By Jean Roberta (Guest Blogger)
Thanks to Lisabet for letting me guest-blog here! I hope I can live up to the general tone of this space.
I write under my real first and middle names, Jean Roberta. When my parents were still alive, I promised them I wouldn’t use our unusual family name for –gasp – my lesbian fiction, which at that time was relatively non-erotic. Then I branched out into erotica in various flavors, and thought I should keep my writing persona separate from my parents’ hopes for me.
In the 1980s, while raising my daughter alone, I earned a Master’s degree in English. (The English Department of the local university has never had a Ph.D. program.) By now, I’ve been teaching first-year English classes at my alma mater for over 20 years. Thanks to the local academic union, I have a secure job and a good salary with perks.
Although I never have enough time to write (who does?), I’m probably luckier than most other erotic writers. To a large extent, my day job keeps me safe. A clean life in the Ivory Tower is what my academic parents always wanted for me.
But then there is the persistent question of where erotic writing fits into academia or a public library, a bookstore, the publishing world or a life. I’ve explained to amused colleagues that actually, many respected writers have written about sex. (“The Miller’s Tale,” written by Chaucer in the 1380s, is still one of the funniest dirty jokes around. And for lovers of classical drama, there is always the Greek comedy Lysistrata, written in the fifth century Before the Christian Era. Not to mention the double-entendres in Shakespeare.)
Explaining that sex keeps appearing in literature because it keeps appearing in life is like shouting into the wind. The French expression “Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose” (the more things change, the more they remain the same) seems relevant to the notion that erotica is now openly accepted, and that prudery is a relic of the Victorian Age.
Since the beginning of the current century, I’ve seen numerous articles in mainstream publications, saying that sex in literature is now acceptable, and in fact, it’s chic. But then I get the snicker. Everyone who writes sexually-explicit fiction must be familiar with the assumption of certain friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers that the genre we choose to write in is sub-sub-literary, that anyone can write that stuff, that it’s an easy way to make money (much like other types of sex work), and that women who write that stuff are available for sex. (One of the perks of growing older is that every year, fewer strangers seem obsessed with me in that sense.)
And then there is the widespread assumption that erotica and erotic romance (sexually-explicit love stories) are the same genre with the same audience. My heart aches when I read about top-notch erotic authors who can’t get novels accepted by publishers any more if the work isn’t strictly romance.
There is nothing wrong with sexually-explicit love stories, of course. But there is something wrong with an assumption that sex must always be the expression of True Love which leads to a formal, lifelong commitment, and that only a commitment can “cleanse” the sex. I remember being told something like that by my mother when I reached puberty. This assumption wouldn’t make sense if we weren’t still living with a very old belief that sex is inherently degrading in itself.
My heart aches when I read about writers who won’t admit to anyone they know personally that they write sexually-explicit fiction under a pen-name completely different from their own. In some places, even now, erotic writers seem to occupy the same invisible social position that gay men, lesbians and bisexuals occupied before 1969, when a police raid on a disreputable bar in NYC turned into an uproar that made the rest of the world aware that “gays” existed (who knew?) and didn’t like being constantly picked on as carriers of “perversion” (sex).
I can only sigh when politicians launch protests against government funding for the arts (literature, film, music, visual art, dance, theatre) if a book, a performance or an exhibit includes any sexual explicitness, thereby making it “porn” according to the critics. In some elections, “porn”-baiting is a popular sport (“The other guys spend money on porn and sexual favors”). Those of us who write about sex are certainly not a protected species, and we often have to explain that it’s not the only subject we ever tackle in words.
Time will tell whether the general status of erotic writers goes up, down, or at least levels out. In the meanwhile, we need to support each other. Our freedom of speech isn’t guaranteed anywhere.
A national student writing award in my last year of high school encouraged me to dream of a Literary Career, but the road to success has many twist and turns. In the 1980s, a local publisher brought out a slim volume of poems, half by me and half by a woman I hadn’t met before. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in a larger city brought out my collection of lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. (The title is a reference to the Salem witchcraft trials of the 1690s.)
In the 1990s, I started writing erotica. My first erotic story, “Something Natural,” was published in Batteries Not Included (an anthology about lesbians and sex toys) in 1999. The story refers to the feminist sex wars of the 1980s/90s in which the use of sex toys (“tools of the patriarchy”) was very controversial in some circles. At the time, I was more afraid of being ostracized by all thinking women for being Politically Incorrect than for being a shameless writing slut, although the two categories seemed to overlap!
I joined the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, which provided me with encouragement and information. By now, over eighty of my erotic stories have appeared in print anthologies. (Learn more here: www.JeanRoberta.com. This site needs to be updated, but still has useful information.) My own diverse collection of 14 erotic stories, Obsession, is available in several formats from Eternal Press, now an imprint of Damnation Press. (Seriously!) Find it here: http://www.eternalpress.biz/book.php?isbn=9780980458169
Writing non-fiction is also a pleasure for me, and most of it is work-safe for readers. (Of course, this depends on your work.) Since July 2008, I’ve been writing a monthly column, Sex Is All Metaphors, for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association: www.erotica-readers.com (Look in the Smutters Lounge.) I’ve found that almost every subject of discussion has sex in it somewhere! Along with Lisabet, I write monthly reviews for the reviews site Erotica Revealed (www.eroticarevealed.com) . (The other reviewers are Kathleen Bradean, Steven Hart and Ashley Lister. The site is run by erotic writer/editor D.L. King.)
Check out the September blog tour for Spank! an anthology edited by D.L. King, including a story by Jean Roberta. The dates and links are listed here: And a free spanking story will be on my blog as of September 5.