|M. Christian: Multi-Genre Author, Editor|
Dirty Words: An Interview with M. Christian
I have a riddle for you: this person writes lesbian erotica, but is not a lesbian and not even a woman. This same person writes gay erotica, but is not gay, and not bisexual. Furthermore, this person writes heterosexual erotica, but is no-- oh, wait, heterosexual is the one thing he is! Who is he? The ever talented, obviously versatile M. Christian. After eight years of writing erotica, Chris is breaking all sorts of boundaries, and proving that all a great writer really needs is a vivid imagination, and a strong determination to be the best.
G: Chris, how long have you been writing erotica?
MC: About eight or so years or so, I think. My first published story was in FutureSex Magazine which was then picked up for Best American Erotica 1994. Since then I've sold way over 100 short stories and a bunch of reviews, essays, and such, done a bunch of monthly columns, edited seven anthologies (with more coming), and have one collection out Dirty Words, one coming in 2002 Speaking Parts and possibly a third for 2003. In a word -- whew!
G: You write several types of erotica. Do you always use the pen name M. Christian?
MC: Well, I write 90% of my stuff under my M. Christian byline, but I also have used two others names that I can't divulge because of an arrangement with the publisher of the books they appear in. It's not a deep, dark secret, but just a gentleman's agreement not to blow the 'secret' of my other names. But I have a funny story about that. In one of the Mammoth Books of Erotica (I won't say which) I have three stories, but one is under a different, female, name (the publisher asked me to). Later on, the bisexual magazine Anything That Moves, wanted to use the story, so they had to use it under that different name.
Later I was at a party, just yakking it up with a bunch of people, when someone mentioned that they also write. We exchanged resumes and realized that we were both in that same issue, but when I told him which story was mine, this guy was completely flabbergasted: “I masturbated to that story!” He never realized that the female name on the story was covering for a guy. I always consider that a huge compliment, that I'd managed to tell a female perspective story well enough to convince him. So the next time you read a hot piece of erotica that appears to me by a woman, well, it could be me.
G: Why erotica?
MC: In a word: sex sells. I've been writing since high school, but didn't sell anything until I tried my hand at smut -- and it took off from there. I also finally realized that there are other places to send your work than Fantasy & Science Fiction and The New Yorker. With that revelation I started to write for other places-- like erotica, and actually got published!
One of the big reasons I love to write erotica is because it's a relatively new genre, open to new voices and experimentation. Other genres have huge 'classics' that can intimidate you -- every mystery, for instance, is automatically compared to Agatha Christy and in SF it's Dick, Clarke, Bester, etc. In erotica you don't have ghosts or 'classics' to compete with -- it's wide open for new writers.
G: Have any of your girlfriends given you flack for writing erotica?
MC: Not really. I've been lucky to have been involved, for the most part, with perverts ... no, wait, I mean "open-minded, sexually knowledgeable people". Yeah, that's what I meant. The only problems I've had is when a girlfriend is convinced my writing is covering some kind of repressed fantasy -- when all I'm doing is trying to sell something to Transsexual Truckstop Hookers because I need the money, although that can lead to some interesting bedroom games. The only time is really becomes a pain is when people at, say, my day job discover I write porn. For them, writing itself is very strange (so much work for so little -- to them -- gain) and to add sex to that ...well, I've gotten some very funny looks at the water cooler.
G: Day job?! Are you kidding me? You’re blowing every fantasy I’ve ever had that begins with the line, “When I get my book published, I’m am going to be soooo filthy rich, I’m never going to work again!” right out of the water.
MC: Ha! I really hate to disappoint you, but, yeah, I have to do the nine-to-five thing in order to eat. I've sold a whopping amount of stuff, but writing just doesn't pay that well. Besides, I kind of like not having to write for a living, so I can pick and choose what I want to write, and not what I HAVE to write in order to get a fat paycheck. That's why I write a lot for free, or very little: because I like the publication or editor and the project sounds fun. Down the road I want to write full time because, like I said, I love doing it, but for now I have to squeeze it in when I can.
G: How does your family feel about you writing erotica?
MC: My dad passed away many years ago, so he doesn't have any issues with it. My mom has always been very supportive and has even read a bit of my stuff. She understands that I'm a writer, and as such I write, and that erotica just happens to be a place that likes to publish what I write. She did get a bit of shock when she stumbled across a little masturbation rant I did for HBO's SexBytes show, though -- it's one thing, after all, for your mom to suspect you play with Mr. Happy, but quite another to hear you announce it on television.
G: Are guys ever disappointed to find out you're not gay or bisexual?
MC: Not really, as far as I can tell, but then most folks just see the fact that I'm a guy and write queer smut and draw their conclusions from that, versus when they hear that I'm a guy and I also write lesbian smut, when I 'obviously' can't be a lesbian. It also doesn't surface that often because, as a queer pal of mine likes to say, I'm the queerest straight guy I know, even more than a lot of my gay friends. I also call myself socially bi, meaning that I kiss my queer friends, hug them, play with their nipple rings (being in San Francisco helps, too) and so most people think I do other things as well. I love my friends, no matter their orientation, and I kiss and hold people I love. It's just that Mr. Happy doesn't pay attention to guys.
G: What's the hardest thing about writing lesbian erotica? I'm totally pissed that you don't have to endure the periods and the swollen breasts, but ya get the orgasms!!
MC: I love writing lesbian erotica -- in fact I'm the only guy to ever make it into Best Lesbian Erotica 2001 and I have a whole book of my girl-smut coming from Alyson Books sometime next year, called Speaking Parts. For me, lesbian erotica is a chance to try new things as a writer -- as I obviously don't have the equipment to explore it any other way. It's a big compliment that I've managed to publish so much of it -- and people are routinely shocked that "M. Christian" is a guy -- and a straight guy at that! I guess I do it so well because I try not to forget that I'm not really writing about 'lesbians' but rather about human beings. I might not have the gear to be a lesbian, but I know something of the emotions around sex and love -- and bringing that to a story makes it work a lot better than any exact detail. Or at least for me that's true
G: How do you keep your erotica fiction fresh?
MC: I never try to lose my excitement for writing -- and by remembering that good erotica is still good story telling. Half the time I forget that I'm technically supposed to be turning the reader on, I'm just having too good a time telling a story -- that happens to be about sex. Because I don't write for a living, I try to pick projects that I want to do, rather than feel I have to do to make some bucks (though credit card bills sometime force me to). The bottom line is that I'm a writer -- it's the core of my personality. I love it more than a lot of things, including sex. I hope I never lose my love of telling stories and discovering things about the world and myself through writing -- it's just too much damned fun!
G: What is your philosophy on writing? A lot of people say you MUST write every day. What are your feelings on this? Do you write every day?
MC: I call myself a writing junkie. For me, being a writer is something that's such an integral part of who I am as a person that I find myself writing all the time, even if only in my mind and not clicking and clacking on the keyboard. I have to write, stopping is simply not an option. Yet, I don't physically write every day, I simply don't have the time. But I do usually write at least once a week, though sometimes more. If I didn't have commitments, though, I would definitely write pretty much all the time. My dream, in fact, is to be able to support myself enough through my writing to be able to do it all the time, that would be ideal. But, alas, the bottom line is that writing is time-consuming and pays very little, most of the time, so unless I manage a bit of magic and produce a best-seller, it looks like I'll have to squeeze it in when I can, and not as often as I'd like.
G: Do you personally find erotica arousing? Do you read it much in your private life?
MC: Unlike a lot of my pornographer buddies I don't get aroused when I write smut. For me, it's more of a spiritual/intellectual high than a visceral sexual turn-on. Besides, half the time I'm having more fun with parallel constructions, foreshadowing, language rhythm, and evocative descriptions than with the fact that I'm writing about ... well, Transsexual Truckstop Hookers. For me, not being aroused works in my favor, as it doesn't distract me from telling the story or playing with language. I like to say that you can always tell when someone is too involved in writing erotica -- because it becomes evident that he or she is typing with just one hand.
I actually rarely read erotica -- unless I'm doing an anthology, and then I have to. It really doesn't interest me that much. I find a lot of it, unless it's by some of my pals, just too badly written -- as if the writers are just tossing something off as porn, which is an insult to everyone involved, including the writer. Luckily, when I do read it I have people like Patrick Califia-Rice, Thomas Roche, Cecilia Tan, Jamie Joy Gatto, Greg Wharton, James Williams, and Simon Sheppard to look forward to -- so it ain't that bad.
G: Do you consider yourself a romantic?
MC: I'm not too sure, mainly I'm kind of all over the map emotionally, going from being a completely and utter misanthrope to an impassioned humanist. If I were to summarize myself, I guess I'd have to say that I'm such a believer in the beauty and potential of humanity that when it lets me down, well, it's really disappointing, and my scorn is something to behold. When I write, though, I try to be more open, and show that sometimes the humans can be at their best in the worst situations, and that everything good about us has a shadow. I don't try and be moralistic, or push my own agenda, but I simply like to tell stories that are best described as bittersweet, where there is joy to equal amounts of sadness, hope balanced by disappointment and so forth.
G: What types of books do you read and who are some of your favorite authors?
MC: I read a wide range of stuff, but in my heart I'm a big geek. Some of my favorite authors include Steinbeck, Salinger, Victor Hugo, Edward Albee, Terry Southern, etc. -- but what I read for simple pleasure are classic SF authors like Alfred Bester, Frank Herbert, Sturgeon, and so forth. But I really adore the new comic book authors (excuse me: 'graphic novels') like Garth Ennis, Adam Warren, Warren Ellis, and the man I consider a flat-out genius: Alan Moore. I'm also a sucker for movies -- especially classics or weird independents, especially Japanese. If you look too closely at a lot of my stuff you could probably see Alan Moore, Billy Wilder, and Alfred Bester put through a Cuisinart.
G: I enjoy your non-fiction articles. Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction or don't you have a preference?
MC: I really enjoy writing non-fiction because it gives me a chance to stretch my artistic wings in new directions -- like the book I'm doing for www.monsterzine.com: They Only Wanted to Rule the World which is all about movie villains. I also love to research weird bits of history, or share my thoughts about writing and the artistic life-- my revenge against a LOT of bad writing classes in college. It's a close call as to which I prefer, but in the end fiction is a lot easier as I can lie through my teeth and not have to worry about someone doing research and catching me at it. With non-fiction, you have a responsibility to truth or at least honesty, but with fiction you can do whatever you want -- there are no limits. Fiction is also more fulfilling because you work to a point that you decide is there, a revelation, meaningful conclusion -- while with non-fiction you can interpret, but you always have a responsibility to accuracy. That can be a tad confining sometimes.
G: Is everything in your life fodder for your writing?
MC: Basically -- but my personal truth rarely makes an appearance in my stories, mainly because I'm having too much fun dreaming up unusual little details or descriptions. I also feel that adding too much of yourself is not very creative, that the writer is resorting to looking around the room in desperate need of details to add to the story. I try and avoid putting my own taste in music, books, dress and so on in a story -- but once and a while I just get stuck and resort to tossing in something of myself. I do like to play with myself when I do non-fiction -- like for my piece in the upcoming Burning Pen: Sex Writers on Sex Writing (Alyson Books): I had to talk about myself and my writing in a very frank and confessional way, which was very enlightening as I found myself looking at my own personality like I was describing a character. I should mention that every once and awhile I do slip in a dig or a joke at one of my fellow smut-writer's expense, but they are usually something only the victim would recognize.
G: What is the one thing people would be surprised to know about M. Christian?
MC: The weirdest thing about me? Man, that's a toughie, in many ways I've very dull: I have a job, and sometimes when I can on the weekends I play. I like to travel, eat good food, watch classic flicks, do some channel-surfing-- which drives my girlfriend crazy-- and read, especially SF and comic books. But I also build little robots that scuttle around my office, have a collection of bizarre Japanese toys, have a big thing for big women, am a passionate researcher into surreal history-- which might become a book someday-- and I write. Okay, I write a lot of smut, but for me that's the most important thing, the writing. Everything else is either just a little less fun or what I do to keep writing. Oh-- and that I'm not bi or gay even though Iwrite a lot of gay erotica.
G: What has been your favorite piece that you have written?
MC: That's a toughie -- one of the more famous ones I did was "How Coyote Stole The Sun" which was in Mike Ford's Happily Ever After Book (from Masquerade) and then in Best American Erotica 1997, but I also like the one in The Burning Pen, "Counting." To be honest, however, I have to say that my favorite story is the next one I write. Chickenshit, I know, but it's honest: after I finish I piece I rarely look at it again: it's in the past, and what I'm going to do next is going to be (hopefully) even better.
G: Do you think that it is harder for a writer to get paid for erotica on the web? Do you think it's fair that a lot of the sites refuse to pay writers? Or do you think writers should tough it out and write for free? Under what conditions do you think a writer should refuse to write for free? And under what conditions do you think they should write for free?
MC: There's this great quote from Bob Fosse I just stumbled across: "Live like you'll die tomorrow, work like you don't need the money, and dance like nobody's watching." I definitely think writers deserve to get paid for their work -- especially if somebody, somewhere is making some -- but I also think that dollar signs should never be the sole motivation to write. Frankly, there are a lot of projects out there that are highly respected and well thought of that pay very little or nothing at all, and some that pay a lot that people don't read or don't think well of. Money has never been a sign of quality.
I much prefer to work for someone or a project that I like and respect versus one that pays a lot but treats you like crap. I've actually turned down big-paying gigs because I know the people involved are rude, frustrating to work with, or non-supportive of their writers. I like to get paid, but I love to write -- and get accepted -- more than just getting a paycheck.
As for other writers -- well, that's up to you. My only piece of advice is to remember that money doesn't equal success as a writer. You might pull down the bucks, but if your work suffers or you never achieve your potential as a writer, then it's just not cost-effective.
G: Sex Sells Writing Class and Tit Torture Class...what the hell goes on in that classroom, Chris?!
MC: Hee hee hee -- take the class and find out! Just be sure to bring clean underwear for the 'lab' part of the class. Seriously, I like to teach -- more than anything because it's revenge against all the awful writing teachers I've had. I also like to share my own love of writing, how it can be a special, rewarding, thing to do -- and how it's also the toughest, most challenging thing. Writing is great, but it's not for wimps. The tit class was a lot of fun -- I used to do a lot of sex and S/M classes back when I was married, but haven't done that much lately, so when the folks of Minnesota Stocks, Debentures and Bonds, a local S/M group, asked me to do something with my usual "Sex Sells" writing class I suggested an old favorite: tit torture. The only problem was my ex-wife got the toys in the divorce (and the cat) so I had to ask folks to bring their own. But if was a lot of fun.
By the way, I love to travel and teach, so if you have a group somewhere who might be interested, I only ask for enough admissions to cover my airfare and a place to crash. It's a lot of fun to meet new folks and spreading the word on smut writing.
How do you feel about sites that offer sex toys in exchange for content
by running monthly
MC: I think I know the site you're referring to, so I can't really answer (call it 'taking the fifth'). But I can comment on something else this brings up: even though I've been in a bunch of them, and even edited one (Best S/M Erotica, coming next year from Black Books) I feel uncomfortable with the idea of contests and 'Best' projects -- as they elevate some writers above others. Writing and editing is completely subjective -- my idea of a good story may not be what your idea is, no matter either of our qualifications. When I put together Best S/M Erotica I tried to pick stories that weren't necessarily the 'best' but that showed good writing in all the different facets of S/M literature (Master/Slave, sadomasochism, fantasy, gay, straight, bi, fetish, age-play, etc.).
Writing can be very tough: just writing a story takes perspiration, inspiration, and a lot of hope and faith in yourself. Considering what it takes to do the work, let alone sell it, everyone who does it deserves to be applauded. To say that a writer is better than another is a nice compliment to one, but also a body blow to others who may have done the same work, sweated the same sweat, done equally brilliant work, but for one reason or another just didn't make the cut.”
G: Would you please talk a bit about Dirty Words and your upcoming all lesbian erotica book?
MC: Gladly! Dirty Words is out right now from Alyson Books. It's a collection of some of my favorite gay male erotic stories that runs the gamut from silly to terrifying. So far the book's gotten rave reviews (except for one who suggested I seek out therapy --which I consider to be a compliment) and the publisher reports that it's a best-seller, which is sweet. What I love about the book is that there's something for everyone: horror, fantasy, S/M, fetish, gender-play, SF, humor, and stuff betwixt and between.
Coming very, very soon is Guilty Pleasures, a book I edited for Black Books -- it's an anthology of true sexual guilty pleasures from some truly fabulous writers. In November, The Burning Pen: Sex Writers on Sex Writing is coming out from Alyson Books -- it's an anthology of personal essays from great erotic writers, with their own personally favorite short story following their essay. Sometime next year will be Speaking Parts (also from Alyson), a collection of my lesbian erotic fiction with a special introduction by Carol Queen. That one is very near and dear to my heart, more than anything because Alyson believes so much in my work to take this big step: a lesbian erotic collection by a guy. The mind boggles! I'm also working on a few other projects that, hopefully, will be finalized very soon, including a third collection, a novel, a few more anthologies, and (fingers crossed) a big non-fiction historical book.
In the meantime I'm writing up a storm and exploring all kinds of worlds and lives through writing. It can be a very tough life, but it can also be a very rewarding one -- and even if it is tough, it always gives you something to write about.
M. Christian can be reached via his , or by snailmail:
“Dirty Words: An Interview with M. Christian” by Goddess © 2001. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy or post.
Goddess can be summed up in twelve words: "There's nothing more dangerous than an unstable woman with a Web site." She's been published (and sometimes she even gets paid!) at MikeSouth.com, Venus or Vixen? , DareMag, Batteries Not Included, Grey Areas Magazine, Caress, Subliminal Tattoos, Void of Tolerance, AVX and on her fabulous new website. In her spare time, she loves interviewing people, swearing at Billy Blanks for ever inventing that accursed Taebo, eating peanut butter cups, and having sex with her man. E-mail Goddess.
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