SDk: Let’s start from the beginning. When and why did you start writing erotica?
Marilyn Jaye Lewis: I’ve probably given this reply a dozen times over the years, but it is actually true. I simply started writing it. It was when I was in my teens; every short story I wrote came out with intensely erotic elements in it. I couldn’t seem to help it, or to write any other way (except for my song-writing and poetry – I’m speaking only of my fiction here). I used to write the stories and then hide them, and then eventually destroy them because I didn’t want anyone to find them. This was back in the ’70s and into the early ’80s. I thought it was some sort of aberration or compulsion because I considered myself a songwriter, really. These detours into fiction, and especially such sexually graphic fiction, made me feel very uncomfortable. I did take a short-story writing course in 1979 to try and learn the craft but even then my compulsion to make my stories erotic forced me to drop out of the course.
In 1983 or so, I wrote an erotic short story for my girlfriend at the time, Valerie. It was a combination love letter–erotic story, and she responded very well to it. It was the first time another person had ever read my erotic writing. Let’s say “I felt encouraged” by
her zealous reaction to it. After that, I began to take it more seriously. By 1989, I had a couple BDSM lesbian erotic pieces that I was mailing out to zine publishers. Jasmine Sterling of Bad Attitude out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, bought one of those stories – “Draggin’ the line” – and published it in 1990. From then on, I think I only wrote one short story that didn’t eventually get published.
SDk: SDk is honoured to once again publish an original story from our literature writer, but in the to-and-fro of preparing “To my beloved I am a stranger”, there was a significant difference in reading the text regarding the balance between its darkness and humour and the way these two elements interact. You thought the feedback you received from colleagues in America tended to reinforce a gender-based interpretation of your story. Can you elaborate?
MJL: I got the distinct impression that men focused more on the “Fatal Attraction-ness” of it – meaning the movie, Fatal Attraction, where a married man is unfaithful and then the woman goes psycho and basically destroys his happy family life. I sense that men don’t find that funny! To me, though, the story is about how inexplicably trusting some women (such as myself) can be and how that trust, or denial, can isolate
them and then make them behave even more inexplicably. A woman editor who worked on the story with me, Iris N. Schwartz, in New York, found the piece much more amusing – albeit in a dark way – than the men found it. And I wrote it to be amusing – tragic but amusing. The way I regard my own life, actually. The story is based on things I was going through in my relationships at the time, but then pushed beyond reality and taken to the extreme.
SDk: As for your Reflection piece for our nonfiction section, “The Code d’Odalisque” [see 46], we were stunned when we read it. What was the process you went through in deciding to write such a deeply personal account of your own life?
MJL: Oddly, it didn’t strike me as being that personal; just honest. That’s been the case with my published writing from the beginning, though – both in fiction and nonfiction. I don’t draw a line between “personal” and “honest”. For me, it has felt like my duty as a writer to be honest in order for my writing to have purpose – to reach people rather than just fill their brains with a bunch of dirty words; to maybe comfort people who are feeling isolated by their feelings or experiences; to give people a reason to celebrate themselves or to be a little kinder to themselves. In the
case of learning about the Code and my decision to give up the BDSM lifestyle – that was a profound decision for me, maybe even a traumatising one in terms of how would I identify myself from now on, so it seemed like an important topic to write about in the event that other submissive women found themselves asking the same questions about the choices they’d made.
SDk: Although you’ve made your career in fiction, you also like to write nonfiction every now and then, as further evidenced by your Reflection piece for SDk. But you’ve also told us the “academic headspace is just so not