Interview with Donna George Storey on erotica and Sally Rand

Donna is one of our readers at this Monday, April 28th’s FREE book party/reading for Dirty Girls at Cafe Royale, 800 Post Street at Leavenworth, San Francisco. There will even be free cupcakes! Join us and hear Donna read from “To Dance at the Fair.” She is also one of my favorite erotica wriers and I’m thrilled every time she submits a story to me. I first discovered her writing when we were both contributors to Susie Bright’s Best American Erotica 2006 and have been a fan ever since. Also, lucky us, she is joining us at In The Flesh Erotic Reading Series this fall, so stay tuned!

Donna George Storey’s erotic fiction has appeared in She’s On Top; He’s On Top; E is for Exotic; Love at First Sting; Garden of the Perverse: Fairy Tales for Twisted Adults; Sexiest Soles; Taboo: Forbidden Fantasies for Couples; Best American Erotica 2006; Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 4, 5, and 6; and Best Women’s Erotica 2005, 2006, and 2007. Her novel set in Japan, Amorous Woman, is part of Orion’s Neon erotica series. Read more of her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com.

Tell us a little about yourself, aside from what’s in your official bio.

When people who don’t know me well find out I write erotica, they’re always very surprised, because I’m pretty much your mom-next-door type. Those who’ve known me from my wild youth, before I wrote “adult” stories, wonder why it took me so long to embrace my true calling. In college, I was famous for impromptu recitations of my poems in rhyming couplets, with such titles as “Sperm” and “The Man from Japan” (Copies, and recitations, available on request).

My blog is called “Sex, Food and Writing” and if you add “Travel” to that, you’ve pretty much covered the things I like to do best. I love to cook, either healthy stews and soups based on the contents of my weekly CSA box of organic veggies, or decadent multi-layered cookies and creamy puddings. I like to dabble in exotic cuisines—Japanese, Indian, Russian. It’s like taking a little trip abroad when I can’t afford the ticket.

Like Elizabeth in “To Dance at the Fair,” I spent some time in academia, although my specialty was Japanese literature. Japan is the setting for my first novel, Amorous Woman, the story of an American woman’s love affair with Japan. It’s not a memoir, but it could be. By the way, I just got back from a trip to Japan a few weeks ago, to see the cherries in full blossom. Twenty-four years after we first met, I’m still in love!

What inspired your story “To Dance at the Fair?” What message do you hope readers take away from it?

We were visiting my husband’s family in the Midwest and stopped by the Chicago Historical Society where I bought a book about the Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1933-34. The fair was supposed to celebrate all kinds of stuffy civic achievements, but the real draw was Sally Rand and her sexy fan dance. I’ve always been fascinated by sex in earlier times because it was secret, forbidden territory. Sally’s popularity seemed like a doorway into that hidden part of history.

The other inspiration is more of a reaction to the typical portrayal of group sex in a lot of sexually explicit writing. Everything goes so smoothly: double the partners, double the fun. But the reality, at least in my limited experience, is more complex. I wanted to capture that in a story.

The message I’d like to convey? I hope there are many but the main one would be that we all come to bed with a complex set of fantasies, a private and collective past. But not to worry. It is “baggage,” but it can make the pleasure all the richer.

Did you have to do any research to write the story? Is your character Sally Rand based on a real person?

Sally is very real—here’s a photo of her with her fans shielding the naughty bits. She continued to dance for decades after the fair. I recently read a memoir about a very proper WASP family where the parents’ first date was a visit to a club to watch Sally Rand perform in the early 1960s.

The research for the story was fascinating. I found a copy of Sally’s Tru-Vue photo poster in a World’s Fair collectibles book—the original sells for over $2000. There’s a great interview with her in Studs Terkel’s Hard Times where her courage and her sympathy for the working man and woman shine through. I really grew to admire her. She’s definitely a dirty girl in the best sense of the word.

Your story is about a woman who takes inspiration from one of her gutsy, sexy foremothers. Who do you take artistic (and/or sexual) inspiration from?

In keeping with the historical theme, I’ll mention some of my earliest inspirations (the list of women erotica writers I turn today for inspiration is too long—just check the table of contents of Dirty Girls!). First there’s the Japanese poet Yosano Akiko, who shocked the world with her suggestive love poetry in the early 1900s. From her I learned a writer can be erotic and elegant. Colette and Anais Nin taught me similar lessons. I love Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie—funny, irreverent, sexy and tragic. One book can have it all. That’s what I strive for in my work—maybe some day!

In the story, you say, “The stripper and the school marm. On the surface, it would be hard to find two women more different than Sally and me.” Do you feel that women are pitted against each other and made to seem more different, sexually and otherwise, than we really are?

Absolutely. Since time immemorial men have used the “divide and conquer” method to limit women’s influence over them. Virgins to the right, whores to the left. That’s because they knew if one woman possessed the power of both, she’d be unstoppable. I think this is still in play today where our culture does its best to insist smart women can’t be sexy. Or sexy women smart. The stories in Dirty Girls are proof this isn’t so!

What’s your general erotica-writing process like? Do you write on a set schedule or when you’re inspired?

I try to write almost every morning when my kids are at school, inspired or not. I may not be particularly productive every day, but I’ve found that the flashes of magic don’t come unless I’m ready at the keyboard. But I am always looking for ideas for new stories and they come at the most unlikely times—like when I’m browsing in a museum bookstore. One tendency I’ve noticed is that I’m drawn to topics that seem a little weird, uncanny, inexplicable. For example, “To Dance at the Fair” is an attempt to make sense of the strange phenomenon of all of Chicago using the World’s Fair as an excuse to see a stripper, randy young bucks and respectable, if daring, matrons alike.

What do you think makes a good erotica story work?

A good dirty story needs all the elements a “clean” story requires—conflict, intriguing characters, a fresh use of language. But erotica writers face an additional challenge in that the reader expects to be turned on as well. Just as we all have our different sexual preferences, I don’t think any one erotic story can speak to everyone’s deepest desires, but I’d say the best examples have the power to draw you into their worlds, to seduce you, no matter if the acts involved aren’t your cup of tea in the real world.

I’ll add a personal note here—I know that fantasy and sexuality are intimately related, but nothing excites me more than an erotic story that embraces the truth of human sexuality. If a character comes five times during a five-minute fuck, I’m just too busy rolling my eyes to get turned on. If I feel like I’ve learned something about the mysteries of sex from a story, if a thought or a feeling I couldn’t quite pin down has been articulated eloquently, the author has me on my knees, panting with desire.

What are you working on next?

I’m ready—any day now—to start writing my second novel, an edgy erotic romance that is a peek through the bedroom keyhole of American history in the 20th century. Sally Rand will probably make an appearance, along with Bettie Page and camera clubs in the 1950s, John Updike’s spouse-swapping suburbia and lots more. The research for this one should be fun, too. I am glad to have found work I love.

As a little treat, here’s a video from YouTube of Sally Rand performing at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair:

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3 Responses to “Interview with Donna George Storey on erotica and Sally Rand”

  1. Jeremy Edwards Says:

    I’m really enjoying these interviews! Exploring each author’s personal perspective on the *wonderful* marriage of feminism and erotica is a real privilege.

  2. Donna George Storey Says:

    Hey Jeremy,

    I agree! Reading interviews from other authors in this REALLY WONDERFUL collection is fascinating. I’m so honored to be part of it. And glad everyone gets to see Sally dance!

  3. Babeland’s Blog» Blog Archive » Sugasm #129 Says:

    […] Guilty On Four Counts Drive-thru Strip Club Impertinent Question: Would You Participate in an Orgy? Interview with Donna George Storey on erotica and Sally Rand Just Released on DVD: Tara & Code Vol. 3! Millian Blue HotMovies Interview Now I Am Three […]

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