Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Does Your Mother Know?

Well, mine does now. That I write erotic fiction, I mean.

Our (unspoken) agreement is that she reads the romances, ignores the hardcore. Which works, I believe, because there are places in the heart (or such we might call it) where family really doesn’t want to go, even if your family is as important to your writing self as mine is -- and most especially my mom.

It was my mom who couldn't wait to introduce me to her beloved Jo March and Scarlet O’Hara. She was reading a romance novel when they wheeled her into the delivery room to have me, and these days she’s an all-purpose culture vulture, gobbling up midlist fiction and washing it down with her favorite Ann Perry with a chaser of Amanda (Cross or Quick).

She wanted me to be a writer. And during the long years when I was, shall we say, a non-writing writer, she never lost hope for me. I’m sure that she always believed that the veddy veddy writerly -- and extremely un-Brooklyn -- name of Pamela that she’d given me would someday do its magic, while I never quite lost hope that someday I’d produce something, publish it, and share the triumph of it with her.

But when I finally did publish something, it was Carrie’s Story -- Story of O retold in the voice of an overeducated San Francisco bike messenger with ambitious S/M fantasies and a penchant for literature, self-analysis, and anal sex. The cover of the current edition (tenth printing last December!) isn’t what I would have chosen, but you get the idea. Not a book you’d bring home to Mom.

Or to many people. At first I was very protective of my Molly Weatherfield secret identity. I was serious about not wanting to be contacted by… well, who knew who was out there? And I certainly didn't want to share my fantasy life with my then college-age son.

Or with my mother, even if she would so dearly have loved to know that I was writing at long last (for it seemed -- who knew? -- writing about extreme sex had been just the push I’d needed.)

But I was determined to keep it all a secret. Which included hiding the essays I (as Molly) had been publishing in the online magazine, Salon.com, about the great French erotic writers Dominique Aury and the Marquis de Sade -- because the author blurb and sometimes the text referred to Carrie’s Story. And much as I knew that my mother would have loved the brief, precious email I’d gotten from the noted author Francine du Plessix Gray, in appreciation of what I’d said about her book At Home with the Marquis de Sade—well, it just seemed too weird to introduce my mom to Molly Weatherfield.

Luckily, however, my mother is possessed of strange and mystical mind-reading powers. Okay, call it coincidence if you must -- but for me it was as though the band had begun playing the theme from The Twilight Zone when, at a family bar mitzvah (where else?) Mom suddenly asked me what I knew about the Marquis de Sade. Because bless her culture-vulture heart -- she’d seen “Quills” in Florida that winter, and she was wondering whether I might be able to supply her with a little literary-biographical background.

“Well, umm... yes,” I stammered. “Funny you should ask,” I mumbled. “Because actually…” I continued. And so I showed her the Sade piece (you can find a link to it on my web page if you go to the ABOUT PAM page and look for ESSAYS BY PAM) and a copy of the note from Ms. Gray. Which did make both of us awfully happy.

So was I silly to keep Molly a secret for so long? No, not exactly. Because a literary essay, even about an erotic topic, is quite a different thing from hardcore erotic fiction. So when a piece of my second Carrie book, Safe Word, came out in The Best American Erotica 2000, and when I told my mom explicitly not to read it, and when she did anyway (something about the conjuncture of one of her children and the word best causing her to take predictable leave of her senses)... well, sometimes it seems that a loving and overeager parent simply has to learn about life the hard way.

“What did you think of it?” I asked her. “It. Was. Very. Well. Written,” she replied, avoiding eye contact but clearly sadder and wiser for the experience.

I should add that my very wise son, (who's now a graduate student in Victorian literature) has never opened any of the Carrie books. But he has read my romances, and he paid me the best compliment anybody has ever paid my writing after he read an early draft of The Bookseller’s Daughter.

“It walks," he said. "It talks. It’s a novel. Congratulations.” Who could ask for anything more?

And to the writers out there: do you share your erotic writing with your family or do you hide it, perhaps behind your pseudonym?

11 comments:

Lacy Danes said...

Pam,
My Mom is one of my beta readers! I never submit a story without her reading it first. I was nervous about having her read my fist erotic romance...Night of the Taking. But I knew she liked Romance... Romance with a bit of mystery and suspense mixed in, so I very cautiously asked if she would be interested in taking a look at it. With the warning there was lots of sex in it.

She said sure, no problem.

Needless to say I was nervous about handing it over. I mean this was my MOM and this was a story that was very sexual and different… with group sex and bondage with cat beings.

She read it and said it was great! She has been a BIG supporter of my writing. So I have continued to have her read each and every story before submitting it to my editor. No matter what genre I write, she is VERY proud of me.

Though I have had experience with a family member not being supportive of my choice in genre. That is my now X husband. He totally freaked when my book sold. All he kept saying was “What will people think of you... my wife... what will my parents think?”

His mom reads some pretty steamy stuff. His parents were fine with it. In fact they were excited. Even sent me a Congratulations card with exclamation points!

He still was not. It was the final straw in our marriage. I couldn’t stay with someone who put down something I was so proud and excited about.

Probably a little TMI, but I wanted to share.

Hugs on your story about your Mom. I love Carries Story and Safe World. Carries story was the very first full out BDSM novel I read and it had a profound affect on me.
Hugs,
Lacy.

Pam Rosenthal said...

That's a great set of stories, Lacy. Interesting how mileage varies about these things.

My husband reads everything of mine. In fact, in The Bookseller's Daughter, a love story between an erotic writer and a bookseller, I was directly addressing my bookseller husband when Joseph calls Marie-Laure his "most astute reader." Which phrase still resonates with me -- I love the idea of being "read" by a lover. But that's another post.

And I'm still kind of overwhelmed by thinking that the Carrie books could have "a profound effect" on anyone. Thanks for that.

Celia May Hart said...

Oh man. Blogger ate my comment.

Anyway, as I was saying, it's not a secret with my family -- except for my Nana, and I think my uncle may have let it drop to her.

Mum's read SHOW ME, and it took her months (with lots of cold showers, she tells me) to finish reading it. Once she had the mindset that it wasn't her daughter writing it, she managed to enjoy it.

Celia May Hart said...

Adding that my hubby reads everything of mine too -- after its published as he's worried of the fallout of any critique ahead of time.

I swear I've got thicker skin since those early days of getting critiques back, but he's still leery.

Jane Lockwood said...

One of the best family comments I got was from my father (aged 95) who said he wouldn't be giving my book to the church jumble sale--I should hope not, he'd borrowed it from my friend down the road! I think that meant not that he treasured it so much he couldn't bear to part with it, but that he was afraid they'd know the writer was his daughter (despite the different names), and make him wear a P for parent of pornographer. And that was my first, fairly mild one!

And it's funny but altho my family are very proud of me getting published, they don't feel obliged to read anything I've written--and that's fine with me.

Maggie Robinson said...

I don't even write super-hot stuff but I don't want my family reading what I write. I think you have to be susceptible to the genre, and they are definitely not romance readers.

I have a friend who is self-publishing, and he's sent me his short stories. I'm absolutely no good at understanding them or appreciating them. That's just not where my head is at.

Pam Rosenthal said...

My friends and family aren't romance readers either, Maggie, and in some ways they're the worst critics of what will fly in the genre and in some ways they're the best because they're not jaded by conventions.

But I think that these days romance is beginning to go beyond its conventions -- sometimes even to laugh at them.

Kate Pearce said...

My mother is horrified by what I write and even more horrified that I chose her maiden name as my pen name. She is the original Mrs Middle Class, more worried about what her friends and neighbours will think than anything else.

Now that sounds harsh but she really tries to be supportive and it's endearing to see her tying herself in knots over being proud of me and yet still totally unable to accept that I write smut.

My 5 sisters are proud of me although astounded that I'm the one who writes erotica because I'm the quiet one, the one who doesn't like to be touched. But they read my books.

Actually I'm always amazed at how little impact my writing has on those around me!

Pam Rosenthal said...

A whole lot of my friends and family read my stuff (though the family members usually limit themselves to the romances) -- and give me excellent feedback. I feel very blessed and appreciated.

(Or maybe they're just profoundly relieved that I finally got down to writing, after all those years when I clearly, passionately, wanted to be writing, and hadn't yet.)

Lenora Bell said...

Sorry I'm coming in so late on this one--I've been traveling with family during the Chinese New Year festival. I told my parents I was writing erotic historical romance and my mother asked, "Is it well written at least?" and my father said, with a wink and a raised eyebrow, "You know, I tried to write a few stories of that nature myself...they're buried in a box in the basement I think."

Pam Rosenthal said...

great story, Lenora.