Erotica 101: Rachel Kramer Bussel teaches all the right lessons
Rachel Kramer Bussel is the most famous cupcake blogger ever to have penned more than 100 erotic stories.
Since she penned her first lusty tale -- a Monica Lewinsky-inspired narrative -- during law school in 1999, Bussel has been writing extensively about sex matters, fictional and otherwise. First, she was asked to co-edit an anthology of spanking erotica. Then, she wrote a column for the Village Voice for nearly three years. Now, besides continuing her own writing and editing of erotic volumes, she teaches workshops for would-be practitioners of the craft. This weekend, she's in town to lead just such a group at the Smitten Kitten. We spoke with her twice by phone to get a sense of what one of these workshops entails.
Bussel, who teaches the Erotica 101 workshop on Saturday and reads on Sunday, has done three such seminars in the past. "Every time, it's been interesting," she says. "People have these great ideas, and the stuff they write –- we do some reading aloud –- is really wonderful."
What's the most important thing to consider for a first-time erotica writer? "I don't think people need as much help on the writing front as they do on the encouragement front," Bussel says. Many writers, however enthusiastic, come with some measure of nerves. "Once people hear someone else reading work aloud, it breaks the tension."
Rachel Kramer Bussel reads "Flirting With Santa" from Alison Tyler's anthology "Naughty or Nice? Christmas Erotica Stories."
There are writing exercises, ("write a story using two sex objects around you," for example) a bit of reading aloud and guidance from the professional. "Either people come up with humorous stories -- or really hot stories," she says.
That's Bussel the teacher. What of Bussel the prolific writer and editor, whose credentials include editing the Best Sex Writing 2008 compilation? Since much of her work is about sex and relationships, it skews the boundary between what's personal and what's for an article.
The double-edged sword of personal writing is evident in some of Bussel's favorite work. Her 2001 story "Lapdance Lust," about her first lapdance, contains no sex. "There's a – not necessarily a naivete, but a willingness to believe in the fantasy of the strip club that's sweet in a way," she says now. Another favorite piece is about a breakup, a true story (called "The End") about someone who wound up reading it later. While they're friends now, she says, writing about real life is "a tricky thing. It's important to be totally free when you're doing the writing, but afterwards, it takes on a life of its own."
Occasionally, a family life of its own. Bussel writes a blog that addresses personal matters, and she recently found out her 84-year-old grandfather was reading it.
There was a bit of reflexiveness to the disclosure. Said grandparent has a memoir coming out in November himself about being a POW during World War II that contains tons of disclosures -- such as his visit to a prostitute at the age of 19 -- Bussel never would have known otherwise. "It was really surreal to read that," she says now, "but I think we understand each other better as a result."
Granddad might just be the most supportive person in her family. He's certainly more supportive than Bussel's mother, who doesn't like what she does for a living. "She's a lot more private, a baby boomer feminist," Bussel says. "He gets the need to share things through writing."
The best thing about writing erotic material, she says, is that forces her to be creative. During the nascent stage of her career, Bussel's fiction contained some autobiographical elements. Since, she's moved on to write about things that have little or nothing to do with her -- stories about gay men, stories written from different perspectives. "I can't just fall back on the same setting," she says. "It forces you to step outside yourself, and also to see that you have things in common with people you didn't think you had much in common with."
The multifaceted Bussel's cupcake blog, which has seen her featured on such outlets as The Martha Stewart Show, offers her a respite from the daily, ahem, grind of sex writing. Still, the subject is near and dear. Two helpful tips she offers for would-be erotic scribes:
1. Write something that uses the words that you would use, and something that you would find generally sexy. If you try to sound like someone else, it doesn't work as well. Go with your instincts.
2. You don't have to start off with a sex scene. Having sex scenes is important, but the characters – who they are, why they're there – can be even more important. Pay attention to the motivations of the characters as much as their physical actions.
Above all, don't be intimidated. "Erotica's very democratic," she says. "Everyone has a way to enter into it, whether it's a fantasy you had, or something that you've done."
Rachel Kramer Bussel teaches an Erotica 101 workshop on Saturday, May 3, from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. at the Smitten Kitten, 3010 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408. $15, limited sliding scale tickets available. Pre-registration required: 612.721.6088. She's also giving a free reading at the Smitten Kitten the next day, Sunday May 4, from 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.