Today’s guest is Alma Marceau, the author of Lofting. I am especially excited because this book pretty much made me want to write erotica. I read it about ten years ago, and I just remember thinking, “Holy shit.” I thought it was smart, funny, strange and really, really hot. This isn’t a romance novel, and not “for the faint of heart.” I think that’s a funny phrase because it’s something I’ve heard from reviewers about my own writing, and I believe Lofting stands out as one of the most intense erotic reads out there and frankly, I think, makes anything I’ve written seem pretty tame in comparison. I mean, it’s really hard to get off in a zoo around snakes, but Marceau’s character, Claire does. Lofting pushes the rules of sex, power, and BDSM. When I first started writing, I would read Lofting to get all hot and inspired to write sex scenes. I can’t even count how many times I’ve recommended this book to people who wanted to read a story of unconventional, yet real, power exchange.
This books rocks.
Can you tell I’m a fan? My character in Sting of Desire is named Sandine, a play on one of the characters in Lofting, as a kind of homage to the book. So yeah. I had fun with this!
So, here you are. My Very Awesome Interview.
Biography, Alma Marceau
June 1, 1956 Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
1967-1971 Attended Errico Malatesta Preparatory Academy Salt Lake City, Utah.
1974 Graduated from London Polytechnic College BA, Fiber Arts.
1975-1979 Graduate work in Fungal Systematics Svevo University, Trieste.
1980 Publication of Ph.D. thesis: “On the Genealogy of Morels: The Evolution and Classification of the Ascomycetes, with Special Attention to the Genus Morchella.”
1981-1991 Research Associate, CICMS (Center for the Investigation of Cryptogam Mating Systems), Institute for Fern Relations, Berne.
1992-1998 Extended sabbatical; travel to Paleo- and Neotropics; research begun for “Lofting.”
1999-2001 Writing and publication of “Lofting.”
Currently editing the forthcoming anthology, “High Sticking,” stories and essays on hockey and homoeroticism.
<Feisty: First of all, can you please tell us a bit about yourself. Your biography is fascinating, and I’m really looking forward to hearing more about mushrooms. Well, mushrooms and BDSM and ferns. You have quite the interesting background! Care to expand?
Marceau: Absolutely. The biography is entirely fictional, and like most of my work, I wrote it to please myself, with the hope it might please some readers as well. Nonetheless, there are kernels of truth in it. Like Ms. Marceau, I was involved in textile design for many years, I have a penchant for anarchist theory and animal taxonomy, and I once played a little hockey. I do not, however, possess a Ph.D; nor have I ever lived in Oklahoma, Utah, London, Trieste or Berne. And I have no inclination to write sports related gay erotica–though I have no doubt it is a lively and rewarding subgenre.
Feisty: You’re really funny, a lot funnier than I expected. I pictured some old French lady, sitting on an old velvet chair under a dirty window, hovering over a piece of paper and dropping cigarette ashes onto the page as she recounted her days in the erotic circus. That’s pretty far from the truth. Turns out your a guy in a rock band. So, how did Lofting come to be? I hear there’s an interesting story here. Do tell!
Marceau: I woke up one morning and suddenly realized that one might write a smut novel by removing all the words from the thesaurus that couldn’t in any fashion be construed as filthy. Actually, that’s not how it happened. This is the story: As a curious and horny pre-internet adolescent I always took the opportunity, when babysitting for neighborhood folk, to rifle their bookshelves in search of smut. I got pretty good at sussing out the titles that might yield pornographic gold, but I was invariably disappointed by the paucity of actual sex in these books. You’d have to wade through dozens of pages of blather to get to the dirty bits–and those were often short and lacking the depth of detail I hoped for. So, at a relatively young age I resolved one day to write a novel that would be composed almost entirely of dirty bits. Hence, Lofting. Now, when I started the novel, some decades later, there was obviously a lot more erotica available–and a lot more available to me as an adult. But I found most of it not to my liking. I especially found that the characters weren’t credible, and the eroticism much less intense and perverse than our great Victorian foresmutters. It was also pretty badly written. In one rather acclaimed collection of erotica by women, I came across the following sentence “My brain and cunt exploded.” I guess I thought I could do better.
Feisty: Lofting was first published in the late nineties. I have two questions regarding the time frame in which you wrote it. The book starts off with two characters that meet online in a chat room. Chat rooms are a common form of communication today, but it was much less so during the era you wrote it. Why did you decide to use this scenario to start off the relationship between Claire and Andres?
Marceau: Yeah, I think its hard for today’s youths to imagine how new and extraordinary online chat felt in the early days, when the World Wide Web still lay dormant in the bowels of the Pentagon, and the Internet hadn’t yet been converted over from steam power. But it seemed to me almost immediately that chat rooms provided a great opportunity for a renaissance of smut. The best part for an author was that “chat” — this presumably new mode of communication–in actuality worked like two venerable literary forms combined: dialogue in a play and epistolary exchange. And, if you were like me–an author wannabe who felt much more comfortable writing dialogue than plot–it was the perfect, comfy space in which to develop characters and an erotic interchange between strangers. Even in the earliest days of chat rooms, one saw anger and flame wars erupt, alliances and friendships form–lots more emotion than you might have expected from the supposed “unreality” of the medium. It was as if suddenly the power of words was reasserting itself. It quickly became obvious to me how much potential this had as a mode for literary erotica.
Feisty: Also, it seems to me that when you wrote Lofting, it was during a time when people were making conscience decisions to live a BDSM lifestyle with the accepted strict rules and regulations, and the dom/sub dynamic was going into its prime. Books like SM 101 were published outlining the safe sane and consensual credo. Not only did you eschew these principals, but even show how Andres (who can be labeled as a dominant) actually threatens to cut off interaction with Claire when she sarcastically calls him sir. (By the way, I love how you did that. It showed not only her feistiness, but the fear she expressed through trying to make light of the situation. Well done!) You basically wrote a BDSM book that went against everything people in the lifestyle were living for. Was this a conscious effort or simply the way you wanted to write the story? Also, how did you handle criticism for writing the story in such a way?
Marceau: This is a great question, and a full answer would be too long for this forum.
Feisty: Well I guess you’d better come back then.
Marceau: In any case, it gets into a lot of psychological and sociological stuff that’s beyond my sphere of knowledge, and has little do with erotica itself. Let’s just say that I have observed that, with some exceptions, “lifestyle” BDSM/Power Exchange is essentially not about sex. It’s also extremely conservative, rule bound, and often just plain silly–all of which I was alluding to with Andres’s rejection of the epithet “Sir.” Claire, the heroine of Lofting, is independent, smart, educated, funny and free-thinking. She’ll move in and out of role-playing as it suits her libido, but she would be the first to laugh at the suggestion that her completion as an individual depended on subservience to some “master.” Besides, her aesthetic sense would revolt at the trompe l’oeil stone walls of a suburban dungeon. Of course there’s nothing wrong with all that slave/master stuff, if it floats your boat. But Claire skippers an entirely different sort of vessel. Oh, by the way, my favorite bumper-sticker of all time reads “Safe, Sane and Consensual: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad!”
Feisty: Now I will be singing Meatloaf (his song, not the baked meat supper) the rest of the day. Anyway, Lofting is incredibly intelligently written. I’ll be honest; when I first read it ten years ago I thought it was over my head. Now I’m a lot smarter (ha ha) so it’s not quite as intimidating. Do you care to expand on your use of language and dialogue in the book?
Marceau: Well, first, thanks for the compliment. You’re quite accomplished in the genre–which also means you know how difficult it is to make it work–and so your approbation is particularly appreciated.
Feisty: (Jumps up and does a fan girl dance in her pajamas while singing the latest Britney Spears pop hit.)
Marceau: I don’t honestly think Lofting is over any moderately smart reader’s head. There are obscure references to all sorts of things: philosophy, history, old movies, politicians, novels and short-lived 60s TV shows. But none of these come in the form of disquisitions or deep musings on life or philosophy: they’re just a natural aspect of the banter of the characters, who share a basic cultural knowledge and a love of word play. Now some readers have called Lofting “pseudo-intellectual” –but that always strikes me as ‘merican for “if I don’t understand what you’re saying, you must be French, or full of shit, or…well, same thing.” It’s yahoo-ism. I mean, if someone wants to read strictly at his own grade level, there’s plenty of stuff out there. I wrote Lofting for the rest of us. As a reader, I love a little challenge, and I have always gotten a kick out of delayed appreciation of certain aspects of a work–the way my understanding has developed in retrospect. For example, when I was a high school stoner kid, I loved to listen to Firesign Theatre records. I probably understood half of what they were talking about, and that was sufficiently entertaining at the time. But as I grew older, I’d begin to catch more of their references. For example, it wasn’t until I was at college years later, that I recognized that the monologue outro of one of their albums, done in a W.C. Fieldseque voice, was actually Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Joyce’s “Ulysses.” It was a great comic epiphany, and one that made me appreciate Firesign Theatre’s humor even more. And so I hope that someone, someday, upon reading a certain sex scene in Lofting, will recognize that I lifted an entire descriptive passage from Moby Dick…
Feisty: Damn it to hell. I’ve avoided Moby Dick this long and now I have to read the damn thing. Also, that was one of the most amazing answers you could have given. I’ve never really thought of it like that, but it makes so much sense, and explains why a person’s perception of books/lyrics/art can change over time.
Marceau:As for the the linguistic style of Lofting, it’s absolutely intentional. Through the rewriting process, I began to forge a hybrid of the sort of analytical, almost clinical language you’d expect a psychologist like Claire to use, with the elaborated, ornate, violet prose of Victorian pornography. Now, them Victorians, THEY could write some fine smut: first of all, what they were doing was actually transgressive in relation to their culture and its mores. By contrast, we 21st century Americans and Europeans, unless we happen to grow up religiously orthodox, can’t really be transgressive: there’s precious little left to transgress). Secondly, they understood–unlike far too many of their successors–that the purpose of porn was orgasm.
Feisty: What is your opinion on writing literary smut, and has that changed since you first wrote Lofting?
Marceau:As you yourself know, English is a true bitch for the writer of erotica. There are no more than eight words for the sexual organs that don’t sound stupid, hackneyed or laugh out loud funny. Most applicable verb forms have been pounded, hammered, driven, spitted, penetrated, engulfed and slaked to death. Serious, acclaimed literary novelists trip over themselves constantly trying to write sex scenes: it’s a minefield. What then are we lesser mortals, the mere genre writers, to do? I gave it a go with what I thought was a sort of modern version of Victorian grandiosity. Some people seem to have liked it, others less so. Some people got bothered by a sex scene that used the word “extravasated” (don’t ask me: I’ve long since forgotten what it means). At the time I thought it sounded dirty in context. I kinda think it still does. The main thing that’s changed since I wrote my novel is the pervasiveness of the internet. There are so many more venues for erotica writers today, more sub-genres and hybrid genres, and lots of new formats. Flash fiction didn’t exist back then, nor did ebooks, and self publishing was still relatively difficult. All this variety and access is good. Of course, more of anything always means more crap to wade through, but readers fortunately have sites like yours and the Erotic Readers Association to guide them towards the good stuff.
Feisty: Can you explain why you chose the screen names Patroqueeet and Parapraxista?
Marceau: I lived with relatives in Paris for a few months after college. They used to send me downstairs to the boulangerie to pickup a baguette –”mais pas trop cuite” (“not too well-done”). Hence Patroqueet. Parapraxista is from “parapraxis”–the psychoanalytic term for “Freudian slip”–Claire being a shrink and all.
Feisty: Aha! I had Claire figured out, but I never would have guessed Patroqueeet. Now I can die happy.
So, why did you write from a female POV? I have to say I was surprised when I discovered this book was actually written by a man. There is one particular scene in the book where I think a female perspective is really well portrayed. (And I might add I live in a house with two other women and the name of our house is The Pussy Palace, so I hear a lot of woman-speak.)
I hung up the phone. It was a stupid reflex, a childish impulse, but I was insulted and hurt. I hadn’t expected a declaration of love from Andres, merely some emotion, a word or two that reflected the intensity of our sexual moments. Instead, I’d gotten objective analysis and impartial assessment. Fuck him, I thought, as I slammed down the receiver. Fuck him.
Claire immediate bursts into tears of regret. In my opinion, this shows a lot about the female psyche. We are strong, often afraid of love because it makes us vulnerable, so we sabotage things before they get going. Then we often lament our actions because they are childish. It’s a pattern I often witness. I’ve done it myself (as it happens, I was up until 3AM the other night talking one of my friends off the roof because she behaved in a very similar way). Anyway, back to my question. Why did you write a female POV, and how do you think you pulled it off so well? In my opinion, having Nick tell Claire she had a beautiful pussy was a great method. I often write male characters who say such things because I think most women really love to hear it-actually, I think it’s really fucking hot to hear. But it’s something I rarely read in erotic fiction. Why does Nick say this to Claire?
Marceau: The answer to the first question is simple: I wrote from a female POV because it’s a pretty common convention in smut, and because no one had yet done a porn novel with a female, Jewish, feminist, psychologist, majorly wise-ass protagonist. It was a glaringly obvious lacuna at the time, IMHO. I’m still waiting for a call from the Nobel committee…
As for the second part of the question, if I had any success at all portraying a believable Claire, it’s because I made absolutely no attempt to imagine a distinctly female perspective for her. I think that men and women are more alike than they are different. I know this goes against the common wisdom, and a hundred years of Cosmo articles, but I believe it’s true, and it’s what guided me in my writing. Particularly when it comes to sex, people are all over the map in terms of preferences, prejudices and practices–but it’s more individual than gender related.
And to answer your question: Nick told Claire she had a beautiful pussy because he thought she did, and he knew that telling her that would make her wet. Oh, my regards to the Pussy Palace!
Feisty, silently thinking: Marceau just said the words wet and Pussy Palace all in the same line. Ahem. Why did you choose to write under a female pen name, and how did you chose Alma Marceau?
Marceau: Again, convention: Pauline Reage (author of “Story of O), Jean de Berg (author of “The Image”). Alma Marceau is the name of a metro stop in Paris. I believe it translates to “The Soul of the Mime.”
Feisty: Do you care to explain any similarities between yourself and Andres or Nick?
Marceau: We’re all terrific, married guys!
Feisty: You often play with language in this book. All the characters sprinkle non-English phrases and words into their speech, while at the same time Claire and Andres actually make fun of doing so as being pompous. Why do your characters do this, and do you speak more than one language?
Marceau:They do it because it’s fun. Add a couple of languages and you can pun in 3D. I speak French badly, Spanish passably and English with varying degrees of proficiency.
Feisty: Is Nick’s loft based on an actual space, or is it something that came strictly from imagination? For some reason, it seemed incongruous to his character, so I’d love to hear more about this space full of art and chaos.
Marceau: It’s totally imagined. I’ve never even been to New York. Honestly, descriptions of space and architecture are really difficult for me. I was happy to achieve adequacy.
Feisty: Me too! Eden is wonderful at describing setting, and I find it really hard. On to my next question. Woodblock artists are rare. Why did you choose this as Nick’s medium?
Marceau: Rare to non-existent. I was a commercial artist at the time, working in a shrinking field that needed my skill set less and less. I imagined woodblock artists felt the same as they watched their metier become obsolete. Also, I think Nick was in reality a drug-dealer. That may in part explain the nature of his digs.
Feisty: What’s your favorite scene in the book?
Marceau: They are my children: I love them all equally. Seriously: it took me over three years to write Lofting. I wrote it, hated it, and then re-wrote it entirely four times until I finally liked it. Then I couldn’t find an agent or a publisher for it, so I published it myself. The book was at something like #35 on Amazon at one time (seriously, I did a screenshot..I can prove it), but no American publisher showed the slightest interest. Finally, years later, a Japanese agent approached me and I got a Japanese translation deal with a major Tokyo house. Hooray for official validation! So, yeah, it was a tough labor, and daddy loves his baby–every little toe.
Feisty: What do you think is the hottest scene? Personally, I love the way each scene builds and builds, and I would be hard-pressed to choose one, although what really turned me on in the book was watching Claire continually give up power. The gang-bang was hot, too. :)
Marceau: What I said before, about the Victorians recognizing that porn was about orgasms, relates to this. It seems to me that every sex act (or at least every successful one) is actually a story. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. A lot of erotica seems to ignore this: instead it seems to me mostly intended to set a mood–to titillate or arouse, but not really to satisfy. I would include “Story of O” in this group: it’s evocative and suggestive, but there are precious few scenes of ecstatic pleasure and it’s really too cold for my taste. (I also don’t find “O’ particularly compelling.) The Victorians, on the other hand, wrote sex scenes that build from provocation to provocation, to (often extended) frustration and finally release. Their stories mimic the trajectory and arc of an idealized sexual encounter: one that takes time to develop and only brings sexual relief to the subject after a prolonged, almost (or actually!) painful delay. They’re stroke books for adults. I would like to think that Lofting is part of that tradition.
Feisty: Tell us about some of your favorite reviews, especially the editorial reviews on Amazon.
Marceau:Like most authors, I am vain, self-obsessed and hair-trigger defensive.
Feisty: I’m not like that AT ALL. So fuck off while I go brush my hair.
Marceau: So I read every new Amazon customer review with combination of dread and hopeful anticipation. Fortunately, the majority have been very kind, and the quibbles were mild. A few people were disappointed, which I am sorry about, but it’s to be expected. The editorial reviews were either my creations or legitimate positive reviews culled from the dozen or more I got online. Among authors, Susie Bright, M. J. Rose and Heather Corinna had great things to say, and that was a fantastic boost, especially at a time when my confidence was at such a low point. But one of my favorite reviews of all is actually an almost entirely negative one that erotic author Lisabet Sarai did over at Erotica Revealed. I won’t dwell on it at length, but one line is worth quoting. About Lofting, she says: “Some of the bondage scenes struck me as distinctly unsafe.” I still pee in my pants a little every time I read this!
Feisty: What do you think readers want when they pick up an erotic fiction novel?
Marceau: I think there are a lot of different readers with a lot of different expectations and preferences. That’s why I encourage anyone with an idea for an erotic story or novel to pursue it. Find your own distinct voice and you’ll probably find an audience for it. But my advice is not to fake it: it’s important in erotica to write what turns you on, not what you think will turn someone else on. Be true to your school. Also, use spellcheck and then copy edit the crap out of your MS.
Feisty: Can readers expect another novel from you? If so, what are you working on?
Marceau: Not in this lifetime. I’ve moved on to being in a rock band. Writing a three and a half minute song is way less grueling than writing a novel. And you look cooler on stage with a guitar than with a pen. Thanks to you and Eden for the opportunity to chat a bit!
Feisty: Thank you so very much for being here today!
Feisty: I love you. Wait, did I say that out loud?