|Cecilia Tan: Author, Editor, Publisher, Performer, Bisexual, BDSM, Sexuality Activist|
Interviewed by William Dean
reprinted from: "Into the Erotik" at Erotica Readers Association
under the name The Count of Shadows
Cecilia Tan is probably the person whom every young erotica writer wants to be when they “grow up.” She practices and teaches TaeKwon Do at the Jae Hun Kim Tae Kwon Do Institute in Boston, MA. In the winter she skis, and in the summer she rides a motorcycle. She plays the guitar, the flute, mandolin, and other instruments. Since 1992, she has been an acclaimed writer of erotica, but she also writes science fiction, mainstream, and essays.
An activist as well as an author, Cecilia founded and runs the well-known Circlet Press and is the Director of Communications for the New England Chapter of the National Leather Association (NLA: New England), and a member of Biversity, a mixed gender bisexuality activist group in Boston (firstname.lastname@example.org).
has the distinction of being perhaps the only writer to have erotic fiction
published in both Penthouse and Ms. magazines. Her stories have appeared
in Best American Erotica and Best Lesbian Erotica numerous times, as well
as many, many other anthologies. You could say that Cecilia Tan does it
WD: Most CTan watchers cite your self-publishing three chapbooks in 1992 as when you “jumped into fame.” In just eight years then, you’ve become a national erotic treasure. Author, activist, performer -- Does it feel sometimes that your fans have trouble allowing you space to re-define yourself ?
CT: No, I really haven't felt boxed in by my "success." I write science fiction, fantasy, erotica, autobiographical sex essays, literary fiction, essays about baseball... it pretty much all ties in, except for the essays about baseball. I think the type of person who enjoys what I write is probably a person who has wide-ranging and eclectic tastes as it is, so the wide range of territory (both in types of writing I do as well as sexualities I explore) I cover excites rather than confuses them. If anything, I've been more worried that the writing profession and the industry will be what keeps me from redefining myself. But thus far, I've managed to keep my options open.
WD: You’ve also recently been writing a lot about baseball. Sure, there’s the public scratching, spitting, the roar of the crowd, but what do you personally find erotic about baseball?
CT: Ooooooh, that's hard to put into words, but I guess that's my job as a writer, isn't it? Actually, maybe it's just two words: Derek Jeter. The one piece of writing I've done that combines the baseball obsession with erotica is a piece for an upcoming erotic anthology from Alyson Publications called STARPHKR, edited by Shar Rednour. Every story is about a famous person and you can guess who I picked.
WD: You make a lot of public appearances --- at conventions, faires, and other activities --- do you ever feel this dilutes the urge to write erotica?
CT: I have the urge to write erotica most when I am hungry or wanting something myself. My "creative urges" to write erotica, or any kind of fiction, for that matter, is powered by the same engine as my sex drive. One of the problems with being an overworked writer/publisher/pornographer is that there's very little I lack in the sexual realm, and very little to be left wanting--except maybe free time to enjoy it... It's definitely true that I have a harder time writing purely erotic fantasies when most of my dreams have already come true. When I was single, I wrote a lot of stories about people bonding through sex. Now that I've been happily ensconced with a partner for nine years, it gets boring to always write about people finding each other, and I'm getting more interested in writing about conflict. Generally speaking, conflict is just more interesting.
WD: While popularized sex experts seem to have all the answers, do you think writers of erotica instead have all the questions, the best questions and explorations of sensuality and pleasure?
I don't see a division between 'sex experts' and erotica writers. Most
of the fiction writers I know are also out there writing essays, advice
columns, speaking and lecturing, offering workshops. Maybe I don't listen
to the same experts you do, but it seems to me they are all saying essentially
the same thing in different ways: "All you need to do is get to know your
own needs, be honest, and communicate with your partner." I teach workshops
from a lot of different angles, but that is essentially what they all come
down to. But no one wants to hear a simple common sense answer like that,
especially if they've paid $20.00 for your class or $15.00 for your advice
book or whatever. So you try to come up with ways to get at those issues,
to get people to see what's in themselves. That's why fantasy is so damned
important, so people can explore what their desires are, whether it is
through reading porn, or fantasizing, or writing, or taking the step to
seek out others in real life who feel the same way. I think of sex experts
as kind of like diet experts. The diet that works for one person, bloats
another. I think we all only know the
WD: Like all so-called genres erotica seems to be trying to shake off its cliches with cross-over themes-- horror, science-fiction, even westerns. How do you think the real cutting-edge can be constantly re-sharpened in erotic writing to keep it fresh?
CT: Well, the mix of two genres does not necessarily guarantee freshness. Speaking now as someone who reads and rejects hundreds of stories every year that combine erotica and science fiction, I can say that the worst stories are those that abuse the cliches of both genres. I gave a talk at a convention recently called "How I Edited Over Thirty Anthologies of Erotic Science Fiction And Kept My Sanity." In a nutshell, what I've had to do is hone my sensitivity to genre and its limits, and seek out stuff that transcends genre while at the same time fulfilling the needs of the genre. For example, the typical porn story formula is the "encounter" story. Two people meet, and then they have sex. You can get away from this formula immediately by creating an erotic scenario which is not a simple encounter. This is not to say that an encounter story doesn't do its job perfectly well. But it could be something more. Why fall into the well-traveled rut, when you could do something different? Something as simple as plot-structure can take a mundane idea for a story, and lift it above the mundane. But of course what I am saying here is that the same techniques that are used to potentially give any piece of writing literary merit, can be used on erotic writing as well.
Writers need to be able to command the elements of story in order to do so--but so often in any kind of genre, all you have to do is fulfill the minimum requirements for the genre to have a "successful" (or salable) story. In erotica, arousal of the reader (or editor) is usually sufficient, even if the characters are cardboard, the setting is "stock," and the dialogue comes from a sitcom. Rise above.
WD: Three main themes seem to remain constant in erotica: confession (of thoughts/ feelings), relationship (exploration/resolvement), and, of course, pleasure (emotional/physical/spiritual). While some writers concentrate on more intellectual sensualism, others go for the “down and dirty.” Do you think writers and readers want all these things, and want them in mainstream books they can sell/buy easily at the local bookstore?
CT: There is already every type of erotica on sale in the local bookstore in most places in America, and I don't think I can make a distinction between which are the "intellectual" and which are the "down and dirty." Some of the most thought-provoking erotica I've read is written by writers like Simon Sheppard and M. Christian, who utilize extremely graphic sexual description to terrific effect, specifically to provoke intellectual thoughts. There is no dividing line between pornography and erotica in writing, only in packaging. Readers want it all--different, er, strokes, for different folks.
WD: Social philosophers and activists constantly decry the sexual ignorance and hypocrisy of “establishment” America. Is it a “surface ignorance” do you think? Are the real people, as usual, more understanding and accepting of alternative erotic lifetyles and practices than we’re led to believe from repressive influences?
CT: The "real people" in America are more accepting and understanding than anyone gives them credit for, when it comes to other real people. It's all about humanization. Of course there are horror stories, people who are disowned, or attacked and killed for their sexuality, but I think generally speaking people are accepting of the gay man they know, or the "kind of kinky" friend they have. What they don't accept,or I should say what they fear, and who they rail against, are the stereotypes and myths the media and the Christian right feed them of "those _________ (fill in epithet here)." Those perverts, pedophiles, etc... we can't let them teach in our schools! But then when a teacher and his wife were outed at a police raid on a heterosexual swinger's club in Florida, tons of parents protested AGAINST his firing by the school board. When it was someone they knew, they thought he was okay. But if it happened in some other town, they'd probably be thinking "oh, that's sick." That's why it's so imperative that we be honest with ourselves about our desires, and with the people who know us. I am out to my neighbors, my doctor, my parents, etc... but not everyone can be.
WD: What new works can we expect soon from the erotic mind of Cecilia Tan?
CT: I have been working slowly on a new erotic book-length work called THE BOOK OF WANT. It's what I call a "novel mosaic," told in short-shorts, sort of like Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, but erotic. It will be a while before I am done, though, as I'm just so damned busy I don't have enough time for my writing. I also keep a list of my upcoming short stories on my web site, at http://www.ceciliatan.com/
WD: If you could sum up in just a few words your personal credo for the best erotic pleasures, what would you say?
How's this: honesty is the only way, honesty with yourself, with your partners,
and with your desires.
Upcoming for Cecila Tan:
and the Single Girl (ed. Lee Damsky, Seal Press),
The Count of Shadows is the erotica pen name of William Dean, who writes the monthly column "Into the Erotik" at Erotica Readers Association. He's also Articles/Reviews Editor at CleanSheets online erotica magazine. His work has been published in Scarlet Letters, suspect thoughts, Dare, Hoot Island, CleanSheets, SoMa Literary Review, Erotica Readers Association, and other places on the WWW. His stories have also been published in hardcopy anthologies, including Tears on Black Roses (Anxiety Press) and Desires.
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