How would I describe Book Country member Olivia Glass to someone who doesn’t have the pleasure of knowing her yet? First, I’d say that Olivia is one of the most community-oriented writers I’ve ever come across: very active in the communities around the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (where she got her MFA), the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, adjunct faculty organizations, Philadelphia-based writers, and erotica writing. Second, I’d say that she’s an intrepid explorer of the rapidly changing publishing landscape: eager to try new ways to reach readers and enthusiastic about connecting with them online.
Today we are celebrating the release of her novella FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF, which she published right here on Book Country. Check out the heap of praise Olivia has gotten for her erotica:
“Angsty and hotter than hell . . .” Iris Blaire, author of Exposure
“Yes, this is a good story, but it’s a hot story. Glass is an author who knows how to write a blush-inducing sex scene . . . You’ll absolutely want to read this well-crafted, deliciously written lesbian love story again.” Erika Almond
“Glass takes readers on an emotional journey as three women learn to live and love again after heartbreak . . .” Elizabeth Franklin, Portland Book Review
“Olivia Glass spins a mesmerizing story of lust, love, betrayal and so much more… hot erotica wrapped up inside a strong, compelling story.” Jon Pressick
Lucy Silag: Tell us about writing your erotic novella FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF, and how it was originally published.
Olivia Glass: A few years ago, Fleshbot started an erotica imprint called Fleshbot Fiction, and put out a call for submissions. I hadn’t written any erotica to completion since my story “Drought,” which was a finalist in the (sadly now-defunct) Filament Magazine’s erotica contest and was later published in Best Women’s Erotica 2012. I did, however, have a fragment of a draft in a folder—what later became the first chapter of FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF. I finished the story, reached out to editor Lux Alptraum, and eventually published the full novella under that imprint. Sadly, a while later, Fleshbot was sold and the imprint was shuttered, and before publishing via Book Country (hi!), FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF was nowhere except my computer. I’m really excited that it’s out in the world again!
LS: Do you write erotica exclusively, or do you write in other genres as well?
OG: I actually write primarily in other genres, under my real name, Carmen Maria Machado. I’m very interested in eroticism and sex and sexual politics, so those themes show up in my “regular” fiction, but my erotica has opposite goals. In my “literary” fiction, sex serves the plot, themes, and characters. In my erotic fiction, the plot, themes, and characters serve the sex.
(You’ll notice I’m using a lot of quotation marks. That’s just because I want to acknowledge that phrases like “regular” and “literary” are fairly loaded, and not always in ways that represent how I feel about them. They’re just convenient for my purposes here.)
LS: Your cover is beautiful. Where did you get the idea to use fruit imagery?
OG: My first cover for FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF was really interesting—it was from a photo shoot by Ellen Stagg, with (porn stars) Jiz Lee and Justine Joli. I didn’t get any say in it, but I did love it! That being said, I feel like my novella is on the artsier end of things, so when I had a choice, I loved the idea of a sexy but less pop-y cover. It isn’t just the cut-open apple—which is so sexy!—it’s the fact that it’s half an apple flanked by two other apple halves. It’s such a perfect representation of the story—the sensuality, the non-linearity, the complicated triad.
LS: Why write erotica under a different name than the rest of your writing? How did you arrive at that decision and how do you separate the two personas?
OG: This was actually a decision that I waffled over for ages. I consulted with a professor of mine, a literary writer who also had been published in erotica anthologies. He’d simply used his real name for everything, but he acknowledged to me that things might be different for a woman—double standards and all that—especially one just starting out in her career. So I picked the name “Olivia Glass.” (I originally wanted to be “Miranda Glass,” but there was, like, a cellist or something with a similar name and I didn’t want my sexy writing to come up when someone was Googling her, for her sake.) I’ve gone back and forth on how I feel about my pseudonym over the years. First, I was relieved to have it. Then, I was a little sad that the erotica contest and the publication in Best Women’s Erotica 2012 wasn’t under my real name. Now, I’m in a sort of middle place – I’m glad that I have a pen name establishing one kind of writing (my erotica) from my other kind of writing. But I’m open about the fact that Carmen Maria Machado and Olivia Glass are the same person—it’s not a secret.
LS: You have another novella, also available online (for free) from The American Reader called “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU.” This novella is an amazing mix of fanfic and litfic—really different. Do you see yourself as a writer who pushes boundaries? Is there a common theme to the boundaries you push?
OG: I like to think I hop right over the boundaries and keep running! I feel like my best work is writing that takes ahold of a trope, genre, or form, and shakes it up like a snow globe. When I workshopped “Especially Heinous” in my MFA program, a classmate of mine really hated it, and told me that if I was going to write fanfic, I might as well just write it and not pretend like it was something else. What was so funny about this is that I actually managed to miss the fanfic movement altogether, even though I was precisely the right demographic (a young teenage Harry Potter fan all over LiveJournal for her adolescent/young adult life). I had nothing against it, it just never interested me—even though a lot of my friends wrote it.
The point of “Especially Heinous” was that I wanted to critique narratives about sexual violence while ostensibly operating within the framework of the Law & Order SVU universe, but a.) merely used the names of the protagonists and a few minor character traits and otherwise completely rewrote the story from top to bottom, b.) broke the rules of the “universe” (a.k.a. operated with slipstream/surreal logic, had ghosts, etc.), and c.) utilized the structure of the entire first 12 seasons’ worth of episodes to tell a single narrative.
So, yeah, I hacked into the fanfic form, but I wasn’t sticking to it in any meaningful way, only where it suited my interests to tell the story I wanted to tell. I guess that’s the common theme to the boundaries I push. I just take what I want from a trope/shape/structure/etc. and leave the rest.
LS: Obviously, you aren’t afraid of publishing digitally. You’re also an active user of social media. What opportunities has that afforded you as a writer?
OG: In the literary fiction world, a story being in print is considered to be more prestigious than a story being online. (Though, admittedly, this trend is slowly changing, especially with the advent of excellent online-only literary magazines like Electric Literature. Also, some of the Science Fiction/Fantasy world’s most prestigious publications are online-only.) But I’ve found that my stories only in print just don’t get a lot of wide readership. Like, I get lots of really lovely emails from readers about my work, but the ratio is stark: for every one email I get about a print-only story, I get, like, 25 about a story that’s online. It’s not even close. My stories being online has been a huge boon to my readership and my career. It’s permitted my work to have a kind of reach I’d never even dreamed of when I was a baby writer.
Regarding social media, I think that Twitter (my favorite and most far-reaching platform) has been great because it gives me a way to interact with a massive community and also be myself in a public forum outside of my published fiction. This is definitely not the only way to go about your writing career—there are tons of brilliant writers who find social media very stressful or irritating, and I don’t blame them one bit—but I’ve found it to be tremendously fun and useful.
LS: Were you always engaged in writing communities? Do you think that’s an important part of being a writer?
OG: Writers spend a lot of time by themselves—you know, writing—so it’s important to be able to get out of the house, talk to someone who isn’t yourself, and also be able to empathize about very specific experiences—experiences that also change depending on when and where in your career you are. I wasn’t always so writing-community-oriented, but then again, I wasn’t always sitting in my house staring down a Word document for hours at a time, either. Once my concentrated writing life started (aided by the gift of my MFA program), I found that I valued social time more because it was a break from the isolation. My community became incredibly valuable because it gave me respite and commiseration.
Communities are important, but community can also be defined in a ton of different ways. There are online communities and genre-based communities and MFA-centered communities and geographic communities, and each is going to offer their own pleasures and pitfalls. None of them are inherently better than any other, but certainly some are easier to access than others. Online communities are the most accessible, because they don’t rely on your presence in an academic community or a specific geographic location or time requirement, and don’t cost anything. And in a way, online communities are the easiest to shape on your own terms. Also, communities can become avenues for opportunities. The reason I found out about Fleshbot Fiction’s call for submissions—the reason I’m here talking to you at all!—is because a writer I know retweeted the call, and I saw it.
I’d encourage writers to seek out some kind of community, whatever form it takes, if only for the fact that it will be a way for them to reach out to other people who are going through the same experiences and have overlapping interests. You don’t need a community in the sense that you’ll be somehow incomplete or wrong without one. But I think it’s worth exploring.
About Olivia Glass
Olivia Glass is the author of FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF. Her work has also appeared in Filament Magazine, Bend Over Magazine, and Best Women’s Erotica 2012, from Cleis Press. Appearing under the panelist name Carmen Maria Machado Olivia will be appearing on the Book Country panel at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference this upcoming weekend in Brooklyn. Connect with her on Book Country, check out her website, and follow her on Twitter at @olivia_glass.