Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Past and Present, Hide and Seek

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.



Little Lamb Lost said...

That was brave! Thanks for sharing that story. Sometimes it is better to jump into something when we are not completely aware of all the possible stumbling blocks.

Maggie Robinson said...

I'm wearing a ratty pink bathrobe right now, but alas, nothing of an erotic nature---or in fact ANY nature---is springing forth this morning.

I reread the Story of O not long ago. It's almost tame by today's standards, but I will never forget how it affected me as a very young woman.

Robin L. Rotham said...

Bathrobe in the afternoon -- story of my life for the last two years. I may have written my first attempts at smut when I was 14, but that was the end of it until I was 41. Of course, in between, I read thousands of bodice rippers, which, if you ever read my writing, will explain a lot.

So nice to hear about another slow writer! The way my friends crank out story after story, my one to two books a year makes me feel like an absolute snail.

Jane Lockwood said...

Lovely post, Pam. I would quite happily have stayed with my real name, but I have a contractual obligation (btw, don't you think "A Contractual Obligation" would be a great title for a historical?) to write the filth under another name.

So I came up with the oh-so-literary name of Jane Lockwood (Lockwood is the narrator of Wuthering Heights and Jane, well, Jane is Jane is Jane). So I thought. It was our own Colette Gale who pointed out that "lock" is historical slang for the vagina, and "wood..." well, we all know about wood, don't we, ladies.

Elizabeth Parker said...

I love that name "Lockwood" and its explanation! I once read that a person should choose a pseudonym by combining the name of her pet and her mother's maiden name. Mine would be "Echo Howard." Not too bad, eh?

Lacy Danes said...

I too am a slow reader and a VERY slow writer.

On of my CP's can whip out up 10K a day and I am like... eyes bug out of head...wow.

I'm lucky if I finish 10 pages in a day.

I am a single mom, with a day job. So I figure if I can get any writing done in a day it is a good writing day.


Pam Rosenthal said...

Hugs to all the slow writers out there. As for "Jane Lockwood," my goodness, that Colette Gale is some kind of double entendre genius -- I thought the name was just about poor dead Cathy Earnshaw's bloody little hand.

As for Story of O, Maggie. In some ways it's tame (in an essay for salon.com, I once called it "haute couture in the age of latex and piercings"). But in other ways it's an absolute astonishment -- a woman's love letter to her lover, daring him to come to terms with a fierce and uncompromising passion. There's a great story behind that book. I'll post about it sometime.

Kate Pearce said...

Yes it is fun writing erotic romance. I love getting lost in my imagination and thinking-that's awfully rude-can I really write that?-god, yes I can!

No worrying about the rules or the right words or offending someone-(I know I'll offend a lot of people and I've come to terms with that)

I'm a page banger outer-like a small press but as I have 3 books to write this year, it's a good thing right?

Cherie said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I have alot of respect for writers with small children who still somehow find time to write. I have two munchkins of my own, a 3month old baby girl and a 3 year old boy and so I know it has got to be tough. I am in awe.

Cherie J

Colette Gale said...

Me? A double-entendre genius? **batting eyelashes**

Just wait until we get talking about pips and ticklers and the like. (You know I'm going to post about that, Jane.)

And as for my nom de plume, well, I'm certain you all have heard of...well, never mind. I think I'll save that for a future blog post when I run out of double entendres.

Lenora Bell said...

Pam, your writing feeds my soul, as always, and it was delightful to hear about your first story. I like my tea green, too, and I'm still half-green myself, writing-wise. But I was living in the Castro in the mid-90's (fresh out of college) so I know the revolution you speak of. Is On Our Backs still being published? I once won a free subscription to it at a karaoke contest at The Mint.

I still miss San Francisco, even though I haven't lived there in 8 years, so I look forward to your future posts.

Jane Lockwood said...

May I always be able to find my way back to that moment of innocent bravery.
Well said. And I think that's an issue for anyone who's in the grip of the publishing machine, trying to balance artistry with commerce and coax the creative groundhog out of its burrow, to use a really bad and not-quite-topical analogy.

Julie said...

I have to say, first, that the cover for The Slightest Provocation is beautiful! I love it. Second, great story Pam!

I'm a fast reader, which is why I review romance books in my spare time. Though taking care of three children under 5 doesn't leave me with alot of spare time, I enjoy every minute that I have reading.

Great Blog! I'll have to add this to RRAH's Blog links!!

Pam Rosenthal said...

I don't know if On Our Backs is being published anymore, Lenora, but I have a story about that too, that Susie Bright told to introduce me at the Best American Erotica 2000 reading. She said that Modern Times, the bookstore my husband managed back then, was the absolute first and only bookstore she was absolutely sure would agree to carry On Our Backs and not give her any grief about it.

While as for the Castro -- our historic gay men's neighborhood -- I don't know if you ladies know how influenced Anne Rice was, back in the 70s, by that community, when she was starting to write her erotica.

I am very fortunate to have lived my adult life in such a veritable Athens of literate smut (and thrilled that RWA will be meeting here next year).

Amy S. said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I am a slow reader.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for the kind words to slow and fast alike out there. And Jane, I'm still pondering that creative groundhog in his burrow. I guess it's just the spiked tea, but you and Colette have gotten me poking around for double entendres everywhere.

As for bathrobes, I'm delighted to confide that I now stumble about post meridian in one made of cocoa-colored cashmere (thanks to Michael, who every few birthdays takes it upon himself to upgrade that primary piece of the writer wardrobe).

meardaba said...

(Don't bother counting this, I live in Germany).

I once tried writing an erotic story...unfortunately I was 14 (obviously knew nothing about sex) and a copy of it was circulated by a "friend". Mass and total embarrassment ensued, and I have relegated myself to reading them.

Now I enjoy reading them much more than even thinking about writing them.

Thanks for starting this blog, I'm looking forward to reading it!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Hi Meardaba,

And why wouldn't we count German readers -- welcome. (A friend of mine just got back from Berlin and said it's like what San Francisco would be if more creative people could afford to live in it -- sounds pretty great to me.)

I think that for many of us, there's a kind of erotic circuit between reading and thinking about writing. At least, that's how I explain the sense of overwhelming relief and long-sought connectedness when I first began to write.

Belated hugs and sympathy to your outed 14-year-old filthmonger (have you read Susan Elizabeth Phillips' AIN'T SHE SWEET, which devotes a devastating flashback to such an event?). I also think that part of me still writes for the 14-year-old baby-sitter I carry around somewhere inside me.

Meljprincess said...

Hi Pam,
I read slow as well and it drives me crazy. I have so many books there's no way I'll read all of them before I die. And the thing is I keep buying more!
I so badly want to read "The Slightest Provocation". I was in B&N one day and had it in my hot little hand. Couldn't afford it so I whined and put it back. Screw that! I'm going to get it. I'll eat next week. lol!
I remember when "Story of O" was going around but I haven't read it. Glad to finally tell you how much I covet your book, Pam! *g*


Pam Rosenthal said...

Melissa, a copy of The Slightest Provocation is one of our contest prizes. Check out Our Grand Unveiling Contest.

Jane Lockwood said...

I owned--or rather, I didn't own it, but bought it for a friend and then procrastinated on mailing it to her--a brilliant comic book version of Story of O. Bought, of course, from an indie bookstore, in Denver, I think.

Anonymous said...

So I came up with the oh-so-literary name of Jane Lockwood (Lockwood is the narrator of Wuthering Heights and Jane, well, Jane is Jane is Jane). So I thought. It was our own Colette Gale who pointed out that "lock" is historical slang for the vagina, and "wood..." well, we all know about wood, don't we, ladies.

Hah! I knew it! Excuse my comment down below. I hadnt seen this yet when I wrote it (blushes)

I just get suspicious about author's nom de plume. Once I asked Catherine Coulter if she got her name from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" (he uses it as a sexual image in the poem) and she told me it really was her name. Darn it.

I read THE STORY OF O a long time. Didnt really understand all that S&M stuff but I thought some of the passages were beautifully written

Pam Rosenthal said...

Oh yes, Jane, I love the Guido Crepax comic book version of Story of O. And of course you bought it in an indie bookstore.

Eden Bradley said...

Thanks for sharing your writing adventures. :)
I, too, lived in the Mission in the 90's, am a writer of literate smut (at least, I think so and luckily my editor agrees), and Erica Jong's Fanny is a long time favorite of mine, so I particularly enjoyed your bit of history.
I must also admit that I am a huge and rather fawning fan of yours. When I found out my dear friend Lacy Danes shared a blog with you, I went all giddy. Silly, I know, but writers I admire get to me the way movie stars get to other people. So really, I just wanted to stop in and say hello and see what you were all up to. Lots of interesting reading here-I'll hang out a while, since I can't seem to write tonight.

meardaba said...

Hey Pam, thanks! what's left of that 14-year-old needed some sympathy from someone!

I guess I meant don't count me for the prize, I live in Germany and the fine print said you'd only ship to addresses in the US.

Pam Rosenthal said...

You caught me, Meardaba -- I never read the fine print. And hi to that 14-year-old. In Carrie's Story Jonathan does more than tell Carrie about her 14-year-old, he pays her the ultimate compliment of saying she probably had an inner smutreading 12-year-old, and my erotic heroine is so much the academic high-scorer nerd that she half-believes him. Or at least wants to.

And hi, Eden, and thanks for the kind words. We may have rubbed shoulders at Good Vibrations or Modern Times (where my husband worked for many years). I'm getting psyched about introducing romance writers to the Mission and Castro Districts, when the Romance Writers of America Convention comes to San Francisco in 2008.

This year it'll be Dallas -- hey Texans who read literate smut: are there fun neighborhoods, with, like interesting indie bookstores?