Writing Commando

by | January 21, 2014 | General | 13 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

When I was in my mid-twenties –
during my sex goddess period – I sometimes went out without
panties. Walking around bare beneath my skirt, every current of air
caressing my naked flesh, was thrilling to the point of addiction.
It’s not that I’m an exhibitionist (although perhaps we erotic
authors all share a desire to expose ourselves). I wasn’t interested
in treating strangers to a flash of my pussy. Indeed, I would have
been mortified if I’d accidentally revealed my bottomless state.

The appeal had more to do with a sense
of freedom and a consciousness of risk, a heady appreciation of my
own delightful recklessness. Most of my life I’d hewed close to the
rules, an overachiever always trying to please others. I’d been shy
and timid, dutiful and diligent, the quintessential good girl. When
my hormones took over the helm, that changed. I found that I was far
braver and more brazen than I (or anyone else who knew me) would have
believed. And I loved that feeling, the notion that I was treading
the edge rather than keeping to the straight and narrow.

My panty-less state focused my
attention on the sensual. I became acutely aware of temperature and
texture. Arousal simmered through me, ready to be sparked into flame
by a chance encounter with a kindred spirit. Erotic possibilities
waited around every corner, and, bare-bottomed and moist with
anticipatory desire, I was ready to take advantage of them.

Writing my first novel felt very
similar to “going commando”, though it came more than a decade
later. I didn’t worry about markets or reader sensibilities. I wrote
what turned me on: wild, kinky, transgressive scenes, every
assortment of genders, twosomes, threesomes and foursomes, floggers
and spankings, nipple clamps and butt plugs, public sex, pony sex,
anal sex, even golden showers. I pushed the limits of acceptability
to the point that my editor actually made me tone down a couple of
scenes (and this was back when Black Lace was billed as “erotica”,
not “erotic romance”). My personal fantasies provided the energy
to move the book forward. Craft issues were secondary. The book had
already been accepted on spec, and I wasn’t really thinking about
what happened after it was published. The writing process itself was

I didn’t know anything about genres
back then., though reading Raw Silk now, I realize that it
follows many of the conventions of modern erotic romance – except,
of course, for its omnisexuality. The inclusion of F/F and M/M in a
book that is mostly M/F will evoke criticism from many romance
readers, who seem to want a sort of genre purity. They’d probably
judge my heroine as promiscuous too, for having simultaneous sexual
relationships with three different men, although in the end, in
typical romance fashion, she chooses to commit to just one.

None of this concerned me back then. I
wasn’t so swept away that I lost sight of the story. Indeed, even now
the novel’s plot strikes me as quite tight and well-paced. I guess
that was instinct, though, because my focus was squarely on the sex.
Like those days when I eschewed undergarments and opened myself to
adventure, I wasn’t concerned with what others thought. I was free,
writing for the pure joy of vicarious experience. I was in my
heroine’s mind and body, living my dreams through her. If others
disapproved, so be it.

If you think catch a hint of
wistfulness in my description of those times, you’re not wrong. I
don’t go commando anymore. The notion embarrasses me – a
sexagenarian exposing her graying pubic hair to the world? But I
remember that intoxicating feeling of lightness and power. I miss it.

And my writing? I’ve had fourteen years
of education on the tyranny of genres, what sells and what doesn’t,
what you can and cannot include in a book aimed at a particular
market niche. I’m constantly tempted, for instance, to let my
straight heroines indulge their occasional Sapphic inclinations, but
I know that will be the kiss of death for any book aimed at the
erotic romance market. Meanwhile, I have a difficult time keeping my
erotica from becoming to “mushy”. Although I’ve had my share of
zipless fucks, I’ve never found sex without some emotional connection
– love, tenderness, loneliness, shared kink, whatever – to be at
all arousing.

I yearn for the freedom – the
innocence – of my first years writing erotica. I’ve started to
realize I’ll never be a best seller (and I’m not even sure I want to
be). So why should I care about pleasing a mass of readers? I know
there are some people who’ll appreciate my particular approach, my
personal blend of romanticism and filth. I should strip off my
official author’s uniform and just write to please myself, and them.

I can already feel the breeze.

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. Sessha Batto

    I only write to please myself – I have tried, but just cannot cleave to the genre demands of romance 😉 of course, I began writing because I couldn't find the books I wanted to read, it seems counter-productive to write yet more books that don't appeal to me just to fit in some publisher's line-up.

  2. Donna

    What an inspiring post! I really related to the sensual awakening of going commando under a skirt, although I only did so once to research a story–and merely walked around my backyard for 15 minutes. Still, it was a memorable experience. And perhaps even more valuable to remember in terms of writing.

    Raw Silk is a true classic in that it remains a hypnotizing and erotica book today, perhaps because it was written from a place of freedom and passion and love for the story. I suspect we can equally feel when a book was cranked out to please a niche market.

    Writers, especially erotic writers, tend to be the type of person that is able to buck the rules. However, so many of us (I stand first in line) still seem to feel beholden to "straight" standards of success. I'd really love to take off that chastity belt and feel the breeze. Maybe I will :).

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks for your kind words, Donna. I only wish the book were better written LOL. When I reread sections now, I want to pull out my red pen and strike all the extra speech tags and the word repetitions.

  3. The Moose

    I read your early work on Black Lace, and enjoyed it. That means to me it was well written and arousing. In those days genre or niches meant little other than my preference to read (inter alia) about oral sex. The word, "cunnilingus," alone was arousing.

    I say all this in the spirit that I think you are saying. Write for yourself not any perceived audiences. I suggest that we in the erotic readership, and readership in general, will find what they want, will gravitate toward their tastes and pleasures.

    A similar discussion is going on in another site, (non-erotic) and commercial writers debate writing for an audience. I think established successful (money and volume) writers "know" their audiences and can aim for them, not always hitting the target of course.

    I am a retired guy from the network television business so my bona fides go this far: distributors and exhibitors and the like think they know what sells –in the future–they have nothing else to talk about, and they all want to be in show biz. Nothing has changed in my opinion about erotica or other lit.

    Write as you please and what pleases you, and leave the rest to us.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks, Moose. I remember you from 'way back when.

      One thing about being in the world of romance – the "audience" is very vocal about what it wants (and what it doesn't want). With all the chat lists and blogs out there, the reader is no longer an abstract concept.

  4. Fiona McGier

    Why should you care if your "graying pubic hair" gets exposed? It's not like you ever showed it to anyone…from what you said, you were the only one who knew and you enjoyed the secret. My only caveat would be that these days there are cretins who enjoy "up-skirting" and "down-shirting" and the courts have sided with them, proclaiming that in public we have NO expectation of privacy. So if some creep takes a photo up your skirt, you can't do anything to stop it. If you hit him, he can sue you for battery. Sigh…

    But if you truly don't care, I don't see why you have to "act your age". I have 4 young adult kids and they are quite used to mom flashing her tattoos and braless nipples in cammies in the summer all over the neighborhood. They roll their eyes and say, "That's the way she is." And it is. I'm still in my 50s, but I don't intend to stop being me just because I'm getting old. It's the same way I feel about not ever using any makeup. I don't have to look at me, and if you don't like the view, look away.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      The trouble is, Fiona, that I don't feel very sexy anymore, most of the time. I'm too aware of my aging body and my flaws. So it's not fun any longer.

      I admire your self-confidence.

  5. shaunaknightauthorartist

    This post really inspired me. I've been wrangling the idea of genre over the past years. I actually just posted about some of how this has bent my brain a bit over the past years. I'm actually grateful in how genres have shifted a bit over the past 10-15 years. The stuff that really calls to me to write wasn't exactly publishable a decade ago, and now the genre blurring makes it a little easier. Thanks for bringing these issues up!


    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Shauna,

      I do think genres are getting a bit more mixed up, but I'm not sure the bulk of readers has caught on to this.

  6. Olivia Summersweet

    I heartily agree that sex without an emotional connection is not arousing ("Although I've had my share of zipless fucks, I've never found sex without some emotional connection – love, tenderness, loneliness, shared kink, whatever – to be at all arousing"). Even if it's arousing, it's not arousing, if you know what I mean. It's a physical response. Whether the emotion is a positive or negative one, I have no interest in writing about emotionless sex and I don't care whether what I write sells or not.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hi, Olivia,

      I used to joke that I fell in love with every one of my lovers, even the one timers. But there was some truth to that.

  7. Jean Roberta

    An intriguing post, as usual, Lisabet. It seems to be as much about the innocence of a fledgling writer eager to lose her publishing virginity as it is about writing erotica per se.

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