Intimacy with Strangers

by | January 21, 2012 | General | 20 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

This post is not about one night stands. I might explore that topic some other time: the thrill of the unknown, the intoxication with the unfamiliar, the tantalizing possibility that a random encounter might lead to a world-altering epiphany. Today, however, I’m actually talking about writing.

I publish both long and short erotica and erotic romance, in ebook and in print. I have a respectable back list for someone who doesn’t write full time. However, some of my best work doesn’t show up in the publishing history on my website, namely, the erotic tales I write to spec for Custom Erotica Source.

CES offers an unusual service. For a fee, and in complete privacy, CES provides a professionally written realization of a customer’s erotic fantasy scenario. Via an online questionnaire, the customer supplies all the details: the names, genders, ages, orientations, appearance and personalities of the characters; their relationships; the plot; particular erotic stimuli to emphasize; the type of language desired (from suggestive to filthy); and so on. Then the author (in this case, yours truly) takes this specification and spins it into a story from 1500 to 5000 words long (depending on what the customer orders).

At this point, some of my author colleagues may be shaking their heads. How can I prostitute myself in this way? How can I betray my art? Why would I surrender my creative vision and allow someone else to dictate the content and style of my work?

Well, of course the money is nice. But I do it partly because writing someone else’s erotic dreams is both a fascinating and an educational experience.

When I write something in response to a call for submissions, I have a generic audience in mind. I probably understand the type of tales a particular editor prefers. I know that Total-E-Bound’s readers are looking for something different than people who buy books from Cleis, or Xcite, or Republica Press. Furthermore, the anthology theme or the focus of the CFS provides some guidance as to content and tone. Within those broad boundaries, though, I’m free to follow my imagination in any direction it leads. I know I can intrigue and arouse at least some subset of the community of readers; I really can’t hope for more.

When I write for CES, on the other hand, I have an audience of one. I know exactly what turns that audience on – because the customer has shared his or her secret desires. It’s my job to put flesh on the bones of the story specification, to make my customer’s lusts concrete and then satisfy them.

To succeed in this task, I have to somehow sync my own erotic imagination with his. I can’t write an arousing story unless I see the characters and the situation through my customer’s eyes. Somehow, I have to intuit the customer’s reactions to the stimuli described in the spec and then coax myself into the same psychological state.

That’s where the intimacy arises. I don’t have any direct communication with the customer (although I am allowed to ask questions, via the management, if I see issues in the spec). Nevertheless, he (almost all my assignments have been writing for men) and I are connected, by his act of sharing his lewd dreams and my willingness to assume them as my own.

Some fantasies I’ve received as assignments don’t appeal to me personally at all. (I’m free to refuse assignments that I might find repugnant, of course. So far that hasn’t happened.) Still, I’ve managed to turn them into tales that pleased my unknown reader. This requires a kind of suspension of my own sexual identity in order to connect with his. By the time I’m finished, I’m usually turned on by the tale, regardless of my initial reaction. If I’m not, I know I haven’t fulfilled my part of the bargain.

Executing a CES assignment requires a possibly surprising degree of craft. I must pace the story in order to include all details from the spec while still keeping it within the word limit. I have to guard against adding erotic elements that push my own buttons, but might not have the same effect on my audience. At the same time, I need to add sensual details, plausible transitions and especially, emotional authenticity. That’s my added value, as a professional author. If just anyone could write a compelling, intense sexual fantasy, I’d be out of a job.

What really makes it work for me, though, is getting inside my customer’s head. Watching one of these stories unfold is a weird feeling, but exciting, too. It’s almost as though someone were whispering naughty ideas in my ear. I may have never considered these notions before, but when I wrap my mind around them, I begin to see the appeal.

It has occurred to me that my submissive tendencies account for some of my success in writing custom fantasies. My master once called me “suggestible”, and I suspect that’s an appropriate evaluation of my personality. The fact that I’m bisexual and exceptionally broad-minded about sex probably helps, too.

My one regret about these CES stories is that nobody else will ever read them. They belong to the customers who paid for them, not to me. I can’t post them on my website. I can’t even talk about the specific fantasy scenarios involved; that would be a breach of confidentiality. They’re eternal secrets, between my customer and me.

The last assignment I handled, though, involved an outrageous, kinky, gender-bending scenario that turned me on from the moment I opened the specification file. My personal sex life became significantly more interesting while I was working on the tale, because of the fantasies it inspired. I had no problem identifying with my audience in this case. And yet writing that story was possibly more difficult than my previous assignments, because I had to stop my own imagination from hijacking the customer’s vision.

I view my tales for CES as a sort of writing exercise. They require a level of control far beyond what’s needed for a free form story written to satisfy a vague theme. I believe that they’ve helped me hone my skills as an author of erotica.

The real payoff, though, is emotional – the heady sense of power that comes from bringing my customer’s dirtiest dreams to life. At the same time, it’s a sort of ecstatic surrender, a willingness to sink into my customer’s desires.

I will never know who my readers are, and they’ll never really know me. For a short while, though, we’re as close as lovers.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Craig Sorensen

    Fascinating. I can see why this sort of assignment, the personal nature of it, could be appealing.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on it.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    Thanks, Craig!

    It's a very weird but actually quite rewarding experience. It even expands my personal erotic horizons in some cases.

    Actually, I might write a story some time about a writer of custom fantasies who happens to meet one of her clients. Then the sparks might fly!

  3. Margaret Tanner

    Wow Lisabet,
    That is fascinating.Very enlightening too. I didn't realize that you people could have their secret fantasies professionally portrayed. I would imagine, you would get plenty of this type of work.



  4. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Margaret,

    Actually, fewer people than you'd think take advantage of CES. It's not cheap, but I actually think a more serious obstacle is people's reluctance to share their twisted desires.

    I'm glad I don't do it too often, though. It's so intense that it tends to be emotionally exhausting.

  5. Jeremy Edwards

    I'm so glad you wrote about this, Lisabet! I would not be the right person for this job, but I've always had great admiration for those of you who take it on. Your essay not only fleshes out the basics of the experience for those of us who are curious, but it presents so many additional—very interesting and sometimes surprising—dimensions.

  6. S.Dora

    Writing specifically for one person is such fun. I've done it quite a few times for (online) friends, for birthdays and such. And yes, it's very different from writing whatever you have in your own head. If only because it's such an honour someone trusts you with their fantasy.

    But you can actually get paid for doing this? I honestly had no idea.

    Great article, Lisabet!

    (S. Dora)

  7. Big Ed Magusson

    I actually started writing by writing erotica for an audience of one. Of course, I got "paid" by watching her play with herself while she read my story.

    It is an interesting challenge to tailor the work so narrowly for someone else. I'm not sure I could do it well for a stranger, though, as I'd be constantly second-guessing myself. I'm impressed that you therefore can and do.

  8. t'Sade

    That is awesome. I've been doing the same thing for almost seven years now. Just a single commissioned story, private as all hell and exactly what they want. I love the secret fantasies that people have and what they are willing to share with me.

    I ended up doing purely by word of mouth. Some of the commissioners allowed me to post their stories and I do with a "This was a commission." note (but never tell them who). From that, I've gotten a slow, steady trickle of commissions throughout the year.

    I always saw it like getting a picture commissioned. They give you what they want (from a 8 second clip of an anime to a twelve paragraph summary) and I make it into words.

    So, awesome!

  9. Remittance Girl

    Anais Nin's Delta of Venus and Little Birds were all stories written commissioned by an anonymous collector. You've followed in venerable footsteps!

    I've only ever written one story for a specific person, and I found it incredibly difficult to do. You have my admiration, Lisbet!

  10. Latesha

    Wow! What an interesting job this is. I can't begin to imagine the scenarios that you write about. Makes one want to know more. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Donna

    Not only is this a fascinating way to channel the Muse, your post really points out the complicated dynamics by which any story comes to life. One might think that having free rein would inspire the "best" and most personal work, but I've found that having some limitation, a kind of bondage if you will, can result in stories I'm really glad I wrote. Plus, it is always gratifying when a reader connects with our work, how much more powerful when the connection goes both ways!

  12. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Jeremy,

    Actually, when I first started my website, "Lisabet's Fantasy Factory", I had a feature where readers could submit a fantasy and I'd flesh it out into a story. I got rid of that because I got so much spam, but I guess I've always been intrigued by the notion.

  13. Lisabet Sarai

    Greetings, Raymonde,

    Of course I've written fantasies for lovers – some of my best stories… but in that case, I was trying to entertain and stimulate the imagination, to suggest new fantasies rather than giving life to those I knew about. And it's very different writing for someone you know well – almost the anti-thesis of the CES work.

  14. Lisabet Sarai

    Greetings, Ed,

    I think it's a very different experience writing to arouse someone you know well. Equally enjoyable ;^) But possibly less conscious and deliberate.

    Of course, no erotic story works (at least in my opinion) unless the author brings some of his or her emotion to the writing. So there's a tension between self-conscious craft and the pull of the id.

  15. Lisabet Sarai

    Greetings, t'Sade,

    Welcome to the ERWA blog! I'm amazed that you've managed to put together a business in custom stories purely by word of mouth.

    Do you interact with your customers while you're working on the story?

  16. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, RG,

    Yes, I recall reading this about Nin's books. I've always found that scenario incredibly sexy. But wasn't that "collector" urging her to explore her own fantasies, rather than dictating his own?

  17. t'Sade

    I'm a strong believer in the back and forth to make them absolutely happy with the result. Also, I get paid after they're happy, so if they aren't happy, I don't get money. 🙂

    My pattern usually starts by getting the short bit (see this anime or 1-5 paragraphs). Some of them provide names, genders, and appearances, while others just have "two girls and a guy are…"

    I usually work blocks of 5k words and a deadline of 1+1 week/5k words. Once I'm done, I send them a PDF or Word version in "critique" format (has paragraphs numbered) and ask them what they would like expanded, changed, removed. When I get a response, I edit the story and send it back out. We do that 1-5 times depending on the commissioner, then I send them a final version (along with requests to post on my site with changes, I don't always get that).

    In all the years I've done this, I've only had two complete rewrites (e.g., they hated it) and a couple expansions (a 5k story turned into a 15k word story because they loved the characters). The rest of the time, I usually only get requests to expand on some details, change a character's personality, or relatively minor things.

    As for hot buttons, I pay attention to what they like so if they come back, I remember their hot buttons for the next one. For example, one of my more prolific commissioners loves the descriptions of navels. So every story I write for them includes loving details to the navel. If I think something would work out in a story, I'll send out a quick email to see if they want it (and then remember the answers).

  18. Lisabet Sarai

    Greetings, Latesha,

    Hardly a "job" LOL. I've only written a handful of these tales.

    If I had to do it on a regular basis, I don't think I could pull it off.

    As for the content of the stories – well, you'll just have to wonder!

  19. Lisabet Sarai

    Hello, Donna,

    I remember your comment in Amorous Woman, about how the constraints of wearing a kimono encouraged a more perfect art.

    I generally like writing with external guidelines or requirements. They tend to focus and stimulate my imagination.

  20. Ashley R Lister


    A fascinating post and, as others have said, it really does sound like a wonderful area of writing to explore.



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