Saturday, October 10, 2009

Opening the Closed Door

by Philippa J. Ballantine

Writing is all about exposing yourself, and yet it is also something that many new authors fear. Let's face it-revealing your innermost fears and issues to strangers is a scary thing. But when you add exposing yourself while talking about sex, well that can be quite the tall order-especially for a just out of the egg author.

I have a friend who says there are some stories in which it is like you are out on the lawn, dancing naked-sometimes with a spotlight on you. Usually you are the only one who knows which of your stories fall into the lawn-dancing category-but strangely when writing about sex people always assume that is what you are doing. (Sometimes they are right… Sometimes definitely not.)

So when it came to writing sex scenes for my characters I knew why I kept their antics (and I did think about their antics) to themselves. I would write up to a point-there would be kissing, some light petting, but when clothes started to fly, I would firmly shut the bedroom door and let the audience imagine what went on after that. I told myself that it was better that way. Like in horror books, sometimes the best special effects are the ones you let the audience make up for themselves. That's what I told myself.

It also had nothing to do with my family and friends reading anything erotic written by me. Really… no seriously… it didn't.

But as my writing career started to bloom I began to wonder if I had made the right choice. My first two novels, Chasing the Bard and Digital Magic, had plenty of passionate characters, some of them not entirely human, and when I wrote them, the urge to nudge the bedroom door open was starting to appeal to me. Yet I could never quite bring myself to do that.

Then I began podcasting Chasing the Bard. As I recorded the early chapters, working my way to the place where my characters retired to the bedroom, I began to realize that I wanted to take the leap. I wanted to be brave. I wanted Will and Sive to have that moment, and not just from some high school moment of 'ooooh look they have their clothes off and I can use naughty words now'. I began to understand that what went on the bedroom could actually reveal a lot of things-not just their relationship, but something about the characters themselves which was not exposed in any other way. I also began to feel that they deserved it. The last half of the Chasing the Bard has some pretty dire and dark moments, and the intimate moments that the main characters share before them give them strength and hope for what goes ahead.

So for the first time I nudged that bedroom door open-just a crack. I couldn't know that this was the beginning, and there would be no turning back. I wrote and recorded a Chapter Thirteen-and though it looks timid now, it was the first step. I realized from there on in that I had to be fearless. A writer should be able to go wherever the story is, and a writer should always be growing and stretching.

That's when I began doing I went a step further and let the audience chose what sort of 'smut' I would write every month. It was a liberating and challenging experience-just the one I was hoping for. My first story, The Pages of Madness, was about a Librarian. I hadn't chosen it, leaving that up to the audience, but I had put it there. You see, I am a librarian by trade. So yes, maybe I was dancing on the lawn a little-daring my own fears. And oh boy-it felt good.

With every story, I can feel myself going further and further, challenging myself, pushing boundaries. I know that in my novels, if I need to go there I can. I don't regret for a minute opening the bedroom door-in fact I wish I had done it earlier. I know that it helps makes my stories stronger and my characters living breathing, sexual beings.


The talented Philippa Ballantine is a New Zealand writer and podcaster who specializes in science fiction, fantasy and the occasional naughty bit of erotica. She studied English Literature and Politics at Victoria University, and after graduation found herself in the world of libraries. Writing takes up large portions of her time, around which she squeezes in other activities like gardening, needlework, collecting dragons and ceramics, DIY, and reading (of course). She's particularly fascinated by renaissance and medieval history in Europe, and the history of her own country New Zealand.

Her books include Chasing the Bard and Digital Magic, published by Dragon Moon Press. Her latest work, Geist, is due to be released by Ace Books in November 2010.

Her podcasts include Weather Child, Erotica a la Carte (a finalist for 2009 Parsec Award for Best Anthology), and Chasing the Bard, for which she won a Sir Julius Vogel award.

Find out more about the talented Ms. Ballantine at




  1. Greetings, Philippa,

    Welcome to the Grip! Thank you for a wonderful, insightful post. I love the notion of "dancing-on-the-lawn" stories, and I heartily agree with your realization that explicit sex scenes can reveal character and propel the plot-- that if you close the door you are also shutting out narrative opportunities.

    I'm not at all familiar with your work, but now that I've "met" you, I've put you on my "must read" list.


  2. Philippa,

    Thank you so much for the lovely post. I have to agree as well with the dancing-naked-on-the-lawn analogy, though it's often frustrating when people think erotica writers writer about their own sex lives (honestly, I'm not a gay man).

    Chasing the Bard was a wonderful read, Erotica a la Carte has been absolutely innovative (let the readers choose the ingredients for the story? Amazing idea!) and I can't wait to see how Geist turns out. Thank you again for the guest post!

  3. Hi Philippa and welcome to the Grip!

    A lovely post and very insightful. Dancing-naked-on-the-lawn made me smile. In many aspects that's how I feel when writing those naughty bits. You really do expose yourself when you get into that part of an erotica story. Even when what I'm writing has nothing to do with me, it still comes from my imagination, so it's part of me.

    Like you, it's a door opened and never closed again. And, like you, I'm very glad.

    Thank you for joining us at the Grip and I hope to see you here often.


  4. Hi Philippa,

    Lovely post! Thanks so much for coming to the Grip today, we appreciate it and enjoyed reading your point of view!


    Jenna Byrnes

  5. Hi Philippa,

    Sorry I'm so late in responding: I was out of town and away from a PC yesterday.

    Excellent post - and I love the concept that (as writers) we are dancing naked on the lawn. That's a wonderful analogy that I'm going to keep thinking about whenever my writing hits one of those smooth-flowing spots.

    Thanks for joining us here this week,

    Ashley Lister

  6. Hi Phillipa!

    Welcome to our little blog. Great post. This is a theme which I think is unique to people who write in this most intimate of genres. No one ever says "I remember when I wrote my first boxing story. I was so afraid people might think I knew how to box . . " or ". . .I remember when I wrote my first story about flying a space ship. I was scared people would know the author was me." You know you;re hitting a nerve when you;re writing something people think is a little dangerous or questionable, that dancing on the lawn thing. Who else does that except us? The only other genre that comes close to public notoriety is horror fiction, which some people regard as a little sick. Robert Bloch used to tell people "I have the heart of a young boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk."



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