I was ready for this to be weird as hell. Not that people who are interested in reading and writing erotica are weirdos or anything like that, but when you take an activity that most people view as private and you’re suddenly discussing it out loud with a group of strangers… I mean, how can it not be weird? At the very least, it was bound to be uncomfortable.
So, I’d like to think I was prepared for all of the awkwardness I could possibly imagine when I walked into Lotus Blooms on 18th Street. While small, the sex shop was filled to the brim with all sorts of lingerie, toys, and they even had a little back room with whips, restraints, and other BDSM-esque gear. I had done absolutely no research about writing erotica or about the woman who would running the workshops prior to showing up because research is for suckers and surprises make everything better, but just a few days before, I had read an old post on the A Song of Ice and Fire subreddit (yes, that is what I do with my spare time) where anonymous internet nerds were talking about George R. R. Martin’s worst quotes.
Of course, the worst quote in the series has no contest, it’s very easily, “Men call me Darkstar, and I am of the night,” but reading through, it became obvious that the man is useless at writing sex scenes. From the infamous “fat pink mast” (yeah, that’s exactly what you think it is) to the… also as infamous “myrish swamp” (yes, that is also what you think it is). Sure, it’s hard to come up with good synonyms for genitalia, but then there are also things like, “The three men were erect. The sight of their arousal was arousing,” (seriously dude?) and “Her loins ached from the urgency of his love making. It was a good ache,” I mean, everyone knows that the word loins hasn’t been sexy since Lolita. So I had one goal when walking into this workshop, and it was that I was going to write a better sex scene than George R. R. Martin.
Unfortunately, I can’t say for certain I did.
After being told to walk about Lotus Blooms and gather some visual inspiration, the group was ushered to the top floor of the Black Squirrel to get down the business. I attempted to order a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout to get the erotic juices flowing, but the keg was not having it, so began to deal with the fact that I was going to have to do this sober. Shit was already starting to get weird.
After everyone chose a seat (not too close to each other, but also not too far away because there’s something strange about that too), Rachel Kramer Bussel, our erotic fairy godmother for the evening, began class. Bussel has been writing erotica since 1999, when her story “Monica and Me” was published in the erotic magazine Starfucker. She starts things off simple, with the definition of erotica (“writing intended to arouse”) and some few quick pointers about developing your characters, making sure your story has a beginning, middle and end, and an instruction to use our five senses.
Almost all of the class was devoted to a series of writing exercises, lasting between six and ten minutes. The first, drawing on her advice to use our five senses, centered around food and drink. Essentially, we could write about anything we wanted, no matter how outlandish, as long as we mentioned something edible. Bussel told us to begin, and I panicked. I had expected a little more instruction before being thrown to the wolves. While it became clear later on that the classes skill level and familiarity with erotica varied, I had never written something like this before in my life. I mean, sure, I had sent boyfriends and crushes sexxxy messages, but that’s nothing compared to constructing an entire narrative. I’d never really focused on goddamn world building while sexting a cute boy, so I fell back on the only story I had prepared. A Freddy Vs Jason love story.
Yes, you read that correctly. I had joked with a friend before coming to the workshop that I was going to use what I’d learn here to craft my great American gay horror erotica, but I wasn’t actually serious. In fact, my goal was to take the entire thing as seriously as possible, but considering I had no other ideas and the clock was winding down, I fucking went for it.
“He crept up to the bar. Crept because he was nervous. Normal men walk. But when you’re a monster, a person so reviled by society, by your community, by your family, you don’t tend to have much confidence to run, none the less walk. It was a honky tonk. An abandoned honky tonk. They couldn’t meet anywhere they would be recognized… and they would be recognized anywhere. A fire had claimed the space some years ago. You could still see the burn marks on the brick. After that, it had become a haven for the homeless and the unwanted. While it had been easy to chase away the vagabonds (a seven foot dude with a knife will scare just about anyone) not much about the usage (????) of the bar would be changing. For one more night, it was still going to be a home for the unwanted and the unloved. Just a different sort of unloved. Jason would have laughed if that was a thing he did.
He was already there. Confidently leaning against what was left of the old wooden bar, he slowly sipped a 40 of Mad Dog. Jason could see the glint of his knife hand catch the moonlight. He could see the deep red and green of his christmas sweater. Jason’s breath stopped short. He knew what they were doing was wrong. He’d seen all the movies. He knew this was an abomination against nature no one could have predicted. Yet, he wanted nothing more than to taste the cough syrup sweetness of the 40 and wash it down with Freddy’s spit. A potent mixture indeed.”
I wish I could tell you that this is all just a giant joke and I came up with something much better than that, but I didn’t. This is copied and pasted directly from my notes, without edits, without even re-reading it because otherwise I’m pretty sure I would curl up in a ball and die of embarrassment. I didn’t even get to the sex part because I ran out of time. How lame is that?
As a few brave people started sharing their stories, I felt even more embarrassed. At least my fellow classmates seemed to be taking this seriously. Finally, Bussel hopped in and explained why she had us start off with food. First, it’s something that we all interact with and think about multiple times a day, so we’re all pretty familiar and comfortable, but there’s also so much to work with in terms of taste, texture, and visuals. Not to mention the different cultural aspects of preparing and sitting down for a meal.
Then we were onto the next exercise. This time, we were told to focus on clothing, but my main goal was to A. try and take this seriously and B. actually have some goddamn sex in my story.
“It was freezing in his apartment. For the middle of July it felt like goddamn November. As he lounged on the sofa, draped in blankets and comforters (?) upon what was essentially a throne of pillows, she moped. She wasn’t an idiot. She knew he was trying to entice her. Trying to force her, almost, to sink into the furniture with him. She wouldn’t have it. She wrapped her wool scarf, once, twice, three times around her neck. Covering up the last bit of visible skin. His eyes never left the TV. The Food Network was still droning on.
It’s not that she didn’t want to be there. It’s that she couldn’t stand the thought of making the first move. She had directed the course of their sexual relationship like a mother fucking sea captain and she was done with it. She wanted nothing more than for him to crawl across the room, unwrap her soft wool scarf (one, twice, three times) and suck gently on her neck. She wanted nothing more than for him to slowly slide her pants down to a puddle on the floor and then sink his fingers inside her. She closed her eyes and thought about him pushing inside her. To be honest, it was probably better than reality.”
I’m pretty sure the only thing I succeeded at was writing the least interesting erotic story of all time. If you can find any amount of passion, or even a slight interest in sex in my story, let me know, because I sure as hell can’t. The only good thing that came from this story is the line “She had directed the course of their sexual relationship like a mother fucking sea captain,” because that’s hilarious. At this point, it was abundantly clear that I did not have what it takes. My erotica only got worse (I know. I didn’t think it could either!) and I was far more interested in getting home and going to bed then thinking up sexy scenarios.
Thankfully, my classmates were not quitters. Throughout the course of the workshop, I was consistently impressed with the creativity of those around me. Now, there stories could have been trash, no one was brave enough to read them out loud word for word, but their ideas were damn good. The next exercise, which required us to write about a job, was the catalyst for the best premise I would hear all night. While I wrote about a sleazy loan shark getting a blow job, someone else wrote about a guy who had a fetish for mailmen. The story being, that this dude is jerking off waiting for the mailman to arrive with the one goal of coming exactly when the mailman drops his mail through the door slot. I’m not a person who reads a lot of erotica (obviously) but I think I can say for certain that the mailman story is the best erotic plot I’d ever heard in my entire life. Even a week later, I’m still impressed by that person’s creativity.
From that point on we wrote about technology, couples who have been together for over ten years, D.C. landmarks, sex toys, etc etc. By the time we were done with all of our exercises, I was more tired than I would have been if I was actually having sex.
Bussel ended the evening by giving us an exhaustive list of publications we could reach out to if we wanted to get any of our work published in the future, and a few quick and dirty rules for writing erotica, but what it mainly came down to is that there are no hard and fast rules for writing erotica. People are aroused by many different things, and something that might turn one person off, might be the thing that sends someone else over the edge. I’m beyond certain that my own erotic writing won’t be exciting people anytime soon, but I think at the end of the day, I really did reach my goal of writing a better sex scene than George R. R. Martin. Mainly because, let’s be real, “fat pink mast” is unforgivable.