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.
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