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M. Christian (pictured right) has been called a writer of "extraordinary erotica." As the author of Dirty Words, Midsummer Night's Dreams, Eros Ex Machina and Guilty Pleasures, he has expanded both the boundaries and the definitions of erotica. As co-editor of Rough Stuff with OutUK columnist Simon Sheppard he challenged readers to explore the darker side of desire.

Now, he challenges writers to explore not only sexuality but their own motivations. The Burning Pen, both a critical study and erotic anthology, allows today's top sex writers to reveal how, why and what they do, and then makes them choose their own favourite erotic story for readers to evaluate.

But, how seriously should we consider the creation of erotica, asks Dan Cullinane, or is it just another interchangeable accessory in our solo-sex arsenal? Does anyone care why people write erotica, as long as they do it well? And does anyone care who these people are? We asked M. Christian to come up with some answers.
OutUK: "The Burning Pen" is not exactly erotica. How would you classify it?
M: It's not exactly a lot of things. It's got erotica in it because each of the writers contributed their favourite story, but it's a lot more than that because they also wrote essays about why they write smut. If I had to pin it down, I guess I'd call it a who's who, why they're great, and why they do it, of sex writing. If you've ever wanted to read really good erotica, have wondered why people write it, or want to try writing it yourself, this is the book.

The Burning Pen
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OutUK: Is this to combat the anonymity of erotica writers, and generate more enthusiasm among the general book buying population for erotica as a legitimate category in literature?
M: Hell yes! It bugs the crap out of me when people put down modern erotic writing, lumping it together with the awful stuff that's used to get its pages stuck together. This stuff isn't porn. Yeah, it might turn you on, but it also might creep you out, make you laugh, make you think, and all kinds of other stuff. This is great writing, wonderful story telling yeah, there's sex and all, but these stories will bushwhack you in ways you'll never expect. And, for the first time you also get to hear from the writers themselves, on why they write these kinds of stories, how much of them are true, how they got started, where they get their ideas, trips through the minds of some great writers, sex or otherwise.

OutUK: You're an erotic writer. So are the people in this book. Will anyone else be interested in it?
M: Don't you want to know why someone writes this kind of stuff? Wouldn't you like to look into the heads of some of these sex writers and see where their ideas come from? Or how about how they put their own sex lives into their stories? People are fascinated by writers, the strange folks who sit at their desks and type up worlds, people, strange adventures, but what about people who are not just writers, but are writers who go where no one else goes: sex! I know horror writers who are terrified of writing about their sex lives, and science fiction writers who have no imagination when it comes to erotica. These writers do stuff no one else does, and they do it loud and proud and screw you if you don't like it. Isn't that someone you'd like to know more about?

OutUK: Hmmm. Not sure. Earlier, you said that "The Burning Pen" is a who's who of sex writing. I know there is a fair amount of attention paid to erotica writers in San Francisco, but they are pretty much unknown in the rest of the world. Why is that?
M: San Francisco has a long sexual and literary tradition that's helped create this list of erotic writers. Sure New York has it's share of good writers, but San Francisco is really the place for damned good sex writing. Patrick Califia-Rice has this really cool description of us San Francisco sex writers: Glamorous Nerd Pornographers. San Francisco is a sexy, smart, stylish city so it's only natural that a lot of the best sex writers come from here.

These are the folks who have blown the doors of that you think of 'porn' or 'erotica' and if not from San Fran then they come from California at the very least. You can't read what these folks have written and not have it get to you and more than just below your waist. What's really great is we not only get their hot stories but also essays on why they do it.
OutUK: But why doesn't the rest of the country or the rest of the world know who you are?
M: I think they do. The hot list of contemporary erotica writers is a very short one: Patrick Califia-Rice, Carol Queen, Shar Rednour, Laura Antoniou, Cecilia Tan, Thomas Roche, Simon Sheppard - okay, Laura and Cecilia aren't here in Sinful San Francisco, but everyone else is and all in this book, by the way. Besides, it bugs the hell out of me that people think that only people like Stephen King or Tom Clancy are worth reading when there's a lot more interesting stuff out there, even in erotica: if you wait for someone to bestow fabulousness on a writer or a genre before reading it you're just a sheep being led along by rumour and marketing. I'd much rather be known for being a damned good writer among people who I respect than have people read me because I was lucky enough to get noticed by someone like Oprah.

OutUK: I'd love to see you on the Oprah Book Club though. That would be fantastic. So, when it comes to porn, which is better, videos, magazines or books?
M: Well, that really depends on what you want to do, doesn't it? Want to just get off, then usually a video does the trick and if you don't have that then grab a magazine. But this isn't a book about getting off. Yeah, these are people who write about sex, all kinds of sex: straight, gay, bi, you name it but while they might turn you on they're really more interested in taking sex apart, playing around with it. Their stuff is: hot, yes, arousing, sure, but also damned scary, spiritual, full of laughs, or be chilling to the bone stories. Besides, grow up! You want to get off then do your video or magazine, but while it might work for you its not really showing you anything new, wild, different, or meaningful, is it? This stuff will screw with your mind, with how you even look at sex and the people who write it as well as your body.

OutUK: You make getting off sound unworthy. Isn't that the point of erotica?
M: It can be, but it can be a lot more. Look, erotica is like any other literary genre, it can cover a very wide range of styles and attitudes. Look at mystery, it can go from Miss Marple to Raymond Chandler, from sitting-room to scummy back alleys, but it's basic nature is still there, solving the puzzle. Erotica is the same, it can go from shiny happy people having shiny happy sex to darker-than-dark, meaner-than-mean creepy stuff but it's always somehow about sex and sexuality. If you look at it just with your Peter Meter that's fine, but you also could be cutting yourself off from a whole other erotic dimension or just damned good reading. Jerking off is great, but there's more to sex than that and erotica is a damned good place to see what's out there.

OutUK: Oh, come on. People read porn to get off. Why should it be deeper than that?
M: You want to eat McDonalds all your life? Sure, you groove on chocolate ice-cream, but what if that's the only thing on the menu? Sex is the same. Sure, people might like to get off to the same-old same-old, the usual, but it gets boring. Writers like these show us all kinds of new ways of either doing it or looking sideways at what we're already doing. I've always thought that was a crappy standard for erotica: does it get anyone off? There are lots of other ways to feel about sex than just "wham-bam, thank you, ma'am." The stories and essays in this book will show you all kinds of new ways of looking at sex, and what kind of person writes sex stories. I guarantee it. And, yeah, it should be deeper than that and these folks prove it. I dare you to read some of the stories and essays in this book and not have the way you look at sex get realigned. Sure, lots of people start to read stories like these to get off, but now then get caught up in that new way of looking at sex or just to read some damned good stories by damned good writers.

OutUK: Has anyone ever asked you when you were going to write something real, and what did you say?
M: No one's asked, but let's say that you just did: what the hell do you mean by real? I mean, sure, I've done some of the stuff in my stories, but a lot of it I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole. But I'll tell you, everything I do has at least a bit of some reality in it: I might not have done some of it physically but I sure have been there emotionally. That's why I think I can write all the stuff I do gay to lesbian, S/M stuff, fetish stories ... you name it. I always put something real, what I've felt, into what I write.
OutUK: That's cool, but what I meant is, when are you going to write a real book?
M: Screw you! Erotica is as real as any genre. Hell, a lot of the mainstream books out there have a helluva lot more explicit sex in them than most of what I write. I write a lot of stuff, all of it crafted with the same amount of diligence and, well, 'heart' is the best way I could describe it: from science fiction to horror, from essays to poetry including when I write about sex, whether it's to turn people on, freak them out, or to just teach them something I always try to put my best on the page. I can also shoot that question right back at you: isn't sex 'real' for you? Or is it just too scary and personal for you to look at? Maybe erotica's coming out of the closet because writers and readers are tired of having it demeaned, downplayed, or ignored. Like a lot of other things in our lives, sex is important. But unlike a lot of those other things, many people don't want to even examine it. Erotica's growing popularity and respect is because we are finally starting to realize, after thousands of years, that sex is a valid, core part of our lives and human culture. If that's not 'real' then I don't know what is.

OutUK: Point taken. Okay, last question: most people would assume that erotica writers are the horniest people alive, and that all you think about is sex. Is that true?
M: What, did you say something? Sorry, I was mentally undressing you. Sure, some people who write erotica do it to have fun with their own sex lives, talking about what they really did last night and so forth, but others look sex right in the... well, let's call it 'the eye' for now ... and don't blink. They're activists as well as writers, telling it has it is, or how it should be. These writers, like Patrick Califia-Rice and Carol Queen get down in the sexual trenches, putting their libidos on the page. Others, like Laura Antoniou and Cecilia Tan, put their wildest fantasies into their stories. Everyone in this book has a different reason for writing erotica, and everyone has a different amount of "real" sex in their stuff. Sure, some of them might get their libidos cranked up when they write their stories, but others don't at all - like me. To quote Monty Python (from the Life of Brian) "We're all individuals."


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