Friday, July 15, 2016

Day 15: The making of a middle-aged porn star


Last night I promised I'd share something I wrote 10 years ago when I sold my first piece of erotic short fiction. I thought it would stand the test of time, but as I read over it late this evening, it mostly shows how much I've changed over the past 10 years. It's hard to believe one little story was such a big deal to me back then. I don't like this piece as much as I did when I wrote it, but it's too late tonight to write something else. I have to be at work at 8:00 am, so I'm going to share it, and please don't judge. I hope I've polished my skills a little since I wrote this. After all, just on this blog I've published almost 600 posts. Have I mentioned that? All that practice must count for something.

Also, if you feel like skipping reading a day, this is probably the one. Old stuff, this. I was even married back then! So much has changed. But OK, I'll shut up. Here it is.

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I’m the least likely porn star you’ve ever seen. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom forever and I homeschooled my kids for 12 years, although we were the granola-eating, old-hippie kind of homeschoolers rather than the denim-skirted, Bible-believing type. When my daughter went to high school for the first time last fall, it was time to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I thought I’d take up fiction-writing. I’ve been an editor and columnist for a homeschool magazine for years, but I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was seven. If not now, when?

About the same time, I was hanging out in my family room with some girlfriends, and we were looking through several issues of BUST magazine, the magazine “for women with something to get off their chests.” Talk turned to the short stories in the back—the ones called the “one-handed read.” I had to explain to a couple of my friends what the title meant. When my 14-year-old daughter informed us she never read the back of that magazine because the stories there were gross, I felt relieved. I want my daughter to be well informed about all matters sexual. and I’ll talk with her about anything, but I’m not that cool.

I said I was sure I could write a story at least as well as what I’d read there. Why don’t you do it then, they said. I picked up the gauntlet. How hard could it be to write porn? Excuse me. I meant to say erotica.

So I did. I reread the stories from the three issues I had and made note of the language they used, especially the dirty words. I got the guidelines from bust.com and sat down at my computer to write. Two hours later, I had a story with a plot, intriguing characters and—I hate to brag—a really hot sex scene. The hardest part—no pun intended—was cutting it down to 1500 words. My first draft came in about twice that. Three fascinating characters had to go…along with the plot. I did, however, use the F word, the T word, the P word and all three C words, sometimes in the same sentence.

I submitted it as soon as I finished and about six weeks later Emily, an editor from BUST, emailed me and said she wanted it with just a few minor changes. All I had to do was completely rewrite the ending and shift the timeline a couple of months.

I was so excited, I jumped up from my computer and yelled, “BUST took my story!”

“Are they paying you?” My husband has priorities and simple recognition by my adoring public isn’t one of them.

From another room my daughter hollered, “Mooooommmm, tell me it’s not porn.”

In the dining room where my twenty-one-year-old son and four of his friends were playing Dungeons and Dragons, I heard utter, but pregnant, silence. I turned around from where I was on my way upstairs and they were staring at me like I’d turned into an elf and thrown a level-seven bolt of lightning at the poodle.

“It’s not porn. It’s e-ro-ti-ca.”

In her most sarcastic teenage voice she asked, “What’s the difference?” The D&D geeks waited for my answer.

How to explain it without photos? Or at least tasteful drawings? “Porn is what dirty old men buy in those stores down in the Oregon District. Porn is what we have to clean off the computer after your brother downloads it and bogs the system down.” My son just grinned at me. His generation expects to have porn at their fingertips. “Porn is vulgar. I write erotica. For women.” I gave the geeks a stern look and they stared down at their many-sided dice until I went on up the stairs.

I made the changes to my story and returned it to the editor about ten minutes later.


Growing up in a small town in southwest Iowa, the closest I came to porn was the rare Playboy and my mom’s True Story magazines, which she kept on top of the fridge under a flyswatter. I wasn’t allowed to read them until I was in high school, only to find out they were nothing but badly written sexual innuendo that stopped before the good stuff. The plots always centered around what happened to either na├»ve or wild women who did the bad thing for the wrong reasons. Unlike now, when I might open an email to  find a long-haired woman with unnaturally large breasts giving a blow job to a hard-muscled man with a penis that belongs in the circus, our porn consisted of nude blonde girls who shared their pet peeves and future aspirations so we’d feel like we knew them well enough to see them naked. Looking at those photos was naughty no matter what your age or sex.

Once I left home at seventeen, I became marginally acquainted with Penthouse and their porn-fantasy letters, filled with blow jobs on carnival rides and the exploitation of various fruits and vegetables. Somebody showed me a Hustler once but I couldn’t relate to those hot pink gaping vaginas. I was embarrassed for them.

Shortly after I turned eighteen, my husband-to-be took me on a tour of the sex joints in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In the back room of one, we plugged quarters into a movie we watched through a kind of View-Master–like projector. A woman was swinging on a tree swing and her dress would fly up as she flew forward toward the camera. It was an old, grainy, sepia-tinted movie. The quarter ran out before anything good happened. The walls in the front of the store were hung with all manner of odd devices—some I was sure I’d seen hanging in barns--and artificial male appendages. I had no frame of reference for imagining how they might be used. We left without making a purchase.

Down the street we found a XXX movie theater. When we were told how much it cost to see the matinee, we decided not to. As luck would have it, the ticket seller left to have a conversation with his boss and we walked right by a big German Shepard and went on in.

We sat in one of the back rows. On the screen a giant penis spurted its payload into the air. It was replaced by another penis madly thrusting between a pair of giant breasts accompanied by a soundtrack of female moans and male grunts. Suddenly we realized our seats, which were joined to all the other seats in the row, were rocking like ... well, like someone was beating off. We looked down the row and saw a guy sitting at the other end--a man in (I swear this is true) a trench coat--who had something in his hand that wasn’t a box of popcorn. We were laughing too hard to enjoy the movie so we left. The men who worked there didn’t even seem to notice us.

For a long time, that was about it for my porn exposure, other than the occasional sexy HBO movie and a couple of soft-core films my husband rented from the back room of the local family video store. My life was filled with young children, homeschooling, church and my Air Force officer husband’s frequent and long absences. I was too busy for porn.

Which is why I don’t know what got into me when I wrote that story. Maybe a mid-life crisis. Maybe it was just the changing times and the overwhelming number of venues for erotic images and materials to enter our lives, whether we welcome them or not. Somehow over three decades’ time, porn, erotica, whatever you want to call it, has become commonly accessible by anybody with cable TV or an internet connection.

Still I only told a few people about my story. I wasn’t sure if I should be ashamed of it or proud I’d sold my first piece of fiction to a glossy, sexy magazine.


BUST published my story in the February/March annual music issue under my real name, the same name thousands of homeschoolers see in their favorite homeschool magazine every other month. Coincidentally I had a party in February so a bunch of us who mostly knew each other from church could hang out, drink, play music, eat, talk and get away from the kids. The timing had nothing to do with the story. It wasn’t a coming out party for the erotica queen. At the party only Sally and Joan, who read everything I write, knew about it. They whispered the news to a couple of other women, who were so excited they insisted on reading it. I told them if I got the magazine from where it was hidden in my bedstand, they had to pass it around discreetly and not to the men.

Chicken Grrrl, another homeschool mom who subscribes to BUST but hadn’t read the one-handed read in her new issue yet, sat in my grandma’s antique rocker and read it first. I wondered if there was something perverse about me that I always turn to the back and read Betty Dodson’s sex Q&A column and the one-hander before I read the articles (but after I look at the photos).

Chicken Grrrl passed it on to Cindy, who is a school teacher, and Deb, a PR executive. Before I knew it, even Moe and Bill were cuddled up on the couch reading it together. Moe and Bill both work at a local university and Moe used to be an English professor before he rose to the ranks of administration. I mentally crossed him off my list of people I could tap for a recommendation to the MA program in English. When I said not to pass it to any men, I didn’t think I had to specify that gay men were included.

Because it was taking too long to get around to everybody, several of the women insisted I read it aloud. I resisted. They insisted. I drank some more wine. The guys chimed in. I blushed, drank more wine and tried to change the subject. Eventually I gave in. I decided if I was going to write the story, sell it and cash the check, I should be OK with reading it aloud when I was asked.

So I found myself sitting on my living room couch, illuminated only by the music light on my black grand piano, rhinestone reading glasses perched on my nose, reading my graphically erotic one-handed read to 15 or so of my best two-handed friends, who occupied every seat in both the living room and dining room as well as any available floor space. All I needed was a cigarette in a sleek black holder and a beret. Welcome to a night of beat erotica in lovely suburban Beaver River, Ohio.

Just before I started, Moe and Bill passed through on their way to the front door.  They rarely stay out later than the Philharmonic plays, and nobody was left in the family room anyway.

Bill waved. “Ta ta. Enjoy your porn!”

“Did you guys really read that story?” I asked, stalling.

“Only the literary parts,” Moe said. Bless him. I put him back on my recommendation list.

I tried not to look closely at any one person as I read—especially the men—although I peeked to see if anybody looked truly horrified. Before I submitted it, I had sent it to my sister just to get her opinion and she liked it so much she sent it to a male colleague who told her he was trapped at his desk for ten minutes after he read it. There are no desks in my living room to provide cover. I noticed most people were looking down studiously or had their eyes closed. I was glad they weren’t looking at me.

As luck would have it, I’d written the story in first person, so it took on a disturbingly personal tone as I read it aloud. The protagonist was a musician—a blues guitar player and singer—and most of the good parts took place on the stage after she finished playing a gig. That night I had to put down my guitar and stop singing so I could read the story to my friends. You’ve got to love those little autobiographical elements in fiction that come home to bite you on the ass. As I read, I couldn’t believe I’d actually written those terribly descriptive words. I didn’t remember being that explicit.

Now I have 15 friends who think my life—especially my sex life—is much more exciting than it’s ever been. They tried to guess who the man in the story might be. I assured them it only happened in my head as I sat at my computer in my pajamas at 2:00 AM. They asked how I managed to type with one hand.

After I read we wandered back into the kitchen and family room where food and drinks waited. I was surprised the women were more excited than the men and wanted to talk about how cool it was. My reticence about showing them the story was unfounded. Although I was proud to have sold it--the first short story I’d written since high school English class--I wasn’t sure how my friends would see me after reading it. We’re a liberal bunch. We joke about sex a lot. In fact we’re obnoxious about it, but jokes aren’t personal. This story felt personal to me, even though it never happened. It took us beyond harmless flirtation and dirty jokes around the euchre table. I felt a strange mix of pride and shame as I read it to them, but the pride overtook the shame and kicked it to the curb after the reading was over.

Several of the women begged me to teach an erotic writing class so they could learn to do it too. Like one story made me an expert. Yet I was flattered. I’d like to do it. Susie Bright, who edits the Best American Erotica series, wrote a book called How to Write a Dirty Story and Elizabeth Benedict penned The Joy of Sex. If you’ve got a textbook, you can teach a class, right?

They tried to make me promise to write a story for all the parties I throw, at least every other month. I said I’d only read the stories that were published because I wasn’t going to become their personal porn writer. What a bunch of middle-aged pervs!

And yet here we were, this group of men and women who ranged in age from early thirties to sixties, gay and straight, stay-at-home-moms, teachers, librarians, business people, computer geeks and a doctor, and we all let down our guard enough to listen to a taboo fantasy for a few minutes and even admit we liked it.

Later I found out my little brother shared it with my baby sister who showed it to our mom. What was my sister thinking? This story was a far cry from True Story or the little Harlequin romances she passed back and forth with my grandma. Yet when I talked to my mom on the phone, she merely said she’d read it and congratulated me on the sale. I guess she’s read something other than True Story since I was in high school. She didn’t even sound shocked, but I still can’t imagine my dad and her sitting around with their card group reading a story like mine. My imagination recoils.



I’ve been published at least every other month for years now and, except for a few local homeschoolers, nobody I know personally ever reads what I write. But let me sell one tiny little dirty story and everybody wants to read it and pass it around and insist on private readings--even my lesbian friends, who said they did quick gender changes in their heads as I read. Even Bill and Moe, who wear frilly tulle aprons to our annual Christmas dinner, love the symphony and laugh at Emerson like the rest of us laugh at Seinfeld. My brother bought five copies and gave away four to various friends…and he’s gay too! My 21-year-old son (who is not gay) bought a copy for his friend Meagan for her birthday. He promised me he wouldn’t read it and he swears he hasn’t.

Women’s erotica is a hot market. In fact, it’s one of the few thriving fiction markets. Google “women erotica writing” and see how many hits you get. Several of the major women’s book publishers, including Harlequin and Avon, have added erotic imprints to their fiction lines. There are how-to books and websites, associations for erotic fiction writers, and then there are the erotic magazines and books themselves. Believe it or not, this is your mother’s fiction!


I got more attention from my friends and family for those 1500 words than for all the thousands and thousands I’ve written in the past put together. And it was fun. I was surprised to find out how many of my friends, especially the women, enjoyed the story and wanted more. No, I’m not going to become famous like Susie Bright writing erotica, but I’m learning to leave my shame in the 70s and take my place among the other women who are buying up the erotic fantasies and sampling the Lickety Lube at the home sex-toy parties that have become so popular. I’m looking forward to reading my next published erotica to my friends. That’s why last week I sent another story off to BUST…and this time I even included a photo!

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