Thursday, April 02, 2009

Swing Blog Tour: "John Updike Made Me Do It"

Welcome to the Sex, Food and Writing stop of the all-star Swing! Blog Tour, a month-long party leading up to the publication of Swing! Adventures in Swinging by Today's Top Erotica Writers on April 24, 2009. Please help yourself to the sushi and saké cocktails to satisfy your foodie urges--we'll get to the sex and writing part very soon. But first I wanted to say how much I've been enjoying the interviews on the tour so far, first with editor Jolie du Pre and then with the U.K.'s foremost expert on the swinger scene, Ashley Lister. I think we'll have to collect all the spot-on useful writing advice when this tour is over and make another anthology!

But now, my responses to the Swing! Blog Tour questions, including an excerpt from my story of a swinging literary obsession. So let's Swing!

SWING!: Why do you write erotica and what do you love best about it?

DGS: When I first started writing erotica about twelve years ago, it wasn’t a conscious choice. I’d just left teaching to be with my new baby and decided to devote his nap times to fiction writing, which is something I’d always wanted to try. Somehow, whenever I sat down at the keyboard, sexy stories just seemed to flow through my fingers and onto my computer screen. This was far from the respectable masterpieces I’d hoped to write, but then again I’d never felt so excited or fulfilled by any work I’d ever done in my life. It was thrilling to write about sex honestly from the female point of view and discover familiar truths in erotic stories by other women writers, because of course, I started reading a lot of contemporary erotica for the first time, too. So much of the sex written by our most celebrated American writers—such as Philip Roth, John Updike and Saul Bellow--represented the male experience.

What I love best about this genre is that I can celebrate good sex and the many ways sexual desire enriches our lives. In literary fiction, sex tends to be bad and sad or both. Popular magazines constantly offer us a flood of fluff pieces every month about sexless marriages or five steps to better orgasms, but rarely do they go deeper than chirping self-help platitudes. Sex is either poison or a reason to buy something to “improve” yourself.

Of course, it’s so much more. When I start a new story, I feel as if I’m trying to figure out yet another mystery about sexual desire. What makes power play so alluring? How does swinging enrich a couple’s relationship? What new things can you see through a blindfold? Erotica gives me the chance to break free from our society’s fear of sex to capture the magic of the erotic urge. I also have to mention that one of my favorite parts about my work is connecting with fellow erotica writers and being part of such projects as Swing! People who write dirty stories are very cool!

Tell us about your story in Swing! Adventures in Swinging by Today's Top Erotica Writers and please feel free to give us an excerpt.

My Swing! story is called “John Updike Made Me Do It,” which refers to the heroine’s life-long fascination with the couples’ swapping scenarios in John Updike’s novels. The story is as much a celebration of the way Updike’s portrayal of suburban life in the 1960s captured America’s imagination, as it is the depiction of a polyamorous party. So in that sense, John Updike really did make me do it--although I definitely had fun writing the many juicy sexual encounters. Like all of my stories, it started out as an intriguing question and ended up teaching me a lot about my own desires and yearnings, both sexual and literary.

By the way, this story had already been written and accepted for Swing! when I heard news of Updike’s death in January. Now I realize the story is a kind of eulogy for a writer I both admire and struggle against in my efforts to present the erotic experience from the female point of view.

I thought about excerpting one of the, ahem, climactic scenes, but didn’t want to be the cause of undo blushing on this very decorous blog tour, so I’ll offer up the opening scene which merely suggests the pleasures that await in the pages beyond.

From "John Updike Made Me Do It"

Roots of an Obsession

John Updike made me do it.

He definitely deserves a lot of credit anyway.

Because when I think back on that night in Tahoe, it’s almost as if he were right there in the hot tub with us, his lips stretched in a patrician smile as he guided my hand over to caress the rock-hard cock of a man who was not my husband. Of course said husband was too busy sucking the rosy nipples of the German woman, Katharina, to notice or care. And Jurgen and Jill were already kissing as if they’d done it dozens of times, which they hinted they had when Jill spent her junior year in Bonn. None of them seemed to need John Updike’s help, although no doubt they had his blessing.

Updike had been softening me up for this night for years. Sitting in the effervescent spa water with five other horny married people, the Sierras soaring around us into the star-flecked sky, it was just like stepping into the pages of a steamy novel. In fact, it was the same surreal excitement I felt as I devoured Rabbit is Rich or Couples under the blankets as a teenager. Sneaking them from the bookshelves in my parents’ room, I instinctively knew I could only read them when I heard the soft click of their bedroom lock at night.

While my parents “did it” the customary way--with each other in their marriage bed, their lust invisible to the world--the couples in John Updike’s stories were fearlessly experimental, so they ended up all jumbled together like Halloween candy in a plastic pumpkin. They’d jet off to the Caribbean where the wives would confer to redistribute sex partners for the night. Or they’d fall into affairs, then confess to their spouses who would graciously consent to sleep with their cuckolded counterparts to even the score. Even Updike’s memoirs glittered with shocking transgression. I can’t tell you how many times I masturbated to the scene of Updike fingering a neighbor’s wife through her ski pants as they drove back from Vermont through a starry winter night.

I knew these were just stories, maybe even pure fantasy, but I sensed, too, that John Updike was giving me a glimpse of the hunger and restlessness of the adult world. What were these people looking for in their swaps and affairs? Did they ever find it?

Would I?....

Name some other books where we can find your work.

DGS: For a book that’s all me, all the time, check out Amorous Woman (Neon/Orion), my semi-autobiographical novel set in Japan that was published last summer. I took my inspiration from a 17th century erotic classic by Ihara Saikaku about a woman who loved sex and had many adventures, taking on every role open to women of the time from the concubine of a provincial lord to a lowly streetwalker. I thought it might be interesting to translate that into a modern story of a sexually curious Western woman trying out all the roles available to her in Japan. I tried my best to make the tale as steamy as a hot spring bath, plus add in plenty of humor in keeping with the tone of the original. For a sample, check out my website or my provocative book trailer on Youtube which includes racy Japanese erotic prints mixed in with embarrassing photos of me without any clothes on.

I’ve also had the honor to work with many wonderful erotica anthology editors over the years, and my short fiction has appeared most recently in Susie Bright’s X: The Erotic Treasury,
Maxim Jakubowski’s The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 8, Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica 2009, Alison Tyler’s Never Have the Same Sex Twice, and Rachel Kramer Bussel’s The Mile High Club: Plane Sex Stories.

And of course, being part of Jolie du Pre’s Swing! is a long-time dream come true.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently plotting out my second novel, an “intellectual erotic mystery,” that is a peek through the bedroom keyhole of American history in the 20th century. I’ll pay homage to Sally Rand, the famous 1930s burlesque dancer, Bettie Page and camera clubs in the 1950s. John Updike’s spouse-swapping suburbia will play a “key” part in the story as well. Swing! has been a great inspiration for me in this particular area!

If you could offer one piece of advice to a new author, what would it be?

Writers create fiction and fantasies, but we can also get distracted by some common fantasies about “success” in writing that make us forget what’s really important—the creative act itself. I remember reading a memoir piece by John Updike bemoaning the fact his novels were no longer available in every airport kiosk. Here’s a writer who is by any measure a huge success, and it wasn’t enough to satisfy him. Sales and good reviews do feed the ego for a while, but the greatest satisfaction will come from like-minded colleagues who support you, readers who give you the gift of their time, and most of all your connection with the magical power of language to create something surprising and true.

In short, the process is the gold. Treasure it!

The Swing! Blog Tour continues on April 6 at Alicia Night Orchid's very erotic blog.


Erobintica said...

Donna, that excerpt has me impatient for April 24!

It's funny, John Updike is one author I think I've passed over for various reasons, but you make me want to go back and read. Of course I have to read Amorous Woman first - and I honestly haven't started it yet because I'm being "good" and only trying to read four books at a time. ;-) When I finish one AW will join the rotation.

Hey, and I'm so glad sexy stories were what showed up when you started writing after your son was born.

Emerald said...

Donna, your brilliance just shoots through and from this interview. I was already copying lines to quote seconds into reading it.

"What I love best about this genre is that I can celebrate good sex and the many ways sexual desire enriches our lives."


"Erotica gives me the chance to break free from our society’s fear of sex to capture the magic of the erotic urge."

— eloquent, beautiful sentiments that resonate deeply with me and make me feel thrilled and honored not only to be in another anthology with you but also to just get to keep reading what you so generously create and share.

And then of course that was a gorgeous excerpt. As has been the trend so far, it makes me enormously eager to read the rest of the piece. I loved “jumbled together like Halloween candy in a plastic pumpkin” — what a fabulous image!

Incidentally, to go back to the first paragraph of your interview, Amorous Woman seems unquestionably a masterpiece to me. Thank you again for it and for the luminous energy and light you offer to erotica writing, as well as for this marvelous interview.

Jolie du Pre said...


I thoroughly enjoyed reading your interview, and I was extremely pleased when you submitted a story to Swing! I truly believe that you are one of the best erotica writers I know. I came to that conclusion years ago after I read one of your winning stories over at Clean Sheets.

One of the reasons I'm so pleased with Swing! is the quality of the authors involved. I feel very fortunate that very good writers sent me submissions.

Jolie du Pre

Jim Brown said...

Great interview, Donna! You know, I'm in such a wonderful position right now; I have ALL the fantastic stories of SWING! right here in front of me! Jealous? LOL. Of course it does help that I'm the publisher!

I can tell all you readers one thing, though: you are in for a scintillating erotica treat. SWING! is incredible. Just check out the excerpts that are appearing on these blog days. As a publisher I try to produce top-quality books, but I'm a reader too, and as a reader I can say that Donna's story, and all the stories in SWING! are ... phew, where's the ice-water?!!

Loved reading about your influence, Donna, and your future project. Good Luck!

Jim Brown (SWING! Publisher)

Anonymous said...

You've given me a lot to think about, Donna! I'm looking forward to "John Updike Made Me Do It". And that was great advice for writers!

Herr Dr DGS said...

For the record, my favorite swinging scene is in one of the later Planet of the Apes movies (Escape From - gotta add this to our Netflix queue) where they are in modern day (circa 1971) L.A., and the ape scientists have a few laughs on the odd swinging apparatus that must have been standard issue for groovy parties back in the day. Oh, wait, different kind of swinging, but it still looked fun.

My second favorite is the Love American Style episode (hmm, also from the 70's) where two bumpkins from the country move to LA and end up at a lifestlye party (is that the term?), and after some crazy antics, end up going off... oh never mind, don't want to spoil the ending, check it out on youtube or hula sometime.

Anonymous said...

Eloquent and pithy - as always. Like Emerald, I was also copying your lines as I was reading them (although I'll be reiterating them to my next creative writing class, to make myself sound clever).

Fantastic interview - and I know the story rocks.


Donna said...

Thank you so much everyone for stopping by to Swing! Welcome Jim and Lara! Robin, I'd choose my Updike carefully--the early Rabbit books, Couples, the Maples stories. And Emerald, I'm in the lucky position of having a preview of your story and it is fan-tastic! This really is an amazing anthology, Jolie. Ashley, glad to help if I can--I still say your students are the luckiest in the creative writing world. They're certainly having the most fun!

And Herr Doktor means "" not "hula," but he's right on with those great "swinging" stories from days past. The video version of Updike stories....

neve black said...

Your words are always an inspiration to us all. I love how your story serendipitously celebrates the late, great John Updike. That's really special.

Not only are you an amazing writer (I can say that, because I've read a number of your pieces, to include your novel), but you're a wonderful friend; offering support and kind words to all of us that swim in this rather small erotic pool. I'm so honored to have my story between the pages with you and all the exceptional writers in the Swing Anthology.

Thank you for a delightful interview, Donna.

Thank you Jolie.

D. L. King said...

Wow, Donna, reading you is always such a pleasure; whether you're writing an erotic story, a blog post or a grocery list, for that matter, your writing is amazing and something to which I aspire.

What a fabulous post and it definitely makes me want to go back and read some Updike. I haven't read a Rabbit book in a billion years. I think it's time for a little re-reading. I was too young back then to appreciate all the nuances, I'm sure.

Your new novel sounds fascinating and with each blog post, I'm more and more impressed with Swing!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Donna, I am so, so glad that Updike made you do it! I can't wait to join your characters in the hot tub on April 24. (In fact, is it really only April 3rd? I'm in the mood now!)

Zetta Brown said...

Love the excerpt. Talk about a sexy literary lesson! I've never read an Updike book but I will now :)

Donna said...

Neve, D.L., Jeremy and Zetta! Wow! I joked about blushing in my post, but like Ashley, I'm discovering this blog tour is quite the experience for the host. I'm really overwhelmed by your kind words and by the fact that this anthology is swinging with awesome writers who are also the nicest, funniest people I've ever met :-).

Maryanne Stahl said...

I learned a lot about sex from John Updike (by stealing my father's copy of Couples) and even more about writing, of course. great idea for a story.

wonderful stuff, as always.