I could certainly make one up. I once volunteered to run an Adult Writing Workshop. I had no idea what I was signing up for – and when I realized that “Adult Writing Workshop” was a euphemism for “Erotica” or “Porn,” I just gamely carried on – I’d agreed to do it and didn’t want to admit I was young, naive, and had never read anything racier than PlayBoy’s Jokes page, circa 1972.
So what does any neophyte writer of steamy sex stories do in order to come across as sensually savvy and sophisticated? Research, of course.
I had never been to an “Adult Bookstore” in my life. I knew where one was, though – not far from the university I attended. I’d had sex. I was young, married, and had a toddler. But I was modest and easily embarrassed. I didn’t want to be caught dead doing something perfectly normal and legal like walking into a…porn shop. In broad daylight. Where people might see me. So naturally, on a bright, warm, sunny day, I donned a trenchcoat, headscarf, and dark sunglasses and drove across town. I looked around to see if there was anyone who might recognize me before exiting the car. I opened the door to the dimly lit shop, slipped in as surreptitiously as I could, and proceeded to knock over an entire display case of Harley-Davidson jewelry.
“Can I help you?” asked a nice, middle-aged woman while her husband picked up the display case and quietly put things to right.
“I am so sorry…” I muttered, trying to figure out the nearest escape route.
“It’s fine. Can I help you find anything?”
I opened and closed my mouth like a dying fish. “I, er, um–well. I volunteered to run this writing workshop–for erotica–but, um–I’ve never, um–read any. Maybe you could help me pick out some representative publications?”
WTF. “Representative publications”?
“Sure, let’s take a look.” She led me to several volumes of “Hot Letters,” a couple of laughable novels, the usual Playboy and Penthouse, and some magazines whose covers were too hard-core to contemplate. I left the store with a brown paper bag full of books and a steely resolve that the workshop would focus on nothing steamier than what Playboy would publish. Besides, Playboy paid well.
I didn’t take off the “disguise” until I got home. I’m pretty sure my husband just laughed and shook his head when I described my misadventures.
I read the “representative publications” like a woman on a mission. I laughed my way through the “Hot Letters” – seriously, they paid people to write these? It was an obvious formula. I tried my hand at it and churned out about five in two hours. The only problem with mine was that they were all comedy. That’s right – I apparently invented a whole new sub-genre of erotica: sex comedy. A male reader and friend explained, as gently as he could, that while the writing was good and he’d howled with laughter from start to finish, most people read erotica to get their rocks off one-handed, not to laugh their heads off.
I gamely carried on. The workshop, I think, went reasonably well. It turned out, unfortunately, that most sex-oriented magazines were getting enough unsolicited freebies for their “hot letters” department that they’d stopped paying real writers to invent stories for them. This was too bad – it could have been lucrative. Then again, I’d had second thoughts about the whole thing, anyway, realizing that in order to be paid, I’d have to also divulge my real name and social security number.
I was still a prude at heart.
Years later, I posted an erotic short story on Writing.com. It was well-rated – and it was popular enough that I was able to look at aggregated, anonymous reader demographics. I was momentarily shocked and horrified to learn that the majority of my readers were between the ages of 14 and 17. I immediately took the story down and would have burned it if it had been printed on paper. But then, rational thought prevailed: I considered this information as a mother and as a former child who was also a precocious and avid reader. How old was I when I’d pulled my grandfather’s Playboys off the shelf and read all the jokes? Don’t think for a moment I didn’t also look at the centerfolds to see how I “stacked up” or that I didn’t read more than the articles. I was twelve.
And so, knowing that you can’t stop a determined child from tasting forbidden fruit, I wrote a new short, erotic story worthy of Penthouse. But there was a tiny, little knife twist at the end: the oh-so-naughty main characters were also happily married. To each other.
I figured one of two things would happen: Either the young readers would be so immediately grossed out to realize older, married people still “did it” that they’d never dip into my X-rated folder again, or they’d realize there was still fun to be had, even after marriage. Either way, it was a message I could live with.