By Lisabet Sarai
This post is not about one night stands. I might explore that topic some other time: the thrill of the unknown, the intoxication with the unfamiliar, the tantalizing possibility that a random encounter might lead to a world-altering epiphany. Today, however, I’m actually talking about writing.
I publish both long and short erotica and erotic romance, in ebook and in print. I have a respectable back list for someone who doesn’t write full time. However, some of my best work doesn’t show up in the publishing history on my website, namely, the erotic tales I write to spec for Custom Erotica Source.
CES offers an unusual service. For a fee, and in complete privacy, CES provides a professionally written realization of a customer’s erotic fantasy scenario. Via an online questionnaire, the customer supplies all the details: the names, genders, ages, orientations, appearance and personalities of the characters; their relationships; the plot; particular erotic stimuli to emphasize; the type of language desired (from suggestive to filthy); and so on. Then the author (in this case, yours truly) takes this specification and spins it into a story from 1500 to 5000 words long (depending on what the customer orders).
At this point, some of my author colleagues may be shaking their heads. How can I prostitute myself in this way? How can I betray my art? Why would I surrender my creative vision and allow someone else to dictate the content and style of my work?
Well, of course the money is nice. But I do it partly because writing someone else’s erotic dreams is both a fascinating and an educational experience.
When I write something in response to a call for submissions, I have a generic audience in mind. I probably understand the type of tales a particular editor prefers. I know that Total-E-Bound’s readers are looking for something different than people who buy books from Cleis, or Xcite, or Republica Press. Furthermore, the anthology theme or the focus of the CFS provides some guidance as to content and tone. Within those broad boundaries, though, I’m free to follow my imagination in any direction it leads. I know I can intrigue and arouse at least some subset of the community of readers; I really can't hope for more.
When I write for CES, on the other hand, I have an audience of one. I know exactly what turns that audience on – because the customer has shared his or her secret desires. It’s my job to put flesh on the bones of the story specification, to make my customer’s lusts concrete and then satisfy them.
To succeed in this task, I have to somehow sync my own erotic imagination with his. I can’t write an arousing story unless I see the characters and the situation through my customer’s eyes. Somehow, I have to intuit the customer’s reactions to the stimuli described in the spec and then coax myself into the same psychological state.
That’s where the intimacy arises. I don’t have any direct communication with the customer (although I am allowed to ask questions, via the management, if I see issues in the spec). Nevertheless, he (almost all my assignments have been writing for men) and I are connected, by his act of sharing his lewd dreams and my willingness to assume them as my own.
Some fantasies I’ve received as assignments don’t appeal to me personally at all. (I’m free to refuse assignments that I might find repugnant, of course. So far that hasn’t happened.) Still, I’ve managed to turn them into tales that pleased my unknown reader. This requires a kind of suspension of my own sexual identity in order to connect with his. By the time I’m finished, I’m usually turned on by the tale, regardless of my initial reaction. If I’m not, I know I haven’t fulfilled my part of the bargain.
Executing a CES assignment requires a possibly surprising degree of craft. I must pace the story in order to include all details from the spec while still keeping it within the word limit. I have to guard against adding erotic elements that push my own buttons, but might not have the same effect on my audience. At the same time, I need to add sensual details, plausible transitions and especially, emotional authenticity. That’s my added value, as a professional author. If just anyone could write a compelling, intense sexual fantasy, I’d be out of a job.
What really makes it work for me, though, is getting inside my customer’s head. Watching one of these stories unfold is a weird feeling, but exciting, too. It's almost as though someone were whispering naughty ideas in my ear. I may have never considered these notions before, but when I wrap my mind around them, I begin to see the appeal.
It has occurred to me that my submissive tendencies account for some of my success in writing custom fantasies. My master once called me “suggestible”, and I suspect that’s an appropriate evaluation of my personality. The fact that I'm bisexual and exceptionally broad-minded about sex probably helps, too.
My one regret about these CES stories is that nobody else will ever read them. They belong to the customers who paid for them, not to me. I can't post them on my website. I can't even talk about the specific fantasy scenarios involved; that would be a breach of confidentiality. They're eternal secrets, between my customer and me.
The last assignment I handled, though, involved an outrageous, kinky, gender-bending scenario that turned me on from the moment I opened the specification file. My personal sex life became significantly more interesting while I was working on the tale, because of the fantasies it inspired. I had no problem identifying with my audience in this case. And yet writing that story was possibly more difficult than my previous assignments, because I had to stop my own imagination from hijacking the customer's vision.
I view my tales for CES as a sort of writing exercise. They require a level of control far beyond what's needed for a free form story written to satisfy a vague theme. I believe that they've helped me hone my skills as an author of erotica.
The real payoff, though, is emotional – the heady sense of power that comes from bringing my customer's dirtiest dreams to life. At the same time, it's a sort of ecstatic surrender, a willingness to sink into my customer's desires.
I will never know who my readers are, and they'll never really know me. For a short while, though, we're as close as lovers.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
By Lisabet Sarai