Friday, November 28, 2008

Writing that touches

Donna George Storey

It's been an exciting week for me, one where it's felt like the whole world is opening up. So it seems very appropriate that to round it off I have Donna George Storey as a guest, someone whose work is all about changing the world, 'one dirty story at a time'!

Why do you write?

Writing is a way for me to make connections: with readers who give me their valuable time, with the mysteries of my own sexuality and imagination, with the characters inside my head that take on a life of their own, with the power and magic of the English language. No act—except sex with someone I love—makes me feel more alive and engaged with the world physically, emotionally and intellectually. This may seem contradictory because writing also involves a kind of detachment from the world as well, but I guess I’ve always felt rather separate from the world, a natural voyeur. Writing stories has become a way to bridge that gap to some degree, and I think I’ve become a much more empathetic and compassionate person since I started writing seriously—about eleven years now.

Is there something in particular that you'd like to express?

Over the years as I’ve gotten in touch with my creative process, I realized I do have a goal of sorts in my work and that is to help heal the false split between the mind and the body in our culture. For the most part sexuality is still seen as separate and even hostile to the intellect. Because it arouses our “baser” instincts, writing that celebrates sex has to be crude and base itself, never smart or skillful. But human sexuality is so much more complex and our minds are a crucial part of the picture. How much time do you spend thinking about sex versus actually doing it? I can’t think of anything more interesting and important to try to understand more fully than the erotic imagination.

My stories tend to start with a question, a mystery, that is both a scholarly, nerdy girl “research” question and an uncanny feeling that is hard for me to put into words. For example, one of my most reprinted stories, “The Cunt Book,” about a man’s insatiable effort to capture the secret of female pleasure in photographs came from a true story I heard about the actor Bob Crane, of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame. Apparently Crane had an extensive collection of photographs of naked women he’d personally taken (this collection was tied to his murder as well). I got to wondering about his motivations and desires and the reasons why so many women would consent to pose for such a session. The story that resulted is just one answer to those questions, but it helped me figure some things out and put that uncanny feeling to rest. Writing has been very liberating in that regard.

What is the most successful piece or work you feel you've written, and why?

Up until 2006, I’d written only short stories. As the stay-at-home mother of two, shorter projects were much more manageable. Then I had the chance to write an erotic novel based on my experiences in Japan called Amorous Woman. I’ve found the world of a short story is a nice place to dally for several weeks, but this novel took over my life completely for the six months I was writing it. My characters came alive and started telling me what they wanted to do, which was not usually what I’d planned for them, but they always turned out to be right in the end. Plus they showed me things about my relationship to Japan that I’d only vaguely been aware of before.

Finishing a novel is often compared to giving birth to a child, and I have to agree. My baby novel is of me, but more than me. I usually describe the novel as “an American woman’s love affair with Japan,” but of course, it’s about my love affair with Japan and I’m rather surprised at how nakedly my own desires have been expressed through that story. I’ve been especially gratified by the response from readers who know Japan. A few have even told me “Amorous Woman is the story of my life,” which makes me feel as if I got something right!

Please name a recent thought, event, person or whatever that inspired you:

Like many Americans, Barack Obama’s recent victory in the presidential election has been immensely inspiring to me. I’m thrilled that a smart, eloquent person who understands complexity and nuance will be leading our country, and I’m proud of the electorate for overcoming prejudice, apathy and cynicism and choosing a new vision for the future.

Unfortunately, here in California, there was a narrow victory of prejudice against same-sex marriage with the passage of Prop. 8. This is not the last word, though. In my efforts to promote my “dirty novel,” I’ve faced a lot of entrenched prejudice against honest erotic expression, but met with some surprising open-mindedness and support as well. Obama’s victory has shown that focus, smart organization and the conviction we’re doing the right thing will eventually lead to a wider acceptance of all varieties of sexuality. It will happen. Well, I’ll get off my soapbox now and go write a story for the cause ;-)


Donna George Storey wants to change the world one dirty story at a time. Her erotic fiction has been published in over eighty journals and anthologies including Clean Sheets, The Erotic Woman, X: The Erotic Treasury, Best American Erotica 2006, and several volumes of Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica and Best Women’s Erotica. Her steamy novel Amorous Woman (Neon/Orion) was released in the UK in 2007 and the US in 2008. She currently writes a column “Cooking up a Storey” for the Erotica Readers and Writers Association about her favorite topics— delicious sex, well-crafted food, and mind-blowing writing and will be starting up another column there on the joys and challenges of book promotion in February 2009. Read more of her work at her website and check out her provocative book trailer.

Many, many thanks Donna! Next week, I'll be joined by the consummate Craig Sorensen.


Craig Sorensen said...

I have had the pleasure of reading Donna's Amorous Woman and enjoyed every page. I loved reading about her process of writing a novel, having recently taken that same journey myself. I can relate.

I loved the quote "I’ve always felt rather separate from the world, a natural voyeur." I can relate to this too.

Regarding Obama's victory and Prop 8's passage. The former is a reminder that we live in a world that can embrace change. The latter reminds us that there is always more to do.

Excellent interview.

Thank you Nikki and Donna.

Nikki Magennis said...

I was thinking about the balance between having enough distance to keep perspective and being involved enough in life to have empathy and understanding yesterday.

One of the things that I've gained through writing, I think, is that sense that real life is just breathtakingly rich - when I put my head above water for a moment! So I love Donna's point that writing is a way to engage, rather than distance oneself from the world.

Donna said...

Thank you, Craig :-)!

And, yes, Nikki, it is a complex balance, but I do think artists don't have to be lonely prima donnas of the popular imagination. There's a lot of space for each of us to interpret our relationship to words and reality as we see fit.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to be part of "Writing that Touches." I'm honored to be in the company of so many writers I admire!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Donna. George. Storey. Those are three of my favorite sentences in contemporary literature. Those words, in that order (or even as Storey, Donna George), represent all that's best in erotic fiction: sensuality, intelligence, wit, sensitivity, emotional plausibility ... and, of course, all that earth-moving sex. She even feeds us, more often than not, in the course of a story! In fact, some of the best meals I've ever had have been under the tasteful neon of her byline.

I also know, from firsthand experience, what a wise and supportive friend and colleague Donna is. She's there through the ups and downs, a real comrade. She also knows how to party. And she has a smoooooooth radio voice. : )

And what an enriching, thought-provoking interview! And, as others have expressed above, I think the perspective on writing bridging the positions of detachment and engagement is deeply insightful.

Thank you, Nikki, for bringing us Donna—and for knowing just what questions to ask.

Next week, I'll be joined by the consummate Craig Sorensen.

Awesome! I can't wait to see that interview, um, consummated. ; )

Smut Girl said...

See, when I see Donna (photo or name)I see proof that you can be staggeringly smart and excruciatingly sexy all in the same gorgeous smiling person! Which some people will say is impossible and I say to them...shut up. It's true! She's brilliant. And to share a secret, I still haven't recovered from her leering books just yet. That was one of my favorite stories. Ever.

Lovely Friday read, Nikki :)


Alana said...

Nikki, thank you for another "Writing that Touches."

Donna, I have a great deal of admiration for your overall motivation as a writer and am grateful that you break down barriers as a mother who writes stories concerned with human sexuality. You're a multi-dimensional presence on the writing front. Thank you. When I read your work, I'm far less aware of "genre" and much more involved in your characters. You also have a way with creating atmosphere and setting. Beautiful. You're beautiful.


Emerald said...

Oh, I'm so thrilled to see Donna, unquestionably one of my favorite erotica writers, on Writing That Touches! And what a beautiful interview. I love what you said about bridging the perceived gap between sexuality and intellect. There seem to be all sorts of perceived "gaps" like that in relation to life and sexuality, as though sexuality is some separate part of us away from everything else. Which, of course, strikes me as absurd.

Thanks Nikki, and Donna, for this lovely interview! And I too look forward to Craig's next week!


Janine Ashbless said...

I really enjoyed "Amorous Woman" too - and loved the insights into Japan. Thanks Donna!

Donna said...

Jeremy, Sommer, Alana, Emerald, Janine--I have to confess I forgot to mention one very important connection my writing has brought me: a wonderful community of brilliant, talented and generous erotica writers. I've only dipped my toe in "pure literary" waters, but the folks over there don't hold a candle to the really cool people in our corner of the beach. I can't tell you how much your kind words mean to me, and I feel a bit rubbery because everything you've said could go right back to describe you all!

It's been quite the weekend for Thanksgiving :-)

Kirsten Monroe said...

Thank you Nikki and Donna! What a wonderful and inspiring interview. I so admire Donna not only for her brilliance as a writer, but also for her approach to life. With humor, candor, and genius, she bravely embraces sexuality, motherhood, art, and culture....she is definitely one of my heroes.


Madeline Moore said...

Thank you for this fascinating mini-interview, Nikki.

It leaves me wanting more, which I'll take care of by a visit to the bookstore.