In my early sixties, I read a New York Times article by a romance writer in her fifties. She advised her peers that if they wanted to get published, they should write about characters in their twenties. I was nearing retirement from a biotech career in which I wrote what my employer needed me to write, and I’d been itching to write for my own enjoyment for decades. Had I missed the boat? Was I content to write fiction closeted as a young woman? Hell no.
So when my friend Lynx Canon invited me to perform at her monthly reading series, Dirty Old Women, I began to write erotica. Nervous but intrigued, I read stories to a full house at Octopus, a bookstore café in Oakland, California. It was way more fun than I expected. My sister writers were smart funny women with plenty to say. And our monthly audiences were glad to hear that the erotic side of life didn’t end for women on their fortieth birthday.
Two very different books came out of that experience. Lynx published a collection of our stories, the Dirty Old Women Anthology. And with great support from North Atlantic Books, I published a how-to-write book, Aphrodite’s Pen: The Power of Writing Erotica after Midlife. Lynx and I also started a writing group called Elderotica that ran until I moved to North Carolina five years ago. That group was tough to leave behind.
This month my partner and I travelled back to the Bay Area for Thanksgiving, and the Elderotica gang reunited for lunch. My friends remain lively and involved. One of the women in our group just won “Best of the Moth” for a story she performed there. Two of us are forming writing groups; one woman is starting a sex positive group that may include carefully chosen men with more to say about sex than, as she put it, “Insert tab A into slot B” (If you have any doubt about the differences in approach to erotic writing across genders, read Joan Price’s wonderful anthology Ageless Erotica. You won’t need to look at author names to know what gender wrote which story). Another woman is working on a film to showcase older women talking about their abortions before Roe. And then there’s my new vampire novel about the love life of a powerful 500-year-old woman. We Dirty Old Women have plenty to say.
We brought poems to lunch and read to one another: some favorites from other writers, some we wrote ourselves. I brought a Hafiz poem, “Venus Just Asked Me,” which I always transpose with female pronouns. We talked about how things have changed since we started: how much more dangerous the world has become, how much less affordable for new people coming up. We talked about how our bodies have changed in the last seven years. And most of all we reflected on why we loved writing in Elderotica. Everyone in our group had distinct voices, and combined with great writing prompts that bounced our brains in different directions, there were marvelous cross-currents in our monthly meetings. We would often marvel at how we arrived at such different places. As one of us said at lunch, “A really good writing group raises the bar and takes you to the next level.”
We reflected on the importance of agreements about what kinds of feedback group members provide. Negative feedback feeds the Inner Critic and can make it difficult to write, especially in a writing group when material is new and rough. Negative feedback is often about the ego of the person giving the critique. Feedback like that can effectively silence the voice of the writer. Instead, our feedback stressed what captured our attention in one another’s writing. This gets to an even deeper point: that intimacy and vulnerability in a group is key. We created that with each other. And we miss us. As our luncheon ended, we decided to begin holding a Zoom Elderotica meeting once a quarter.
After lunch I thought back on how Aphrodite’s Pen came to be published. For many years when I lived in the Bay Area, I attended an annual writing and art retreat hosted by my friend Susan Ito. At these weekend gatherings, artists wrote and writers created collages, with a free flow of ideas. In the late afternoons we gathered to share our creations. As we gathered one day, I mentioned to a woman sitting next to me that I was planning a short book to encourage other women past midlife to form Elderotica writing groups. She nodded and said, “I work at North Atlantic Books, and we’d like to publish a book like that.”
With encouragement from the editors at North Atlantic, the project grew from that initial kernel of an idea to include writing craft, sample stories, interviews with older women who write erotica, and plenty of playful writing prompts. And the book includes a full chapter on how to organize an erotic writing group, with guidance on creating a safe creative space through structured feedback. I’m excited that my own Elderotica group will reconvene online, and I encourage you to edge into your comfort zone and write erotica, as a solo writer and even better by starting an erotic writing group. It’s way more fun than you ever expected.
As we change gears from Thanksgiving to the December holidays, I’m thankful for you reading this, and wish you all the best this holiday season. And don’t forget the gifts that are always there for you on my website, holidays or not: Two free self-paced classes. One is about writing a sexy story, and the other is on writing sexy memoir. Enjoy! And here’s to keeping the pen moving, even in the midst of a busy end of the year.
An immortal healer turned blood bank director falls for the one person who can destroy her.
Marion Chase is a healer in medieval Yorkshire. Accused of witchcraft, she is rescued from certain death by a vampire. Now an immortal vampire, Marion joins a Sisterhood in York dedicated to ethical feeding. Centuries later Marion finds her true calling as president of a Chicago blood bank. There she falls in love with the one person who can destroy her: Rachel Sutter, an FDA inspector who is the living likeness of Marion’s lover in ancient Yorkshire.
I publish two blog articles (published online on the 10th and the 20th) and this newsletter every month, so you hear from me (or a guest blogger) a few times a month. Below is a brief extract from last month's blogs - click the links for the whole enchilada! If you've ever considered getting your voice out there, I welcome suggestions for topics, or a fully written guest piece in line with my philosophy for the site. Drop me a line......
In the Fall of 2022 I received several emails, cards and a phone call offering me condolences because Queen Elizabeth II had died. I was touched but surprised. I hadn’t thought about the royals much since I left England in 1976, though I was aware of the queen’s failing health, especially after the death of Prince Philip. I decided not to watch the queen’s funeral. Televised royal occasions made me queasy these days. The “pomp and glory” echo Britain’s history of empire building, colonization, slavery, and today’s lack of recognition, apology, or reparation.
Waiting in the queue at the Food Lion, however, I picked up a glossy magazine with the late queen on the cover. It was a retrospective of her seventy-year reign. As I flipped through the pages, I realized Elizabeth had been the Queen of England my whole life: every minute of every day, year after year since I was born. I began to ponder how palpable the queen’s presence had been in my formative years. My posture, my accent and my opinions were still remnants of my English upbringing.
I was born just outside London on March 19, 1952, forty-two days after Princess Elizabeth became Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It had been almost 350 years since her namesake, Elizabeth I, died in 1558.
When my mother trained in the Cadet Nursing Corps during World War II, the young nurses were taught that physicians could do no wrong. But, paradoxically, if a doctor made a mistake, it was the nurses’ duty to cover for the doctor. Mom worked in the obstetrics ward of our local hospital when I was a child and came home with stories of doctors who stayed too long on the golf course when called to a difficult birth, or who mishandled forceps and damaged a baby during delivery.
Nevertheless, as a young woman I shared the common belief that doctors were demigods whose judgement was not to be questioned. Over the course of decades, through personal experience and by reading about medical bias, I came to realize that physicians are just as fallible as anyone else. Physicians, like scientists, are trained in a set of objective problem solving tools but bring unconscious biases to their work. As a woman, I have experienced firsthand the sexism inherent in medicine. As the mother of a disabled adult, I’ve witnessed ableism in healthcare. Weightism in clinical care is well documented. And as a biotechnology professional for four decades, I saw evidence that clinical research is biased in favor of whites. And when a patient is part of several marginalized communities, the bias can be much greater.
In my sixties I began to experience age bias in healthcare when my symptoms and concerns were dismissed. I decided to develop tools to enable the physician and me to focus on the issues at hand and sidestep gendered ageism. My goal was to create a team approach. I’d like to share with you the method that has worked for me, in the belief that you will find some of these ideas helpful.