Sexism, a Discussion: Dueling Interviews with Steampunk Author Brooke Johnson and Erotica Author Nobilis Reed

When I asked for people to interview for my website today, I wasn't expecting the perfect storm to form in my comments on the requesting post. I certainly wasn't expecting to get an all-day pass to the minds of a female Steampunk author and a male Erotica author.

In what turned out to be a six-hour long discussion, I interviewed both Brooke Johnson and Nobilis Reed at the same time. This is one of the most eye-opening interviews I've ever had the honor of moderating. This is uncensored, as it was given. The only changes made were minor corrections to the questions.

Before I let the interview speak for itself, this may not be an easy read for some of you. I'm not sorry for this. I think this is something we should be talking about. It's long. I'm also not sorry for this. I think this is something we should be talking about.

On with the show!

RJ to Nobilis Reed: To be honest, you're the only male erotica author I know. Are men who write erotica really so rare, or am I just surrounded in a sea of talented women?

Nobilis Reed:  They may not be as rare as you think they are. First of all, there are some very talented male erotica writers out there, like M. Christian, Thomas Roche, and Bernie Mojzes. I've featured some of them on my podcast. Second, some of the erotica writers that you think are female, aren't. Some of them use female pseudonyms online, mostly as a marketing strategy. I could name names, but…I'm sworn to secrecy.

That being said, there probably are more women writing erotica than men. I think our culture has begun to find female sexuality more tolerable than male sexuality, at least in the mainstream. That's why you're more likely to see two women kissing on network TV than two men kissing, for example. Men are being told now that they need to keep their desires hidden, in order not to scare people.

Another reason, I think, is because there are more women reading erotica than men. It's not a huge proportion, probably something like 70-30 or so, but the larger pool of readers means a larger pool of writers, just because most writers start out as readers.

As for why there are more women reading erotica than men, I can't say. That difference may also be cultural. I refuse to believe it's inherent or essential to men or women.

RJ to Brooke Johnson: You are a woman writing steampunk. A notably male-dominated genre. Once again, most of the authors of steampunk I know are men. Are women as rare as it appears, or are they hiding behind different genres to avoid detection?

Brooke Johnson: From what I've seen, most male steampunk writers focus on the science, politics, and nitty gritty of steampunk, right in the gears and grease, while women steampunk writers tend to be the ones who combine their steampunk with fantasy and paranormal elements, or focus only on the posh characters of upper society. I hadn't really thought of it until you asked… but there are women in the genre. They just tend to blend genres rather than writing straight up science-based steampunk. This is off the top of my head, so I'm sure that there are some exceptions to the rule, but of the steampunk I've read or heard of, those are the divisions. Prominent women in the genre–Cherie Priest, Gail Carriger, Cassandra Clare–all combine their steampunk with fantastical creatures, whether it be zombies, werewolves, vampires, or the other denizens of the paranormal world, while the well-known men in the genre–Jay Lake, Scott Westerfeld, William Gibson–don't. Now, there are exceptions, at least with the genre-blending. Fantasy steampunk is becoming more and more prevalent, however, there are more men than women, and I can't think of any women off the top of my head who write pure science-based steampunk. I suppose I'm unusual in that regard.

Nobilis Reed: By the way, I'll also plug Philippa Ballantine as a Steampunk author of note

and no fantastical creatures

RJ to Brooke: Brooke, how do you feel about the presence of male erotica authors in the genre? Is the idea of male authors writing erotica something that bothers you?

Brooke Johnson: Not at all. I think authors should write what they want to write.

Totally boring answer, but that's how I feel about it. ::shrug::

RJ to Brooke: To take it a step further, do you find you're influenced by the fact a man wrote an erotic piece versus a woman writing an erotic piece?

Brooke Johnson: It might be different if I actually read erotica, but regardless of genre, I think as long as the author is writing what they're passionate about and entertain their readers, it shouldn't matter whether they're male or female.

RJ to Nobilis: Okay, Nobilis — is Brooke's reaction to a man writing erotica in line with normal readers? More to the point, do you find men are hiding their identities as women to avoid a perception that doesn't actually exist among the readership?

Nobilis Reed: When I first started my podcast, about six years ago (that long? Sheesh) I had a few people send feedback to the effect that they didn't want to hear male voices reading the stories. I refused to make any changes to the show, and to this day I feature male voices on a regular basis. I don't know if those people left, or if they're just not as vocal anymore, but I don't get that kind of feedback anymore.  Maybe things have changed.

But in the broader culture, I think the fear of male sexuality is still there. It's changing focus, evolving, but it's still there. I can't say that using a female pseudonym now is a bad marketing decision. It may not be the no-brainer that it was before, but I don't see that it's not an advantage. So yes…I think that in at least part of the readership, the perception is still there.

For example, Cleis Press still limits submissions to “Best Women's Erotica” to people who personally identify as women. They don't allow any men (cis- or trans-) to submit to the anthology, even under a pseudonym. There are two reasons to publish an anthology like this; one is if the group you're featuring is underrepresented in the genre, the other is if it's a marketing decision. I think we can both agree that women are NOT under-represented in erotica, so the answer must be the latter.

RJ to Brooke: Do you feel like the existence of sexism in your genre (and the genre of your interview partner) is a rampant problem needing addressed, or is it safe for both fields to leave it as the status quo? Also, I want your personal answer… and I want what you think the majority of your gender would say on the subject.

Brooke Johnson: Do you mean sexism in the stories themselves, or in the writer community?

RJ to Brooke:  In the writing and reading community.

We'll get to sexism in the stories themselves soon, don't worry about that!

Notes from RJ: At this point in the interview, Brooke got really quiet. Then, after a few minutes, she wrote: This is a tough question.

I thought that was worth mentioning. A lot of the questions I asked during this interview are tough in more ways than one. Sexism is not an easy subject to talk about.

Brooke Johnson : I'm going to broaden steampunk to include science-fiction for my answer, since I write science-based steampunk. There is a vocal opinion among many (male) science fiction authors and readers that women shouldn't be writing in the genre, that women can't possibly write good science fiction. Now this is mostly in the adult part of the industry. Young adult seems to have many more women writers than male writers, so you don't see much complaining about women writing in a “man's genre”. However, in adult science-fiction, I do think it's something that needs to be addressed, and it seems that there has been some progress in this, especially in the wake of the recent SFWA mess.

But I think that, for a time, women are going to be vastly underrepresented among science-fiction authors, especially in traditional publishing. As to why that is… maybe the number of men who write science fiction dwarf the women who write it. Maybe a lot of that “women can't write science fiction” mentality is still prevalent in the acquisitions editors at publishing houses. I don't know. It could be because women are more likely to include romance subplots (which I've had complaints for including in my books), or that they're more likely to write soft science fiction that focuses more on the people instead of the science, which publishers and readers don't want.

It's like Nobilis said about erotica authors being primarily female. The primary readers of erotica are female, so it makes sense that females would hold the majority of erotica authorship. I'd say the opposite is true with science fiction. Men are more likely to read science fiction than women, so it makes sense that there would be more men writers in the genre.

However, that doesn't mean men should be excluded from writing erotica and women excluded from writing science-fiction. Therein lies the problem.

But I think it's a problem that's slowly going to go away. And maybe that's the optimist in me, but I think self-publishing and Indie publishing is changing those gender divides among authors in certain genres.

RJ to Nobilis: Do you feel like the existence of sexism in your genre (and the genre of your interview partner) is a rampant problem needing addressed, or is it safe for both fields to leave it as the status quo? Also, I want your personal answer… and I want what you think the majority of your gender would say on the subject.

Nobilis Reed:  My answer is the same whether it's science fiction or erotica.

It is my firm belief that people should be allowed to have preferences, both in what they read, and what they create. If a comic book artist wants to create images of unnaturally buxom superheoines, and put them in spine-cracking poses, he should be able to do that. And if a comic book reader wants to read those books, then there should be a means for him to do that, as well. Additionally, someone who doesn't like that sort of art should be able to easily find comic books that don't feature that kind of art.

That's my ideal. That creators can create what they want, and consumers can consume what they want.

To me, the problem with sexism in fiction (of any sort, whether text, or comic books, or whatever) that we see out there often boils down not to who is allowed to produce or consume, but who's widely published and who's popular, both of which influence the other. Things that are widely published have a greater opportunity to be popular, and things that are popular will get widely published. There is a vocal minority out there who get very angry that blatantly sexist material is popular and widely published. When they complain that it's popular and widely published, there's an equally vocal minority that immediately stands up to defend their preference, who can't stand the idea that what they prefer would not be popular and widely published.

Given the synergistic relationship between “popular” and “widely published” there's a great deal of inertia around what sort of material becomes popular and widely published.

Any effort to make change on a short term would need to be very forceful and as a result, would do a great deal of damage. There are some who would say that this is the right course of action; if the only way to change the system would be to wreck it and rebuild it again, then let's get out the sledgehammers. Others would say that everything's just fine, or else that any effort to change things would be pointless.

My opinion is in the middle. To me, there are three ways to influence popular culture:

  • 1: Create what needs to be.*
  • 2: Support other people who create what needs to be. Buy their stuff, review it, promote it.
  • 3: Respect others who create what they believe needs to be.

*The first part can include criticism of what other people create

The second part is where the real change happens. When people are vocal about what they like.

When people are vocal about what they like, others are more likely to look it up, check it out, and that's what makes things more popular. As they become more popular, they become more widely published, and it all starts turning the wheels and creating change.

The third part is vitally important. If you don't respect a creator's right to have preferences, why should the creator respect yours?

RJ to Nobilis: We've established sexism exists in your genres. We've touched on why, and we've talked a little about what sort of changes would need to be made to get rid of it. However, no subject is without benefits and disadvantages. Sexist exists for a reason, be it a historical reason (such as survival) or a cultural reason. What do you think the worst element of sexism is both steampunk and in erotica? Then…. reverse it. What good thing has come because of sexism in both of these genres?

Nobilis Reed: The worst thing about sexism in erotica is when it creates ideals that are hard to live up to in real life. We can't all have billionaire boyfriends whose psyches can be molded with passive-aggressive manipulation. We can't all have eighteen-year-old girlfriends with gigantic boobs and no gag reflex. This is a specific case of the broader rule, that things fall apart when people can't separate reality from fantasy.

Another bad thing about sexism in any genre, any medium, is when people think that just because their gender isn't recognized, that they should change what they write in order to be popular and widely published. The best stories happen when you write what needs to be, rather than what you think people want you to write.

One good thing that comes from sexism is that many people have an easier time finding things that speak to their interests.  People who want fantastic worlds with plenty of romance know they can find it in most urban fantasy. People who want maverick heroes bucking the system to save the world from dirty foreigners can usually find it in techno-thrillers.

RJ to Brooke: We've established sexism exists in your genres. We've touched on why, and we've talked a little about what sort of changes would need to be made to get rid of it. However, no subject is without benefits and disadvantages. Sexist exists for a reason, be it a historical reason (such as survival) or a cultural reason. What do you think the worst element of sexism is both steampunk and in erotica? Then…. reverse it. What good thing has come because of sexism in both of these genres?

Brooke Johnson: I think the worst thing about the sexism in science fiction is the view that science fiction written by women is somehow lesser, inferior. It's discounted, even if the writing is on par or better than the other science fiction out there. And I think this is a bit of a follow up of what we've already been talking about. Some people will see male erotica writers as inferior to female erotica writers, for whatever reason, just as some will see female science fiction writers as inferior to their male colleagues. The opinion that one sex has a better understanding of the genre is ludicrous, in my opinion, but readers and writers perpetuate the myth, especially if they feel like the other sex is undermining what the genre is supposed to be.

I'll admit, when I first started writing steampunk, I felt like the current female authors were undermining what steampunk was supposed to be, filling it with werewolves and vampires and slapping gears and corsets on everything that moved. To me, that wasn't steampunk, and my book was a sort of retaliation against that. I don't know if I wanted to prove that women could write “real” steampunk, or if I was just frustrated because I couldn't find the kind of steampunk I wanted to read. But I definitely looked down on other female authors; they were the ones dirtying the genre with their paranormal creatures and half-assed attempts at trying to fit into the genre by tossing the story into a Victorian setting and adding a few gears for good measure. I've since come to appreciate the paranormal and fantasy steampunk subgenres, but at first, I was upset that these women were ruining my definition of what steampunk was. I can see why the male writers in the genre would be just as miffed as I was. These women changed the genre.

And that's where the positive spin comes in, I think. These women did in fact change the genre, even though they were looked down upon and disregarded for their impure version of steampunk. An entirely new subgenre exists now, and it's created the opportunity for more deviation from “normal” steampunk. And I don't know if these women created these stories in response to the science-based steampunk of male writers, if they were retaliating against the sexism in science-fiction by writing THEIR stories, the ones THEY wanted to read (just as I was retaliating against them), but they've since carved a new place in steampunk, and they belong there. Some will still see their books as inferior, but readers have come out in favor of their books. There is an audience for it, and no one can deny that.

Nobilis Reed: I agree entirely. Not only with your conclusion, but your initial reaction; I think that's a natural feeling to have.

Any group that comes along and starts creating in a pre-existing genre, whether it's women or people of color or whatever, are going to bring their perspectives to that creation, and enrich it. It's only seen as a dilution if you believe that culture is a finite thing; that there's only so

…only so much attention to go around, that if something you don't like becomes popular then by definition something you do like will cease to exist. That might have been true twenty years ago, but it's not anymore.

Culture is no longer finite.

Brooke Johnson: I agree with what he said about authors changing what they write in order to fit what's popular. For example, if I had let the state of steampunk influence me whenever I sat down to write my first steampunk novel, I wouldn't have written what I did. I'm a woman, so the only thing I can write is steampunk fantasy, or paranormal steampunk. I can't write scientific steampunk because that's the man's area of expertise. The thought is ludicrous, but I've seen it happen. I've seen young authors discouraged from writing in a certain genre because of their sex, rejected not because of their talent, but because their name fits a certain gender. My time in college was full of this. I was often ridiculed for writing science fiction because I was female. The males in my writing circles would refer to my writing as derivative or unimaginative when compared to theirs, when there was no basis for their claims (these stories were later published with various magazines and lit journals). I honestly think that had I been male, they would have hailed it as good fiction. I can see how some people might be discouraged by such criticism and would end up writing what was “appropriate” for their gender instead of what they wanted to write. I never let the criticism get to me, but I know a lot of writers who stopped writing what they loved because they were told that they couldn't. And it's a shame.

RJ to Nobilis: Moving on to questions about the writing craft itself and how you approach your erotica. Are there any elements of sexism you absolutely refuse to include in your writing? Are there elements of sexism you feel you must include in order for your story to be realistic?

 Nobilis Reed: Well, let's preface…most of the time, I write spec-fic erotica. That gives me a lot of freedom.

First, it gives me a lot of freedom to include something, and talk about it, by coming at it from an angle that wouldn't turn people off. If the original series Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” had included a black guy and a white guy, instead of one guy with a black/white face and one guy with a white/black face, it would have been too blatant, too confrontational, and people would have tuned it out. As it was, it had just the right tone to be a story that people come back to again and again. I do that with my fiction sometimes, often with questions of gender and identity. One of the questions in “Metharmea's Journey” comes down to, “If people could extend their healthy lifespans by a factor of ten, but would have to give up being “man” or “woman,” and with it the possibility of having children, what would that do to society?”

Second, it allows me to imagine settings where things like gender bias, or race bias, or any other social problem, just isn't a problem. In several of my stories, I make mention of some technology or development that has made STI's much less of an issue for sexually-active people. This allows me to put intersectionality aside once in a while, and focus on one thing. It's not realistic, but then that's the point of spec-fic, isn't it? To be ‘unrealistic.'

So to answer the first question; no. There's no element of sexism that I absolutely refuse to include in my writing. There's some that I haven't, yet, but to say that I never will would be naive. When it comes to creating art, the “what” is less important than the “how.” How something is portrayed matters a great deal.

And to answer the second, no. I believe I can portray a society that has transcended gender bias and still make it believable.

RJ to Nobilis: To continue with the second point — do you feel that non-specfic erotica writers have certain elements of sexism they need to include? Are there any trends in your genre supporting the existence of a sexism theme?

Nobilis Reed: Hm.

I think a lot of that would be very specific to the setting. The world is a big place, and every location has its own subcultures and sub-environments. To go with my own personal experience, if you were to write a story about a woman who had been promoted to supervise a software development office, and there wasn't at least one sexist butthead in the office who had a problem with it, I'd be skeptical.

I also spent some time, in my youth, as the only male working in a hospital dialysis ward. Looking back, I believe that there was some bias among some of the staff, that I didn't care enough about the patients and their welfare. I remember one of them, in particular, counseling me that the comatose cancer patient deserved just as much careful attention as the conscious, friendly ones.

RJ to Brooke: Moving on to questions about the writing craft itself and how you approach your steampunk writing. Are there any elements of sexism you absolutely refuse to include in your writing? Are there elements of sexism you feel you must include in order for your story to be realistic?

Brooke: Steampunk is an inherently sexist genre, especially when set in a Victorian setting, so I think leaving sexism out of the story would be a mistake on my part. Victorian society was male-dominated. Women were meant to be wives and mothers, homemakers, ladies in society, and if they had to work, there were few fields to choose from: teaching, working as a governesses, serving wealthier families in their houses, nursing, working as secretaries and cashiers, or for more hands-on occupations, as seamstresses and factory workers, and they earned less than half the weekly wages a man did.  Women didn't head the household. They didn't go to school to learn science and math, only subjects that would give them more interesting things to talk about at parties. Women were ornaments, living decorations, not people–at least not equal to men. To some, women were a man's property, extending the traditional “values” of previous generations. To disregard that in my fiction would be ignoring history and Victorian culture.

So yes, in my mind, I have to include these elements of sexism in order to make the story realistic. Not all characters are sexist, but it is the culture of that world, of Victorian Great Britain. Whether one character is or isn't actively sexist doesn't change the fact that most of society sees women as inferior.

As for refusing to include any elements of sexism, I think it would be a disservice to my story and my characters.

Both of my published steampunk novels are rife with sexism, from the public sexism of not allowing women to study science at the University to private sexism between characters. At one point, a male character tells the main character of The Clockwork Giant that she's not fit to be an engineer, that women are meant to be serve men, either as wives and mothers or prostitutes. Gender equality doesn't exist in Chroniker City, not in the least, but it's that sexism that drives my main character's ambitions. She's determined to prove that women can be engineers, that she has a right to try.

If sexism didn't exist in that world, there would be no story, at least, not the story I want to tell.

RJ to Nobilis: Nobilis, do you have any comments regarding Brooke's point of view? Also, how do you view her stance as someone who reads? Do you agree that in steampunk, sexism is arequirement to be legitimate?

Nobilis Reed: In general, I agree. I think there are a few nuances, though.

Steampunk, if it stays true to the “-punk” aspect, is often about the disruptive influence, the maverick, the individual fighting against the status quo.

As such, the status quo needs to be something worth fighting against.

One of the great things about steampunk, is that those elements can be realistically magnified; sexism, racism, imperialism, etc. were not just commonplace but expected and laudable to Victorian society.

One thing we tend to forget when looking back at Victorian society, however, is that much of the sexism of Victorian times was underlaid not by disrespect, but by fear. There are plenty of writings from Victorian times that speak of caution from what might happen if women were not carefully controlled.

I'm not going to tell anyone what they should or shouldn't write. There's lots of non-dystopic steampunk out there, and it's fine.

But if an author is going to take a historical element, then I think the author is well-served to understand that historical element in context.

RJ to Brooke: Brooke, you don't read Erotica, but I'm sure you have opinions about erotica. This is what I want you to discuss. How do you feel about the presence of sexism in erotica? What do you expect belongs in erotica? Do you feel erotica, from what you expect of the genre, is particularly sexist? If so, who does the sexism benefit. Why do you think this?

Brooke Johnson: My opinions are horribly uninformed, so I'm likely to embarrass myself here.

RJ to Brooke: Don't worry… Nobilis will get a chance to explain the reality versus the perception — but the stereotype is as important as the reality. So, don't worry about embarrassing yourself.

And, of course, if you have anything you want to address about Nobilis's comments, please do so!

Brooke Johnson: I do want to comment on his note about sexism in the Victorian era didn't always stem from disrespect, but fear. He's totally right about that. The few women who dared to go against society and carve their place in the world of men were frightening examples of how women could wield power. I hope to address that in my future steampunk novels.

It was a good point to bring up.

As for erotica, my assumptions about the genre are that it's written porn. Now, I imagine much of it has more substance than the poorly written narratives of video porn, but it seems to me that the purpose would be similar: intellectual, or mental, masturbation if you will. Now, how sexism comes into erotica, I can only hypothesize. In my mind, most erotica is likely the author's own fantasies about sex brought to life. So if they think men should be dominant and controlling and like to be treated like an object, they would write that. Or maybe they're in such a relationship, or have been, and want to be on the other side of it, so they go the other extreme, writing dominatrix type stories. Now, I'm fairly sure that erotica isn't all bondage and leather whips; that's just what gets the most attention. But regardless of the kinds of sex in the book, the focus is sex, and often, sexual objectification.

Writing about sex creates possibilities for sexism based on the authors opinions on the act of sex and the role of the people involved. Most people have very strong opinions about sex: how the man should act, how the woman should act, who should dominate, who should submit, whether there is equality in a sexual encounter, or whether there can even be equality. It takes the conflict of romance to its core, and everyone has predispositions and opinions of what the roles in romance should be, whether from experience, cultural influences, religion, or what have you. There is the possibility of creating a story devoid of sexism and gender issues, as Nobilis mentioned earlier when talking about his own writing, but it seems to me that type of erotica would be in the minority.

To me, it seems like there is a huge possibility for erotica to be sexist. I don't think it has to be inherently sexist, but people have opinions on how men and women should act toward each other, and that in itself can promote sexism.

Again, horribly misinformed and only have opinions on what I've heard about the genre. >.>

RJ to Nobilis: Okay, Nobilis. Your turn. Are Brooke's general thoughts in line with what the erotica genre is all about as a general whole? (Yes, we're using broad general stereotypical terms) — why or why not?

From your statements, Steampunk is easily generalized, but erotica seems to be a lot more… complex.

Brooke Johnson: I also want to add that I think romance can be equal between two parties, but from the outside, it could be perceived as sexist, even if the engaging parties don't think so. And I think that can have an effect on written romance, whether plain romance or erotica. The author may have intended the two parties to be on equal ground, but a reader sees it as sexist.

Nobilis Reed: There's no doubt that the author's preconceptions about sex will be expressed in erotica. That's a given! The same way an author's preconceptions about science would be expressed in SF, or an author's preconceptions about a historical figure's life would be expressed in biography. I would say that not only is it expected, it's a requirement! As such, it's a feature, not a bug.

As for the idea that erotica exists as a form of masturbation (or even as something to aid in masturbation) is certainly true of a lot of stuff out there, but I think that erotica really reaches its full potential when it goes further than that. When it talks about the whys and hows of sex, when it talks about the transformative power of sex, about how it changes things, how it changes relationships and people.

And moving into the spec-fic arena, SF and fantasy erotica allow us to talk about not only sex as it is in our current culture, but what it might be like in other situations.

And I agree that readers bring their own perceptions and expectations to a story, which is one of the reasons that the gender of the author's name on the cover matters to people.

And it's hard to talk about sex without also talking about romance. In almost all stories, the sex has some kind of emotional and relationship context. I don't think you have sexism when two people have a relationship where there's a power imbalance. I think it's sexism when a power imbalance is expected to be tilted in one particular way. Power is a complex thing.

Brooke Johnson: “I don't think you have sexism when two people have a relationship where there's a power imbalance. I think it's sexism when a power imbalance is expected to be tilted in one particular way.”

That's what I meant about equality. The two parties understand their roles and accept them, even if they don't wield equal power. They're in equal understanding. But people can and will read into it differently based on their own experiences and opinions.

Nobilis Reed: I think that's one of the reasons that BDSM is so popular.

BDSM very explicitly is all about power; about giving it to a partner, about what you do with it when you get it, about the responsibilities you have when you wield it. Those are all questions people are very interested in these days when it comes to relationships, and BDSM becomes a metaphor for those thoughts.

RJ to Nobilis: We've talked a lot about sexism and its role in both erotica and steampunk. What we haven't talked about is the impact of sexism in erotica and steampunk on the readers. When you write your genre, are your worried that the things you write in fiction will impact the actual mentality of your readers? Is this something you've considered? If so, do you do anything to address it in your writing? If not, why not?

Nobilis Reed: Thinking about what kind of impact I'll have on the world with any given story is something I think about sometimes…but if I think about it too much, I get into analysis paralysis and I can't write anything. There's really no right answer to that question. As we already observed, the reader is going to bring their own biases and preconceptions to the piece.

As I said before, art reflects society, and society reflects art. It's a conversation between who we are, and what we create. I can't be anyone else but who I am, and I do my best writing when I'm true to that. I have my biases, I have my prejudices. They're going to come out in my writing. To the extent that I can, I try to let my better nature guide it, but I really can't worry too much about what some hypothetical reader might do with it. There are just too many people out there with too many different perspectives to try to filter it that way.

RJ to Brooke: We've talked a lot about sexism and its role in both erotica and steampunk. What we haven't talked about is the impact of sexism in erotica and steampunk on the readers. When you write your genre, are your worried that the things you write in fiction will impact the actual mentality of your readers? Is this something you've considered? If so, do you do anything to address it in your writing? If not, why not?

Brooke Johnson: While I'm writing, I don't worry about how the story will impact readers, at least, I don't expect it to impact them. I write to entertain. Now, if a reader draws conclusions about something I address in my fiction, whether it's sexism or religion or what have you, they're welcome to do so. It isn't my responsibility to try to deliver a message with my writing. Regardless of what I intend, someone will misinterpret my words.

In fact, on the subject of sexism, I've had a reviewer complain that my main character was weak and always needed a man's help to fix her problems, when I don't see it that way at all. In my mind, my character makes mistakes, as does the male character, and they try to fix them together. If anything, I want to show that no one is perfect, that we need other people; we can't survive alone. It has nothing to do with them being male or female.

Readers are going to make assumptions about my writing and my ideals based on what they read. It would be pointless to try to point their assumptions in a certain direction, because for every one reader that gets the right message, nine others will read it differently.

RJ to both: As my final pair of questions: If you could change one thing about the genre you currently write in, what you change? If you could change one stereotype about the genre your interview partner writes in (uneducated stereotype or otherwise!) what would you change?

Nobilis Reed on Erotica: If I could change one thing about Erotica, I'd ask authors to please stop using such TERRIBLE covers on self-pub ebooks. They really reflect badly on all of us. If your book isn't worth spending a little money to hire someone to make a good cover, then it's not worth publishing.

Brooke Johnson on Erotica: I can't say what to change about erotica. Before this interview, I thought little of erotica and its legitimacy as a written art form. I thought it was just porn, as I mentioned above, and I wonder if maybe a lot of people think the same thing. If I could change anything, it would be that assumption.

Nobilis Reed in Response to Brooke on Erotica: I'll bet a lot of people think about erotica that way. I hope that this conversation has done a little to help get the idea that it can be something more.

Brooke Johnson on Steampunk: At one time, I would have said to cut out all the vampires and werewolves, but now, I can't think of anything I would actively want to change. Steampunk is always changing. It's become such a fluid genre, adopting tropes from other genres and fitting them to the right gears so that they become part of steampunk. I hope it continues to stay in this weird genre flux where anything can happen and nothing is sacred. But if anything, I would like writers to be more tech-savvy with their steampunk. Do a little research. Know what you're talking about, rather than fudge your way through the mechanics, if of course, your steampunk includes the mechanical side of the genre.

Nobilis Reed on Steampunk: If I could change one thing about Steampunk, I'd ask folks to think about other times and places besides Victorian England. I'd love to see some more of the world than that.

Brooke Johnson in Reponse to Nobilis on Steampunk: I agree with him. While I love the Victorian setting for my steampunk novels, steampunk is such an inclusive genre that it could encompass nearly any setting. Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy is set in an alternate past during WWI. I've read of stories using Victorian India as a setting, Civil War America, Feudal Japan, Ancient Greece, Atlantis, and Imperial China, even future dystopian worlds. Steampunk is a genre that fosters diversity, and I happily welcome it. I'm just fond of the English, I suppose.

 About the Victims

Brooke Johnson is the author of The ClockworkGiant and Le Theatre Mecanique, part of the Chroniker City steampunk novels for young adults.

Her geeky obsession with mechanical science and history is the driving force behind her writing, flavoring her steampunk with scientific accuracy and her fantasy with the rich cultures of ancient civilizations. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys a plethora of hobbies: drawing, painting, paper-craft, sewing, and baking—a Jack of all trades, master of none, in true bardic fashion.

If the world were a tabletop role-playing game, she would be the studious bard of the party, her husband the fiercely-bearded paladin, their dog the cowardly wizard who only knows one spell, and very soon to join them, their daughter, who will certainly choose her class once she arrives. They currently reside in Northwest Arkansas, but once they earn enough loot and experience, they’ll build a proper castle in the mountains, defending themselves against all manner of dragons and goblinkind.

Nobilis Reed is the most prolific erotica podcaster in the known universe. In addition to an audio fiction podcast fast approaching three hundred episodes, he has also written two novels, a double handful of novellas, and numerous short stories. He has been published by Circlet Press, Cleis Press and Sizzler Editions among others, and his short story “A Vision in Xrays and Visible Light” was chosen for “Fantastic Erotica: The Best of Circlet Press 2008-2012”

If that weren't enough, he's also the producer of the audiobook version of the “Geek Love” anthology edited by Shanna Germain, and the producer voice talent of the audio version of “The Velderet” by Cecilia Tan. His most recent release is “Metharmea's Journey,” an erotic novella of bizarre erotic transformations.

Leave a Comment:

Masha du Toit says August 17, 2013

What a fantastic, thought provoking interview.
Lots to think about, but I wanted to say – I agree profoundly with what Nobilis said about our society has a fear of male sexuality, and encourages men to keep their desires repressed and hidden. A symptom of this is way that women are blamed for sex crimes committed against them. Women must bear responsibility for keeping themselves safe, because men cannot control themselves. Or that is the perception!

I guess the point is that while people often think of sexism as being “men against women” it’s actually “society against humans”. Both genders are distorted by sexism.


[…] aesthetic. As author Brooke Johnson (The Clockwork Giant) describes it tellingly when asked as “a woman writing steampunk” to comment on this “notably male-dominated genre,” Johnson […]

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