By Lisabet Sarai
Over the next two weeks here at the Grip, we will be talking about how our writing has changed over time. Initially I was going to focus on craft issues. I planned to compare some passages from my first novel, written fifteen years ago, with text from more recent work, and highlight how much more skilled I’ve become at things like dialogue and sentence structure.
Instead, I’ve decided to talk about a more fundamental issue—my loss of innocence.
My early works were naive translations of my favorite fantasies into prose. I’d had little exposure to erotica as a genre. I wasn’t following any sort of rules. I wrote what aroused me personally, without worrying about whether it would have the same effect on someone else. My heroines were sexually voracious, unapologetically experimental, brave, curious and eager for new experience. I was like that myself in those days. The women (and men) in my books were more so.
As a consequence, my first three novels, especially (Raw Silk, Incognito and Ruby’s Rules—recently re-released as Nasty Business) feature all sorts of activities and couplings. Taken together, they include everything from cross-dressing to enemas—voyeurism and exhibitionism, homosexual and lesbian interactions, group sex, gang bangs, age play, fisting, golden showers, pegging, femdom, pseudo-incest, as well as spanking, flogging, bondage and the like. I wasn’t shy about writing it if it turned me on. And in those early days, before I’d read and written hundreds of thousands of erotic words, almost everything did.
I suspect that many writers of erotica began, like me, by exposing and exploring their own favorite scenarios of desire. The result is often searingly sexy. The author has poured his or her personal libidinous imaginings into the story, with all the accompanying emotions. Readers pick up on the emotional truth, and react to it. These self-disclosive stories are direct and intense. They hit you in the gut, or perhaps more appropriately, in the groin.
Even as I cringe at the quality of the writing, my early stories still have an intensity that melts me to a puddle of lust whenever I reread them.
As I became more familiar with the world of publishing, my work became less spontaneous, more consciously constructed. I began writing short stories to match anthology themes. I contracted with an erotic romance publisher and discovered that readers didn’t necessarily share my preference for pan-sexual diversity. Without realizing it, I acquired the knowledge of good and evil—or rather, marketable versus not.
My writing changed in response to this knowledge. I tamed my id to satisfy editors, reviewers and the public. At the same time, I was learning how to communicate more effectively through my prose, how to grab the reader’s attention and keep it focused where I wanted it. I moved away from writing as confession or self-gratification toward writing for an imagined audience. I acquired the ability to modify my style to match the preferences of that audience.
The market was changing at the same time. The readership for erotic fiction grew but I think the tolerance for extreme or unusual activities shrank. My pre-AIDs-era heroines who’d have unprotected sex with strangers if the mood was right began to seem shocking as well as old-fashioned. My occasional interest in enemas and golden showers would make the bulk of the reading community run away screaming—as well as getting me banned from Amazon.
Perhaps to compensate for the reduced sexual diversity in any one of my tales, I began to experiment with different forms. I wrote M/M, F/F, ménage, paranormal, historical, science fiction, steam punk, in addition to the BDSM that was my first love. As I’ve matured as a writer, I’ve gained the confidence to tackle new sub-genres. Just recently I wrote my first tentacle porn story as well as my first F/F fantasy piece.
My publishing history makes me proud. I may not be as prolific as some of my peers, but I’m a far more skillful and accomplished writer than I was in 1999, when Raw Silk poured out of me in an excited frenzy. Still, I can’t help looking back with a sense of nostalgia to the days when reading my own work would leave me breathless and damp.
I’ve finally given up on the notion of being financially successful with my writing, and so I’ve decided to try suspending the censor and critic, if I can, and writing once more from my loins. I’m not the same woman I was back then, though. My life-changing initiation into dominance and submission is thirty years behind me. Memories grow pale and worn with constant rehearsal. I’m post-menopausal, a state which gives me new appreciation for the power of hormones. And I’m pretty well sated from reading erotica by others. It takes an extraordinary story these days to make an impression.
I’ve been away from the garden for a long time now. The gates are barred by time and experience. I have to accept that I’ll never write my way back into that state of innocence.