Book of the Month - Mitzi Szereto interview
Mitzi has more than a dozen books to her credit, including Getting Even: Revenge Stories, the critically acclaimed Erotic Fairy Tales: A Romp Through the Classics, The World's Best Sex Writing 2005, Wicked: Sexy Tales of Legendary Lovers, and the popular Erotic Travel Tales anthology series.
She's also penned several best-selling erotic novels under the name M. S. Valentine, and has pioneered the erotic writing workshop in the UK and Europe, teaching them from the prestigious Cheltenham Festival of Literature to the Greek islands.
Originally from the USA, Mitzi now lives in England.
Mitzi's been featured in everything from The Times to Penthouse - and now she's kindly granted Lovehoney an exclusive interview. Read on for more...
Could you tell us a little about what qualifies you to compile and edit the new Black Lace book of Women's Sexual Fantasies?
I've written and edited a number of books in the erotica arena, I guess that's a plus! I've also established myself as doing something a little bit different from many of my erotic-writing contemporaries, so I suppose that allows me to be taken more seriously when it comes to doing a non-fiction survey book such as this, especially one where women have placed their trust in me to do right by them. I didn't want to go all pseudo-psychological for this book. After all, I'm not a psychologist, therefore I tried to approach it as both a good bit of fun as well as a socio-cultural study of contemporary female sexuality.
You've written several erotic novels. How did you first come to start writing erotic fiction?
In all honesty, it happened entirely by accident. I'd been working on some mainstream novels and had gotten close to publication, but it never came to fruition. A chance meeting at a party with a self-professed erotica writer is what I believe sowed the seed in my mind. When he heard that I was a writer, he had me read some of his work, and god it was so dire. It only added to my preconception of the erotica market in general, and after that I began to get an idea for a book.
I didn't give it much credence really, as I had other things on my literary agenda, but it's as if this thing was writing itself out in my head. I'd wake up in the mornings with more and more of it, almost like scenes of a film being revealed, until I finally had to sit down and start writing it out for real. I've never had this process repeat itself again, unfortunately!
What are your influences?
I don't think I really have any concrete influences per se. Ideas spring from nowhere, or from something completely random, like a character in a film, or a place I have visited. I'm not that influenced by other writers either. I may read a novel or story and find the style or structure or narrative interesting, but I don't follow anyone else's lead. I'm very conscious about being original and not sounding like someone else or doing what other people are doing, and I hope I've achieved that.
Were you surprised by anything you found when compiling the Fantasies book?
Well, perhaps I was most surprised by the diversity of these women's personal sexual experiences. Although the book is mostly about what these women's sexual fantasies are, a lot of first-person experiences are also included to give a more fully rounded picture of each participant in the survey.
It was quite an eye-opener to see how some women seem to have these amazing sex lives, while others are literally devoid of joy in this regard. The same went for women's sexual responses. Some (albeit the lucky ones!) claim to be able to virtually explode in ecstacy with very little stimuli, while others admit they've been lucky to have even one sexual experience that did anything for them.
I think providing this kind of information is important, even if only to validate the fact that women are not all alike, nor do they react the same way to the same things. I believe that porn has skewed people's (especially men's) perceptions of the female sexual response, and rather than providing a service, it has done the exact opposite. So this could be a good book for men to read too, even if only to make them realise that women are not one size fits all!
What proportion of the fantasies sent to you ended up in the finished book?
I tried to include a lot of fantasies, for the simple reason that I wanted the book to be as diverse and comprehensive and representational of women as possible, particularly women from a wide range of ages. If you asked me for a percentage I couldn't say. It was quite a big project to do, and I tended to select and/or reject as I went along. I will say that the questionnaires which were more fully thought out and replied to did end up in the book.
There were plenty of women who were more than willing to share their intimate thoughts and sex lives with me, and I really have to respect them for opening up in this way. There were some incredibly personal things written on those questionnaires, and I found myself very moved by what some of them had to say.
I've been trying to reverse-engineer the entries to work out what questions were asked on the questionnaire. Can you help?
First, there were the basics such as age, sexual orientation, marital/relationship status, sexual habits/status, country/region, occupation, and education.
Then there were more revealing questions about what they find offensive, how often they fantasise, themes/subjects of their fantasies, their turn-ons during their sexual development, their turn-ons now and how this has changed, what holds them back from fulfilling their fantasy, what their best sexual experience was, what would improve their sex life and, of course, to detail their favourite sexual fantasy. It was quite a lengthy questionnaire!
Were any fantasies too dark for inclusion?
I think I included the darkest one that came in, so no, I didn't censor anything or leave anything out because it was too over the top. What I did do, however, was be socially responsible, in that I did not want women to be misrepresented or erroneous assumptions made about them. Therefore I made certain to provide a very wide range of fantasies, from the sweetly romantic to the torridly kinky.
I didn't want the book to be swayed too far in any particular direction, because as I said, that would lead to assumptions being drawn – and that is one thing I am trying to stress is completely wrong – to assume anything about women when as we can see, they are all over the map when it comes to sexual fantasy and their experiences with sex.
Many of the fantasies are written as short stories. Do you think this is a reflection of the popularisation of erotic fiction for women over the last fifteen years?
That might be a part of it, yes. But it might also have been easier for these women to express themselves this way. We are all story tellers in one way or the other, it goes back to our childhoods. Some of us do it professionally, but nevertheless, even as children we were told stories, we were weaned on stories – though hopefully not these kinds of stories! So perhaps it's natural to revert to this form. It allows for more detail and more expansion on the fantasy, much like when you are playing it out inside your head.
The old chestnut about women's fantasies revolving more around environments and men's fantasies around anatomy doesn't seem to be borne out here – there's only one fantasy that goes into much environmental detail (p.208) and plenty with lots of anatomical detail. Any comments on this?
I think it's just the usual cultural assumptions about gender that make one think that. It's that old men are visual, women are not cliche – and it's just not true for everyone. There are plenty of men who are more into the romance of it and, as we have seen in the Fantasies book, plenty of women who are quite removed from the romance of it. Really really removed!
Do you have any other comments about what you've learned from working on this book?
Aside from the fact that some women lead lives very much removed from my sphere of experience, it reinforced what I've always known: women are not all the same. They don't all have the same sexual fantasies, they don't all have the same turn-ons, they don't all react the same to sexual stimuli, and they don't all lead the kind of sex lives the media brainwashes us into believing is representative of today's woman.
I hope if anything this book will reassure women that there is no norm – that we are all different and that no woman should ever be made to feel as if she is either abnormal or, for that matter, inadequate.
Mitzi, many thanks for your time.