The Intersmut Interview

Reprinted by permission, from Intersmut Magazine.


Mary Anne Mohanraj Her erotic fiction has made her quite the internet celebrity, in fact, someone even told me she's the queen of the alt.sex.stories newsgroup. Now Mary Anne Mohanraj takes her literary talents into the "real world" with her first book, "Torn Shapes of Desire." (Part 1 of 2)

Intersmut: I see you were born in Sri Lanka and grew up in New Britian, Connecticut. (irony of ironies, my first college roommate was originally from Sri Lanka and grew up in Stamford, Connecticut) How would you describe your childhood? Did you have a strict, proper upbringing?

Mary Anne: (heh. What's his name? I probably know him.) I'd say my upbringing was fairly strict -- no school dances, no sleepovers, certainly no boyfriends! About what you'd expect from traditional immigrant parents. Most of the restrictions I didn't mind so much as a kid -- I wasn't really all that interested in dating until I got to college -- a late bloomer, as they say.


IS: Were you one of those kids that was always writing, always keeping a journal?

MA: Actually, no. I wrote a few poems (on the standard geeky topics - horses, unicorns, space travel) here and there, and I always adored reading, but I didn't really think seriously of becoming a writer or practicing my craft. To me, writers were sort of these mythical demi-gods. It was hard enough believing that I might actually meet one at a convention -- becoming a writer was surely impossible!


IS: So many writers tell me there's a defining moment when they know they want to be a writer and that's what they want to do for the rest of their life. Did you have one of those moments?

MA: Hmm...sort of. It was during one summer when I was working as an executive assistant (really important secretary :-). I found that on days when I didn't have much work, I'd often find myself writing poetry (many the 1992 poems were written at my office desk). Somewhere along the line I started thinking that maybe I could publish a few. Of course, it was a few more years after that before I considered that I might actually get paid for my writing -- and I had started writing prose by then.


IS: How did you enjoy college? And how much did your collegiate years (which many pyschologists believe are some of the most important formative years in terms of relationship-building, etc.) influence you, both as a person and as a writer?

MA: I had an absolutely fantastic time. The University of Chicago was really the perfect place for me. I was surrounded by people who were at least as smart or smarter than I was (which dealt a humbling and much-needed blow to my ego) -- the professors really pushed me, and I enjoyed class discussions. I was also surrounded by geeks, and I somehow became popular. In a school of the socially inept, it was much easier to learn to socialize comfortably. I hate to think what might have happened if I'd gone to someplace like Northwestern (a wonderful school, but full of fraternities, sororities, beautiful people, etc...) -- I'd probably have retreated into a shell and hidden there. Instead, at Chicago, I realized I was really an extrovert, and made quite a lot of friends. It bolstered my self-image enormously, and gave me courage.


IS: You say in your biography that you wander "all over the map" in terms of writing. You're working on a fantasy novel, you've written poetry, etc.... Why do you think that is?

MA: I like challenges, I think. I see a type of writing and I wonder if I can do that. There are a few that have no real interest for me (Westerns and romance novels, for example), and some that still intimidate me (satire and drama), but I won't swear to never try those either. It's also useful when I'm hitting stumbling blocks -- if I'm stuck on my fantasy novel, I can go revise some erotic short stories. If those aren't going well, there's always poetry. Poetry is my great refuge.


IS: Ok, let's get to the meat of it. What inspired you to start writing erotica?

MA: Well, it was all Paul's fault. :-) See, I had this boyfriend, Paul, back in my second year of college. He worked nights at the campus computing center, and sometimes I'd come and keep him company at work for a few hours. He persuaded me to actually start using my e-mail account, and taught me how to read news. Wandering across newsgroups, I started reading rec.arts.erotica and alt.sex.stories (just like everyone else :-). Even in its heyday, r.a.e. had a pretty low volume, and only perhaps 1 in 25 of those stories had much plot or character. The ratio on a.s.s. was much worse, despite teh huge volume. So somewhere around there I started thinking, "hey, I can write better stories than this!" (Remember what I said about challenges? :-) So I tried it and got a lot of fan mail, and was encouraged, and so I wrote some more. It's been in large part the fans who kept me writing, although I also had some stories I wanted to tell.


IS: Now, you've said that you write about sex because it should be written about. I agree with you, and I am a writer too, but I don't write erotic fiction. What is it about erotic writing that makes it so appealing to you? Appealing enough to publish your works for the world to see, both on the internet and in books.

MA: Since you're a writer, I'll give you a writer's answer. I think you'll agree that writing isn't just about craft -- the stories that I feel work best are the ones that address some aspect of the human condition. Sexuality is a huge neglected aspect. Who we are comes through so strongly during sex -- the self that we often try so hard to hide. I find this fascinating, and impossible to resist; the naked vulnerability of the heart. There are also all sorts of political reasons for writing openly about sexuality, but that's a long answer. If you're interested, you can find it on my web page (http://www.iam.com/maryanne) or in the introduction to my book.


IS: Most writers I know delve deeply into personal experiences to get their material. How much of your work, both erotic and otherwise, is based on personal experience?

MA: Do you really expect me to answer this in detail? :-) You should see the come-ons I already get... Part of any writer's work is, I think, drawn from personal experience, and so is much of mine. But I also have a truly vivid imagination -- I can promise you that I've never been a man ("Morningsong"), or had a twin brother ("A Most Congenial Spot"), or yet been married ("Charlie", "A Season of Marriage", "Radhika and Matthew"). Yet there is a part of me in all those stories.

If you must have gossip, I'll give you a hint. The stories that seem like they might have been lived by me (the college ones, for example), have a lot more of my actual experiences to them.

(Note: Intersmut ABSOLUTELY must have gossip. :)


IS: Your first erotic story was something called "American Airlines Cockpit". Does that story (which seems quite a bit more "vulgar" than most of your other work) still hold a special place in your heart? And how do you think you've developed as a writer since then?

MA: Oh yes. Partly because it was a pure wish-fulfillment story -- I'd just travelled to London when I wrote that, and I can tell you that it was a very dull flight. Partly because I got a surprising amount of reader response, which really encouraged me. Partly just 'cause it was my first.

On the other hand, the characterization makes me shudder, the style is clumsy, the dialogue...I could go on and on. At least it had a modicum of plot (something I always have trouble with). I think I've learned quite a lot about characterization since then -- I think it's my strongest point now. Still learning, of course.


IS: Unlike some erotica writers, you don't delve into the slang words and crude language. Is that a conscious decision on your part?

MA: Well, it depends on what you consider crude. Some people object to 'cock' and 'cunt', and I do sometimes use those. I tend not to write slam-bang stories (though I often enjoy reading them) -- in fact, a lot of my sex-related stories are more sad than erotic. As such, really crude language is something to be wary of -- it can jerk the reader out of the story. I see no reason not to use it otherwise; you use the language appropriate to the style of the piece.


In Part 2 of our interview with Mary Anne Mohanraj, we'll delve deeper into her recently published collection of erotic works, "Torn Shapes of Desire", discuss her newfound fame and discuss weighty political matters like her choice in beverages.

For more information on Maryanne and her new book, "Torn Shapes of Desire", visit www.iam.com/tsd.

To be continued...


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