The story behind the story

shockUnless you've been hiding under a rock you probably heard the story about the US couple who saved their home by self publishing erotic stories on internet? Or about how Natasha Walker, author of The Secret Lives of Emma, is a guy not a gal? And we all know the story behind the exponential rise in popularity of that sexy book everyone but my dog has read. It’s brought my attention to interesting phenomena around sexy books and what makes them popular – the story behind the story.

I've been blogging here about some of the hairier questions I've been asked since The Yearning was published. My sex life has suddenly become a point of interest, in particular my past sex life. The most common question I get asked, directly or indirectly, is ‘did it happen to you?’

Most people to want to know what inspires books, but everyone wants to know what inspires sexy books. Our appetite for a bit of salacious gossip is alive and well. We are voyeuristically fascinated by the tales of authors who have gone where we have feared to tread. It’s as though we need to gaze at the mirrored experience of others in order to reassure ourselves ‘I am normal’ or ‘Thank goodness I didn't go there’ or ‘I’m not alone’. Having watched how stories behind stories increase the popularity of books, I have considered my answer to this question at length.

IF I admit that, yes, I had a hot illicit affair with one of my high school teachers when I was 15, what kind of media attention could I expect to attract? A lot, I think. Because then The Yearning takes on new meaning, people will read it in a different way. They imagine me, in my unabashed youth, wandering guilelessly into a dangerous and damaging affair. They wonder how my family now feel now about having it all put ‘out there’ for the world to see. People will want to hear me talk about it and explain and justify why the teacher in question was never brought to justice.

Student/teacher relationships aren't uncommon. I’m not talking here about predatory paedophilic relationships, but the relationships that evolve as a result of mutual attraction. A number of women who have been through it have told me that The Yearning ‘nails it’. Yet, the book alone, no matter how accurately it portrays the scenario, no matter how well received and reviewed, is not enough to get the media’s ‘juicy’ factor going. What media wants from me is an open admission that this story is in some way my own.

Such an admission is not to be taken lightly. Let’s think about this. I have a primary school aged daughter and am part of a small school community. My step daughter and brother are both teachers. I have a family I care deeply about. I still keep in touch with friends from high school. Exposing a story like this has serious ramifications, not just for me, but for other people in my life.

Yet plenty of authors would, because they know that it would significantly increase the exposure and interest in their book. In fact, some authors have lied with reckless abandon about their personal experiences in order to achieve better book sales. It’s a stunt that, even if it backfires, assures them of notoriety.

But I’m not a liar (unless chocolate is involved). Nor am I ambitious enough to expose my daughter to things she’s too young to understand. The truth? The Yearning is an emotionally honest book. Inspiration from my past? All I ask is does it really matter and why?

Comments

Once you could write a roman a clef and leave it at that. Now everyone wants a piece. It's about the writing, people. A thoughtful post. Thanks, Kate.

KateBellex's picture

Too right, Louise! Thanks for stopping by.

Sex is such a strange topic, kind of like death. Most people are nowhere near comfortable with it. They either stumble all over it, or avoid it completely. 
I reckon let people wonder. There were so many more themes in The Yearning than just sex. Why do people miss all that and focus on the sex?
Stick to your guns, Kate. It's no one's business. You wrote a book for people's enjoyment/entertainment, not to have your life pawed at.
Cate xox

KateBellex's picture

Thanks Cate. I think the fact that sex makes people so squirmy is why it’s so important to normalise it so we can talk openly and comfortably about it. And you’re right, there are so many discussion worthy themes in The Yearning, it’s a shame people want to get distracted with my personal life. It’s part of living I the age of celebrity I guess.

Oh! Both good points from Willsin Rowe & you Kate Belle.
Stick to your guns, Kate. We're writing fiction here people! It's not a memoir!
Great post.
Lily M

KateBellex's picture

Thanks Lily. Hubby has been wanting to start a rumour it’s fact because he thinks it will make me famous – ha!

Nicely put, milady. There always will be the "gossip" factor. It used to be that people couldn't separate an actor from the character they played. This element seems to have well-and-truly leapt across to authors.
(PS: I wonder how Arthur C. Clarke enjoyed all his journeys out into space...)

KateBellex's picture

Thanks Cate. I think the fact that sex makes people so squirmy is why it’s so important to normalise it so we can talk openly and comfortably about it. And you’re right, there are so many discussion worthy themes in The Yearning, it’s a shame people want to get distracted with my personal life. It’s part of living I the age of celebrity I guess.

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