Janet Coburn
3 min readDec 3, 2023

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Writing Sex and Fantasy

A while back, I spent several years working on a mystery novel that went nowhere. Actually, it went to an appalling number of agents and publishers. It just didn’t stay there. And I wrote a short story that was a mashup of The Wizard of Oz and Star Trek.

But when it comes to fiction that I actually got paid for, my experience begins and ends with smut. Erotica. A dirty book. Whatever you want to call it. Now, I’m a big fan of freedom of speech and free expression and erotic literature, but there’s no getting around it — it was filthy. No redeeming social importance whatsoever, which used to be something people who wrote erotica aimed for. But I’m a ghostwriter and I write what the customer wants. So, I performed my writerly duty on the smut patrol and was compensated — not handsomely, but compensated. Then I went back to my steady diet of self-help books. But I lusted for something more…entertaining.

(We will not now discuss the research needed for the smut assignment or how I conducted it. If you want to, you can assume I drew on interviews with some of my less-inhibited friends. Let’s just say that I needed to include corroborative detail to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. And think of ways to describe body parts other than “throbbing purple-headed warrior” and “quivering love pudding.” But I digress. (Bonus points for recognizing the sources I used in this paragraph.))

Then recently, I almost wrote another non-smut novel, or at least the outline for one with the likelihood of writing the book if the outline was approved. The project was a piece of fiction, 100,000 words of what I guess you’d call “paranormal romantasy,” which apparently is a Thing now. I’ve been looking for a fiction assignment. There’s nothing wrong with self-help — it’s my proverbial bread and butter. But there’s also nothing wrong with adding a little jelly roll to the mix.

I was on the shortlist for the assignment. I didn’t get the gig. But I learned a lot from it, mostly about myself.

Realistically, I shouldn’t have considered taking the assignment, even if they had selected me for it. I’m already working on a long project that will keep me busy for months. I really couldn’t guarantee that I could do the world-building and plotting that the outline required. (There are other kinds of plotting I have more experience with, involving sinister, gleeful laughter. But I digress again.)

So, if I had moved from the shortlist to the one-list, I could easily have gotten in over my head and done a piss-poor job of it. I might have let my current project slide. I might have been sabotaging myself. It could have ended very badly.

But, oh, I wanted it. The opportunity came up over the long Thanksgiving weekend, so I had plenty of time to wait for the offer to come. I found myself prewriting (aka sitting around staring into space). I named the main character. I toyed with what her paranormal power might be. I speculated about what worlds of the multiverse she would travel to. I contemplated who her love interest might be.

It was mental effort wasted. Or not wasted, exactly. I proved to myself that I have the writerly chops to engage with a major fiction project and come up with ideas. I learned how much I want to branch out into fiction. I discovered that I can still get excited over a potential piece of writing. (Not that I don’t like helping selves, but I could use a little variety. It’s slightly disturbing how much I enjoyed ghostwriting a book on flesh-eating diseases. Yet another digression.)

Would I write smut again? Sure. I don’t have a philosophical objection to it. I might someday even look into a job as a phone sex operator. It’s a work-at-home position (sorry not sorry) with no actual (physical) customer contact. But, no. I don’t think I could keep myself from snorting and giggling.

Romance has a similar effect on me, but combine it with paranormal fantasy and I think I can handle it — as I hope someday to prove.

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Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.