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Mitzi Szereto Interview

Writewords talks to Mitzi Szereto, editor of just published Erotic Travel Tales 2, Erotic Fairy Tales, A Romp Through the Classics (Cleis Press), the e-book novella highway, and editor of the first Erotic Travel Tales. Sheís also known as M. S. Valentine, author of the erotica novels The Captivity of Celia (new from Blue Moon) The Martinet, Elysian Days and Nights, The Governess, and The Possession of Celia. The pioneer of the erotic writing workshop in the UK and Europe, she's a regular fixture on the interview circuit, appearing on BBC radio and in the Bravo television documentary 3001: A Sex Oddity

Whatís your writing background- please give us a brief career biog and list of your published work

I studied journalism, only to realise I didnít like journalism. Having said that, it re-awakened my talent as a writer, which went mostly ignored in lieu of what was to have been a career as a fine artist. In the early 90s, Iíd written three novels, none of which got published. I came close with each of them, getting major New York agents and publishers interested, but something always happened and the projects withered on the vine. I will say that I got jerked around by of some of these agents, who suggested revisions, then after Iíd done the work, said the complete opposite of what theyíd said in the first place. Still, I didnít give up. Iíd found my calling Ė and no one was going to put me off!

Now, to my first published book The Captivity of Celia, recently re-released from Blue Moon/Avalon Publishing, which very nearly didnít get published because some peon at a publishing house misinterpreted the direction of my work. You thought this was going to be a straightforward story of ďwriter on the road to publication,Ē didnít you? Anyway, Iíd sent the first chapter to Masquerade Books in New York, and within days the publisher rang me up. He liked what he read, but apparently his assistant had given him some detailed commentary on the work that gave him cause for concern whether they were the right publisher for it. How his assistant managed to turn a heterosexual erotic novel into a bodice-ripper lesbian novel I donít know. However, I convinced him to let me send him the entire manuscript. He read it, acquired it, released it in 1996, and consequently acquired three more titles from me Ė or should I say Ė M. S. Valentine, which was the name I was writing under back then. The other titles were The Governess, The Possession of Celia, and Elysian Days and Nights, all of which are now being re-published by Blue Moon, with some book club editions via the Venus Book Club/Doubleday.

It looked like M. S. Valentine and the Masquerade empire were going to have a life-long relationship, until I sent in my fifth erotic novel The Martinet (which eventually got published in 2001 by Chimera in the UK). To my shock, Masquerade had ceased publishing. There seemed to be no one left publishing erotic novels at this point, other than Black Lace, who are very set in what they want, which didnít fit what I was doing. At the same time I was working on my collection of stories Erotic Fairy Tales, A Romp Through the Classics, and had already acquired an agent to represent it. That didnít go easily either, which Iíll explain in more detail later. To sum up, after two years of hell, I finally secured a publisher for the fairy tales: Cleis Press. Following that, I came up with a concept for an anthology of erotic stories with a focus on geographical location, the now-entitled Erotic Travel Tales. Cleis grabbed it up, releasing the first volume in 2001. The second volume Erotic Travel Tales 2, of which Iím especially proud, has just come out in the UK. Iím fairly certain Iím the only anthologist of erotica whoís ever secured a Royal Fellow of Literature! Note that Iím already working on volume 3 as we speak.

Iíve had some short stories published here and there, such as in The Erotic Review, the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 2002, Wicked Words 4Öand various articles in magazines and journals. Oh, and Iíve dipped my pen into the e-book arena as well with a novella entitled highway Ė yes, small ďhĒ Ė an erotic psychological thriller involving Internet chat rooms. Iíve also just been in Wales, where I presented my critical paper The Fusion of Erotica and the Contemporary Novel at the Great Writing 2003 conference at the University of Wales in Bangor. So as you can see, I travel in both literary and academic circles.

How did you first start writing?

At the precocious age of ten I wrote my first novel Ė a murder mystery. I guess it only shows that these things take root early on. Although thatís probably true of any creative pursuit. I donít believe itís something that can be learned. It has to have been there all along. You can only cultivate and refine it. I moved away from writing, however, to seriously pursue fine art. I could have gone either way Ė as a writer or an artist. It was when I went back to university to do a degree in journalism (which I thought was a ďpracticalĒ way of earning a living) that I realised how important writing was to me again. Hell, maybe my hand just got tired of holding a brush, I donít know. But shortly after I finished my degree, I began writing a novel. At that point I didnít care anymore about practicality. I hadnít been true to myself for too many years, first by taking my art and trying to make a practical living out of it via fashion and graphic design, then taking my writing and trying to do the same in journalism Ė when what I really wanted to do was be an artist, be it with words or paint. I finally threw caution to the wind and went for it one hundred percent. Of course it hasnít been easy, but at least Iím finally doing what I should be doing.

How/do you handle rejections?

I donít take them that seriously. I look upon the rejecter as having shit for brains and simply move on to another editor or publisher who has more sense and intelligence! I think you have to have this kind of attitude or else youíre sunk. Call it the survival instinct, but it works. Itís a tough, competitive, and highly subjective business based on the whims of a handful of people in power Ė or who think theyíre in power. The weak get left behind, and the strong get beaten down until they too, become weak. So youíd better be determined to make it Ė and have the stamina and self-belief for it. Note that self-belief and ego are not the same thing in my view. I look upon self-belief as possessing the confidence that your work has merit Ė that itís good, and that someone somewhere will be interested in publishing or producing it. Ego on the other hand is more a stroking of the self Ė indeed, a blind lovemaking of the self without any consideration of quality. Unfortunately many people canít tell the difference between self-belief and ego. They think that if you have confidence in your work than you have a big ego. That simply isnít true.

Just to give you an anecdote about a so-called rejection and why I donít always buy into them: I had the rights of four of my old M. S. Valentine novels reverted back to me after the original publisher ceased publishing. I then sent the books to another publisher, offering them up as reprints. They were promptly rejected by someone who was an assistant to the publisher Ė a case of the peon again. I thought this was ridiculous Ė that and the fact that they lost the books, of which I had almost no copies left. So what did I do? I waited a year, got the email address for an editor at the same house, and emailed him. I provided a one-paragraph plot synopsis for each title, and claimed I had no copies of the books available, only Word files. Within days they emailed with an offer to acquire all four titles. So much for that original rejection, eh?

What excites you about a piece of writing- what keeps you going, both as a writer and an editor?

This is probably best answered wearing my editorís hat. When I get in a story, and I see a special something in the writing Ė a special kind of magic in the way the writer uses words Ė that gets me excited. Often the writer hasnít even conformed to my specs, but I am usually more than willing to work with her or him to get the story to fit. Itís something in the voice, the style Ė itís a hard thing to put into words, but I know it when I see it. This doesnít happen as much as Iíd like it to, but fortunately it happens enough to keep me going as an anthology editor. Iím sure that because I write and edit erotic fiction people expect me to say something about the writing having an arousing effect on me Ė that this is the criterion that spurs me on, but surprisingly, this is less important than you might think. Iím much more interested in quality and uniqueness. That element of arousal needed to qualify a piece of work as erotica can be worked on, but if your foundation is poor, no amount of sexy writing is going to save it.

Whatís the worst thing about writing?

You mean aside from the pay? The editors who try to quash your individuality? The publishers who do next to nothing to promote your books? Well, let me think. No. Iíd say that about covers it.

And the best?

When all that hard work youíve put into a project shows in the finished product. This and getting feedback from people who appreciate your work. It also doesnít hurt when your next book contract comes along a bit easier than the last one.

Tell us about erotic writing- what kind of response do you get from readers, editors, etc?

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Contact Mitzi with original erotic fiction at worddabbler@yahoo.com

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