Former Banker Capitalizes
on the Passions of "I"
Does the idea of receiving an erotic story from a federal banking supervisor sound appealing?
Probably not, unless you've got a thing for Alan Greenspan or big, musty vaults. Yet, former banking professional Sage Vivant made a successful new career of creating customized erotica.
That's right -- customized erotica. Vivant writes to specifications of the most intimate nature, creating fiction that is a unique blend of client peccadillo and her own imagination and writing skill. She launched her business in January 1998 in her hometown of San Francisco (where else?), only weeks after leaving her federal banking job. Recognizing the potential of the Internet for a business like hers, she taught herself HTML and created the Custom Erotica Source where visitors can read samples of her work and fill out a questionnaire/order form to request a story.
So how does someone with no traditional background in fiction writing get into something like this? "The reasons I started this business are as varied as the story requests," Vivant said, smiling. "But the bottom line was that I was nearly 40 when I realized I was happiest when writing. The thought of writing in the hopes that some publisher might see a market for my ramblings was just too depressing. I was too impatient to be 'discovered' and too used to a living wage to be willing to 'struggle' for my art.
"I have such an innate distrust for established systems and authority, anyway. The Internet truly is the great equalizer. Why should so many fine writers scribble their way into oblivion while lots of mediocre ones receive acclaim? I don't fancy myself the next John Fowles, but I wanted better-than-average odds at getting my writing before the public. I wanted to side step the typical avenues to getting my work read and enjoyed. The Internet seemed the ideal way to do that."
And writing erotica seemed the ideal subject matter. Relying on people's unwavering interest in sex, Vivant says she also recalled that the most frequently used word in the English language is "I."
"People find themselves and sex endlessly fascinating topics. So, I put those two interests together and started this business!" Vivant laughed. Since the business's inception, publications ranging from Playboy to Bridal Guide have devoted editorial coverage to her burgeoning brainchild. Clearly, she's on to something.
Vivant's clients fit no general stereotype, which pleases her. "They all simply like to read," she said. She adds that men are far more likely than women to order a customized erotic tale for their own enjoyment. Both sexes request stories to give as gifts to their lovers. "I've written stories that were going to be wedding gifts," Vivant said, beaming. "There is something so wonderfully intimate about that! Knowing I'm part of helping couples communicate on that level is intensely gratifying for me."
Stories are available in varying degrees of graphic content. Vivant recognizes that erotica is too subjective for any writer to have universal appeal. Having the clients indicate how graphic their erotic tales should be helps her craft fiction more suited to their tastes.
Vivant appears to be a savvy marketer, but her artistic motivations are equally strong. "It has always been my intention to grow this business to a point where I'd have a staff of writers who understand what high-quality erotica entails. I know there's a tremendous pool of talent out there and the idea of finding work for this talent was, and is, exciting to me. Although I still write most of the stories, I've got a contract staff of about 20 writers I can rely on to turn out good stories when necessary."
What is quality erotica? "I'm glad you asked! Most people who talk with me assume that I'm rather immersed in the whole erotica scene, but that's not accurate. Erotica as we know it is not my favorite genre. In fact, I probably read less of it than many of my clients. I find most of it predictable, not well written, or simply not in sync with my own erotic sensibilities.
"There's such a huge chasm in our society between mainstream life and eroticism!" Vivant continued. "And that chasm has asserted itself, sadly, in books and art, where sex seems so separate from everything else that makes us human. I find that separation confounding since so much in our everyday lives revolves around our sexual feelings. From the smallest distractions to major life decisions, we are affected by our erotic thoughts in very profound ways. I think fiction should reflect that more realistically than it currently does."
Vivant's commitment to this philosophy carries through to her desire to provide clients with artwork that reflects their individual views of the erotic. Twelve illustrators of widely varying styles and mediums are available at Custom Erotica Source (CES) to provide images for the stories crafted by Vivant or her writers.
"I love being a conduit for artists. I don't get any percentage of what they earn from their CES commissions. Artists of all types have enough piranhas looking to make money from their gifts. I don't want to be one of those people."
Does Vivant ever want to be published? By her own count, she has over 70 stories that have been created for clients, certainly enough for an anthology of sorts. "I'd love to publish the best of these stories," she admits. "The public has an insatiable curiosity about the sexual habits and inclinations of their fellow human beings. Whether it's to confirm that their own tastes aren't so strange or to learn new tricks, they are constantly titillated by what others are doing sexually. Whether I get published or not doesn't really matter because I'm having a great time in my own little niche."
The work of Mark Holthusen, Craig Morey and others can be commissioned to accompany Custom Erotica Source stories. Jim Kirwan was the cover illustrator for Black Lizard Press for four years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.