It’s rather a unique experience, having one’s mother read one’s erotic writing. Not quite like anything else I’ve experienced.
There’s background on this of course. Both on the story in question (I imagine everyone reading this has most likely already read the story, but if not, whatcha waiting for?) and background on my mother, and of course background on how I came to show the story to my mother.
So bear with me if I told you part of this already.
Ok, the story you maybe know about. “Wanton“. If I didn’t write about how it happened, it’s on my home page if you care.
I’m fairly new at this writing game. Oh, I’ve been writing for years, erotica to amuse myself and arouse my friends, technical manuals, an occasional travel journal (and if I could read my own handwriting I’d type that in, but hell if I know what most of it is. That’s what happens when you already have shitty hand-writing and then write in pubs while downing pint after pint of tanglefoot best bitter. And as it turns out, “best” doesn’t mean “more good”, it means “More strong”). But when it comes to the real writing with thought of publishing, that’s only happened recently. I am thus still seeking input (and yes, validation) from independent sources.
So one such was to send the story to my friend Lewis. Lewis is, in addition to being a pretty good writer, a writing teacher and a book reviewer for the SF Chronicle. After reading a particular story of his, “Scar“, I decided I might as well jump directly from a non-burning place on the stove directly to the fire, bypassing the frying pan stage completely (not one to do things in small ways, I guess one could say about me). This is a guy known for being a fairly harsh critic, and he’s a mainstream writer, so I figured I’d get a completely unvarnished review.
The topic of mainstream writing vs. erotica is a topic for another entry, one I keep trying to do an essay or blog entry on. But that’s for later. The relevant point is that I got the unvarnished feedback I wanted, and it was far, far better than ever I expected. There were minor technical issues, and discourse on mainstream vs. erotica which I expected given his point of view. But the core of the review was, as with those wonderful reviews that beautiful people like Circe and MP have given me, absolutely glowing to the point where I had to do the shuffle shuffle, “Ah, g’wan” thing and then say something self-deprecating, which is how I tend to deal with praise.
This leads me to the topic of My Mother. Which should be heard in a cartoon Freud voice as in Dolby’s “Blinded me with Science”.
The first point is that of connection and how these threads come together. Mom was a bookstore lady from the time she was a teenager until not many years ago. Lewis worked with her at various bookstores in the SF bay area from the time he was a teen until she and he both quit the bookstore biz a few years back. So they have a lifetime bond of absolute and utter book-geek status. So this is where things connect.
Mother is an interesting person. Born in the late 20′s, she was a little too young to be a beatnik, a little too old to be a hippy. She never went to college (which is a true shame), but she helped my father work through his master’s and Phd. in logic and communication, and in effect educated herself though at least two degrees worth of college. She and my father marched for peace and farm-workers rights, voted peace-and-freedom, campaigned for radical left candidates back when people believed that radical left candidates could actually win offices. She and my father smoked pot with college grad students and sent us kids to a hippy-dippy school where we majored in hiking and getting stoned and swimming naked with the teachers and high-school girls.
Mom’s a book geek. Mom should have been a writer; she’s a good poet though she is unaware of this, and could have written for a living easily. Mom knows writers and writing as much as any literature major I know, and can discourse on writing. She and I have only recently found common ground on this, because I grew up reading ONLY sci-fi, which was the one area she had trouble with (Lord of the Rings and Dune aside). So only in the last few years, as I started to read Bukowski and Fante and a lot of other more literary writers have we been able to truly discuss writing in technical terms.
This leads me to showing Mom my own writing.
Now it should be obvious Mom’s no prude. And I know she had “My Secret Garden” and Aniis Nin’s books and other erotica on her bookshelf, I know she’s read erotica. And I know she was – let’s say active – before she married my father. But there’s still a point where it seems weird to send your mother a story which includes phrases like “Come on my tits, Big Daddy” or “There was blood on my cock when I slipped out, drove into her cunt“.
But after showing her Lewis’ review of my story, it just seemed stupid to not show her the story. I eventually sent her a pointer, but half hoped she wouldn’t read it. Which was stupid of course.
It was a couple weeks before she brought it up. And when she did, I was ready for a weird conversation. Which wasn’t what I got.
What I got was a purity and intelligence of praise such as I’ve gotten from a couple of the editors who helped me with this story. The comments of a reader who really *got it*, who understood the characters, who understood the story, who understood why some of the details were left off-screen or left to the reader’s imagination. And I got a wash of parental pride such as I think I’ve never heard from either parent in my life. This is my mother suddenly realizing that her son has a reasonable level of talent at something she values above almost all else.
She said at one point – “I had to stop in several places and just think about, savor, your use of language. It was so good I had to just stop and consider it and hold off reading for a moment”.
I was speechless.
She finished this dialog by saying “That story is clearly done, and should not have been a page longer; but I really want to read another story about that same character. I want to hear more narration is his voice”.
I’m trying. I’m trying to find the thread of where his life goes. I have ideas and fragments of plot. But we’re back on the “why I can’t finish stories” thread. One of these days though, that will come to me. That character, Matteeo, he’s been in my head a while, and he’s got more stories to tell. And maybe some of them will actually have happy endings. Or maybe not. We shall see.