...Interview Sommer Marsden and Maxim Jakubowski about Erotica

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I’m not going to waste time with a long introduction. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m doing something a little different with my blog this week. I interviewed two writers who have written in a variety of genres, but specialize in erotica. My plan was to run the interviews one week after the other, but I thought it would be more interesting to combine the interviews into one post and see how their answers contrast. If you like this approach, let me know and I’ll continue it with writers and artists in other genres and fields.

Maxim Jakubowski has worked as an editor, bookstore owner, newspaper columnist and television commentator, and I’m probably missing one or two other things. He has written short stories, novellas and novels (including The State of Montana, referenced below) and was nicknamed by the Times “The King of the erotic thriller.”

I first came into contact with Sommer Marsden when I sent her an admiring e-mail about one of her stories. We stayed in touch and became friends, and she’s always been happily willing to answer my questions about publishing. Sommer is the author of a number of novels, within and outside of the erotic genre, has written over three hundred short stories and served as an editor for anthologies devoted to the field. Noted author and columnist Violet Blue called her “one of the top storytellers in the erotica genre.”

What I’m saying is, they’re both way more accomplished than me.

(As a side note, I was also supposed to interview Kiki Howell for this interview, but we had a timing error, which often happens with me and Kiki. Probably because I need to get my shit together.)

If there was one book you could make everyone read, what would it be? Or you have three books and you’re on a deserted island…

Maxim: One is too few, I fear. Read ALL JG Ballard, John Irving at least, not forgetting Dickens, Melville and Chandler....

Sommer: Three books. That is almost impossible to even consider. I'd have to say It by Stephen King, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, and (I'm cheating) an omnibus edition of Anne George's Southern Sisters mysteries. And for the record there are about seventy more books in my head that I'd list after those.

How do you define the difference between erotica and pornography?

Maxim: Both deal with sex but where porn is just to arouse, erotica also is full of emotion.

Sommer: Intention. For the most part. I don't want to wax all poetic about the difference because I think they can get all sticky and tangled up together. Heh. I've written both. I think that the intention in most porn is to titillate, get to the point and allow the reader/watcher/etc to get off. Which is a perfectly respectable goal in my humble opinion. In erotica I think the intention is usually to engage the entire being--mind/body/spirit--rather than just the genitalia. But like I said, they bleed into one another. It's hard to find a hard line between them sometimes. I've read stories touted as erotica that I considered porn and vice versa. I think it all comes down to the perception of the reader, to be honest.

What is your favorite piece of erotica literature?

Maxim: Again too many to mention, but you can't beat STORY OF O, vintage Aragon and Apollinaire, and amongst contemporaries Michael Perkins.

Sommer: That is an impossible question because I do not have a favorite. I won't even give you a list because I would forget something or someone. Plus then you get into the area of what is literature and what is not. And that is an argument very much like “what is porn vs. erotica.” I plead the fifth! 

Do you think men and women take different approaches to writing erotica?

Sommer: I'm about to be a real pain in the ass... It depends on the writer. I think sometimes they do have different approaches but often they don't. I've been praised for writing 'like a guy' but then another editor will tell me that I should not write 'like a guy' because I can't. I've read erotica by men that is much more tender, poetic and heart touching than that by women writers and I've read stories by women that are down and dirty and raunchy (which often people attribute to male writers). So the answer is yes. And no. Possibly...

Maxim: Yes, and all the better for it. Women are more emotional but when men understand that they, I feel, are capable of writing even better than women as they ally emotions with style, while too many women erotica writers are too guided by their feelings and fall down on plot and characterization. Naturally there a thousand exceptions to this statement.

Maxim, it's interesting that you mention style in regards to women writers, especially considering the influences of writers like Anais Nin, Anne Desclos and other women, and the common assertion that the genre tends to be populated by more women writers, readers and editors than men. I've often wondered - do you think women have contributed more to the styling of the genre more than men? Or would you say that the contributions are equal?

I wasn’t actually referring to style but to the emotional content/commitment many women input in their erotic writing. But I would point out I was referring more to contemporary writers than “classical” ones such as Nin or Desclos and others who appeared, to my eyes, to get a better balance between emotion and eroticism.

In terms of style, every writer has his own and, sadly, very few current erotica writers could be said to stand out stylistically.

There seems to be more of an acceptance for erotica in publishing since the success of 50 Shades. If you agree, do you think that change is going to last?

Maxim: No. We've been flooded by too many FSOG imitations and rip-offs and that has spoilt the market for us and fear we will suffer much opprobrium for years to come as a result.

Sommer: I think there was plenty of acceptance before that book, actually. I think what we're seeing is more "soccer moms" accepting it. The people who might have blushed and gasped and/or turned away before it was came out. I don't really know a whole lot about the 50 Shades craze because I've read none of the books. And I really don't intend to. I will say I think I would be freer to say to my dentist "I write erotic romance" and have her get the reference to the genre. But then she'd probably say "Oh, like 50 Shades?" and since I've been doing it for going on 9 years full time I'd then want to punch myself in the head. So...the answer is: a bit.

Maxim, I thought that "The State of Montana" was insightful in its depictions of anonymity and the desire for illusion. But it's interesting that Montana uses illusion to discover and introduce herself to others. Do you think that illusion is, in some ways, necessary for people to connect?

Not at all. It was a fictional conceit. “The State of Montana” was my attempt to rewrite Story of O within a modern context, i.e. the Internet.

Sommer, do you find a stigma attached to publishing erotica and, if so, does it bother you?

The only stigma I find are the ones I allow to crop up. If I'm ashamed of what I write or my genre, then there's a stigma. I am becoming more open with what I do. If someone has an issue with it, it's their problem, not mine. My kids know what I do, my man knows what I do. They're 100% fine with it and are super proud of me. Beyond that, no one else really matters. If other folks don't like it, they don't have to read it.

Sommer, you’ve written novels, novellas, short stories, flash fiction and edited anthologies. Is there an area in writing that you want to explore?

Not that I can think of. Is there anything left? 

If there’s one thing you want a reader to take away from a Sommer Marsden work, what is it?


Do you have an upcoming work, in any genre, you want readers to know about?

Maxim: In the wake of Fifty Shades of Gray, I wrote a major series, now into six volumes, under a pen name I can't divulge. In essence it is the anti FSOG and I trust so much better written and characterized. It's a major bestseller worldwide and has taken up all last year and, in all likelihood, this year, while the going is good, so I have not worked on a new book under my name since EKATERINA AND THE NIGHT. I have a lot of anthologies due out in addition to my annual British Crime and Erotica Mammoths, the next being LA DOLCE VITA, which appears in the USA in April, and is a collection of Italian female erotica I'm very happy with (it succeeds my French one, OOH LA LA, which is still selling well 5 years after publication).

Sommer: Under my Skin. Here's a brief synopsis:

House bought for a steal online when it turns out there’s a damn good reason—check.

Malicious ghost with a body count to his name—check.

Sad, lingering female spirit pining for her still living (but currently dying) fiancé—check.

What’s a widowed medium to do when a departed soul asks to ride piggy back in her body?

To share her space and get under her skin? Juliet Bale does the only thing she can do—with her twin sister’s good counsel—she lets Lanie share her body to help her dying beloved Elijah cross over. The problem is that with all the reuniting, and sharing one body, things get seriously intimate and Juliet can’t help but see exactly why Elijah Rivers was so beloved.

It’s so wrong to sorta kinda fall for a dying man, and yet—check.

Thanks to both of you for this interview! You can find Sommer on Facebook here and follow her on Twitter here. Maxim’s Facebook page is here.

Oh, and here are my digits: Facebook and Twitter.
















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Michelle Davidson Argyle (writer)

Cathrina Constantine (writer)

Jenny Drummey (writer)

Kristen Elise (writer)

Sunny Frazier (writer, publisher)

Chris F. Holm (writer)

Maxim Jakubowski (writer, editor)

Sara Jones (musician)

Nik Korpon (writer)

Barry Lancet (writer)

Sommer Marsden (writer)

K.D. McCrite (writer)

Abby Mott (musician)

Alan Orloff (writer)

Alice Peck (editor)

Lucie Smoker (writer)

Ellie Ann Soderstrom (writer, editor)

Art Taylor (writer, critic)

Steve Weddle (writer)

Sarah Weinman (writer, critic)

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