writing without a public agenda. My muse (whoever or whatever it is) has a problem with programs of any kind. As soon as I announce that we have a Program or a Plan, my muse hides under a rock.
SDk: You stated in another interview some years ago that you think “contemporary erotica has reached a new level of literary quality, thanks to the efforts of publishers and writers who wanted to open up the genre for mainstream readers and make it a place where artists could push the limits of their creativity”. Where do you think we are today in this process: do you think “mainstream readers” have embraced “literary erotica”? Are there still the forums for talented creative writers in this genre to continue pushing the limits, and are these writers, in fact, doing so?
AT: I do believe that mainstream readers have embraced literary erotica, as evidenced by the popularity of anthologies such as the Best American Erotica and Best Women’s Erotica series. Unfortunately, the market for those collections seems to have become over-saturated. Best American Erotica recently published its final edition. The print publishing industry has capitalised on the new acceptance of frankly erotic writing and blended it with romance fiction to create “romantica”, which is now hugely popular.
I have to admit that I’ve been reading more poetry and nonfiction than fiction these days, so I’m not up to date on the latest trends in fiction. My belief, and I will cling to this through trends in the publishing industry that affect literary erotica positively or negatively, is that there will always be forums for new voices and ideas in erotic writing. Those who believe that writing honestly about sexuality in all of its facets is a worthwhile creative pursuit will find those forums – if they can’t find them, they will invent them. I think the web still offers some of the best opportunities for writers to publish honest, explicit fiction and poetry about sex. This has been true ever since the text-only days of the internet; I posted some of my first erotic short stories on rec.arts.erotica, in the belief that the web gave me more freedom to write what I wanted to write, using my most authentic voice. Some of those early, early stories are still among the best pieces I’ve ever written. Self-publishing in print is also more accessible than ever, and no longer has the stigma of being an expression of personal vanity.
SDk: Let’s go back so some other foundations and revisit some of your formative literary influences. You studied French literature at graduate school, including the Marquis de Sade and Pauline Réage – were they standard reading, or was it a direction you elected to pursue? Do you think French literature has something unique
to offer in this genre?
AT: Sade was standard reading in some of the seminars on 18thcentury literature or philosophy. I still remember reading Philosophy in the Bedroom on a bus on the way to campus and feeling like I’d been plunged into some kind of nihilistic cavern by the Marquis’ interpretation of moral behaviour. I was surprised, when I looked up from the book, to see that the California sunshine was still as relentlessly mellow as ever. I read Réage on my own, but a discussion of The Story of O would have been welcomed by some of my professors, who were very creative and open-minded intellectuals. In its bravery, creativity, naturalism, beauty and ingenious perversity, French erotic literature deserves its classic status.
Look at Anaïs Nin, Collette, Françoise Sagan. I believe its unique contribution is that erotica has been interwoven into the fabric of its cultural narrative, much as sexuality itself is accepted as an integral part of the social experience.
When I first set out to write erotica, I imitated de Sade and Réage. Back in my twenties I wrote a very mechanical, overblown, hilariously unbelievable BDSM novel, which died a worthy death in some publishing company’s slush pile. Still, I’m in awe of those authors and their creative courage and their willingness to take their private visions to such extremes, then make those visions public. Even a writer who
publishes anonymously has to confront his or her sense of social self when sharing work with the public. More importantly, the erotica writer exposes herself to a degree of intimacy in self-revelation that may undermine her sense of who she is.
SDk: You sometimes variously refer both to readers and to writers of literary and dark erotica as “him” or “her”. This comes across as very deliberate. What are you saying with this usage, particularly with “her”?
AT: I wasn’t aware of it, but I think that usage reflects a preference for the masculine and feminine pronouns over the gender-neutral “they”. While reading and writing are universal experiences, I like to envision both readers and authors as