Whipped Cream is pleased to welcome Maia Strong, author of The Ballad of Jimothy Redwing which was published this spring by Samhain Publishing.
The distinction between erotica, erotic romance, and pornography is pretty simple for Maia. "Pornography is graphic and designed solely to titillate and arouse," she explained. "It might have a plot but doesn't require one. Erotica may or may not be graphic, but it must be evocative and arousing, and there must be a reason for the sexual activity. Erotic romance adds to erotica the requirement of a Happily Ever After, or at least a Happy For Now. I'm sure others can explain it more eloquently, but that's my take on it."
Much of the public, she feels, misses this distinction between pornography and erotica. "Either they haven't been educated to the differences or they choose not to be," she told me. "It's a shame. There's a whole wide world out there that people are missing out on."
There's not much difference between the way Maia judges a good erotic story or a story of any genre. She asks, "Are the characters interesting? Do they have an arc? Would I want to go hang out and have a drink with them? Is their story compelling? And for erotica, is the sex exciting and is it supported by the plot? When I’m writing erotica, the sex has to effect me while I’m writing it and for at least two or three edit reads. You reread your own stuff many times before it ever gets sent to a publisher, and as long at it excites me to read it, I figure I’ve gotten it right, if you know what I mean. If I don’t enjoy it, there’s no reason to think the readers will. In that case, I open up the literary spice cabinet and start adding ingredients."
Maia reads both fiction and non-fiction for research, and she finds Susie Bright's How to Write a Dirty Story very useful. Also, she told me there's a great series of "Ultimate Guide To" books for just about everything erotic from fellatio and cunnilingus to strap-on sex for men or women—a great resource for the mechanics of erotica.
"I have a very visual imagination," she said, "so I picture a lot in my head, working through the mechanics and the emotional and physical responses. I do research online at a variety of websites ranging from kink to human biology. There’s a great variety of resources out there that can tell you almost anything you want to know. Sometimes, if I’m really stuck on something, I ask friends—either other m/m erotic writers or male friends, both straight and gay. You’d be surprised how forthcoming people can be. Everyone likes to talk about themselves and it’s doubly true when they find they have an active listener who is genuinely interested."
"What is the most embarrassing sex scene you've ever written?" I asked.
"For me or for the characters?" she countered, with a wink. "For me, the most embarrassing one was the first one. Not that it was embarrassingly bad or outrageous in any way, but the first time you write a sex scene you can’t help but wonder what your friends will think of it. I’m lucky in that it was a friend who encouraged me to write erotica and my friends have supported me in that ever since. But that didn’t take away that feeling of being caught with your hand in the cookie jar the first time I let an erotic scene leave my computer for others’ eyes."
She told me it was safe to say she didn't start out with the goal of writing erotica, because she started writing when she was in grade school—plays because she was enamored of dialogue. "The action was less important to me than what the characters said to one another," she said. "Over the years I expanded to short stories and novellas and still didn’t ever think about writing erotica. Fantasy is my first love and it’s where I like still like to live. I’m not a romance genre person by nature, but I do like stories that are character driven. The first erotica I wrote was fanfiction. A good friend and fellow m/m author encouraged me to give it a go. I found I that enjoy writing it and others enjoy reading it, so I keep at it."
On a more personal note, Maia finds that chocolate is good licked off any body part. "Well, except maybe hair," she qualified. "Ugh. Caramel and whipped cream are tasty, too. There are limits, though. I don't like too much sugar. I'm considering trying cream cheese icing next time. Doesn't that sound good? Sweet and tangy? It works great on carrot cake, why not on tummy, right?"
Her favorite food, however—that's another story. "You're going to laugh at me," she said, "because my favorite food is so very, very ordinary and completely unerotic. I love potatoes. Baked, fries, chips, curried. Lefse, tater skins, hashbrowns. You name it, if it's made out of a potato, I'm there. Boiled baby reds with butter and salt? Oh yeah, baby. That's what I'm talking about. Bring on that starchy tuber! Mmmm....I'm getting hungry!"
When Maia's not writing, one of the things she enjoys doing is bellydancing. She paints her toenails to match a costume, but can't be bothered with them on a daily-wear basis. She has her ears pierced (four in her left ear and two in her right) and had her belly button pierced for a while, but it never healed properly. After about two years, she gave up and let it close. "I'm still disappointed," she told me, "because I think they can be so sexy. I have a friend whose pierced bellybutton is one of the dead sexiest things I've ever seen. It doesn't work for everyone, but on her own...rowr!"
Another talent she has is she's able to tie a cherry stem with her tongue. "I have at least a couple of friends with that talent," she confessed. "It's a good party trick. Sometimes it's fun to race."
She has an unusual habit. "I count stairs. Does that qualify as a strange habit?" she asked. "I won't remember ten seconds later how many there were, unless it’s a staircase I traverse often, but ask me right away at the bottom or top of a flight and I’ll tell you how many stairs there are."
Finally, I asked, "If you could give a new writer one piece of advice, what would it be?"
"Write for yourself first. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t write stories to fit a requested theme, such as for an anthology open-submission. But if you do, choose the theme that most appeals to you. Write what you want to read because chances are if you want to read it, other people do, too. Besides, why would you waste your time writing something you wouldn’t want to read?"
You can keep up with Maia on her blog, http://maiastrong.blogspot.com