Think About Me

Wednesday morning and all is sort of well in the Lost Apartment. It’s dark outside still, but the sun should be rising soon over the West Bank (don’t ask) and my coffee should start kicking in soon. I’ve continued testing negative for COVID, so I think I escaped Bouchercon and the trip unscathed, which is actually kind of lovely. I don’t think I could handle yet another week of being knocked out and unable to do anything. Although the enforced rest–first with the COVID and then with my back more recently–was also kind of nice.

I was very exhausted when I got home from work yesterday, so kind of just headed right to the sweats and the easy chair. The kitchen is still a mess from Monday night’s dinner, and I really need to get that cleaned up tonight after work, if I have the energy. I have adjusted to these early mornings in some ways–it’s not painful to get up anymore, and I am not groggy and half-asleep most of the mornings anymore–but I do get tired a lot earlier, and sleepy too. I dozed off a couple of times in the chair last night while watching Making it Big, which is a lengthy video on Youtube about the growth and development of the gay porn industry, from its humble beginnings with Bob Mizer and physique magazines/videos to what it is today–free and almost everywhere you look on the Internet. I started in this industry writing gay porn–my first two published short stories were gay porn, and they paid rather well, thank you very much–and I had a very nice sideline until around 2009 editing and writing it. It was around 2009 that the bottom started falling out of gay porn writing and editing–and within a few years that sub-genre of the industry was gone for good. I miss the money, although I don’t miss doing the writing or editing. I produced some terrific anthologies along the way, and some really terrific short stories as well as erotic novels.

I’m not in the least bit ashamed of my past writing and editing gay erotica–writing is writing, and there’s an entire gamut of quality in gay erotica, as there is in every sub-genre in publishing; some was terrific, some was great, some was competent, and some was garbage. I am also often been told, throughout my career, that admitting to, and talking about, writing gay erotica was an error, that I shouldn’t talk about it or write about it ever or should put up a firewall between it and my “serious” writing. My response to that was always puzzlement; I take all of my writing seriously so why would the gay erotica be any different than that? But there is a stigma, still to this very day, about pornography and erotica (although it’s always been around; archaeologists have been finding erotic art in ruins going back thousands and thousands of years), which probably has a lot to do with the bizarre and deeply-rooted American societal and cultural bias about sexuality in general. It’s dirty, it’s private, it’s something you shouldn’t talk about openly with other people and you should be embarrassed if it comes up and therefore need to change the subject immediately.

This puritanical societal mentality is the root cause of a lot of our problems, in my opinion. A society and culture where sexuality is no big deal, where no one is judged for their sexual needs and desires and activities, and where the topic can be discussed openly and honestly, would be a much healthier one. But talking about sex and desire and need embarrasses most Americans and makes them uncomfortable; I believe that writing about eroticism and passion and desire and sex was maybe the best preparation for my day job as a sexual health counselor that I could have asked for.

The first time I wrote an erotic short story I was embarrassed almost the entire time I was writing it. I embarrassed myself, because in order to write an erotic short story I had to write about a desire of my own, a kink, if you will; something I had always been interested in, had experienced a few times, and wanted to explore much further than I had already. It’s hard to get younger people, who grew up with the Internet and smart phones and hook-up apps how difficult it was to find other gay men who were into the same secret fetishes and desires–now all you have to do is a Google search, really–but there was serious isolation back in the day, and with all the shame we learn through society about sex and desire, it was very easy to believe that you were the only person who was into whatever it was you were into. But once I had written one, I found that the more of these type stories that I wrote, the more free I felt; the more open, the more accepting of kinks and other people’s desires and what they were into. One of the great gay erotica writers said in the introduction to a collection of his own work you can’t write great sex unless you’ve had great sex, which I didn’t think was true at the time–creativity and imagination being what they are–and while I don’t necessarily think that’s true any more than I did then, I will say having great sex makes it easier to write about great sex…and when you can look at sexual experimentation as research…

Write what you know, indeed.

But early on in my career I was both naïve and stubborn. Don’t use your own name for writing erotica, I was told, over and over again, because it will damage your non-erotica work and people won’t take you seriously. That really wasn’t the threat that my well-meaning friends and colleagues thought it was; at that point in my life no one had ever taken me seriously about anything; and especially when it came to my ambitions with writing. So, my first short stories were published under my own name, and I edited two erotica anthologies under my real name, as well. The great irony was under my own name I became known for writing a certain kind of a gay erotica, rooted in one of my own fantasies and desires, but it also wasn’t the only thing I wanted to write about–but I had become typecast as an erotica writer and those were the only stories editors wanted from me; so I started using Todd Gregory so I could write erotica about other fetishes and desires and needs, other than what everyone wanted Greg Herren to write about. Which was actually, in retrospect, kind of funny.

It was also around this time that my traditional short story-writing problems–which I still have; I am never really certain if there’s an actual story in my stories, if you know what I mean–were sort of solved, because I realized that erotica is the perfect illustration of beginning, middle, end: two people meet, have sex, and then there’s an ending bit. I was having trouble publishing short stories–genre wasn’t ready for openly gay characters and themes, I didn’t write literary fiction–and so I decided, you know, you have this idea for a story–add a sex scene to it and see what happens. The story was published, and I became more experimental with my own erotica–one of my favorite stories I wrote was about a merman who was also an empath, “The Sea Where It’s Shallow”–and I became more and more known for erotica writing as Todd Gregory started editing anthologies and writing more and more stories.

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything erotic–and who knows if I ever will again? I have an idea for a gay romance novel I would like to write, but I also know that the kind of sex scenes I write–grunting, sweating, messy, and loud–aren’t the kind of sex scenes romance readers tend to like, but on the other hand, I may be making assumptions and who knows what they like? It’s one of the things I want to write over the next two years because I think it’s a fun challenge (yes, yes, I still manage to fool myself into thinking writing challenges are fun; I never learn), but we’ll see how everything goes.

I also kind of want to reread my erotica to see how it holds up, and I also kind of need to (heavy sigh) start making a list of characters and places and so forth that I have already used, so I won’t have Chris Moore or Eric Matthews showing up in yet another book (although it’s not impossible in the real world for different people to have the same name, either) and besides, maybe by doing so I can see the way to connect the books all together even more closely.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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