by | July 21, 2014 | General | 14 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

Over the past three weeks I’ve attended two funerals. No need to express your sympathy – both of the deceased were parents of colleagues, individuals I’d never even met. Still, one was was just a year older than I am, the other a mere three years older than my husband. Despite my determination to live in the now, there’s nothing like a coffin to make you contemplate your own mortality. I can’t help considering just what legacy I’ll leave behind, when I finally do pass away.

I don’t have kids, and my family is pretty small – two siblings, neither of whom have children, plus an assortment of cousins. It occurs to me that my circle of friends as Lisabet is actually far larger than the roster of people close to me in the so-called real world. So will my smut be missed? Probably less than my organizational ability. I might not be a best-seller, but I’m a pro when it comes to wrangling bloggers!

What about my books, though? Will they outlive me? I grew up reading authors who’d been dead for decades, even centuries. Edgar Allen Poe. Arthur Conan Doyle. H.P. Lovecraft. William Shakespeare. H. Rider Haggard. Charlotte and Emily Bronte. We writers have always consoled ourselves with the fantasy that even though we might toil in obscurity during our lifetimes, we might be “discovered” after our demise, our books finally recognized as the works of creative genius we knew we were creating while we lived. Given the state of publishing today, though, I wonder whether my books will even be available to be discovered.

The bulk of my published work over the past decade has been released primarily in ebook form, sometimes with a Print-on-Demand option. And despite my attempts to convince myself otherwise, ebooks are fundamentally ephemeral. An ebook is nothing more than a chunk of ones and zeroes, stored on some medium which needs compatible technology to be accessed. Meanwhile, technology changes constantly. Anyone (besides me) remember floppy disks? No, I’m not talking about the 3.5 inch squares of rigid plastic that stored 1.2 megabytes and fit in a shirt pocket, but real floppy disks, those fragile 5.25 inch circles of bendable magnetic material, wrapped square paper sleeves and holding a miniscule 256 kilobytes of data? Gone, of course, before some of you were even born, along with the devices that could read them. Why should CDs, DVDs, flash memory, Kindles and Nooks, be any different?

Furthermore, the ease with which ebooks can be copied, transferred, modified and deleted makes them feel like transient artifacts, to the reader and even to the writer. When I’m done reading a book for a review, I’ll sometimes archive it on long term storage, but more often, I’ll simply erase it. I know I won’t want to read it again, so why take up space on my hard drive or my tablet? On the drive where I store my manuscripts, I sometimes have two or three versions of the same story, as submitted to different publishers. Which one is the authoritative version? Which one will students of literature pore over in the far future, as they contemplate the subtle themes and glorious language in the oeuvre of Lisabet Sarai?

Of course, during the first five years of my writing career, I was only available in print. In our storage room, I have a box full of old author copies of Raw Silk (both Black Lace and Blue Moon editions), Incognito, Fire, Sacred Exchange and Cream that I’ve been trying to get rid of for years. I’ve noticed used copies of the Black Lace book selling for $150 or more on Amazon. Surely that’s some sort of legacy?

Yeah, well, maybe. But those books were printed so cheaply, they’re already starting to crumble to dust. And I don’t want to sell old books that will undercut the sales of republished versions (even though the new versions are ebook/POD only). Meanwhile, I’m nervous about getting rid of those volumes here in this conservative country where I live as a guest. I don’t want to call attention to the fact that I have so many books that they could easily label as porn – all by the same author. Definitely suspicious!

There’s another box in that closet, packed to the gills with author copies of every (print) anthology in which I’ve had a story, every collection I’ve edited, every novel or single-author collection I’ve published. One of my fellow bloggers at Oh Get a Grip wrote recently about her pride in viewing her books arrayed on a shelf in her living room. I’m proud of my work, but I can’t display it, for the reasons cited above. Still, I occasionally dig out that box and look through it, just to remind myself how much I’ve accomplished in this semi-career I fell into accidentally.

I like to imagine that after I’m gone, someone might discover that box, like a trunk of treasures in an attic. I picture a young woman, uncertain and inexperienced sexually, uncovering my secret visions. She’d hide them away and read them late at night, after her family or her roommates were asleep. They’d open her eyes to a new world of sensuality and freedom – and maybe inspire her to take a few steps into that world on her own. Now that’s a legacy that would please me.

Sometimes, though, I’m convinced that the entire concept of books as we know them will disappear. I recently read an article claiming that people born after 1990 cannot really extract information from written material. They require graphics, video, interaction, motion. When faced with a page of static text, their eyes simply flit over the letters, without grasping the meaning. If someone happened upon my books a few decades from now, would they understand them at all? Even if that individual could read, would my prose seem as complex, contorted and antiquated as Jane Austen or Wilkie Collins seem to some of us now? The always-on, lightning-fast digital world in which we live right now puts pressure on language, pressure to shorten and simplify, to encapsulate emotions in acronyms (LOL) or smileys. Did you know that the most recent update to the Unicode standard – the specification that maps all the characters in all world languages to digital codes – includes a page of values for emoticons (now known as emoji, I gather)? If that’s where we are now, what will language be like twenty years from now? (I like to imagine I’ll live at least into my eighties…!)

This train of thought depresses me more than the notion of dying, to be honest. So I’ll drop it. In fact, this entire mental exercise reinforces my belief that contemplating one’s future is a futile activity. Worrying about my legacy simply distracts me from what I want and need to do today. Much better for me to close this post, get it set up on the blog, and then get to the day’s most important activity – adding to my current work in progress.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Lady Flo

    Wow! What awful and beautiful post you wrote, Lisabet.
    There are many things on which we might think on.
    We, writers, go ahead each day, putting our head in the sand to don't see the orrible present-future in front of us. We must to do it if we still want to write, but we do it, at least I do it, with a little sadness in my heart.

    Lady Flo

    • Lisabet Sarai

      I think we just have to do what we do in the present, and not concern ourselves about the future. It's a futile exercise in any case. So much of today's reality I would never have predicted during my childhood!

  2. sybil rush

    "Furthermore, the ease with which ebooks can be copied, transferred, modified and deleted makes them feel like transient artifacts, to the reader and even to the writer."

    It surprised me to read this, because I feel just the opposite. Paper books are a limited supply. Only as many exist as are printed, and paper burns, gets moldy, turns to mush when wet. Digital files are limitless. They can be infinitely copied, losing nothing.

    Like people say, there's no such thing as delete on the Internet. Usually this is a warning not to say something stupid, or worse, be photographed doing something stupid. But it applies to creative work that we love as well. There's no way of knowing how many copies exist or who they'll reach.

    Dean Wesley Smith's treatise on the e-book as a magical pie from which you can sell piece after piece without it ever getting smaller is worth a read. (I think he calls it the Magic Bakery.)

    Maybe I feel this way because the experience of reading an e-book is no more ephemeral, for me, than reading a print book. Just like reading a cheap, ratty used paperback was never any different from reading an expensive leather-bound copy. It's always been the words themselves that sweep me away, not the medium in which they're contained.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      That's an interesting perspective, Sybil. I really don't feel that way. I feel that people value physical objects more than digital artifacts. You're right in the sense that copies of our ebooks will probably linger on *somewhere* in the vast network crisscrossing our universe. But where? And will anyone care to pick them up?

  3. Fiona McGier

    Before he died me late faither told me that he'd know when it was "his time", as both of his parents and his sister before him all did. When he got to that point, he was fed up with all of the changes taking place in the world, saying it had gotten so that he no longer felt like he belonged anymore. He was through with caring about politicians and their lies, and he'd had it with new technologies. He was, and I quote him, "Done with it all." He died soon afterwards.

    Curious to think that someday I'll be at that point, when I don't want to go on any longer. But like you, I hope to at least be in my 80s or 90s before that happens.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hi, Fiona,

      It's hard to imagine now, but I wouldn't be surprised if most people get to that point if they live long enough. I have an aunt with whom I very close, who is 92. She's in pretty good shape, especially mentally, but she's bored with living. Most of her friends have died. The physical problems she has are not debilitating but they take a lot of the joy out of her daily life. She told me recently, "I wonder every night when I go to bed whether I will get up tomorrow. Wouldn't that be great?" I told her that *I* didn't think it would be great at all. But of course, it's her life. And I do think people make the decision to let go.

  4. Donna

    Very thought-provoking post, Lisabet! I'm told that Buddhists regularly contemplate their own death as a meditation practice and it usually leads to a sense of serenity, but I do agree that thinking too much about a future we can never control just leads to anxiety. So very few writers have achieved immortality, and even those great names have lost all control of their words, their intentions, their legacy. Indeed, the reason they've lasted is because they touch on themes we all relate to. On the other hand, your work has definitely touched and moved tens of thousands of readers (even pirated versions count in that area). Making a difference like that, even momentarily, is an opportunity for every writer to treasure.

    As a lover of the book artifact, I know what you mean about ebooks feeling more transient, but they do have many advantages in bypassing the old-fashioned publishing industry's limitations of warehouse storage, etc. They were ruthless!

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hi, Donna,

      Mostly I don't worry much about dying – when I do, it's mostly in the wee, lonely hours of the morning, the dark time of the soul. I wonder about the literary immortals we worship – what they thought. Somehow I suspect that Shakespeare was far too busy writing, directing, fucking and politicking to worry about his own demise.

  5. Remittance Girl

    Funny, I don't ever really think about legacy. Like you, I have no children and I understand they give people a sense that they will go on, but being a devout atheist, I revel in the belief that we have this one shot, and it is important to make it count, not for others but for ourselves.

    Perhaps because unlike you, my first works were digital, online, I don't really think about who might read me after I'm gone. I see the act of writing as a very immediate sharing of an experience with a reader or readers.

    I contemplate my own demise a lot. I used to feel angry that I would probably not live to see us land on mars, or see the world powered by clean energy. These days, considering humanities general sense of selfishness, I'm sort of glad I won't be around to see us underperform.

    I write for the now, and as a step to the next better thing I write and share. I guess that's enough for me.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hi, RG,

      "I see the act of writing as a very immediate sharing."

      I don't feel this way at all. I feel a much greater sense of permanence (despite my comments in the post). As I add books to my back list, I can't escape the feeling that I'm building something – it's like some people accumulating money. I feel as though I've accomplished something real and significant, simply by creating them. Of course that means nothing if they are not read, but that's not what's foremost in my thoughts. The books matter to me in and of themselves.

      Sounds selfish and egotistical, I guess, but I've got to be honest.

  6. The Moose

    Wonder what happened to my posting?

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Me too. I'll check the spam folder, Moose.

  7. Jean Roberta

    Interesting post, Lisabet! I've sometimes considered the ephemeral nature of today's writing, but I always hope that if a work exists in several different forms, at least one will survive for awhile after the author's death. It's very hard to know.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      I'm sure there are many more copies of our books out there than would ever have existed had we published only in traditional print. I'm not sure whether that's a comfort or not.

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