Cynthia Gentry, 41, writes erotica, as well as mainstream fiction, and is the co-author of “Red Hot Tantra” and “The Bedside Orgasm Book: 365 Days of Sexual Ecstasy,” to be published next year. The Menlo Park resident has degrees from Stanford University, UC Berkeley and is completing a graduate creative-writing degree at San Francisco State University. She talked recently with staff writer Emily Fancher.
Q. Define erotica.
A. It’s all subjective. I would define it personally as writing about sex with some sort of literary intent. A lot of contemporary mainstream novels have sex in them, but are not considered erotica. Erotica is designed to arouse, but in literary ways.
Q. Why did you decide to start writing erotica?
A. It’s funny. A couple of years ago, probably around ‘95 or ‘97, I had discovered erotica and enjoyed it, and was having writer’s block with some of my other projects. Spur-of-the-moment, I thought I’d try my hand at this. Until then, I’d never written anything I’d consider erotica.
Q. How did your friends and family react?
A. Well, I kind of kept it to myself, I guess. I certainly didn’t show it to my family. This current book is probably the first time I shared this side of myself with my family. The first story I shared with friends, and they really liked it. Publications like “Libido” and “Paramour” liked it, but passed on it, because it was a long story.
Q. Are there mainstream writers who write about sex in a way you admire?
A. Nicholson Baker wrote a book called “The Fermata” that’s about a guy who can stop time, and in those little time periods, he goes around and does things like leave erotic stories for women to find. It’s very funny and very sexy.
Q. How has this career affected your romantic relationships?
A. With the current books, it’s been a positive. People think my boyfriend and I must have this charmed sex life, but it’s probably no different from anybody else’s. The drawback is, sometimes you’re writing about that topic so much you get kind of sick of it.
Q. Do other people romanticize your job?
A. When I tell people I’m a writer, I would say they romanticize it. They think being a writer is so much fun, but really it’s so much agony and staring at the screen. I’m careful about whom I tell that I write erotica, although with the publication of this book, the cat’s out of the bag.
Q. Do you do research for your books?
A. For this book, I did do a lot of research. There’s one story where a woman finds a diary of one of her ancestors who lived in the Old West, so I did research into that era and women who lived in that era and, for my last book, research into Tantra.
Q. What’s the most difficult part of writing erotica?
A. The most difficult part is not being repetitive and finding new and interesting ways to talk about sex without getting boring or trite or clichéd, and keeping it fresh and interesting.
Q. Where’s the fine line between bad and good erotica?
A. There are a lot of erotica anthologies, and I read some stories and think they’re great, and others leave me completely cold. I think a good story might be sexy and arousing, and also makes you feel like you’re there, and the quality of the writing is good and fresh. Not a recitation of who did what to whom, with generic faceless characters.
Q. Why do you think the market for erotica has grown so much over the years?
A. I think it’s a great thing. I think especially women are becoming more comfortable with their sexuality and talking about their sexuality. They’re more interested in reading stories that are more explicit than a Harlequin romance novel.
Causes Cynthia Gentry Supports