How To Tell Your Mother That You’ve Written a Book About Porn
I wrote a book called “Fast Forward: Confessions of a Porn Screenwriter.” It’s a memoir of my (thankfully brief) career writing scripts for the adult film industry. I have no problem telling you that, because I don’t know you. Informing a stranger that you’ve written a few smut films is no big deal. But you know what isn’t quite so easy? Announcing to your family that you’ve published a book about porn. That’s just weird. There’s really no way of cushioning the blow. You have to walk that fine line between awkward half-truths and complete fabrication.
Here’s what I said to my relatives when confronted with the question, “So, what’s your book about?”
Me: It’s about… well, it’s about that time I lived in LA, and I was trying to be a screenwriter.
Mom: Oh, that sounds nice.
Me: But it’s not about the mainstream stuff. It’s about, you know, the other thing I did.
Mom: What other thing?
Me: The… adult stuff.
Mom: Oh, dear.
Me: But I wrote about how much I hated it, and how I’d never do it again.
Mom: Do you use your real name?
Me: Well, yeah, of course.
Mom: Are you sure that’s a good idea?
Me: It’s fine, mom. Don’t worry. I only mention the adult films in passing. It’s mostly about Hollywood.
Mom: Oh. Well, that’s much better. Did you write about how you met Ben Stiller?
Mom: That’s such a funny story. And it’s so much more interesting than all that dirty nonsense.
Me: Can we just drop it?
Grandmother: Is it a novel?
Me: Yeah, it’s sort of a novel. But it’s based on real people.
Grandmother: Somebody you know?
Me: No, no, not at all. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s mostly fiction.
Grandmother: That sounds wonderful. I love John Irving. I just finished reading “A Widow For One Year.” Is it anything like that?
Me: Uh… yeah, in a way. Some of the characters are… single women.
Grandmother: I’m so proud of you. When can I read it?
Me: I think it’s already sold out.
Grandmother: Oh, that’s too bad. Will you let me know when I can buy it?
Me: I’ll do what I can.
Me: It’s about this friend of mine who wrote porn scripts.
Aunt: A friend? How good a friend?
Me: We’re not that close anymore.
Aunt: So in the book, you made it clear that you have nothing to do with that line of work, right?
Me: Oh, yeah, definitely. It’s basically about how evil the porn industry is, and how my friend got tricked into writing scripts. It’s kinda a satire.
Aunt: You mean it’s humor?
Me: Yeah, something like that.
Aunt: I don’t see what’s so funny about porn.
Me: Well, not “ha-ha” funny. More like, “Gee, look how our culture still has such warped notions of sexuality” funny.
Aunt: I suppose that’s okay.
MY 10-YEAR OLD COUSIN
Me: It’s about people. Bad people. People who do bad things.
Cousin: How bad?
Me: Just, you know… things you don’t need to know about.
Cousin: What’s a “porno”?
Me: Wow, uh… see, here’s the thing. Do you like the Harry Potter books?
Me: You know how everybody hates Lord Voldemort because he’s such a mean guy?
Me: Well, in my book, everybody is a Lord Voldemort.
Cousin: They’re all wizards?
Me: Well, no, not exactly. But they’ve… let’s just say they do some inappropriate things with their magic wands.
Cousin: My mom says your book is about people who take off their pants.
(Long, uncomfortable silence.)
Me: Hey, do you smell pie? I think somebody’s baking a pie. We should check it out.
Me: It’s about porn.
Uncle: Ha! That’s hysterical! Is Ron Jeremy in it?
Me: Uh… well, no, not rea-
Uncle: That guy’s my hero. He’s fat and old and hairy. How does he have sex with so many women?
Me: I don’t know. Maybe because they pay him?
Uncle: Luckiest guy in the world. Who wouldn’t want to trade places with him, right? Am I right?
Uncle: So you wrote a book about Ron Jeremy?
Uncle: Can’t wait to read it. Any pictures of naked ladies in it? (Playfully punches my arm.) I’m just kidding you. Ha! Hey, when you sign my copy, will your write, “To my Uncle, who is hung like a horse?”
Me: I guess.
Me: Remember when I wrote all those porn scripts?
Me: It’s about that.
Brother: I’m not in it, am I?
Me: How do you mean?
Brother: You don’t say that I watch any of this stuff, do you?
Me: Well, no, it’s not really about you.
Brother: If you make me out to be some kind of pervert, I’ll fucking kill you.
Me: Calm down. You’re not in it. (editor’s note: This is blatantly untrue.)
Brother: Have you told mom?
Me: Yeah. She’s not too happy.
Brother: You gonna let her read it?
Me: No! Absolutely not! And you better not give it to her.
Brother: (Just smiles.)
Me: Promise me you’re not going to give it to her.
Brother: (Laughs.) Whatever, dude.
Me: Seriously, just don’t. There’s a… well, one of the chapters is about a guy having sex with a goat. (editor’s note: This is also untrue.)
Me: You don’t want our mother reading about that, do you? It’ll just upset her.
Brother: Okay, fine. I won’t show it to her. (Pause.) Please tell me you didn’t fuck a goat.
Eric Spitznagel is a frequent contributor to magazines like Playboy, The Believer, Esquire, and Salon.com. He has a blog, Vonnegut’s Asshole (www.spitznagel.net), where he regularly writes about butt plugs, wine that tastes like hobo balls, and the terrible threat of sherpas.
Ellen MeisterNovember 15, 2006
This is hilarious! Next time I need warning, though. I almost spit my coffee on my computer screen.
Robin SlickNovember 15, 2006
Ha! What a fun, hysterically funny story, Eric. And oh, how I feel your pain. Luckily my family is way too self-absorbed to read my work, the majority of which bears the unfortunate label of erotica even though I take real offense at that…but unfortunately, my kids’ friends are not self-absorbed and actually read my blog (who reads a parent’s blog, anyway?)and they ratted me out. These are probably the same kids who ratted me out two years ago, when, after years of getting away with it by saying that strange smell coming from my bedroom was incense, walked into my house with my kids unexpectedly and shouted “You dudes, your house reeks — someone is smoking de ganja, man — hey, is it your mom? — and then I had to go through the intervention from hell courtesy of my then 17 and 18 year old, who wanted me to go into rehab because everyone knows what I was doing was, err, akin to being a heroin addict/alcoholic/gambler/prostitute. So I gave that up, and I pretty much gave up the erotica, too…but it’s funny how you get into these things unintentionally. I just happened to write what I thought was a comedy and graphic sex was important to the plot. Then I found myself stuck with the label. Oh well. Who cares. Enough about me. Next thing you know I’ll be talking about my novel in progress. Heh. Anyway, great interview, and I can’t wait to read your book.
Robin SlickNovember 15, 2006
P.S. Susan, you need an “edit your comments” feature here. I just used the word “fun” and “funny” in one sentence and it’s killing me. Just know that I’m aware of it and am cringing accordingly!
Katrina DenzaNovember 15, 2006
This is hilarious. What a great piece! I’m sure we’ve all written goatish things we wouldn’t want our family to read. 🙂
*Joe*November 15, 2006
This is the best self interview I’ve read in a long time. But I thought Ron Jeremy was a goat so it came off a bit redundant.
Ric MarionNovember 15, 2006
Absolutely hysterical. Very funny stuff. And, in keeping with Susan’s question of the week….
CarolynNovember 15, 2006
Eric’s family sounds like characters from a John Irving novel. His next novel, perhaps?
Grant BailieNovember 15, 2006
Funny stuff. I used to write porn too–but for the magazine portion of the industry. Most of my family knows, but my mother did not live to see the sordid depths reading the Writer’s Market led me to.
PiaNovember 15, 2006
Funny and unsettling and how I see my family reacting to my first book, which doesn’t have near enough sex in it.
JimNovember 15, 2006
Drop dead funny, Eric! I’ll be smiling inside all day!
GregNovember 15, 2006
Love these interviews. It’s always hard to show your mom something ‘dirty’ or incriminating under your name.
Good luck with your book!
AurelioNovember 15, 2006
Ha, thanks for sharing this with us, Eric. Very funny stuff.
The fact that you wrote under your own name made me chuckle and recall the reactions I got when I said I was writing my novel under a pen name. People would knit their brows and, in hushed voices, ask me, “Why…?” I knew what they were thinking – it must be porn.
I took the pen name because I’d worked on so many animated family films that everyone just assumed I was writing a children’s book, so it didn’t help when I’d go on to explain that I did it because I was writing adult fiction – an unfortunate choice of words.
Anyway, best of luck with your book!
Shelley MarlowNovember 15, 2006
Very very funny! Thanks for the humor.
My little brother knew I was dating Annie Sprinkle 14 years ago. He said he was impressed!
JulietNovember 15, 2006
Eric, your choice of self-portrait made me laugh the most… totally sums up the leering psycho porn writer. And monger.
Eric SpitznagelNovember 15, 2006
Actually, Joe, I don’t think Ron Jeremy is a goat. He’s a hedgehog. Though I’ve also heard him described as a manatee and, on at least one occasion, a chupacabra, the mythical South American beast that sucks the blood out of goats. So I guess, in a weird way, you’re right. I was being redundant.
Speaking of Ron, it turns out that I’ll be writing about him after all. HarperCollins hired me to ghostwrite his autobiography (which they’ve cleverly titled “The Hardest Man in Show Business.”) This news will no doubt delight my uncle, and will likely inspire him to make at least one inappropriate comment – probably in the middle of some big family dinner – about Ron Jeremy’s schmeckel. That should go over well.
I have to quit writing about porn. No good can come from this. If my name turns up on another dirty book, my mom may stop returning my calls. If I have any say in the matter, my next book will be about puppies and rainbows.
Thanks for all the kind comments.
Sarah RoundellNovember 15, 2006
Funny stuff here at The Park today. A lot of the reactions from Eric’s family would surely be the same if I approached my own on the same subject, especially the uncle… Can’t wait to read the book!
GregNovember 15, 2006
Eric – congrats on the new assignment. Your mother should be somewhat proud…
I literally just received this e-mail from my mother after she read my last Nervous Breakdown article:
“Great story except for the “F” words. Can’t you just
say another word instead? Otherwise I enjoyed it. Mom”
RachaelNovember 15, 2006
What a coincidence I come across this right now. I’m teaching a class on pornography and American society at Minnesota State U, Mankato, and we are talking about the “insider’s” view of the business. This comes at a perfect time!
Susan HendersonNovember 16, 2006
Oh wait, I get it now. That one pencil eraser is different. Sorry, I’m slow about these things.
I read all of these great comments and will respond tomorrow. As many of you know, I’m really pushing to finalize my novel by the end of the month and so I’ve been doing things like laying out a trail of manuscript papers on the floor of my basement and walking among them, talking to myself. This is all part of my genius, I’m sure.
Carolyn Burns BassNovember 16, 2006
SUSAN SAID: Oh wait, I get it now. That one pencil eraser is different. Sorry, Iâ€™m slow about these things.
Hee, hee, hee. Me too.
Ellen MeisterNovember 16, 2006
*Oh wait, I get it now. That one pencil eraser is different. Sorry, Iâ€™m slow about these things.*
I saw it immediately. What does that say about me?
Maria HeadleyNovember 16, 2006
That was drop dead knock down dragout funny.
Try telling the family that you’re writing a book about dating every guy who asks. Some similar responses. My grandma has a copy, which she carried around her assisted living center for months. She was afraid to set it down. She hadn’t read it. But she just knew those old dogs in the retirement center would steal it from her.
Can’t wait to read your book!
Susan HendersonNovember 16, 2006
Ellen – It’s always a good sign when the computer screen get’s sprayed.
Robin – Is it cruel of me to admit that one of my favorite things is seeing how desperate writers get when they can’t edit themselves? Is it wrong that I’m the only one here who’s able to edit my posts?
Now, back to your book, because you and I are having a race, and I’m hoping for a photo finish.
Kat – I love that you called Eric goatish.
*Joe* – Hey, you disappeared for a while there. I’m glad you’re back.
Ric – I always do an interview and the question of the week emerges from that.
Carolyn – Sorry, his next book is more porn. Maybe the one after that.
Grant – I didn’t know this and I’m shocked. I don’t know if I’ll buy you any more packs of gum now. I feel kind of dirty about the whole thing.
Pia – Your stories have just the right amount of everything.
Jim, Greg – Thanks!
Aurelio – Same here. Whenever I’ve been secretive about my writing, that’s where everyones’ thoughts go.
Shelley – Now everyone is Googling Annie Sprinkle.
Juliet – Hee, I wonder if maybe his self-portrait was not meant to look leering or psycho.
Eric – Congratulations on the new book contract and the very funny title!
Sarah – We should have “Family Reaction” day sometime and record all the responses and see who’s been disinherited and such!
Greg – That’s really F-ing funny!
Rachael – Wow, my college never offered classes like that.
Carolyn – Looks like only Ellen’s mind was in the gutter.
Maria – That’s probably the best way to ensure our families are proud of us, make sure they buy but don’t read our books!
LeeNovember 17, 2006
I almost know how you feel. Everytime I show my sister something I’ve written, she asks if I’m going to show it to Mom. My response is always “no.” She then asks if I ever intend to publish any of it. My response is always “probably.”
In the event I get off my lazy keister (sp?) and publish any of it, I thank you in advance for the humorous, indirect advice. My Mom the bibliophile will surely uncover it . . . Excuse the pun!