Sexy Words and Wordy Sex with Sarah de Leeuw and Lisa Gabriele

de Leeuw, SarahCanadian writer Sarah de Leeuw believes sex is as fundamental as eating, drinking and sleeping but that somehow, there is a lack of writing on the subject. There are tons of cookbooks out there, but where are all the sex books?

De Leeuw wrote one. She is the author of Geographies of a Lover, a book of eco-erotic poems that combine steamy literary sex with images of Northern landscapes.

Sarah de Leeuw joined us here in Vancouver on Thursday night to participate in a Q&A event on Granville Island called Sizzle, put on by the Vancouver Writers Festival. Lisa Gabriele, a Toronto-based erotica writer and author of number one bestseller S.E.C.R.E.T. (which she published under the pseudonym L. Marie Adeline) also joined the panel.

At the event, Sarah de Leeuw spoke about the general lack of representation of female sexuality, saying that this cultural lack is very damaging. From the writing that is out there, de Leeuw doesn’t think mangoes, flowers or roses cut it, so she gives us a language that is strong and raw.

Lisa Gabriele relates; she was tired and saddened from seeing all the one-dimensional female sexuality: women’s sexuality bent around the male character’s desire. She wanted to write strong heterosexual female desire and characters that cared so much about finding themselves and finding their own sexuality that the guy would just be secondary.

During Sizzle, Gabriele told the audience that she, too, “felt a need to fill the hole, so to speak.” Everyone laughed. The two women bounced one-liners off each other all night and joked, poked and stroked us with their words.

At the beginning of the night, de Leeuw and Gabriele omitted all “dirty language” by using censored code: “In my book, when I use the C-word, or the V-word, and don’t forget about the P-word …” However, as the night went on, they laid it all on us, and both read from their tantalizing erotic texts.

De Leeuw says many readers have contested her language choices, especially one word in particular which she repeats throughout her poems. But she needed a word strong enough to stand up to other words and images like glacier, spruce and clear-cut: ‘Pussy’ just wouldn’t cut it. It had to be ‘cunt’. Besides, de Leeuw thinks it is important to demystify words like that.

Lisa Gabriele agrees but asserts that her protagonist in S.E.C.R.E.T., Cassie Robichaud, wouldn’t use the word ‘cunt’. As Cassie becomes more comfortable with her body, maybe, but not the person who she is in the first book. Maybe who she is now, in the sequel, or who she will become in the third book.

Sarah de Leeuw and Lisa Gabriele made it clear that neither of their erotic books are autobiographical nor ‘confessional’. Sure, bits and pieces of their characters, plots and settings might reflect their own lives but only as much as any other fictional genre would. De Leeuw says people always assume that the ‘I’ character in her poems must be her, a gendered assumption that frustrates her to no end. Gabriele used to write about her own sex life when she wrote for Nerve, and some of that writing even ended up in an anthology called Bad Sex. But the sex she writes in S.E.C.R.E.T. is much more idealized.

These two authors’ books may fall under the same erotica umbrella, but their writing styles, strategies and approaches could not be more different – polar opposites, de Leeuw says. However, both authors came to write about sex for some of the same reasons: They both discovered that they loved reading erotica – even ‘hardcore-raunch-badness’ – but they wanted to write better stories; they wanted to move people – to celebrate female sexuality, to educate and to liberate.