Wednesday Black‘s new novel How To Train Your Virgin will erase all the cringe-inducing conceptions you have about contemporary erotica before the first chapter finishes. Deftly synthesizing myth and fatalistic fantasy with nubile hipster urbanity, Black (named Leia Menlove IRL) has written a genre-defying work that is both absurd, funny and hot as fuck. How To Train Your Virgin is the first release in Badlands’ New Lovers series, which publishes fresh female voices in erotica. We had the infinite pleasure of meeting the woman behind this strange, electrifying and seductive creation to discuss what it’s like to write erotica as a woman, the humor in sex, the hipster-as-sexual-prey, and more.
For readers who aren’t familiar with your book, how did you get the gig to be part of Badlands’ New Lovers series?
The artist Paul Chan, who has represented the US at the Venice Biennale, won the Hugo Boss Guggenheim Award and has been in The Met and MoMA, started a publishing company about four years ago. He’s really into alternative uses of text and language. He’ll have whole books where he’s written in a font where every letter is actually George Bush — bizarre stuff like that. He’s amazing. When I heard he was looking for erotica from a friend of mine in publishing I was like, well, OK, and I had three days to write a premise. So I wrote my first chapter while sitting in bed and sent it into them. They were like, this is totally different than what we wanted but it’s awesome.
Badlands is incredible, it’s their homage to Olympia Press, but whereas they are publishing all women, Olympia had titles like “how to hit your woman properly.”
So it’s a good subversion.
Indeed, it’s a good re-writing of that.
Until that point were you a fan of Anais Nin, Sacher-Masoch or any classic erotic literature?
I hate to say, but I hadn’t been into much of it. I had read The Story of O, which they say is dismally written, but at the age I read it I thought it was the best thing I ever discovered. I had no idea what it was about, it was so wonderful. My dad is English, and he used to keep these erotica books up hidden somewhere in the bookcase, and I’d climb up and find them — things about lascivious nuns cavorting with priests and machines — and really early on that was my idea of what sex was.
That’s pretty rare
Yeah it was. But I didn’t really read more erotica until I wrote this. And when I did I realized, “Oh no, I’ll have to work harder!”
Well that’s the sophomore curse, right? Will there be any continuity for the next one?
I would like to rework that world that I visited with the queen and her realm, but the next one is completely different.
Can you hint at what it might be about?
It’s an erotic architecture exploration with giant invisible women cavorting while history passes. I really like the idea of someone existing through multiple human generations. I think that’s what being a reader of literature is all about, you get to lead a million lives.
And you mentioned objectum sexuality?
Yes, objects being sexy and having different values of attractiveness. For instance, she decides to experiment with a number of architects, so she goes to Bilbao for the Frank Gehry aspect, then Tadao Ando, then sort of settles on Zaha Hadid.
I assume humor will also play a role in this second book as it did in your first?
I mean how ridiculous is everything? I think that sometimes when I’m putting on my eyeliner. This is ridiculous and yet so important. And we have to laugh at that. I say this a lot, but, there’s something about having a squirrel in livery in the room while you’re having sex that’s great – he’s not involved, it’s just sweet, he’s ready to bring you lemonade. It makes wild sex, even painful sex, something safe. It’s probably childish, it’s probably a weird stuffed animal fetish that I don’t know about.
Can you describe the kind of backlash you’ve received since you wrote How To Train Your Virgin?
At first, I would say, “hey I wrote this erotica book and I’m reading at the Guggenheim and it’s all about having new voices and there should be so many more women sharing their sexual visions,” and I’d throw all that at people and they’d be like “what are you talking about?” because I knew that people thought erotica was terrible. I think the main thing was that there was all this 50 Shades fervor, and it was all “you’re just another person jumping on the bandwagon, and you think you’re special and I’m sure it’s terrible.” Some professors, even those high up in my MFA program at The New School wouldn’t even say anything. I’m not slamming the place at all but, it’s true. At the same time, some were really supportive, so through them and their approval everyone else slowly started to follow. So when I go to the creative writing office now, people are like “oh what’s up Wednesday…”
So you have a pen name but you’re not trying to hide your real identity either?
I don’t want to contribute to the notion that nice people or normal people don’t write porn and erotica.
The non-monogamous aspect of the characters in the book is really interesting. Was there intention to putting forth an alternate relationship model?
I don’t think I was trying to really promote anything in it, but I believe monogamy is an old hackneyed thing, and we just have desires that go beyond men and women and one man and one woman and I think the world is a really sexual place, so I tried to make my realm like that. The trees, and the grass, and the bog woman…
The sexual fluidity is so interesting. There are no orientations. The two main characters happen to be married, which is the traditional aspect — the king and queen and the realm — but then anything goes…
I don’t know why I started with that, but with fantasy you have to have a touch point with reality so people can relate. She’s upset that his interest has been totally diverted from her — not that he’s having sex with other people because that’s totally fine.
Can we talk about the hipster part?
I moved to New York five years ago, and before I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which was super hipster. I was almost 27 and hipsters were younger and I think there was that sense that there’s a movement happening and I was just off the cusp of it. It’s something I sort of missed, and I think my queen has that idea too. It’s this world that she can’t quite tap into. She doesn’t get it but she’s attracted by it, she likes it.
How do you define hipster?
There’s the poser aspect, this certain type of esoteric music, and always discounting whatever came two minutes before, but it’s silly and suspicious to think negatively of anyone slightly younger.
I don’t think you have too much of that negative aspect in the book though…
Oh no, in this book it means young, attractive, interested in the world, very smart, and yet isolated, a little out of touch.
I love how you write previous trauma into the relationships and the healing qualities of sexual/romantic relationships.
I think everyone has to get better in some way. I think we all have some kind of thing in the background, and it feels to us that there’s this destroyed earth background, but when you bring it to the light with everyone else’s it looks different. We all suffer, and I wanted to bring out how your past affects your sexuality — but it doesn’t have to be forever. To me, the ending is a healing moment.
A person who had a huge affect on me in my life was brutally raped and beaten when she was 19. She said something that she often found unpopular with certain people: that she was OK. She decided not to be a victim, and she wasn’t and she’s great. She’s a feminist lawyer now. You don’t have to be crushed, she said. It’s OK to get better.
Was the happy ending intentional?
I think so. I find it sad that the couple that found comfort in each other are also going to age and die. For me, it’s about these moments in time where something is relevant and interesting for five years, and the people live on after have these full or not-so-full lives.
You have another novel coming up, too?
It’s non-erotica. It has sex in it, but it’s not done to titillate. It’s about a mother and daughter who are separated young. The mom is a junkie and runs away and decides the daughter is better off without her. It’s years later, and the daughter is in her late twenties. The mom is now in the sex trade and is a madam in New York. I based it off this real madam in the city who would teach girls manners, dress, how to act, so they could make their way into the galleries downtown and they could be a girl that a 30-year-old investment banker could see taking home, and not have to work the street. So I thought, what if a woman like that thought, “I have a daughter I abandoned 20 years ago, I’m going to bring her into the business?” Not to have sex, but to help her manage things.
So how can people find you?
Well I have a blog and a Twitter, and I’m going to be taking sex questions and I’m going to answer them in completely ridiculous, fantasy world ways, like as the queen. Email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Laszlo Von Glitz