Hotel rooms turn me on. The blankness, the anonymity, that big bed begging you to strip off its tacky flowered spread and indulge in sensual excess. It's not just me. I've found things in my travels: European porn with captions in four languages stuffed in a phone book, a single black stocking behind a chair.
With more sex and fewer golden-locked Fabios, erotic short stories, such as Room Service by Donna George Storey, are gaining popularity as the smuttier cousin of the Harlequin romance novel.
Erotica is seeing an influx of writers and readers, says Sarah Forbes-Roberts, co-owner of Come As You Are, a Toronto sex shop whose sales in the genre have increased 34 per cent in the past five years. Popular titles include He's on Top and Do Not Disturb .
At a time when downloadable porn is readily at hand, it is surprising to hear that people are still getting pleasure from the written word. What sets erotica apart, Ms. Forbes-Roberts says, is that it's "brain sex" that gives people a "springboard to talk about fantasies. …
"For some people, watching people have sex is erotic, and for others, it's too much. There's not enough left for the imagination. A lot of people are now reading erotica to each other, as foreplay."
They are also creating it: With interest rising in the genre, Come As You Are brought in acclaimed erotica author Rachel Kramer Bussel for its latest writing workshop.
After dropping out of law school, Ms. Bussel started writing erotica, penning her first story, Monica and Me about a fictional relationship with Monica Lewinsky, 10 years ago. The 33-year-old New Yorker has now written more than 100 erotic short stories, and Harlequin will publish her first novel, Everything But … in November, 2010.
To a diverse crowd that included punks, businesswomen and one silver fox, Ms. Bussel explained how to turn people on with a turn of phrase.
Start with the head
Erotica readers range from their 20s to their 60s, and although women outnumber men, guys are buying - often for their girlfriends, Ms. Bussel says.
Many new readers are surprised that the sexually explicit stories are also brainy.
"There are dirty words but I think there's more going on," Ms. Bussel says. "There's emotion and nuance that I think appeals to men and women, especially women who are looking for something that's not just 'wham bam thank you ma'am.'"
Funny = sexy
Erotica is also often droll, fitting since most women like funny men. "Humour is really big in erotica, both intentional and unintentional," Ms. Bussel says. "There can be real-life jokes or little nuances."
At the workshop, she giggles approvingly as an aspiring writer reads his story, which involves a stick of salami at a grocery store.
Get your mind out of the gutter
And although erotica is technically a sex story, "people don't even have to have sex," Ms. Bussel says. She cites Lap Dance Lust , a story about her encounter with a dancer outfitted in "cave girl attire" at an L.A. strip club. (The women hold hands at the end.)
There's also room for "real-life events that aren't always fabulous or wonderful." At the workshop she reads The Sun Is an Ordinary Star , a story by Shanna Germain about a cancer patient asking her partner not to make love to her like she's "dying."
"Great erotica in some ways starts somewhere [people]are comfortable and then takes them somewhere they wouldn't expect," says Come As You Are co-owner Holly Hirst. "For most of our customers it's not about wanting to be shocked, but wanting to be carried off just a little farther than their minds might normally wander."
Think beyond yourself
Still, most amateur erotica writers start by cataloguing their own romps: "For a lot of people, the initial inspiration for writing erotica is either to share it with a lover or express something that's happened to them," Ms. Bussel says.
But life experiences run out after a while and sometimes they end "in a dull way" that doesn't make for much of a story. So she encourages novices to get imaginative; the published market is dominated by highly specific, themed anthologies on everything from hotel sex and the mile-high club to feet, shoes and gay men in underwear.
Although the words are intended to arouse, "you don't have to be turned on by your own story," as long as your intended audience is, Ms. Bussel says.
But speak up about what you like
Erotica's strength lies in its ability to tap into individualized sexualities, she explains: She prefers James Gandolfini to Brad Pitt, for instance.
"Write something that is authentic to you. If there are certain words you use for body parts or sex acts, use those words." Mr. McPeeBee anyone?
Tap your inner voyeur
"People like finding out other people's idea of what is erotic," Ms. Forbes-Roberts says.
To inspire herself, Ms. Bussel will often look around and try to imagine what other people's sex lives are like, especially from cafés and airports. In Wild Child , for example, Ms. Bussel writes from the perspective of an older man who arouses a young woman with the ice cubes in his whisky glass on an airplane.
Finally, take it slow
Although there are few don'ts in the genre, a common mistake is that writers rush through the story.
"One of the things I see [aspiring writers]do is get to the sex part too soon," Ms. Bussel said. "Like any other kind of story, you still want a beginning, middle and an end."