There are lots of great erotic classics that inspire me, from early practitioners like John Cleland and the Marquis de Sade, to more recent classic authors like Pauline Réage and Terry Southern. But the one writer who inspires me most is Anaïs Nin.
I grew up in the Midwest in a family where touchy issues were avoided at all costs and silence was the rule of the day. When I wanted to find out about something, I always turned to books—too embarrassed to admit to my friends just how ignorant I was about things like sex. Like most kids I knew, I did a lot of bluffing that I knew more than I did.
Delta of Venus was first. I can’t remember anymore if I read her diaries first—they’re so closely intertwined—but I do recall buying Delta because I was terrified that I would be stopped or carded or worse, that alarms would go off, blaring “she’s buying a book about sex!” But it was the local mall book chain, so the clerk just rang up the purchase without a second look (it probably helped that I was tall).
I devoured the book. It was so specific! It was one thing to read feminist handbooks about sexuality and quite another to read Nin’s passionate words about how it really felt. I have written elsewhere about how she rescued me from relying on the ineptitude of teenage boys for experience and taught me to expect so much more. She also made me want to write about those feelings and to try to capture them in words, something I kept to myself—or a select audience—for many years until Lori Perkins announced the launch of Ravenous Romance and suddenly the penny dropped. Hey, somebody might want to read these stories just like I read Nin!
Nin had an interesting and complicated life that included incest and bigamy, which show up in her stories, where she often seems to be examining and healing the eruptions of life. The very first story in Delta features both incest and rape which shocked me, but didn’t stop me. I hungered for the vicarious experiences both of her characters in the erotica and of her own life in the diaries and novels. I loved how she used writing to transform herself from a banker’s wife into an artist surrounded by like minds: writers, painters, dancers, filmmakers.
Nin not only gave me the power to understand and explore my own sexuality, she also taught me the power of writing to transform. I had been raised to dream small, but her adventures helped me learn that I could expand my world if I were willing to dare to do so. I’m still learning that lesson, still finding roadblocks I create for myself. I have to remember her words:
“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”
Thank you, Anaïs.