by | April 21, 2019 | General | 3 comments

Twenty years ago this month, I published my first novel.


I’ve shared the story dozens of times, in my long bio and on various blogs—how in November 1998 I picked up a Black Lace novel from the book swap shelf at my Istanbul hotel, was hooked by the intense emotion and free-wheeling sexual variety I found within, then got the urge to write something in the same genre. I dashed off three chapters of Raw Silk and sent them (by postal mail, of course) to England, pretty much on a lark. I had no expectations. The form letter I received in response, thanking me for my submission but warning me that due to the size of the backlog I might not hear anything for several months, didn’t surprise me in the least.


On the other hand, when I got email from the Black Lace editor three days later, offering me a contract, I was stunned. Now I had to actually write the novel, a minimum of 80,000 words. The publisher wanted to know when it would be finished. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue.


In the two decades that have followed, Raw Silk has seen four different editions. Meanwhile, I’ve published ten other novels (if you define a novel as a work of 50K words or more). Not that impressive a history, I guess, especially compared to many of my colleagues. Of course, I’ve also produced dozens of shorter works, ranging from flashers to novellas. In addition, I’ve edited both multi-author and single-author erotica anthologies, including several focused on ERWA authors.


Although pretty much all my work falls into the general category of erotic fiction, I’m otherwise eclectic. I’ve played with a wide range of genres, including BDSM (my first love), erotic romance, paranormal, science fiction, suspense, steam punk, historical, gay and lesbian. My tales range from literary erotica to pure smut, with everything in-between. For many years I worked mostly with a romance publisher, and chafed against the constraints of that genre. The rise of self-publishing has freed me to write whatever inspires mewhich usually means stories that would make some romance readers squirm.


Not long after the release of Raw Silk, I found the Erotica Readers & Writers Association. I was looking for a way to promote the book (a very different enterprise in 2000, before the rise of social media). ERWA wasn’t what I was seeking, but it turned out to be what I needed. Though I’d been writing for self-expression all my life, I’d never imagined a career, or even an avocation, as a published author. I knew next to nothing about either the erotica genre or the nuts and bolts of the publishing world. The community I found here, the acceptance, support, knowledge and creativity, have helped me to develop my skills, to nurture my erotic imagination, and to market and sell its products.


Many people have remarked that being an author is a lonely business. I think that’s even more true if you write a denigrated, socially sanctioned genre like erotica. ERWA offered a delightful antidote to that loneliness. Some of the people I care most about in this world are folks I’ve come to know in the online world of ERWA. A few of these dear friends I’ve met in meat-space, but I know many of them only through the warmth of their emails, the generosity of their critiques and the arousing and challenging fiction they share.


I was in my forties when I published my first erotica, reliving and embroidering on the sexual adventures of my twenties. My early tales were fueled by cherished recollections and personal fantasies. I penned that first novel in just a few months. Passion poured out of me, onto the page. I wrote whatever pushed my own buttons, with no censorship and little focus on craft.


Now that I’m in my sixties, my motivations have shifted, but not as much as you might think. I still write to turn myself on. If I’m not aroused, how can I expect that of my readers? These days, though, I have a bit more distance from my work. I feel far more in control. Like a sculptor, I start with the raw material of ideas and mold them into the shape I envision.


As I mentioned earlier, the decision to self-publish has given me new energy and self-confidence. Perhaps as a result, in the past few years, I’ve found myself conquering what I’d always thought were intrinsic limitations to my writing skill.


For instance, I used to complain that I suffered from “narrative inertia”. What I meant was that once I’d written a story, I found it very difficult to make significant changes. I felt as though the story had chosen its own form, had set itself in stone, permitting me no more than cosmetic modifications. Attempts to alter the structure, the plot or the ending left me dissatisfied and deeply uncomfortable.


Those feelings have mostly disappeared. I’ve taken old tales with ambiguous, even tragic, conclusions, and revised them to end happily. (The market far prefers happy conclusions.) I’ve taken short stories and expanded them into novellas. My words and ideas now seem far more malleable than they did in the past.


When I first joined ERWA, I tried to create flashers and failed miserably. My method involved writing the whole piece, then trying to cut things out to get down to the word limit. The process felt painful and unnatural, and the results were rarely worth sharing.


At some point during the past few years, that changed. Probably this had something to do with editing Daddy X’s flash fiction collection. In any case, my flasher composition approach has become quite different. Rather than writing the full story, then pulling out the editing scalpel, I compose and check the word limits as I go along. I’ll always need to cut a few words, but my first draft is usually within 10-15% of the target. I won’t say it’s easyflashers are a challenge for any author—but I enjoy the activity more and I’m far more pleased with the outcomes.


Finally, I always swore I couldn’t write a series. By the time I’d written “The End” on a novel, I really was done. I had little inclination to revisit the characters or their worlds. In a couple of cases, I had thoughts about follow-on books, and deliberately left threads to be followed, but somehow I couldn’t motivate myself to start on Book Two.


Then I wrote a book purely for fun, which turned out to be pretty popular (Hot Brides in Vegas). Almost as soon as it was published, I had more outrageous ideas about the characters, so I started a sequel. The Vegas Babes series is now up to four books, and I plan at least one more.


Nobody is more surprised by this than me.


Twenty years is a long time—nearly a third of my life on this planet. I’ve never made much money as an author. Given my other responsibilities, I’ve never been able to devote the sort of time necessary to publish regularly. Still, I do congratulate myself on my staying power. Through the ups and downs, I’ve continued to write and publish—and continued to participate in the erotica community.


I sometimes wonder whether I’ll still be here when I am in my eighties.


Stay tuned!

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. larry archer

    Congratulations on twenty years of writing hot erotica. We’ve only known each other for a few years but I’ve learned a lot from you and feel I’m a better person for it. I’m glad that you’ve shifted somewhat to your roots as I think that’s where you shine when you are not fettered with the constraints of your editors.

    Good luck with the next twenty years!

    Love XOXO
    Foxy & Larry

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks so much, Larry.

      I’ve learned a lot from you (and Foxy) as well ;^)

  2. Eric shelton

    Thanks for sharing; just what I needed to hear!

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