Today I would like to welcome Lisa McCarthy, writer of the erotic and the dark.
1. Tell me more about how you got started as a writer and the inspiration behind your novel, The Butterfly Waltz?
I could start by saying that I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but that’s not true. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought about it until a few years back. I was studying for a degree in literature with the Open University and after three years of non-stop academic reading I was bored. Taking a year off wasn’t an option due to their grant system so I decided that a creative writing course would be as good as a break. I assumed that, because I had liked writing stories in school, I’d be good at it. I was wrong. I received low marks for every assignment and my tutor even told me I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Luckily I have a stubborn streak and I was determined to prove her wrong so I got hold of as many books on writing as I could, sought advice from other writers, and six months later I sold my first story.
The Butterfly Waltz started off as an exercise in descriptive writing, and the more I wrote, the more I realised I had something that was actually pretty good. By starting with a couple on the verge of divorce, I’d already given myself a huge range of emotions and conflict to work with, and I really wanted the erotic scenes to portray non-verbal communication rather than just being descriptions of sexual acts. Was it written from experience? Yes, to a point. I have been in a relationship where we lost the ability to communicate with each other. Did I put up a fight to save the relationship like Amy does? I’m single. That should be enough of an answer!
2. What do you fear? Tell me about your own phobias.
Feet! I hate feet! If they weren’t so essential for walking I’d have them amputated. A friend sent me an erotic short story to read and within the first line or two it became apparent that the main character had a foot fetish. I carried on out of respect for the writer but it was the most horrific, disgusting story I’ve ever read. Even writing this now is turning my stomach.
3. You have written dark psychological fiction as well as erotica – I have heard a number of people suggest that horror and erotica actually make more comfortable bedfellows rather than horror with fantasy and science fiction – what’s your take on this and what do you think the two genres have in common?
I do think the two genres are well matched because they both deal with subjects that tend to be taboo in modern society and they also deal with very intense emotions; fear and sexuality. Maybe their similarity has to with the linking of those two emotions throughout history; sexual violence has been used as a form of control, and when placed in fearful situations people are more likely to be drawn together sexually. Sexuality promoted fear which in turn promotes sexuality.
4. Like horror, erotica also suffers from criticism for not being a ‘worthy’ literary genre – what would you say to its detractors?
Strangely enough, I do agree with them as far as erotica is concerned. As the genre is designed to produce a strong emotional reaction, it usually avoids the complicated plots or characters preferred by the academia. Of course, a novel can contain elements of erotica and still be literary, but I think the genre as a whole is designed to be a form of escape rather than debate.
5. In Lost Girls, Alan Moore wrote that ‘pornographies are the enchanted parklands where the most secret and vulnerable of all our many selves can safely play’ – what are your thoughts on this as a working definition for the genre?
I do think it’s a fitting definition. Most of us at some point or other have had sexual fantasies, whether they involve more than one partner, bondage, violence or any other you can think of, but it doesn’t mean that we want to play them out in reality. Erotica brings those fantasies to life in the safety of your own home without the physical repercussions.
6. Following on from the last question, do you think there is a difference between pornography and erotica, or are we just playing with words?
Pornography is about sex. It is created for the sole purpose of sexual gratification. Erotica is slightly more complex. It tends to deal more with the idea of sensuality, with the emotions and sensations connected with sex. Of course, as I have found, a lot depends on whether you are reading erotica written for women or for men. Women’s erotica usually involves some sort of romantic storyline whereas men’s erotica is much more based on the sexual act, so I think it all depends on which form of erotica you read.
7. Your stories With Deepest Sympathy and A Gift from God have particularly grim endings – what is it about the bleak and downbeat climax that so suits the short story in the darker genres?
You wake up in the middle of the night, your body cold with sweat, your ears trying to make sense of the screaming sound that fills the room. Finally, you realise the sound is you and you start laughing in the darkness in an attempt to control your fear. Nightmares are short sharp shocks to the system and the short story form can mimic that feeling. They tend to be a situation, a single moment in time that in a larger context would find a resolution, but is magnified instead by the sudden ending. This is why the short story form fit so well with darker fiction. It allows the writer to recreate the intensity of nightmares which, by their very nature, never have a happy ending.
8. I noticed that you credit Edgar Allan Poe as an inspiration – could you tell me which is your favourite tale and why?
I would have to say The Tell-Tale Heart. I was around ten years old when I first read it and it really captured my imagination. Back then I had no clue why but reading it again now I think it has a lot to do with Poe’s use of repetition to build suspense. I loved that very little happened for most of the story, just a head slowly poking through the doorway with the odd sliver of light, but it really made me shiver. It was the story that started my love of descriptive writing and also my love of horror.
9. So what is a typical writing day for Lisa McCarthy?
My writing day involves getting up in the morning, writing the outline for a story, going back to bed to research the finer points of the erotic scenes, writing the first draft, opening the new sex toy the postman delivered, inviting him in to test it, and after getting my breath back, finishing the story. Or this is what people think happens. In reality, I just sit, bleary eyed, at the computer, willing the words to appear. After too many mugs of coffee and a lunch that consists of chewed up fingernails, maybe the words will flow, or I’ll just log into to Facebook instead.
10. So what does 2012 hold for Lisa McCarthy? Any last words?
Lots and lots of writing! I’m currently working on my first horror novella, and I have plans for an erotic novel. I’d also like to continue with short stories and hopefully get a collection together. And maybe, just maybe, I will buy some new toys and invite the postman in to play. Who knows!
Thank you, Lisa!
The Butterfly Waltz is available from the following links:
If you want to find out more about Lisa, please visit her website.