Interviewing writers is always interesting. Writing cannot be described as a conventional occupation. Inspiration can be fleeting. It can strike anywhere…but an office. Below is an interview with Tonia Brown (who also writes romance as Regina Riley. Tonia Brown focuses on the darker erotic fiction and her latest offering is called The Blooming, a dark tale about a plant that turns people into the undead.
You’re a writer who steps beyond the prettily boxed themes. What experiences have influenced your preference for erotic horror?
My largest influence when writing erotic horror, or erotic anything, has been my years of watching really bad horror movies. I always hated how the characters seemed to have ill-timed sex. Don’t get me wrong, I was a teenager once, and yes I understand the motives behind hormones. But being on the run from an axe-wielding maniac might not be the best time to stop and get your grove on. I always keep that in mind when working sex into a story. How natural does it seem? If when reading it later the characters feel like they are just stopping to have sex, that’s not good enough for me. I want the reader to be as aroused as the characters. When a reader senses an oncoming sex scene, I don’t want them to roll their eyes and think, ‘Not this again.’ I want you to think, ‘Hell yeah! That thing we were just doing can wait a few minutes, let’s totally do this first!’
How would you describe erotic horror as a genre? Also is it better to remain as an independent genre (in case it became too watered down as a mainstream genre)?
Wow. How does one describe erotic horror as a genre? Scary yet sexy? Horrible yet hot? Brutal yet beautiful? That is a hard question. I suppose the best description is what you would assume horror to be, only much, much sexier. Some of you are thinking that you already read some pretty sexy horror stories. This is true; many horror authors are putting more erotic material in their books, either to attract more readers or just to spruce up their own writing style. So I suppose the real difference between conventional horror and erotic horror is that the sexual situations drive the story of erotic horror, rather than just add to it. Sex isn’t just an appetizer in erotic horror, it’s the main course.
As far as being watered down goes, I doubt erotic horror could ever be watered down. Once you move into the realm of working with erotica, you’ve moved well past the ability to water it down. Watered down erotica is just another word for romance. And while romance can find its way into horror, it’s not the same thing as good old-fashioned sexy sex.
Your latest work, The Blooming, features a plant that turns people into zombies. It’s an alternative zombie point of origin. What (or who) were your early influences?
I could name a string of books and films that have formed my vision of what makes a great zombie, but by far my largest influence in all matters zombie related is my twin sister, Tonie. At an early age, when most of the girls we knew were playing with dolls and kittens, my sister and I took on different tastes. While I was exploring the morbid world of dark literature— Poe, Lovecraft and the sort— she developed an unnatural love for the undead which to this day rivals any normal obsession I have ever seen. By virtue of being around her I was spoon-fed (or is that force-fed?) zombies, whether in book or movie form, and loved every moment of it. As we got older the conversations turned from just the sheer terror of it, into more scientific and realistic potential. We and our respective spouses still spend countless hours discussing the possibilities of zombie attacks, detailing everything from escape plans to possible infection sources. Such conversations became the backbone for The Blooming.
You have written stories that feature erotica, horror and themes that tend to be missing from conventional erotic themes that tend to prefer to focus on pleasant situations and environments. What would your advice be to writers who are knocked back from publishers preferring pleasant erotic stories?
“Get used to it.”
I hate to put it that way, but the majority of erotic publishing houses are looking for romantic erotica, not horror stuff. Even if they take horror it must include the dreaded HEA or the so-so HFN. (Happily Ever After, or Happy For Now.) These two terms will plague you as an erotic author, but, as they say, it’s what the public wants.
How can you deal with it and still see the light of ebooks? Simple, either you can wait till you find a publisher that is willing to accept your happily-never-after ending, or learn to write what the market is asking for.
Even though I try to write about unusual situations, all of my erotic stuff revolves around the relationships of the characters. In order to suit different publishing houses, I’ve had to shape many an ending to suit the HFN and HEA requirements; endings I would have otherwise written very differently. Yet I have done so without losing my integrity or spoiling the plot line. It can be done if you are willing to bend a little. Learn to bend a little now and the opportunity to flex your muscle will come later.
The Blooming is a good example of this. The publisher, Sonar4, approached me and asked if I would be willing to combine the two things I liked to write best; horror and erotica. Also, she didn’t want a HFN or HEA ending. She just wanted horror and sex. So that’s what I gave her. I would have never had the opportunity if I hadn’t cut my teeth on traditional erotica first. So learn your basics, get your work out there and someone will take a chance on you to write something different.
Where were you when the idea for The Blooming hit you?
I would like to say something funny like ‘on the john’ or something fantastic like ‘while rescuing a baby from a burning building.’ But alas, I was at my desk at work. Shells asked me to write the thing, gave me an outline of what she was looking for, and left me to the rest. While mulling over the concept at work one night, I came up with the whole flower thing. Boring, I know, but true.
In terms of ideas, what kinds of everyday oddities strike you with inspiration for the dark, absurd, horrific or erotic?
Watching the news is always a good way to get inspiration for the darkness of humanity. I try not to watch the news, but it plays just outside my office in the morning, before I leave for home. I also find just listening to people talk about their lives is very inspirational. I have written several horror shorts based off of a simple encounter someone spoke about, that in my mind exploded into something surreal.
Oddly enough, I love to sit and watch couples for erotic inspiration. Not just the pretty folks, no. I like to imagine what normal people look like in bed. How do they act? What does she say to get him excited? Does he talk dirty? Does she let him spank her? Does he like it in the backdoor? Will there be toys involved? Please let there be toys involved!
Great, I can’t believe I confessed to that. Now, next time you see me in a coffee shop or a restaurant, and I’m watching you with your significant other, you’ll know what I’m smiling about.
Which theme do you consider the most important theme or part of the necessary framework/skeleton of your stories?
Most of my tales are of the ‘What if?’ category. What would happen if a woman found out she had a magic hoo-ha? What if you were on the run from flesh eating zombies, but were really horny at the same time? What if a steampunk airship was crewed by a bunch of very free thinking women? What if the ghost of your dead twin sister haunted you, but no one else could see or hear her? What if a freshly risen zombie learned to control his hunger through sex?
As far as writing itself, I write without an outline, but I do use a thin framework. As silly as it sounds, my basic framework for a story is beginning, middle, and end. I know how I want it to start, I have an idea of what I would like to happen in the middle bits, and how I want it to end.
Notice I say that I want, or would like. That’s because once I set to writing the thing the characters tend to take it from me and tell their own story. I usually can wrestle a few of my ideas in there, but on the whole they write it for me. For instance, right now I’m working on first person erotic memoir of a zombie gigolo called “Lucky Stiff.” Yet the way the character tells the tale I feel like I’m channeling the story rather than making it up. It’s eerie.
When did you decide to write your first novel?
About three years ago when I was reading a popular novel series, the name of which I will keep to myself. I was on about book six when it dawned on me how awful the series had become. Trite, unimaginative, boring and I had just sat through six of the books. Paid full price for them too! I knew I had a better story to tell than that. So I wrote it. It wasn’t much better than what the other author wrote, but I learned a whole lot from the process of it. So I took that learning process and wrote another, then another. Then a pile of short stories appeared. I don’t know when it will end.
In a world that is bent on celebrity, instant fame and stupendous mind boggling wealth, you’re quite humble and have been quoted that your biggest achievement is having a reader enjoy your work. It’s quite obvious with other writers, namely those who have published books in the double digits and use writing formulas, that the reader becomes less important as a reader. How do you view this? I don’t want to name bestseller writers, but one writer I used to read, continually uses the same formula and drives me mad. I no longer read his work because of it. What are your thoughts on story formulas?
First off, thank you so much. I don’t find myself described as humble very often. If you knew the folks around me you would understand why they are laughing at this. *wry grin* I stand by that statement too; the biggest thrill for me is to know someone liked my story. Sure they may have some critiques or a few suggestions, but overall they enjoyed it, and that’s what matters most to me. The only thing that’s better than that is when they ask for more.
I am not a fan of story formulas. Remember the series I was talking about? Another reason I dropped it at the sixth book was because they all sounded exactly the same. Read one, read them all. I find this to be distressingly true of most series. I can read the first, maybe the second, but by the third a pattern emerges and I lose interest. I also find this true of writing styles. You don’t have to have a series to be formulaic. I try to write something the reader will want to read, not just plow through it to see how the characters advance from book to book. I hope it’s something readers will take their time with and enjoy the adventure along the way.
Mass marketing shoulders the blame for story formulas. Publishers push for similar books because the one before it sold so well. In today’s economy, large publishing houses aren’t willing to take the chances on unique or oddball stuff like they would have even as few as ten years ago. Small places are starting to take up the slack on that. Thank the Gods for small publishing houses. They really are putting out the best books right now, as well as possibly the worst, but at least they are willing to put it all out there for the reader to decide.
Writing isn’t an easy job. I say job because it’s difficult to call it a hobby and the word ‘job’ may be an understatement as jobs can be monotonous. How do you move beyond the ups and downs that writers face in the process of creating a story from the beginning to the submission process?
Funny you should say that because I often refer to writing as my second job. It’s pretty much all I do anymore. My husband has friends over nearly every Sunday, and as I sit and listen to them enjoy themselves, I write. Not that writing isn’t fun in itself, but, well, you get the idea. And speaking of spouses, I depend heavily on mine to get me through the writing process. He is my springboard for ideas, my outlet for frustrations, my audience for readings, and my muse for every love story I put to paper, erotic or otherwise. I don’t know where I would be, or how I would write, without him.
Lastly, what tips do you have for writers who experience sluggish workdays?
Put that down time to good use and read.
Nothing gets the juices flowing like experiencing what you’re trying to create. Artists go to galleries, directors watch movies, writers read. Hop to it! Pick up that book and read it. You won’t be sorry, just inspired.
Read more about Tonia’s work on her website.If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed.