Reprinted by permission, from
Mary Anne Mohanraj Her erotic fiction has made her quite the internet
celebrity, in fact, someone even told me she’s the queen of the
alt.sex.stories newsgroup. Now Mary Anne Mohanraj takes her literary
talents into the “real world” with her first book, “Torn Shapes of
Desire.” (Part 1 of 2)
Intersmut: I see you were born in Sri Lanka and grew up in New Britian,
Connecticut. (irony of ironies, my first college roommate was originally
from Sri Lanka and grew up in Stamford, Connecticut) How would you
describe your childhood? Did you have a strict, proper upbringing?
Mary Anne: (heh. What’s his name? I probably know him.) I’d say my
upbringing was fairly strict — no school dances, no sleepovers,
certainly no boyfriends! About what you’d expect from traditional
immigrant parents. Most of the restrictions I didn’t mind so much as a
kid — I wasn’t really all that interested in dating until I got to
college — a late bloomer, as they say.
IS: Were you one of those kids that was always writing, always keeping a
MA: Actually, no. I wrote a few poems (on the standard geeky topics –
horses, unicorns, space travel) here and there, and I always adored
reading, but I didn’t really think seriously of becoming a writer or
practicing my craft. To me, writers were sort of these mythical
demi-gods. It was hard enough believing that I might actually meet one
at a convention — becoming a writer was surely impossible!
IS: So many writers tell me there’s a defining moment when they know
they want to be a writer and that’s what they want to do for the rest of
their life. Did you have one of those moments?
MA: Hmm…sort of. It was during one summer when I was working as an
executive assistant (really important secretary :-). I found that on
days when I didn’t have much work, I’d often find myself writing poetry
(many the 1992 poems were written at my office desk). Somewhere along
the line I started thinking that maybe I could publish a few. Of course,
it was a few more years after that before I considered that I might
actually get paid for my writing — and I had started writing prose by
IS: How did you enjoy college? And how much did your collegiate years
(which many pyschologists believe are some of the most important
formative years in terms of relationship-building, etc.) influence you,
both as a person and as a writer?
MA: I had an absolutely fantastic time. The University of Chicago was
really the perfect place for me. I was surrounded by people who were at
least as smart or smarter than I was (which dealt a humbling and
much-needed blow to my ego) — the professors really pushed me, and I
enjoyed class discussions. I was also surrounded by geeks, and I somehow
easier to learn to socialize comfortably. I hate to think what might
have happened if I’d gone to someplace like Northwestern (a wonderful
school, but full of fraternities, sororities, beautiful people, etc…)
— I’d probably have retreated into a shell and hidden there. Instead,
at Chicago, I realized I was really an extrovert, and made quite a lot
of friends. It bolstered my self-image enormously, and gave me courage.
IS: You say in your biography that you wander “all over the map” in
terms of writing. You’re working on a fantasy novel, you’ve written
poetry, etc…. Why do you think that is?
MA: I like challenges, I think. I see a type of writing and I wonder if
I can do that. There are a few that have no real interest for me
(Westerns and romance novels, for example), and some that still
intimidate me (satire and drama), but I won’t swear to never try those
either. It’s also useful when I’m hitting stumbling blocks — if I’m
stuck on my fantasy novel, I can go revise some erotic short stories. If
those aren’t going well, there’s always poetry. Poetry is my great
IS: Ok, let’s get to the meat of it. What inspired you to start writing
MA: Well, it was all Paul’s fault. 🙂 See, I had this boyfriend, Paul,
back in my second year of college. He worked nights at the campus
computing center, and sometimes I’d come and keep him company at work
for a few hours. He persuaded me to actually start using my e-mail
account, and taught me how to read news. Wandering across newsgroups, I
started reading rec.arts.erotica and alt.sex.stories (just like everyone
else :-). Even in its heyday, r.a.e. had a pretty low volume, and only
perhaps 1 in 25 of those stories had much plot or character. The ratio
on a.s.s. was much worse, despite teh huge volume. So somewhere around
there I started thinking, “hey, I can write better stories than this!”
(Remember what I said about challenges? 🙂 So I tried it and got a lot
of fan mail, and was encouraged, and so I wrote some more. It’s been in
large part the fans who kept me writing, although I also had some
stories I wanted to tell.
IS: Now, you’ve said that you write about sex because it should be
written about. I agree with you, and I am a writer too, but I don’t
write erotic fiction. What is it about erotic writing that makes it so
appealing to you? Appealing enough to publish your works for the world
to see, both on the internet and in books.
MA: Since you’re a writer, I’ll give you a writer’s answer. I think
you’ll agree that writing isn’t just about craft — the stories that I
feel work best are the ones that address some aspect of the human
condition. Sexuality is a huge neglected aspect. Who we are comes
through so strongly during sex — the self that we often try so hard to
hide. I find this fascinating, and impossible to resist; the naked
vulnerability of the heart. There are also all sorts of political
reasons for writing openly about sexuality, but that’s a long answer. If
you’re interested, you can find it on my web page
(http://www.iam.com/maryanne) or in the introduction to my book.
IS: Most writers I know delve deeply into personal experiences to get
their material. How much of your work, both erotic and otherwise, is
based on personal experience?
MA: Do you really expect me to answer this in detail? 🙂 You should see
the come-ons I already get… Part of any writer’s work is, I think,
drawn from personal experience, and so is much of mine. But I also have
a truly vivid imagination — I can promise you that I’ve never been a
man (“Morningsong”), or had a twin brother (“A Most Congenial Spot”), or
yet been married (“Charlie”, “A Season of Marriage”, “Radhika and
Matthew”). Yet there is a part of me in all those stories.
If you must have gossip, I’ll give you a hint. The stories that seem
like they might have been lived by me (the college ones, for example),
have a lot more of my actual experiences to them.
(Note: Intersmut ABSOLUTELY must have gossip. 🙂
IS: Your first erotic story was something called “American Airlines
Cockpit”. Does that story (which seems quite a bit more “vulgar” than
most of your other work) still hold a special place in your heart? And
how do you think you’ve developed as a writer since then?
MA: Oh yes. Partly because it was a pure wish-fulfillment story — I’d
just travelled to London when I wrote that, and I can tell you that it
was a very dull flight. Partly because I got a surprising amount of
reader response, which really encouraged me. Partly just ’cause it was
On the other hand, the characterization makes me shudder, the style is
clumsy, the dialogue…I could go on and on. At least it had a modicum
of plot (something I always have trouble with). I think I’ve learned
quite a lot about characterization since then — I think it’s my
strongest point now. Still learning, of course.
IS: Unlike some erotica writers, you don’t delve into the slang words
and crude language. Is that a conscious decision on your part?
MA: Well, it depends on what you consider crude. Some people object to
‘cock’ and ‘cunt’, and I do sometimes use those. I tend not to write
slam-bang stories (though I often enjoy reading them) — in fact, a lot
of my sex-related stories are more sad than erotic. As such, really
crude language is something to be wary of — it can jerk the reader out
of the story. I see no reason not to use it otherwise; you use the
language appropriate to the style of the piece.
In Part 2 of our interview with Mary Anne Mohanraj, we’ll delve deeper
into her recently published collection of erotic works, “Torn Shapes of
Desire”, discuss her newfound fame and discuss weighty political matters
like her choice in beverages.
For more information on Maryanne and her new book, “Torn Shapes of
Desire”, visit www.iam.com/tsd.
To be continued…