Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Erotic Inspirations: A Very Personal Reading List

Recently a novice writer asked me to recommend some of my favorite erotic authors and books. I realized that I could answer this question quickly with a list of editors and publishers I love because they appreciate me, but part of me pushed back against a “commercial” answer, because, well, part of me is sick of anything that smacks of self-promotion. Another part (I am, apparently, a woman of many parts) was reluctant to claim authority on the subject because tastes in erotica are especially personal. Of course, the evaluation of any writing involves personal taste, but let’s be honest—the “best” erotica stimulates our unique turn-ons. 

Then I got to musing how very intimate it would be to share my favorite hot-button stories with a lover, putting together a personal anthology of tales that sink deep into my flesh and my imagination. In other words, the stories that I could read again and again (and you all know what that means). I’d be even more interested in reading my lover’s special anthology. Communicating through stories would, I think, convey a flavor and sensibility that direct description—I like being bossed around by billionaire CEO’s, I’d love to be tickled all over with feathers, etc.—can never fully capture.

This project felt a bit too personal to share with my erotica-writing friend, but then it also hit me that as an erotica writer, I share my sensibility with my readers with every word I write. So much for privacy.

However, I suspect the question also invited me to suggest works of erotica that would inspire good writing as much as erotic response. I’m not in a position to endorse the erotica canon blindly. Henry Miller and The Story of O didn’t really do it for me. Fanny Hill was interesting historically, but the style is of a different age. Anais Nin is the mother of modern erotica, and a lovely, poetic writer, but she needs no recommendation--we all find her on our own.

Yet, in thinking back, there was a list of books I read when I first started writing that made me say, “Yes, I want to try this, too!” Many were published in the mid-to-late 1990’s, which is when I began writing myself. Thus again, there is an inescapably personal element to my list. How can it be otherwise? Indeed, it could well be that one’s formative erotic stories rely more on timing than quality. I was ready to be awakened to erotica, and certain stories found their way to me that might be far less memorable now.

All that said, I eventually did have myself a good time remembering the stories that turned me on as a writer sixteen long years ago. I still stand by these recommendations as a writer and a reader. They made me what I am today.

Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane DiPrima

A renowned Beat poet, DiPrima originally wrote this erotic novel in the late 1960’s for the money. In spite of the title, it was “based” on her own experiences rather than a true memoir. She proudly admits in the afterword that she made most of it up. Fortunately, she, like Anais Nin, was so talented, she couldn’t write badly, even for such a practical purpose. My very favorite part is chapters one and two, “February” and "February--continued" which describe her first intimate encounter in the West Village with a sexy revolutionary named Ivan. Is there anything sexier than a gorgeous Bohemian who's great in bed? This scene made me realize that erotica can be smart, beautifully written, romantic, edgy and hot all at the same time. Many of the later chapters do indeed read as if they were written for money, but that first chapter is seared into my imagination. I didn’t only want to write it, I wanted to live it.

The Mammoth Book of International Erotica, edited by Maxim Jakubowski

This volume was reissued in 2006 with some changes in the table of contents, but the book I fell in love with was the 1996 version. Many famous names are included in the table of contents, but the two stories that inspired me to write were “Fourth Date, First Fuck” by Dion Farquhar and “Watching” by J.P. Kansas. Both are realistic and involved emotionally intimate relationships, which was a new thing for me to see in “dirty” fiction. “Fourth Date” describes a delicious mutual seduction between two people who’ve been hot for each other for a while—again a scene I wouldn’t mind living out in real life. In “Watching,” a husband comes home early from work to find his wife masturbating to one of his porn videos. What really delighted and intrigued me is that we get both sides of the story, first his, then hers. The humor and the heat are irresistible.

Actually, I would recommend any of Maxim’s Mammoth erotica anthologies to a new writer, because they provide a varied menu of possibilities in sexual and literary expression. Some will touch you more than others, but they’re all well-written. Maxim also appreciates longer stories, which is not so common in our Internet age.

Best American Erotica 1997

This single volume remains my favorite in the long and impressive “Best Erotica” series, possibly because it was published at the right time, but maybe just because the stories are great. I know, I’m on the record as disliking reviews that merely mention favorite stories, but I warned you up front this was very personal! Mark Stuertz’ “Lunch” totally blew my mind because the author juxtaposed a "Twin Peaks"-esque secret lunch club performance--complete with a dwarf and a languid beauty infusing a spinach salad with her womanly essence--with an exploration of the sexual sensibility of "Drew," the man who recommended this unusual meal to the less-worldly narrator. For me it was the first time a character was portrayed so powerfully through his sexual history and tastes. It was a little creepy and very sexy at the same time. Would I want to be with this "Drew"? (Sure, what the hell!)

By contrast, “She Gets Her Ass Fucked Good” by Rose White and Eric Albert is, in spite of the raw title, a sweet love story told in dialogue. I love dialogue in erotic fiction. I love the way a focus on dialogue allows the reader to add in all the good parts. I’m tempted to go write a story right now that is only dialogue. Maybe I will. Thanks to White and Albert for teaching me its power.

Erotica: An Illustrated Anthology of Sexual Art and Literature, volumes 1, 2 and 3 edited by Charlotte Hill and William Wallace (Carroll and Graf, 1992, 1993, 1996).

I discovered these beautifully illustrated anthologies of erotic excerpts at Good Vibrations way back when there was just one store on Valencia Street in San Francisco—another well-timed discovery for a budding erotica writer. I started with the second volume and quickly had to stock up on the others. The editors chose selections from a wide variety of classic erotic tales, presenting a nice overview of the scribblings of the erotic pen. The wide historical range of the illustrations also confirms that humanity has been fascinated and inspired by sexuality since, like, forever. They say women aren’t as fond of visual erotica, but these books prove this is not the case for yours truly when the images are artistically conceived, but no less explicit. Hill and Wallace put out a new volume in 2011, The Collected Erotica: An Illustrated Celebration of Human Sexuality Through the Ages. I’m figuring it can’t be all that different from the content in the three volumes I have, but it might be a good introduction and easier to order new at a reasonable price.

Now please let me to ask you--which books first inspired your erotica writing adventure?

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman (recently released as an ebook) and a new collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

5 comments:

  1. Ah, Donna!

    Great topic! I'll have to check out some of the books you recommend, which predated my plunge into erotica.

    I have to admit that "The Story of O" would have to be part of my canon, Anais Nin less so - partly because her self-view seems very different from mine.

    The book that inspired me to write and publish my first novel was Portia da Costa's GEMINI HEAT, an early Black Lace title. Although not exactly literary, the intelligence of the characters and the diversity of the scenarios really caught my imagination. What can I say? I like it all!

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  2. In the fall of 2005, when I had either just begun or was just about to begin submitting erotica for publication again after a ten-year hiatus, I browsed through the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica paperbacks in a Borders in Chicago (during a vacation visit) and selected volume 3 for purchase. (It was, at the time, the second-most-recent volume.) It happened that the cover of volume 3 was my favorite of the early Mammoth covers, but it was a brief sampling of the contents that made me decide to bring that one home that day. It's been a while since I've reread "Cactus Ass" (Cheyenne Blue), "The Little American" (Sage Vivant), "Progressive Party" (Alison Tyler), or "Drift" (Christopher Hart); but the stories remain bookmarked because each time I do read these quirky, beautiful, delicious, and upbeat tales, I know afterward that I'll enjoy reading them yet again on a future occasion.

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  3. Thank you, Lisabet and Jeremy. It's so interesting to learn about what sparked other erotic writers!

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  4. Donna,

    I'm with you on The Story of O. While I feel it's an important part of the erotica canon, personally, I find it dull. I recently reread Henry Miller and Anais Nin. His stories radiate such misogyny that it's hard to feel them on an erotic level. Hers are wonderful.

    For the most part, short stories work better for me in erotica. Novels are problematic. It's easier to list exceptions that I felt worked, such as your novel Amorous Woman, Remittance Girl's Beautiful Losers, and many novels that weren't necessarily erotic but had a line or two that encapsulated a moment ripe in erotic potential. (It's a bit useless to list those since we're transported by different stories. My transcendent desire is your page flipping scene.)

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  5. Kathleen, I am so with you on Henry Miller. Rather than feeling turned on, I feel strangled by his "erotic" scenes. Speaking of different tastes, I recently reread a novel with an erotic scene I admired the first time I read it. Didn't do anything for me several years later! So it is a delicate chemistry there....

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