by David Wraith
I adore Elva Maxine Beach! I first met her when we were both performing in a benefit she organized at The Way Out Club. She showed me her book, “Neurotica” and I immediately laid hands upon the woman and prayed for her salvation. Then I read the book and realized I should have prayed harder.
Oscillating between poetry and confessional prose, the unnamed narrator reveals the good, the bad and the ugly of being a sexually liberated, modern woman. Beach’s work deals with topics many writers of erotica avoid, such as race, religion and class. In doing so, she injects a sense of social realism into the fantasy world that encompasses most stroke literature. It’s erotica for people who are too neurotic for escapism, hence the title.
Beach will be reading her work along with SEX+STL co-founders, Kendra Holliday, Johnny Murdoc and yours truly at Black + White: Indifference amongst Difference, June 29th at The Stable.
David Wraith: “Neurotica” sounds like a sub-genre of erotica for neurotic people. How did you come up with the name and why do you think it fits?
Elva Maxine Beach: The working title was “Diary of a Sex Addict” but the more I wrote, the more I understood my protagonist isn’t necessarily a sex addict, rather she is neurotic. She over-thinks every encounter. She’s a troubled woman who is conflicted between her desire to be sexually free and unattached and her desire to find true one-on-one intimacy. As far as the title, a neighbor in Austin suggested it when I was discussing the protagonist’s dilemma. I liked it, and used it, and only later found out it is a Rush song and that other books share the title. Nonetheless, I think it describes the book well enough.
What’s the response to the book been like? Do men and women respond differently?
I wrote the book with a female audience in mind and many women tell me they feel empowered by the stories or that they share much of what the narrator thinks and feels. Women across the board love the story about the little girl who has an orgasm in church.
What surprised me is how many men react to the book. They tell me they appreciate the honesty and insight into the inner workings of a woman’s perversions. Some men take offensive to the character with a 13-inch penis, though. My question to them: What’s wrong with a 13-inch penis?
One man whom I briefly dated while I was writing the book recommended I add a lesbian sex scene. That’s cliché, and annoying, so I dumped him.
Isn’t writing a book like this risky? The stories are very personal and one would assume autobiographical.
Yes. Writing the book was risky, and plenty of friends recommended I use a pen name. Some of my family members were disturbed and continue to refuse to even read the book. One of my best friends lectured me on the dangers of publishing the book. She was afraid I would get swallowed up by the shadow side. I’ll admit that I was oblivious to the risk and didn’t listen to any of the warnings. Sex is a perfectly valid subject, and it’s fun to think about.
After the book was published, I actually had a hard time getting dates. Men were afraid I’d write about them (although some men dated me specifically so I would write about them). Because I use an unnamed first-person narrator, and because I use locations and people whom I’ve met and know, people do automatically jump to the conclusion that the book is memoir. It’s not. Although, some of my own sexcapades do inform a few of the stories.
I was living in Austin, Texas when I was working on the book and after one of my readings (pre-publication) several of my friends came up to me and expressed their sympathy. The story I read is about an ex-boyfriend who abuses the narrator. After the reading, my friends hugged me and said stuff like: “I had no idea that happened to you.” “Why didn’t you tell me that was happening?”
None of it had happened to me. So, I took my friends’ confusion as a sign my stories were working.
Have any of the subjects of your stories read the book and, if so, how did they react?
All of the people whom I based stories on have read the book and are fine with the portrayals. The stories aren’t “true” so the subjects are fine with the content. The men who I used as sketches for the men in the book are all lovely, self-assured people who support me and my work, so there’s no bad blood. I think they’re more flattered than anything.
One woman friend of mine, though, disowned me after the book came out. While I was writing the book, this woman came over to my house to vent about a married man she was in love with. As she vented, she told me how she would go to department stores and spray the married man’s brand of cologne on her scarves so that she could basically “sleep” with him at night. Well, that detail is too juicy to pass up and I used it. When my friend read the book and recognized her story weaved into one of my stories, she blew up. She couldn’t believe I’d used something she told me in confidence.
In my defense, nowhere in the book is that particular friend mentioned, nowhere is there a story about an extra-marital affair, there is absolutely nothing in the book that would expose my friend. And, hey, the detail was too perfectly neurotic to pass up.