Author Interview #7, with sophisticated/cultured erotica writer Vanessa Wu!
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Jess: Have you written erotic-themed material? Why or why not?
Vanessa: Yes, all my writing has an erotic theme. Some of it is quite subtle and literary. Some of it is more raunchy, explicit and crude. That's because I have different moods and like to explore different situations. I dwell on erotic themes because it's my experience that sexual feelings have a profound effect upon character and I'm deeply interested in the tension between what we desire and what we do. Many of my stories contain the idea of liberation, as if from a spiritual cage. Desire is quite often caged in human society. I toy with the idea of freeing the caged animal, unleashing it and finding ways to live with it -- so the lion can lie down with the lamb, as William Blake put it.
Jess: I'm deeply interested in that tension too ;) How do you differentiate quality erotica (as an art form), from pornographic writing?
Vanessa: Pornographic writing serves only one purpose which is to help someone experience a sexual situation in lurid and graphic detail while he or she is masturbating, either alone or with another. Writing can often do this better than movies because it can suggest psychological twists that intensify the situation. The reader also brings his or her own imagination to it, enriching the experience with personal memories and desires.
Pornographic writing is often seen as bad but, in my view, there is simply pornography that works for me and pornography that doesn't. In addition, I prefer stories with a certain amount of depth. In order to engage my imagination, a story has to have an element of maturity and sophistication. I frequently read stories about sexual experiences because I am interested in the emotional side of sex. This is the key for me.
Quality erotica touches upon wider issues to do with sex and, in particular, incorporates an emotional truth. I like all stories to have a fundamental human reality and wisdom, the kind of wisdom you only find in the very best fiction.
Jess: Yes, I think the way the human condition is explored/presented will determine whether a piece of creative work is shallow or sophisticated. I shall now ask how you would respond to the following statement:
“I am very put off by the notion of 'literate smut', as if any porn is intellectual, that erotica needs to have a high and low art distinction. I think this is just a pretentious way for people to excuse their taste for pornography.”
-- originally posted on http://www.barbelith.com/topic/925
Vanessa: I don't excuse my taste for pornography. I like pornography unashamedly. It is a technical challenge to write something that can help someone achieve an orgasm. It's a skill I admire. Nevertheless, I do make distinctions between good and bad pornography. I skip and pass over a lot of pornography I encounter. Some of it disgusts me, sometimes because of its content and sometimes because of its style.
Jess: A purveyor of good taste :) What inspired you to write erotic stories/poems/etc.?
Vanessa: I have always written. I think the question is really, what inspired me to publish. I decided to do it because the opportunity arose. If we still had an old-fashioned publishing model in which we were required to submit work to aloof magazines and literary agents, I wouldn't do it. The epublishing revolution gave me the opportunity to write what I wanted without having to pass it through the medium of a literary editor who might not like it. I didn't want to have to justify, explain or defend it. I just wanted to do it.
Jess: *Thank goodness for the epublishing revolution...* Do you always follow the "safe, sane, consensual" credo?
Vanessa: No. Desire isn't sane. Why pretend it is? When you are in the throes of sexual passion you are temporarily insane. There are also people who want to be desired. If they insisted on safety they would wear a chastity belt and lock themselves in the house. I also think that society tries to lock down people's sexual feelings. Sometimes it takes force to free them. Some of my writing has an edge.
Jess: Most of the super-commercial/commoditized stuff lacks serious edge anyway. What do you think readers will find most notable about your book(s)?
Vanessa: It is very difficult to be objective about your own work. I often don't know why anyone would want to read what I've written. But readers tell me that once they have read something by me they want to read everything. I think it's partly because my writing has a cinematic quality and partly because it's elegant and tasteful; but probably the main reason is that it is very real, based very much on my personal experiences. I put a lot of myself into what I write and people respond to that.
Jess: And that's perhaps the best motivation to keep writing ;) In order to write on certain experiences, you would have to either research or live the life. Which describes you as the writer?
Vanessa: Well, I do both. As I said, a lot of what I write is based on my personal experiences. But, as a writer, your personal experience is not enough. You need to ask questions. You need to find out how other people feel. There are some experiences that you couldn't possibly invent because they are so unexpected and so far from your own personal points of reference. I have learned quite a lot since I've been publishing my work. People write to me and tell me things that are a revelation.
Jess: Do you think erotica caters to a male or female market (or does gender of the target audience not matter)?
Vanessa: There is a wide variety of erotica available, some of it tailored to specific tastes, but I find it very difficult to classify it in terms of gender. My experience is that both men and women read it. People of all ages. They take different things from it. People don't just read it for sexual gratification. They are curious. They want to learn, to broaden their experiences. People read erotica for the same reason they read literary fiction, to widen their experiences and deepen their understanding.
Jess: Are there any topics you will NOT tackle, with regards to sexual behaviors and attitudes?
Vanessa: Yes. For the moment anyway. As I writer my job is to understand others. To understand them and to recreate their experiences. If I think seriously about any taboo topic, I can get into the head of the protagonists. I could feasibly write an incest story or a story about a man who fornicates with a goat. I could even write it from the goat's point of view. But I don't want to. For me that would be getting into the realm of literary fiction. It's William Faulkner territory. I don't want to go there.
Jess: *Recalls reading "The Sound and the Fury"...* Please share with us a short excerpt and blurb of your work (10-100 words).
Love Has No Limits is a short novel of 40,000 words about a young Chinese woman exploring her sexuality through encounters in Amsterdam and Berlin. She is willing to try new things with new people. She is adventurous and vulnerable. She wants to push against the limits of love, to find her boundaries. It is fast-paced but also quite thoughtful and gentle in places. I am very proud of it and I think it's a good introduction to my work and to me. It tells you a lot about who I am.
Jess: Sounds very beautiful and elegant/sophisticated (like a good gourmet chocolate). Share an excerpt of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):
This is from a story by Nikki Magennis called "The Sound of One Hand Clapping" in a collection called Hurts So Good edited by Alison Tyler.
"Now I see for sure where we are. Now with the pain and the bliss melding under my skin, everything becomes clear. I no longer need to ask any questions, because the answer is contained within the question. The seed of him is the arrow, the pulsing and aching of my cunt as it welcomes his cock is the arrow. We are pointing toward each other and beyond to nowhere. We are agreed at last to stay here, right where we are, fucking on the brink of beautiful."
Jess: Please let readers know where they can find out more about you/your work.
LOVE HAS NO LIMITS (UK)
LOVE HAS NO LIMITS (US)
Thank you for having me, Jess. It has been a great pleasure for me to be here and share my thoughts about erotica with you. I admire your work and wish you well with your literary goals.
Jess: Thanks for your kind comments, Vanessa, and thanks so much for sharing your insightful perspectives on the art of erotic writing :) Best wishes with your personal + literary goals too!
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I was born in Fuzhou, China and passed through many countries in Europe on my way to England. I now live and work in London. I have worked as a Chinese teacher both in China and in England. I studied English at Fudan University in Shanghai and always dreamed of coming to England as a child. I am so glad I fulfilled my dream and right now I couldn't be happier. I try to forget about the world's problems and just enjoy each day as it comes.
Vanessa Wu on WordPress | Facebook | Twitter
JESS C SCOTT:
Jess is the author/artist/non-conformist behind jessINK (her indie publishing division). One of her specializations is erotic literature.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and would like to share your views via a similar interview, just check out/fill out the form at Author Interviews. Jess will email you with the link once it is posted.
Jess is available for interviews too. Drop her a note at missfeyATgmailDOTcom :)