Robert Edison Sandiford is the author of eight books, including the forthcoming novel And Sometimes They Fly. He is the editor with Linda M. Deane of Shouts from the Outfield: The ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology (www.artsetcbarbados.com) and has worked as a journalist, publisher, video producer, and teacher.
It’s a question I get asked from time to time: “Why do you write erotica?”
This time it came in an interview by a senior colleague, a fellow Barbadian writer who is also an academic.
“You’ve done other things, of course, and I’ve no problem with erotica, but it’s still such a taboo subject, especially in the black community.”
More recently, a middle-aged woman stopped me outside the Super Centre in Oistins, a fishing town along Barbados’ south coast, to ask me if I was the writer of those “rather spicy books” and if I had produced any more. She was talking about my erotic graphic novels for NBM; it turned out she didn’t have the latest, Great Moves. “I mean, there’s nothing wrong with stuff like that. We’re all walking around thinking it…and then you’re talking about us in your books, Caribbean people.”
She understood. My mother, having come across discarded drafts of my erotica years ago, was less thrilled; being my mother, perhaps, but also being of a generation that, no matter how free you were physically with your partner in letters or behind closed doors, viewed sex as something not expressed or written about publicly.
“I came across some of your stories….”
“Some of my stories…?”
“Yes. Your stories…dealing with somebody…sleeping with somebody….”
“I know you write a lot of things…there’s no reason to apologize…that’s just not what I prefer to read from you.”
And we’ve never discussed my erotica, prose or comics, since, though my mom continues to be one of my greatest supporters as a writer, travelling with me to readings when she can and defending my work when a critic feels I’ve been too harsh about my subject, particularly if the subject is Caribbean people.
My first published short story was in the UK literary journal Erotic Stories. It was called “Mirror Image,” and was about a boy and a girl who pass each other in a Montreal bus then go home to have interconnected dreams during the night. The story resurfaces as “Open Doors” in my new collection of prose erotic fiction, Intimacy 101: Rooms & Suites.
I was paid about 150 pounds sterling for the 2000-word story. The editor was interested in any others I had like it. I didn’t have any others at the time, but I started to research the market to see what erotic publications I could contribute to.
One of my main reasons for writing erotica was to make money—easy money. For some reason, I thought selling erotica would be as simple as selling pornography. Both deal with sex, right? Yes, but differently; and what would sell to, say, Hustler did not appeal to Erotic Stories.
Nor was pornography a quick sell. There had to be a measure of good storytelling with both genres, I realized, but an emphasis on why people did what they did with each other was more crucial to successful erotica than what they did to each other, which was more pornography’s focus.
Over the years, I went on to write for Eidos, Screw, Perceptions, Paramour. The work ranged from feature articles on what partners name their lovers’ privates to very short stories that were more poetry than prose. Sometimes I was paid in hearty US dollars (a big deal for a young writer based in Canada in the early ’90s), most times I was paid in contributors copies.
This wasn’t really so disappointing. Another reason I had for writing erotica was to branch out with my work: to write something that a different set of readers would pick up from me and to write stories that would challenge me in unexpected ways. A long-time reader and collector of comics, I eventually decided to seek out the possibility of adapting my stories to that medium, too.
But I don’t see genre when I write (or read, actually). Beyond the technical requirements or obvious demands of form and subject matter, I don’t make much distinction between a feature or a short story or a poem, between literary fiction, speculative fiction or detective fiction. A good narrative’s a good narrative if well told, regardless the manner in which it is communicated.
I have what I consider a natural, healthy interest in sex and sexuality and sexual expression, and their connection to love and lust and desire…and all manner of relationships. To tell a story that in some way deals with the human condition—with what it means to be human and to live as a human in the times in which we find ourselves—requires delving into and grappling with how people relate to each other intimately, which includes in bed.
It’s just as important to know how your character makes love as to know how she wages war. Such knowledge may determine the course of a story or suggest why another character behaves as he does toward her, and why the outcome of their encounter or interactions could follow no other course.
If there is no story without good tension, then sexual tension is some of the best available. It need not always be graphically or explicitly displayed, but there’s something more we all see and feel—beyond arousal or embarrassment—when we peer in on people in the act of love.
We glimpse ourselves in a light that makes it hard to hide from our own motives and desires and disappointments. It’s a light that briefly reveals us. Like the lady at the supermarket said, we’re all walking around thinking much the same thoughts while trying hard not to let them show.
Intimacy 101: Rooms & Suites, Robert’s recently released collection of short stories, is available from The Book Place (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Publisher (email@example.com)