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Forget About Sex!

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BENEDETTO CASANOVA
Alamy

I wrote Benedetto after I read the memoirs of the real Giacomo Casanova. I thought I was in for some erotic prattle and a lot of cool frocks, but the more I read, the angrier I got! The image of this dashing daredevil who steals women's hearts and garters is a complete fake. According to his own memoirs, he was stupid, mean, selfish, and a manipulative coward. He admitted that he had no particular talents and considered himself ugly. He took advantage of women wherever he could; he lied and he stole. He debauched and traded virgin girls and swindled his way into a fortune. He despised the idea of marriage and commitment. How could such a man become a cultural icon? And a Heath Ledger he was certainly not! I became really upset about this discrepancy between the true account and what we have made of the idea of Casanova.

Then the mention of a baby given away by his mother got me thinking: what if a brother existed, brought up by strangers, who was the exact opposite of Giacomo? What if he were terribly handsome and smart; what if such a brother could speak many languages and had a talent for music and philosophy? What if instead of just running after every skirt, he had a permanent relationship with another man? And so I started writing... and Benedetto, the gay Casanova, became the exact opposite of his brother, in every sense.

Except, of course, being about Casanova, the book does contain sex. But most of the reviewers of Benedetto have not commented on the erotic aspects, but on the historical detail. I spent a lot of time researching the 18th century, so the book feels real, could be real, and describes a real person -- a proud gay man, sometimes a little flippant, but mostly adorable. It's so believable that people don't really perceive it as erotic fiction but as a true memoir of a fascinating, sexy, young, gay man.

It might surprise people that I do not consider Benedetto primarily an erotic book. I am never intentionally pornographic or erotic in my writing. I just try to be honest. When my characters encounter love or lust, then I describe it, period. I don't draw the curtains, so to speak, and don't omit the sex. I think as a global society, we are ready for honest descriptions of love -- any sort of love. We can handle it.

We seem to be able to handle so many much worse things. One of the characters in my first novel, Shayno, talks about books, saying that you can have as many murders, dismemberments, skinnings, mutilations, torture, blood-sucking, decapitations, etc. as you want, and you will be considered a serious writer and often a bestseller, but if there is one single hard cock sticking out, it's called "smut," and you are "just a porn writer." I think that is very unreasonable.

This false prudery is of course a hangover of the religious baggage we are carrying around. We still live in a world with two poles: good vs. evil, heaven vs. hell, proper vs. improper, genitals-in vs. genitals-out. It's not just the zealots; even people who claim to be liberals still think in these awful binary terms of good and bad. Every movie is about good heroes fighting bad guys; our entire culture is steeped in yes or no, 0 or 1, dark or light. I have always found that revolting! If you think of the world in human terms instead of this theist nonsense, then there really are a million colors. We should embrace diversity, and embracing diversity means abandoning black-and-white binary thinking.

As a writer, abandoning binary thinking means abandoning genres. My books don't fit into neat drawers. I really don't like labels or the idea that creativity should be made to fit into predefined slots -- or folders on a digital drive, as it were. Writing should never be about boundaries and genre templates in the first place. Only book merchants like genres, because they make it easier to sell bad books along with the good ones. If you need formulas and templates, you are probably not a good writer.

I certainly don't consider myself a writer of any genre, certainly not "erotica," and in a way, that rejection of boundaries is exactly the secret of erotic writing.

Erotica should never be about the sex, or the gorgeous bodies involved in it. The sex is the least interesting part of a sex story. It's always about the psychology of the situation, the anticipation, the circumstances that give rise to lust or love. If you cannot relate to the characters on an intellectual level, the description of their intercourse will be stale and boring. The trick is to forget about the sex completely and concentrate on the people who are having it. Maybe that's why Benedetto has turned out such a success. We know his thoughts, his likes and dislikes, his dreams, his fantasies, his aspirations. We have fallen in love with him -- or hate him -- long before he sets out on his journey and gets laid; but in any case, we have an emotional bond with the character before we read about his escapades; he is a person of flesh and blood, and only if you have all that can you start to write about the sex.

To learn more about Marten Weber and Benedetto, the gay Casanova, visit www.martenweber.com.