Valerie Kelly instructed the 10 men and women sitting cross-legged in front of her to make up an erotic "letter to the editor" when one man decided this wasn't for him. Jumping suddenly to his feet, he murmured something about moving his car and fled.
Others may have felt like doing a similar disappearing act 15 minutes later when it came time to read their fantasies out loud. Instead, they took deep breaths, blushed crimson and plunged headlong into vivid stories that brought giggles, gasps and gentle encouragement from the rest of the crowd.
Welcome to "How to Write Erotica for $$," a seminar sponsored by Contemporary Concepts, a non-traditional school based in Beverly Hills that puts together classes on everything from white-water river rafting to starting a fast-food restaurant.
Kelly, a friendly, businesslike woman who writes adult fiction and X-rated video scripts, teaches the erotica class from an Encino office building about once every two months. She says the four-hour, $43 seminar may be the only one of its kind in Los Angeles.
It covers topics such as how to write steamy sex scenes, what markets specific magazines cater to, how much they pay--up to $150 for letters to the editor, for instance--and how to break into the expanding business of adult video scripts, which pay about $500. Kelly also doesn't mind sharing her sources, giving students specific individuals to query and suggesting they use her name as a reference.
At 10 a.m. one recent Saturday, seven men and three women gathered somewhat shyly in the hallway of a low-rise office building on Ventura Boulevard. As they waited for a janitor to unlock the room, members introduced themselves and explained why they had enrolled.
"I've done this with friends for so long," said Pat Calverley, a travel consultant from Canoga Park who writes explicit letters to her men friends.
"You take an individual or something you see in a magazine or on the street and you start imagining sensual things happening. It really is such fun," said Calverley. She said she wants to parlay her personal letters into part-time income.
Harris Brotman, a clean-cut journalist with a doctorate in biology who has written for the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times Magazine, said he wanted to make some extra money and thought erotica might be an interesting field to get into.
Most class members didn't want their names mentioned. But they included two journalists, a film producer, a radio account executive, a man who said he was writing the Great American Novel and several screenwriters.
By 10:15, the janitor still hadn't arrived, so the class hunkered down in the hallway and Kelly began speaking, surrounded by books, note pads, video scripts and sexually explicit magazines stacked in discreet brown boxes.
"About 1,600 X-rated videos were produced last year, vs. about 100 regular screenplays," Kelly told her students, who listened avidly and took copious notes.
"As you can see, it's much easier to get published in this field, and it's a lot of fun," Kelly continued. "There's no second draft or rewriting. You just sit down and do it. It's so easy compared to real writing."
Kelly says she has been on both sides of the fence. Her book, "How to Write Erotica," will be published this month by Crown. But two more serious novels she wrote "about women and relationships" have yet to be published.
Erotic writing supports her comfortably in the meantime: She owns a house in the mountains above Chatsworth Reservoir and drives a 1985 Datsun 300 ZX.
Got Start by Accident
Kelly, who has a bachelor's degree in fine arts from UC Santa Barbara, entered her profession by accident. When a television writing job fell through, Kelly took a job with an adult publishing house. The company supplied her with photos, and she wrote erotic stories that described the characters and their adventures. She wrote 13 quarterly magazines that way--each based around a particular character or theme.
Kelly soon made connections and landed steady writing jobs. To date, she has written more than 500 stories and 36 video scripts, she says. Teaching her trade was something she started two years ago to overcome her fear of public speaking. At first, Kelly taught at the Learning Network in Westwood. This year, Contemporary Concepts hired her away.
Kelly says she feels comfortable with her career choice and refuses to write stories that demean women.
"You can write about a real sexual experience, and a lot more goes into it besides graphic sex. There's feeling and love and emotion. If you put all that into it, it's not pornography anymore, it's literature. I write about people who care about each other," she said.
With that, Kelly plunged into a short history of modern erotic writers.
Cites Anais Nin