I pecked the first lines of my would-be erotic romance a few days before Thanksgiving 2009. Fast Lane is about a divorcee who aims to avenge all women by romancing the magnate of a men’s webzine so she can dump him and write an expose about his sordid, misogynist empire. I was entering uncharted territory.
So why was I doing it? Because one day I descended from my attic office to find my wife, Mary Jo, in her work nook on the first floor, ready to click on the purchase of an e-book.
An erotic romance.
It was a bad time for freelance writers. Mary Jo and I have endured ups and downs during our 10 years in business, but during the last quarter of ’09, most of our advertising and business-to-business clients simply had no work. An erotic novel might not seem like the wisest purchase for a self-employed couple who had a kid in college, $1,000-a-month health insurance premiums, a mortgage, a car payment and no income, but there was a method to this madness. The 25,000-word novella had been written by a member of Mary Jo’s online writing group, and she thought she might use her unwelcome free time to write something similar, sell it and start earning royalties before we went broke.
Or Christmas. Whichever came first.
The e-book Mary Jo was reading reminded me of letters in Penthouse Forum that are purportedly from readers about their sexual exploits. Letters so graphic, so consistent in style and tone and so much like my 19-year-old-male fantasies that I’ve always had a hard time believing they’re really letters. Now, I know for a fact that Mary Jo had never written anything remotely like this book nor, as far as I could tell, had even read anything like it. Mary Jo can be X-rated at the right moment, but since she aspired to publishing novels for 10-year-olds, I never thought she’d even consider writing something in which the word “cunt” would be not only welcome, but required.
And aimed at women, no less.
Well, I thought, if Mary Jo was willing to try this, I should, too. A husband-wife duo writing explicit literature for women? Could be a real selling point. And so I downloaded an erotic romance by a different author. Marking up and dissecting the sex scenes as I went, I realized pretty quickly that I was about to undertake a daunting task.
Yes, daunting. Neither Mary Jo nor I approached this with a cavalier attitude. Neither of us ever said, “Hell, it should be easy to bang these out in no time, and we’ll be rich.” We’ve both been writers for way too long to think anything like that. Writing is hard, whether your bread-and-butter is a newspaper column about groundbreaking automotive technologies or novels about women savoring a stud’s quavering manhood in ways that seem kind of new, but probably aren’t. The only thing I was absolutely sure of was that the people who wrote these books could do something I might not be able to.
I’d written sex scenes before, but not sex scenes specifically for women in a style that not too long ago would have been considered inappropriate for “mixed company.” When it came time to describe the deeds, would my fingers be able to type the words? And would my lips be able to speak them when it was my turn to read to my writing group two times a month?
As I approach page 100, some answers are starting to materialize. Apparently, not a lot of romance novels, erotic or otherwise, are written by men. But I’m doing it, and it’s been an interesting ride so far. I’m not going to give away too many spoilers, but I hope you’ll find the adventure as fun and as funny—and as illuminating—as it’s been for me.