I was a bad pornographer

What a shock it was to discover I didn't have a clue how to write dirty prose.


Fiona Maazel
March 15, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

Back in the summer of '98, I wrote pornography for a triple-X Web site boasting the largest readership on the Net. I did this not because it paid well (it didn't), not because I love porn (I do), but because I enjoyed the idea of it. Smart girl gets her hands dirty; when the writer in me says no, the mollycoddled vixen says yes. This medley of high and low appealed to my sense of manifest destiny: No matter what I do, I'll still take over the world.

So it came as quite a shock to discover that I was the worst pornographer this side of paradise. Two Web sites rejected the stories I sent, and one told me to stick to book reviews, insisting that the word "frottage" did not belong in a coochie-for-hire narrative about a lion tamer and his yes man. I was taken aback. I asked for some sample work; I read Anaos Nin and Hustler; I rented pornographic movies with titles like "Edward Dildo Hands" and "The Chainsaw Masturbator." I looked into my soul and exorcised all of its lovely, tender qualities.

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Still, the rejections piled up. My next move was to respond to an ad calling for freelancers to "express themselves." The ad was trying to drum up content for Incestboy.com, edited by a man named Louie Louie. Mr. Louie sent over his submission guidelines and a note saying that he was always looking for female writers. How nice, I thought, but what's in it for me? Three to 5 cents a word. Unfortunate. Worse, my stories would have to pursue a plot line already dictated by a photo spread.

So much for being creative; I decided to look elsewhere. I told myself I was in it for the money. I told myself I was base and destitute and hot for the idea of being a pornographer by night and a literary snob by day. I thought of Flaubert, who wrote pornography to help him overcome writer's block, presumably because it was easy -- a way of loosening up. This made sense to me. Writing, and writing literary fiction in particular, can be diminishing. The questions you try to raise are usually self-indicting in one way or another. Writing porn, however, is enabling. You don't address the turmoil of being alive, but, say, the physicsof being alive.

In the real world, after all, good sex involves a psychological joust between players -- be it commonplace (the power struggle) or just perverse (abuse me). This charged rapport often passes for primal experience, but it's actually a mind game. Pornography does not make this mistake. Its heroes bring no hang-ups or baggage to bear on the sexual act; mental warfare is written out of the story. What's left is a vacuum that can only be filled by sex. Nonstop sex. Sex in every other paragraph if not in each one. Dull the mind and the body will come to life. And it's true: Pornography is the great equalizer. It makes simian brutes of us all.

I cast about for work for two more weeks before finally striking up a deal with another incest Web site: I was to be head incest writer, for 6 cents a word. I can't imagine why, but incest as a genre of aberrant gratification is least popular among writers just trying to make a buck. Pedophilia, necrophilia, S/M and bestiality are fair game, but not incest.

Choosing a pseudonym was tricky. I wanted something that sounded like a cartoon villain -- a pumped-up vamp with laser boobs and X-ray vision. I wanted it to resonate, secretly, with the woman I am. It finally came to me over Cheerios, the morning after an unusually stale encounter with some guy I know. Beatitude Loins. Beatitude Loins, as in: Holy Heavens, Batman, it's Beatitude Loins!

My first written efforts were, I thought, brave and classy, florid though somewhat sexless. I could never get Billy Jo and her uncle Stubby to go the distance or even to get close. Once, I managed to finesse Wayne and Harlan into the shower together, but the brothers thought it too sterile a setting for real, hometown lovin'. I simply could not abandon the intellectual model. Instead of shedding the trappings of real foreplay -- wit, humor, condescension, flattery -- I fleshed out my characters' inner lives and refused to acknowledge that "issues" make pornography die on the page. Consequently, I could never get my people into bed the way a good porn writer should. None of my efforts made it onto the site.

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My editor was patient at first, but soon he urged me to put out or get out. I was frustrated. My other writing began to suffer. I swore to stop writing incest porn just as soon as I ran out of intrafamilial combinations.

And then I gave it one more shot. The story was called "Can I Get You Anything?" It was about a paraplegic aunt and her misunderstood (albeit overage) nephew. The story, replete with catheters, bedpans and an IV drip, went roughly like this: Boy meets geriatric aunt; aunt hurts; boy succors; aunt has colossal orgasms that celebrate her disability and renew her faith in life's many pleasures. It was the vilest thing I'd ever written.

The editor read the story, asked if there was anything I needed to talk about, and then told me that what I'd written was unpublishable. It was "over the top," "insensitive toward the disabled," "disgusting." On a Web site featuring nipple clips and metal gourds, what I'd written was unpublishable. Hard to believe, but I'd sunk lower than the lowest of the low. I was a woman whose sexual dementia rivaled Anne Rice's. I was a woman who "took too many risks," this according to other editors who read and rejected the work.

By the end of that summer, I was dejected. I'd written several more stories, none of which got published. I'd done my "isn't this ironic" bit, but I still came out feeling like a loser pornographer without any published clips. Suddenly, the flip posturing of wanting to be both a great mind and a beastly dolt seemed tired. Suddenly, real-life erotica, with all its complications, seemed more desirable than its bland facsimile.

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Come Labor Day, I was amped to rediscover the joys of adulterated sex and chichi literary pretensions. Thankfully, pretensions come easy.


Fiona Maazel

Fiona Maazel is the author of the novels "Last Last Chance" and "Woke Up Lonely." She is winner of the Bard Prize for Fiction in 2009 and a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree for 2008. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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