Here’s an author interview with Jean Roberta. Take it away, Jean…
- How did you start writing erotica?
I saw a call for erotic stories by women at the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal (Canada) in 1988, and decided to accept the challenge. I had already written a collection of lesbian stories which was published by the one-woman publisher who subsidised my trip to the book fair. Friends who read my book told me they wanted me to write more sex scenes.
- What’s your favourite published work of yours and why?
The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe Press – also in audio).It’s a sex-filled adventure story with the American Civil War (1861-1865) in the background. I enjoyed immersing myself in that era while figuring out a way for the lesbian narrator and the gay-male couple who invite her to join them at sea to reach a happy ending.
I’ve always been interested in history, not simply as a series of events, but as a process of cause and effect which could have turned out differently. Of course, I’m also interested in sex, so I like to find ways to combine my interests.
- What erotic authors do you enjoy reading?
Too many to list! Some of my favourites are writers I first met in the Erotic Readers and Writers Association: Nan Andrews, Kathleen Bradean, Kate Dominic, Jolie du Pre, Amanda Earl, Chris Sanchez-Garcia, Shanna Germain, the late Steven Hart, Adrea Kore, Mary Ann Mohanraj, Raziel Moore, “Remittance Girl,” Lisabet Sarai, Donna George Storey. Then there are the writers (including editors) I encountered when my stories began to be published: Jacqueline Applebee, Violet Blue, the late Bill Brent, Rachel Kramer Bussel, M. Christian, Lucy Felthouse, Sacchi Green, M. Jakubowski, D.L. King, Kristina Lloyd, Anna Meadows, Radclyffe, Giselle Renarde, Mitzi Szereto, Alison Tyler, Saskia Walker, Andrea Dale and Teresa Noelle Roberts (who sometimes collaborate as “Sophie Mouette”). I’m sure I’m leaving someone out, but those are the names I can think of at the moment.
My favourite erotic writers from before I discovered an erotic-writing community were Laura Antoniou, Pat Califia, the late Colette, Tanith Lee (in erotic mode), Anais Nin, Lawrence Schimel, Cecilia Tan.
- Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From my reading, mostly, but I draw on my experience to describe things convincingly..
- Do you have any unusual writing rituals?
Probably nothing very unusual. I drink coffee when I write in my office at the university where I teach, and tea when I write at home. I need to have the right hot drink in the right place.
- Where’s your favourite place to write?
The “library” in my house. My spouse Mirtha and I bought a three-bedroom house together in 1999. Now that we’re the only occupants, the “master” bedroom is ours, the back bedroom is for guests, and the middle bedroom is the “library,” where we keep books and a computer.
- Who is your favourite character from one of your stories and why?
I have several favourites. I especially like Edith and Ben, a sister and brother who are friends of the narrator of my story “Kol Nidre,” in my story collection The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales from the Torrid Past (Lethe Press). The story is set in the 1930s, and the characters are loosely based on my mother’s artsy/intellectual Jewish friends in New York City when she was in her teens and early twenties. They were worldly and radical (sexually and politically), but they also had a kind of innocence I associate with that period.
- Do your nearest and dearest know what you do, and if so, what was their reaction when they found out?
My girlfriend knew I had written some erotic stories before we became a couple in 1989, but she didn’t seem to believe I would continue writing “smut!” She was upset at first, but I promised that I would never expose her to voyeurs by describing her in my erotica. She eventually came to accept my writing, and we were married in 2010.
My father disapproved, and my mother was afraid of how my writing would harm my reputation. My parents both passed away in 2009. My two younger sisters, their husbands, my daughter and her husband all know, and none of them speak to me. (I don’t think my erotic writing is their only reason for wanting to keep me out of their lives, but it doesn’t give them hope that I will ever become socially acceptable.)
- What was your ideal career when you were a child?
I had several. Sometimes I wanted to become an actress (the word that was used then), but I loved all the arts. I drew a lot and loved to dance and sing, though I knew I didn’t have the voice to be a soloist, and doubted whether my body could be honed into the perfect instrument for dance. I made many of my own clothes as a teenager, and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. I also liked to write, and hoped I could earn a living at it someday. (How little I knew about reality.)
- How do you get yourself in the mood to write?
I think about possible plots before falling asleep at night. If I make an effort to remember my dreams in the morning, they often show me a way to resolve conflicts and to keep moving forward.
- What’s the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Find your own voice.
- If you get writer’s block, how do you get around it?
Do something physical, like cleaning house or taking the dog for a walk.
- If you could bring one of your characters to life, which one would it be and why?
Dr. Athena Chalkdust, the narrator of five of my stories. She is a “Mary Sue” (an idealized version of me), an academic Domme who always knows what to do.
- Which author, erotic or otherwise, would you love to meet and why?
I would love to meet several authors I haven’t actually met, but the ones I admire keep dying off! (Strange how that happens. I identify them with their words, which can live forever.) I would have liked to meet Doris Lessing (1919-2013), the writer who is usually described as “British,” but who grew up in Rhodesia (as it was called) and never really considered herself an insider in the British literary establishment, despite winning numerous awards. (I wrote my Master’s thesis in English on her.) I would have liked to meet the prolific fantasy writer Tanith Lee, and a Canadian prairie writer of contemporary realism, Margaret Laurence.
- What’s your favourite genre within erotica and why?
Erotic fantasy or science fiction. Anything can happen in another dimension, on another planet, or between characters who are not exactly human.
- What are you working on at the moment?
A non-fiction book about censorship, broadly speaking: what words, images and ideas have been banned for various reasons by theorists on the Left as well as the Right.
- What’s the biggest writing challenge you’ve ever taken on? Did you succeed?
- I’ve written an erotic novel and a novella. Writing works of fiction that are longer than short stories is a challenge, and I’d like to write more long works. A novel allows for more character development than a story.
- I find that writing m/m erotica is a challenge because I don’t have the relevant plumbing, even though I have some knowledge of it. I’m impressed by the number of women who write m/m erotic romance. One of my gay-male friends once told me that an m/m story of mine had an effect on him. I took that as high praise.
- I like to describe an erotic encounter from the viewpoints of both (or all) characters, and that is hard to do without head-hopping. I’ve written several stories that switch from one viewpoint to another. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded.
- What’s your biggest writing achievement? Why?
My biggest writing achievement is that I’ve continued to write over a long period of time, despite knowing that it’s not a route to fast fame or wealth.