Saturday, June 07, 2008
Interview with an Amorous Woman
Recently, I reviewed the excellent erotic novel Amorous Woman, by Donna George Storey. Now, I'd like to share with you a revealing interview I conducted with the author.
Donald Capone: The novel opens and closes with Lydia—the title character in AW—back in San Francisco, having sworn off sex forever. Of course, I doubted her word from the beginning. Will the Amorous Woman return to her old tricks? Is there a sequel in the works?
Donna George Storey: That’s a very good question. Amorous Woman is my first novel and I discovered in the writing process that—as all of those how-to-write-a-novel guidebooks suggest—my characters soon developed wills of their own and didn’t always listen to me when I wanted them to do or say something for the sake of my plot. So I’m not sure I can predict what Lydia will get up to with American men, but I’m pretty sure it will be new tricks rather than old ones. So far there is no direct sequel in the works, but I am in the early stages of writing a novel about another amorous woman whose desires take her on an exotic journey. Except this time it’s not to Japan, it’s a trip back into the erotic mysteries of twentieth-century America.
DC: Many readers will take AW to be autobiographical, especially since it is written in first person (always one of the dangers of first-person narration). What percentage of it is autobiographical, and do you get strange looks from relatives now?
DGS: Although my real-life adventures in Japan were not quite so wild and edgy as Lydia’s, much of it is drawn from my own experiences. For example, I really did have dinner in a deluxe, three-hundred-year-old restaurant in Kyoto with a charming dentist one beautiful August evening and had an informal marriage meeting (a.k.a. blind date) with a salaryman who’d traveled to Europe on his own. About 50% of the book comes from my firsthand experiences plot-wise, but all of it incorporates my sensual reactions to Japanese culture, which I hope gives the reader the flavor of taking their own trip to that country. My close relatives have gotten used to my erotic writing years ago, but certain friends may be shocked when they read the book now that it’s available in the US. I’ll keep a watch for strange looks!
The author in front of Chimoto restaurant—serving fine dinners to dentists and their guests since 1718
DC: Memoirs are still going strong. Did it ever cross your mind to pitch this as a memoir to ease the road toward publication?
DGS: No, writers get in a lot of trouble for that and although they say any publicity is good publicity, I’d rather not take on that stress. There are so many memoirs from Japan travelers, no need to add mine to the crowd, plus I enjoyed the freedom fiction provided to let me express my truths about intimate relationships between Japan and the US.
DC: How did AW land with NEON, a British publisher?
DGS: This is in part another answer to the last question. One reason I wasn’t tempted to write a memoir is because I didn’t really know I was going to write a book at all. Orion in the UK wanted to start a line of high-quality erotic fiction to be called Neon, and they asked erotica editor Maxim Jakubowski (he does the annual Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica) to commission twenty-some novels from authors he knew. He asked me if I had something and I put together a proposal from an idea that had been simmering for a while. Apparently they liked it and asked me to be part of it. The book came out in the UK last fall.
The author wearing traditional kimono in Japan (1984)
DC: Any plans to translate AW into Japanese for publication in Japan?
DGS: I would love for the novel to be translated into Japanese. The Japanese have traditionally been interested in Western views of their culture and I think my novel provides an unusual perspective. Because it’s inspired by one of their classics, the 17th century Life of an Amorous Woman, I’m sure many readers would recognize aspects of the story I borrowed, such as the frame of two younger men asking an experienced older woman to educate them by sharing the story of her sexual adventures. I also tried to transcend stereotypes and give the reader more complex portraits of the Japanese. AW has no gangsters with missing pinkies or slobbering businessmen bent on world domination while dabbling in white slavery on the side. Even the housewives have interesting secret lives—writing pornography!
The author NOT wearing a traditional kimono
DC: Asteroids are heading toward Earth. Scientists predict there will be no survivors. You are chosen to pick the complete works of three authors to go into a time capsule for future intelligent beings to discover. Who are the three authors?
DGS: I’m going to be mostly selfish with a bit of civic duty thrown in. I have to go with Alice Munro’s complete works as my first choice for the time capsule. She captures the complexity and magic of the ordinary so well. Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, a great Japanese novelist of the twentieth century, does an excellent job of describing the confrontation of Eastern and Western sensibilities. I’d also pick the complete works of Richard Rhodes, a nonfiction writer who is known for the Pulitzer-Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, as well as other books about nuclear energy, and the horrifying Masters of Death about the SS-Einsatzgruppen. That will give these intelligent beings a pretty good idea of the horrors we humans wreak. Rhodes also wrote an interesting memoir called Making Love: An Erotic Odyssey. It’s not pretty reading either, but it struck me as an honest confession of the sex life of an American male in the 20th century. Those are pretty rare.
DC: Give an example of how NOT to write an erotic scene.
DGS: First, the scene:
From the moment dreamboat-handsome Reginald walked into the room, all eyes were upon him. Yet his gaze was fixed only on beauteous Belinda, whose blonde mane and melon breasts bespoke her career as a supermodel. Belinda walked toward him, as if enchanted by those steel gray eyes. She was already flushed and moist between her legs. He took her arm and led her from the ballroom to the library, locking the door behind them. At once they embraced, their lips fusing, their clothing dissolving into puddles of cloth on the carpet. Then they were on the carpet, too, Reginald making love to every inch of her flesh with consummate skill. His magic tongue on her womanhood brought forth countless climaxes. The piston-like thrusting of his hips coaxed out dozens more. “Aaaaaaaah,” she sighed. “Arrrrgghh,” he groaned. It was sex beyond their wildest dreams—and to think they hadn’t yet been introduced, hadn’t yet spoken a single word to each other.
Next, the analysis: This scene sucks for all kinds of reasons. First good erotica needs tension and surprise—none here! The characters need a reason to be together—don’t see that either, right? I define good erotica as that in which the sex is physically and emotionally believable. Maybe guys have great sex with total strangers, but I’ve not yet met a woman who’s had her top experiences under such circumstances. Finally, avoid clichés or use them wisely or ironically. And I was definitely using them ironically here. You won’t find anything like this in Amorous Woman!
DC: Requisite question: Who would play the lead character, Lydia, in a steamy HBO mini-series based on Amorous Woman?
I think Amorous Woman would make an excellent HBO mini-series, rather like “Sex and the City” Japanese-style. Charlotte goes to Kyoto and turns into Samantha, with plenty of witty Carrie observations on international relations thrown in! I like Lauren Ambrose for Lydia. She has the right look, an erotic dynamo all wrapped up in strawberry blonde innocence. Ken Watanabe would make the perfect Kimura—flawless English, exquisite charm, sexy as they come.
Donna George Storey has taught English in Japan and Japanese at Stanford and U.C. Berkeley. She holds a Ph.D. in Japanese literature and has published over seventy literary and/or erotic stories and essays in Gettysburg Review, Fourth Genre, Best American Erotica 2006, Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica and elsewhere. A story published in Prairie Schooner received special mention in Pushcart Prize Stories 2004. Her first novel, Amorous Woman (Orion, 2007) is the story of an American woman’s (very steamy) love affair with Japan inspired by Ihara Saikaku’s classic 17th century novel of the pleasure quarters. She is also the author of Child of Darkness: Yoko and Other Stories by Furui Yoshikichi (University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies, 1997), a translation from the Japanese with critical commentaries. She currently writes a column, Cooking up a Storey, about her favorite topics—delicious sex, well-crafted food, and mind-blowing writing—for the Erotica Readers and Writers Association.