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13.11.09

This Post Kills Fascists

My first erotic romance story is coming out with TEB in a little under a month, and up until about a week ago I hadn't told anyone.  Well, almost anyone.  The only people who knew I had nabbed that elusive publication credit were my husband (obviously, since we file taxes together and he beta read it in any case), my therapist (she was thrilled), and a dear friend who called the day I got the acceptance letter and was thus in the line of fire.  I told them all the day it happened.

Then I clammed up.

You see, I grew up in Texas. Born and raised in North Dallas, where sex was wrong and you were bad if you had it. Unless you were married, in which case sex is a beautiful thing, duh. Selling or buying sex, in any capacity? Worse than Hitler! Unless you're a man, because boys will be boys, wink wink nudge nudge.

For years I had a horrible complex about sex that I'm still getting over, so I was torn between epic hilarity and pride over selling a story, and abject humiliation at the subject matter. I was truly excited that I'd finally - FINALLY - be getting paid money for work done, instead of slaving away in obscurity for zero dollars, but getting money for erotica? I didn't know what other people would think about that.  A dollar is a dollar.  Does it matter where it comes from? I wasn't exploiting anyone except my poor brain, but I still wavered. Money... for sex. Written sex, but still... oh god.

So I kept a lid on the fact that I'd achieved a small milestone on the road to being an NYT bestseller (haha), and every time I thought about telling someone, it seemed like a complete nonsequitur. "Yeah, yeah, doing good. Just cleaned out the fridge, went to San Diego, and, oh yeah, sold some erotica, my skillz pay the billz. You?"

At long last, after two months, the cover art was done, the release date was set, and lo, I did gaze upon it, and thought: "Maybe I should tell someone."

So I got online and told my friends, most of whom did not grow up in the Bible Belt like I did.  My fingers trembled.  My nerves jangled. What will they think? I wondered, infusing the confession with a healthy sense of irony. I'm selling sex in a way WHAT WILL THEY THINK?

To my immense relief, "LOL AWESOME" was the general response.  "You're published!" one said excitedly. "FIGHT THE POWER, CASH THE CHECK" said another. A fellow sociology major from college said, "Now you're deviant!" which sounds like an insult, but when a sociologist says it, chances are he means it as a compliment.  Only deviants achieve glory, after all. A professional artist friend told me there was nothing wrong with getting monies for writings, then drew a picture of me as a pimp, in a glorious pimp hat with a pimp cane and a pimp cigarette holder. Naturally I fell in love with it and use it everywhere.

And one of my friends gushed, "Oh, how subversive! So-and-so feminist theorist X wrote extensively about erotica produced by women and for women as a feminist act." Naturally I've forgotten which theorist said this, but that certainly stuck with me. Writing sexy stories for my fellow females and getting paid for it was actually an exercise of women's power and not a dirty go-straight-to-hell card? Sign me up for that shift in perspective, stat.

Finally I had to tell my mother.

"I sold a story," I said.  We were sitting in a cute little tea room in my suburb's little downtown area.

"Oh, how wonderful!" she cried and clapped her hands. "Who to?"

"Um," I said, avoiding her eye and picking at my broccoli salad.

"Heather, who to?"

"Well... it's an epublisher..."

"That's great! What's it about?"

I squirmed in agony. "Mom," I said, "would you still love me if it were a little weird?"

"Of course, honey," she said, then frowned. "It's not to Playboy, is it?"

"It's not Playboy.  But it's, um.  Erotic."

She didn't scowl, exactly, but she certainly looked dubious. So I tried to explain about erotica as a feminine power thing, but she's an engineer and a chemist, not an artsy type like me, and by the end she was just giving me a Look and and I had collapsed into a singularity of embarrassment, sucking in all free-floating humiliation in the general vicinity. "You don't have to buy it," I said, "unless you want to."

"I don't think I do," she said.

"Oh," I said.  I was not at all crushed.  Okay, maybe a little crushed. My act of feminine power was still just a trashy book to her.

But she's my mother and she loves me. "How about if I give you a dollar instead?" she asked.

"Okay," I told her, and took the dollar.

Expressing my feminine power is tough and noble work, but a dollar is a dollar.

Heather Howard

My Blog: Dignity is Counter-Revolutionary

My Twitter

5 comments:

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Heather,

"Only deviants achieve glory,"

I love it! Think I'm going to paste it up above my computer.

Seriously, though, most of us go through this sort of thing, wondering whether to tell or not, squirming when we get that judgmental reaction. It's hard, but you've just got to believe in yourself and keep writing.

If the editors like it, if the readers like it, well--it's just too bad that your mom doesn't approve.

(That being said, I never told my dad and I haven't told my step-mom. Mostly, I just didn't want to make them uncomfortable.)

Congratulations on your release, too!

Warmly,
Lisabet

Hanako said...

A dollar is a dollar.

Great post. I'm glad you finally "came out" because I think it's awesome.

Once I open my bookstore, no matter what type it is, or what you are currently promoting, I'll be happy to put your stuff by the register with a big "BUY THIS, YOU WON'T REGRET IT" sign.

Julia said...

Dear Heather,
You are, as usual, making my day brighter with your writing.:) By the way, I had a discussion about writing erotica with my mom on the evening you've shared the happy news about your first book deal and she told me (almost literally): "Why don't you stop wasting your time with those children stories and write something serious, like that friend of yours." So, yeah. Parents are hard to please. I am sure as soon as you become as famous as you deserve to be, she will be way more supportive and stops feeling as erotica lit is something to be ashamed of. And I'd say, give her the book as a present. There is no way someone will read your book and NOT like it.

Andrea said...

Congratulations!

Delicious Romance From Cerise DeLand said...

I came to Texas 13 years ago from the East Coast. D.C. to be exact. And I learned early to keep my mouth shut about politics and social views. I smile, I prosper in business and I have no encounters with folks who want to convert me on a daily basis to whatever they espouse today. Works for me.
And only a handful of my dearest friends and colleagues know who I am and what I write.
The better part of discretion and diplomacy. Works for me.
Plus, I vote the way in a booth where no one can see.