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SO WHO WANTS TO BE A PORNOGRAPHER?
(Excerpted from the book WRITING EROTICA, by Edo van
So, who wants to be a
Oh, excuse me... I mean, purveyor of erotic literature?
I sure didn't. At least not at first.
I began my writing career as a newspaper reporter, but my
ultimate goal was to write short stories like those of
science fiction and fantasy author Ray Bradbury. Reading
his stellar collection The October Country had me in awe,
not only of the man's talent, but of what sort of an
effect great writing could have on an individual.
I was turned on to writing fiction (short stories in
particular) and knew it was what I wanted to do with my
life -- erotica, however, was still the furthest thing
from my mind.
And so I began writing stories during my time off from
the newspaper. At first I tried to write stories like Ray
Bradbury, full of a naive sort of wonder and purple prose
that lacked the vision and poetry of Ray Bradbury. But it
was a start. Once I had a few stories written, then came
time to find a place to get them published. Like all
writers, I wanted to share my work with anyone and
everyone, even if that work wasn't exactly ready to be
shared. So, rejection followed rejection, but I didn't
let that get me down.
You see, I had been one of those people who managed to
get by in high school by just doing the minimum amount of
work. My grades were okay, I never fell behind (and I
never surged ahead either) and everyone seemed happy with
my progress. In university, it was much the same thing,
only once I got there I worked diligently for the
university newspaper, Excalibur, York University's
Community Newspaper, as a sports editor. I did that
because it was more interesting than my classes, and when
I wrote something it appeared in print almost
immediately. When I got out of university and got a job
as a sports reporter at a small daily newspaper, I was
once again back to doing an okay job. I was never really
considered for advancement or promotion, but I was never
in danger of being canned either.
So while I was working as a reporter, I was writing
fiction on the side. And although I was being rejected
all the time (here comes the point to this tangent) I
stuck with it because I quickly realized that writing
fiction was a lot more difficult than anything I'd ever
tried up until that time. Fiction writing was the first
real thing that I had to work really hard at in my life
and I was determined to stick with it because I wanted to
succeed at it more than anything else and I would do
whatever it took to make it happen.
So while I was writing stories in imitation of Ray
Bradbury, I was also looking to expand my horizons. Maybe
I could try other kinds of stories and see how they
worked out? So I bought a copy of the Writer's Digest
Books annual Novel and Short Story Writers Market and
studied the listings. (For me it was like one of those
picture books or reference books about something that
really interests you and you can look through a hundred
times and never get tired of it). I remember a listing
for a Corvette magazine that published fiction as long as
a Corvette was featured in the story. I tried to come up
with a Corvette story for months, but never did. There
were also listings for a juggling magazine and a Gambling
magazine and I tried very hard to come up with a story
that might fit their requirements but I always came up
In the book, in addition to all the mainstream magazines,
there were also listings for men's magazines such as
Hustler, Cheri, Oui and Cavalier. Each one had their own
specific guidelines, but none of their requirements
sparked an idea in my mind. Then I read the listing for
Gent magazine, which basically required that their
fiction should prominently feature a woman with large
breasts. Well, that seemed simple enough, so I began
thinking about possible story ideas.
And I happen to come up with one.
I originally called the story "Woman as Art"
and it was about an artist who is given a lump of magical
clay from a fellow artist whose wife seems to be a whole
lot curvier than she'd been just a few weeks before. It
turns out the clay could be used to alter a person's body
shape. And so the artist sculpts a figure out of the clay
(with large breasts, of course) and then makes it work by
placing a few of his wife's hairs in the figure's head --
sort of like a voodoo doll. Voila, his wife is a busty
babe and he's having the sex of his wildest dreams.
Finally, the story ends with the artist realizing he has
a bit of the clay left over, which he can use to make a
figure of himself that is significantly better endowed
than the original.
It seems like a silly premise now, and embarrassingly
like some primal male fantasy, but it was the best I
could do at the time. (Remember I was trying to write
fantasy like Bradbury, so maybe this story was the
inevitable mixing of those two genres.)
And I did work hard on the story, making sure
characterization, plot and everything else I had learned
writing the other stories, was written into this effort.
Then, since I had written it for Gent, that's where I
And damned if they didn't accept it. I was stunned.
"Woman as Art" was the 14th story I had
written, the second to sell, and the first story of mine
to be published, seeing print in the July 1990 issue of
Gent under the title "Artistic License." I was
also paid $175 US for the story, which absolutely amazed
me because I had started writing, not to make money, but
to tell stories. Getting paid for the story came as a
pleasant surprise. But perhaps more importantly was the
fact that I had written the story for a specific market,
sent it to that market, and it had sold on the first try.
Success like that had to be followed up, so the 15th
story I wrote was, "The Zero Gee Spot" and that
sold to Gent as well.
Meanwhile, I had placed a few other stories (as opposed
to sold, because most of my fantasy stories at the time
were being accepted at small pays-in-copies magazines)
and was slowly getting better at my craft. But although
my "straight" stories were getting a better
reception, I was still being rejected a lot. To
compensate those rejections, I continued to write and
sell erotic stories for men's magazines.
One unexpected benefit to this was that my third sale to
Gent, "Night Vision" qualified me for active
status in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of
America. Active status is the "Pro" level of
membership and is earned through the sale of a science
fiction or fantasy novel, or the sale of three short
stories to a professional market. The markets are usually
such magazines as Asimov's, Analog or The Magazine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction, but Gent was just as
professional, paying better and with a larger circulation
than these other genre magazines so I was in -- much to
the chagrin of the other members of my writers group at
the time, all of whom looked upon active status within
SFWA as some faraway and virtually unattainable
The more erotic stories I wrote, the more I sold and in
no time my sales count was up past 30. But in addition to
having an impressive number of sales, there was something
else going on with the erotic stories I was writing.
They were teaching me how to craft a story.
One misconception about erotic fiction is that it is
somehow easier, or takes less ability to write than other
types of fiction. I say that it takes just as much craft,
and perhaps even more. In addition to all of the usual
things, you have to establish character quickly, explain
the plot economically, and your story has to move along
at a good clip. You also have to write to a certain
length to ensure that your story is usable by the
magazine you're sending it to. (SF writer James Alan
Gardner once looked at my chapbook collection Virtual
Girls and marveled at how each story was exactly ten
pages long. "It requires a talent," he said of
writing a specific kind of story to a specific length
each and every time. I was also once asked by horror
writer Brian Hopkins if I had a computer program that
turned out perfectly plotted 3,000 word horror stories
with twist endings. I took it as a compliment of course,
because the program does exist (it's loaded into the
wetware inside my head), and it got there by trial and
error learned while writing dozens and dozens of erotic
short stories for men's magazines.)
So, that's how I got started writing erotica. I've now
been writing erotic stories for over ten years, and
during that time there were periods when erotica was all
I was writing, because that was all that was selling.
Inevitably, I've been writing fewer and fewer erotic
stories in recent years as my other writing enjoys more
success. I've now won the Bram Stoker Award from the
Horror Writers Association and the Aurora Award (Canadian
science fiction and fantasy award) for my short fiction
and I've had a collection published, Death Drives a Semi,
which has brought me a little closer to my goal of
emulating my idol, Ray Bradbury. But that doesn't mean
I've forgotten about erotic stories. I still enjoy
writing them from time to time, and I've also used what
I've learned about erotica to spice up my horror writing.
In 2001 my collection of erotic horror stories, Six-Inch
Spikes will be published, extending the learning curve
that began with writing erotic stories more than ten
Copyright Edo van Belkom. All rights reserved.
Visit: www.self-counsel.com for more on this title and www.vanbelkom.com for more about Edo van Belkom and
his other works of horror, erotica, mystery, and fantasy.