It’s an innocent enough question to ask when someone is introduced to you as a writer. But to be honest, when someone asks me that simple, naïve question I break into a cold sweat!
It happened at a party I was at the other day. And the ensuing conversation was a complete train-wreck! I’ve been thinking about it since, trying to figure out why it so often goes wrong.
Just to be clear, I write using a pseudonym. I’m not embarrassed about what I write and, unlike other writers I know, being revealed would pose no threat to my livelihood or family. I use a pen-name to keep the slightest degree of separations between my worlds, specifically when it comes to social media. However, there are differences between the public personas of writer-me and day-to-day-life-me. So, when face-to-face with a stranger, telling them what I write reveals that duality.
The question ‘what do you write?’ always makes me pause. During the pause, I do two things. First, I panic! Second, I consider the person I’m facing. Do they look open-minded? Am in the mood to shock them? Will they think I’m a freak? Do I care? Will I ever see them again anyway? Based on scant first impressions, and after an uncomfortable silence, I fashion a response for them.
Sometimes, I simply say I write fiction, hoping that will satisfy them. It seldom does.
Sometimes, I state I write erotica. Without fail, they immediately think I write bodice-ripping romance novels, and feely offer their opinion on that genre. I have no problem with the genre, I read it in my younger days while hiding under the blankets, it’s great fun! It’s just that I don’t write it!
Usually, I tell them I write fantasy and science fiction. And, this is where it gets weird in my mind, because the general response is something like – ‘oh, children’s stories.’ Which tends to make me stutter and blink in disbelief.
So, in all cases what follows is a weird conversation where I try to explain that I weave explicit sex into the fantasy and science fiction genres as a way of exploring humanity’s fundamental interest in sex and sexuality in unique environments and circumstances. I try to talk about how I like to delve into the darker aspects of ourselves by using non-human creatures, often interacting with human’s. But, by this time, I’m losing them and they usually politely excuse themselves, leaving me standing alone pouring another glass of wine down my throat.
I find it painfully difficult to explain in person what I write and why. I want people to know I’m a writer, I’m proud of what I do and achieve. There is a part of me that seeks the acknowledgement and praise of others. I just don’t know how to clearly and calmly explain it, in a conversation with a complete stranger, in a way that doesn’t leave us both disturbed and scuttling away to safety on opposite sides of the room.