Canadian novelist Lisa Gabriele never felt she was especially good at writing sex scenes, but when an editor dared her to write an erotic novel to rival the wildly popular global hit "Fifty Shades of Grey," she took up the challenge.
A week later she had some 40 pages written on
"S.E.C.R.E.T.", the just-published story of an underground society that helps women realize their wildest sexual dreams.
"I'd always written about men and women and relationships, but I'd always thought of it as leaving the sex at the bedroom door and shoving them in and saying, 'Okay, I'll see you in the morning,'" said Gabriele, who wrote the novel and conducted her interview with Reuters under the pseudonym L. Marie Adeline.
"I'd never really had the courage to tackle it."
Right away, she had the idea that women should have the chance to explore a wider variety of sexual fantasies than the S&M at the core of "Fifty Shades," the story of a naive student and a manipulative entrepreneur.
Enter S.E.C.R.E.T., a society that uses a 10-step programme to bring alive the most secret fantasies and desires of its members. The goal? Sexual fulfillment.
Since Gabriele's previous books, both of them Canadian bestsellers, dealt with quieter themes like coming-of-age and family dramas, she needed to do some research. Googling "Top Ten Female Sex Fantasies" helped, as did asking her friends.
"I was surprised by how forthcoming they were," she said. "That was the wonderful thing about 'Fifty Shades' - it actually got people talking in explicit detail about things. I'm sure they'd always read (erotica), but I don't think they sat in book clubs and talked about being tied up."
A reader of Harlequin Romances and other bodice-rippers in her youth, Gabriele found that writing the book turned out to be much easier and more fun than she expected, though maintaining the right balance was sometimes tricky.
"I didn't want to make it dark, I didn't want to use various words, the pornification of sex. I'm not a big porn consumer - I'm 45 years old, it's not a big part of my life," Gabriele said.
"I wanted to keep the porny aspect away from this book. Every so often I would inadvertently head there, but my editor had a really firm leash on that, she would pull me back a bit."
Another unexpected challenge was realizing that character development was just as essential when writing erotica as with any other fiction - and following up on a quiet romance that began to emerge between two of her characters.
"I was grateful for it," she said. "It was a nice break from all the sweating and panting to see these two people coming together slowly and figuring out that they actually might be in love with each other."
Though erotica has been around for decades, Gabriele said its current popularity may be an outgrowth of the "Twilight" vampire book and film franchise as well as Fifty Shades.
The popularity of e-readers, which allow people to read anything they want in public without revealing their literary tastes, could also play a part.
Gabriele, whose identity was unmasked this week by state broadcaster the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) where she used to work, has a two-book deal for more erotica, and may write a third if the appetite is there.
"But I don't know about a fourth," she said. "By then I might want to go back to my quiet little family dramas."
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