Why have bad sex when you can read about great sex? One of erotic lit’s trailblazers tells us how to turn people on, on paper
Historically, the credibility of the erotic novel has been quite poor. From the pandemonium that followed 50 Shades to suburban mums swooning over Mills & Boon paperbacks. In a world that’s constantly told that ‘sex sells’, there’s huge potential in the market for some intelligent, exciting, awkward, funny, fucked up and sexy literature to be penned.
Step in, Badlands Unlimited. Dropping their second trio of titillating titles under the New Lovers series, the publisher is redefining sex on the printed page. Burning Blue (Cara Benedetto), My Wet Hot Drone Summer (Lex Brown) and I Would Do Anything For Love (Al Bedell) are being released at the New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 this weekend, with the latter paying homage to the rites of passage of adolescence – making out with your mates, losing your virginity and basically just getting hella drunk. To honour its release, we asked its author, New York/Los Angeles-based writer Bedell to tell us how she tackled the job of turning people on, on paper.
“It helps if trauma occurs pre-adolescence but if you’re traumatised in your teenage years or early twenties that works too. Focus on this trauma for the rest of your life. Never get over it. It’s great for your art.”
NEVER HAVE SEX
“Sex sucks for the most part. It’s horrifying if you really think about what the act entails. It’s grotesque. The primal grunting and fidgeting as you try to figure out what feels good is frustrating and embarrassing. Trying to look away from your partner’s gnarled and determined face is exhausting, and faking an orgasm isn’t as fun as it was when you were 15. The aftermath is awkward and uncomfortable. You have to clean up the sticky mess and crack open a window, maybe smoke a cigarette so you don’t have to think of anything to say to your inadequate partner. ‘Was that good for you?’ “Yeah, I came three times,’ you lie. ‘That was incredible.’
Fictional sex is where it’s at. Real sex will never be as good as the sex that you’re having in your imagination. In a twisted fantasy of your own device you can bang anyone, anywhere and on your own time. Fictional sex doesn’t even have to be on this planet, in this era or with someone who exists. You don’t even have to be yourself. The slow build up of fictional sex is hot, exciting and erotic. There is nothing erotic about real sex; erotica does not prevail anywhere but in your mind.
Once you’ve abstained from real sex your insatiable craving for fictional sex intensifies and you’ve begun your erotic novel writing journey.”
“Fictional sex is where it’s at. Real sex will never be as good as the sex that you’re having in your imagination” – Al Bedell
“Take the long way home from work to think about the erotic novel you have yet to write. Think about how popular you’ll be once you are a published erotic novelist. Practice your modest and most sincere ‘Thank you, you’re too kind’ response to praise and validation from your soon-to-be adoring fans. Post some #workingonmynovel selfies to Instagram. Refresh as you wait for the likes. Check Twitter. Check Facebook. Check your horoscope. Check Pinterest. Start a Pinterest board about your dream wedding. Install Tinder. Start a group text with 23 people. Keep your notifications turned on. Go green on Gchat. Chat with a rando who lived in your dorm complex freshman year. Scrub every surface of your apartment with Windex. Scrub the filthy white couch you found on the side of the road until it looks brand new. Scrub the toilet. Gag. Mop. Wash every dish in the house. Color-coordinate your underwear drawer. Go through your closet and throw away anything that isn’t designer or sentimental. Throw away relics from past relationships.
Compose an email to your ex about your work of erotic fiction that will soon be published and that you hope he is happy even though he’s better off without you. Don’t send it. Stalk your ex. Stalk your ex’s ex. Stalk your ex’s current girlfriend. Stalk her ex too. Delete Instagram. Check Tinder. Swipe ferociously but don’t message any of your pathetic matches. When someone messages you, tell him you can’t meet up because you are working on a genius work of erotic fiction. When he asks what your book is about, downplay it by saying ‘It’s not a big deal. It’s just like a trashy book for pseudo-intellectuals. It’s short. More of a pamphlet, really.’ Allow him to tell you how interesting and hot you are. Stop responding.
Visit your former ballet school’s website. Look up their current principles on Facebook. Close Facebook when you realise you’re stalking beautiful eight-to-13-year-old girls. Dust off your yoga mat and attempt to execute the minimal ballet stretches you can remember. Throw your yoga mat in the garbage. Reinstall Instagram. Blindly like everything on your feed. Tweet about your forthcoming erotic novella that you still haven’t written. Tweet something funny and self-deprecating. Wait for the likes.
Organise your bookshelf alphabetically. Get freaked out by the alphabet. Assign every letter of the alphabet to one of two categories: Symmetrical and Not Symmetrical. Re-organise your bookshelf by genre and importance. Stick all the cool women authors together. Read the Bible. Read Harry Potter. Re-read your essays from undergrad. Read The New Yorker. Read Buzzfeed. Read the Wikipedia page for the French Revolution, the Civil War, Sandwiches, Post-Modernism, Greek Mythology, The Secret (book), American Girl Dolls. Take some online quizzes: What Colour is Your Soul? How Manic Are You? Which Pretty Little Liar Are You? Would You Survive a Zombie Apocalypse? Are You a Narcissist? Are You a Sociopath? Where Do You Fall On The Autism Spectrum? Which American Girl Doll Are You?
Paint your nails a hue that matches the colour of your soul. Do a facemask. Climb on top of the bathroom sink and inspect every wrinkle and imperfection in your face. Tweeze your eyebrows. Stop tweezing when you realise you’ve gone too far. Research anti-aging tips on the Internet and order a .07 ounce bottle of face serum for $120. Smoke a cigarette. Smoke another.
Have a two-hour-long phone conversation with your senile grandmother about Derek Jeter. Call your dad to let him know that you’re a wonderful granddaughter for doing so. Let him know the erotic novel you haven’t written is going really well. Remind him that you’re not only celibate but also a virgin. When he tells you how proud he is of you tell him “Thank you, you’re too kind.” Far too kind.
Catch up with your estranged family via Facebook stalking. Realise you don’t have any of their phone numbers and decide to compose an email to each and every one of them explaining how you’re so sorry you haven’t been a part of their lives for the past twenty years, that you love them and you’ve just been extremely busy writing a bestselling erotic novel. Don’t send.”
QUIT YOUR DAY JOB, MOVE TO CALIFORNIA
“This is the ultimate form of procrastination. Fall in love for a minute. Move back to New York.”
“Never leave your apartment. Completely remove yourself from the outside world by allowing the fictional world you’ve created to become your entire reality. Stop relating to people who don’t live in the realm of erotic fiction” – Al Bedell
“When you’re finally done procrastinating, you are ready to write. Understand that ‘writing’ essentially means ‘becoming a deranged recluse.’ Prepare yourself for the following two years of solitude, insomnia and anguish. Kiss your social life, conventional eating habits and sanity goodbye. Sane people don’t write erotic novels.
Never leave your apartment. Completely remove yourself from the outside world by allowing the fictional world you’ve created to become your entire reality. Stop relating to people who don’t live in the realm of erotic fiction. Befriend your fictional characters because they are the only people who understand what you’re going through. Befriend your Adderall dealer. Befriend your bodega guy. Become known as the cracked out white girl who buys two packs of yellow American Spirits, a sugar free Red Bull and an assortment of Lil Debbie’s snacks every night.
Light your creativity candle. A creativity candle is like a regular candle except that it transforms your dining room table into an atelier when you light it. Cut holes into a pair of gloves. These are your arthritis gloves. When the creativity candle is lit and the arthritis gloves are on it’s time to hit the ground running. You may only stop writing when the gloves are off and the candle is out.
In your pink spiral bound notebook write the entire first chapter of your erotic novel by hand and then transcribe your illegible cursive to Microsoft Word 2007. Send the first chapter to your intelligent friends in different time zones whilst begging them for feedback, questions, revisions, ideas, and brutal critiques. Repeat this process for the second chapter. By chapter three you will feel too guilty to force anyone to read the horrible nonsense you’ve written. You’re on your own.
Listen to nothing but your ‘in the Adderall zone’ Spotify playlist strategically composed of Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Arnold Dreyblatt and Pengiun Café Orchestra. Music with lyrics is almost as distracting as silence. Don’t sleep. In the rare case that you nod off for an hour or so, only dream about your work of erotic fiction. Obsess. Don’t stop obsessing. Lose your mind along with your appetite. Fail to notice that you reached your goal weight months ago which is a shame because no one knows but you.
Get to the middle of your story and realise it’s total shit. Scream. Cry. Consider jumping off your fire escape. Give up on your erotic novel and denounce writing forever. What were you thinking? You can’t write a book. You can barely form a sentence. Get drunk and maniacally call your dad for a pep talk. When he tells you to take a break, take a break. Hang out with your real life friends who are worried about how thin and tired you look. Tell them you’re fine and talk about nothing but your incomplete story. If you’re lucky enough to have supportive friends, they will tell you what they would like to see happen in your story, urge you to keep going and remind you that you’re a talented, beautiful and unique genius with shiny hair.
Revisit your deplorable, incoherent plot and trash it. Start a new one from scratch. Repeat one hundred times.
If you make it so far as to complete a draft of your erotic novel, think twice before congratulating yourself. You may think you have just written a groundbreaking masterpiece but you will spend the next year working with a series of editors who are much smarter and more experienced than you. They will tell you to rewrite it five more times. You’ll want to tell them you think it’s perfect as is, that you couldn’t possibly make it any better, but you should take their edits. It’s worth it.”
“Get to the middle of your story and realise it’s total shit. Scream. Cry. Consider jumping off your fire escape. Give up on your erotic novel and denounce writing forever” – Al Bedell
“Take a huge sigh of relief because that excruciating ordeal is over. You actually wrote a book. Brag to anyone who will listen that yes, in fact, you did write an erotic novel. Refer to yourself as an author. Boast. Hold onto that feeling for as long as you can because it will soon fade.
Now that you’re free of the burden that is writing an erotic novel you can go back to living your normal life. Black out every night and never set a morning alarm. Do brunch at dinnertime. Don’t even bother to open your computer. What’s the point? You’re not working on anything. Have real sex. Drink more to forget about it.
Eventually cry because you miss what it felt like to be writing an erotic novel. Even though two years of your life were sheer agony and delirium, writing your first erotic novel was a thrill ride that you can never get back on. When your final manuscript is sent to the printers, that’s that. There is nothing left to be written. You imagine this is what post-partum depression feels like. What are you supposed to do now that it’s all over?
Attempt and fail to figure out what it means to ‘endure’ or ‘overcome’ or ‘find peace of mind.’ Reaffirm yourself of your grand accomplishment whenever you can. Not everyone can write a book, but you did it. You wrote a book and people are going to read it whether you like it or not. Shop for a cute or sophisticated outfit to wear to the impending book release party, to be hosted at Greene Naftali by Badlands Unlimited and Paul Chan. Fear everyone will hate your book, or worse, not read it at all.
Stop bragging about being an author.
Try to forget the whole thing happened as you dread the imminent release of your published erotic novel. Go to the bar and order a vodka soda. Tweet about your forthcoming erotic novel and immediately delete it. Tweet something funny and self-deprecating. Open Tinder. Respond to your match from over a year ago. ‘Thank you, you’re too kind.’”