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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Author Interview: Ceclia Tan

Whipped Cream is pleased to welcome Cecilia Tan.

When Cecilia was growing up, she thought she wanted to either Roger Zelazny or Marion Zimmer Bradley. She read all of their books and started writing, as kids will, her own fantasy epics. When she was around 13, even though she didn't have any experience of sex nor had she really read any, she started writing some erotic-themed pieces. Then she started writing erotic love stories for her friends, pairing them with famous celebrities.

Once she got to college, she was told she couldn't write "genre" fiction, but since she has already made up her mind she was going to become a science fiction/fantasy writer, she took the writing classes to hone her craft, but wrote her own stuff in her journal to, as she puts it, "hone my vision."

"When I got out of college and sat down at my computer to 'start writing for real,' the first real story that popped out was Telepaths Don't Need Safewords. The erotica just flowed naturally with the science fiction/fantasy. That was in 1991. I said, hm, maybe I am onto something here? At the time paranormal romance hadn't taken off yet, the science fiction magazines were averse to anything sexual at all, and the porn magazines wouldn't take a story that had a science fiction plot. So I had this great story and nowhere to publish it."

This was the very reason she started Circlet Press—to publish that particular story and two more she wrote which were in the same vein.

"On the Internet there's a saying that 'you're never the only one who likes____.' If you're turned on by something, chances are there's someone else out there who is, too, and via the Internet you can find them," she explained."I thought, I can't be the only one who likes to mix fantasy and erotica together, am I? So I started this publishing company and sure enough, I was NOT the only person who liked to mix them! I started getting manuscripts from writers all over the country who had erotic sf and erotic fantasy that they couldn't sell, and bookstores all over the country started selling our books. Telepaths… eventually sold about 4000 copies before I put it out of print, which is a lot considering that Circlet Press was, and still is, one of the smallest publishing houses ever. "

Telepaths Don't Need Safewords caused a bit of friction between Cecilia and her mother when it was first published.

"At the time I was already out to her as bisexual, but not as kinky," Cecilia remembered. "So I waited like 8 months after publishing it to finally send her a copy. I get this phone message a few days later. You know how you can just tell somehow that your mother is mad at you? Her message sounded totally normal to anyone else, but I knew I was in deep trouble. So I call her back and I get this pre-prepared lecture that she's clearly been practicing in her head for hours since leaving the message about how she didn't spend her youth fighting for civil rights in the South so that I could grow up to eroticize slavery. At which point I said, but mom, did you actually read the book? She had to admit that she had only read a little of it. I suggested she actually read the whole thing before making judgments, and she said okay. Meanwhile, our conversation went on about other things, politics, movies, the usual stuff, and then she started to gripe about my dad. Which somehow opened the door to me explaining the entire basis of consensual BDSM being mutual respect and how consensuality requires both partners to communicate openly about their needs and desires... the whole works. After which she said, 'Oh. I think I understand your book now.'

"She's been my biggest fan ever since. A few years later HarperCollins published my collection of erotic short stories, BLACK FEATHERS, and she threw a huge book party for me in her back yard in New Jersey, with a party tent and caterers and a live band and everything. She invited all our relatives, even the obscure ones, as well as all my old English teachers from my junior high and high school, our family doctor, chiropractor, her tennis pro, all our old family friends, you name it. I sold and autographed about 75 copies of the book that night. I have no idea if most of them actually dared to read the book, but no one would ever dare say anything bad about it. Ultimately my mom supports me writing erotica as part of who I am the same way I'm sure she would have supported me if I had wanted to marry a same-sex partner."

Cecilia says the love quotient is, to her, what distinguishes erotica from erotic romance.

"There's a lot of really good, high quality, enjoyable erotica out there where there's no love story, or where the love between the characters is really in the background. Erotica can be celebrating the female body, and empowering the reader to pursue pleasure, without the sex being linked to love. For it to be erotic romance, though, it has to be about the heart as well as about pleasure. It has to have both elements," she said. "The word 'pornography' has almost no meaning to me, or if I have to give it one, it's a negative one. Anything that someone doesn't like because it turns other people (or even that person themselves!) on is therefore pornographic to that person. By that definition, I think there are TV commercials that are pornographic. When Fox News runs an expose on a swinger's club and violates everyone's privacy, that's pornographic. So to a really prudish person, even the most mild HEA romance with just one kiss at the end could be pornographic to them. Everyone draws the line in a different place, I'm sure. It's like that old George Carlin routine: anyone who's driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac!"

To Cecilia, one of the most common misconceptions about erotica is that it is somehow anti-woman or anti-feminist.

"To me, it's very clear that the rise of eroticism in romance and women's erotic fiction and the rise in women controlling, understanding, and celebrating our own sexuality more and more are linked together," she told me. "There is no 'women's liberation' if we don't take charge of our own sexuality and our own pleasure."

Cecilia loves to read and travel, and most of the ideas for her stories come from her own life experiences.

"I don't just mean that about sex, but about cultures and cuisines and cities to visit. I like to use real restaurants in my books, and real cities I've visited. And then there is the sex itself. I know some writers fantasize and write about the sex they would 'never' do in real life, but I take a more hands-on approach. I've been going to dungeons and BDSM play parties for almost 20 years now. I've been blessed to have lovers who were happy to experiment with me, too, for the sake of finding out if something is fun or hot. They've been uninhibited enough to actually go through with making an ice dildo, for example, and seeing if it really worked. (It did.) To try out different toys or positions or kinds of clothing. The main thing is not to get caught up in 'sex as research' which would be boring, ultimately. It's not like I say, hmm, I want to do a story with such-and-such in it... Honey? Will you come in here and try this? It's more the other way around, that the interesting sexual experiences and experiments I've had end up showing up in my fiction later, not always in the ways I expect."

You can keep up with Cecilia on her blog, http://blog.ceciliatan.com

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