This is perhaps the most common question I’m asked after I reveal (well, if I reveal) that I have published a collection of erotica. Or even, as one friend put it, Please tell me you haven’t really done those things!
We don’t ask the writers of murder mysteries if they really killed that many people. We don’t ask authors of vampire stories if they too walk among the undead. Yet erotica writers are frequently asked to what extent their stories are autobiographical.
Partly, of course, it’s prurient interest or mere curiosity. If the writer is not in the habit of discussing her sex life with friends (as I am not), this is their only chance to peek behind the curtains.
However, I think it’s also a question of believability. It’s not just, Did you do those things? but Do those sorts of things really happen?
I recently rewatched the 1996 film Fargo (spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen it and plan to, please skip this and the next two paragraphs!). I first saw it in a theater, alone, in a foreign country. The movie opens, as you may remember, with a black screen with these words lettered in white:
THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.
I had no idea until I watched it again, this time on a DVD with all the extras at the end, that the story was in fact entirely fictional! (Mark of an obsessive writer: Maybe it was just my DVD version, but the word occurred was spelled on the screen with only one r! Drove me crazy!) Directors Joel and Ethan Coen explained that if the audience believed the events to be true, they would accept more than they would otherwise. Certainly that was true for me, and as an audience member, I am grateful for the little trick they played, as it made the movie better for me. The events were certainly “larger than life,” but I could believe that they actually happened, and that drew me into the story.
I don’t read erotica in hopes of discovering someone’s autobiography. I read it for the escapism, for the chance to visit some very sexy moment. It’s a delicate balance, for me–I don’t want it to be so realistic that it is dull, but neither do I want it to be so fantastic that I cannot put myself there. Break the law of ordinary, yes, but don’t break the law of gravity.
I write the same way, or at least I hope I do. The stories should have enough literary creation that they are just a bit outside the reach of most people’s most days; and yet, you should be able to see that they either did happen in some form, or that they could have. I may have changed dates or numbers or the order of events; some stories have been combined, and others pulled apart; some scenes happened just as I say they did, and others are purely invented. Which are which? I hope you can’t tell.
My settings are all real; I am not clever enough (or enough of a researcher) to write convincingly about a place I haven’t seen. I’ve transited through the Amsterdam airport and stayed overnight in that little capsule hotel. I’ve taken the Amtrak train from the West Coast across the country (though I alighted in New York, and not Chicago), and I was approached by a man with a connection to Herbert Hoover who struck up a conversation about the book I was reading, which was To the Lighthouse. And so on.
These are stories that happened, or that I wish had happened, or that could have happened. Or… that may still happen.
I hope you enjoy them.