Talking with 76-year-old Erotica Writer Desiree Holt
How did you get your start writing erotica?
Ellora's Cave had put out an open submissions call for Valentine-themed stories and a friend in my writers group sent me the link, suggesting I might try it. I had never written erotica before but my late husband, who thought I could do anything, urged me to try. "Buy a couple of books," he said. "Read them and see if you feel comfortable. Then have at it." I did, and an idea for a story sort of fell out of my head and they contracted Cupid's Shaft. It's been a wild ride ever since.
Who are most of your readers?
I am fortunate to have a very wide spectrum of readers, all ages, all social groups, single, coupled, married. A lot of men read my books too. And my readers are scattered all over the world. So I guess you could say my fan base is very eclectic.
Is it difficult to write from the male perspective?
I thought it might be, but my husband, bless him, used to let me read scenes and dialogue from manuscripts to him and help me with it. He'd either say, "Okay, that sounds right," or "Are you kidding? No self-respecting man would ever think or say that." He let me get into his head to write.
How much of a role did your husband play in your career as a writer?
A major one. Before he passed away in 2009 he was the one who encouraged me, coaxed me, drove me places when I had research to do, and allowed me the freedom to spend hours at my computer. He was the total alpha male but so comfortable in his own skin that he could encourage me to be a success.
What are some misconceptions people have about writing erotica?
The most popular is that it's pornography. Not so. And there are actually two classifications -- erotic romance which has a happy-ever-after ending, and erotic which has a happy for now or maybe in the future ending, or at least one that leaves the reader with a good feeling. Sex is part of the story, not the entire story.
What have you learned about human relationships by writing erotica?
The most important thing is the realization that good sex, however you describe it, comes from a strong emotional connection. It's much more than just a physical exercise. It's an expression of what two people feel for each other, the trust they have in each other, and the willingness to give selflessly in the bedroom as well as outside of it. A strong sexual connection combined with emotion enhances any relationship. It also opens the willingness to experiment and experience new things with a partner. There are many ways to express yourself sexually and each one only adds nuances to the relationship.
What's your writing process like?
I tend to be a disciplined writer. Of course, first I have to organize all the ideas knocking around in my brain, with new ones popping in all the time. When I begin a story I write a short synopsis, then an outline to follow, although that can change as the story progresses. If I need to do research I try to get all of that done ahead of time. I write 5-6 hours a day and keep a notebook beside my bed to jot down ideas that I get at night on whatever I'm writing. I also carry a notebook in my purse, not only in case something on a work in progress jumps out at me but also if I see something that gives me a story idea.
How do you deal with the combination of being an older female writer in a publishing culture that is both sexist and ageist?
Basically I think in the romance industry age should have no limits. I've had to prove myself, of course, and many people when they first meet me are stunned. But I keep up with what's going on in the world so I'm not outdated. And if I can get people to read that first story things are usually okay. But it's hard to change overnight what's been the norm for a long time.
What gave you the confidence to begin writing late in life?
I've always been one to try new things and take chances. I went to work in public broadcasting knowing nothing about it. Opened a music talent agency knowing nothing except the kind of music I liked. Took on my first special event because the theme appealed to me and pestered everyone I knew with knowledge to get answers. I'm a risk taker. Three years ago I went ziplining with my kids. I've always wanted to be a writer and I think you are only as old as you feel.
What do your friends and family think about you writing erotica? What were their reactions?
My kids are used to me doing just about anything. When I had my talent agency they got used to having musicians hanging around all the time, even practicing in our living room. They are very excited for me, and my biggest PR people, although they have not and will not read anything I've written.
Do you have any remaining goals?
I'd love to make the NYT best seller list but other than that, I'm happy with where I am.
What advice do you have for young female writers?
Follow your dreams and your heart. Join a writers group. Find a good critique group and soak up the feedback they give you. That's the first place I learned about things like backstory and info dump. And never, ever, ever give up. I had 137 rejections before I made my first sale.
Do you see yourself writing for the rest of your life?
Yes, I definitely see myself writing as long as my hands function on the computer keys. The last six months my husband was alive he made me promise that I would keep writing every day and never let it go. I can still hear his voice in my head and every hero I write has a piece of him.