After posting my own face as avatar in my first responses to Celia's post, I’ve beaten a hasty retreat, back behind the ambiguous smile of my cover girl for The Slightest Provocation. Because I’ve rather belatedly realized that I’m the only author on this group blog to be posting under my erotic-romance-writing name, which is also my own, everyday name of Pam Rosenthal. All of which, in the context of this frank, clever, trash-talking blog, makes me want to reach for the nearest mask or figleaf.
Funny how all that works.
And, no - in case there might be any doubt - I didn’t choose to publish erotic romance as “Pam Rosenthal” because I thought the name conveyed that sexy Brit resonance so often coveted for romance writer pseuds.
The story's simpler. By the time I got published in writing erotic romance I’d been writing my down and dirty literate smut as Molly Weatherfield, and it felt like time to get a little credit under my own name. (Or, more correctly, the name I'd come by via Michael Rosenthal, after meeting several eons ago, during the summer of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and the Grove Press translation of Story of O.)
I’m a slow reader, a slow writer, and a slow learner. Unlike some of you precocious young things, I was well past adolescence when I turned to erotic writing. In fact, by the time of my first story, Michael and I were ourselves the parents of an adolescent much given to rolling his eyes in extravagant, desperate humiliation whenever I'd sing along with the girl groups on oldies radio.
More than two decades had drifted or hurtled by since the hot Manhattan summer of Michael and I reading Story of O together in that hard single bed we found so roomy and comfy. By now we had a bigger bed, jobs, responsibilities, a big mortgage on a tiny San Francisco Victorian, and that eye-rolling offspring.
But that morning had been a particularly lazy, sexy, sunny Sunday. Michael hadn't gone off to work at his bookselling job until eleven. After which I had decided that it might be fun, interesting, at least therapeutic and certainly better than housework, to curl up in a chair in the bay window and jot down a few of the secret, outré, long-cherished S/M fantasies that had passed through my head in the prior hours.
Several hours passed, quite imperceptibly. Sunday morning became Sunday afternoon and I was still in my ratty old pink terrycloth bathrobe. The only time I’d gotten up was to consult the bookshelves, to check the punctuation of COMMA CLOSE QUOTE HE SAID PERIOD. Because there were real characters speaking real dialog on the page before me. I felt like God. There was no going back.
I finished the story and sent it to a local zine I admired, “Frighten the Horses,” which had recently published a hot and beautifully crafted poem by Kim Addonizio (check her out if you don’t know her work).
Maybe six months later I received what I now recognize as a wondrously generous, helpful, and encouraging page-long rejection letter from the zine’s editor, erotic writer Mark Pritchard (also a fine writer, and now a friend – check him out too). Mark wrote that while I’d produced an unusually well written first attempt at a story, I clearly didn't understand much about what a story actually was; patiently, he suggested that something - perhaps transformative or revelatory - usually happens in a story. I, of course, thought he was a fatuous idiot, cried a lot, and tried to forget the whole thing.
Except that I didn’t. Couldn’t. Partly because I was lucky enough to be living in San Francisco’s Mission District during a wonderfully creative queer and feminist-inspired efflorescence of erotic culture (this was the early 90s – more about all that in my next post). And partly, simply (simply!) because erotic fiction-writing had been so much fun (it was never very therapeutic; the first thing I learned is that it shouldn't be).
But the fun is what I hope will always remain. Which makes me think I’ve come to the right tea party. I like my tea green, by the way. As green as I was when I started that first story. May I always be able to find my way back to that moment of innocent bravery.