Friday, May 11, 2012

Writing in the Shadows

Thirteen years ago, I published my first novel. I still recall the incredible thrill that swept over me when I opened that box from Black Lace/Virgin Books and picked up one my author's copies - a physical book, the product of my imagination and sweat, with my name, or at least my pseudonym, on the cover! I wanted to tell everyone I met on the street: I'm a published author! Look! See here? That's me! I wrote this, all two hundred eighty one pages, and a well-known company actually bought it! Paid me an advance and everything! I wanted to send autographed copies to my friends and family, and urge them to spread the news to their friends, acquaintances, relatives. Buy Lisabet's book! I wanted to shout the news to the skies.

I couldn't do that, though. My celebration was restrained and private, just my husband and me. I shared the book with my two siblings, but I didn't dare send a copy to my dad, even though he and I had been bound all my life by our mutual love of the written word. I knew he'd feel proud, but uncomfortable, too, because Raw Silk, my pride and joy, wasn't just any old book. It was an erotic book. And not just a sensual love story, but a kinky book, which featured desires and activities even some adults might find disturbing.

A dear writing friend claims that we don't pick our genres - they pick us. When it comes to me and erotica, I have to agree. I've been writing fiction, poetry and drama since I learned to hold a pencil, but I didn't seriously try to publish anything until a Black Lace book from another author triggered my ambition to create something in the same general style: intelligent, diverse, edgy fiction that explored one woman's search for her sexual self. The book flowed so naturally that I wondered why I'd never tried this before. I didn't really believe it would be accepted - I sent it to the publisher almost as a lark - but after the fact, I wasn't as surprised as one might expect. This may sound conceited, but I knew that it was a good book, because it grew out of the fevered heart of my own fantasies.

Since Raw Silk I've produced six more novels and four collections of short stories. I've contributed to more than three dozen anthologies. With one or two exceptions, everything I've published is either erotica or the closely related sub-genre erotic romance. My name is strongly associated with arousing, explicit fiction. And because of that, I have to write in the shadows.

I have a highly "respectable" day job. Furthermore, I live as a guest in a foreign country. If anyone were to associate the outrageous Lisabet Sarai with my real world persona, I'd have serious problems. So I have to think very carefully about the content of every blog post, every promotional email, every marketing push. I don't want to give too much away. At the same time, readers (understandably) want to know about the lives of their favorite authors - and I certainly don't want to lie. So I walk a tightrope between self-protection and self-disclosure.

Many of my online author friends write in non-erotic genres: mystery, science fiction, young adult, sweet or inspirational romance, historical fiction. In some ways, we all face the same challenges in producing new work, selling it to publishers, and getting the word out to readers. To be honest, though, I think it's harder to be an author of erotic fiction. I can't hand out bookmarks or business cards at the supermarket checkout. I can't do readings or signings at my local bookstore. I can't post excerpts on some lists or blogs - including this one. I have to be constantly on the alert so as not to offend or shock the casual passerby. And I have to endure the scorn and disgust of some readers who condemn my fiction without ever having read it, just because it deals with sex.

My brother and my aunt tell me that I'm an excellent writer and want to know why I don't write a "serious" book. My husband has urged me to try my hand at a mystery. Personally, I'm tempted by science fiction, a literary love that goes back to my childhood. I know myself, though. Any attempt I'd make at another genre would end up being liberally laced with erotic content. Nothing intrigues or inspires me as much as the multifaceted experience of desire and the way it shapes our lives.

I don't mean to complain. I love writing. I'm proud of what I produce. I accept the fact that I need to be extremely particular about who I expose to my work, for my own sake as well as theirs. Occasionally, though, I wish that I could come out and openly claim my tales, without fear of repercussions. People I care about don't realize who I really am, or what I can do. I have to keep a major part of myself hidden away.

It's safer here in the shadows. But it's a bit lonely.

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