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Making Love in Public: An Interview with Author Phyllis Curott
By Allyson E. Peltier


Phyllis Curott is the author of Book of Shadows, which has sold more than 100,000 copies in the U.S. and is an international bestseller. Ms. Curott is a respected civil liberties attorney honored as one of the Ten Gutsiest Women of the Year by Jane Magazine. She is also a Wiccan priestess, interfaith activist, and a member of the Assembly of World Religious Leaders who teaches internationally. Her most recent memoir, The Love Spell (Gotham Books, 2/05), has just been released in paperback.

Readers and writers of romance novels are familiar with the tired litany of sexual buzzwords that frequent the pages of such books. Throbbing. Swoon. Explosion. But have you ever tried describing sex without using clichés? Nothing could be more challenging… unless, of course, you're writing about your own sexual experiences.

In her memoir The Love Spell, her third book, author Phyllis Curott struggled to write about her most personal, private experiences in a way that was informational, sexy, and entertaining at the same time-- without worrying what her friends and family would think when they read it! She took a moment out of her hectic speaking schedule to talk with me about the lessons she learned, and the tale she learned to tell.


The Love Spell isn't your first book, but it's the first that deals with sex and sexuality-- in particular, your sexuality. How did the experience differ from writing your other books?

This was the most difficult to write. I had to really look at myself, face my demons, find my Goddesses, and be completely honest. The Love Spell is a memoir about the most personal of all subjects-- sex, longing, desire, love, and inhibition-- intimacies that you only share with your partner, or talk about with your best girlfriends. Opening myself up in that way was very risky, very scary, even more than the first book, Book of Shadows, where I explored another controversial, personal journey as a young Ivy League attorney searching for the Goddess and finding the divinity within all women.

To the best of my knowledge, The Love Spell is the only explicit memoir written by a woman that re-weaves the suppressed connections between sexuality and spirituality, and one of the very few books that deals with the relationship between a woman and her daemon. A daemon is a male version of the muse. He's a divine being or messenger from God and a guide to the mysteries of a woman's soul, her sexuality and her creativity. He manifests in dreams, synchronicities, and also in real men; every woman has one, whether she realizes it or not.

What happened when you tried to write your first love scene?

I didn't want my writing to be detached, merely intellectual. I wanted it to be emotionally engaging and, most of all, arousing. I reminded myself that I could always edit. But I could feel my mother's spirit leaning over my shoulder, saying, "You're not going to write about that for all the world to read!" I felt as if I were making love in public. I had to send my mother out of the room and out of my head.

It helped to remember that I was writing to help other women who struggle with the same longings and disappointments that I've had. I had to challenge my own inhibitions to confront those of our culture. That's so important, especially now when the forces of cultural and sexual repression are once again attempting to control the lives of others.

Writing about something that actually happened seems like it would be easier than inventing an ideal romantic scene.

It's much easier to hide behind fiction, especially when writing about such private things. The Love Spell required a level of intimacy and revelation that went right into the heart and soul of who I am as a woman. It required me to be very present, and very vulnerable. Friends, family, fans, critics, even complete strangers will judge your deepest secrets-- that's frightening!

Some of the love scenes in The Love Spell are in some ways an ode to the modern American romance novel. Are you a big fan of the genre?

I love romance novels. Before writing, I read everything labeled "erotic" or "sexy." But except for a few books, I didn't find much that was truly erotic, at least not from my point of view. Then I found romance novels. This genre is the secret erotica of American women. It's dismissed as fantasy, but these books describe what women want. And the struggle between what we long for and what we actually experience is a main theme of The Love Spell. Contrary to another popular misunderstanding, the heroines are very strong and very feminine. And-- no surprise-- surveys have found that women who read romance novels have sex more often and enjoy themselves more than women who don't read them. Now that's a worthy ambition for any writer!

Do you think writing The Love Spell has given you the tools to write a more traditional romance novel?

It's certainly improved my skills as a writer. Erotic writing is the most difficult writing there is; most "mainstream" writers of literary fiction rarely attempt it. Yes, I've thought about writing a romance novel. Even Susan Sontag tried it. The genre tends to follow certain fixed formulas, which can be confining, but which can also inspire incredible creativity. It's a real accomplishment to be original while working inside very specific limitations of form. That's an interesting challenge.

Tell us a little about the process you used in writing The Love Spell.

I didn't use any tricks or aids to get in the mood. No sexy music, drinking wine, watching erotic movies (which can be as hard to find as erotic books). I closed the door of my study-- literally and metaphorically-- and wrote only to arouse myself. If I accomplished that, I was satisfied-- pun intended!

Recently, the market has seen several sex-related memoirs. Is it a growing genre?

Authors talk about sex and their sex lives, but it's very rarely in a style that's genuinely arousing. It's detached, analytical, even clinical, or self-consciously "literary." Or they're books like The Sexual Life of Catherine O, which was marketed as a book about sex, but is really about self-loathing and masochism. There are very few memoirs that deal with sex in a way that's honest and erotic.

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to tackle putting their own sexual experiences and love affairs on the page?

Shut out the world, write only for yourself. I did have one trick that worked very well at the beginning: I drafted love scenes in the third person, and then changed to the first person while editing. It was very had to write, "He slid his hand up my thigh . . ." without cringing. Or giggling. By the end of the book, it was wonderful to write in the first person, but it took time to get to that place.

There's something very helpful about writing in the first person, however-- it keeps you from falling into the trap of clichéd writing. You try to write explicitly without using explicit language, to write poetically without adverbs and adjectives. You look for language that's fresh and truthful, unique and yet universal. It's very challenging to find ways to express feelings that are often beyond description. It truly hones your skills as a writer. And a woman.


Allyson E. Peltier is a writer and editor, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate, and Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of places, including Circle magazine and J3tlag.com. She lives in New York City. You can visit her at www.ambitiousenterprises.com and www.mediabistro.com/AllysonEPeltier.

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