food.” See? It feels rude, not to mention awkward.

What usually happens is that eventually we get to know people better, and the poly/bi/married stuff comes up, sometimes six months or a year after we’ve first met. Academics seem usually more accepting than the general population of “alternative’” practices, and certainly there are plenty of bi and unmarried-in-long-term-relationships academics. (Maybe especially in the fields we’re in, creative writing and mathematics, ‘cause writers have license to be bohemian and artsy, and mathematicians are expected to be a bit weird.) No one’s ever given us any grief, but sometimes the poly conversation does completely derail the rest of the dinner party conversation, and it can turn into a little mini-lecture on Poly 101.

I don’t think most folks are familiar with the term “poly,” but I think they also don’t know much about “swinging,” so it’s not as if they automatically assume poly = swinging. They just want to know all the details of how we manage it, who gets jealous (or doesn’t), where does everyone sleep, etc. The usual thing.

On a similar note, how does the academic community handle your relatively “out” presence not just as a poly/queer woman, but as an erotica writer and a writer and editor of speculative fiction (which isn’t always considered “literary”)? Is there any conflict, or is your not entirely fitting the stereotypical academic profile part of the attraction?

There was a tiny issue when I was teaching in Utah—the department got a nasty letter from the parent of one of the student, “outing” me as a smut writer and demanding that they fire me. They called me in, but just to tell me about it, and to reassure me that they of course supported my academic freedom to write and say whatever I wanted. They did ask that I be sure to keep the material in the composition classes I was teaching appropriate to the course, which seems totally reasonable to me. Especially given what a religious environment Salt Lake City is (there was a notable case while I was there of a drama student who refused to perform various monologues because they involved speaking obscenities; she won that battle with the department on the grounds of religious freedom), I think my department did a great job of standing behind me.

Aside from Utah, I’ve never had any issues at all with the erotica or other sexually explicit material. Some of my students were a little shocked by some of the things I asked them to read for class, but some students are just easily shocked. They pretty much all got over it, once I explained my reasons for having them read sexually explicit material. (Again, in Utah, some of the students didn’t want to watch Pretty Woman for the Cinderella segment of the class—we found an edited version that their church permitted them to use, which seems a reasonable workaround.)

The speculative fiction is handled a little differently—it’s true that in some of my departments, some of the faculty more focused on traditional “literary fiction” had a bit of trouble with the spec fic at first. But it’s pretty easy to make the case for well-written spec fic vs. badly-written schlock, so as long as I’m focusing my courses on that end of the spectrum (LeGuin, Delany, Chabon, Link, etc.), everyone’s happy. And of course, there’s a whole branch of academic now that focuses on pop culture, and they don’t care at all about whether something’s “literary” or not. As long as it’s important in popular culture, it’s fair game. That’s not the area I focus on, but it’s becoming a pretty respectable field. If you want to write books talking about Spike vs. Angel in Buffy, that’s the place for you, and at least some academic departments will welcome you whole-heartedly.

Academic departments are also always looking for courses the students will be excited about, because that keeps your class enrollments up (which makes your department have a bit more weight in the university overall, and justifies more funding sent your way). So there’s definitely a gleam in a department head’s eye when they hear that I write about sex, or teach science fiction. :-)

How would you distinguish between literary and genre erotica, or it is fluid?

I’m not sure I know what you mean by those distinctions. When I use the term “literary,” I usually mean any work that’s striving towards artistic excellence. Well-developed characters, beautiful prose, complex structures, thematic depth—all of those can be elements of strong literary fiction. I’d apply the term “literary” as a modifier to pretty much any genre; i.e., you can have:

  • • literary erotica (Anaïs Nin, The Story of O, Nicholson Baker, Pat Califia, hopefully my writing :-)
  • • literary science fiction (Samuel Delany, Thomas Pynchon, Iain Banks...)
  • • literary fantasy (Kelly Link, Ursula K. LeGuin, Michael Chabon...)
  • • literary romance (almost anything by Jane Austen...)
  • • literary westerns (Ledoyt...)
  • • literary comic books (Sandman, Persepolis, Watchmen, Castle Waiting...)
  • • literary mainstream (I imagine you can fill this one in)
  • • literary horror (I don’t read or watch horror, because it gives me nightmares, but I hear Stephen King is a great writer...)
And with all of these genres, there’s plenty of writing that doesn’t aspire to any artistic value—it’s just mildly entertaining schlock, often churned out pretty quickly to feed the public’s hunger for more-of-the-same (and feed the writer’s pocketbook). And there’s nothing really wrong with that either—I have a weakness for books-with-dragons-in, for example, and will read almost anything with a dragon on a cover. There’s a place in life for light airplane reading (or little stroke books) too.

We often hear about writers who “move on” from erotica, or use erotica as a stepping stone to “better” things. Do you feel like this? Would you say you’ve left genre erotica behind? What about literary erotica—is that different from your literary fiction? Do you wish you could do both?

I worked primarily in erotica for about seven years, I think? I don’t think turning to mainstream immigrant fiction was a shift in literary quality—I was always trying, when I wrote erotica, to write as beautiful and artistically as I could. It’s a bit embarrassing to look at some of my early efforts, but that’s not because it’s erotica—just because I was such a beginning writer, and I knew almost nothing. I wrote erotica because I was deeply interested in sexuality and the human heart, in the interactions both between people, and between people in relationships and a wider society.

Around the time I turned thirty, I started being more interested in race and ethnicity, and specifically, the interactions between sexuality and ethnicity in a cultural framework. So that’s what I started writing about. But even with Bodies in Motion, my most recent and “literary” book, there’s still a strong focus on sexuality throughout the book, in almost every story. One of the stories, “Seven Cups of Water,” was first published as erotica, in Aqua Erotica, and then republished in Bodies in Motion as mainstream fiction. I didn’t change the story at all—only the marketing and audience changed.

Tell us what that transition to more literary fiction has been like. Do you feel as though you’ve carried your erotica writing experiences with you? How does it inform your present work?

For me, learning to be a better writer has been all about adding layers to my writing. At first, I focused on the sexual and romantic layers. Then I added ethnicity and race, with arranged marriage issues, interracial dating, desires to connect with one’s cultural heritage, etc. I started exploring generational issues, the way parents (and grandparents) and their grown children interact around sexual and other issues. The desire to have children of one’s own. And now, I’m starting to become more and more interested in the broader political landscape, in national identity, in war, and the way all of those issues intersect. I carry everything I’ve written about before with me—it just gets deeper and hopefully richer as I go.

Another way to think about it is that when I was writing pure erotica, it was a narrow focus (which perhaps allows for a certain depth)—as I continue as a writer, my focus has been growing broader and broader. The struggle is to try to maintain as much sharpness and depth as possible, on a wider playing field.

How does you feel that your readership perceives you having done both?

I’m not sure any writer can answer that question—you tell me! How’d I do?

Although I do admit to being a little sad that some of my erotica readers haven’t followed me to the immigrant fiction, thinking perhaps that because it has a South Asian focus that they won’t be able to relate to it. I’d like them to trust that if they liked my erotica, there’s a good chance they’ll like what I’m doing now. But I suppose that if they were mostly interested in the arousing aspect of the erotica, that it’s true they won’t find nearly as much of that focus in the mainstream fiction. It’s there, but it’s not the focus anymore.

You’ve also written a cookbook of Sri Lankan recipes. What role does food play in your fiction? Can you address food and cooking as “identity”? And how about the intersections of food, sex, and culture?

My characters tend to be a little obsessed with food, I think, maybe because I love it so. But truly, you’ll see a lot of food in most immigrant fiction, and I think understandably so. For many immigrants and their children, food is such a primary sensory connection to the homeland. The tastes (and scents) that you miss (the curry leaves that for years, my mother couldn’t buy in America, the exact blend of spices she used in her sauces, the coconut-milk hoppers that she couldn’t make, because they required a particular small hemispherical pan) become icons of home—and when you do finally taste them again, after perhaps years away, they explode on your tongue, a sensory overload that connects directly to your heart. Food is one of the primal needs—right up there with sex in its importance to our most primitive and powerful selves. What I don’t understand is how any writer can not write about food!

Let’s make a brief turn down the editing road. You were the founder of not one but two online magazines: Clean Sheets, which publishes erotic fiction and nonfiction, and Strange Horizons, which publishes speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, etc.). Both are highly respected and still going strong. Do you have different criteria for editing erotica than for editing speculative fiction (beyond the obvious “erotica must have erotic elements and spec fic much have spec fic elements”)?

Actually, yes. The way I usually think about it is that there are really two different types of genre definitions. Erotica and horror are what I’d call genres of mood—they aim to arouse a specific emotional/physical response in the reader. If an erotica story doesn’t arouse you, if a horror story doesn’t horrify you—it’s failed its task. Of course, not every story will work for every reader—we all have different tastes. But as a writer of erotica, my primary goal is to arouse—that comes first. It doesn’t matter how artistic and literary a story is, if it doesn’t arouse someone, it’s not really erotica.

As opposed to that, science fiction and fantasy don’t aim for any particular mood. Oh, maybe a bit of “sense of wonder,” but that doesn’t need to be the primary focus of the story, or even present in every successful speculative fiction story. Most genres aren’t genres of mood, but genres of convention—and I’d include “realistic fiction” as a genre by this definition.

Do you still read erotica (whether genre or literary) for pleasure? If so, can you name some of your favorite authors?

I named some above, although to be honest, I don’t read so much anymore. In part that’s because I’m scrambling to keep up with my other reading—I’m teaching an Asian-American literature class this spring, so I’m trying desperately to get up to speed on East Asian and SE Asian literature at the moment. And I’m working on a few books that focus on nationalism and war, so I’m reading a lot of military memoirs and history texts.

The other part, to be honest, is that since getting pregnant and having a baby, I’ve just been too damn exhausted to be very sexual lately, so the interest in reading about sex isn’t really there at the moment. (Someone asked me what my sexual orientation was recently, and I told them my sexual orientation was “tired.”) Hopefully the sex drive will come back, maybe when Kavya finally starts sleeping through the night!

You had your first child last year—congratulations! You’ve said in your blog that you had a pretty traditional upbringing. What are your thoughts on how you’re going to raise your own daughter and teach her about the world, particularly in the area of sexuality?

Heh. Well, I certainly now understand the desire to lock up your daughter until she’s 21! (Although I’m a lot less worried about sex than my parents were, and a lot more worried about drugs—they seem to have much more potential to actually ruin your life these days, and be much more pervasive in schools than they were when I was a kid.) I hope that Kevin and I will be able to be pretty open and honest with her about sex, including explaining to her why we hope she waits to have full-on sex until she’s old enough and mature enough to deal with any physical, mental, or emotional consequences. Gosh, I sound like a stuffy old parent already, don’t I? :-) She’s probably going to be sneaking out the basement window at fifteen to go meet boys, just like I did…

It’ll be interesting seeing how we handle the poly stuff with her; it’ll probably depend to some extent on what kinds of poly relationships we are or aren’t involved with as time goes on. I think the basic plan is to answer her questions as they come up. Hopefully we’ll have a good long while to think about our answers before she actually starts asking questions!

Mary Anne, thanks for spending the day with us! You’ve given us so much to think about and discuss. For anyone wanting to know more about Mary Anne, you can visit (and lose hours in the process) her her website. Meanwhile, though, let’s all go discuss in the comments!

(Note: Photos of author taken by Suzette Bross.)

20 comments:

Olivia Knight said...

Whew! Hard to know where to start, with so much to choose from... so if you're still around, Mary Anne, a question: learning to be a better writer has been all about adding layers to my writing. I've heard the term "layers" so much recently, in the context of writing, and I don't quite get how people are using it. I love your description of "literary" so perhaps you can give an equally sensible one of "layers"! (Or if anyone else is around that's encountered this new insect, maybe they can tell me what it means?)

Janine Ashbless said...

Mary Anne, you are so cool! Sci-fi and erotica and academia and all - I'm struggling to cope with my sense of inadequacy!
:-)

I've been bumping into the concept of Polyamory all over the place recently. There was a full-page feature on it in the Metro a week or so back. As a concept it appeals so much to the idealist in me.

Jeremy Edwards said...

What an enriching and inspiring interview, so full of insights!

If you're taking questions, Mary Anne, I'd love to hear more of the story behind the creation of Clean Sheets, and how the site established itself. (Oops, I guess that's not, technically, a "question"—but you get the idea.) CS is very central to my life as an erotica writer and reader; I adore it as an institution, and I know I'm just one of many, many people who are deeply indebted to you for bringing it into the world.

Deanna Ashford said...

Such a fascinating interview and you are involved with so may different things. I admire you - I can barely cope with what I have to handle in my life at present.

Shanna Germain said...

Mary Anne,

What a wonderful, thoughtful, interesting interview! I feel that I, like so many, learned so much from you when I first started writing. Clean Sheets was my first erotic publication, I loved your web site (all the helpful advice you had for writers)...and your stories. Truly amazing. You continue to be a true inspiration to me and I'm sure to many others out there. Thank you.

The photo of you and your daughter is absolutely gorgeous, by the way :)

Best, s.

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

What a wonderful interview! Mary Anne, I look up to you in so many ways.

I'll probably be back later in the day with serious questions, but I'm a bit foggy so I'm going to ask a silly one: Would you share a favorite recipe with us, perhaps one perfect for a romantic dinner for two, three, or some other appropriate small number?

Loved the bit about trying to figure out how/when to explain your relationship."...and yes, he likes Chinese." I think I've had that conversation!

Amanda said...

this was a really enlightening and interesting interview, thanks for your insightful questions, Dale and your inspiring answers, Mary Anne. i look forward to reading your writing, particularly the South East Asian works and your recipe book. I adore Sri Lankan food. Always a pleasure to meet a fellow poly person.

Kate Pearce said...

What an insightful and entertaining interview, and what an interesting life you lead Mary Anne :) thanks so much for sharing with us.

Being fascinated by sexuality myself, I totally get how you ended up writing erotica.

Angell said...

Wow - all I can say is you are a wonderful role model, even for those of us who are in your age bracket.

What accomplishments at such a young age.

I'm very interested in the poly lifestyle - I was "introduced" to it (so to speak) by a friend of mine who believes in it, just hasn't found any partners who do at this time. I'd be interested in experiencing it, but right now I'm in a monogamous marriage. How I wish this interview had happend when I was 24.

You are an inspiration. I look forward to reading your works.

Nonny said...

Mary Anne, I'm polyamorous myself so I know precisely what you're talking about when people make assumptions. I'm open about my relationships, so I correct when it's appropriate; other times, I let it slide. If the purpose of the question is to ask what we want to do for dinner, it's not the time to correct the proper terms for our relationships -- but it's something I'll usually note to mention later. :)

And yes, jealousy and "where do you all sleep???" are the two most frequently asked questions. LOL

Congratulations on your daughter. She is adorable. :)

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Has anyone read Mary Anne's erotic choose-your-own-adventure books? I haven't yet (they're on The List) but they'd be a fun thing to talk about!

Savanna Kougar said...

Mary Anne, congratulations on your new baby. I admire you for living the way of your heart and integrity.
I wish we could all 'treasure' each other, whatever sexual orientation or lifestyle we choose, even it's plain old monogamy.

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

I haven't read the choose-your-own-adventure books, but I'd be fascinated to hear about the process of writing one. I'm such a pantser that I have a hard time keeping one plot straight, let alone half a dozen possible ones!

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Hey, everyone! Thanks so much for your sweet comments -- y'all are so nice! I'm sorry I didn't post earlier; my net was down for much of the day (damn Comcast), but I think it's all fixed now. I'll try to keep checking in this evening, and some more tomorrow.

Okay, on to the questions...

Olivia, you asked about layers. Hmm...there are a couple of ways I could approach this, I think. One way is to talk about a conversation I had with my advisor in grad school. She said that what I did write about, I wrote well, but that I needed to learn how to layer more depth into my stories.

An example of that -- until I moved to Salt Lake City, I don't think I ever really mentioned religion in my stories. I was raised Catholic, but left the church when I was twelve, and had been a relaxed agnostic ever since. That's fine for me, and for some of my characters, but in grad school, I was working on Bodies in Motion, a book about four generations of Sri Lankans and Sri Lankan-Americans. The book focuses on two families, of Tamil ethnicity, and what I suddenly realized while living in Utah (where the Mormon religion is so pervasive) was that I had completely left religion out of the book -- which was ridiculous, because given the time and place, most of my characters would have been raised Catholic (the Portuguese missionaries came through Sri Lanka a few generations previous) -- and some of them would be deeply religious! So I had to go back in and revise a lot of the stories to add a religious element. Sometimes it was overt, as in "Sister Mary", when one of the characters actually takes refuge in a convent -- sometimes it's barely there, in the background of someone's mind. But overall, the book gained a religious layer, and I think it's a better, more culturally accurate, and more interesting book as a result.

Does that help?

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Okay, before I go on to the next question, I have to tell you a joke. This is the only joke I ever invented, so I'm awfully fond of it. It does make it funnier if you know two other jokes first...

Militant agnostic: I don't know, and you don't either!

Relaxed agnostic: I don't know, and I don't care.

and here's mine...

Relaxed bisexual agnostic: I don't know, I don't care, and maybe I'll sleep with it.

:-)

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Janine and others who commented on polyamory, and how it sounds so nice -- I have to say, I think sometimes it sounds nicer than it is. Or maybe a better way to put it is that there are some folks who are better suited to it than others. I know quite a few people who thought they'd like poly, but found that when they tried to put it into practice, they experienced such a loss of security that that outweighed any positives poly offered them. In fact, I'd say that at least three-quarters of the couples I saw who tried poly, crashed and burned in the process!

I wouldn't recommend poly unless it really really sounds good to you, sounds right. I think I was leaning towards poly long before I ever started dating (maybe from when I first read Heinlein's _Moon is a Harsh Mistress_, with its line marriages and his other forms of group marriage). And if you do try it, you may want to do some reading about how you can cope with jealousy (Kevin doesn't really get jealous, lucky him, but I definitely do!). _The Ethical Slut_ is a good starting point, and the newsgroup alt.polyamory can be hugely helpful.

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Jeremy, you asked about how Clean Sheets got started. I'm really delighted that CS still has a devoted following and is going so strong -- most of the credit for that goes to Susannah Indigo and the rest of the staff who have been volunteering their time for so many years. I was just around for the first two years and then I took off; I'm more of a start-things-off person than a keep-them-going, I'm afraid. But since you asked how things started...

It actually started with the EROS list, an erotica writers' workshop. That was a mailing list, a spin-off from another mailing list writing workshop. A few of us started it because the main list had members who were uncomfortable with explicit sexual content. On the EROS list, we said that anything went -- all we asked was that writers tag any stories they sent in that were non-consensual or had incest themes (for the sake of list members who may have suffered abuse in the past, and wanted to skip pieces that might trigger unpleasant memories).

The list was very active for a few years, and a lot of great stories came through, along with a lot of great critiques and chat. At some point, we were lamenting the lack of magazines we liked. Scarlet Letters was just for women, Nerve was too angst-y and shame-centered, etc. and so on. We were saying that what we really wanted was a magazine that was unapologetically sexual, fun, cheerful in tone, and the kind of thing that both a hip city guy and a housewife in Montana could happily read.

Out of that conversation came several volunteers who got together and started Clean Sheets. We committed to publishing on time every single week (which caused two sleepless nights in the early weeks, when our webmaster suddenly pulled out and I had to learn quite a lot of HTML very quickly) because it seemed important to maintaining reader interest and presenting a professional demeanor. Beyond that, I'm not sure that we did anything special to establish ourself -- just poured a lot of time, energy, and enthusiasm in the project, doing our best to conduct ourselves as professionally as possible. We edited, we proofread, we were polite with our authors, etc. and so on. It seemed to work pretty well. :-) (And actually, it was my editing of Clean Sheets that led to my being picked as editor of the Aqua Erotica books, so in the end, all that volunteer time did lead to a little money too. :-)

Does that answer your questions?

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Shanna, glad you liked the photo -- the photographer is Suzette Bross, the older sister of a friend of mine. It was taken as part of a series on mothers and children for a hospital's walls, actually. Suzette's in Chicago, so if you're ever in town and need an author photo... :-)

I'm off to a required condo meeting (yuck) and then putting the baby to bed. Will be back later tonight to continue with Teresa's question!

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Teresa, you asked for a recipe. This is one of my favorite go-to recipes; it's a perennial favorite with all our friends. Don't laugh at the ketchup -- my mom uses it! It's just a quick way to reduce tomatoes and vinegar and sugar. Adjust chili powder to suit tastes -- 2 T is 'Sri Lankan hot', which is pretty damn spicy. This dish works well as a side dish with rice, or served mashed up a bit with sliced pita or naan as a party / orgy spread. But be careful of getting it on sensitive bits! :-)

Spicy Potato Curry (30 min. -- serves 4)

3 medium yellow onions, chopped
3 T vegetable oil
1/4 t. black mustard seed
1/4 t. cumin seed
1-2 T (or more to taste) red chili powder
3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 T ketchup
1 rounded t. salt
1/2 c. milk, optional

1. Saute onions in oil on high with mustard seed and cumin seed until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook 1 minute, until you start to cough. Immediately add potatoes, ketchup, and salt.

2. Lower heat to medium and add enough water so the potatoes don't burn (enough to cover usually works well). Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

3. Remove lid and simmer off any excess water; the resulting curry sauce should be fairly thick, so that the potatoes are coated with sauce, rather than swimming in liquid. Add milk, if desired, to thicken sauce and mellow spice level; stir until well-blended. Serve hot.

Mary Anne Mohanraj said...

Okay, I think this is the last question for the night -- please let me know if I missed any! Teresa asked about the process of writing the choose-your-own-adventure books.

I tried to go back through my journal to see if I made any good notes on the process -- I think this entry on finishing up one storyline and exploring some others gives a pretty good sense of what it was like in the midst of writing the book.

In brief, writing a choose-your-own-adventure book is essentially like writing many short stories -- they just all start at the same place. It's a branching tree. If you start with a girl from Indiana who's dumped her fiance and fled to San Francisco and then gets hit on by her new roommate -- well the first question is whether she follows up with him or not. Both options send you down different forks of the tree. And let's say she says yes, and starts fooling around with him in the kitchen, then what happens when his boyfriend walks in? Does she jump off and apologize, or try to brazen it out?

You can keep forking as often as you want, in order to get as many endings as you want. And you can do some neat tricks -- my favorite bit in Kathryn was the infinite orgy loop I came up with -- one path leads you to an orgy; you start the orgy at the top of the page, and at the bottom of the page, the instructions tell you to just go back up to the top. Infinite orgy fun!

One interesting aspect is that I did end up punishing the reader who made 'bad' choices. In the classic choose-your-own-adventure books, if you made the wrong choice in the dungeon, you died. In fact, in most of the paths, you died. In my book, most of the choices lead to happy sex, and sometimes happy romance, and even happily-ever-after, if that's your kind of thing. But if you make 'bad' choices in my book, you get punished. Some paths send you back to live miserably in Indiana, getting back together with your ex-fiance. Some paths leave you chained up in a San Francisco dungeon, anyone's meat, because you weren't careful about whom you played with. And so on. I didn't realize until after the books were published how much they could reveal the author's morality. I might have written them slightly differently if I had.