Here’s an audio version
For a certain part of my childhood, a fascination with cash-registers made me look ahead to a future in retail. After that, I wished there was a profession where you operated vending machines for people all day, kind of like the conspicuous consumption iteration of an elevator operator. Once I let go of those ambitions, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a writer: ok, a successful writer. But I’m fairly certain no one thinks, I want to write erotic fiction when I grow up.
I never thought that myself. Nevertheless, erotic fiction turned out to be at the root of my historical novel. The story started with me being curious about women’s historical experience of sex. Of course the mechanics are kind of a constant, but what about the meaning and experience?
Sex is a big draw; people are interested in it. When I posted my first erotic short story (which became the kernel of my novel,) on an erotic literature website, I was stunned and dazzled to see that literally thousands of people read it. I got anonymized messages in my in-box telling me how much people liked it, and that if I wasn’t a professional writer already, I should be. Short of big blobs of money, what more could a writer want?
It’s a bit awkward though to say at the family Christmas party, “Wow! Congratulations, that’s great about your big business deal. I just topped 55000 views for one of my free erotic stories!” My identity is a pseudonym on the story site, but that’s not going to help me much in my quest to promote my commercial writing. I compromised by linking to my website, so if someone’s interested enough in my work they can find out who I am, otherwise I’m just some nameless contributor.
I started posting stories (many of which are excerpts or out-takes from Beltane) before e-readers or Fifty Shades of Grey. The anonymity of tablets and the popularity of Fifty Shades is all to the good for anyone hoping to promote themselves by writing erotica. Still, I feel some ambivalence. I’ve been frank with my family about the level of sexual content in the novel, and assured them that I have no vested interest in whether they read the novel or not. One family member told me apologetically that she was doing ok with the book, but had to put it down after an unconventional scene likely to get anyone’s attention. I was completely fine with that: though I did wonder why she stopped after and not before; even a blind person could see it coming, I ought to know! On the other hand, a cousin asked me to provide page numbers so she could skip right to the best parts, and there was some humorous discussion about a dramatic reading at the next family party.
I’m a relative new-comer to a lot of social media, and I’m still getting used to the idea that there’s a kind of virtual me in the e-verse: a shadowy someone built up from profiles, blog posts and tweets. Whenever I post an erotic short story, either for fun or for publicity, that virtual me accrues… a few sequins? a feather boa? a pair of improbable shoes?
I’ve been thinking lately about what success is, and how I’ll know if I’ve achieved it in my professional life. It would be satisfying and exciting to make a lot of money from my work, and high sales would be a sweet ego boost, but knowing that thousands of people are reading my work is pretty sweet too. It’s true, it does feel a little bit like selling drinks at the beach on a hot afternoon; free erotica kind of sells itself, metaphorically speaking. There’s a part of me that feels awkward writing publicly about such an essentially private thing, but I know I’ll keep doing it. It means my work gets read by lots of people, maybe it will turn out to be a good publicity opportunity, and the truth is: it’s just fun.