Making Love in Public
—An Interview with author Phyllis Curott
Copyright Allyson E.
Phyllis Curott is the author
of Book of Shadows, which has sold
over 100,000 copies in the U.S. and is an international
bestseller. Ms. Curott is a respected civil liberties attorney
honored as one of the 10 Gutsiest Women of the Year by Jane
Magazine. She is also a Wiccan Priestess, Interfaith activist
and a member of the Assembly of World Religious Leaders who
teaches internationally. Her most recent
memoir, The Love
Spell(Gotham Books, 2/05), has just
released in paperback.
Readers and writers of
romance novels are familiar with the tired litany of sexual
buzzwords that frequent the pages of such books. Throbbing.
Swoon. Explosion. But have you ever tried describing sex
without using clichés? Nothing could be more
challenging…unless, of course, you’re writing about your
own sexual experiences.
In her memoir The
Love Spell, her third book, author Phyllis Curott struggled
to write about her most personal, private experiences in a way
that was informational, sexy, and entertaining at the same
time—without worrying what her friends and family would think
when they read it! She took a moment out of her hectic speaking
schedule to talk with me about the lessons she learned, and the
tale she learned to tell.
AP: The Love
Spell isn’t your first book, but it’s the first that deals
with sex and sexuality—in particular, your sexuality.
How did the experience differ from writing your other
PC: This was the most
difficult to write. I had to really look at myself, face my
demons, find my Goddesses, and be completely honest. The
Love Spell is a memoir about the most personal of all
subjects—sex, longing, desire, love and
inhibition—intimacies that you only share with your partner, or
talk about with your best girlfriends. Opening myself up in
that way was very risky, very scary, even more than the first
book, Book of Shadows, where I explored another
controversial, personal journey as a young Ivy League attorney
searching for the Goddess and finding the divinity within all
To the best of my
knowledge, The Love Spell is the only explicit memoir
written by a woman that re-weaves the suppressed connections
between sexuality and spirituality, and one of the very few
books that deals with the relationship between a woman and her
daemon. A daemon is a male version of the muse. He's a divine
being or messenger from God and a guide to the mysteries of a
woman's soul, her sexuality and her creativity. He manifests in
dreams, synchronicities, and also in real men; every woman has
one, whether she realizes it or not.
AP: What happened when
you tried to write your first love scene?
PC: I didn't want my
writing to be detached, merely intellectual. I wanted it to be
emotionally engaging and, most of all, arousing. I reminded
myself that I could always edit. But I could feel my mother's
spirit leaning over my shoulder, saying, "You're not going to
write about that for all the world to read!" I felt as if I
were making love in public. I had to send my mother out of the
room and out of my head.
It helped to remember
that I was writing to help other women who struggle with the
same longings and disappointments that I've had. I had to
challenge my own inhibitions to confront those of our culture.
That's so important, especially now when the forces of cultural
and sexual repression are once again attempting to control the
lives of others.
AP: Writing about
something that actually happened seems like it would be easier
than inventing an ideal romantic scene.
PC: It's much easier to
hide behind fiction, especially when writing about such private
things. The Love Spell required a level of intimacy and
revelation that went right into the heart and soul of who I am
as a woman. It required me to be very present, and very
vulnerable. Friends, family, fans, critics, even complete
strangers will judge your deepest secrets—that’s
AP: Some of the love
scenes in The Love Spell are in some ways an ode to the
modern American romance novel. Are you a big fan of the
PC: I love romance
novels. Before writing, I read everything labeled "erotic" or
"sexy." But except for a few books, I didn’t find much that was
truly erotic, at least not from my point of view. Then I found
romance novels. This genre is the secret erotica of American
women. It's dismissed as fantasy, but these books describe what
women want. And the struggle between what we long for and what
we actually experience is a main theme of The Love
Spell. Contrary to another popular misunderstanding, the
heroines are very strong and very feminine. And—no
surprise—surveys have found that women who read romance novels
have sex more often and enjoy themselves more than women who
don't read them. Now that's a worthy ambition for any
AP: Do you think
writing The Love Spell has given you the tools to write
a more traditional romance novel?
PC: It's certainly
improved my skills as a writer. Erotic writing is the most
difficult writing there is; most "mainstream" writers of
literary fiction rarely attempt it. Yes, I've thought about
writing a romance novel. Even Susan Sontag tried it. The genre
tends to follow certain fixed formulas, which can be confining,
but which can also inspire incredible creativity. It's a real
accomplishment to be original while working inside very
specific limitations of form. That's an interesting
AP: Tell us a little
about the process you used in writing The Love
PC: I didn't use any
tricks or aids to get in the mood. No sexy music, drinking
wine, watching erotic movies (which can be as hard to find as
erotic books). I closed the door of my study—literally and
metaphorically—and wrote only to arouse myself. If I
accomplished that, I was satisfied—pun intended!
AP: Recently, the
market has seen several sex-related memoirs. Is it a growing
PC: Authors talk about
sex and their sex lives, but it's very rarely in a style that's
genuinely arousing. It's detached, analytical, even clinical,
or self-consciously "literary." Or they’re books like The
Sexual Life of Catherine O, which was marketed as a book
about sex, but is really about self-loathing and masochism.
There are very few memoirs that deal with sex in a way that's
honest and erotic.
AP: What advice do you
have for writers who are trying to tackle putting their own
sexual experiences and love affairs on the page?
PC: Shut out the world,
write only for yourself. I did have one trick that worked very
well at the beginning: I drafted love scenes in the third
person, and then changed to the first person while editing. It
was very had to write, "He slid his hand up my thigh . . ."
without cringing. Or giggling. By the end of the book, it was
wonderful to write in the first person, but it took time to get
to that place.
There's something very
helpful about writing in the first person, however—it keeps you
from falling into the trap of clichéd writing. You try to write
explicitly without using explicit language, to write poetically
without adverbs and adjectives. You look for language that's
fresh and truthful, unique and yet universal. It's very
challenging to find ways to express feelings that are often
beyond description. It truly hones your skills as a writer. And
Author: Allyson E. Peltier is a
writer and editor, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate and Master of
Arts in English and Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in
a wide variety of places, including Absolute Write and
J3tlag.com. She lives in New
York City. You can visit her at www.ambitiousenterprises.com