Today's "5Q&A" is with Donna George Storey, author of Amorous Woman
1.) Who are you?
Hmm, I’ve been trying to figure this out for about forty years now, but I seem to be getting closer to an answer every day!
I was born in 1961 in tiny Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three daughters. We moved around a bit for my father’s job, but finally settled in Washington, D.C. where my friends were the children of Congressional aides, Vietnamese “farmers” who somehow got important jobs at the State Department, and a lot of Korean and Taiwanese immigrants. That was my first taste of Asian culture. When I was a junior Princeton, I happened to see a bulletin board outside of my
Renaissance Poetry class advertising opportunities to teach English in Japan. As an English and creative writing major, I didn’t feel particularly employable, so I thought this might be a chance to see the world and support myself, at least temporarily.
I’d always been a rather timid, teacher-pleasing child, but my hidden adventurer came out after graduation when I bought a one-way ticket to Tokyo and set off with nothing but a year’s Japanese study and a wallet full of traveler’s checks. However, I think the Japanese gods were watching out for me, because I quickly found work at a small language school in Kyoto, started taking lessons in traditional Japanese dance with a wonderful sensei and made lots of friends of all ages. My “still waters run deep” personality seemed to suit the culture very well. I stayed for two wonderful years, then returned to the States to study Japanese literature at Stanford. I met my (American) husband in Japanese class there—sometimes we still speak to each other in Japanese when we don’t want the kids to understand!
My priorities shifted a bit when my first child was born. By then I had a Ph.D. and a translation of the work of an obscure Japanese writer under my belt, but the academic life didn’t seem as appealing as it once had. I started trying my hand at essays and short stories during my son’s naps and quickly discovered that writing was the most compelling work I’d ever done. Also the most challenging! Sending out
work and collecting rejections is hard on the ego, but eventually it paid off. I’ve been writing for ten years now and have about sixty publications. My first novel came out this fall. I’m finally allowing myself to say I’m a writer—for many years I felt unworthy to claim that title. I hope this is an inspiration for writer soccer moms everywhere. It can be done with persistence.
2.) Were you hesitant to write erotica, or did you jump in with both feet?
I’d have to say that I walked gingerly to the pool, but once I got there I plunged right in. I’ve always been interested in what happens after the love scene fades to the burning candle. That’s when the really good part of the story begins, right? When I started writing fiction, erotic themes seemed to creep into every story in spite of myself. I really did try to resist. I wanted to write “literature”
not dirty stories. But even my literary stories tended to focus on sexual relationships and many of those did get published in serious journals. So eventually I began to look at my natural tendencies in a different way. There’s much debate about the distinction between erotica and pornography—some insist there is none. I’d argue that just as literary fiction encourages readers to question the status quo and
genre fiction soothingly confirms expectations, erotica tends to make us think about sexuality on a deeper level, while porn offers consequence-free escape. If we take a look at some of the most meaningful, dramatic, and exciting moments in our lives, sex is involved in many of those experiences. Yet it’s not something we can yet talk about freely in our society. Fiction is a place where we can slip inside someone else’s skin and work through our own issues through the character’s choices and conflicts. So, telling my “truth” about the female sexual experience through fiction isn’t something to be ashamed of—quite the contrary, it’s what literature is all about. I’m glad that more mainstream writers are tackling that theme—Barbara Kingsolver and Jane Smiley both recently published novels that deal more openly with sexuality and I hope there will be many more.
3.) What do you enjoy most about being an author?
For the first ten years of my writing life I’d say the part I loved most was bringing new characters and scenes to life in my head. I’d snatch a bit of dialogue from a conversation I overheard at a coffee shop, get back at an old boyfriend with an embarrassing (and untraceable) detail, convince my husband to act out a portion of a scene to make sure it was physically possible--the background research was fun, too. Eventually my creations would take on a life of their own and refuse to follow my plot and insist the story had to end a different way. But I’ll admit I liked ‘em feisty. Several of the characters in AMOROUS WOMAN refused to follow my plot outline and they earned my respect for it!
However, since my novel was released in September, I’ve discovered a new aspect of the writing life I really enjoy—connecting with my readers. I’ve occasionally received a note of appreciation for one of my stories in a journal or anthology, and that’s been wonderful. But AMOROUS WOMAN is all mine. When a reader tells me s/he enjoys and says s/he’s learned things about Japan, I am thrilled beyond words. I
realize now that before I was mainly focused on gaining an editor’s approval. What happened afterwards was beyond my control and I didn’t let myself worry too much about it. Now I’m very aware of my relationship with my readers. They’ve given me hours of their time in their busy lives and I’m very grateful for that.
4.) What do you like to do in your spare time?
With two young kids and several stories to attend to at any given moment, it doesn’t feel like I have much spare time! I do make time to take a brisk walk almost every morning before dawn. It’s really a form of walking meditation. I work out some of my life’s dilemmas and as well particular problems with my stories. That’s when I often get flashes of inspiration—a good ending line comes floating up in my head
or I realize a certain scene needs fleshing out and I figure out how to do that. I also enjoy cooking—my way of transforming drudgery into pleasure, perhaps. I recently signed up to get a weekly box of organic vegetables from a local farm and I’m really enjoying figuring out how to use each week’s goodies in our menu. It’s encouraged me to make up my own recipes, which is a lot like writing: scary, but when it works out, it’s pretty cool. My real specialty is cookies. In December I
make six different kinds—most of them multi-layered with almond paste and apricot jam or Dutch speculaas spices and brown sugar—and give oxes to my kids’ teachers and friends. They usually get good reviews but it takes three full days of baking! Absurdly time-consuming for what you get, but that’s rather like writing, too.
5.) What's next?
I’m brewing an erotic romance novel tentatively titled THE SECRET HISTORY OF LUST about a woman who meets a charming antique dealer with a mysterious room in the back of his shop that is open only to special customers. Her initiation into his secret vintage erotica club leads to a different kind of journey from AMOROUS WOMAN. This time it’s a trip to the past in America--Bettie Page photo clubs, Hollywood sex
scandals, the super-heated forbidden sex of a more repressed age. I’m having fun with the research and I hope that passion comes through in the novel. I think the author’s enthusiasm for her work does show.
Thank you so much, Donna!
If you'd like to know more about Donna and her book, Amorous Woman, please visit her website.