Poetechniciens Magazine Interview with M.A. Mohanraj, August 1996

Thought this might interest some of you. Poetechniciens is a magazine directed at young writers. – Mary Anne

Interview with M. A. Mohanraj by Brent E. Edwards

Mary Anne Mohanraj is a well-known erotica writer on the Internet.
She has been recently interviewed by Penthouse (June 1996), by Time,
and by the Philadelphia Inquirer (June 1996); her poetry and stories
have been published in nineteen magazines. She maintains a World Wide
Web site which has been seen by over 445,000 visitors.

PT: How did you start writing?

MM: The credit goes to Anne Sexton. She wrote a fabulous and disturbing incest poem, “Sleeping Beauty”, which really impressed me. Somehow, reading that poem I started thinking, “Hey, I can write this stuff…” Until then, I had regarded writers as demi-gods.

PT: How did you get over your insecurities and send off your first

MM: The hardest part was posting them to the net. The thought of
thousands of people reading my poems was a little terrifying. But the
net can also be impersonal too — it wasn’t as bad as reading my poems
aloud. After the net, sending poems off to a faceless editor at a
small press magazine was much easier.

PT: While you were writing poetry, you moved to erotica. Why the

MM: It’s a complicated answer, and has to do with identity politics,
sexual politics, sociology and personal psychology. Mainly I write it
because I think sex should be written about. Our culture (American
culture especially, but I think it applies to most of the world) has
an unhealthy fear of sexuality, in my opinion.

PT: I’ve read that erotica is a way for writers to get their ‘feet
wet’: that it’s easy to get published in, and it is a good forum
before they get into other kinds of writing. Would you agree or
disagree with this?

MM: Well, we should first distinguish between erotica and porn. To
me, porn means sex stories and erotica means sex stories with
character, style and plot. The erotica market is small, literary, and
pays little. The porn market is huge, ravenous, generally requires
little quality and pays quite well.

MM: New writers may want to spend time trying to break into porn
writing. It’s a good way to make some money, and it doesn’t require a
high degree of skill. On the down side, it’s still fairly hard to
contact editors in the field or to find guidelines; the writer may be
uncomfortable discussing their work with family or friends; it may be
necessary to use a pseudonym if the writer plans to work in other
fields; and some long-term porn writers have warned me that it
contaminates your other writing: it becomes difficult not to write
graphic sex scenes…which may be inappropriate for other

PT: Did having stories on the Internet help you or hurt you when you
tried to get published in magazines?

MM: Here in the U.S., magazines generally buy First North American
Serial Rights. I assume it’s similar in England. When you put
something on the net, you lose first rights and can only sell reprint
rights. This means that a writer should only put complete stories on
the net that they can afford to lose, or possibly the first chapter or
two of a novel. I know two reasons why a writer would voluntarily
give up rights: feedback and publicity. Feedback is useful, but you
can probably better get better feedback at a writers’ workshop or
through mailing lists than through public forums. Mailing lists are
closed, and not considered publication. On the other hand, most of my
sales have come from editors who found me through my on-line stories
featured on my web page.

(NOTE: Some editors don’t consider web publishing to be first
publishing — I find it’s best to simply ask them.)

PT: You’ve mentioned mailing lists and writers’ workshops. Do you
know where a beginning writer might find these on the Internet? What
other resources would you recommend to beginning writers?

MM: I highly recommend the Writer’s Workshop. They break down into
several sections (Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, Screenwriting,
Writelab, Scenelab, Writingchat and more) and are composed of a great
bunch of writers working together to exchange critiques, hints, and
market information. An offshoot of that workshop is the Erotica
Writers’ Workshop, which I moderate.

MM: As for other resources, it’s always a good idea to seek out live
workshops as well: they offer services that an on-line workshop can’t
offer. I’d also recommend the Writer’s Market series of books, to
find what magazines would be appropriate for your first efforts. The
books cover various fields — I’ve found the Science Fiction Writer’s
Market to be an especially good starting point. Once you’re gotten
started, various small press publications like the SF Scavenger’s
Newsletter provide up-to-date information.

PT: Where do you get your ideas?

MM: You know, Harlan Ellison (a well-known science fiction
writer) always answers “A post-office box in Schenectady, New York” to
that one.

MM: More seriously, I get them from everywhere. The last line of
somebody else’s poem may become the first line of mine. One of my
favorite poems came from a dream. Some stories are “what if”s. I
steal them from friends’ lives; I disguise incidents from my own life.
Some are made up entirely of whole cloth…and some are so true it
hurts to write them down. And some I can’t explain at all — so I
might as well claim they’re from Schenectady.

PT: Do you have any final advice to new writers?

MM: Writing is a heartbreakingly difficult field, and while it’s not
really so tough to get published if you go about it systematically,
it’s damn near impossible to make a living as a full-time writer. But
I’m not telling you to give up. The daily grind of being a writer
will make you give up, if it possibly can. So I’m speaking to those
of you who push through that grind, and keep reaching for the muse and
magic despite everything and everyone who tells you you can’t do this.
I think you can. Best of luck to you all — I hope to see you soon in
print as my competition.


net: the Internet
rec.arts.poems: A public bulletin board, for the dissemination and
discussion of poems.
Web: The ‘World Wide Web’.
World Wide Web: A collection of interconnected documents.

For further research:

Mary Anne’s Home Page:

Mary Anne’s Writing Resources (Highly recommended!)

Writers’ workshop: Semd mail to listserv@psuvm.psu.edu with
the message ‘subscribe writing yourname’ (e.g.
‘subscribe writing Brent Edwards’) in the body of your text.